A journalism major, attorney, former music-venue owner and co-founder of a street arts festival – that’s not four people, but one: Jessica Winters.
One night in 2011, Winters said to her husband, “Let’s do a street art festival.” Because, you know, the streets in Lexington needed something for everyone’s enjoyment. Like art. Big art.
She had opened Buster’s, a 1,000-seat concert hall and billiards room in Lexington’s Distillery District in 2009. Two years later, it was the site of the first PRHBTN event. (Buster’s is now Manchester Music Hall and has new owners.)
PRHBTN stands for prohibition, without the vowels. Most of the murals on buildings throughout Fayette County are PRHBTN projects. It’s the type of work that was once prohibited decades ago when street artists were known as “taggers” or graffiti artists, particularly in large cities like New York. All of the PRHBTN murals, almost 30 so far, have been painted with permission of the property owners. It’s nowhere near graffiti or urban blight; it’s public art.
The art was small in the beginning for PRHBTN. That first year, 2011, Jessica and John Winters held a DIY “hang and sell your own art” gallery show for local and regional artists, complete with musical performances and a nice community vibe all around. The second year, they partnered with Transylvania University professors Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, who had lined up two muralists from Germany known collectively as Herakut.
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By 2013, PRHBTN and murals became synonymous terms. John and Jessica didn’t set up a nonprofit for their passion project, there’s no board of directors and no salaries for the couple. Instead, LexArts is the fiscal agent, making all donations tax-deductible, as LexArts is the city’s arts council and united arts fund. Kickstarter campaigns (six so far) have raised money for PRHBTN to cover travel, lodging, materials, food and other expenses, including an honorarium, for the muralists.
Originally from Connecticut, John Winters has a University of Kentucky political science degree. He has a background in concert promotion and social media marketing. For PRHBTN, he handles graphics, web design and marketing.
“In my spare time, which is limited, I’m a stay-at-home dad.”
Every October, the PRHBTN street art festival invites two, sometimes four, world-renowned artists to come to Lexington and paint a mural on the side of a building. Artists from France, Portugal, Belgium, the United Kingdom, New York City and Los Angeles have shared their large-scale creative skills with the Bluegrass. Each mural takes as long as two and a half weeks to paint; the quickest was done in a day. Jessica and John Winters make sure the artists are “treated like a rock star while they’re here,” Jessica said. “They enjoy their experience when they come to Lexington, with the horses, bourbon and friendly people.”
Local and regional artists aren’t left out of the picture. PRHBTN has had a gallery from the start in various warehouse spaces. In 2016 the PRHBTN power couple was approached by the Lexington Art League about a partnership.
“It was awesome,” Jessica said. “They have beautiful gallery space. And a staff. Our local and regional artists have opportunities to show their art in an actual gallery, where someone hangs it.”
The three-week-long PRHBTN gallery exhibits feature edgy and sociopolitical works with off-beat techniques at very reasonable prices for original art, typically ranging from $50 to $200.
Yes, it takes year-round planning for PRHBTN’s street art festival and exhibits, and though they rarely come up for air, the Winterses wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m a full-time working mom. I own my own law firm,” Jessica said. “I love art and music. I have to have something creative to keep me going.
Taking Art Outside the Classroom
PRHBTN sponsors local murals on schools as well as commercial buildings. Lexington’s Bryan Station High School is in the process of having both an interior and exterior mural painted by Nicholasville artist Casey Peel, who was selected through a proposal submission process.
“PRHTBN is an incredible platform for artists of all skill types and places in their career to connect with the community in a powerful creative way,” Peel said. “I am so humbled to be a part of it this year and I hope that as I grow as an artist, I can be more involved with them as well.”