By JANE FLASCH, WHAM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CIRCA via WHAM) — An anonymous letter spewing hateful words is having an impact the sender likely never intended. Instead of division, it is bringing people together and garnering national exposure.
"This is a hugely supportive community, hugely supportive of the arts, and we're feeling that right now," said Bleu Cease, who received the letter.
The letter is typed and unsigned, but postmarked Rochester, New York, and likely sent by someone in the community. "Hey weirdo," it begins. "The name Bleu Cease fits you to a T. Who the (expletive) names their kid Bleu Cease?"
"These kinds of hateful attitudes lurk out there," Cease said. "Who knows where this came from or what the story is, but it's up to all of us to respond."
Cease is the executive director of the Rochester Contemporary Art Center. Bleu is actually his middle name—a moniker he associates with his "hippy" parents, as he refers to them.
The letter gets graphic and more personal: "You think you're 'cool, artsy and with it' but you're nothing but a freak."
Cease believes there's a reason the gallery was targeted.
"We are really committed to showing artists and supporting artists who address political and social issues in their work, and I can only assume that may have promoted some of this," Cease said.
Cease posted the entire letter on Facebook, which led to more than 500 responses of support for the gallery and himself.
From that sprang an idea: to turn a line from the hate mail into an unofficial slogan.
"The phrase was already in quotes in the letter, so it was kind of a sarcastic tone. It was really just waiting there for us to do something with," he recalled.
T-shirts with the slogan "Cool, artsy and with it" are now available for purchase through the Rochester Contemporary Art Center.
The story has also caught the attention of BuzzFeed, prompting orders from across the country.
The arts center also known as RoCo gets the majority of its budget through fundraisers and donations. Flipped on its ear, the letter meant to harm and divide has done just the opposite.
"The way we turned it around and put it out openly, it's been really touching and amazing to see the reaction," Cease said.