Remembering Matt Farrell

For Matt Farrell
By Amy L. Ali

I met Matty when he was 21. He was a part of this group of rowdy Urbana boys that I kind of adopted. They liked to party a lot, but I took it upon myself to make sure they got home safely and that they didn’t get into too much trouble; some days I would cook for them.We worked in the same bars together. They started calling me Mom. In a strange way, we were a family. These boys were rough and had a tendency to be aggressive, but Matty wasn’t like them. He was quite the opposite, actually. Very sensitive and very kind. He seemed to listen better, too, and apply advice. There seemed to be a sense of deep sadness in him that I felt most in his hugs. We connected through those hugs.

At the very beginning stages of Exposed, well before I brought it back as a CUDO event, I wanted to hold my first art show. It was at Indigo. We called it “Unspoken Languages: The Art of Lost Words.” I told Matty what I was doing, and he immediately wanted to jump in and help. He wanted it to be perfect. He spent three days with very little sleep trying to create artwork and helping set up the show. He made two pieces, putting my poetry to canvas and creating art around the words. On one he drew a woman dancing and burned the edges of torn book excerpts (forgive us) and then coffee stained the pages. For the other, he used this patchwork that was very tedious and time consuming. I told him he didn’t have to do all that, but that was his vision and he was going to see it through. To this day, I’m not sure where those art pieces are, but I hope they offer comfort to someone somewhere.

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It was during this show that Emily and Matty started dating. They dated for a few years, and I would check in on him from time to time. He seemed happy, and at this time he was also going to school. I remember when he created the skateboard corn husk—he was so proud of that. It was clear to me that he was going to be a great designer, and I was so proud of him.

After we started up Exposed again years later, I remember him walking in with Emily. I was so excited for them to come. Matt immediately started looking around and offering his creative advice. He thought it should have a rebranding. Something more sleek and sexy, is what he said. This is around the time he was starting his own business. He offered to redo the logo and marketing materials, and because he was so excited about it, I was curious to see what he would produce.

A week before the rebranding deadline was set, Matty called me to tell me that he just found out his mother had a tumor and it was pretty serious. He assured me he would still get everything done but that it would most likely be late. I told him not to worry about it, to take care of his mother, but he kept to his promise and made sure he got it done. I was so impressed with his dedication. I understood then that art for him was an escape. My efforts for Exposed were validated in that moment. That’s why I was doing it, to give people an excuse to create, to give them an escape. Matt’s mother started to get better, and later he brought her to our Mother’s Day edition of Exposed. He raved about how much she enjoyed it and what a great time they had together. Through his work with Exposed, I was able to introduce Matt to Tim and Ricardo at Neutral Design Studio, where he later began working on projects such as Tour De Fruit, and the new bike theft app, “Bike Net.”

After his mother died, we had some pretty serious heart­to­hearts. My mother had passed away unexpectedly a few years prior and my sympathies were with him. I told him about my experiences with losing my mother and how it changed me for the better. I told him it was going to make him work harder, it was going to give him a deeper compassion for the world, it was going to make him want to create more things of purpose. I told him the thing I personally learned the most from losing my mother was that I didn’t want to die. When we began to write her obituary, aside from her being a loving person and listing the people she left behind, we found there wasn’t much to write. I told him, I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to contribute, to make a difference. I told him when you know how you want to die, you know how you want to live. He said, “For sure.” When Matty said “For sure,” I knew he understood. We plotted all the great things we were going to do in and for the community, and for the kids. I joined the CUDO board, with him, because of this.

Losing Matty is a tough loss for me. I watched him grow from a lost boy to a passionate, determined young man. My heart is still in mourning. Seeing the outpour of the community–the art mural, the candles floating down Boneyard creek, the family picnic, the skate and paint memorial, the 1000 cranes pasted for peace—I’m given comfort. He showed his love for the community through art, and the community showed their love for him, in the same fashion. It’s beautiful to see. I love you, C­-U.

Matty will be remembered for his passion, his compassion, his way of listening and giving his full attention, his charm, his dedication, his ability to inspire others, his warm heart, his smile, his laughter, his creative and talented mind, his art, and of course, his amazing hugs. Love you, Matty. The CUDO board loves you. Champaign­-Urbana loves you.

Rest easy, my friend. We got this.