Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

chevro_profileshot

Photo: SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP)
Rabbit-sized Silver-backed Chevrotain live in the scrubby forests of Vietnam’s coast. Also known as mouse-deer, they are the world’s smallest ungulates, or hooved animals.

The great environmental radio show Living on Earth covered this hopeful story in early March, and despite the changes happening in our constantly upended world, it’s still good news.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: When a species hasn’t been seen for years, we start to worry it might be gone forever, just a ghost from a bountiful past. But in the forests of Vietnam, a team of scientists from Global Wildlife Conservation and its partners have caught just such a ghost on camera: The Vietnamese Fanged Mouse-deer.

“There have been no scientific records of this tiny creature in nearly 30 years, but now, camera traps have identified at least one population of the elusive creature, also known as the Silver-backed Chevrotain. The chevrotain is the first species found as part of Global Wildlife Conservation’s hunt for 25 ‘Most Wanted’ species, which they think may be lost. But the discovery of this particular species doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe from extinction. Vietnam has a lot of biodiversity, but it also has huge conservation challenges, including a thriving bush meat trade.

“For more about the search for the chevrotain, Andrew Tilker, the Asian Species Officer for Global Wildlife Conservation spoke with Living on Earth’s Aynsley O’Neill. …

“AYNSLEY O’NEILL: How did it feel to see this creature for the first time?

“ANDREW TILKER: It’s a really cool animal. So it looks like a tiny deer.

And when I say tiny, I mean the size of a rabbit. It looks like a small deer that somebody had dipped halfway into a bucket of silver paint and then pulled it out again. …

“I was overjoyed, as was the entire team. We felt confident that we had a good shot at getting photographs of the species because local people said they saw this animal that couldn’t be anything else. … Just highlights the importance of [working] with local people and local ecological knowledge. …

“In two different locations, local people told us they had seen a gray colored chevrotain. And so we went to one of these locations and put out camera traps and obtained the first photos of the species and the first record that the species exists in almost 30 years. So the species wasn’t lost to local people, which is why we try to be very careful to say that silverbacked chevrotain was lost to science. …

“We don’t yet know if there are threats that are specific to the chevrotain. But the species is, without a doubt heavily threatened by rampant indiscriminate snaring because every mammal species in Vietnam is threatened by snaring.

“In Vietnam and in other parts of Southeast Asia, bushmeat is something of a status symbol. So if you’re upper middle class and you want to show off to your friends, an easy way to do that is to go out and go to a bushmeat market and buy bushmeat rather than domestic meat. …

“We’re very intentionally not releasing the name of that site or the location of that site, just to be sure that there is no chance that any poachers who want something different or novel would try to hunt animals from that population. We know that the species is threatened by poaching, there’s no question about it. …

“O’NEILL: What are the next steps? Where do we go from here?

“TILKER: So the work is just beginning. The first step is securing the single known population. The second step, I think, is try to figure out where else the species occurs. If we lose these species from Vietnam, because they’re only found in this country, then that equates to global extinction. …

“[The] story, I think, gives much needed momentum for a positive outlook to conservation in Vietnam. And I’ve seen that in my interactions with local stakeholders, both from NGOs and also from the Vietnamese government. So it’s it’s nice to be part of a story that has such a positive direction because I think that’s often needed when you’re working in such a difficult field.”

To read more or listen to the original episode, click here.

By the way, you can join a free Living on Earth Zoom call with ecologist Carl Safina on Monday at 7 pm. Register here.

Read Full Post »

image

Photo: Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ ), Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster.
RTÉ Players recorded James Joyce’s mammoth work
Ulysses in 1982 for the Joyce centennial. It was rebroadcast today. Still going.

I didn’t know this before, but apparently many Irish people didn’t initially love James Joyce. They didn’t understand his writing any more than you or I did. But when a radio production brought his characters to life, they realized they knew these guys.

Denis Staunton has the story at the Irish Times.

“Britain had just defeated Argentina in the Falklands, Israeli forces were shelling Beirut. … But Dublin’s mind was elsewhere on June 16th, 1982, as the city celebrated the centenary of James Joyce’s birth with a mammoth Bloomsday festival. …

“Joyce’s words were everywhere in the city that day because from 6.30 am until the following afternoon, RTÉ Radio broadcast a complete reading of Ulysses lasting almost 30 hours.

“Listening on transistor radios and Walkmans, many Dubliners who had long been intimidated by the book found that they not only understood it but enjoyed it and recognised themselves in it. …

“The Irish Times [wrote], ‘The voices of the RTÉ readers became the medium for Joyce’s living words. The writer’s poor sight and fondness for singing surely must have affected the conspicuous musicality of his prose: he wrote to be listened to rather than read, so that Ulysses in its radio shape was shown to be an epic ballad.’

The recording, … broadcast in full on RTÉ Radio One Extra from 8 am [today and] available on rte.ie/ulysses, includes every word in the novel. But it is as much a dramatisation as a reading, with 33 actors playing more than 400 parts.

“As a 20 year-old actor in the RTÉ Players when the company spent most of 1981 on the project, I played a number of small parts including Ned Lambert and Lyster, the Quaker librarian and various voices that ensured I was at most of the rehearsals and recordings. …

“The director was Willie Styles, a former actor from New Zealand who had trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) before moving to Dublin … He was RTÉ’s most talented radio drama director by a distance and one of the most accomplished in the world, winning a succession of international awards as he embraced each technological advance. He worked on Ulysses with Marcus McDonald, a sound engineer who shared both his fastidiousness and his appetite for experimentation in sound.

“The textual adviser was Roland McHugh, an entomologist whose interest in the acoustics of grasshoppers led him to become an expert on Finnegans Wake. McHugh’s first challenge was to go through the text working out which words should be spoken by whom, with some chapters involving multiple narrators as well as characters. He decided that the Sirens chapter, which is set in the Ormond Hotel, should have four narrators.

“ ‘If you listen to it, the thing starts with Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy talking and you’ve got a narrator for them. And that goes on for about four pages, I think, and then you switch to Bloom, and he gets a separate narrator. So we’re jumping backwards and forwards between those two narrators until we get about halfway through the thing, and then a third narrator comes in and mostly says short things about the coach that Blazes Boylan is travelling in. And then towards the end there’s a fourth for the piano tuner. Those four narrators seemed to me to make a lot more sense of the thing,’ [McHugh] said. …

“Laurence Foster, an actor in the company who later became an energetic and innovative head of radio drama at RTÉ, says the medium makes specific demands on an actor.

“ ‘You have to get inside your own head – it’s a very selfish medium. You have to believe what you’re saying. You have to see through the mind’s eye and you have to bring up an incredible energy that converts the voice into painting pictures. The voice has to get a dynamic and a colour and a resonance and a rhythm,’ he says.

“ ‘You don’t play to the other person. The microphone is the audience and the audience’s ear. And when you get that into your head that you’re whispering into their ear, you don’t need a huge amount of voice.’ …

“It will now be available free online to listen to any time you want. But as The Irish Times observed after the first broadcast, listening to the entire book continuously is an experience of a different order entirely.

“ ‘When the seamless broadcast ended, many listeners must have discovered withdrawal symptoms,’ the editorial said.” More here.

Glad I read the book last year, so I sort of know what we’re talking about.

Read Full Post »

5eafcde1-2bda-48dc-8168-08c7813ab232-mining_lead_in_santa_ana_riverbed_3

Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun.
A large net at the Redlands Shooting Park is designed to stop lead shot from getting into the adjacent Santa Ana River, but shot often gets through.

Today I’m sharing an interesting article that Earle Cummings sent back in March, right before I began focusing on Covid stories. It’s about lead pollution at a firing range in the desert. We know about lead pollution in pre-1978 house paint and in the water of Flint, Michigan, where some children from poor families suffer from permanent damage.

But there’s also lead pollution from bullets, which can be especially dangerous near a river. Mark Olalde reported on the issue for the Palm Springs Desert Sun.

“Shrapnel from ricocheting bullets hits Kenny Graham about four times a day. At this point, he just accepts it as part of his job.

“As he rolled a cigarette and talked, a piece of flying metal banged viciously off a mechanical contraption with holes in it used to separate sand and rocks, not two feet from Graham’s unprotected hands. ‘There goes a pellet right there,’ he said deadpan, seated in the dry, sandy Santa Ana River in Redlands. …

“Graham — who said he is experiencing homelessness, working through a divorce and otherwise unemployed — makes money by mining and recycling lead buckshot and bullet fragments that escape from the adjacent Redlands Shooting Park. …

“The park has hosted sport shooters since the mid-1960s, but the business did little to stop lead, which is toxic to humans and wildlife, from entering the ephemeral waterway until 2013. Even now, pieces of bullets appear to find their way into this dry portion of the river where they can flow downstream when it rains.

“For much of its history, the site fell through the cracks among various regulatory bodies tasked with guarding the environment and public health. In their absence, a small-scale mining economy has sprung up in the legally protected river.

“While many people in need of steady work scour garbage bins for recyclable aluminum cans, glass bottles or plastic containers, Graham and a small cadre of compatriots spend their days pulling bullet fragments from the ground. They sell the lead at a nearby recycling center for 40 cents a pound. …

Graham said, ‘It’s not much money, but I get a sense of peace knowing that I possibly can help somebody.’

“Graham said he can’t afford personal protective equipment but knows that lead is a heavy metal that’s toxic to humans. Although lead’s health consequences are more dire in children, the metal can cause cardiovascular and kidney problems, damage to cognitive functions and reproductive issues in adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …

“Documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that decades of errant bullets had contaminated 42 acres of the waterway, including habitat for several federally listed endangered species. … The business no longer tries to recover lead from the riverbed. …

” ‘It’s the sporting of the rich man, but it’s the poor cleaning up,’ observed Tommy Lu, who runs an efficient-looking operation just downstream of Graham. …

“Against the backdrop of the regular report of gunfire, he laid a tarp down, scraped his shovel against the wall in his pit and watched sand, rocks and metal shower down. Next, he poured the mixture over a perforated metal sheet on a contraption he built to separate out rock. An orange extension cord attached to it snaked out of the hole and under the hood of his dusty Lexus SUV parked nearby to provide electricity.

“Lu turned on the machine, and it began to rattle noisily, sifting out pebbles. The final step, he said, would be to set up a fan and pour the remaining mixture across the stream of air, blowing away the lighter sand while collecting the lead.

“It’s not a place to get rich, but the labor does bring a consistent payday. If he works long hours, Lu said he can sometimes make more than $100 in a day. ..

“Every so often, a sound like the crackle of dying fireworks signaled material showering against the netting. Lu, like Graham, said he gets hit several times a day, comparing the feeling to a rubber band unexpectedly snapping on the back of his neck.

“Most of the miners’ holes dug in the riverbed are covered by tarps and fabric held up by mismatched tent poles. The lean-tos are meant to protect them against the hot sun and stinging pellets.

“Lu joked that he would mine into someone else’s pit if they didn’t move fast enough, but he said the group digging in the river is otherwise peaceful. …

“Carl Baker, a spokesperson for the city of Redlands, said via email that the Redlands Police Department does not usually arrest anyone for mining lead there, but the department is aware that ‘illegal scavenging’ is ongoing. …

“But if Graham and Lu are breaking the law, whose job is it to force them to stop, let alone to clean up the river, to protect community health and to ensure that Redlands Shooting Park keeps its shot curtain in good condition? …

“Calls and emails to the EPA, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, the county’s public works department, the California Natural Resources Agency, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Redlands Fire Department, the county fire department and the Department of Toxic Substances Control did not turn up a lead agency checking on the situation. …

” ‘I’ve never seen anyone take a mineral sample,’ said Graham, who said he lives at the site and has worked there nearly a year. …

“Robert Wise, an EPA employee assigned to act as the on-scene coordinator, called off further reclamation [September 2013], saying that it would do more damage than good to the important habitat. … ‘Wise made the determination that no further cleanup of the lead in the River/Preserve is warranted. Over time, the illegal scavenging operations will remove the lead currently present in the River/Preserve,’ according to an EPA report on the matter. …

“Even though [Graham is] saving up to buy Lu’s old car, he’s adamant that his main rationale for scavenging is to protect public health and the environment.

” ‘It’s not fair for people to get unknowingly sick because of someone else’s extracurricular carelessness,’ he said.” More at the Desert Sun, here.

Read Full Post »

original-4628652-3

Image: Teachers Pay Teachers.
Why we doodle.

I keep a list of potential posts, but since the pandemic, many of them feel out of date. There’s one, for example, that I’ll put up when things return to normal, but if I tell you now about a rug market in Morocco run by women, how do I know that it’s currently operating?

Fortunately, there are some topics that work for both normal times and times of isolation. Today we consider what the act of making art can do for the brain.

“A lot of my free time is spent doodling,” writes Malaka Gharib. “I’m a journalist on NPR’s science desk by day. But all the time in between, I am an artist — specifically, a cartoonist. I draw in between tasks. I sketch at the coffee shop before work. And I like challenging myself to complete a zine — a little magazine — on my 20-minute bus commute.

“I do these things partly because it’s fun and entertaining. But I suspect there’s something deeper going on. Because when I create, I feel like it clears my head. It helps me make sense of my emotions. And somehow it makes me feel calmer and more relaxed.

“That made me wonder: What is going on in my brain when I draw? Why does it feel so nice? … It turns out there’s a lot happening in our minds and bodies when we make art.

” ‘Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world,’ says Christianne Strang, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association. …

” ‘Anything that engages your creative mind — the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate — is good for you,’ says Girija Kaimal. She is a professor at Drexel University and a researcher in art therapy, leading art sessions with members of the military suffering from traumatic brain injury and caregivers of cancer patients. But she’s a big believer that art is for everybody — and no matter what your skill level, it’s something you should try to do on a regular basis. Here’s why. …

“Art’s ability to flex our imaginations may be one of the reasons why we’ve been making art since we were cave-dwellers, says Kaimal. It might serve an evolutionary purpose. She has a theory that art-making helps us navigate problems that might arise in the future. …

Her theory builds off of an idea developed in the last few years — that our brain is a predictive machine. The brain uses ‘information to make predictions about we might do next — and more importantly what we need to do next to survive and thrive. …

” ‘So what our brain is doing every day, every moment, consciously and unconsciously, is trying to imagine what is going to come and preparing yourself to face that. … This act of imagination is actually an act of survival,’ she says. ‘It is preparing us to imagine possibilities and hopefully survive those possibilities.’ …

“For a lot of people, making art can be nerve-wracking. What are you going to make? What kind of materials should you use? What if you can’t execute it? What if it … sucks?

“Studies show that despite those fears, ‘engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated,’ says Kaimal. ‘Which means that you feel good and it’s perceived as a pleasurable experience.’

“She and a team of researchers discovered this in a 2017 paper published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy. They measured blood flow to the brain’s reward center, the medial prefrontal cortex, in 26 participants as they completed three art activities: coloring in a mandala, doodling and drawing freely on a blank sheet of paper. …

“Although the research in the field of art therapy is emerging, there’s evidence that making art can lower stress and anxiety. In a 2016 paper in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, Kaimal and a group of researchers measured cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress.

“They found that 45 minutes of creating art in a studio setting with an art therapist significantly lowered cortisol levels.

The paper also showed that there were no differences in health outcomes between people who identify as experienced artists and people who don’t. So that means that no matter your skill level, you’ll be able to feel all the good things that come with making art. …

“Ultimately, says Kaimal, making art should induce what the scientific community calls ‘flow’ — the wonderful thing that happens when you’re in the zone. ‘It’s that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You’re so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space,’ she says.

“And what’s happening in your brain when you’re in flow state? ‘It activates several networks including relaxed reflective state, focused attention to task and sense of pleasure,’ she says. …

“A number of studies have shown that coloring inside a shape — specifically a pre-drawn geometric mandala design — is more effective in boosting mood than coloring on a blank paper or even coloring inside a square shape. And one 2012 study published in Journal of the American Art Therapy Association showed that coloring inside a mandala reduces anxiety to a greater degree compared to coloring in a plaid design or a plain sheet of paper.

“Strang says there’s no one medium or art activity that’s ‘better’ than another. ‘Some days you want to may go home and paint. Other days you might want to sketch,’ she says.”

More at NPR, here.

The NPR reporter in today’s post wrote this book.

51yhizuzlyl

Read Full Post »

merlin_173066703_e2716cc9-9930-43cf-bddc-793876f48fd6-jumbo

Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov for the New York Times.
The cast of “Cabaret Under the Balconies,” kept away from their theater by Covid-19, performs at a safe distance for nursing home residents in France.

What hath Zoom wrought? Despite its glitches, Zoom has solved a lot of problems in the coronavirus era and has even introduced new ideas for future activities. Yesterday, for example, one brother and I watched another brother give a lecture on immunology research to a conference — a thing we could never before have imagined doing. Although we hardly understood a word, we both found the experience of watching our kid brother explain obscure transformations of molecules — and gracefully answer all sorts of technical questions — completely delightful.

In today’s story, a theater group in France tapped Zoom to conduct remote rehearsals before performing in front of a live audience.

Laura Cappelle reports at the New York Times, “When circumstances close theaters’ doors, you can count on some performers to find a window to open. Last week in [a] city in eastern France, the residents and staff of a nursing home watched from a safe distance — some from windows and balconies — as five actors appeared in the building’s courtyard in front of a makeshift red curtain. ‘It feels like it’s been such a long time,’ they sang, in a cover of Joe Dassin’s wistful chanson ‘Salut.’ ‘Far from home, I’ve been thinking about you.’

“ ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ [was] the first professional theater performance in France since lockdown was imposed on March 17. …

“The relief of the cast was palpable as they performed at the facility, the Ehpad Bois de Menuse. … The 45-minute show was designed to respect social distancing among the cast members as well as between them and the audience, Bréban explained in an introduction.

“Except for one real-life couple, who were allowed to kiss, none of the performers touched. … Bréban, who also performed in the show, capitalized on the actors’ individual strengths, from Antonin Maurel’s clownish energy to Cléo Sénia’s burlesque background.

“Their approach appeared to resonate with the audience, limited to 40 people. (The show was performed twice so that most of the 90 residents could see it.) Many of them were in wheelchairs, yet could be seen nodding or tapping their feet to the beat. In the courtyard, one woman got up, swung her arms and danced with a masked worker from the home. Another teared up as Léa Lopez, a young performer with a lush voice, sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

“Valérie Gonthier, a nursing assistant who stayed by the woman’s side as she cried, said in an interview afterward that music often stirred up emotions for residents who experienced memory loss. The Ehpad has a choir, but French nursing homes don’t typically have the funds to bring in professional performances; Gonthier couldn’t remember anything like last week’s show in the 26 years she has been with the institution. …

“Nicolas Royer, the theater’s director since January, said he disagreed with many French arts administrators who had interpreted government regulations to mean that performances were impossible. He didn’t furlough any employees, instead asking the costume department to make surgical-style masks, welcoming doctors from a nearby hospital in the theater’s guest apartments and hosting training sessions for city workers dealing with the crisis.

“In April, Royer got a call from Bréban, an experienced actress and emerging director who was going stir crazy in her Paris home: She told Royer she was down for anything he dreamed up. …

“The cast of ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ rehearsed over Zoom for seven days and, after the relaxing of lockdown in France in May, met in Chalon-sur-Saône for one week of in-person rehearsals — with strict rules. Bréban booked cast members with no health conditions. Daily temperature checks and frequent use of sanitizing gel were mandated, and everyone was offered a coronavirus test.

“By far the most onerous directive for the performers was to maintain a distance from one another of roughly one meter at all times. … ‘We were confident that we were within labor regulations, with an audience that was already confined and highly protected,’ Royer said. …

“The last time I went to the theater, two and a half months ago, Isabelle Huppert headlined Ivo van Hove’s staging of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ For all the star appeal of that night at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ was the more memorable event — a sincere attempt to go back to basics, in the right place, at the right time.”

More at the New York Times, here.

Read Full Post »

farmlink_james-555x370-1

Photo: Owen Dubeck
Stanford sophomores James Kanoff and Stella Delp created the not-for-profit FarmLink to salvage surplus food from farmers and donate it to overwhelmed food banks. Above, Kanoff is seen helping to deliver a shipment of onions.

One of the more troubling manifestations of Covid-19’s impact on the economy is that farmers who no longer have restaurants and large institutions buying their food, unable to afford to transport it to food banks that desperately need it, are destroying much of what they produce.

Two sophomores at Stanford University knew that something had to be done. Sydney Page at the Washington Post has the story.

“Doug Hess spent the last three months staring at a mammoth mountain of potatoes — enough to feed more than 6 million people. The potato farmer in Ashton, Idaho, who sells to commercial farms that supply the food service industry, said the novel coronavirus pandemic has gutted his business. …

“He donated what he could, but the cost to pack the produce and ship it to food banks was too high, especially considering the massive financial loss the family farm, which goes back four generations, was already suffering.

“As Hess’s pile of wasted potatoes slowly started to rot, stomachs rumbled across the country.

“Food banks in the United States are grappling with unprecedented need — a direct symptom of widespread unemployment, as roughly 16 percent of Americans are still without a paycheck. …

“James Kanoff, 21, a sophomore at Stanford University, took note of the troubling paradox: Farms have a surplus of food from canceled restaurant contracts and a shattered supply chain, while food banks are experiencing a staggering surge in demand. …

“So Kanoff and a group of college students from Stanford and Brown universities started FarmLink, a grass-roots movement to prevent food waste while also working to address food insecurity. FarmLink raises money to pay farmers for produce and dairy that would otherwise be wasted, then funds the transportation to send the goods to food banks in the neediest areas around the country.

“Since it started in mid-April, FarmLink has delivered 2 million pounds of produce, including some of Hess’s potatoes, to hungry Americans, in just over a month. That’s roughly 1.5 million meals.

“Volunteers have delivered potatoes, eggs, milk, onions, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, salt, celery, carrots and sweet potatoes to communities in 22 states, including Hawaii — with no plans to stop, even after the pandemic ends. …

“Through social media campaigns and word of mouth, the initiative has raised more than $750,000 — mostly from small, individual donations.

“Kanoff grew up volunteering at Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica. When he heard the organization’s food supply was scarce, he decided to test the FarmLink concept by reaching out to a local farm and asking if it had an oversupply. …

“Farmers all around the United States are experiencing a major surplus — from thousands of acres of fresh fruits and vegetables in Florida and California, to millions of gallons of milk and countless eggs in Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin.

“Once Kanoff and his team secured 90,000 pounds of [onions from Shay Myers, the CEO of Owyhee Produce,] they reached out to Food Finders, a nonprofit food rescue organization that connects donated food to hundreds of pantries in Southern California. …

“ ‘The problem with the government programs is that the farms are not in the business of sourcing food banks,’ said [Diana Lara, the executive director of Food Finders]. … FarmLink is helping to bridge the gap. USDA distributors, including Borden Dairy, have started reaching out to FarmLink directly for assistance in finding food banks in need and distributing surplus product, Kanoff said.

“The burgeoning organization has divided its [100] volunteers into three specializations: the farms team locates farms with excess supply, the logistics team targets hot spots with the greatest food insecurity, and the food banks team connects directly with local pantries across the country to assess demand. The organization also has sponsorships with Uber Freight and Coyote Logistics, to assist with transporting the goods.

“FarmLink’s work has made an impact on some of the hardest-hit regions of the country, including Navajo Nation at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah … Nathan Lynch, a site coordinator at Navajo Nation Christian Response Team, … who delivers emergency food boxes to 2,000 homes on the reserve, said the food insecurity in the region is pervasive. ‘FarmLink has filled a big void.’ ”

More here.

Read Full Post »

ylzbpavkn4i6vjb7nn4knyfwne

Photo: Samsung
Sixth-graders at the Downtown Doral Charter Upper School in Florida worked with teacher Rebeca Martinez on a device to detect sediment buildup in a storm drain. The students’ project, which aims to stop flash floods, was among five grand-prize winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

To my way of thinking, no amount of money is too much to pay teachers like those guiding the middle school students in today’s story to tackle a science competition. Whether in public or private school, teachers build the future, but since most students are in public schools, the type of education there is the most critical and most in need of funding. Every child should have opportunities to stretch themselves.

Lela Nargi reports at the Washington Post, “In late May, storms flooded streets in Miami-Dade County in Florida. The floods made cars sink and turned roads into brown rivers.

“A team of local middle school students has a plan to stop this ongoing problem.

“Alyssa Neuber, Bianca Verri and Jose Pirela are sixth-graders at Downtown Doral Charter Upper School. They designed a device to warn city workers when and where there is a danger of flooding. The team is one of five grand-prize winners of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. The contest asked for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) solutions to the biggest challenge facing a school community.

‘I’ve been living here my entire life, and all of us have encountered problems with flooding,’ says Bianca. ‘We knew that was the problem we were going to tackle.’

“Flash flooding can happen when storm drains get plugged up and, especially during hurricanes, overflow into streets. It’s the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States.

“The students’ device uses a laser system called lidar, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging.’ The device, if approved by the city government, could be attached to Doral’s 2,575 storm and manhole drains — one device per drain. If a drain gets clogged with sediment, the device could send a computer alert to the city’s stormwater management office. Then the stormwater manager could send someone to clean the drain.

“ ‘We had our class help us in the beginning to find information about how we were going to use lidar,’ says Jose.

“The three STEM whizzes then started to work more closely with their science teacher, Rebeca Martinez. They figured out what each of them is good at. … Class parents who were engineers and website coders helped them figure out the details.

“Starting in March, the school was closed, so team meetings went virtual. Luckily, says Bianca, ‘We already had a prototype device, and we just had to tweak it some more.’

“They also had to pitch their idea virtually to contest judges. …

“A team from Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, California, made a wildfire alert. At Fairfield Senior High School in Fairfield, Ohio, students designed an app to prevent deaths of kids left in hot cars. Students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham invented an app that helps people recycle. And in Wisconsin, kids at Omro High School created a sensor that lets ice fishers know when it’s safe to walk on frozen lakes.

“Each of the five teams won $100,000 for technology and supplies for their science classrooms.” More at the Washington Post, here.

Read Full Post »

500-year-old-rock-art-may-have-been-made-with-beeswax

Photo: Archaeologists Liam M. Brady, John J. Bradley, Amanda Kearney, Daryl Wesley
Was this ancient rock art created using beeswax stencils?

Here’s a tip for making detailed art that lasts. I’m talking about 500 years and counting. A team of archaeologists now believes the secret of certain cave paintings is beeswax.

Sarah Cascone writes at Artnet News, “Archaeologists in Australia believe they have identified a previously undocumented beeswax stenciling technique used by ancient artists to create cave paintings.

“Most rock art stencils are large in scale. Artists would place their hand or other objects on the wall and spray liquid pigment, creating a full-size negative image. But the artworks at a Limmen National Park site called Yilbilinji, in the Gulf of Carpentaria region of northern Australia, are much smaller. There are 17 tiny stenciled paintings at the site, some depicting human figures and animals, such as kangaroos and turtles, others of boomerangs and geometric designs.

“Studying the 500-year-old rock art there, a team from Australia’s Flinders University and Monash University, have come up with a new theory about how Aboriginal artists created the miniature and small-scale stenciled motifs.

“The team was able to replicate the mysterious miniature art using tiny models sculpted from beeswax, publishing their findings last month in the journal Antiquity. Representatives of the local Indigenous Marra people assisted with the experiment, which only used materials that are native to the region.

“The researchers believe that the Yilbilinji artwork may have served a spiritual purpose in religious rituals. On the other hand, the artwork is placed low to the ground, suggesting it may have been made by children.” More at Artnet, here.

Don’t you wonder how future archaeologists will interpret artifacts dug up from our own culture? Will their theories be as far apart as “It’s for a solemn religious ceremony,” “No, it’s for a child’s game”?

Read Full Post »

91176756_112802980363679_5284517-2

Photo: Tiny Theatre
Rachel Burttram Powers and Brendan Powers, actors married to each other, created a theater in their closet for these self-distancing times.

Sandra’s dear departed mother had the best recipe for boredom: Go clean out a closet. Sandra cleaned out a lot of closets as a kid, and now as an adult, she is never bored because she knows how to find something more interesting to do.

When I was a kid, I was one to play in the closet rather than clean it and had many tea parties with Carole, accompanied by flashlights, cinnamon toast, and dolls.

Today’s story is about two actors, married and stuck at home in the pandemic, who did both: They cleaned out a closet and then played in it.

Sarah Tietje-Mietz reports at American Theatre, “The stage lights glow like dozens of small stars while the countdown to curtain plays over the intercom. … The actors come together, separated by mere inches, so close that their knees bump and their shoulders touch, so close that they have to lean back to even look at each other.

“The stage is a 4-by-4 closet, lit by a string of Christmas lights. … The audience is all online. Welcome to Tiny_Theatre.

‘I think there’s a need for humans to connect, maybe more than ever,’ said actor and Tiny_Theatre co-founder Rachel Burttram Powers. ‘Toni Morrison says that it’s the artist’s job to create in a time of crisis, you know? We created this out of necessity.’

“Tiny_Theatre is the passion project of Rachel and her husband/co-founder, Brendan Powers, as a response to the shuttering of all theatres in the wake of COVID-19. The couple perform from the guest room of their Fort Myers, Fla., home three times a week — Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays — on Facebook Live. …

“Rachel and Brendan have established a network of playwrights to tap into for their newest project. Some writers have even reached out directly with suggestions of work. Rights for the plays have all been granted gratis to the couple. …

“In early March, Rachel and Brendan were in the final dress rehearsal for Florida Rep’s production of Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2. The theatre closed its door the next day. Though the couple’s turn as Nora and Torvald was recorded and streamed online, the two found themselves suddenly faced with an abundance of time and artistic energy.

“ ‘We were sort of in that mindset as performers,’ Rachel said. ‘We were ready to go eight shows a week. Suddenly it was like a needle pulled off the record.’

“Added Brendan, ‘A couple days in, once we knew we were canceling the show, I could see Rachel — I can tell when she’s thinking of something.’ …

“Back to Rachel: ‘I started cleaning out a back closet because I thought, “What would happen if you made a theatre at home?” We knew everyone was self-isolating. We both have a passion for new plays, and we have a lot of playwright friends who are very well established, and I just thought, “Let me just send an email to see if people would be game to play with us.” ‘ …

“There is evident respect in the way they communicate, not just as a married couple but as professionals in their field. Playwright Arlene Hutton acknowledges this interplay as creating an environment akin to a mini-repertory company in Tiny_Theatre. Hutton was already familiar with the couple, having worked with Brendan when he starred in her work, Running, and seen Rachel in Florida Rep’s production of Audrey Cefaly’s Alabaster. … ‘They’re not trying to make it more than it is, you know?’ …

“On March 21, Tiny_Theatre debuted with scenes from Cefaly’s Maytag Virgin. This inaugural performance was also the couple’s first Facebook Live experience. (Brendan did not even have a Facebook account at the time.) Their setup was a smartphone, a broken tripod, and a paint stirrer, all literally held together with duct tape. …

“The technical system has since been upgraded, which they credit to the community that has bloomed around Tiny_Theatre. Friends, family, followers, and even strangers have sent gift cards (resulting in a new iPad) as well as printer paper and toner (for printing and notating scripts). …

“There’s a goofiness and levity to these two, a palpable happiness for the work they are doing. Silliness aside, the two have dedicated years to honing their craft onstage. In such close proximity, their acting is distilled to their voices, the acuity in their facial expressions, the gentle placement of a hand, through which they transport their viewers beyond the confines of their closet.

“ ‘That’s been tricky,’ Brendan said of the lack of mobility. ‘As we read a scene — you’re an actor, you start to feel it, and then you get put in that situation where you can’t storytell physically or only very, very minimally.’ …

“It was this challenge that attracted Nathan Christopher, who found out about Tiny_Theatre through the Playwright Submission Binge online community and became enamored with the project after just one viewing. The Powerses accepted Christopher’s submission of his recent play A Man Walks Into a Bar, performing it on April 6, as well as Clairvoyant, which came from an open call they put out that asked writers to create short works inspired by a single photo they provided as a prompt.”

Read more here.

Read Full Post »

060620-Covid-graduation

Nobody needs me to spell out the “worst of times” side of 2020. As for the “best of times,” if we learn a lot and change things that need changing, then OK, maybe. But that is something we won’t know for years.

Meanwhile, there are things like this: people getting in touch who usually only send holiday cards, learning which technologies are useful, rediscovering pleasure in nature, being forced to reconsider priorities. Thinking more deeply.

This photo round-up doesn’t cover the whole range. (I’d ordinarily have pictures from protests but am too afraid of Covid-19 to go out.) I do have photos that reflect self-distancing and nature.

At the top, we have some parents’ tribute to their high school senior who, according to another message on the Toyota van, was embarrassed by the effort — especially because they “used that car”!

Next you see that self-distancing in a crowded antiques co-op was too difficult for one vendor, who decided on an honor system and even left items outside overnight!

The painted duck is enlisted every year to promote a nursery school’s rubber-duck race. This year the duck is thoughtfully wearing a mask.

I wanted to include the sign poking fun at my hyper-preservationist town and also a picture of some calligraphy I almost stepped on. The collaborative calligraphy artists are called Pollen, Wind, and Rain.

The yellow iris is Kristina’s, and the purple ones under the yew are at my house. Next up, the iris and peony gardens at Minuteman National Park — really worth the walk.

The next two photos suggest that one homeowner is into purple. Me, too. I love that clematis! The deep pink peonies made for my favorite peony shot. (I don’t find the typical round clumps anchoring lawns very photogenic. )

The Pink Lady Slipper next to the Starflower requires very special conditions in the wild, and I always feel honored when a Lady Slipper on protected conservation land lets me see her. The next three shots are from the same woodland walk, the last a total mystery. It’s a collapsed building that appears to have been left to rot in the forest years ago. I wrote to my 10-year-old grandson about it. Perhaps he will come up with a theory.

060120-self-service-antiques

060720-ducky-wears-a-mask

060420-nothing-happened-here

060720-pollen-art

20200530-iris-by-Kris-Joyce

060520-iris-and-yew

60520-Buttrick-House-iris-garden

060220-purple-clematis

060220-flowers-along-a-fence

060420-dark-pink-rhodies

052520-.Pink-Lady-Slipper-and-stars

052520-.tree-amputee-keeps-going

052520-looking-up-in-branches

052520-.woodland-mystery

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

When I worked at the Fed magazine, I attended a couple conferences on housing for seniors and learned about a thing called universal design. Universal design espouses the notion of making all architecture accessible so expensive alterations aren’t needed later. Someday, you might be using a wheelchair or crutch in the home you love, and wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to reconfigure it for a ramp, flat thresholds, wider doors, handrails, higher toilet seats, etc.?

Similarly during the coronavirus pandemic, architects have been rethinking design so we don’t need too many adjustments in pandemics. Think of all the light switches, doorknobs, and elevator buttons you’re careful not to touch these days! Think of the store ventilation systems you wonder about! What if you didn’t have to worry?

Recently, Carolina A. Miranda addressed this topic in a long feature at the Los Angeles Times.

“In another time, not long ago, an elevator was a conveyance to reach a higher floor, an open office was a spot to clock eight hours while hoping your boss didn’t catch you checking Facebook and a doorknob was one of those banalities of architecture that seemed to warrant attention only when it needed replacing.

“What a difference a virus makes. …

“ ‘If you take the great architectural inventions of the 20th century: the airport, the high-rise, the freeway — those are the things that are challenged the most right now,’ says Brett Steele, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture. ‘They have great density or they promise movement at high speeds. Those are exactly the things that sit at the crux of the crisis we are going through.’

‘It’s a reset button for the entire world,” says Mark Lee, co-founder of the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee and chair of the architecture department at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. …

“ ‘I’m working on a synagogue, and that is a crazy problem,’ says Barbara Bestor, founder of Bestor Architecture, a 25-person firm based in Silver Lake. ‘How do you do High Holidays after COVID with 2,000 or 3,000 people?’ …

“The solution may involve segmenting larger spaces and segregating the most vulnerable in a separately ventilated environment. … Or it may involve designing a physical space that, Bestor says, features ‘a robust video component so that people can watch remotely.’

“Gatherings via videoconference could become a way of life. Architects could find themselves designing spaces just for that purpose. …

“First, architecture firms, like all other businesses, must weather the pandemic. … The economics are dire. And yet there is a determination to not waste the moment.

“ ‘Every crisis is an opportunity,’ says Hernán Díaz Alonso, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). ‘The optimist in me believes that this will force us to reevaluate everything that we do.’

“This is a time, he says, to ask ‘the big metaphysical questions’ about architecture and its purpose. It’s also about considering the nuts and bolts. ‘If we don’t get a vaccine, what does that mean? What does that mean in terms of physical space? What do you do with a doorknob?’ …

“ ‘Densities of offices will change,’ [says Bob Hale is partner and creative director at L.A.-based RCH Studios].

“This raises questions about one of the most popular — and widely reviled — workplace designs: the open-plan office, in which rows of workers are jammed around long bench desks.

“These are settings that have a poor track record when it comes to producing actual work. They also, according to a Danish study from 2011, account for significantly higher rates of sick leave — a phenomenon that played out in a study published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April, which showed the ways coronavirus hopscotched around an open-plan call center in Seoul. …

“Instead, many of the architects I spoke with visualize once-cavernous spaces segmented into more intimately scaled settings with small clusters of desks. ‘We work in teams, so it’s easy to think of people in groups,’ says Paul Danna, a design partner in the L.A. office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a global firm at work on an office development in Pasadena. ‘It’s a matter of putting barriers between groups as opposed to every individual.’ ”

The future of airports, affordable housing, and density of cities are among the many other design challenges addressed in the article, here. Enjoy.

Photo: Tara Wujcik
“Is there anyone out there who does not like fresh air and cross-ventilation or views?” asks Lawrence Scarpa in an article at the
Los Angles Times. The photo below is from a Brooks + Scarpa housing development for disabled vets that maximizes light and air.

bfnstr9bxputejec7ij9

Read Full Post »

yrrmu5caqxytzoquciacur-650-80

Image: Sepúlveda et al/ Project INCA, OPUS Programme/ Sorbonne Université
The Pachacamac idol, long thought to be destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors in 1533, was discovered in 1938.

There are those who think they can destroy whatever it is they don’t like if they have powerful weapons, and the brutal 16th century conquistador Hernando Pizarro was no exception. In this story, it was the Incan culture that supposedly needed to be destroyed. Now archaeologists are reaffirming that subjugation can never completely succeed.

Laura Geggel writes at Live Science, “A basketball-player-size wooden idol that allegedly escaped destruction by the Spanish conquistadors is real — but it may not be quite what people suspected. The statue is even older than thought, and may have been worshipped by the people who came before the Inca.

“And belying the grisly lore that surrounds it, the so-called Pachacamac idol was painted with cinnabar, not drenched in blood, the researchers found. …

“The Western world became aware of the Pachacamac idol when conquistador Hernando Pizarro ordered his followers to destroy it in 1533, asking them to ‘undo the vault where the idol was and break him in front of everyone,’ according to historical sources, the researchers wrote in the study.

“The Inca revered the idol, which was thought to possess the powers of an oracle. The Inca housed it in what is now known as the Painted Temple, located in the Pachacamac archaeological complex near Lima, Peru. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Pachacamac was an Inca sanctuary and a pilgrimage destination.

“However, it now appears that the idol survived the conquistadors. In 1938, an archaeologist found the 7.6-foot-long (2.34 meters) idol, which has a diameter of 5.1 inches (13 centimeters), at the Painted Temple. However, no one knew whether this carved wooden artifact was the idol, or something else.

“To investigate, [Marcela Sepúlveda, a research associate at Sorbonne Université in Paris,] and her colleagues did a carbon-14 analysis and found that the idol dated to about A.D. 760 to 876. … This date suggests that the Wari culture made the idol and that the Pachacamac site was important even before the Inca took over, the researchers said.

“In addition, the researchers wondered if the idol had been painted, like other artifacts from antiquity such as Greek temples and statues. One rumor from the conquistadors suggested that the idol was red, possibly from the blood of sacrifices.

“With the permission of the Pachacamac Site Museum, the researchers took the idol out of its showcase at the museum and analyzed it. …

” ‘We were excited to observe that traces of colors were preserved,’ Sepúlveda said. The idol’s teeth had once been painted white while parts of its headdress had yellow pigment, they found. The researchers also identified red, not from blood but from cinnabar, a mercury mineral. …

“Given that cinnabar isn’t found locally, it’s likely that the idol was painted red intentionally, possibly to show the culture’s economic might and political power, Sepúlveda said. …

“[Patrick Ryan Williams, a curator, professor and head of anthropology at The Field Museum in Chicago, said] ‘further analyses could help clarify the sources of these materials, but this is an excellent starting point for understanding the origins of this important idol, which was worshipped for hundreds of years before the Spanish Conquest at one of Peru’s most important early oracle sites.’ ”

The study was published online January 15 in the journal PLOS ONE. More at Live Science, here.

Read Full Post »

spiritofthewoods_yew_s6

This yew watercolor is one of many lovely illustrations by 19th century poet Rebecca Hey for an encyclopedia of trees. The rare book is reviewed by Maria Popova at Brainpickings. More images from Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods, here.

If you are not already following the blog or Twitter feed of Maria Popova at Brainpickings, you’re missing some very thoughtful commentary on the arts and sciences.

One of the many things I appreciate about her is the way she ties in related topics. For example, at the end of her post about 19th century poet/artist Rebecca Hey’s illustrations for an encyclopedia of trees, she suggests complementing the book with “Art Young’s imaginative Rorschach silhouettes of trees from the 1920s, Walt Whitman on the wisdom of trees, modern-day poetic naturalist Robert Macfarlane on what trees teach us about healthy relationships, and the inspiring illustrated story of Wangari Maathai’s tree-planting as resistance and empowerment, which made her the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, then revisit the stunning celestial art of the self-taught 17th-century German astronomer and artist Maria Clara Eimmart.” (Wow, talk about someone with a “catholic” taste!)

In her review, Popova quotes William Blake: ” ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. … As a man is, so he sees.’…

“Perched partway in time between Blake’s time and ours, and partway in sensibility between the poetic and the scientific, Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods (public library | public domain) is, as far as I am aware, the world’s first encyclopedia of wild trees.

“Having resolved to face the new year like a tree, I came upon this forgotten treasure through the joyous gateway of serendipitous discovery — a bygone pleasure of atomic literature rarely accessible in our search-governed digital culture, always corralling us toward what we already know we are looking for.

“In the midst of a research project involving Mary Shelley, I acquired a rare surviving copy of the pioneering 1849 encyclopedia to which Shelley spent five years contributing short biographies of eminent scientists; one advertisement in the front matter of this fragile pocket-sized time travel device caught my eye. …

“Of the very few female authors published in the nineteenth century, many appeared under male pseudonyms or ungendered initials. (This tradition would carry well into the twentieth century, leading the young Rachel Carson to publish her revolutionary marine masterpiece under the byline ‘R.L. Carson.’) …

“ ‘Mrs. William Hey’ is Rebecca Hey — a poet, painter, and amateur naturalist. (Lest we forget, all women of scientific bent had to be ‘amateurs’ by virtue of being excluded from both formal higher education and the scientific societies of the time. …

“Each chapter opens with one of Hey’s handsomely hand-colored engravings of the tree’s leaves at the tip of a branch and closes with one of her original poems celebrating the species. Nestled between is the natural history of the tree, punctuated by thoughtfully chosen quotations from literary classics, both poetry and prose. …

“I have endeavored to restore and digitize a number of them, making them available as prints, with proceeds benefiting the Arbor Day Foundation, whose noble reforestation work and sylvan stewardship are more and more needed as we watch fires consume the ancient forests that have long been the lungs of this irreplaceable planet.”

Don’t you love the way the character of this writer shines through in her review? She does request donations at her site, and I think I have borrowed enough from her today to spur me to go there now and do my duty.

Do check out the wonderful array of tree watercolors at Brainpickings, here.

Read Full Post »

183726-emmanuel-sogbadji-sur-les-traces-de-paul-ahyi_ng_image_full

Photo: Cité Internationale des Arts
Emmanuel Sogbadji is one of the African artists whose work is shown at the new Togo museum, Palais de Lomé.        

Sometimes when I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I’ve caught the echo of African colonialism from languages that students try out on me because I don’t understand their native tongue. Somali and Eritrean students may know a little Italian, countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe speak English, people from such countries as Mali, Togo, and Congo know French.

Although multilingualism can be helpful in refugee language classes, I can’t help thinking the students wouldn’t have had to be refugees in the first place if the colonial powers hadn’t plundered Africa. I suppose that down the road, when the US starts welcoming refugees again, we’ll be getting people from Burkina Faso who know a little Chinese.

Anyway, because I had an English student from Togo who spoke French, I was not surprised to learn from today’s feature that Togo’s new national museum has French connections and a French name, Palais de Lomé.

Rebecca Anne Proctor writes at Frieze, “Festive scenes unfolded in Lomé’s botanical park in late November [2019], as drummers and colourfully clad moko jumbies, or stilt walkers, entertained guests – including President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé and artist Kehinde Wiley – at the inauguration of the Palais de Lomé, Togo’s first major contemporary art museum and the only entirely state-funded arts institution in Africa.

“This is a remarkable achievement for one of the world’s poorest countries, where almost 70 percent of the rural population lives below the global poverty line, according to a 2015 World Bank report. The new museum is also an unexpected signal of cultural openness by the historically repressive Togolese government. …

“The museum is housed in the colonial Governor’s Palace, constructed in 1905, which served as a base for the Togolese state after the country gained its independence from France in 1960. For the past 20 years, however, it sat empty, until an extensive restoration project – costing [$3.6 million] – was completed in November 2019.

“Occupying the palace’s stately banquet halls and residential quarters, the new institution is large enough to accommodate five simultaneous exhibitions and abuts an 11-hectare garden, displaying works by Togolese sculptors such as Amouzou Amouzou-Glikpa and Sadikou Oukpedjo – another first in West Africa.

” ‘Three Borders’, the most contemporary of these shows, delves openly into the turbulent history of the region. In Togolese artist Emmanuel Sogbadji’s painting ‘The Intercessor’ (2006), a tall, semi-abstract figure holds a long knife. Flanked by two men, he appears defiant in the face of an interrogation. …

“As Claude Grunitzky, a New York-based Togolese editor, told me: ‘Many creatives and artists have begun to return to Togo as “repats”, […] leading interesting projects and ventures in the creative industries.’

” ‘The Palais de Lomé is a newborn child, one we have been awaiting in Togo for so long,’ added Clay Apenouvon, one of the country’s most prominent artists, who protested against the junta in his youth before relocating to Paris in 1992. Apenouvon is setting up a second studio in Lomé, where he now spends several months of the year. Not all are so optimistic, however: a Togolese artist, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear for his safety, told me that the Palais ‘will just be for the state. It won’t help the people.’ …

“The museum’s current comprehensive public funding model distinguishes it from comparable institutions on the continent. … Half of the Palais de Lomé’s government funding is set to expire at the end of its first year, however, so [Sonia Lawson, the Palais de Lomé’s inaugural director, a former luxury goods executive for L’Oréal and LVMH,] intends to form a board of donors of African descent, who she hopes will acquire new works from the continent and its diaspora for the museum’s collection.

“As a state-backed initiative, the Palais de Lomé resembles public arts institutions in the Gulf region – such as the National Museum of Qatar, opened in 2019, and the soon-to-be-completed Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi – which aim to boost cultural capital and foster local arts communities while improving the public image of governments viewed as repressive.

“It remains to be seen whether Lomé’s newest museum will spur substantive change or merely serve a propagandistic function, but the signs thus far seem promising. With ‘Three Borders’, Togo is not only looking outwards – to its neighbours and the international art world – but reflecting inwards on its own difficult history. ”

More here.

Read Full Post »

Congress provided $25 million in aid to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and that institution turned right around and coldbloodedly furloughed people on its staff.

Meanwhile, the compassionate director of a different arts organization just wanted to figure out how to save her employees’ jobs.

Sarah Cascone reports at Artnet News that “by redeploying her staff in some ingenious new ways, the director of Texas’s Blanton Museum has managed to avoid job cuts. …

“As museums shuttered throughout the US, many were forced to cut staff through layoffs and furloughs … But thanks to some creative strategizing, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin has managed to keep its entire staff on the payroll since the school shut down operations on March 13.

“Museum director Simone Wicha, who recently published an op-ed about her approach in the Wall Street Journal, began thinking about ways to redeploy staffers who were unable to work during a prolonged shutdown. …

“ ‘From the beginning, I realized my team would likely be idle for at least four to six months and we needed to reinvent,’ Wicha told Artnet News in an email. ‘What also was clear was that social distancing would be needed for a much longer time frame, so budgeting would be different for a very long time.

‘I was distraught about what [the shutdown] might mean for our team, and started realigning the budget immediately to prevent layoffs,’ she added. ‘Beyond the financial challenges, I was especially mindful that losing our sense of purpose as a team or having individuals whose job was suddenly obsolete would create tremendous anxiety — and that’s not healthy.’

“With that in mind, Wicha asked the museum’s department heads to identify potential projects to work on during the lockdown — things that normally would be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list by more pressing day-to-day needs. Then she drafted a questionnaire for staffers, asking them to evaluate their skills in areas not necessarily related to their regular job responsibilities — were they a Photoshop whiz? A great writer?

“Wicha then matched the 32 employees whose jobs were most at risk to 30 new lockdown projects. …

The maintenance man stopped worrying about paint touchups and HVAC repair and started assisting the development department by drafting thank you notes for donors, making use of his beautiful handwriting.

“Security guards were redeployed to add ‘alt text,’ or descriptions for the visually impaired, to images on the museum website. Art handlers and event planners have been doing collection research about the museum’s lesser-known artists.

“More than just busy work, these tasks will help the museum long-term as it looks to bounce back from the extended closure. And not only are they keeping staff on the payroll, these new responsibilities have been good for morale.

“ ‘I’ve heard directly from various staff members about how they’ve enjoyed interacting with others not usually involved in their workday routine, and how they’re proud of advancing the museum’s mission for our community,’ said Wicha. …

“Although these measures have been a success, the Blanton’s finances are still shaky, and will likely remain so even after reopening.

“The Blanton’s annual operating budget is an average of $7.7 million, and the university provides about 18 percent of that, making admissions from visitors and fundraising its primary sources of income. With the doors closed, that money would no longer be coming in, but some 40 percent of the museum’s expenses went toward programming and departmental needs — installation costs, advertising, summer programming — which Wicha could cut. The rest represented salaries and benefits for the staff of 70. …

“Wicha said. ‘We’ll have to continue to be thoughtful and creative about our program in order to avoid layoffs in the future.’ The Blanton will remained closed through at least the end of June, when the University of Texas plans to announce its reopening plans.

“ ‘We won’t be going back to the same museum we left on March 13,’ said Wicha. ‘It will be a whole new experience for us and for our visitors. But I believe that sharing beautiful experiences around works of art will bring us — and keep us — together.’ More.

Photo: Kate Russell/ Blanton Museum of Art
Says Artnet News,Museum director Simone Wicha has found new projects for staff most at risk of losing their jobs during the shutdown.”

Blanton Museum's Simone Wicha inside the Ellsworth Kelly installation, Austin.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: