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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at CityLab, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at CNN, here.

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

Teen Radio Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here.

Photo: Oxfam / Jacob Turcotte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audubon Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at Hog Island Audubon, here.

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.

To Save Local Shops

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.”

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.

Parents Comment on 2020

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.”

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.

Folk Artist, 101

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.

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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