A New York state art gallery is turning a piece of hate mail on its head, adopting the screed as an unofficial slogan and putting it on T-shirts.
After receiving the letter on Saturday, Rochester Contemporary Art Center executive director Bleu Cease told BuzzFeed News he immediately wanted to flip the script on the anonymous troll and turn a hateful message into something positive.
"You think you're 'cool, artsy, and with it' but you're nothing but a freak," the letter writer said, adding anti-gay attacks and mocking Cease's name.
Cease posted the letter on Facebook, writing that he did, in fact, feel pretty cool, artsy, and with it. (And by the way, Bleu is the middle name he's always gone by, courtesy of his flower children parents.) His friends and the art center's supporters loved it, and now, the nonprofit center is printing T-shirts featuring the intended insult.
As of Monday, they'd sold more than 100, Cease said — a significant number for the small art center.
"Who wouldn't want to be 'cool, artsy, and with it,'" he said.
Cease added he's not sure what prompted the hateful letter, but he and the center are visible in the community for promoting discussions of social and political topics. The center supports contemporary artists from around the country as well as getting involved in local issues; one 2018 project highlighted the legacy of former Rochester resident Frederick Douglass.
Cease said he didn't feel personally threatened by the letter — the writer doesn't seem to know him, and its message relied on ignorant stereotypes of the art community.
But it was important for him to speak up publicly.
"This wasn't just for me," he said. "I felt like I needed to put this out there for others who've been attacked or hurt."
The response to the letter has been touching, he added, and he's encouraged by added financial support to the art center as it's seeking year-end donations.
The T-shirts, which benefit the center, will also be for sale at its gallery in the new year. Staff are already planning on wearing them for the center's first 2019 opening.
It's about renewing support for the center and its mission, Cease said.
"I'm absolutely committed to artists who are exploring really important issues in their work," he said.