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Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

Photo: 2Life Communities.

Back in June, I was listening to the radio in the car and heard a local interview with poet Billy Collins. Collins was in the area for a 2Life Communities fundraiser. In searching for more information on 2Life Communities, I found this 2021 story from GBH radio. Turns out, there actually exists, through a lottery system, an affordable and very diverse option for retirement in Greater Boston.

Marilyn Schairer reported, “Some senior adults living in and around Boston face a major life dilemma nowadays, especially when they retire and are on a fixed income: they have to choose between paying for heat, for food or for rent.

“That’s what 2Life Communities is working to change. The nonprofit is on a mission to help senior adults live in affordable housing in the Greater Boston area, with over 1,300 units and hundreds more in planning and construction stages, as demographic shifts leave more older Americans burdened by housing costs.

“Amy Schectman, president and CEO of 2Life Communities, said 2Life does more than just provide housing for middle- and low-income senior adults.

“ ‘We’re dedicated to the proposition that every older adult should have the opportunity to live a full life of connection and purpose in a dynamic, supportive environment,’ she said.

The organization’s mission brings together a community of people from all backgrounds and cultures. …

“A major demographic shift is underway in the United States as the baby-boomer generation ages. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 years old or over, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“But Schectman said only a third of older adults who qualify for subsidized housing actually receive it nationwide. The remainder, as found by Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, are ‘housing cost burdened,’ Schectman said, ‘meaning they’re spending an inadequate [amount on] money on food and medicine.’

“Currently, 2Life Communities has 1,340 affordable apartments on six different campuses in the Greater Boston area, including Newton and Framingham, and they’re looking to build another campus in Lynn. … Tenants at 2Life are selected through a lottery system, and the waitlist is long. …

“Tenant Darryl Smith won an apartment in the lottery three years ago, and he is thrilled.

“ ‘Oh man, I’m jumping for joy,’ he said. Smith, who is in his 70s. …

“2Life was formed in 1965, and back then it was called Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly. Schectman said the new name is meant to convey a sense of joyous aging, and it comes from a traditional Jewish or Hebrew toast: ‘L’Chaim,’ which means ‘to life.’

“One of the things tenants said they like about the living situation is the diversity. Resident speak a plethora of languages, and there are lots of people from the Boston area, of course, but many are immigrants, representing countries such as China, Ukraine and Belarus. …

“ ‘The end of the year is a big time of giving,’ she said. ‘And let me be clear, we can’t do what we do without philanthropy. We are 100% dependent because we believe you can’t chintz out on services and programs.’

“The median annual household income among residents is $12,078, according to Schectman. But even with federal subsidies and tax credits, she said partnerships with businesses like Dellbrook Construction are needed. Dellbrook’s CEO Michael Fish said he understands the need for organizations like 2Life Communities.

“ ‘The fact that they’re expanding and growing tremendously is not surprising whatsoever, and it’s incredibly necessary given the state we are in and the need for affordable housing for seniors,’ Fish said.

“And tenants like Darryl Smith feel a lot of gratitude for having a newfound home.

“ ‘I’ve got friends now that you can go right to,’ he said, noting the sense of community. ‘If you have any kind of problem, they’ll walk with you, and everybody’s smiling.’ ” More at GBH, here.

As my husband and I scout retirement communities, we realize that although we are fortunate enough to be able to pay the costs, we are going to lose out on contact with people of diverse backgrounds. Diversity of nationality, religion, and language is often tied these days to economic diversity. I will just have to keep volunteering with English as a Second Language classes. For me, making friends in those classes is truly enriching.

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Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis/Glamour.
Betty Reid Soskin works at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. Soskin is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service.

In a fascinating September article at the Washington Post, Sydney Page interviewed a no-nonsense park ranger who was in her 80s when she heard a call to improve on the way US history is told. Here’s her story.

“When asked how it feels to be 100 years old, Betty Reid Soskin [said]: ‘The same way I felt at 99.’

“But she’s not just any centenarian: Soskin is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service. …

“When it comes to sharing her story, Soskin is not shy. As a park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, she spends her days recounting her rich and complicated history, in the hope that her firsthand account will resonate with people, and encourage them to share their own stories.

“ ‘I think everyone’s story is very important. There is so much diversity,’ Soskin said. ‘It’s in that mix that the great secret of a democracy exists.’

“It wasn’t until 21 years ago, though, that Soskin truly started telling her own tale — and it happened by coincidence. While working as a field representative for a California assemblyman, Soskin attended a meeting with planners from the National Park Service.

“They were organizing the development of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, created in 2000 to honor Americans on the home front, who worked in various industries across the country to bolster the war effort.

“The park paid homage to Rosie the Riveter, a pop-culture icon, symbolizing civilian women who worked in shipyards and factories — assuming the vacated jobs of men — during the war. But the depiction of a red-bandana-wearing White woman didn’t speak to Soskin’s own experience on the home front as a Black woman in segregated America, she said. During the war, Soskin worked as a file clerk in a segregated union, Boilermakers Auxiliary 36.

“ ‘Black women were not freed or emancipated in the workforce,’ she said in a 2015 interview with the Washington Post. ‘Unions were not racially integrated and wouldn’t be for a decade. They created auxiliaries that all Blacks were dumped into. We paid dues but didn’t have power or votes.’

Sitting in that meeting with the National Park Service planners as the only Black person in the room, she realized something: ‘The history, as I had lived it, was nowhere in sight — not one minute of it.

“Soskin decided to change that. She became a consultant to the park in 2003, and a park ranger in 2007 at the age of 85. Sharing her story with as many people as possible, she decided, was her way of reclaiming her history, and that of countless others whose tales have gone untold.

“She’s become known for saying: ‘What gets remembered is determined by who is in the room doing the remembering.’ So she made it her mission to stay in the proverbial room — which, in her case, was in the park’s visitor center. …

“Tom Leatherman, the park’s superintendent, said Soskin has had a profound impact on the park.

“ ‘She has been fundamental to us being able to tell a more complete story,’ he explained. … Soskin has propelled the park, Leatherman added, to seek other stories of people who have been marginalized and ensure that they are heard — including voices that are Latinx, Native American, Japanese American and LGBTQ. …

“The content of her presentations is dictated, in large part, by what visitors want to know. Often Soskin speaks of her upbringing in a tightknit Cajun-Creole family and her experiences with racial discrimination growing up in Oakland, Calif. …

“Over the years, Soskin — who has four children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild — wore many hats: mother, musician, civil rights activist, antiwar advocate and finally, park ranger. Her most recent role is what pushed her into the national spotlight.

“Just like that, ‘someone dropped a uniform on the life that I was already leading,’ Soskin said. … Wearing it, she said, feels right.

“ ‘Little girls that see me in uniform see possibility. They have a feeling there’s an option open to them that they wouldn’t have known otherwise,’ she said. …

“Since becoming a ranger, Soskin was awarded the Silver Service Medallion by the National WWII Museum; she was presented with a commemorative coin from President Barack Obama; and she has written a memoir called ‘Sign My Name to Freedom,‘ which is being made into a documentary. …

“Her most recent accolade came just in time for her 100th birthday: A middle school was renamed after her.

“ ‘I didn’t know that would mean so much, except that it does, because I think that it means that I will go forward into history along with all the other people,’ she paused to wipe a tear, ‘who have tried to make a difference.’ ”

More at the Post, here. You might also like the 2018 article about Soskin at Glamour, here.

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Urban Nutcracker

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff.
Mother and daughter Afrika Lambe (a pianist), and Erika Lambe (a dancer) talk about their deep roots in Boston arts and their love for the “Urban Nutcracker.

Boston has an unusual dance event at the holidays. It’s called the “Urban Nutcracker.” Some years ago, Kristina and I went to see to a production and really enjoyed it. My understanding is that it’s a little different every year, so I know I need to get back there. Today’s story highlights a mother and daughter who have had a role in preparing young dancers of color to take part both here and in the wider arts world.

The daughter danced with the acclaimed Boston Ballet for 11 years, but says that despite some principal solos there, she finds her current work with young dancers more meaningful.

Karen Campbell reports at the Boston Globe, “Twenty years ago, dancer Erika Lambe became Boston Ballet’s first Black Sugar Plum Fairy in ‘The Nutcracker.’ During much of her time with the company, she was the only Black ballerina.

“Now Lambe is involved with a version of the classic ballet dedicated to putting artists of color front and center. This season, City Ballet of Boston’s production of ‘Anthony Williams’ Urban Nutcracker’ also celebrates a landmark 20th anniversary. Williams’s multicultural twist on the ballet classic, set in present-day downtown Boston, blends the traditional Tchaikovsky score with Duke Ellington’s jazzy version and features dance styles ranging from ballet and flamenco to hip-hop.

“ ‘There’s no other “Nutcracker” like this,’ Lambe says. ‘Its whole intent is to speak to a more diverse audience, unlike the more traditional productions. … Twenty years ago, people in this community wouldn’t even consider going to a ballet, but this has brought them into the theaters and gives kids exposure to dance, ballet in particular. It’s such a holiday tradition.’

“This year, Lambe reprises her role as the Mother in ‘Urban Nutcracker,’ and a role behind the scenes, too, as ballet mistress, running the children’s rehearsals, working with some of the adults in the production, teaching upper-level classes in City Ballet of Boston’s school, and running its introductory Relevé program. She’s also helping in the wardrobe department, refurbishing costumes and making new tiaras.

“Now in her 50s, Lambe, who grew up in Brookline, has been enmeshed in the dance world since she began classes at the age of 4. She says she was never one of those kids who dreamed of being a ballerina, but after seeing a Boston Ballet ‘Nutcracker’ production when she was 6, she was hooked, beginning training with the company as one of only a handful of students of color. ‘I hated ballet, but I wanted to be in “The Nutcracker.” ‘ …

“When she was 10, she says, the ballet master pushed for her to be given the role of Clara. Boston Ballet founder E. Virginia Williams demurred, saying the ballet was a period piece, but she cast Lambe in other challenging roles to showcase her talent.

“At the age of 16, Lambe began her professional career at Dance Theater of Harlem under the legendary Arthur Mitchell, which led to three years of ‘great opportunities.’ Then Edward Villella invited her into the fledgling Miami City Ballet. In 1993, she joined Boston Ballet, dancing with the company until 2004. ‘I did a lot. Jumping was my forte, and I was a quick study. I remember I got thrown into a solo [last minute] in “Raymonda” — and I got a good review!’ she recalls with a delighted laugh.

“Lambe comes by her drive and enthusiasm honestly. Her mother is Afrika Hayes Lambe, a beloved Boston area dance accompanist with an impressive background as a vocal soloist as well. At the age of 88, Afrika is still accompanying ballet classes, known for her expansive memory in repertoire ranging from ballet classics to Broadway tunes.

Erika’s grandfather was the internationally acclaimed tenor Roland Hayes, whose father had been enslaved and was later emancipated. Roland went on to fill concert halls and shatter racial barriers around the world.

” ‘A lot of my grandfather’s history informs me,’ Lambe says, citing Hayes’s tireless fight against racism and inequity to blaze a trail for generations of Black vocalists and become one of the highest-paid recitalists in the world by the 1920s. …

” ‘I had hoped to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps,’ says Erika Lambe. ‘I wanted to be a principal or soloist at Boston Ballet, but it just didn’t happen. I got some principal roles so I did get the opportunities, just not the title. I had a great career dancing … but I feel like maybe what I’m doing now is more meaningful.’

“Williams, a progressive dance educator and former principal dancer with Boston Ballet … says at his own school, Lambe has become an inspiring role model. ‘Students and parents can identify with her,’ Williams says. ‘She really cares about them, and she’s passionate, reliable, professional, and very proactive about getting things done.’

“Lambe who has taught widely in Greater Boston, also currently teaches at Reading’s Northeast School of Ballet and created a program to bring students from the school’s youth company into the upcoming ‘Urban Nutcracker’ production. ‘It’s a great exchange,’ says Williams, ‘a nice bridge between the white suburbs and inner-city kids. … People that come to the show are struck by the diversity onstage. … Our first show happened right after 9/11, now this one’s right after COVID. I hope it offers the community a kind of a salve to help us heal wounds.’ “

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times.
Naomi André, Seattle Opera’s scholar in residence, is passionate about sharing her love of opera and making the art form welcoming to a wide range of people, reports the Seattle Times. “I feel that everybody can find something to relate to in opera,” she says.

In March of this year, Naomi André gave a virtual talk at Vermont’s Bennington College on opera and her role as the Seattle Opera’s first scholar in residence. She was appointed right before the pandemic to share her enthusiasm for opera with a new and more diverse audience.

Here’s some background on the opera company’s pathbreaking appointment from Gemma Alexander at the Seattle Times.

“A week before Naomi André’s panel [in February 2020] on Black representation in the arts, Seattle Opera closed registration for attendance. The number of online reservations had hit the 300-person capacity of the Opera Center auditorium for the first time since the building opened in late 2018. At least in local opera circles, André’s name had buzz.

“André is Seattle Opera’s inaugural scholar in residence. It is a role the company created specifically for her and may be the only job of its kind in American opera. As scholar in residence, André acts as an adviser to help Seattle Opera become more inclusive, both for audiences and behind the scenes. …

‘There’s a kind of joy in going to the opera and seeing it live. Unfortunately, opera has an elitist reputation,’ said André, a professor at the University of Michigan, where she has taught courses on 19th-century Italian opera as well as classes on race and gender. …

“Her personal experience as a Black woman in the opera field led to her most recent book, Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement, which examined African American and Black South African participation in opera.

“ ‘I feel that everybody can find something to relate to in opera. This is not a genre that should go away,’ André said.

“To help Seattle Opera become a place where everyone can find their something, André advises on issues of race and equity both in their internal operations and in contextualizing the works they produce for audiences. One of her first acts as resident scholar was a response to the death of pioneering African American soprano Jessye Norman.

“ ‘There were a lot of pieces being written, but they were all so white! No one wrote about what she meant to Black fans. So I suggested that and they said, “Great! When can you have it ready?” ‘ André said with a laugh. ‘I was so impressed that this isn’t contentious.’ The piece she wrote is posted on the Seattle Opera blog.

“André first came to the attention of Seattle Opera when she participated in a forum on race and gender sponsored by the Glimmerglass Festival, a summer-season opera company in central New York state known for producing rare and new works. Called Breaking Glass, the panel visited Seattle in tandem with the 2018 production of Porgy and Bess. Impressed by André, Seattle Opera brought her back for 2019’s Carmen. In a forum called Deconstructing Allure, André and a panel of academics and artists — all women of color — explored representations of women and ethnic minorities in art. They considered the responsibility of contemporary arts organizations toward both classic works of art and the people who may be misrepresented by those art works.

“ ‘Some people would view that as a pretty radical conversation in the opera space,’ said Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Seattle Opera’s director of programs and partnerships. The event was so successful that Seattle Opera designed the new position of scholar in residence to formalize an ongoing relationship with André.

“[André] has recorded an episode of Seattle Opera’s podcast and contributed essays for program booklets. But her most visible role involves a series of free, public community conversations that invite audiences to question problematic social themes and portrayals of marginalized communities in opera while appreciating the artistic elements that continue to hold up.

“On Feb. 13, 2020, she [moderated] the Black Representation in the Arts community conversation at the Seattle Opera Center with speakers Theresa Ruth Howard, curator of the Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet symposium, and Bridgette Wimberly, librettist of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.”

For her 2021 talk at Bennigton, André provided this preview: “In this talk, I outline some of the larger frameworks from my book Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (2018) and take them further to include a quick mention of Beyoncé’s Homecoming (2018), and three operas on Black topics that debuted the summer of 2019 (Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Opera Theater of St. Louis; Anthony Davis and Richard Wesley, The Central Park Five, Long Beach Opera; and Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson, Blue, Glimmerglass Festival).

“I quickly contextualize Fire Shut Up in My Bones and The Central Park Five and then spend the most time with Blue. I have been fortunate to see all three operas and got to know Tesori and Thompson through several panels in the Breaking Glass series (run by Glimmerglass Opera Festival). From the legacy of minstrelsy and the frequent negative portrayal of Blackness in opera, this talk outlines a shadow history and explores how opera can be relevant for today and a space of liberation.”

More at the Seattle Times, here, and at Bennington College, here.

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Photo: Jay Simple
Artist Maia Chao pays a guest critic $75 in cash at the end of a 4-hour visit to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

The Rhode Island School of Design and its museum are justly famed for cutting-edge art and ideas. In this Hypoallergic story, Laura Raicovich speaks with Maia Chao and Josephine Devanbu, the founders of Look at Art. Get Paid., a program that pays people who wouldn’t otherwise visit art museums to visit one as guest critics. It premiered at RISD.

“Critique is a hallmark of the art field,” writes Raicovich, “yet the vast majority of cultural critics, curators, museum leadership, and museum visitors are affluent and white. What is critique without diversity? What possibilities and truths are we missing?

“I was fortunate to meet artists Maia Chao and Josephine Devanbu, who launched the pilot of an ingenious way to approach these questions called Look at Art. Get Paid. (LAAGP), in 2016 at the RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] Museum. The initiative is a socially engaged art project that pays people who wouldn’t otherwise visit art museums to visit one as guest critics of the art and the institution, flipping the script between the institution and its public, the educator and the educated, the paying and the paid. In the next year, they will embark on an expanded campaign to launch LAAGP simultaneously across a regional cohort of three to five art museums in the US. …

“Hyperallergic: What is the origin story of LAAGP?

“LAAGP: We started LAAGP when we were both students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). We were grappling with the relevance of our chosen field to our wider communities. We believed in art making and cultural critique as vital sites of collective meaning-making and world-building, but felt frustrated by how access to the majority of resources and infrastructure to sustain ambitious projects was constrained to a (mostly white and affluent) initiated few. We asked each other, what would a critique environment look like if you didn’t need to be an insider to be in the room? We were curious to test out how we might use our institutional access and artistic license to move funds that would normally circulate within RISD out into the community. We launched our pilot in 2016 at the RISD Museum. …

“Paying people in cash to visit a museum names the elephant in the room: wealth, specifically the wealth accumulated by beneficiaries of the transatlantic slave trade, and the way this wealth continues to shape whose cultural production gets prioritized.

“As with any group of people, some enjoyed their experience and others didn’t. One critic took a picture of her favorite painting on her phone to get printed at Walgreens and hang it up in her living room. Others found the experience reaffirmed their assumptions that museums are boring.

“But beyond like and dislike of the experience, there was a general feeling amongst critics that the museum is ‘addressing a certain kind of person’ — namely white people and people with money. Throughout our conversations, the topic of belonging featured prominently, and one critic said, ‘maybe this place isn’t for me.’ Another critic articulated that they just didn’t feel like they had ‘bandwidth for another white space.’ When discussing what changes the critics would like to see, most agreed the museum would have to better represent POC [people of color] in their collection, improve language accessibility, advertise in their neighborhoods, and make the experience less intimidating.

“However, there were some critics who felt energized to help the museum. For instance, one critic, a sign-maker, said he’d love to help the museum improve their signage. Another critic — an organizer from Direct Action for Rights and Equality — suggested having cookouts at the museum. We’ve been working with these critics to commission local artists to engage these ideas. …

“Critic Samanda Martínez said, ‘Están cuidando más a las imágenes que a nosotros/They’re taking better care of the paintings than they are of us.’

“It’s one thing to know that a space isn’t welcoming to another person, but it’s another to hear directly from someone who has felt unwelcome. In general, our goal as artists is to make that experience legible and valid, in order to create more urgency and disrupt usual practices that need to change. ” More here.

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plie-project

Photos: The Plié Project
Annalisa Cianci of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma models a paper tutu for a project highlighting diversity in dance.

Did you ever see the intriguing documentary by Vanessa Gould called Between the Folds? It’s about origami masters, and my husband and I heard about it because Vanessa’s parents lived in our town.

I have never advanced in origami myself — folded fortune-tellers are about as far as I go — but I have great admiration for artists practicing the craft. And not long ago I read an astonishing story about a project involving origami ballet costumes.

Leah Collins wrote at CBC Arts, “On paper, it’s a partnership that doesn’t immediately make sense. Pauline Loctin (a.k.a. Miss Cloudy) is an origami artist and self-described ‘folding warrior.’ Melika Dez is a photographer, one who specializes in capturing dancers in action. And around this time last year, the Montreal-based artists began collaborating on something they call the Plié Project: an ongoing series of photographs featuring dancers from internationally famed companies, all wearing original, hand-folded costumes by Loctin.

” ‘Paper is kind of fragile, but at the same time, it’s a very strong material,’ says Dez. Beauty and strength and fragility, all in one: that’s how you describe a dancer, right there. But who gets to be those things? …

” ‘In a world where the ballerina “has to look” a certain way, we decided to showcase the beauty of these unconventional but extremely talented dancers and break the boundaries of stereotypes.’

Amanda Smith, Daphne M. Lee and Yinet Fernandez Salisbury of Dance Theatre of Harlem and Dandara Amorim Veiga of Ballet Hispanico. 

plie-project

“Both artists have personal ties to the ballet, which partly explains their interest in the message. Loctin’s previous career was in classical music. The ballet, she explains, was always connected to her work. Dez is a dancer herself, and as a photographer, she shoots companies around the world, including the Black Iris Project in New York City.

” ‘In my work, I’m used to working with diverse people,’ says Dez. ‘There’s a wave of change that is happening in the dance world and it was important to me to push it forward because I myself, I’m a mix.’ …

” ‘There is a paper colour for every girl. … It was just an important message for me to put out there. For little girls to know that anything is possible no matter if they’re Black, white, Asian, Latina — anything is possible. They can do whatever they want as long as they put their heart into it.’ ”

More at CBC, here. There’s a terrific array of photos at the site.

Mai Kono of Les Grands Ballets. 

mai-kono-of-les-grands-ballets

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Photo: Richard Anderson
After running Center Stage in Baltimore for seven years, Kwame Kwei-Armah returns to England to serve as the new artistic director of the Young Vic.

The London theater world learned recently that the Young Vic‘s new artistic director would be the man behind seven strong years at Baltimore’s Center Stage. He is not native to Baltimore but England, where he has been an actor, a director, and a playwright — a versatility that is expected to serve him well at the Young Vic.

In September, Georgia Snow wrote at The Stage, “Kwame Kwei-Armah is set to be announced as the new artistic director of the Young Vic. …

“Kwei-Armah is understood to have been linked to other artistic director jobs in the UK recently. His recent productions as a director have included One Night in Miami… at the Donmar Warehouse, and a musical about the life of Bob Marley, which he also wrote and which ran at Birmingham Repertory Theatre earlier this year.

“He is currently in rehearsals for an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea, also at the Donmar Warehouse, which he directs. …

“His plays have included Bitter Herb, and Elmina’s Kitchen, which ran at the National Theatre in 2003 and was nominated for an Olivier Award. …

“In an interview with The Stage last year, Kwei-Armah also said he thought black representation in the UK has not come as far as the US, and that Brexit has resulted in Britain taking ‘a step backwards into a world of xenophobia.’ ”

Michael Billington at The Guardian adds, “It is significant that Kwei-Armah, born Ian Roberts in London, changed his name when he was 19 after tracing his family history through the slave trade back to its ancestral origins in Ghana. He became interested in the past through watching the TV series Roots and much of his work has been about the search for identity. It was certainly a theme in his first big hit as a playwright, Elmina’s Kitchen, which was seen at the National in 2003 and later became one of the first plays by a black British playwright to make it to the West End.”

More at The Stage, here, and at The Guardian, here.

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Photo: Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership
Hmong dance festival in southwest Minnesota. A Community Development Investments grant from ArtsPlace aims to give newcomers a voice.

Never underestimate the power of art and cultural events to improve lives.

As Amy Evans reports in the magazine Shelterforce (published by the National Housing Institute), the community development field has come to recognize that the arts are key to integrating diverse populations.

Evans discusses the issue with the McKnight Foundation’s Vickie Benson.

“More and more, it seems that arts and culture are being perceived as essential to the core fabric of what builds and nourishes communities — and that gives Benson enormous hope. ArtPlace America, a decade-old collaboration of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions, has been one of the driving forces for that shift, Benson says, by insisting that the arts must be in conversation with other sectors, whether community development, housing, or health.

“In Minnesota, the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP) has joined that conversation. With the support of a community development investment [CDI] grant from ArtPlace America, which will provide $3 million in funding over three years, SWMHP is exploring ways of building arts and culture into its operations.

“It’s a bold step for the organization, and one that Benson wholeheartedly applauds.

” ‘Music, dance, or visual art are forms of expression within many cultures. And just the weaving together of these many, many varied cultural traditions is a natural path for people to communicate with each other,’ says Benson. ‘That is what I hope to see, that communities will understand the importance of arts and culture not as an add-on but as a core piece of community development.’ …

“A couple of decades ago, [the future of the southwest Minnesota town of Worthington] future looked bleak. The farm crisis had taken its toll; the town’s population dropped from 10,243 in 1980 to 9,980 in 1990 as people left the area in search of better opportunities.

“The expansion of the meat processing industry in Worthington turned this trend around. JBS Swift and Co., a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods Inc., established what would become its principal plant in Worthington. The impact was far-reaching in the area, propping up small businesses like Smith Trucking Inc. and local hog producers.

“In 1989, increases in productivity led to an additional shift at the plant, attracting workers from literally around the world. … The so-called foreign-born population of Worthington jumped in parallel from 3.7 percent of the total population in 1990 to more than 15 percent in 2000.

“Mike Woll remembers when that shift took place. ‘Worthington’s history of immigration dates back to when I was in high school, when we had some early Lao immigrants,’ Woll recalls. ‘The community became incredibly diverse.’

“Walk into Woll’s high school today and some 50 dialects can be heard, from Central American to Southeast Asian to East African. Downtown on 10th Street, Woll says, ‘you’ll see people from all over the world. Myanmar, Ethiopia, Laos, all sorts of Latin American influence. It’s a remarkable place.’ …

“Woll hopes that one outcome of Worthington’s participation in the CDI Initiative will be preservation of one of the community’s strongest assets.

“ ‘Diversity brings challenges, but it’s put Worthington ahead of the curve. It gives us a broader scope of the world,’ Woll says. He is proud to know that his college-aged son, who grew up in Worthington, can take living in a multicultural environment for granted, even more so than his peers from places like Minneapolis and Chicago. But making space for multiculturalism to truly thrive means giving voice to communities that often haven’t had a seat at the table. Woll hopes that the CDI Initiative will help expand leadership roles to segments of the population who have so much to say, but haven’t had the platform to say it.

“ ‘If not for a program like [ArtPlace], those cultures do get lost,’ Woll says. ‘Having a bit of institutional strength and a financial boost from ArtPlace can help take what are challenges and turn them into positives.’ ”

More at Shelterforce, here.

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It’s amazing what you can learn from DNA. Recently, scientists have been collecting insights from camel DNA about how camel ancestors were used on ancient trade routes.

Victoria Gill writes at the BBC, “Scientists examined DNA samples from more than 1,000 one-humped camels. Despite populations being hundreds of miles apart, they were genetically very similar. Scientists explained that centuries of cross-continental trade had led to this ‘blurring’ of genetics.

“The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“One of the team, Prof Olivier Hanotte, from Nottingham University, explained that what made the dromedary so biologically fascinating was its close link to human history.

” ‘They have moved with people, through trading,’ he told BBC News. ‘So by analysing dromedaries, we can find a signature of our own past. … Our international collaboration meant we were able to get samples from West Africa, Pakistan, Oman and even Syria.’ …

” ‘People would travel hundreds of miles with their camels carrying all their precious goods. And when they reached the Mediterranean, the animals would be exhausted.

” ‘So they would leave those animals to recover and take new animals for their return journey.’

“This caused centuries of genetic ‘shuffling’, making dromedaries that are separated by entire continents remarkably similar.

“Crucially, this has also ensured that the animals maintained their genetic diversity — constantly mixing up the population. This means that dromedaries are likely to be much more adaptable in the face of a changing environment. …

” ‘The dromedary will be our better option for livestock production of meat and milk. It could replace cattle and even sheep and goats that are less well-adapted.’ ”

More at the BBC website, here.

Photo: Mark Payne/Gill/NPL
Ships of the desert: camels provide transport, milk and food in arid, hostile environments

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Last month, Steve Curwood of the radio show Living on Earth covered a special conference on climate change.

“Curwood: A coalition of 80 leading Islamic clerics, scholars and officials meeting in Istanbul has issued a declaration on climate change, ‘calling on all nations and peoples to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.’ …

“Islamic nations, including wealthy oil-producing states, are taking action on global warming, says Wael Hmaidan. He’s director of Climate Action Network International, one of the conference organizers and joins us now from Istanbul. …

“Hmaidan: I was really happily surprised by how rigorous the Koran and the Islamic teachings on the environment and the care for the planet. It’s a core function of Islam to care for the planet. It’s a responsibility. … It talks about the delicate balance that all the creatures have on Earth and it’s the responsibility of humans to protect this balance.

“It also talks actually about how humankind should not think that they are more important than other creatures. It talks about the role of all creatures and the need of respect, this diversity in the planet. So all of these kinds of proverbs from the Koran and the Islamic teachings, as well as stories about Prophet Mohammed’s life and his care for the environment clearly [makes] environmental care and climate change key issue for an Islamic teaching. And hearing strong statements saying that it is forbidden not to phase out greenhouse gas emissions coming from Islamic scholars is something very inspiring, even for climate activists. …

“There’s an agreement to establish an informal group … that will follow up on all the ideas that came out from the conference. And the ideas are varied, some of them are high-level, like I mentioned going to the UN agencies, to governments, but also the representatives of the organizations that attended want to create action plans in their communities of influence, to bring the declaration. … We need to transform all mosques to renewable energy, and so on. So a lot of ideas, and they’ve created this platform Muslims for Climate to continue the dialogue.”

More here.

Photo: Islamic Relief
Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide and one of the Climate Change Symposium organizers addresses attendees.

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I had dinner with friends at Harvard Square’s Casablanca last night.

Hadn’t seen them in ages. Their older son is moving to New York City with his family this summer. A key attraction is an experimental “international” school opening in Chelsea in the fall. My friends’ granddaughter will start in the new middle school and their grandson in the new elementary school.

Avenues School is the brainchild of publishing whiz Chris Whittle, best known for his not-so-successful Edison Schools. He puts that experiment in a positive light on the Avenues website, saying that it helped to spark the charter school movement. My friends say that experienced and inventive educators from all over have rushed in to help with Whittle’s new global approach to education.

“Begin by thinking Avenues Beijing, Avenues London, Avenues São Paulo, Avenues Mumbai,” says the website. “Think of Avenues as one international school with 20 or more campuses. It will not be a collection of 20 different schools all pursuing different educational strategies, but rather one highly-integrated ‘learning community,’ connected and supported by a common vision, a shared curriculum, collective professional development of its faculty, the wonders of modern technology and a highly-talented headquarters team located here in New York City.”

Erik went to an international school in Wales, a United World College, and made lifelong friends from many nations. As Avenues plans to do, United World Colleges has campuses in different countries. The one in Wales is for high school, but other UWC schools are, like Avenues, preschool to 12th grade, even beyond. Kim Jong-Il’s grandson attends the one in Bosnia!

 

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