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JFK Art Project Spreads ‘Love’ Around Dallas

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President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie riding in his motorcade through the streets of Downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963

President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie riding in his motorcade through the streets of Downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – About 30,000 works of art reflecting on love will be displayed throughout Dallas this fall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as his motorcade passed through downtown.

On Saturday, volunteers with the nonprofit art organization 29 Pieces began displaying the works as part of its Dallas LOVE Project, intended to show that Dallas — branded the “City of Hate” after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination — is a place where love thrives. Several incidents before the assassination — including the distribution of fliers in the form of a “Wanted” poster with mug shot-style photos of the president — resulted in anger turning toward the city itself.

“When the president came here 50 years ago, that was all over the city and how cool would it be, how different would it be, that 50 years later what we’re plastering the city with are these deep and intentional things about love,” said 29 Pieces founder Karen Blessen, who served as executive director of the project.

“I think it taps into something deep down for all of us, which is our capacity to love,” said Blessen, whose group provided project participants with a lesson in Kennedy’s legacy and a glimpse at life in 1963.

Over several weeks, the 18-inch-by-18-inch art pieces — created by a range of people including schoolchildren, people in the business world and residents of senior centers — will be displayed along the Kennedy motorcade route and at other sites throughout the city.

On Saturday morning, Becky Crawford helped affix the colorful works of art along a hall inside the lobby at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the president was taken after being shot. Phrases on the works included “Created in God’s image, we, too, are … LOVE” and “Love Conquers All.”

Crawford, director of experiential education and service learning at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, organized the participation of students at her school.

“They were very surprised that some people used to think Dallas was the `City of Hate,”‘ she said. “Overall, they got a good historical understanding of what the city experienced 50 years ago.”

Though Lee Harvey Oswald’s motivation for shooting Kennedy remains unknown, the climate in the city came under scrutiny after the assassination.

Just weeks before the assassination, Kennedy’s United Nations ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, was harassed by a group of ultra-conservatives as he spoke at a downtown auditorium. And as he left, a woman bopped him on the head with a protest sign. Three years earlier, during the 1960 presidential campaign, protesters accosted Kennedy running mate Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, as they crossed a downtown Dallas street from one hotel to another.

Jesseka Lipscomb, a 17-year-old senior at Dallas’ Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, drew hearts and cut-out letters to spell out “All You Need Is Love” for her poster.

“It’s nice to see different perspectives and how different ages draw. It looks really beautiful,” the teen said as she worked to hang posters at the hospital.

Kim Blann, director of fine arts for the Keller school district northwest of Dallas, said students listened to the Beatles and other musical acts that were popular at the time while they worked on the project at school.

“Even with the young ones we talked about what love was and what hate was and what hate can cause people to do,” she said in a phone interview earlier in the week.

Other sites being decorated with the art on Saturday included the Dallas Public Library’s downtown location.

Much of the art will be displayed so that it’s facing the street, Blessen said.

She initially thought they’d struggle to get 10,000 works of art, but it’s grown to include so much more. She said the enthusiasm for the project has been encouraging.

“It’s been this amazing, delightful surprise,” she said.