Feeds:
Posts
Comments
Photo: Denis Y Suspitsyn/Anthony Barboza
Members
of the Kamoinge in 1973. The coalition of black photographers gave one another support and advice — and gave their subjects empathy.

A new exhibit at the Whitney in New York City highlights the art of some outstanding black photographers, a group that worked not just in New York but around the world.

Nadja Sayej reports at the Guardian, “In 1973, a group of 14 New York photographers huddled into a photo studio on West 18th Street in Manhattan, posing in front of a Hasselblad camera for a group shot authored by Anthony Barboza, who stands smiling in the picture.

“ ‘I remember arranging the lighting and then my assistant took the photo,’ said Barboza to the Guardian. ‘It’s a photo of a family. That’s what it is. A family photo.’

“It shows the members of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of black photographers who formed in 1963 to document black culture in Harlem, and beyond, from live jazz concerts to portraits of Malcolm X, Miles Davis and Grace Jones, as well as the civil rights movement and anti-war protests.

“A selection of over 100 photos by the group are on view in a survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York called Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, which runs until 28 March. …

“The Kamoinge (pronounced kom-wean-yeh) collective all started in 1963, when a group of 14 black New York photographers came together to form a group, to trade skills and offer critiques to one another. They chose ‘Kamoinge,’ as it means ‘a group of people acting together’ in Kenya’s Gikuyu language. They worked to tell black stories by depicting black communities, from local neighbors to superstars, and saw their rise around the same time as the Black Arts Movement. Kamoinge photographer Adger Cowans, who is 84, always believed the group could show the truth of black lives, more so than an outsider. …

“ ‘When I wasn’t shooting commercial work in the studio, I was shooting out in the streets,’ … said Barboza. ‘We all learned from each other. They were my greatest mentors.’ …

” ‘I did a lot of portraits of black artists and musicians in my spare time,’ said Barboza who photographed Michael Jackson at 21, as well as James Baldwin and Gordon Parks. Nine of the 14 original artists are alive today, working and living in New York, including Beuford Smith, Ming Smith and Herb Randall. …

“As one of the group’s members Ray Francis said in 1982: ‘We were a group that stars fell on,’ and credit observational photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange as influences. Another member, Ming Smith, calls it: ‘Making something out of nothing. I think that’s like jazz.’

“The Whitney exhibition is organized into five sections, including one community-focused section, which details the day to day life of people in the city, at work, play and travel. Another section is focused on music, as jazz has been a prime influence in the group. …

“There are also sections devoted to abstraction and surrealism, civil rights, depicting figures in the movement, and one global section, focusing on African diasporic communities, as the photographers traveled to Cuba, Senegal and Jamaica to shoot, as well as the South. …

“Harlem-born photographer, Shawn Walker, one of the group’s founding members, is showing a photo depicting two dapper men in white suits and hats on Easter Sunday in Harlem, dated 1972. ‘I would go to the churches and after everyone came out of mass, I’d go to 125th Street to lurk at everyone hawking off all their new wares,’ he said. …

“ ‘I would hang out around Hotel Theresa, even now if you’re not doing anything and you hang out in that area, you’re bound to come home with some photos. Even if I’m coming home from shopping and I have an extra 30 minutes, I’ll grab a seat and watch people come by and start shooting.’

“It has been a tough year for Walker. ‘I caught the virus and lost a leg, but I’m alive,’ he says. …

“Ming Smith was the group’s first female member. She recently said in an interview: ‘Being a black woman photographer was like being nobody,’ explaining that: ‘It was just my camera and me. I worked to capture black culture, the richness, the love. That was my incentive. It wasn’t like I was going to make money from it, or fame – not even love, because there were no shows.’ …

“As Barboza says, the key to a good portrait is not necessarily technical savviness, but to convey emotion, a feeling. It isn’t about over-thinking anything. .. ‘There’s a quiet, spiritual feeling from the photographs,’ said Barboza. ‘It’s beauty. I call it “the eye dreaming.” ‘ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo via the Met
This caravan account is recorded on a cuneiform tablet from the ancient city of Kanesh.

Sometimes we forget that the way things have been in recent years — or even recent centuries — are not the way things always have been. For example, we imagine women have come a long way in the business world since Victorian times, but the fact that women were managing their own caravans and accounts in 1870 BC is no longer part of our collective memory.

At the BBC Sophie Hardach reports on a new book that aims to rectify our ignorance. Women of Assur and Kanesh is by Cécile Michel, a senior researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France.

Hardach writes, “Around 1870 BC, in the city of Assur in northern Iraq, a woman called Ahaha uncovered a case of financial fraud. 

“Ahaha had invested in long-distance trade between Assur and the city of Kanesh in Turkey. She and other investors had pooled silver to finance a donkey caravan delivering tin and textiles to Kanesh, where the goods would be exchanged for more silver, generating a tidy profit. But Ahaha’s share of the profits seemed to have gone missing – possibly embezzled by one of her own brothers, Buzazu. So, she grabbed a reed stylus and clay tablet and scribbled a letter to another brother, Assur-mutappil, pleading for help: 

“ ‘I have nothing else apart from these funds,’ she wrote in cuneiform script. ‘Take care to act so that I will not be ruined!’ She instructed Assur-mutappil to recover her silver and update her quickly.

‘Let a detailed letter from you come to me by the very next caravan, saying if they do pay the silver,’ [the businesswoman wrote]. ‘Now is the time to do me a favor and to save me from financial stress!’

“Ahaha’s letters are among 23,000 clay tablets excavated over the past decades from the ruins of merchants’ homes in Kanesh. They belonged to Assyrian expats who had settled in Kanesh and kept up a lively correspondence with their families back in Assur, which lay six weeks away by donkey caravan. A new book gives unprecedented insight into a remarkable group within this community: women who seized new opportunities offered by social and economic change, and took on roles more typically filled by men at the time. They became the first-known businesswomen, female bankers and female investors in the history of humanity. 

“The bulk of the letters, contracts and court rulings found in Kanesh date from around 1900-1850 BC. … The Assyrians invented certain forms of investment and were also among the first men and women to write their own letters, rather than dictating them to professional scribes. It’s thanks to these letters that we can hear a chorus of vibrant female voices telling us that even in the distant past, commerce and innovation were not the exclusive domains of men.

“While their husbands were on the road, or striking deals in some faraway trading settlement, these women looked after their businesses back home. But they also accumulated and managed their own wealth, and gradually gained more power in their personal lives. 

“ ‘These women were really strong and independent, because they were alone, they were the head of the household while the husband was away,’ says Cécile Michel. … Through more than 300 letters and other documents, the book tells a strikingly detailed and colorful story of the women’s struggles and triumphs. …

“The businesswomen’s story is tied to that of the Assyrian merchant community as a whole. In their heyday, the Assyrians were among the most successful and well-connected traders of the Near East. Their caravans of up to 300 donkeys criss-crossed mountains and uninhabited plains, carrying raw materials, luxury goods and, of course, clay letters. 

“ ‘It was one leg of a huge international network, which started somewhere in Central Asia, with lapis-lazuli from Afghanistan, carnelian from Pakistan, and the tin may have come from Iran or further to the east,’ says Jan Gerrit Dercksen, an Assyriologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who has also worked on the Kanesh tablets. …

“Assyrian women contributed to this bustling commercial network by producing textiles for export, issuing loans to merchants, buying and selling houses, and investing in naruqqum [stock] schemes. Their skills as weavers allowed them to earn their own silver. They kept a keen eye on foreign fashions and market trends to secure the best prices, as well as on taxes and other costs that dented their profits. …

“ ‘They know perfectly well what they should get back in exchange for their textiles. And when they earn this money from the sale of their textiles, they pay for the food, for the house, for daily life, but they also invest,’ says Michel, who has also co-created a new documentary about the women. 

“This commercial acumen allowed some to slip into positions that were unusual for women at the time, by functioning as their husbands’ trusted business partners. The traders in turn benefited from having literate and numerate wives who could help with day-to-day business as well as emergencies.

“One Assyrian merchant writes to his wife, Ishtar-bashti: ‘Urgent! Clear your outstanding merchandise. Collect the gold of the son of Limishar and send it to me… Please, put all my tablets in safekeeping.’ Others ask their wives to pick specific tablets from the household’s private archives to find financial information or settle a business matter. …

“The women in turn don’t shy away from sending their husbands or brothers instructions and admonishments. ‘What is this that you do not even send me a tablet two fingers wide with good news from you?’ an Assyrian woman called Naramtum writes to two men.”

Lots more at the BBC, here.

Photo: Wikimedia
Ancient sites of Mesopotamia, including Assyria. In the lower right is what we now call the Persian Gulf.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
MacArthur Fellow and environmental health advocate Catherine Coleman Flowers of Alabama.

Today’s article is about an environmental health advocate from rural Alabama who was honored recently by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing her story suggests to me is that when parents demonstrate concern for the world around them, later generations can work miracles. The parents of Catherine Coleman Flowers were civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Sarah Kaplan writes at the Washington Post, “To Catherine Coleman Flowers, this is ‘holy ground’: the place where her ancestors were enslaved and her parents fought for civil rights and she came of age. …

“Yet this ground also harbors a threat, one made worse by climate change. Untreated sewage is coursing through this rural community, a consequence of historic government disinvestment, basic geology and recent changes in the soil. On rainy days, foul effluent burbles up into bathtubs and sinks, and pools in yards. Some residents have hookworm, an illness rarely seen in developed nations.

“It’s America’s ‘dirty secret,’ Flowers said. … Heavier rainfall caused by climate change is saturating soil and raising water tables — confounding septic systems. From the flooded coasts of Florida to thawing Alaska towns, an estimated half-million U.S. households lack adequate sanitation.

“Now Flowers, a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius,’ is partnering with environmental engineers at Columbia University on a solution. They are working on a new kind of toilet that will act as a mini sewage treatment facility.

Instead of flushing waste, the system they’re working to build will filter, clean and recycle waste on site. Instead of sending raw sewage into the soil, it will turn it into water for use in washing machines, and into nutrients for fertilizer, and perhaps even energy for homes. …

“What was once a problem can become a solution, Flowers said. And the change will start in Lowndes County, as it has before.

“To Flowers, 62, the Lowndes County of her childhood was part rural idyll, part activism hotbed. … In 1965, about 80 percent of the county’s population was Black, but not a single Black person was registered to vote. …

“But then protesters from Selma marched down Lowndes’s dirt roads on their way to Montgomery, and a wave of activism erupted. … Flowers’s father, a military veteran and salesman, and her mother, a teacher’s aide, were heavily involved. Civil rights leaders streamed to their cinder-block home. …

“Her parents’ activism connected Flowers to the world beyond Lowndes County. As a teenager, she joined the Alabama Students for Civil Rights and spent a summer in D.C. as a youth fellow at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation. She read ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ wrote politics-infused poetry and dreamed of becoming the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In 11th grade, frustrated with subpar conditions at her high school, Flowers wrote an exposé for a local newsletter. That led to the formation of a community group, then a lawsuit and, ultimately, to the resignation of the principal and school board superintendent.

“ ‘My father’s famous thing he would always say was, “Catherine, if you take one step, God will take two,” ‘ Flowers said. It meant that change was possible, but you had to do the work.”

The article goes on to say that after Flowers had moved away, she learned her home county was suffering and that part of the problem was that the soil had changed and no longer worked for septic systems, which “require permeable soil. … All over the county, septic systems were breaking down. Heavy rainfall would seal up the soil until effluent had nowhere to go but up onto lawns or back into homes. …

“Flowers — then director of the nonprofit Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE) — set out to determine the scale of the problem. …

“ ‘This is America,’ Flowers said. ‘We’re not supposed to have these kinds of problems — at least, that’s what we tell ourselves. But we do.’ …

“Climate change is making existing deficiencies worse. Rising sea levels have elevated the water table in coastal areas, shrinking the depth of leach fields and increasing contamination. Days of extreme rainfall — which have doubled in the Southeast as a consequence of warming — stymie septic systems. …

“ ‘Climate change is like a magnifying glass for everything,’ Flowers said. It exacerbates neglect, widens inequality and exposes problems once hidden. …

“Flowers has a vision for a better septic system. It’s cheap to buy and easy to run. It’s equipped with sensors that can monitor for signs of pathogens, including the coronavirus. Instead of allowing sewage to seep into the ground, the system separates waste into its component parts, which can then be recycled. …

“In Kartik Chandran, she found a partner who shares that vision. They met five years ago at a conference on wastewater issues. Chandran, an environmental engineer at Columbia University, was struck by how similar Lowndes County’s waste problems were to those in his native India. Flowers remembered hearing about Chandran’s research and thinking, ‘This is the technological solution we need.’ ” Read how it would work here.

Photo: CNN
In Japan, wearing a mask was common even before the pandemic.

I’m told that in Sweden, it’s been hard to get people to start wearing masks now that the authorities have changed their approach to the pandemic. In Japan, where mask wearing on subways and elsewhere is normal to protect health, dialing up usage has not been a problem.

That has created an opportunity for a robotics company with an idea about putting a multipurpose mask over your Covid-19 mask.

As Rebecca Cairns reported at CNN Business last November, “When the Covid-19 pandemic made face masks an everyday essential, Japanese startup Donut Robotics spotted an opportunity. They created a smart mask — a high-tech upgrade to standard face coverings, designed to make communication and social distancing easier.

“In conjunction with an app, the C-Face Smart mask can transcribe dictation, amplify the wearer’s voice, and translate speech into eight different languages.

“The cutouts on the front are vital for breathability, so the smart mask doesn’t offer protection against the coronavirus. Instead, it is designed to be worn over a standard face mask, explains Donut Robotics CEO Taisuke Ono. Made of white plastic and silicone, it has an embedded microphone that connects to the wearer’s smartphone via Bluetooth. The system can translate between Japanese and Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, English, Spanish and French.

Donut Robotics first developed the translation software for a robot called Cinnamon — but when the pandemic hit, the robot project was put on hold. That’s when the team’s engineers came up with the idea to use their software in a face mask.

“Donut Robotics started life in a garage in Kitakyushu City, in Fukuoka prefecture, in 2014. … With venture capital investment, [Ono and cofounder engineer Takafumi Okabe] applied to Haneda Robotics Lab — an initiative that sought robots to provide services for visitors at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. …

“Donut Robotics’ Cinnamon robot — designed to provide tourists with useful information and help them to navigate the airport — was one of four translation robot prototypes selected by the project in 2016. Haneda Robotics Lab says Cinnamon beat the competition because of its appealing aesthetics and user-friendly design, and because the translation software performed well in noisy environments. …

“The team started testing a prototype at Haneda Airport in 2017 and continued developing the technology. But earlier this year, Covid-19 hit Asia and the airport project ground to a halt. ‘We were running short of money and wondering how to keep the company going,’ says Ono. The team sought a solution and came up with the idea to adapt its software for a product that would sell well in a pandemic. …

“Donut Robotics launched a fundraiser on Japanese crowdfunding platform Fundinno in June. They raised 28 million yen ($265,000) in 37 minutes, says Ono. ‘It was very surprising,’ he says. …

“A second round of crowdfunding on Fundinno in July raised a further 56.6 million yen ($539,000), which Ono plans to use to develop translation software for the international market. … Ono says the first wave of distribution is expected to take place in Japan, with 5,000 to 10,000 masks available by December [2020]. They will be priced at $40 to $50, he says, with an extra subscription for the app. Donut Robotics will not expand overseas until April 2021 at the earliest. …

“The mask’s Bluetooth chip can connect to smartphones up to 32 feet (10 meters) away, says Ono. He hopes the mask will make new social distancing norms in locations including hospitals and offices easier, by enabling good communication.”

Photo: Donut Robotics

More at CNN, here.

As I write this, the English language class where I volunteer is about to start. At the risk of throwing a wet blanket over this robotics story, I can’t help mentioning that translation devices really slow language acquisition.

But I do think the Donut software’s ability to clarify your words and make social distancing work better is great. I’m constantly misunderstanding muffled words spoken through a mask — which gave a granddaughter a really good laugh the other day.

Photo: Jeremy O. Harris
When, to his surprise, this playwright earned a windfall, he knew he had to share.

When I was 12, I was a playwright. I’d had a terrific gig as an actor in community theater at age 10 and just fell in love with the whole scene. At 12, I rounded up cousins to perform my play about a talking snowman outdoors for parents. We save things in our family. Not long ago one cousin sent me her tattered, penciled script.

Theater people are often very generous. Most are not celebrities and don’t make good money. The playwright in today’s story did have a successful show on Broadway, but the bulk of his money came from sidelines. When he saw how much it was, he decided to help theater people who were struggling.

As Michael Paulson reports at the New York Times, “Jeremy O. Harris is a playwright, a performer, and a provocateur. And now, he’s a philanthropist.

“The 31-year-old author of Slave Play, which is nominated for 12 Tony Awards, emerged during the pandemic not only as a vocal advocate for the beleaguered theater industry, but also as someone determined to model generosity.

“After years in which he earned very little making theater — he said his total commissions over four years amounted to about $22,000 — this year he made nearly $1 million, primarily from collaborations with the fashion industry and an HBO deal. (Fashion and television pay better than Broadway.)

So in the months since the virus shuttered theaters across America, Harris has:

“He has also used his bully pulpit to champion theater. He sent a letter to President-elect Biden, urging him to revive the Federal Theater Project, and then used an appearance on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ to push that show’s host to rally support for the idea.

“In a telephone interview, Harris explained why in dire times he believes everyone should be committed to ‘protecting, uplifting and sharing,’ adding: ‘Some might call it philanthropy, but I call it upkeep or maintenance.’ These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How would you describe the kinds of artists or works you’re looking to support?

“I want to make sure that we have a really fertile artistic landscape when we return to the theaters. And I think it’s been pretty evident that I’m really excited about work that’s challenging, that’s scary, that probably wouldn’t get support otherwise. …

“Even before the tumult of this year, you’ve had an interest in highlighting Black theater artists.

“It was so exciting to see myself in Tennessee Williams, in Beckett and Caryl Churchill. But there came a point where I was like, ‘Wait, have Black people never done anything like this?’ And when I discovered that not only had they, but so many had done it to wild acclaim, and yet no one I talked to remembered that acclaim or knew those people, I knew that something had to be done about this cultural amnesia. …

“The $50,000 commissions are above the norm for playwrights. How did you arrive at that amount?

“I wanted to give someone a living wage in New York. I wanted someone to feel excited about spending a year and a half, maybe two, working on one play, and not feeling compelled to work in a coffee shop.”

More at the New York Times, here

Stonehenge Accoustics

Photo: Acoustics Research Centre /University of Salford, Manchester.
Acoustical engineer Trevor Cox works with a scale model of Stonehenge in a sound chamber.

One day last week, I was writing a letter to Brandeis admissions to help Shagufa get a bit more support for grad school, and I used a thumbnail description of this blog to explain how I met her. I said it was tied to my daughter’s jewelry company, which I always say, but then I added something I’d just thought of: “my goal is to share inspiring stories.”

Is that right, Dear Reader? These stories are not always inspiring, but I didn’t think the university would care that they were merely topics some stranger calling herself Suzanne’s Mom finds interesting. I’d be grateful for your own thumbnail description of SuzannesMomsBlog.

Today’s story is in the interesting department. (I wonder if everything interesting is by its nature also inspiring.)

Sarah Cascone writes at Artnet, “We may never fully solve all the mysteries of Stonehenge, the monumental prehistoric circle of stones built on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. But a new study suggests that it may have been designed to amplify sound in very specific ways.

“To recreate the acoustic properties of the stone circle as it was originally built around 2,500 BC, acoustics engineers at the University of Salford in Manchester constructed a 1:12 scale model they called ‘Minihenge.’ The results of their research have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“ ‘Constructing and testing the model was very time consuming, a labor of love, but it has given the most accurate insight into the prehistoric acoustics to date,’ Trevor Cox, the project’s lead researcher, said in a statement. ‘With so many stones missing or displaced, the modern acoustic of Stonehenge is very different to that in prehistory.’

“Thanks to laser scans of the site conducted by the governmental research group Historic England, Cox and his team were able to replicate the exact dimensions and precise topography of the monoliths using a computer-aided model and a 3-D printer. Missing stones were replaced where they were believed to have originally stood — 157 in all, based on the latest archaeological research.

The simulated stones were treated to replicate the acoustic properties of the site’s actual materials, allowing for more accurate results than in past models. … Researchers then tested the model, placing speakers and microphones in and around it while working at the university’s Acoustics Research Centre, which boasts a specialist acoustic chamber. (To account for the difference in scale, all sounds were 12 times their normal frequency, in the ultrasonic range.)

“The study found that people who spoke or played music inside the monument would have heard clear reverberations against the massive standing stones. Testing on the model also suggests that the stones increased the volume on interior sound, kept exterior sound out, and made it hard for anyone outside the structure to hear what was going on inside. …

“The placement of the stones was capable of amplifying the human voice by more than four decibels, but produced no echoes. Music and other sounds would have been enhanced such that someone standing within the outer circle of stones would have heard conversations from the center with perfect clarity, even as the sound was obscured to those outside. …

“While sound appears to have been an important consideration for the ancient builders, researchers still believe that astrological alignment was the primary factor in the placement of the stones. And mysteries about Stonehenge’s musical properties still abound.

“ ‘Stonehenge hums when the wind blows hard,’ musicologist Rupert Till of the University of Huddersfield in England, who has previously conducted acoustic research on the site, told ScienceNews.

“There is also speculation that some of the smaller stones used in the ancient site’s construction may have been chosen for their musical qualities. Making a sound much like a metallic gong when struck, they could have been used as percussion instruments, Cox suggested in the Guardian in 2014.

“That theory was tested in a 2013 study conducted by researchers from the Royal College of Art in London, who were able to ‘play’ Stonehenge’s ringing stones like a giant xylophone in a unique form of ‘rock’ music. According to their findings, published in Time & Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture, the stones’ musical properties were likely even more pronounced in antiquity, before they were set in reinforced concrete.”

More at Artnet, here.

Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff
Boston’s City Fresh Foods management (above, CEO Sheldon Lloyd
) is selling a stake in the business to its workers via an employee stock-purchase program.

One of the main reasons there is such inequality between the wealth of executives and labor is that when a company does well, very little of the money comes to workers. It’s almost a sharecropper scenario. That’s why sometimes workers pool their savings to buy a company and make it a cooperative. And it’s why owners who worry about inequality offer employees ownership shares.

Jon Chesto writes at the Boston Globe, “City Fresh Foods in Roxbury is in high demand, as the food provider has raced to distribute locally produced meals to homes in and around Boston during the pandemic on behalf of various nonprofit agencies.

“Now, City Fresh co-owners Sheldon and Glynn Lloyd say they are offering a way for employees to share in this success — by bringing them on board as equity partners.

“About 90 of City Fresh’s 150 workers were eligible to participate in a new ’employee stock purchase program’ that closed to applicants last week. The company said 35 employees opted to buy shares in the privately held company through paycheck deductions, collectively representing about 3,500 shares, or a 35 percent ownership stake.

“Bringing employees into the fold as owners has been a longtime goal for Sheldon Lloyd, the chief executive, and his brother Glynn, who now leads the Foundation for Business Equity, launched by Eastern Bank.

“City Fresh workers, many of them immigrants, will now be able to directly benefit as the value of the company increases, through the appreciation of stock and the granting of dividends during profitable years like the last one. The hope is that the dividends employee-owners receive will at least compensate for the cost of the new paycheck deductions. …

‘We’ll still make money, but it’s going to be shared differently,’ he said. ‘It’s not a huge capitalistic moneymaking venture, ultimately, if it continues down this path. But it’s the right thing. It keeps me going.’ …

“The transfer of ownership in the nearly 30-year-old company helps provide for an exitfor two of its investors, Boston Impact Initiative and Cienega Capital. Those investors had together held a 40 percent stake in City Fresh since 2015, when minority investor Unidine Corp. was bought out. …

“Employee ownership [helps] ensure a shared interest in a company’s financial fortunes, said Eastern Bank’s chief executive, Bob Rivers, whose firm helped finance the stock sale at City Fresh. …

“At City Fresh, Sheldon Lloyd envisions a company that outlasts him and his brother. The pandemic, he said, is exacerbating the gap between haves and have-nots, favoring white-collar employees who can work from home and who have money in the stock market.

“ ‘There’s an inequity within the inner city, in the Black and brown communities,’ he said. “In a small way, this helps to bridge that gap.’ ” More at the Boston Globe, here.

Author John Case wrote the book on those types of arrangements. At the New Republic in 2019 he explained, “Close to 7,000 U.S. businesses are partly or wholly owned by a trust known as an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP. The list of companies with full or majority employee ownership includes giant firms such as the Publix supermarket chain in the Southeast, with more than 200,000 employees; large and middle-market enterprises such as W.L. Gore & Associates, maker of Gore-Tex fabric, with nearly 10,000; and smaller companies such as King Arthur Flour (300) and New Belgium Brewing (800).

“These companies are typically more productive than their conventionally owned peers. They grow faster, pay higher wages, and are less apt to lay people off in a downturn. Successful ones — as most are — enable employees to build up serious wealth over time. A recent Rutgers study found that the average worker in a company with an employee stock ownership plan has already accumulated $134,000 in wealth just from his or her stake in the business. Some have a million or more.
” More here.

You might also like the Nonprofit Quarterly’s article by Davis Taylor and Rob Brown about the Coop economy in Maine, here.


Photo: Elsa Soläng/ArkDes
Designed to be easily moved, each wooden Street Moves element includes a range of features. Above, seating, scooter storage, and a bike rack are good for neighborhoods near transit stops. 

To have the kind of cities we want, we can always rethink what’s there. But the space right outside our front door may be the place to start.

Feargus O’Sullivan at Bloomberg CityLab reports about an idea from Sweden.

“In 2020, as pandemic lockdowns forced billions of people around the world to become intimately familiar with their neighborhoods, one of the hottest ideas in urban planning was the ‘15-minute city.’ A vision for a decentralized urban area that allows residents to meet their daily needs within a quarter-hour walk or bike from their homes, the concept has been pursued as a means of cutting greenhouse emissions and boosting livability in a host of global cities — especially Paris, where Mayor Anne Hidalgo has embraced the model as a blueprint for the French capital’s post-Covid recovery

“Now Sweden is pursuing a hyperlocal variation, on a national scale. A plan piloted by Swedish national innovation body Vinnova and design think tank ArkDes focuses attention on what Dan Hill, Vinnova’s director of strategic design, calls the ‘one-minute city.’ … Sweden’s project operates at the single street level, paying attention to ‘the space outside your front door — and that of your neighbors adjacent and opposite,’ Hill says.

“Called Street Moves, the initiative allows local communities to become co-architects of their own streets’ layouts. Via workshops and consultations, residents can control how much street space is used for parking, or for other public uses. It’s already rolled out experimentally at four sites in Stockholm, with three more cities about to join up. The ultimate goal is hugely ambitious: a rethink and makeover of every street in the country over this decade. …

“Unlike the 15-minute city concept, Sweden’s one-minute city model is not about meeting the needs of all city residents at a hyperlocal level — that would overlook fundamentals like public transit, job access, or specialist health care. Instead, the spaces just beyond the doorstep are ideal places for cities to start developing new, more direct ways of engaging with the public, Hill suggests. They are a filter and a portal to the wider world; the atmosphere they generate and the amenities they contain speak volumes about how a community operates and what it values. …

The project seeks to break through assumptions — as prevalent in Sweden as elsewhere — that address streets primarily as places to move and store cars. …

“Though Street Moves’ first steps predate 2020, its choice of focus seems doubly relevant in the wake of a year when stay-at-home orders and street demonstrations reinforced a sense that our immediate neighborhoods are platforms where we must tackle and overcome the most fundamental of social hurdles. While its mix of removing car space and increasing community consultation may sound too utopian to be imitable in the U.S. or elsewhere, the basic tools Street Moves uses are American in inspiration — street furniture units based on the ‘parklet’ model.

“Vinnova’s plan works like this. With design firm Lundberg Design, the project has developed a kit of street furniture, designed to fit the dimensions of a standard parking space and built on hard-wearing pine decks. These units, inserted into the curb space, can be fitted depending on need with seating planters, bike or scooter racks, children’s play spaces or electric car charging stations attached. Easily connectable, the deck panels can either be stand-alone units, or configured to flank an entire street. …

“While municipalities may provide their own versions of this toolkit, the design of each street is based on workshops and conversations with local residents — including schoolchildren. Streets near transit stops might favor more bike parking, while those with cafés could opt for more seating. Some units might emphasize tree-filled planters, others play spaces. Piece by piece, these installations can transform streets into sites of sociability and mixing, joining up steadily into neighborhoods where the space used daily by residents extends little by little out into the open air. …

“The community design process matters as much as the street elements themselves, the project’s leaders emphasize. The installations are easily replaced, adapted or removed, making them provisional propositions instead of one-size-fits-all permanent solutions. Some could be experiments that eventually lead to more extensive redesigns; others might be seasonal. ‘The most important things about these prototypes we’ve made is that they could all be the wrong thing,’ says Kieran Long, director of Arkdes. …

“None of this direct engagement and transformation can happen, however, if cities themselves don’t have concrete ways to carry it out. Right now, many cities charged with the daily business of trying to collect garbage and keep schools running don’t, with some good reasons, necessarily have the firing of a new political imagination high on their agenda. In Sweden, where the government’s early reluctance to institute coronavirus lockdowns proved disastrous, the pandemic is further complicating this challenge — but it could also be contributing to a willingness to press the reset button.”

More at CityLab, here.

Photo: CNN
Sy Newson Green, center, attended a book club at California’s Soledad State Prison while he was a student at nearby Palma School. Jason Bryant, right in blue shirt, is one of the inmates who led the fundraising for Newson Green’s tuition at the Catholic school.

Just to remind you on the day after the Capitol invasion* that good people are still in the majority around these parts, I offer a recent story from California. It’s about prison inmates who received kindness from a local school and found an impressive way to give back. And since the story is about people in prison for serious crimes, it’s also about redemption.

As Lauren Kent at CNN reported in November, “It’s hard to imagine two more different places than an elite private school and California’s Soledad State Prison, which houses the state’s largest concentration of men sentenced to life behind bars.

“But for the past seven years, the two worlds have collided in an unusual way: through a book club. Palma School, a prep school for boys in Salinas, California, created a partnership with the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) at Soledad State Prison to form a reading group for inmates and high school students — bringing the two groups together to learn and develop greater understanding of one another.

“But the reading group has developed into much more than an exchange of knowledge and empathy. When one Palma student was struggling to pay the $1,200 monthly tuition after both his parents suffered medical emergencies, the inmates already had a plan to help.

‘I didn’t believe it at first,’ said English and Theology teacher Jim Michelleti, who created the reading program. ‘They said, “We value you guys coming in. We’d like to do something for your school … can you find us a student on campus who needs some money to attend Palma?” ‘

“The inmates, who the program calls ‘brothers in blue,’ raised more than $30,000 from inside the prison to create a scholarship for student Sy Green — helping him graduate this year and attend college at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.’Regardless of the poor choices that people make, most people want to take part in something good,’ said Jason Bryant, a former inmate who was instrumental in launching the scholarship. ‘Guys were eager to do it.’

“Bryant served 20 years for armed robberies in which one victim was fatally shot by an accomplice. But while inside Soledad State Prison, he made a daily effort to turn his life around, earning his bachelor’s degree and two masters and running leadership training programs for inmates. ‘I’m never far from the reality that I committed a crime in 1999 that devastated a family — several families — and irreparably harmed my community,’ Bryant said. ‘I keep that close to my heart, and I would hope that people can identify the power of forgiveness and the probability of restoration when people put belief in each other.’

“Bryant’s sentence was commuted in March due to his contributions in restorative work while he was in prison. He now works as the Director for Restorative Work at an organization called Creating Restorative Opportunities and Programs (CROP), which helps equip formerly incarcerated people with tools like skills training and stable housing in order to succeed in their communities. …

“Hundreds of incarcerated men jumped at the opportunity to make a heavy, meaningful investment in someone else’s life. Considering that minimum wage in prison can be as low as 8 cents an hour, raising $30,000 is an astonishing feat. It can take a full day of hard labor to make a dollar inside prison. … Some brothers in blue who had no money to donate even hustled to sell possessions or food so they could be a part of the campaign. …

“Sy and his family started making visits to the prison in addition to taking part in the Palma reading group. He and his family have embraced building relationships with many of the bothers in blue, and four former inmates even attended his high school graduation. …

“The inmates also plan to continue the scholarship program for another student in need. With the help of inmate leadership groups and the CROP organization, they want to keep paying it forward. … Said Bryant. ‘If more people just decided to do good things, this world would be a better palace.’ “

More at CNN, here.

* In the first version of this post, I said the Capitol invasion Wednesday was a first in American history. I stand corrected.

Teen Radio Theater

Photo: Anslee Wolfe/ Colorado Springs School
Sophomore Haegan Malone works on composing music for the radio play with junior Finnegan Thompson in the background of the sound booth at Colorado Springs School.

Pandemic adaptations have led to many changes we may want to keep. Which isn’t to say I’m not desperate for my turn at the vaccine and more quality time with grandchildren. But I’m grateful for some of the online things that have become part of our lives. Here’s a story about renewed appreciation of the radio play.

Ali Budner writes at Colorado Public Radio (CPR), “One of the casualties of the coronavirus has been the traditional school play. You know, the kind with a stage and a live, in-person audience. But instead of giving it up altogether, some drama teachers have re-imagined the annual student performance.  

“At the Colorado Springs School, a private K-12 college prep school, the fall production morphed into a radio drama. ‘Trap’ is a meta mystery thriller about a school play gone awry and set (somewhat ironically for the circumstances) inside a high school auditorium. 

“When theater director Jonathan Andujar realized the show couldn’t happen in person on a normal stage, his mind spun through other options.

“Could they perform outside? No, too cold. Could they film it? No, too much equipment, and besides, filming on location became impossible when the school went virtual. 

“When he finally landed on the idea of a radio play, Andujar said it felt like an ‘aha’ moment. … He had originally chosen the play because he loves sci-fi and mysteries. However, more than anything he loves a good plot twist. And real life in 2020 has been full of its own plot twists. …

‘A radio drama as its own art form is super exciting because the play lives in a complete world of sound,’ Andujar said. ‘You can be in point A and point B and point C instantaneously. And you don’t have to worry about the set.’

“He did, however, have to worry about how he’d create characters, scenes and plot using sound alone. And that’s where sophomore student Haegen Malone came in. 

“Malone voice-acted several characters in the play. He also helped out with the sound effects like doors opening and footsteps on stairs. And he composed original music for the scenes. Malone refers to himself as a house musician and makes tracks at home on his computer all the time.

“But this was his first time scoring a radio drama. And he happily took on the challenge. …

“Andujar had students’ record their lines straight into their computers or iPhones at home and send them in to be woven into a final mix. 

“ ‘We live in a wondrous age of technology with a bunch of teenagers and they all definitely had a phone,’ he said. ‘So that was super handy.’

“Recording her lines into a phone, and acting without costumes, sets, or props was all new and a little overwhelming for senior Whitney Richardi. Even without a stage to rehearse on, she found ways to develop her character’s persona. She plays a few characters, including a detective. 

“ ‘I found myself pacing around my room or using my hands to express something,’ she said. … ‘You really have to concentrate on how you use different pitches and tones to convey to the audience what the scene is about. And that takes a lot of focus. …

” ‘I’m very extroverted, but the voice portion taught me a lot about just how I can utilize that to best portray my character.’

“Her fingers are crossed that she’ll get to transfer those skills into a role in the spring musical. It’s her senior year, so these are her last high school plays. 

“It’s been bittersweet not to be able to rehearse and perform in person with her castmates, but she’s grateful there was something to do. …

“ ‘I think one of the best parts about theater for me is just being able to go in every day and hang out with my friends, you know, in between scenes or after rehearsal. So it was definitely different. You didn’t get that, you know, physical face-to-face social time.’ …

“Andujar encouraged the students to let their guards down during virtual rehearsals because he knew it could be hard to build that rapport from afar. 

“ ‘I try to make it very clear,’ he said. ‘We can be silly. Let’s do these crazy voices.’ …

“ ‘When I found out that we were going into lockdown, I was just like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t know if I was able to get through it,’ [Malone] said. ‘But when I found out I could get a part in the new upcoming radio play, I thought this is like a perfect opportunity. It just made everything feel like so much more possible.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Oxfam / Jacob Turcotte

The leveling aspect of Covid, or any pandemic, helps people realize that one person’s situation affects their own. If people living in poverty have no way to stay safe, wealthy people more likely to get sick, too. Climate change is similar: pollution in a poor neighborhood will ultimately affect your neighborhood.

Today’s article looks at some connectivity lessons society is learning — and what companies are doing in response.

Peter Ford reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “Verneuil-sur-Seine is not the sort of place you expect to find a revolution going on. It’s a sleepy, nondescript suburb outside Paris, its streets hushed on a recent midweek morning. But in a cramped office in a converted apartment, an ebullient American mother of five and her French husband, a former auto executive, are busy reinventing capitalism.

“Putting purpose before profits and ethics above everything, they are building a new sort of business. ‘We wanted to bring all our personal values into the company,’ says Elizabeth Soubelet, a trained midwife. …

“Ms. Soubelet and her husband Nicolas make Squiz, re-useable pouches for toddlers to suck applesauce from, which help parents cut down on plastic packaging waste. Theirs is a tiny company with ten employees [but]even titans of finance are on the same track as a new mood sweeps through businesses on both sides of the Atlantic, prompting CEOs to shift out of greed and into good. …

“Battered by the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, tainted by yawning disparities in income and opportunity, and focused tightly on the bottom line, ‘capitalism has been derailed,’ says Paul Collier, an Oxford University economist and recent author of a surprise best-seller The Future of Capitalism. …

‘Potentially, capitalism is a wonderful system,’ he adds. ‘But it doesn’t run on autopilot. It needs rules.’ …

“When the global businessman’s bible, the Financial Times, launches a campaign entitled ‘Capitalism: Time for a Reset’ as it did last September, you know something is afoot.

“In the developed countries where capitalism first flowered, but shifted away from its social obligations, its credibility today is badly tarnished. A worldwide poll earlier this year found that 56% of respondents thought the system was doing ‘more harm than good.’ And when the pro-free market think tank Legatum surveyed British public opinion in 2017, it found the notion of capitalism most often associated with greed, selfishness, and corruption. … 

“Labor’s slice of the global income pie has fallen from 54% to 39% since 1970, while the share going to wealthier individuals who own capital (such as stocks) has risen correspondingly, [and] executive pay, meanwhile, has reached astronomical levels. …

“It wasn’t always like this; Henry Ford was keen on reminding people that ‘a business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.’ … That approach [is] stirring now in more and more boardrooms as business leaders carve out a new role for their companies. Last August 181 U.S. corporate members of the Business Roundtable, including the bosses of Apple, Walmart and PepsiCo, signed a pledge proclaiming their ‘fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders’ and renouncing the doctrine of shareholder primacy. …

“ ‘It’s these notions of purpose, trustworthiness, values, and culture that underpin a reconceptualization of business for the 21st century,’ said Colin Mayer, the former dean of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, at a recent seminar.

“But what does that look like in real life? For Elizabeth Soubelet, it all began with shame. She was buying applesauce in 64-pouch family packs, she recalls, ‘and my kids were finishing them in like 14 seconds flat’ and then throwing the aluminum-lined plastic containers away. …

“She decided to make her own, and with her businessman husband set about creating a company with a simple mission: to help people reduce waste by using the company’s reusable pouches. … But Squiz also has a broader vision of its purpose, Nicolas explains. ‘We want to build an organization that cares for people generally – our customers, our employees, our suppliers and the environment.’ …

“So as to keep the company’s carbon footprint light, and to fulfill a social purpose, Squiz entrusts its packing and dispatch to a local nonprofit employing intellectually disabled people. Last year that meant some time-consuming and costly mix-ups, but Squiz sales administrator Virginie Bartoli, who spent weeks at the packing center sorting things out, discovered a silver lining.

“ ‘I didn’t know much about handicapped people, but I realized when I was working there that everyone has the right to work,’ says Ms. Bartoli. ‘This job I do has made me more human, in some ways.’ …

“Still, what does all the care for the environment, the employee perks, the insistence that all materials be recyclable, do to the bottom line? Just how much does it raise the cost per unit?

” ‘That’s a question that drives me crazy,’ Elizabeth splutters. ‘What would you call the base cost? The China price? You can only tell the “real” price when you add in the damage to peoples’ health and to the planet.’ “

Hmmm. I do believe that committed individuals and small companies might stick to their ideals in this realm. But when it comes to large corporations, count me skeptical. They will be good citizens if it’s good business financially. If not, not. What do you think? More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

Photo: PaperCraftSquare
Make your own version of the Pixar/Disney gourmand Ratatouile. Some folks use paper; others create musical numbers for TikTok.

TikTok has offered new creative outlets to a wide range of people, and from this story, it looks like anyone who wants to put on a show has a chance to find success on that platform.

As Zachary Pincus-Roth writes at the Washington Post, “Emily Jacobsen insists that she was just warbling a bit of nonsense while cleaning her apartment this summer. She didn’t intend to create a fake musical about a rat who bakes vegetables.

“ ‘There was almost zero thought put into the song,’ she says. The 26-year-old teacher in Hartsdale, N.Y., has a habit of posting TikTok odes to Disney characters, especially non-legendary ones such as Mr. Waternoose from ‘Monsters, Inc.’ One day in August, she recalled an article about EPCOT center’s upcoming Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, mixed it with memories of hymns and broke out in song: ‘Remy, the ratatouille, the rat of all my dreams … I praise you, the Ratatouille …’

“Then, just three months after she posted it, TikTokers had conjured up an entire ‘Ratatouille’ musical universe. A composer spiced up her song with Disney-fied orchestrations. Songwriters whipped up tunes for Remy, his brother, his dad, his fellow chef, the food critic Anton Ego. A director explained how he’d stage the show. Dancers demonstrated how they’d dance it. A puppeteer showed how he’d puppet it. A designer created a breathtaking Playbill, in a video that’s been seen nearly 5 million times. Stagehands, ushers, photos of the Broadway marquee — all of it materialized.

“But, of course, it didn’t — really. In 2020, while Broadway is closed and TikTok is king, some of the most exciting theater is a figment of our imagination.

“Like our own sourdough, the ‘Ratatouille’ musical was a concoction of pandemic boredom. But it’s also the culmination of a larger phenomenon in musical theater: Social media platforms, especially TikTok, are allowing for [a] new ecosystem of musical theater fan fiction, where creativity flourishes in unpredictable ways. …

“Now, the fan/performer experience has heightened, sped up, morphed — led by pioneers such as Alexa Chalnick, a 19-year-old Ithaca College sophomore who’s attending her virtual classes from home in Freehold, N.J. She’ll play the piano part of a song and invite her 600,000 TikTok followers to create their own videos singing along with her, using the app’s ‘duet’ function. Or she’ll invite them to try out for coaching sessions with her and Broadway performers.

“She held ‘auditions’ for a hypothetical ‘miscast’ production of “’Hamilton,’ giving worthy actors roles they wouldn’t usually get. Yes, in a trend popularized on Instagram last year, fans hold auditions for productions that will never happen — they just solicit videos and then post the cast list, and the winners see them as a badge of honor.

“Chalnick notes that TikTok’s features — including its ‘For You’ recommendations — give even obscure videos a shot. ‘What makes TikTok so different is that any video that you post has the possibility of blowing up, which I think is a little bit different from Instagram or YouTube, which won’t necessarily push out your videos’ as often to viewers who aren’t following you, she says.

“Katie Johantgen, 28, discovered this in October 2019, when she uploaded her first few videos to TikTok, logged off and returned a couple of hours later to discover that she had 12,000 followers. … ‘More than karaoke, it creates the piano bar vibe,’ Johantgen says of the app.

“Daniel Mertzlufft knows that vibe. The 27-year-old composer, orchestrator and arranger in New York is the one who injected Jacobsen’s Remy song with cello, chimes, French horn, glockenspiel, choral harmonies and more. He had done this kind of thing before: In September, he posted ‘Grocery Store: A New Musical,’ a 43-second song inspired by a Louisa Melcher lyric, where he plays one half of a couple bickering in an aisle. Fans used the duet feature to add more and more characters: his wife, his lover (played by ‘Pitch Perfect’ star Skylar Astin), their kid, a can of soup, even ‘the water sprayers that always mist you when you’re reaching for kale,’ as the TikToker put it. …

“Mary Neely was duetting with herself quite a lot early in the pandemic — though on Twitter, where she created TikTok-esque videos by lip-syncing to such show tunes as the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ opener, dressing up as each character and filming it herself.

The 29-year-old ended up on year-end best-of-theater lists in both the Washington Post and the New York Times and is moving from Los Angeles to New York to pursue a musical theater career.

“While isolated, Neely remembered that as a child, acting out soundtracks in her bedroom was what made her happy in times of loneliness. So she decided to indulge a passion that often made her feel like an outlier.

“ ‘When I made these videos, I was like, I don’t care if people think they’re lame. I don’t care if I get made fun of, because I like this, and this is a huge part of me and has informed my life in a really positive way,’ she says. ‘So why should I be muting that part of myself?’

“Even Broadway performers and shows have started to benefit from this kind of interactivity. ‘Six,’ a new show about the wives of Henry VIII, saw a clip of its song ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ lip-synced by Loren Gray (50 million followers) and Charli D’Amelio (103 million). Women have lip-synced to its lyric ‘Yeah that didn’t work out’ over photos of their ex-boyfriends. As the show’s marketing chief, Amanda Pekoe, puts it, ‘ “Six” lives and breathes in their lives.’ ” More.

From my experience with casting in community theater, I could relate to a comment about how you always think you want to see someone from another era in a hard-to-cast role. Now you can make it happen. Sort of.

Photo: Marbeth/ Cultural Council Foundation
“Words to Go” mobile troupe of poets and authors (1978)

Two artists who benefited both the nation and themselves in a 1970s recession have wisdom to share about why a federally funded arts program might be a good idea as we rebuild after the pandemic.

Virginia Maksymowicz and Blaise Tobia write at Hyperallergic, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and its employment of artists during the 1930s [was not] the one and only time the federal government employed artists en masse. [From] 1974 to 1982, federal funds provided employment to 10,000 artists nationwide under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). …

“Signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1973 during a recession, CETA was … originally conceived as a means of training unskilled workers. It was subsequently amended to allow the hiring of trained professionals in high unemployment fields. John Kreidler, an intern at the San Francisco Arts Commission, was the first to recognize how CETA monies could be directed towards artists, and he began using the funding for SFAC’s Neighborhood Arts Project. Soon, similar programs were developed in cities and towns across the country. …

“Why are the CETA artist programs less well known than the WPA projects? For one thing, they took place under less dramatic circumstances — an economic crisis not nearly as severe as the Great Depression. For another, they were decentralized: planned and carried out at the state and municipal level rather than under federal administration. For yet another, they were designed primarily for artists to provide public service (such as teaching, project leadership, or administration) rather than to produce individual artworks. …

“We worked under the largest CETA-funded arts project in the country, the Cultural Council Foundation (CCF) Artists Project in NYC. It and four associated projects employed 500 visual, performing and literary artists. … We worked four days per week in community assignments and one day per week in our studios. Some of the visual artists created community-requested public art works but, unlike the Federal Art Project, this was not a major part of the program.

“The CCF musicians performed in a number of ensembles, such as the Orchestra of New York and the Jazzmobile CETA Big Band, giving free concerts throughout the city. The media artists worked as a documentary video production unit. Many of the writers became part of a mobile teaching/performing unit called ‘Words to Go.’ …

“Our experience proved invaluable to us, not just because it provided a regular paycheck. Through working in different community settings in all five boroughs, we learned how to interact as artists with a wide range of institutional bureaucracies, ethnic groups, and economic classes. …

“When it came to assignments, CCF acted as matchmaker. Community organizations, schools, museums, theaters, and other nonprofits submitted proposals for CETA artists. While the federal government provided the funds and CCF wrote the checks, it was the sponsor’s responsibility to provide the space, materials, and assistance that their proposal required.

“[During] the first year, Blaise was a photographer for the project’s documentation unit along with two other photographers, three writers, and an archivist. He traveled to artists’ studios, to performances and exhibitions, to workshops and classes, and to official and unofficial events related to the project. … In his second year, with the closing of the documentation unit, he was transferred to the general photographers’ pool and worked in three community projects. One was for the Richmond Hill Historical Society, which uses his photographs on its website to this day.

Photo: Blaise Tobia
Painter Charles Stanley leading mural workshop in a Lower East Side elementary school in 1978.

“Virginia experienced a variety of placements ranging from teaching children, to renovating an old school, to assisting in museums to creating public artworks. Her work for an after-school program in the Bronx resulted in a collaboration with Charles Biasiny-Rivera at En Foco. They jointly mounted an exhibition of drawings made by the children and photographs made by professionals. …

“She was also part of a crew of 10 artists assigned to the Brooklyn Arts and Cultural Association. … Under the direction of its founder, Charlene Victor, they converted the former St. Boniface’s School on Willoughby Street into a performance and art space. Their efforts resulted in what came to be known as BACA Downtown, a venue that gave Spike Lee, Danny DeVito, and Suzan-Lori Parks their starts.

“Across the country, CETA artists had similar experiences. … Like the WPA, the CCF Artists Project helped lay a foundation for the future careers of individual artists. It connected artists to communities and to each other. Many of us were able to transition out of the gig economy into sustainable positions. …

“CETA particularly benefited African-American, Latinx, Asian, and women artists, not only as individuals but in terms of kickstarting and stabilizing organizations, some of which remain active today. … Museums and cultural institutions across the country benefited from the CETA funding of support staff. In NYC alone, there were 300 CETA employees in maintenance, security, and other positions. The Philadelphia Museum of Art had at least 38 CETA staff lines. ….

“CETA’s employment of artists was money well spent. The investment was returned to society manyfold in the form of taxes paid, services rendered, real estate values increased, neighborhoods revived, and an overall economy made more vibrant. …

“What would it take to allow a jobs program like CETA to happen again? The will to do so, along with the right approach. … The Biden administration will have to address massive un- and under-employment across all sectors of society. …

“An updated version of Nixon’s ‘new federalism’ might help CETA-like legislation through Congress. Another benefit of the CETA approach is that it relied upon partnerships between government entities and private nonprofits. Such partnerships, intended to increase efficiency within the public sector, often enjoy bipartisan support. … What happened 40 years ago can happen again.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

Photo: Daniella Zalcman
Pele gets ready to play the ukulele, an instrument brought to Hawaii in the 1800s by Portuguese immigrants.

Saving a language, according to a recent article in Smithsonian magazine, involves more than learning to speak it. A language is an expression of a culture, a way of life, and speakers must appreciate all of that if the language is to survive.

Alia Wong writes about a married couple who have been putting in the work to see that both the Hawaiian language and the Hawaiian culture get passed down to new generations.

“Pelehonuamea Suganuma and Kekoa Harman were bright-eyed high schoolers in Honolulu when they first crossed paths, in the 1990s. The two were paired for a performance — a ho‘ike, as such shows are known in Hawaiian. Both teenagers had a passion for hula and mele (Hawaiian songs and chants), and they liked performing at the school they’d chosen to attend — Kamehameha High School, part of a 133-year-old private network that gave admissions preference to students of Hawaiian Polynesian ancestry. Still, one part of Hawaiian culture remained frustratingly out of reach for Pele and Kekoa: the language.

“Over many generations, the native tongue of the islands had been systematically eliminated from everyday life, and even the Kamehameha Schools weren’t able to bring it back. Part of it was a lack of interest — students seemed to prefer learning Japanese, Spanish or French. But more important, Hawaii’s educators generally hadn’t yet figured out how to teach Hawaiian vocabulary and grammar, or give eager youngsters like Pele and Kekoa opportunities to immerse themselves in Hawaiian speech.

“A few years later, Pele and Kekoa found themselves together again. Both of them enrolled in a brand-new Hawaiian language program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The two former schoolmates became part of a pioneering cohort that was innovating ways to bring Hawaiian back to life. They helped develop some of the first truly successful Hawaiian language programs throughout the state’s islands. Along the way, they started dating, got married and had four children, and raised them to speak fluent Hawaiian.

“Today, Pele teaches at a Hawaiian-language K-12 school and Kekoa teaches Hawaiian language and culture at the college they both attended. At home, their family speaks almost exclusively Hawaiian. The Harmans are proud of the revival they helped carry out in just one generation. But Unesco still lists the language as critically endangered, and there’s a long way to go before it’s spoken again as a part of everyday life. ‘There’s a false sense of security sometimes,’ says Pele, ‘that our language is coming back.’ …

“For centuries, Hawaiian had been an oral tongue — one steeped in mo‘olelo (story, legend, history). But after missionaries helped create a written version of the language, the local people took to it. They established more than 100 Hawaiian-language newspapers, according to some records. By 1834, more than 90 percent of Hawaiians were literate — up from virtually zero just 14 years earlier.

“Yet these strides in Hawaiian literacy were soon overtaken by efforts to erase Hawaiian culture altogether. American tycoons had also come to the islands, planting lucrative crops like sugar cane and coffee. …

“Outsiders helped to phase out the Hawaiian system of governance. They replaced traditional foods like taro with rice and imported wheat. They started issuing fines for performing hula, the ancient Hawaiian form of dance and expression. And as the 19th century was winding down, the Americans overthrew Queen Lili‘uokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch. They annexed the archipelago as a territory in 1898. By the time Hawaii became a state, in 1959, fewer than 2,000 people could speak Hawaiian fluently. …

“But there were still people left who remembered. Both Pele and Kekoa were close to their great-grandmothers — women born in the early 1900s, who spoke some Hawaiian, even though they were raised to think of their mother tongue as inferior to English. The great-grandmothers were the last members of each family to retain any fluency. …

“When Kekoa was a kid, his grandmother, who passed away a few years ago, used to take him to Hawaiian musical and hula performances. She’d make leis for tourist-targeted luaus, and he’d help her gather and string the flower garlands. ‘I loved going to those events,’ Kekoa says. …

“1997 was the year the Hawaiian legislature mandated a new program at the Hilo campus. It was called Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani, named after [a] woman from an ancient Hawaiian dynasty who was the governor of Hawaii during the mid-1800s. She was a defender of Hawaiian culture — although she came from a wealthy family and understood English, she lived in a traditional grass-roofed house and spoke only Hawaiian. The new program at Hilo had the motto O ka ‘ōlelo ke ka‘ā o ka Mauli: ‘Language is the fiber that binds us to our cultural identity.’

“Enrolling in this new program, Pele and Kekoa spoke Hawaiian as much as they could outside of class to become fluent. They ‘talked story’ with their professors in the hallways. Their teachers hosted little get-togethers every week. … At these gatherings, the students fumbled with the language over card games, with music in the background and snacks on the table. ‘That’s how we got comfortable,’ Pele says. …

“As the Harmans see it, Hawaiian will survive only if people value the culture around it. After all, Hawaiian doesn’t have the same marketing value as a massive international language like Spanish or Mandarin. Hawaiian is a language that describes local geographical features and captures an ancient worldview. … ‘Now we have a generation of Hawaiian speakers, but if we don’t also teach them [old Hawaiian] behaviors and beliefs, that fluency will only go so far,’ Kekoa says. ‘Hawaiian isn’t just a language but a way of life.’ ” More at Smithsonian, here.

And in a related article from today’s Associated Press, note that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has prioritized Covid-19 vaccine for elderly speakers of Dakota and Lokata languages, here.

Audubon Camp

Photo: Hog Island Audubon
Rosalie Haizlett at work during her artist residency at an Audubon camp in Maine.

January is a time of year that gardeners turn to seed catalogs and travelers start to make plans. This year many travelers are remaking plans for adventures they had to cancel last year. Maybe it will be safer now. Who knows?

There’s a kind of vacation I particularly like reading about — artists’ retreats — and this one in Maine is intriguing because it combines a love of birds with an artistic pursuit. The three 2020 artists, whose residencies were canceled, have been invited back for 2021, and I desperately hope for all of us — especially those of us who haven’t felt able to take risks this year — that the world will be safe enough for a bit more fun and satisfaction by then.

Hog Island Audubon alumna Lindsay McNamara writes, “Nestled along the Gulf of Maine and Muscongus Bay, lies a forested island in a small Maine fishing town. Hog Island is rich in history and has also been instrumental in the environmental education movement in the US. Since 1936, residential sessions at Hog Island Audubon Camp have been led by some of the most respected naturalists and environmental educators in the nation, inspiring scores of scientists, school and university educators, and conservation leaders.

“In 2014, Audubon added artists to that list. The Artist-in-Residence (AiR) program brings artists across disciplines and subject matter from all over the world to enjoy hands-on nature discovery in a creative, rustic retreat setting.

“Over the last six years, nearly 20 artists have joined the Hog Island family. I had the honor of asking these talented folks about their experiences on the Island.

“As bird nerds, it is no surprise that our conversations began with talks of favorite birds on and off the Island. Tom Schaefer, author of Nature’s People: The Hog Island Story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon and 2014 AiR, … explained, ‘As far as birds are concerned, it’s hard not to be impressed with the Atlantic Puffins, but I’d have to say the Osprey I scared up while hiking the perimeter of the Island was my favorite. In 1981, Osprey were still making their comeback. Pretty exciting bird for my life list.’

“Other favorite Hog Island birds included … Roseate and Arctic Terns, Winter Wren, Bald Eagle, Hermit Thrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Common Loon. 2019 AiR and watercolor painter Rosalie Haizlett explained, ‘My favorite bird on the island was the Common Loon, because I could hear its wails so clearly from my little cabin in the evenings. The sound was simultaneously melancholy and calming and while at first it gave me an eerie feeling, I soon grew accustomed to it and enjoyed it.’

“Chats quickly shifted to favorite birds in general. … 2017 AiR and painter Michael Boardman joked, “As an artist I should say ‘the bird that sits still long enough to sketch,’ but it’s really a Snowy Owl.’

“2015 AiR, program coordinator, and printmaker, Sherrie York said … ‘As an artist, I am particularly drawn to birds with a strong graphic character. I often joke that Harlequin Ducks, with their bold and bright plumage, must have evolved just to inspire printmakers. …

“ ‘As a group, the birds that inspire me most are those that have some sort of direct relationship with water: seabirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. I grew up and lived most of my life in Colorado, in the arid interior of the United States. A couple of years ago I moved to Maine, and now live about 20 minutes from Hog Island. Both places are strongly tied to water but the relationships are very different. Whatever our human relationships to water might be, water birds can connect us and help us understand the challenges and needs of our particular region.’ …

“Many artists spoke of an elevated sense of place. Mr. Schaefer elaborated, ‘Hog Island is three-hundred-plus undeveloped acres in one of the most beautiful summer destinations on the planet. Mecca for hikers, climbers, birders, sailors, artists — vacationers of many different feathers.’ …

“ ‘That cabin, that island, and the world that envelops it gave me the room that I needed to think about some of the themes I’m obsessed with: birds, how we should think about them, what they mean in our lives, and what we mean in theirs,’ explained 2018 AiR and author Mark Hedden.

“2015 AiR and playwright Rebecca Gilman shared, ‘One night, I was startled awake by the weirdest, loudest sound. … It took me a while, but I eventually figured out there were seals out in the water, barking. I grew up in Alabama and I live in Wisconsin, so that was a first for me.’

“Ms. Haizlett explained … ‘I would often see students of all ages sketching in the woods or on the beach, and it made my heart happy to see people connecting with the natural world through the arts, which is how I also learn most effectively. I was invited to teach several nature illustration workshops while I was there, and those art and nature parties where some of my favorite experiences at Hog Island.’

“Oil painter and 2019 AiR Ralph Grady James shared his fondest memories: ‘First, I loved hearing the loons calling on the water while sitting on the cabin porch as the sun set. I also loved seeing the lobster boats tending their traps. It is not often in these days having that much peace and quiet away from others especially surrounded by the beauty in that place.’ …

“Paper artist and 2018 AiR Ingrid Erickson shared, ‘One of my fondest memories of Hog Island is of sitting on the porch in the evening, as the sky turned inky and filled with stars after my last solo walk on the beach. The night sky over Hog Island on a clear night is probably the least light polluted view of the night sky I’ve had in some time.’ …

” ‘My time on Hog Island,’ [Ms. Haizlett concluded], ‘was a beautiful confirmation to me that I’m on the right path.’ ”

More at Hog Island Audubon, here.

%d bloggers like this: