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Today’s Bonus Tidbit

Suzanne will be showing Luna & Stella antique lockets Fridays at noon (Eastern Standard Time) through December 22 on Instagram Live. Go to @Lunaandstella .

You can also see these one-of-a-kind lockets on her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/lunaandstella/. Suzanne will size and place a photo of your loved one in the locket of your choice. A few of the antique lockets are shown below.

Suzanne’s Mom

Luna-and-Stella-antique-lockets

Photo: Getty
Auckland Libraries in New Zealand figured out why their books were going missing and came up with a win-win solution.

If you know how to read, you want to read, and librarians want you to read. But not everyone has easy access to books. That is why some readers in New Zealand were sneaking books.

Mark Molloy writes at the UK’s Telegraph, “A New Zealand library has finally solved the mystery of why some books were going missing from its shelves.

“Auckland Libraries staff were bewildered after finding some books were being hidden in random places. They initially thought kids playing pranks were to blame, but later discovered it was the city’s rough sleepers who were actually stashing the books so they could return the next day to continue reading.

“ ‘A lot of our street community were wanting to put them underneath the couches or underneath book shelves and kind of hiding them in various places,’ librarian Sean Taylor told TV NZ. … Without a permanent address they were unable to sign up for a library card that would allow them to take the literature away.

“As a solution, Auckland Library created a new section where books can now be left overnight and picked back up again the next morning. …

“ ‘They are really well read. We’ve got a guy who I’ve had a discussion about the meanings of words and we’ll talk about the reference section and it’s the kind of intellectual conversation you’d expect from an academic.’ …

“Auckland Library says it sees itself as a ‘home for the homeless’ and holds regular cinema screenings and a book club for those sleeping rough. …

“ ‘One guy told me he moved to the city several years ago, and that none of his family back home knew he was homeless,” [said Rachel Rivera, manager of Auckland Libraries]. He used our computers to keep in touch with them. It was his lifeline to his family,’ she said.

“ ‘They value our service, like many of our communities do, for different reasons. But they don’t always feel safe and welcome, and that is something we can and should take steps to address.’ ”

More at the Telegraph, here. And look: Everything at the Auckland libraries website is in both English and Maori.

Photo: Matt Nemeth for WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR station
Former football player Baron Batch reinvented himself as a street artist.

I enjoyed this story from the sports radio show Only a Game about a former football player who became an accomplished street artist. Sarah Kovash reported.

“It wasn’t until after Baron Batch left the NFL that he attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh police department. … It was while riding his bike along one of Pittsburgh’s riverfront trails that he stopped to spray paint a message.

” ‘You know, I just got so comfortable with painting on things outside,’ Batch says. ‘Like, I just was riding my bike and just tagged the trail.’ He didn’t stop there.

” ‘I had this tag that said “all your scars are lovely” down by the wharf. That’s where I like ride my bike, and I always get off my bike there and stretch my ankle. I have no cartilage in my ankle. It’s just grinding bones. I deal with chronic pain every single day. So, at that spot, you know, I was riding one day and stretching. And that hit me. Like, all your scars are lovely.’ …

“Batch started his company, Studio AM, about a year after leaving the Steelers. Young Pittsburgh residents took notice and began sharing his work on social media. Batch relished the attention.

“He started doing what he calls ‘art drops,’ where he would leave one of his paintings in a public area and post its location on social media — free to the first person who could find it. …

“He turned his studio — located in the Pittsburgh-adjacent, Rust-Belt town of Homestead — into a brunch venue and gallery. On Sundays, visitors eat fruit-covered french toast and savory rice dishes while chatting with the artist. It’s not the same crowd you’d find at a Steelers tailgate.

“Last year, Batch was commissioned for a mural project. He created 20 pieces throughout the city, mostly on the sides of buildings. …

“As Batch spent more time on outdoor murals, he moved from the surfaces he had permission to paint to … some he didn’t. …

“He painted other colorful messages — some on a bridge and a parking lot. It never occurred to him that he was breaking the law. …

“Batch was creating some of the most inspired art of his career, but his project was quickly halted when the police showed up. …

“In all, police said Batch caused more than $16,000 worth of damage. They charged him with 30 counts of criminal mischief. …

“Batch had to pay $30,000 in fines and legal fees. But he says his arrest also led to a much needed discussion about public art.

“Part of that conversation was with the Friends of the Riverfront. That’s the group that manages the trail Batch graffitied. The group gave Batch permission to paint a section of the trail that’s lined with concrete barriers.”

And it turned out that the arresting officer, Detective Alphonso Sloan of the Pittsburgh police graffiti squad, had empathy for Batch. He told the ex-football player, ” ‘Hey, I admire your artwork. Even though some of it’s, you know, it’s illegal.’

” ‘[He] said “OK, I’m an artist, and you’re an artist. How about we get together sometime?” We worked on several projects.’ …

“Detective Sloan hopes Batch doesn’t test the city’s graffiti laws again.

” ‘[I’m] hoping it’s just a one-time thing because I hate to arrest someone … you get to work with them and you actually like them.’ ”

More at Only a Game, here.

Photo: NJ Advance Media
Rodin sculpture of Napoleon turns up in a New Jersey town hall. Drew University grad student Mallory Mortillaro did the legwork to authenticate it. She is pictured here with Rodin expert Jérôme Le Blay.

Sometimes lost treasures actually get found. In this story, a bust by famed sculptor Auguste Rodin turned up in a New Jersey town hall, thanks to a determined grad student.

Justin Zaremba wrote about the discovery at NJ Advance Media.

“The art world lost track of acclaimed sculptor Auguste Rodin’s bust of Napoleon in the 1930s, but it’s apparently been on display for the past 85 years in the most unlikely of places — the council chambers in Madison [New Jersey] Borough Hall. …

” ‘Napoléon Enveloppé Dans Son Rêve’ (‘Napoleon Wrapped in his Dream’) was ‘long rumored’ to be Rodin’s work but the borough and the Hartley Dodge Foundation, which owns the sculpture, didn’t know for certain until about two years ago … [when] Drew University graduate student Mallory Mortillaro was hired by the foundation to go through the various art pieces at the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building.

“The bust was able to hide for so long, he said, because it weighs 700 pounds and requires about five people to move it and its attached pedestal. Rodin’s signature had been hidden from view for decades because that side of the sculpture was pushed against the wall. …

“The building and the artworks inside it were deeded over to Madison by Ethel Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge in the 1930s as a memorial to her son, Marcellus Hartley Dodge Jr., who died in a car accident at the age of 22. The foundation’s sole focus is on preserving the art and architecture of the building. …

“Mortillaro began her detective work by researching every book on Rodin she could find, doing online searches, visiting the Rockefeller archives and contacting officials in the art world.

“Mortillaro, now a teacher at Lawton C. Johnson Middle School in Summit, pursued the case despite receiving the brush off from various art experts.

” ‘No one was being very receptive,’ she said.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

“Mortillaro got in touch with the world’s leading Rodin expert, Jérôme Le Blay, formerly of the Rodin Museum in Paris. …

“According to Mortillaro, when Le Blay walked into the council chambers he turned and said ‘Hello my friend, so is this where you have been hiding?’ …

“The bust had originally been conceived and begun in 1904 at the behest of New York collector John W. Simpson in 1904, but the commission wasn’t completed. Four years later, Thomas Fortune Ryan saw the unfinished piece in Rodin’s studio and acquired it. Rodin completed the piece in 1910. …

“[Hartley Dodge Foundation trustee Nicholas] Platt said the borough and the foundation kept the bust’s identity hidden until now because the insurance company wouldn’t insure the piece for its value and allow them to have the bust open to the public. That’s why for a limited time, it’ll be open to the public — though protected by security — before it leaves the Garden State.

“Platt estimated the piece was worth anywhere from ‘the mid-millions to the 10 million’ range depending on the market.”

The bust will go out on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a year.

More here.

A Seed Bank for Syria


Photo: Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times.
Ali Shehadeh, a plant conservationist from Syria who fled the war in his country, at work in Terbol, Lebanon.

The harm that wars do seems endless. Every aspect of life is affected. And yet, against all odds, good people rise up to save or try to reconstruct what might be lost. In this post, everyday heroes protect a seed bank from the war in Syria.

Somini Sengupta has the story at the New York Times. “Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat.

“He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

“Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.

“But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather, and war.

“The center, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. …

“By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya.

“Trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were stolen and killed for food. … And the center’s most vital project — a seed bank containing 155,000 varieties of the region’s main crops, a sort of agricultural archive of the Fertile Crescent — faced extinction.

“But researchers there had a backup copy. Beginning in 2008, long before the war, the center had begun to send seed samples — ‘accessions’ as they are called — to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ‘doomsday vault,’ burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle. It was standard procedure, in case anything happened.

“War happened. In 2015, as Aleppo disintegrated, center scientists borrowed some of the seeds they had stored in Svalbard and began building anew. This time, they spread out, setting up one seed bank in Morocco and another just across Syria’s border with Lebanon in this vast valley of cypress and grapes known as the Bekaa. …

“Mr. Shehadeh … is obsessed with the wild relatives of the seeds that most farmers plant today. He eschews genetically modified seeds. He wants instead to tap the riches of those wild ancestors, which are often hardy and better adapted to harsh climates. ‘They’re the good stock,’ he said.

“He hunts for the genetic traits that he says will be most useful in the future: resistance to pests or blistering winds, or the ability to endure in intensely hot summers. He tries to select for those traits and breeds them into the next generation of seeds — in the very soil and air where they have always been grown.”

The experts believe that the seeds from plants that thrive in this arid part of the world will be needed for feeding the planet as it warms.

Read the whole article here.


Photo: anekoho/shutterstock
As art classes get cut back, Philadelphia foundations are stepping up to protect a vital part of education.

In this time of cutbacks in school arts programs, it is heartening to see some organizations stepping up to the plate. If the trend continues, we may all need to start volunteering in schools — just as scores of parishioners at my church did for an amazing arts and crafts day yesterday. The only problem is, Who has the time for sustained volunteering when government doesn’t do its part?

In Philadelphia, foundations are providing some respite, as Mike Scutari reports at Inside Philanthropy.

“In June of 2013, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission approved massive cuts in funding in what critics referred to as ‘The Doomsday Budget.’ Cuts included mass faculty layoffs, reduction of materials and athletics programs, and the complete elimination of arts and music programs.

“Four years later, Peter Dobrin, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s culture writer, surveyed the city’s music education landscape and convincingly argued that funders sufficiently rose to the challenge, pointing to city’s web of innovative music education programs, including:

  • Play On, Philly!, launched in 2013 with seed money from Carole Haas Gravagno and the Lenfest Foundation.
  • The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune Up Philly, which receives support from Impact100, a women’s giving collective.
  • AristYear Philadelphia, which will pay 12 arts teaching fellows in area schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. The Knight Foundation has supported both Artist Year Philadelphia and Play On, Philly!

“Knight is only one of many influential funders active in the city. William Penn Foundation has doubled down on arts education, allocating more than $12 million over the last 4 years …

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, meanwhile, recently awarded more than $2.5 million to a new program called the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth.

“Other examples include the Neubauer Family Foundation, which, in tandem with other local organizations, is ‘working to figure out what arts education programs are here already to determine what’s needed’  …

“The city’s financial woes were so calamitous that, funders, most of whom already had extensive footprints in the city, had no choice but to respond en masse. …

“In many cases, we’re not talking about your standard music education programs.

“Play On, Philly!, for example, is billed as ‘music for social change.’ Its 2017 summer programming included anti-child obesity and ‘active play’ programming at neighborhood recreation centers. ,,,

“More than ever, funders tend to support arts experiences that are immersive, experiential, and drive positive social outcomes.

“Now, consider the supporting role of big data in framing the arts as a means for driving social change.

“Play On, Philly!’s pilot collected data to show that students in the program improve their self-perceptions, academic motivation and school attendance, all while learning to play and perform a musical instrument. …

“Funders, increasingly beholden to this ROI [return on investment] mindset, are more inclined to cut checks when backed by compelling data. …

“All involved parties agree that access and equality is the key. Funders, more than ever, intuitively rally around this idea. Breadth is important, as well — ‘the net must be cast wide to capture all the talent out there,’ said Dorbin. Music education shouldn’t be just for future Julliard students.”

More here.

Cousin on a Mission

My cousin Alex Frank is on a mission to reform the criminal justice system, starting with young men. She has worked in prisons on a variety of programs for some years now and is seeing measurable results.

A recent Boston Globe editorial expressed hope for the latest initiative. “Early next year, one of the most important criminal justice reform experiments in the country will spread to a stately brick jailhouse in Billerica.

“The Middlesex Jail and House of Correction will become one of the first in the nation to create a dedicated, service-rich cell block for young men.

“Inmates, ages 18 to 24, will gather in peace circles to talk through conflict. They’ll learn how to budget for rent and transportation. And they’ll get the chance to hold their children during visiting hours. ….

“The idea is that 19- and 24-year-olds are fundamentally different than 35- and 40-year-olds — less mature, yes, but also more malleable, and better positioned to change.

“It’s an idea borne out by decades of neuroscience research, which shows the brain is still developing into the mid-20s. And Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who is launching the unit, understands that research intuitively.

“He calls himself a ‘recovering young adult,’ who was adrift as a young man and didn’t get serious until his mid-20s. …

“Koutoujian says it only makes sense to keep impressionable young offenders away from the older inmates they mix with now. … Tailored services, he says, can make a real difference. A separate unit he established for military veterans is showing strong early results and garnering national attention.

“For this new project, Koutoujian is leaning heavily on the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based organization that helped create the nation’s first comprehensive unit for young adults at a tough prison in Cheshire, Conn., known as ‘The Rock.’

“The Cheshire unit hasn’t had a single fight between prisoners or attack on a guard since it launched early this year, and just a fraction of the disciplinary issues that normally arise among young adults in prison.

“Alex Frank, a senior program associate at Vera who has worked on both the Connecticut and Middlesex projects, says any serious effort to reduce mass incarceration in this country ‘requires a focus on young adults.’

“Eighteen-to-24-year-olds account for 10 percent of the American population but 21 percent of prison admissions, she notes. And their recidivism rates are much higher than for other age groups. Whatever we’re doing now is clearly failing. …

“The most expedient approach may be creating the sort of separate cell block Koutoujian is preparing to launch in Middlesex in February. …

“UTEC, an impressive, Lowell-based organization already working to rehabilitate some of the toughest young men in the region, will play a central role. Gregg Croteau, the executive director of the nonprofit, says his group will aim to smooth the transition to the outside — offering job training in jail, for instance, followed by work at a UTEC-run cafe after release. More.

See also this Lowell Sun article, which quotes Alex: “This project goes beyond simply improving living conditions for young people, and seeks to transform facility culture for everyone who lives and works in their facility … By providing meaningful opportunities for young adults to be successful and investing in their potential, supporting and reimagining the role of staff, Middlesex Jail & House of Correction is transforming the current correctional culture to promote equity, accountability, restoration, and healing.”

I think reader Asakiyume, who volunteers in a prison, knows exactly what Alex is saying about prison culture.

Photo: UTEC
Young people from the nonprofit UTEC in Lowell, Massachusetts, have been actively engaged in pushing for criminal justice reform. In February, they will start working with the Middlesex sheriff on a promising prison intervention.
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