In celebration of Pride Month, Bellarmine University is catching up with a few of its many LGBTQ+ alumni who are community leaders. Today we’re highlighting Josh Miller, who graduated in 2011 with undergraduate degrees in Business Administration and Art Administration.
It’s almost hard to begin to describe Josh Miller, he has so many ventures and touchpoints with the community.
He’s co-founder and CEO of IDEAS xLab, a nonprofit that champions inclusion and belonging through art and activism with efforts such as the organization’s forthcoming
“(Un)Known Project.” The project will feature a public art installation, “On the Banks of Freedom,” highlighting the names of enslaved Kentuckians.
The installation will be unveiled Saturday, June 19, in a public event commemorating Juneteenth.
Miller is also an avid cyclist, runner and photographer and recently launched a new business, “Wearable Photos,” which transforms his artistic photos into chiffon
prints that can be worn or used in a variety of ways.
Much of his art and community engagement is dedicated to acceptance for LGBTQ+ and under-represented people and communities - work that Bellarmine prepared him for, he said.
“From classes including Elizabeth Kramer's art administration class that forever impacted my storytelling and writing, to participating in Bellarmine Activities Council - my rich experience at Bellarmine gave me a variety of tools I'm still using
today,” he said.
While Miller was a student, he landed an internship with Barry Wooley Designs, which led to working in editorial production with Nfocus magazine. Through those connections, he met his partner, now husband, Theo Edmonds, who also works at the intersection
of art and community engagement, along with other artists who coalesced to form IDEAS xLab.
“I’m so thankful for the relationships and connections I’ve made,” he said. “They’ve allowed me to step into leadership roles and work collaboratively with the community.”
IDEAS xLab has undertaken numerous projects and ongoing workshops and keynotes meant to help organizations
create a culture of belonging.
Their upcoming (Un)Known Project is the most visible yet, with numerous stakeholders and substantial media coverage, including a spread in the Sunday New York Times.
Miller conceived of the project with partner Hannah Drake, a Louisville-based writer, artist and activist.
The idea for the project was born from a trip Drake took to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., a memorial and historical site for victims of racial terror lynchings. Drake noticed that many names had been lost to history
and were listed simply as “Unknown.” There were 169 lynchings in Kentucky, eight of them unknown.
That visit coincided with the Frazier Museum’s desire to tell the story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, an enslaved couple who escaped from Louisville to Canada.
Miller and Drake’s travels to Senegal, West Africa, and Natchez, Mississippi, and regional sites including the Freedomland Cemetery in Southern Indiana also informed the project, along with Louisville historical research.
“The (Un)Known Project seeks to honor the names of those who were enslaved in Kentucky, those who sought freedom across the Ohio River and those who never made it,” Miller said.
The group collaborated with Roots 101 African American Museum, the Frazier Museum and Louisville Metro on an installation. The first component is two benches that will sit atop a platform between 9th and 10th Streets, angled toward each other and overlooking
the Ohio River. Names of enslaved Kentuckians submitted to Miller and Drake through email and social media will be engraved in the benches, which are made of granite, limestone and steel. The next phase will feature footprints sandblasted in concrete
leading from the riverboat docks to the bench site.
The public is invited to an unveiling ceremony Saturday, June 19. The event, “Juneteenth: Past, Present, Future,” will begin at noon with poetry and performances at Roots 101, 124 North 1st St. The event will proceed with programming along
the riverwalk from 12:30 -1:30 p.m. with the site dedication and unveiling at 1:30 p.m. For an exact location, search “On the Banks of Freedom” in Google Maps.
“It’s been a labor of love that now seems overdue,” Miller said. “I’ve been honored to be able to collaborate with Hannah.”
Since leaving Bellarmine, Miller has come back to speak about his work for TEDxBellarmineU and recently spoke on
a BUKnighted panel.
Miller, who identifies as a gay man and appears androgynous or non-binary, understands the powerful example he sets by “showing up authentically.”
“Shifting norms so that future generations can have a different experience in the world and the workplace is all of our jobs, especially if we have a seat at the table and can continuously push for a redefinition of ‘professional,’”
Miller soon will move to Denver, Colo., as Edmonds accepted a position as Associate Dean for Transdisciplinary Research and Innovation at the University of Colorado Denver.
However, Miller plans to be back in Louisville often, continuing his work with IDEAS xLab and expanding his Wearable Photos collection to feature images from both locations.
In June, Miller will donate 10 percent of sales from his "fierté dans la rue" print to Queer Kentucky and Louisville Youth Group. Miller took the photo
while running in the 2018 Gay Games Marathon in Paris, France.
For current and future Knights, Miller offers this advice: “No matter what background you come from or what identity you hold, your lived experience has value. Don't underestimate what you bring to the table. Recognize that not everyone will be
able to see the value you bring, or what you're capable of - and that is their loss.”