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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo: Marie-Claire Thomas/ Wild Blue Media
Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon presenter Ella Al-Shamahi places her hand next to ancient handprints found in Columbia.

There are always new things to discover. We’ll never stop needing scientists to discover treatments and cures for emerging illnesses or new kinds of energy to replace fossil fuels. We’ll never stop needing diplomats and non-diplomats to discover ways to make peace or artists to lead us to new frontiers of imagination.

And what about archaeologists? New discoveries of ancient artifacts continue to teach us so much about both our history and our future.

Hakim Bishara writes at Hyperallergic, “In a remarkable discovery, archaeologists have found one of the world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock art in the Amazonian rainforest. Tens of thousands of paintings of animals and humans, made up to 12,600 years ago, were found on an eight-mile rock surface along the Guayabero River in the Colombian Amazon.

“Called ‘the Sistine Chapel of the ancients,’ the collection includes drawings of large mammals, birds, fish, lizards, handprints, and masked figures of dancing humans. The ancient paintings also record interactions between humans and extinct species of giant Ice Age mammals like mastodons.

“The discovery belongs to a joint team of Colombian-British researchers, led by Jose Iriarte, a professor of archaeology at Exeter University in the United Kingdom. The archeologists conducted the main bulk of excavations in the area between 2017-2018 with the intent of revealing their findings in the [British] documentary series Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon. … The documentary’s presenter is Ella Al-Shamahi, an archaeologist and explorer. The findings are also outlined in an article in the journal Quaternary International.

“In an email to Hyperallergic, the researchers wrote: ‘The excavations, in the deep soil around the shelters, have revealed one of the earliest secure dates for the occupation of the Colombian Amazon and clues about people’s diet at this time, as well as the remains of small tools and scraped ochre used to extract pigments to make the paintings.’

“The team has also found realistic drawings of deer, tapirs, alligators, bats, monkeys, turtles, serpents, and porcupines. There are also depictions of creatures resembling a giant sloth, camelids, horses, and three-toe ungulates with trunks.

‘These native animals all became extinct, probably because of a combination of climate change, the loss of their habitat and hunting by humans,’ the researchers wrote.

“According to the researchers, communities that lived in the area at the time of the drawings were hunter-gatherers who fished in the nearby river. Remains of bones and plants found during the excavations shed information about their diets, which included palm and tree fruits, piranha, alligators, snakes, frogs, rodents such as paca, capybara, and armadillos. …

“The archaeologists wrote, ‘At the time the drawings were made temperatures were rising, starting the transformation of the area from a mosaic landscape of patchy savannahs, thorny scrub, gallery forests and tropical forest with montane elements into the broadleaf tropical Amazon forest of today.’ “

More pictures at Hyperallergic, here. That list of animals is reminding me of Suzanne at age 5, when she was a huge fan of the capybara. We saw a few at Disney World that year.

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Photo: Los Angeles Country Store
The Los Angeles Country Store, which sells LA-made products, is one small business benefited by a Covid recovery fund set up by local entrepreneurs.

I’m finding a surprising number of stories about people who have been successful — not in a Bezos way, but in a way that makes them feel financially secure — who want to do what they can for others.

But if like Anne Frank, who despite everything believed that people are basically good at heart, I guess I shouldn’t say it’s surprising.

Dorany Pineda has a representative article at the Los Angeles Times. “On a Tuesday morning in September, Raymond Wurwand was in his Southern California home sipping tea and reading the newspaper when he happened upon a story about struggling independent bookstores. The print headline read: ‘Spine-tingling bookstore woes: Some shops, including Diesel, are turning to fundraising to survive. Shelve 2020 as horror.’

“He turned to his wife, Jane Wurwand, and said: ‘We’ve got to do something.’

“In partnership with Pacific Community Ventures and TMC Community Capital, the owners of skin-care company Dermalogica decided to launch Found/L.A. Small Business Recovery Fund, a $1-million grant program to help small minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles County stay open during the pandemic. Among the eligibility requirements: Applicants must own at least 50% of a brick-and-mortar shop, employ fewer than 20 people, and provide evidence of profitability before the pandemic.

“The Wurwands received 2,430 applications for the first round of grants — from restaurants, salons and cafes as well as gyms, retail stores and day-care centers. Ten were randomly selected. Applications for the second cycle open Jan. 11.

“ ‘We built Dermalogica through selling to small salons, so we built our business through selling to small entrepreneurs who have been devastated by COVID-19,’ said Jane in a recent Zoom interview. … ‘Our salons were exactly like Diesel,’ she said. … ‘That’s who employs the neighborhood.’

“The longtime philanthropists typically offer minority businesses micro-loans through their Wurwand Foundation, but Diesel’s pandemic struggle put into sharp focus the need for direct, no-strings assistance — some small businesses just can’t take on any more debt. …

“Stores and restaurants represent the bulk of [recent] closures, with owners of color disproportionally affected. A university study published in May found that 41% of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April. The number of shops owned by Latinos, Asians, immigrants and women dropped 32%, 26%, 36% and 25%, respectively.

“These closures are what worry Jane Wurwand.

‘The thing I’m fearful the most of after this is, when we lift our heads and look around our communities and neighborhoods, I think we’re going to see a lot missing. … I want to live near the local bookstore and the local salon. I don’t want to live next door to the Amazon warehouse.’

“One new beneficiary, Rice and Noodle, has been holding on by a thread this year.

“Lunch sales at the tiny Thai and Vietnamese restaurant fell by more than 60% after offices in the area closed. Owner Kwan Chotikulthanachai, 43, was forced to lay off all her employees. She hasn’t been able to pay full rent since May, and she didn’t qualify for Paycheck Protection Program or economic injury disaster loans. Cleaning and sanitizing supplies have added more costs. But with her partner and chef, Son Ongjampa, she’s managed to hang on, her 8-year-old son, Hugo, and 6-month-old baby, Ethan, at her side.

“When she found out Monday night via email that she would receive a $5,000 grant, she cried. … Hugo joyously jumped and screamed. She called her mother in Thailand — who cried, too.

“ ‘I’m working so hard,’ she said. ‘This time has been incredibly difficult, but I cannot give up. I don’t want to close my restaurant.’ “

Read, here, about another overjoyed small business owner who got a grant, a woman who was determined to keep staff employed. These are the people who actually are “good at heart.”

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Photo: The Nature Conservancy
In a race against time, the “Brigade” works to save Mexico’s coral reefs and to spread the word on a new funding idea — a hurricane insurance policy.

I’ve been reading a compelling fantasy novel about travel to different worlds that, like other fantasies I’ve read recently, underscores something important about the real world. We are destroying it.

A New York Times article by Catrin Einhorn and Christopher Flavelle focuses on a group in Mexico saving one beautiful piece of our planet, using a different way of funding the work. It’s controversial, but see what you think.

“When Hurricane Delta hit Puerto Morelos, Mexico, in October, a team known as the Brigade waited anxiously for the sea to quiet. The group, an assortment of tour guides, diving instructors, park rangers, fishermen and researchers, needed to get in the water as soon as possible. The coral reef that protects their town — an undersea forest of living limestone branches that blunted the storm’s destructive power — had taken a beating. Now it was their turn to help the reef, and they didn’t have much time.

“ ‘We’re like paramedics,’ said María del Carmen García Rivas, director of the national park that manages the reef and a leader of the Brigade. When broken corals roll around and get buried in the sand, they soon die. But pieces can be saved if they are fastened back onto the reef. …

“The race to repair the reef is more than an ecological fight; it’s also a radical experiment in finance. The reef could be the first natural structure in the world with its own insurance policy, according to environmental groups and insurance companies. And Hurricane Delta’s force triggered the first payout — about $850,000 to be used for the reef’s repairs. …

“When the Brigade laid eyes on their reef, which runs 28 kilometers south of Cancún and is home to critically endangered elkhorn coral, it looked ransacked. Structures the size of bathtubs were flipped upside down. Coral stalks lay like felled trees. Countless smaller fragments of broken coral coated the seafloor.

“On the boat, cement mixers prepared a special paste that snorkelers ferried down to divers who spent hours underwater carefully fastening pieces back on the reef. They used inflatable bags to turn over large formations rolled by the storm and collected fragments to seed new colonies. …

“Back in 2015, Kathy Baughman McLeod, who was then director of climate risk and resilience at the Nature Conservancy, asked a profound question: Could you design an insurance policy for a coral reef?

“On its face, the idea might have seemed absurd. For starters, nobody owns a reef, so who would even buy the policy? And it’s not easy assessing the damage to something that’s underwater.

“But Ms. Baughman McLeod, along with Alex Kaplan, then a senior executive at Swiss Re, a leading insurance company, came up with workarounds. First, the policy could be purchased by those who benefit from the reef — in this case, the state of Quintana Roo, which is also home to Cancún and Tulum and has a tourism economy estimated at more than $9 billion. …

“Second, rather than basing the payout on reef damage, it could be triggered by something far easier to measure: The storm’s wind speed. The stronger the wind, the worse the assumed damage to the reef.

“The idea of putting a dollar value on a reef or ecosystem by identifying a ‘service’ that it provides has become increasingly popular. For example, coastal salt marshes protect from flooding — offering economic benefits on top of environmental ones. Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it would worsen global warming. And coral reefs reduce the energy of waves by 97 percent, protecting coastal properties.

“But this notion of ‘ecosystem services’ is controversial in some circles.

“ ‘It’s a popular concept because it commodifies nature and it allows people to put a dollar value on nature,’ said Terry Hughes, who directs a center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia. ‘But it’s very anthropocentric and it’s certainly not about protecting nature for nature’s worth. It’s almost kind of selfish.’

If you look at it from the reef’s perspective, Dr. Hughes said, hurricanes are the least of its problems. Climate change, coastal pollution and overfishing are far greater threats.

“But given the scale of the planet’s intertwined environmental emergencies — not only climate change but the collapse in biodiversity — conservationists say they must be pragmatic. More than a million species are at risk of extinction, including many coral species.

“And in Puerto Morelos, monetizing the reef had the almost ironic consequence of helping some in the community understand that it is actually invaluable. ‘My experience with the Brigade has changed my thinking so much,’ said Alejandro Chan, who takes tourists sport fishing and snorkeling. ‘I have to help the reef.’ …

“ ‘If the insurance money had been available in a timely manner,’ said Claudia Padilla, a researcher at the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Institute in Mexico, which developed the Brigade’s hurricane response protocols and trained its members, ‘the results of the rescue effort could have been greatly multiplied.’

“Still, the money will be put to its intended purpose of restoration, funding longer-term projects like seeding of new colonies and replenishment of reef biodiversity. And Mr. Secaira of the Nature Conservancy believes that the rest of the world will use Quintana Roo as proof of concept.

“Indeed, as the Brigade was at work in Puerto Morelos, a bill in Guam’s Legislature sought to evaluate insuring a reef there. Training is underway in other locations in Mexico, Belize and Honduras.”

Hat tip: Hannah. More at the New York Times, here.

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From trying to maintain holiday traditions like Christmas-tree cutting to getting kids to wear masks and maintain social distance in school, it was a year to remember (or forget).

Normally, this is a week when people take stock of their year, maybe make New Year’s Resolutions. But how to summarize 2020? What to resolve for 2021 other than to stay alive and donate more to people in need?

Kara Baskin at the Boston Globe, having taken on writing a pandemic newsletter for parents, decided to ask them what they have learned from this strange time.

“This year has been piercingly difficult for most of us in ways ranging from soul-shatteringly epic to mundanely depleting,” she writes. … “As parents, we’ve cared for kids in close quarters — and our own parents, often from afar. We’ve tried to work while serving as supplemental tutors, counselors, and IT gurus. We have sworn at Google Classroom. We have cursed Zoom. We have vowed to never, ever take teachers for granted again. … The daily rhythms of life faded and morphed. Our circles often became smaller; our waistlines sometimes got bigger.

“But there were glimmers of happiness, too: more time for stuff that really mattered. Perspective. Gratitude. Reframed expectations. Hope? …

“I’ve learned that true colors come to light in the darkness. I’ve watched as my community and friends have stood up for causes they believed in, donated to businesses they felt compelled to support, and rallied around the sick and hurting. I’ve also realized that some connections fray without sustenance. … Most of all, I hope this year has allowed us to be vulnerable. … To realize that there is no shame: in being hungry, in being sick, in feeling inadequate or lost. …

“How about you? What has this year taught?

“ ‘That I don’t give myself enough credit after surviving COVID-19 for almost three months with three children as a single mom.’– April Golden-Shea

“ ‘I’ve learned that I need to be able to ebb and flow with how my kids are feeling. That might mean cutting them some slack one day and keeping them on task on another day. My parenting style has never been one-size-fits-all with my kids, but this pandemic has only crystallized how important it is for me to see them as individuals.’ – Eric Berman

‘That volunteering has saved me in every conceivable way.’ – Julie Lucey

“ ‘I have learned that I crumble without external structures.’ – Susan Anderson Garcia

“ ‘I appreciate that I’m not constantly comparing myself to others (and feeling like I come up short), because there’s not the constant level of activity or achievements which are usually happening. I hope I can continue this practice of not comparing, as it gives me more peace.’ – Roslyn Fitzgerald

“ ‘I will never take seeing a full, smiling face for granted again. The eyes can show a lot of emotion, but so much is hidden behind masks.’ – Alysia Tardelli Rourke

“ ‘My lesson learned (or emphasized?) from this year is that you can’t compartmentalize yourself. Being a parent and being a worker are intertwined. … In a former pre-COVID life, I would feel embarrassed (as though I were failing at work) when I had to leave early to pick up a sick kid or take a phone call from my child’s teacher. Now, it’s clearer to me that expecting work and family to stay separate is not only unrealistic but unhealthy.’ – Mallory Rohrig

“ ‘One lesson that is often internally known is that our kids come before ourselves. However, this year I feel like we’ve really had to live up to that. I’ve had to put my own college grades and aspirations aside in order to help my kindergartener through her homework and starting school during the strangest time of our lives.’ – Karlie McDaniel Le

“ ‘I’ve learned the importance of neighborhood and how it almost seemed irrelevant until a crisis. Our son’s second birthday was a Facebook Live production. And instead of having a handful of people over, we had 100!’ … – Michele Aron.”

So many awesome comments: hard to choose! Read others at the Globe, here.

Photo: Cherry Lane School
Suzanne says if she’s learned one thing this year it’s that “school is essential.”

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Photo: Daniel A Leifheit/ Getty Images
The aurora borealis in Alaska’s Denali National Park, with a view of Orion and Jupiter.

Have you ever gotten a glimpse of the aurora borealis, maybe from an airplane? It’s something I’ve always wanted to see. My sense of the northern lights comes only from pictures and from the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, in which the electricity generated is harnessed for travel to other worlds.

In an article at the Guardian by Patrick Barkham, we learn of a different way to get a sense of the aurora borealis.

“There’s a hypnotic crackle before a whoosh of sound flies from ear to ear,” he writes. “It’s followed by a heavenly chorus that might be whales whistling, frogs calling or the chirping of an alien bird. It sounds celestial because that’s what it is. The noise is the aurora borealis: the northern lights.

“The vivid green lights that trace across the Arctic sky emit electromagnetic waves when the solar shower meets the Earth’s magnetic field, and these can be translated into sounds that are made audible to human ears by a small machine.

“These mysterious, sweeping noises are celebrated by a new Radio 3 documentary following the biologist Karin Lehmkuhl Bodony into the wilderness on her dog sleigh to record the soundscape, which has now been turned into music by an Alaskan composer.

“Bodony lives in the remote Alaskan village of Galena. She can see the lights from her porch, and 16 years ago she discovered she could also record the sound of the lights using a very low frequency (VLF) receiver.

“ ‘To hear those “whoosh-whoosh” sounds, which are so like what you see, is really special,’ she says. …

‘There are times when it’s just normal background chattery, crackly sounds and then there’ll be other times when it’s really cool – beautiful whooshing sounds and a chorus that sounds like frogs calling. If it was always the same it wouldn’t be as fun to go out and listen.’

“For Songs of the SkyRadio 3 commissioned the composer Matthew Burtner, who works with natural sounds and scientific environmental data, to make a piece of music derived from the sounds of the aurora.

“Northern lights listeners must get at least four miles away from human-made sounds and other electrical sources such as power lines to avoid interference on the VLF receivers, so Burtner had to hike into the wilds with his daughter. …

“Burtner found that the recordings from the [VLF recorder] weren’t very clear and so mapped the sounds’ frequency and amplitude profile onto a high-quality synthesiser. ‘You can then alter the timbre of the sound and have the northern lights play different instruments. That let me really orchestrate with the northern lights, using their input as a controller,’ he says. …

“Burtner created a six-minute piece that he hopes expresses the dialectic between humans and the natural world. ‘That’s what I’m always looking for in music – there’s something of the real natural system in there that’s untouched by a person.’ …

“The programme also explores the traditional meanings of the aurora borealis in the rapidly changing Arctic environment, where temperatures are rising faster than in many parts of the world.

“According to Bodony, traditional Inuit interpretations of the northern lights are often benevolent, with the lights signalling to hunters how they will find food or reassuring the bereaved that their loved ones have passed to a better place.

“But there are more sinister mythologies connected with the northern lights, which have symbolised danger in certain stories as well. ‘Our atmosphere shields us from the sun’s radiation and manages to warm the planet but not too much – it’s a shield – and this display of the northern lights is a representation of the sun’s fearsome force on our planet that could make it uninhabitable,’ says Burtner. …

“For Bodony, the perspective derived from her rural subsistence culture – and the experience of the aurora borealis – can correct the wider human attitude to the planet, which is ‘like impudent children whose parent is away and we’re destroying the house’ “

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Invaluable
“Summer Farm Scene,” oil on canvas painting by self-taught artist Helen LaFrance of Kentucky.

Whatever kind of art you make, I have a question for you. What matters most to you: being in the moment of making? Or the aftermath? And if you feel satisfaction in pleasing someone else with your art or joy in selling it, are those experiences all part of the making or entirely separate things?

See what the late folk artist Helen LaFrance had to say about the relative importance to her.

Penelope Green wrote the New York Times obit on the artist. “Helen LaFrance, a self-taught artist whose vibrant and intimate ‘memory paintings’ of scenes from her childhood in rural Kentucky brought her renown late in life, died on Nov. 22 at a nursing home in Mayfield, Ky. She was 101. …

“In glowing colors and sharp brush strokes, Ms. LaFrance painted church picnics and river baptisms; tobacco barns; backyard gardens with geese and children racing through them; kitchens with bushels of apples and jars of preserves shining like stained-glass windows. Her exuberant scenes of rural life invited comparisons to the work of Grandma Moses, Horace Pippin and other regional painters who drew from their memories to tell stories about a vanished time and place.

‘It’s just a way of reliving it all again,’ Ms. LaFrance told a television interviewer in 2010. The next year she told another interviewer, ‘If I do something somebody likes, well, I’m satisfied because somebody liked what I did, but I don’t think it’s important.’

“The author Kathy Moses Shelton, who, with the gallerist Bruce Shelton wrote ‘Helen LaFrance: Folk Art Memories’ (2011), called Ms. LaFrance ‘an American treasure.’ …

“Ms. Moses Shelton said in a phone interview. ‘She grew up under Jim Crow. She was 10 when the Great Depression hit. Her art doesn’t reflect the pain of that era. … Instead what comes through is joy, and the values of family and work. Her family owned and farmed their own land when sharecropping was the norm, and they were self-sufficient and lived in dignity. Her blend of personal experience, Black American culture and heritage, and her skill all come into play to make her work unlike anybody else’s.’ …

“Helen LaFrance Orr was born on Nov. 2, 1919, in Graves County, Ky., the second of four daughters. Her parents, James Franklin Orr and Lillie May (Ligon) Orr, known as Bud and Hon, grew tobacco and corn.

“Helen did not attend much school. Her parents instructed her in reading and math, and her mother taught her to paint, guiding her hand and helping her mix colors from dandelions, berries and Bluette laundry detergent. She and her sisters worked in the family fields; Helen drew after her chores were done. She recalled loving the smell of the crayons her mother would bring her.

“Ms. LaFrance spent most of her life no more than 10 miles from her birthplace. She worked in a tobacco barn and in a hospital as a cook. She made custom whiskey decanters for a local ceramics company and worked as a retoucher in a photography studio. She owned property, commercial spaces and land.” To read more of the story and to see more art by LaFrance, click here.

And speaking of outstanding, self-taught artists, I never lose an opportunity to point people to a special children’s book about WWI soldier Horace Pippin, here. You will love it.

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Shelter

America, January 12, 2020

At a time of year that many communities around the world are telling the story of finding shelter in a stable, it feels ironic that even in a pandemic wealthy countries can’t find it in their hearts to protect people from being evicted.

In America, if the December rescue bill is signed, renters will be protected until the end of January 2021, about a month.

Coronavirus shut down businesses, and people lost jobs and couldn’t pay rent. Have we no collective will to protect the most vulnerable? Landlords, especially small landlords, need protection, too. It’s not just up to them.

The burden of pandemic losses must fall on us as a group. As a taxpayer, that would be my priority. I can do without more bombers and military aid to Saudi Arabia. As a people, many of us celebrating Christmas today, what are our priorities? What does Christmas mean?

At the Washington Post, Heather Long and Rachel Siegel interviewed Americans who are in danger at this season.

“Most told The Post they are ‘not political people’ and are struggling to understand why Congress and the president would be able to celebrate Christmas when 14 million Americans are slated to lose unemployment aid on Saturday, the government is set to shut down on Tuesday, and an eviction moratorium that has prevented millions from losing their homes during a pandemic ends on New Year’s Eve.

“Waitress Robyn Saban summed up the sentiment of many: ‘I’ve worked for 18 years at a diner under very hard conditions. I never called in sick except when my husband died. And now Congress is just leaving town. It makes me furious because they are leaving people hanging.’ …

“Tony Bowens, 31, spent nine days in a hospital in March fighting for his life against the deadly coronavirus. In many ways, he’s just grateful this Christmas to be home with his wife and two kids, even though very little is the same. As his family struggles to pay rent, he can’t believe [there’s no] agreement on aid. …

“Bowens has ongoing complications from covid: Headaches, temperatures that spike for a day, crippling leg pains and trouble breathing. He lost his IT job in March and has not been able to work since. He received $65 a week in unemployment through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that Congress created this year to assist independent contractors and gig workers like him, but it will end the day after Christmas unless a relief bill gets enacted.

“His family is barely getting by on his wife’s job as a state government worker in Illinois. They are behind on rent and the electric bill, and they worry about more layoffs for state workers.

“Bowens said extending unemployment is ‘one of the most important things’ in the relief package because a $600 one-time check won’t last long, ‘but unemployment would go for 11 weeks. I was going to be able to get that again.’ ”

More on evictions at the News and Observer in Charlotte, North Carolina, here, at US News, here, at the Washington Post, here, and at CNBC, here. Eviction Lab is worth checking, too, here.

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This year, while choosing ornaments for the tree, I felt particularly drawn to anything that looked like a bird or an angel. All the bird and angel ornaments went up. The small snowy ball also gives me a good feeling. It was from a winter wedding in 2011.

On Sunday’s trip to Rhode Island to deliver the kids’ presents, Suzanne prepped her porch with cozy, festive elements. The candelabra has a bit of a story. When Suzanne and John were still little kids, I bought two of these from a Lillian Vernon sale. When my children grew up and had their own homes, I gave each one their candelabra. They light theirs every year with their own children.

Suzanne and Erik allowed each kid to open two gifts early so Mormor and Morfar could see how they reacted while we were still at their house.

In addition to those Christams-y photos, I want to share a couple pictures from far-flung friends. Earle, in California, makes the magnificent wooden bowls on his lathe and is known to donate a bowl to one of his environmental causes at the holidays to delight the top donor.

Stuga40 is in Stockholm, where there is almost no sun at this time of year. She caught a little today after weeks of overcast skies. I asked her take a picture of a shadow, but she said the sun is so low on the horizon now that she might not be able to. In the end, she was able to get some very, very long shadows! The sun set at lunchtime.

But you can trust those Swedes to light up their nights with outdoor decorations and to make some kind of fun during the day, too. Stuga40, in the light green jacket below, stepped into the instructor’s role for the outdoor exercise class after new Covid restrictions kept the leader from traveling by bus. The woman in red is 91, and rain or snow, they all keep up the outdoor exercising. Stuga40 says she leads the group using Spotify and a speaker from home. One day, some passing teens and a few boys from a school class joined in.

Back in wintry New England, you can see that our big new bird feeder is popular. It arrived the day before we had a snowstorm, and it’s such fun to watch. The gray squirrel tolerates a rabbit but chased away a gang of 11 mourning doves. Also very aggressive are the goldfinches. Does anyone know (Nancy G.? Kim?) if goldfinches are always aggressive? The first day at the feeder we had cardinals, bluejays, a purple finch, a house finch, juncos, and even a red bellied woodpecker. Now it’s mostly goldfinches. I love them, but I do wonder.

There’s also a little red squirrel that makes tunnels under the snow and pops up all over the yard like a gopher.

Happy Holidays to Everyone, wherever you are and whatever your weather!

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Photo: Swimonish Tribal Community
An ancient Washington State tribe that relies on a healthy stock of salmon has a climate plan.

The more the media covers indigenous activities, the more we learn what we’ve been missing. There is so much wisdom embedded in tribal memory, especially wisdom about taking care of the natural world. First step: having the right attitude.

Jim Morrison writes at the Washington Post about a tribe in the Pacific Northwest that has a climate plan.

“For 10,000 years, the Swinomish tribe has fished the waters of northwestern Washington, relying on the bounty of salmon and shellfish not only as a staple of its diet but as a centerpiece of its culture. At the beginning of the fishing season, the tribe gathers on the beach for a First Salmon ceremony, a feast honoring the return of the migratory fish that binds the generations of a tribe that calls itself the People of the Salmon.

“At the ceremony’s conclusion, single salmon are ferried by boat in four directions — north to Padilla Bay, east to the Skagit River, south to Skagit Bay and west to Deception Pass — and eased into the water with a prayer that they will tell other salmon how well they were treated.

Photo: Greater Seattle
Spawning salmon.

“In recent years, though, the tribe’s harvest, diminished by vanishing habitat and warming waters fueled by climate change, hasn’t been sufficient to feed the hundreds of people who come to pay homage to their ancestors and to the fish that sustained them.

“ ‘We don’t have that abundance anymore,’ said Lorraine Loomis, an elder who has managed the tribal fishery for 40 years. ‘To get ceremonial fish, we buy it and freeze it.’

“For the Swinomish, perched on a vulnerable, low-lying reservation on Fidalgo Island, the effects of a warming world have been a gut punch. The tribe has responded with an ambitious, multipronged strategy to battle climate change and improve the health of the land and the water and the plants, animals and people who thrived in harmony for generations.

“In 2010, the Swinomish became one of the first communities to assess the problems posed by a warming planet and enact a climate action plan. An additional 50 Native American tribes have followed, creating climate strategies to protect their lands and cultures, ahead of most U.S. communities.

“The Swinomish see the tasks beyond addressing shoreline risk and restoring habitats. They look at climate adaptation and resilience with the eyes of countless generations. They recognize that the endangered ‘first foods’ — clams, oysters, elk, traditional plants and salmon — are not mere resources to be consumed. They are central to their values, beliefs and practices and, therefore, to their spiritual, cultural and community well-being.

“Loomis is 80. Every member of her family, from her grandfather to her nine great-grandchildren, has fished the tribe’s ancestral waters. She has watched over the decades as the salmon disappeared and her family turned to crab, geoduck and sea cucumbers. She’s seen the salmon season drop to only a few days per species from the eight months — May through December — of decades past in order to protect populations. The Skagit River is the last waterway in the continental United States that’s home to all five species of Pacific salmon.

“Progress has been slow; some researchers say it could be 90 years before the salmon recover. Loomis is taking the long view. ‘If I didn’t believe we would recover [the fishery], I guess I wouldn’t still be working on this,’ she said.

“In recent years, the tribe has fostered salmon recovery through a variety of projects. It has restored tidelands and channels, planted trees along streambeds to cool warming waters, and collaborated with farmers to increase stream setbacks to improve water quality.

Restoring salmon populations is just part of an ambitious climate action plan to blunt the effects of increased flooding, ocean acidification, rising river temperatures, more-destructive storms and habitat loss.

“They’re planning the first modern clam garden in the United States on the reservation’s tidelands, reviving an ancient practice. They’re monitoring deer and elk populations through camera traps to understand the climate change pressures and to inform hunting limits. And they have ongoing wetland restoration projects to explore preserving native plants and to help naturally manage coastal flooding.

“ ‘They’re doing really innovative climate adaptation,’ said Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. ‘They were way ahead of the curve. And that really shouldn’t be surprising, because the tribes have shown tremendous leadership in climate adaptation and mitigation.’ “

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: CNN “The Good Stuff”
Guy Stanley Philoche, seen here with his own work, has helped fellow artists survive the pandemic by buying their art.

No one can solve all the problems of the world, but if we each try to address a problem we see in our particular corner of the world, we can move civilization forward. In today’s story, an artist saw other artists struggling in lockdown and knew what he could do to help.

Alaa Elassar, writes at CNN’s “The Good Stuff,” “Painter Guy Stanley Philoche, a New Yorker known for his colorful textured abstract artworks, has spent more than $65,000 buying work from struggling artists affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Philoche, 43, has dedicated himself to seeking out artists from around the world who are unable to make ends meet and has so far purchased more than 150 artworks for up to $500 each. His own pieces sell for up to $120,000, according to Cavalier Galleries.

” ‘The art world is my community and I needed to help my community,’ Philoche told CNN. ‘People say New York is dead, but it’s far from that. There’s an artist somewhere writing the next greatest album. There’s a kid right now in his studio painting the next Mona Lisa. There’s probably a dancer right now choreographing the next epic ballet.’ …

“When the pandemic began to affect families across the country, many people found themselves unable to pay rent, afford WiFi for their kids’ distance learning, or even put food on the table.

“As the ability to afford the basic necessities slowly diminished, art became a luxury not many could splurge on. In turn, hundreds of thousands of artists and independent creators were left without an income stream in the midst of the chaos.

“One of these artists was Philoche’s own friend, who just had a baby and had lost his job because of the pandemic.

‘I told him, “Don’t worry, we’re New Yorkers. We’ve been through 9/11, the blackout, the market crash, we’ve got this,” ‘ Philoche said. ‘But he was scared, so I bought a painting from him to help him get through it.’

” ‘It was such a big deal for him at that moment, and that’s when I realized if he’s panicking like this, other artists are too.’ … So, Philoche took matters into his own hands.

“On March 20, he posted on Instagram a video asking artists who were feeling the effects of the pandemic to direct message him their work. Whenever he saw a piece he fell in love with, Philoche bought it and paid for it to be shipped to his East Harlem studio.

“Within months, artists from Los Angeles and Chicago to London and New Zealand — and even artists who were in prison — reached out to him with their stories and their creations. … ‘It meant a lot to me. I want to help as many artists as possible, to make sure they are able to buy groceries, or pay their rent, or get their kids diapers or formula.’

“For Tara Blackwell, an artist from Stamford, Connecticut, art is her sole source of income. The only way she can survive off her art is through showing her work to collectors at exhibits, galleries, and studio visits — all which stopped because of the pandemic. …

” ‘The struggle to make a living as an artist is something I’ve known from a young age. I’m used to the ups and downs, but this felt different. There were so many unknowns.’ …

“Philoche purchased ‘Free Speech’ for $500 from Blackwell’s ‘Corner Store’ series, in which she uses retro pop culture imagery from her childhood with graffiti influences and the incorporation of subtle social-political commentary. ‘His support meant the world to me at a time when things seemed really bleak.’ …

“When Philoche was 3 years old, his family immigrated to the US from Haiti with nothing to their name. ‘Leaving one country to come to another was difficult. I didn’t speak the language, I was awkward and weird and trying to find myself in a new country,’ Philoche said. ‘I learned the language by watching cartoons and reading comics, and found my voice by drawing Disney characters. It’s how it all started.’ …

“Philoche started off by sliding business cards under apartment doors and hopping from art gallery to art gallery in hopes of meeting interested collectors. ‘Fast forward twenty years, I’m in the game,’ he said. ‘But throughout those years, I had no one open a door for me. It was me going through the back door, the window, until I found a way in the room by myself. Now that I have a seat at the table and I actually have a voice, I vowed to myself to open that door for other artists.’

“After struggling for years to make a name for himself, the artist now has a philosophy: ‘Sell a painting, buy a painting.’ ”

More at CNN, here.

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Photo: Singapore Philatelic Museum
When a new museum opens in 2022 in the philatelic space, children will be able to explore Singapore’s heritage and culture through play.

I’ve been following artist Diana Beltran Herrera on Instagram since I first blogged about her, here.

Recently her Instagram account led me to news about a children’s museum under development in Singapore. She wrote, “The Singapore commission I have been working over the past months is completed. This will be my first solo show in Singapore, to open early 2022, and it is the first exhibition of the new Children’s museum. …

“It is very important for me to educate through my work, make information accessible for all of us, and offer a new way to interact with nature. … Art is a very powerful medium of communication that can be used to discuss important subjects about our beautiful world.”

Art: Diana Beltran Herrera
The artist-naturalist’s paper creations may be seen on stamps in Singapore.

At Singapore’s ‘zine Mothership in March, Melanie Lim reported on an opening planned for 2021, but coronavirus seems to have moved the target.

“The Singapore Philatelic Museum (SPM), which is currently closed for redevelopment, will re-open as a dedicated children’s museum, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Grace Fu announced,” she wrote. “Speaking at MCCY’s Committee of Supply debate on Mar. 6, Fu elaborated that children will be able to ‘learn about a wide range of themes, including the heritage and culture of Singapore and the region, by playing with interactive and immersive exhibits.’

“According to the National Heritage Board (NHB), the new children’s museum will serve as a ‘starter museum’ to introduce young visitors and their families to the museum-going experience, and offer children’s programming all year round.

“Targeted at children aged 12 and below, it will also present them with the opportunity to learn about themselves, their nation and their place in the world. … For instance, there will be a permanent exhibition on ‘Singapore, Our Home,’ where children can learn how early pioneers lived and worked, and role-play as hawkers, coolies and merchants, Fu revealed.

“Meanwhile, SPM’s philatelic collection will continue to be used alongside other artifacts to support children’s learning in the new museum.

“Stamps make excellent educational resources for children who find them attractive and accessible, NHB added, and they will be part of the museum’s refreshed permanent galleries and special exhibitions.

“SPM will also complement National Gallery Singapore’s Keppel Centre for Art Education and Singapore Science Centre’s KidsSTOP, among others to create a more diverse and vibrant museum scene in Singapore.”

I admit to knowing little about Singapore other than that a childhood friend of Suzanne’s lives there now and that the people hang messages on outdoor trees at Christmas. I’m glad to be a little more au courant now.

More at Mothership, here.

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