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Photo: Dana Cronin/NPR
As part of the “Sonic Succulents” exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, visitors are encouraged to touch plants and listen to what that contact sounds like.

Although inevitably preoccupied today, I always find that writing a little or even editing a little is comfortable for me. So I scrolled through the list of possible topics that I store for the blog and found one that fits my mood. It’s about listening to the sounds of plants as they grow and as we touch them.

Dana Cronin reports at National Public Radio (NPR), “There’s an old belief among farmers that on a quiet night, if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of corn growing.

“A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden proves that theory to be true.

“The exhibit, ‘Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations,’ is the artist Adrienne Adar’s vision come to life.

“Adar is a sound artist based in Los Angeles. She’s passionate about the natural world and says her goal is to show people that plants aren’t that different from us: They grow, breathe and even communicate in their own ways.

“And so, back in May, she planted a patch of corn within the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and has surrounded it with large yellow megaphones that visitors can stick their heads inside to listen to what a growing stalk sounds like.

It turns out the sound is almost extraterrestrial.

” ‘It can be a little bit meditational … children were sitting on the ground and putting their heads in the lower horns and just hanging out,’ she said. …

“Adar says she’s inspired by the work of scientists like Monica Gagliano, an ecologist at the University of Western Australia, whose research focuses in part on how plants, like animals, are sentient beings with cognitive abilities. They can learn, remember and have their own methods of communication. Gagliano has done experiments showing that plants are able to detect specific vibrational frequencies, like the sound of water, and grow toward that sound.

“Adar was fascinated with the idea that plants are sentient. In conceptualizing the exhibit, she says audio was the most effective way to get that idea across. …

” ‘If you hear something in your apartment moving, you kind of assume it’s an animal. You always think there’s an alive quality,’ she said.

“Inside the exhibit there’s a long line of potted plants, including cacti, palm plants and succulents, paired with headphones. Visitors are encouraged to touch the plants, at which point tiny microphones embedded in the planters pick up the vibrations of the touch and make it audible.

“Adar says she wants visitors to hear those sounds and realize the impact we have on plants … ‘Listen to what it feels when you touch it,’ she said. ‘So when you step on a plant … maybe next time it changes the behavior.’

“The exhibit runs through Oct. 27.”

More at NPR, here, where, for example, you can listen to the sound of corn growing.

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Photos: Giada Randaccio Skouras Sweeny
“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees, and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.” says the founder of Emma’s Torch restaurant, Kerry Brodie.

What are ordinary people supposed to do against the horrors of the headlines? Another violent person who has brainwashed himself with misinformation about immigrants has acted out. He did it in New Zealand, but his online buddies are everywhere.

I am an ordinary person, and here’s all I can do, little as it is. I can donate to causes that work to prevent ignorance and violence. I can remind myself that there are an awful lot of people whose views on immigration are completely different from the evil doer’s. And I can share another story about how one of those people took positive action, to the delight of many.

Amanda Holpuch reports at the Guardian, “Culinary adventures are woven into the fabric of New York City. But in Brooklyn one December night, only one restaurant could offer a five-course meal that began with salmon cake and couscous from Mali and ended with an Iraqi dessert, including in between dishes from Honduras and China.

“The restaurant is Emma’s Torch, a non-profit that teaches refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking the culinary and communication skills needed for a career in the kitchen. Six days a week, diners are offered a menu described as: ‘New American cuisine – prepared by our new American students.’

“The restaurant began as a pop-up [in 2017] before expanding this summer into a bright, airy restaurant known for its earthy black-eyed pea hummus garnished with dried chillies. The New Yorker food critic, Hannah Goldfield, touted their ‘perfect shakshuka’ served during weekend brunch service in her August review of the restaurant. In 2019, they will open a second space at Brooklyn Public Library.

“Emma’s Torch is named for Emma Lazarus, the poet whose words are inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

“On one night each month, Emma’s Torch is also the site of a graduation dinner that showcases the flavors of students’ homes, such as the lotus root dyed pink with dragon fruit sauce that was prepared by a Chinese student for the second course of the December dinner.

“Before the first course was served, as the clock ticked down, the restaurant’s founder, Kerry Brodie, spoke over the sounds of sizzling pans.

“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees,’ she said, ‘and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.’

“In an eight-week, paid apprenticeship, trainees learn how to properly use knives to slice, dice and chop. They also take English classes and participate in mock job interviews. They receive 400 hours of culinary training and are paid $15 an hour for their work at the restaurant and on catered events. In 2017, every graduate was placed in a culinary job. …

“Aya fled Iraq two years ago, fearing persecution because her husband was a professor. Violence against academics became common after the US-led invasion in 2003; the couple were being threatened for her husband’s refusal to obey militias. …

“She studied computer programming for two years but that gave way to cooking, as her efforts were praised by teachers and friends. …

“In Iraq, she could buy their favorite foods cheaply and easily. In the US, she had to craft meals from start to finish, scouring markets for Arab ingredients. … But as Aya kept friends, family and teachers happy with her meals from home, it was clear her future lay in cooking, not computers. The refugee agency Hias connected her with Emma’s Torch.”

Read more about Aya and the work of Emma’s Torch at the Guardian, here.

Emma’s Torch in Brooklyn, NY, is a restaurant that values the contributions of refugees. The name refers to the poem by Emma Lazarus quoted on the Statue of Liberty.

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Photo: Cole Wilson
Chad Cooper gave up his Wall Street career to run a music school.

There’s nothing like a story of a guy turning from the big bucks to pursue service to others. One such story was recently reported by Martin J. Smith in Fast Company. It’s about a managing director at Deutsche Bank in New York who left the Wall Street life behind to save a community-oriented music school.

Fortunately, his wife was totally on board.

Smith writes that Chad Cooper’s banking job “came with a substantial salary, bonuses, a generous expense account, and business-class travel. [But] two years ago, after a 16-year Wall Street career [he] walked away from all that to take the executive director’s job at the nearly insolvent Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. …

“Since Cooper took the reins in August 2016, the 121-year-old nonprofit institution in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood has seen a 71% increase in individual donors over fiscal 2016 and a fivefold increase in attendance after shifting its development model from a single annual gala to a handful of special events. Assets have shown a net increase of $400,000 over fiscal 2016. Attendance at its flagship Community Music School is up 19%.”

Fast Company (FC): ” ‘After 16 years as an investment banker, you opted out. Why?’

Chad Cooper (CC): ” ‘Even as a Stanford GSB student, my intention was to work in the private sector, then ultimately return to the social sector. But once you start down a private-sector path, it can be daunting to pivot. For me, the stars aligned when the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, this incredible organization whose board I’d joined, was in dire need of management skills I’d spent my career developing. …

” ‘Before I went to business school, I worked for four years for the city of St. Louis doing inner-city economic development. I also launched a grassroots nonprofit organization that helped mobilize younger people to take an active role in city revitalization efforts. That was a really big part of my life, so when I came to Stanford, I had a strong sense of what I wanted out of business school, and I wanted to bring that back in some way to the nonprofit sector. I had planned for that and tried to save up a little money to have enough security to take myself out of moneymaking for a while. …

” ‘I’d been serving on the board of directors at the conservatory for two years, and just after the business school reunion, the conservatory’s executive director resigned. Having served as the conservatory’s treasurer, I knew it was in dire financial shape. …

” ‘I worked for a guy named Charles Kindleberger in St. Louis for four years — he ran the urban planning department — and I always marveled at how extraordinarily intelligent and thoughtful and effective he was as a senior manager for the city. He could have been a great professor, or a lawyer, or businessperson.

” ‘He would have been successful at whatever path he chose in life. But he had committed himself to public service, and I have great respect for people like Chuck. A lot of capable people commit themselves to service and do it their whole life.’

FC: ” ‘You agreed to work the first two years at the conservatory for no pay. How were you able to afford to do that?

CC: ” ‘I send my kids to public school. My wife works full time. We don’t live an extravagant life. I didn’t walk away from my banking career with a huge amount of wealth, but there are a lot of people who get by with a lot less than I do in New York City and give of themselves in profound ways. …

” ‘I really love what I do. I’m totally energized going into the office every day. … I inherited an organization that really needed fundamental change, and it’s enormously motivating and exciting to come to work and to have that intense focus and energy for turning a place around and building something for the future. We provide music therapy to 1,500 people, including those with autism, and kids whose parents are incarcerated, and seniors with dementia, and I see how transformative their experiences are. It’s gratifying to see the work we do with 6,000-plus New Yorkers every year who otherwise would have no access to music education. That’s enormously motivating to me.’ ”

More at Fast Company, here.

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It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

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The poet Marianne Moore once helped to save a special tree by writing a poem about it, proving that art is more powerful than apathy.

Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, “In 1867, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, once an American Revolution battlefield, opened its gates to a community hungry for a peaceful respite of wilderness amid the urban bustle. So intense was public enthusiasm that local residents began donating a variety of wildlife to fill the 585-acre green expanse, from ducks to deer. But the most unusual and enduring gift turned out to be a tree, donated by a man named A.G. Burgess and planted in 1872.

“This was no ordinary tree. Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii,’ better-known as Camperdown Elm, is a species unlike regular trees in that it cannot reproduce from a seed. The rare elm carries its irregularity on the outside — its majestic, knobby branches grow almost parallel to the ground, ‘weeping’ down. To ameliorate its reproductive helplessness, the Camperdown Elm requires outside help — a sort of assisted grafting, be it by accident of nature or intentional human hand. …

“As excitement over the novelty of Prospect Park began dying down, the Camperdown Elm came to suffer years of neglect. …

“But then, in the 1960s, it was saved by a force even more miraculous than that by which its Scottish great-great-grandfather had been born — not by a botanist or a park commissioner or a policymaker, but by a poet fifteen years the tree’s junior.

“The poet was Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887–February 5, 1972), who had been elected president of New York’s Greensward Foundation — an advocacy group for public parks — in 1965. This brilliant and eccentric woman … created a citizen group called Friends of Prospect Park, aimed at protecting the Camperdown Elm and other endangered trees in the park.

“In 1967, eighty at the time and with a Pulitzer Prize under her belt, Moore penned ‘The Camperdown Elm’ — a beautiful ode to this unusual, dignified, yet surprisingly fragile life-form of which humans are the only bastions. …

“Moore’s poem mobilized the Friends of Prospect Park to envelop the Camperdown Elm in attentive and nurturing care, which ultimately saved it.”

Read the poem and the rest of the story here.

Come to think of it, the Camperdown Elm’s reliance on humans to do the right thing make it very little different from the rest of the natural world.

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Artists love a challenge. Tell them it’s impossible and they’ll find a way to do it.

As Ralph Gardner Jr. writes for the Wall Street Journal, a good example may be found at one to the most polluted waterways in America, Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal.

“What is it about the Gowanus Canal,” Gardner asks, “that attracts art and artists? I visited a bit more than a year ago and spotted some sort of homemade art project floating in the middle of the canal. It was as if the anonymous artist was saying, ‘Take that, Superfund site!’

“A far more ambitious project alighted [in late September], when Diana Balmori, a celebrated landscape architect and urban designer, oversaw the launch of a floating landscape at the foot of the Whole Foods parking lot that overlooks the canal.

“ ‘The reason we picked the Gowanus Canal is the attempt to show that plant material can clean water,’ Ms. Balmori explained. At the same time, she acknowledged, ‘We picked the hardest.’ …

“The floating island was to be filled with multiple tubes. In a poetic twist, the tubes were to be made of the same culvert pipe used to dump pollution and sewage into the canal.

“Perhaps even more poetically, the goal of the experiment was to test the viability of creating large-scale ‘edible’ islands in polluted urban rivers to serve as a food source. Some plants were to be irrigated with distilled water, others with captured rainwater, and a hearty few even with water directly from the canal. …

“I was told that a duck had laid an egg on some earlier iteration of the project. And indeed, we stood there admiring the island’s three monarch butterflies, a beleaguered species in recent years, flitting about the plants.”

More at the Wall Street Journal, here, but there may be a firewall. The author is highly skeptical about anyone ever eating plants from this island, but you can tell he has a grudging admiration for an optimistic artistic vision that insists on a better future.

Photo: Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal

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On the other hand, your living room could be a perfectly good performance venue. In fact, the Guardian calls your living room the “hottest new arts venue.”

The newspaper’s Darryn King writes, “On a recent Friday night in Manhattan, around 20 people and one terrier gathered in the living room of an Upper East Side apartment to listen to a string quartet perform Beethoven, Ravel and Tchaikovsky.

“The guests sampled cheese and wine – several had brought bottles to share – and asked strangers: ‘Is this your first time?’ …

“There are similar events to this performance, organised by Boston-based chamber music concert community Groupmuse, happening in New York, San Francisco and four other cities every week: intimate shows taking place in living rooms of all shapes, sizes and levels of cleanliness, a paradoxically homely and exciting alternative to traditional theatres, concert venues and comedy clubs.

“And it isn’t limited to classical music. Thanks to a range of organisations putting on events in the home, there’s a good chance that, if you were so inclined, you could enjoy standup comedy, live theatre and rock gigs in the comfort of someone else’s residence tonight. Welcome to the latest and greatest nontraditional venue invigorating the city’s live performance scene: the humble living room.

“A lot of folks seek out live music to feel like they are actively contributing to and sharing in something larger than themselves – not just standing by, observing the experience,” says Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin. “Living rooms are just the best way to do that.”…

“The New Place Players, a troupe of Shakespearean performers-for-hire, have also been busy immersing audiences. The group has staged their productions of Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in homes all over the city, while also putting on regular supper-and-show performances in the sumptuous living room of the historic Casa Duse residence in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“The productions are a harmonious blend of music, lighting, theatre, food and drink, amounting to a communal atmosphere that harks back to the experience of catching a theatre performance in Elizabethan times.” More here.

Photo: Groupmuse
A Groupmuse gig.

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I love listening to Worcester-based WICN (jazz radio). Bonnie Johnson had an especially good show yesterday, opening with Cynthia Scott and 3rd, 4th & 5th graders of PS32 in Brooklyn, NY, singing “Dream for One Bright World.”

“There is a new day dawning
“The time is now
“The world is ready for a change …

“Let’s teach out children to care
“To help one another
“And mend broken hearts
“So many children in the world
“Have never had a chance
“Their time has come …

(More lyrics here.)

You can listen to WICN online at wicn.org. Bonnie Johnson’s program is described at Colors of Jazz. “Bonnie Johnson is host of Colors of Jazz on Sunday afternoon from noon-4 pm. If you asked the Worcester native how she found jazz, she would tell you that jazz found her. As an undergraduate student at Howard University in Washington, DC, Ms. Johnson became a fan of the Quiet Storm featured on the college station WHUR-FM. …

“Ms. Johnson appreciates the diversity and the evolution of music. As a self-taught electric bassist, she has enjoyed many years of playing various types of music with her daughter and close friends in a family band. Growing up, she sang in the St. Cecilia Girl Choir at All Saints Worcester. …

“Ms. Johnson holds B.A. in Liberal Studies and M.S. in Communications and Information Management degrees from Bay Path College. She believes the future of jazz is in our children, stating, ‘Music and the arts is one area that gives young people an outlet and release of creative energy. While there are many children exposed to music through lessons and attending live performances, there are too many more that are not.’ One of Johnson’s primary goals as host at WICN is to reach youth in creative ways through community engagement.”

That’s something to think about on Martin Luther King’s birthday — and maybe to act on, too.

Bonnie Johnson, host of WICN radio’s Colors of Jazz 

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Having heard one too many panel discussions and lectures lately about the downsides of the “ageing population,” I was delighted that a few upsides were mentioned at today’s Harvard conference on “Ageing + Place” — a refreshing and intriguing event presenting the latest research and design ideas related to ageing.

Meanwhile, John was on my wavelength again, sending me a link to a story about someone who seems to be ageing remarkably well and making a contribution to society while she’s at it.

Katie Honan of DNAInfo.com writes at BusinessInsider about a 100-year-old woman who is still teaching children in a Brooklyn elementary school.

“Three days a week, Madeline Scotto walks across the street from her home to St. Ephrem’s elementary school, where she was part of the first graduating class.

“She climbs the stairs to her classroom, where she works to prepare students for the math bee. She pores over photocopied worksheets with complicated problems, coaching kids on how to stay calm on stage while multiplying and dividing in their head.

“She’s just like any other teacher at the school — except for one thing: She’s 100 years old.

” ‘I think it just happens, you know. You don’t even realize it,’ said Scotto, who marked her birthday on Thursday.

” ‘Last year I thought, “This can’t be, that I’m going to be 100.” I sat down and did the math actually. I thought, I could not trust my mind. This I had to put paper to pencil — I couldn’t believe it myself. It just kind of happened. I guess I’m very lucky.’ ” More here.

Is there a person of any age who isn’t astonished when they think of how old they are? I think if you are 21 or 40 or 65, you are still going to say to yourself, “How did that happen?”

Photo: DNAInfo
Madeline Scotto is 100-years-old and still teaches students in Dyker Heights.

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Claire swims in Walden Pond before work. I take a lazy walk. Other people run or go to the gym. But in Brooklyn, you have the option of a dance party at a club.

Stacey Anderson has the story at the NY Times: “It was a typically raucous scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn … . However, not all was familiar at this rave called Daybreaker, held at the club Verboten. For a start, the 400 young participants wore athletic clothing and pressed office wear rather than skimpy dresses and droll T-shirts. Some were bright-eyed, but just as many yawned and clutched cups of coffee. …

“The Daybreaker dance party, which runs from 7 to 9 a.m. three times a month, is one of two new early electronic diversions finding audiences in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Branded as both a morning workout option and a wholesome inversion of dance culture, the events are novel beyond their sunrise start times: They are alcohol-free, with coffee and fruit-infused water distributed at the bar instead of the customary club libations. The event, which had its debut in December and moves from place to place, darkens its spaces to mimic the typical rave experience, quite convincingly.

“ ‘It’s like a casino in here; there’s no idea of time,’ said Malcolm Ring, 24, a financial analyst. He woke at 5:30 a.m. to attend this Daybreaker party, his first. ‘I would normally go for a run right now, but this is more enjoyable.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Willie Davis for The New York Times
The rap artist Salomon Faye at a Daybreaker party at Verboten, a club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

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I remember going with Nicky Perls up a steep and very narrow stairway near Times Square years ago so my brother could buy bootlegged blues 78s. Later Nicky traveled the South buying up old 78s and rediscovering blues singers like Mississippi John Hurt.

Record collecting can become an obsession, as seen in a Brooklyn Magazine excerpt from Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, by Amanda Petrusi.

Petrusi says, “In the 1940s, 78 collecting meant jazz collecting, and specifically Dixieland or hot jazz, which developed in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century and was defined by its warm, deeply playful polyphony …

“Because of its origins, collecting rare Dixieland records in 1942 was not entirely unlike collecting Robert Johnson records in 1968, or, incidentally, now: deifying indigent, local music was a political act, a passive protest against its sudden co-optation by popular white artists. …

“In January 1944 [collector James] McKune took a routine trip to [the Jazz Record Center operated by Big Joe Clauberg] and began pawing through a crate labeled ‘Miscellany,’ where he found a record with ‘a sleeve so tattered he almost flicked past it.’ It was a … nearly unplayable copy of Paramount 13110, Charley Patton’s ‘Some These Days I’ll Be Gone.’

“Patton … was almost entirely unknown to modern listeners; certainly McKune had never heard him before. He tossed a buck at a snoozing Clauberg and carted the record back to Brooklyn. As [scholar Marybeth] Hamilton wrote, ‘even before he replaced the tone arm and turned up the volume and his neighbor began to pound on the walls, he realized that he had found it, the voice he’d been searching for all along.’ ”

More here on the world of the impassioned music collector.

Photo: Nathan Salsburg

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No reason a recycling facility can’t have an attractive design, right? As long as it isn’t expensive.

Michael Kimmelman wrote for the NY Times last month about a municipal facility that must make the recycling staff there feel good about going to work.

“Recycling in New York is a scrappy business,” Kimmelman writes. “Billions have gone toward building water tunnels, power plants, subways and sewage treatment facilities, but little toward an infrastructure of recycling. …

“But a Sims Municipal Recycling Facility will open shortly at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park. The city’s first big, state-of-the-art plant for processing discarded plastic, metals and glass, it promises jobs to nearby residents and, as the cost of exporting garbage out of state rises, some savings for the city. …

“The facility is understated, well proportioned and well planned — elegant, actually, and not just for a garbage site. It is an ensemble of modernist boxes squeezing art, and even a little drama, from a relatively meager design budget. …

“Instead of letting engineers design the plant, as often happens at an industrial site, Sims hired Selldorf Architects, a glamorous New York firm known for doing Chelsea art galleries and cultural institutions. …

“The idea? Partly to game the public review process, but also to build a well-designed plant — welcoming to the public, beckoning from the waterfront.” More here.

Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
A look inside the new Sims Municipal Recycling Facility in Brooklyn.

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I continue to be a fan of street art and the way it allows informal artists to express themselves while also letting passersby enjoy both homespun and professional achievements as they go about their errands.

In Rhode Island, there’s a painted rock. Everyone paints it, and no painting lasts for long. In the summer, paintings wishing someone happy birthday may last only a few hours, as mine did one Birthday Week when Suzanne turned 16 and John turned 21. (They didn’t wake up in time to see it.)

There has also been some amazing work by experts on that rock, too, but it gets respect for only a couple days. It’s essential to capture it with a camera.

Yesterday I passed along an idea to a gallery owner that she liked. How about painting the painted rock to look like a rock!? Crazy, huh? She may do it, too. She has a painting of rocks in the current show that she could replicate. She knows she’d have to take a photograph, though, or the rock might be painted over before anyone sees it.

Meanwhile, here’s a nice story about street art in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

Amy O’Leary writes at the NY Times, “Growing up, Joseph Ficalora would sit on the roof of his family’s steel fabrication business. In Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the 1980s, it was one of the few safe places outdoors. The view was grim. The streets were dirty. Graffiti was endless. …

“Most people want to hold onto their past as it was, but Mr. Ficalora has found greater comfort in obliterating it, bathing the neighborhood in paint.

“Today the rooftop of [his] family business, GCM Steel, offers an eye-popping panorama of street art. More than 50 multicolored murals have transformed a swath of nearby buildings into a vast outdoor gallery called the Bushwick Collective, anchored at the intersection of Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.” More.

Photo: Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
Gaia, well-known among street artists, paints — legally — on a building in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

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An artist discovered at 64 has a gallery show in New York.

Jim Dwyer writes at the NY Times, “For more than three decades, [Rafael Leonardo] Black, 64, has made a portal to the world in dense, miniature renderings of ancient myth and modern figures: Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in; Shirley Temple as a sphinx; the head of the surrealist André Breton as the head of John the Baptist; Marianne Faithfull in multiple incarnations.

“Until recently, few people ever saw his work because he had almost no visitors. He held paying jobs as a typist in a law firm, a salesman at Gimbels and then Macy’s, and as a secretary in a school. Most recently, he has worked mornings as a part-time receptionist in a hospital. …

“ ‘I just never made the effort to sell it,’ Mr. Black said. ‘I never expected to be able to make a living at it, but I’ve always done it since — well, I guess, since I’ve known my self.’

“Then [in May], a Manhattan gallery owner, Francis M. Naumann, mounted ‘Insider Art,’ an exhibition of 16 works by Mr. Black. Ten of them sold within days, at prices ranging from $16,000 to $28,000.

“ ‘People liked them, people who know art,’ Mr. Black said. ‘It makes me very happy.’ …

“Late last year, [his friend John] Taylor passed along Mr. Black’s number to [another] friend, Tej Hazarika, who publishes in the art world. Mr. Hazarika urged Tom Shannon, an artist and inventor, to look at the work. In turn, he brought it to Mr. Naumann’s attention. …

“ ‘If you are going to make a picture, you have to make something that’s in concert with the way the world operates,’ Black said. ‘There’s a line from the Lovin’ Spoonful: “You came upon a quiet day, and simply seemed to take your place.” ‘ ” More.

Photo: Victor J. Blue for the NY Times
“There’s a saying: ‘Everybody writes poems at 15; real poets write them at 50,’ ” said Rafael Leonardo Black, who draws miniature figures.

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