Like millions of homeowners around the country, Charles Wittenmeier found himself deeply underwater and facing foreclosure. After months of unemployment, a divorce and mounting debts, he will be vacating his house on May 28th. But before he does, Wittenmeier, a once-thriving advertising director, is turning his misfortune into art.
On May 1, he will transform his empty house in Portland, Oregon's Mount Tabor neighborhood into a communal artists' studio and performance space.
The artists and musicians will come with specific projects in mind and collaborate on others, with the resulting work to be compiled into a book, an album, and a feature-length documentary, all of them titled "28 Days in May
Wittenmeier and his co-director, Jordan Kinley, are trying to raise $10,000 for the project on the funding website, Kickstarter.com
. The social media-savvy pair are also chronicling the "28 Days in May" project on Facebook
The 44-year old Wittenmeier, who helped hawk everything from Coca-Cola to Tabasco
Sauce over his career, sees the project as a way to come to terms not only with his personal situation, but the broader crisis unfolding across the country.
"One day I was sitting in the empty house after my wife moved out and I realized my life has become the Talking Heads song. How did we get here and where do we go? As Americans we've been sold a bill of goods, and I've helped sell it," writes Wittenmeier on Kickstarter.com.
That's when he called Kinley, his 23-year-old assistant and friend, with the idea for "28 Days in May."
"This is an experiment to finish the things I've always wanted to finish, collaborate with people I've always wanted to collaborate with and ultimately gain insight into myself," says Wittenmeier.
"This is not a sob story," he insists. "It's about closing one chapter and starting a new one."
Wittenmeier moved into the 1913 Swiss chalet-style house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
, with his wife in 2003. They raised three kids there, but as Wittenmeier's work tailed off and debts mounted, the relationship strained, and last summer they decided to divorce. When the project concludes, Wittenmeier will be renting a house nearby.
Kinley said the documentary will explore Wittenmeier's life, from his successful days to his slide into foreclosure. "The trajectory of his life is the trajectory of the American Dream," says Kinley.
So far, they have raised just $1,350 or so from 24 backers on Kickstarter, with just three days to go until the funding deadline. (According to Kickstarter's rules, if the goal is not reached, Wittenmeier will get nothing).
The donors, in return, receive assorted items salvaged from Wittenmeier's basement, such as an expired Campbell's Soup can, a "150-pack of nice elegant plastic utensils," or in some cases a copy of the 28 Days album. The money would help pay for the artists' transportation, food and equipment, said Kinley. "But it's going to happen regardless."