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Photo: Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener
Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener created new choreography in June at New York City’s Madison Park, where passersby could watch the process.

I have heard of modern dance performed outdoors, but this is the first time I heard of creating the choreography in public. That would be like putting some kind brain-wave detector on my head so people could read what I’m thinking as I write a post.

Brian Seibert at the New York Times wrote about the choreography project.The choreographers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, with dancers of their choosing, are creating something out in the open.

“They’re participating in a collaborative public art project, ‘Prismatic Park,’ sponsored by the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The sculptor Josiah McElheny has created a red pavilion for poets, a blue wall to back musicians and a green circular floor for dancers.

“Artists from those disciplines are in the park for a rotation of residencies through Oct. 8, and will be tasked with making works inspired by the space and unplanned interactions with the public. …

“Seibert: How did you approach the project?

“Riener: We were both excited by it and interested in subverting it. So, of course, the first thing we did was ignore the circle and use the full area.

“Mitchell: I tell the dancers, ‘You’re going to be confronted by people, a squirrel is going to run by, you’re going to stop to say hello to your boyfriend — all of that is what we’re doing.’ … We’ve done a lot of work outside, but this felt more vulnerable, because we weren’t coming in with something set. The first day, my nerves were wild.

“Riener: This part of every process is typically private, and I wasn’t prepared for how uncomfortable I would feel. The constant feeling of being on display, even in your rest moments. You can sort of hide behind a tree.” …

“Mitchell: One time, an older man started gesturing for me to come over and I started mirroring the gesture. And he got a kick out of it and started moving his whole body and we were in this dance together. … I’ve dropped into what it is, and feel more aligned with myself and connected to other people. … It’s a hard time in the world right now, and in a weird way, this is therapeutic.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Brian Hatton
Amir Brann, social work director of Public School 446 in New York, leads second-graders in an art exercise that helps build collaborative skills.

How many decades have we been saying that schools are asked to do too much? We bemoan the fact that teachers must often act as substitute parents, police officers, advisers on social services, and more — an endless list.

Today some schools have stopped saying that it’s not fair and have decided instead to tackle the hard reality.

Meredith Kolodner writes at the Hechinger Report (a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education), “Three years ago, when Public School 446 opened in a building where two others had failed, it inherited many of the youngest students. Among them was a second-grader who was supposed to be in fourth grade and was reading at a kindergarten level.

“The boy was one of a handful of students who had regular violent outbursts — he threw chairs and hit other kids.

“ ‘He was coming to school with a lot of stress, and he wasn’t being successful academically, so he was acting out,’ said Meghan Dunn, the principal of P.S. 446 in Brownsville. ‘Kids would rather be known as the bad kid than the dumb kid.’

“Dunn was well aware of the building’s troubled history when she agreed to open the new school in 2012, after two previous elementary schools in eight years were closed for poor performance. Dunn knew she’d be working in a community that desperately needs stability: Brownsville has the second-highest rate of student homelessness in Brooklyn and the highest elementary school student absenteeism in the city — 40 percent of its children miss 20 or more days of school per year.

“The neighborhood is the poorest in Brooklyn and also has one of the highest rates of psychiatric hospitalizations and incarcerated residents in the city. …

“So Dunn decided to try something different when she opened the school three years ago. She assumed many students would arrive with lots of physical and emotional needs, and structured the school to handle their issues in ways that regular public schools can’t. It took extra money from [Partnership With Children] and a small army of social workers, and the results are promising. The percentage of students reading at grade level climbed to 41 percent last spring, up from 32 percent the previous year, according to a widely used literacy benchmark. The number of disciplinary incidents during the same time period dropped by more than a third. …

“The struggling second-grader was immediately matched with a social worker who began seeing him individually and also met with his parents to help connect them to an outside evaluation of the boy’s possible learning issues. (Problems like ADHD and dyslexia must be diagnosed by a doctor.) To help shift his behavior, the social worker told him to write down every time he walked away from a conflict. After he avoided a fight five times, he got 15 extra minutes of basketball.

“Dunn also assigned him 30 minutes a day of one-on-one literacy help, which allowed him to improve his reading. …

“ ‘We work a lot with kids to be able to ask for what they need,’ said Dunn. ‘So kids know if you need anything, you just have to ask for an adult … if you don’t have a winter coat, we’ll find you one. When kids are acting out, a lot of time it’s because they don’t know how to communicate what they need.’ ”

More here.

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2017-Nancy-Whelan-cat-sculpture-Catskill-NY

Sculpture: Nancy Whelan
Cat sculpture “Henry VIII — Six Wives, Nine Lives,” Catskill, New York.  See and hear the artist’s description, here.

Sandy and Pat attended a family wedding at Lettterbox Farm in upstate New York recently and took a little time to check out the local sights. They loved the cat sculptures in the town of Catskill and the owl sculptures in Coxsackie, whose name is thought to come from an Indian word for “owl.”

Ariél Zangla wrote at the Daily Freeman, ” ‘Cat’n Around Catskill’ is celebrating its 10th anniversary. …

“Visitors come from local communities, but also from out of state. [Catskill Association President Tina Annese] said she knows of at least one family that has visited the cats each year as part of their summer vacation. She said people come to see the cats, get their pictures taken with them, and then visit area businesses.

“ ‘It brings tourism into the area, without a doubt,’ Annese said. She added that with neighboring communities doing their own art displays, visitors can stop in multiple areas. Annese said she loves that — and the more public art displays, the merrier.

“Locally, Saugerties once again has its decorated horse statues on display, while Greenville will have its ducks for the second year.”

More about the cats at the Daily Freeman, here. And if you are on Facebook, you will want to check the Cat’n Around Catskill page, here.

As for owls, it was last September that Coxsackie decided to get into the act.

Melanie Lekocevic of Columbia-Greene Media wrote about the effort at the Daily Mail: “Catskill has its cats, Cairo has bears, and Ravena had trains. Now, it’s Coxsackie’s turn.

“A volunteer committee has been working for several months to get a new project off the ground – ‘Hoot of the Owl,’ a public art exhibit that will bring sculptures of creatively decorated owls to the community.

“Owls have long been the symbol of Coxsackie; indeed, some translations of the name ‘Coxsackie’ – said to be of Native American extraction – are thought to reference owls, according to an article by Coxsackie Town Historian Michael Rausch on the town website. …

“Like the Catskill cats, once completed each owl will be posted at locations around the village for several months, and later auctioned off at an extravagant gala.

“Visitors to [the early September] Coxsackie Farmers Market got a taste of what is possible in creating an owl when local artist Ellen DeLucia put on display an owl she created just to get the creative juices flowing around town.

“ ‘When we started, we decided to buy one owl prototype and have Ellen DeLucia paint it to give people an idea of what it would look like,’ said Committee Chair Joseph Ellis, also a village trustee.” More at the Daily Mail, here.

Horses, ducks, owls, bears, cats. Dragons, Anyone? I’d definitely go out of my way to see dragons.

Photo: Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media
Artist Ellen DeLucia created the owl “Freedom” to give artists an idea of what a finished owl can look like.

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Photo: Ted Roeder

I wonder if poetry is going to see an upsurge in our time. Better than any other form of communication, poetry can get to the heart of the matter, expressing important truths and feelings obliquely.

Recently I read about poets who gather annually on New Year’s Day in New York City to share their unique statements. The event is part of what is known as “The Poetry Project.”

“There are three things to consider when the New Year’s Day Poetry Marathon sweeps you into its gracefully uncouth embrace,” says the website, “what it is, what it was, and who you will be when it’s over. An untamed gathering of the heart’s secret, wild nobility — over 140 poets together revealing not just that a better life could exist, but that it already does, sexy and wise, rancorous and sweet, big hearted and mad as hell. …

“Since Anne Waldman gathered 31 poets at the very first marathon on January 2, 1974, countless forward-facing luminaries have thrown their voices into the cauldron — among them Eric Bogosian, William S. Burroughs, Spalding Gray, Jackson Mac Low, Ed Sanders, Pedro Pietri, Helen Adam, John Cage, Joe Ceravolo, John Giorno, Ted Berrigan, Yoko Ono, Amiri Baraka, Gordon Matta Clark, Jim Carroll, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Steve Cannon, Hannah Weiner, Kathy Acker, Arthur Russell, Gerard Malanga, Suzanne Vega, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, and Philip Glass. The list grows every year …

“Whether you stay for a little while or for the long haul, whether you’re part of the standing room only experience at sunset or with the handful of diehards as the final poet reads her last word in the predawn sanctuary, you will be transformed for the year to come. Your presence helps launch a great flare into the otherwise impenetrable darkness of the 21st century night. …

“The Project receives many requests to perform in the Marathon, and we feel fortunate that so many people want to help us meet our fundraising goals. We only have about 150 spots and a seemingly unlimited artistic community to draw from. [Click here for] some basic information about our selection process. …

“Reading is just one way of participating in the event. There are volunteer opportunities (about 100 are needed) to help sell books, food and drink, assist in checking in readers, etc. It’s also an opportunity to meet or catch up with other writers/artists and support the Project’s mission. …

“For photo galleries of past New Year’s Day Marathons, please visit photographer Ted Roeder’s website.”

More about the annual event and how poems get selected, here.

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I wish Pete Seeger were around for this story. The folksinger spent many years sailing his sloop the “Clearwater” up and down the Hudson River to draw attention to pollution. Today the river is in good enough shape to attract a whale chasing its dinner.

Recently, New York Times reporter Katie Rogers interviewed Dr. Rachel Dubroff, whose apartment overlooks the Hudson. She writes that the first time Dubroff spotted a whale swimming outside her living room window, “she didn’t quite believe the sighting was real,” but news reports in November confirmed that “the Hudson River has a resident humpback.”

Continues Rogers, “The Hudson, as scenic as it is, does not scream ‘whale habitat.’ But experts say cleanup and conservation efforts have led to cleaner waters and an abundance of fish. …

“A whale appearing in the Hudson is very rare, [Paul Sieswerda, the president of Gotham Whale, an organization that tracks marine life around the city] said, which is why he thinks this one is a solo traveler. But the whale still faces significant danger because it is swimming in traffic-laden waters. …

“ ‘When you have whales chasing the bunker [menhaden], and fishermen chasing the stripers that chase the bunker, accidental interactions between whales and vessels can occur,’ Jeff Ray, a deputy special agent with NOAA’s law enforcement division,” added.

I hope everyone using the river will watch out for whales and try to coexist. It would be great if the whale came back after the usual typical retreat to warmer breeding grounds in winter.

More at the New York Times, here.

Art: Amy Hamilton
A humpback whale like the one spotted in New York’s Hudson River in November 2016.

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It seemed clear from the start that the refugee job-training company Providence Granola Project was onto something.

Now I’m realizing that related concepts can spring up independently in other places. Maybe there should be a trade group.

Check out this story about a food-delivery business in New York that hires refugees.

Autumn Spanne writes at the Guardian, “When Manal Kahi arrived in New York from Lebanon two years ago, to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, she longed for authentic hummus, but couldn’t find a restaurant or supermarket that came close to her expectations. So she started making her own, based on a recipe from her Syrian grandmother.

“The recipe was a hit with her friends, and it occurred to Kahi that there might be a successful business in it. The idea also dovetailed with her growing concern about the Syrian refugee crisis. …

“She decided to start a social enterprise designed to help refugees from all over the world get established in their new country and provide New Yorkers a positive entry point for interacting with the city’s refugee community. Kahi’s efforts put the spotlight on the role business has to play in the refugee crisis, and whether there’s a need for new approaches to help recently arriving refugees integrate and become self-sustaining. …

“The result went far beyond hummus. [In January], Kahi and her brother launched Eat Offbeat, a for-profit meal delivery startup that employs recently resettled refugees from around the world as chefs who prepare traditional dishes from their countries of origin. …

“Al Janabi, who uses only her last name out of concern for the safety of family still in Iraq, was one of Eat Offbeat’s first hires. … For months, she was afraid to go anywhere alone. Her first solo trip on the subway was to the Eat Offbeat kitchen in Brooklyn. …

“ ‘I want people in the US to know that refugees have few opportunities here, but we bring our skills with us,’ she said. ‘We come in difficult circumstances.’ …

“Al Janabi and two other refugees from Nepal and Eritrea … learned basic food preparation and hygiene techniques – skills that they can use to get other jobs, or perhaps eventually open their own business, said Kahi.

“ ‘Ultimately we want to change the narrative around refugees, for New Yorkers and the rest of world to see that refugees don’t have to be a burden, they have economic value.’ ” More here.

Photo: Eva Cruz/Eat Offbeat
Potato kibbeh is one of the dishes on the Eat Offbeat menu.

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You probably know about Humans of New York and the photographer Brandon Stanton, who gets strangers to tell him how they really feel. I was reminded of his work when I read this NY Times story about an artist and musician who invited strangers to answer offbeat questions about their lives and then used the material to write songs for them.

Reporter Alex Vadukul attended a gallery exhibition of the work in February.

He writes, “The crinkled papers pinned across the small Chinatown gallery’s walls …  contained scrawled drawings and questions: ‘Do you know your limits yet?’ ‘Most recent Google query?’ and ‘Were you ever involved with the occult?’

“They were not pointlessly esoteric. Grey Gersten, an artist and musician, had designed them to gather information he then used to compose songs about strangers; individuals filled them out for him two summers ago during rapid 20-minute song-making appointments for his project, ‘Custom Melodies.’ …

“Mr. Gersten, 32, worked from an impromptu music studio inside the Mmuseumm, a peculiar contemporary museum the size of an elevator shaft in the narrow Cortlandt Alley in TriBeCa, where people handed him the papers through a window opening. The forms, posing questions personal and abstract, helped him explore a concept: Can you bottle a stranger’s essence in a song? The resulting compositions were played publicly at the Chinatown Soup gallery on [Feb. 5, 2016] and varied from ambient and sonic to poppy and feverish.

“People wandered through the space studying the papers on the walls, but a few sought their own original forms. …

“Josh Koenigsberg, 31, who sat for a song appointment, also tracked down his form at the gallery. … He recalled: ‘It was like going to a doctor’s office, except you filled out the last dream you had or the last time you got goose bumps. And he studied your form like he was a doctor.’ (One man at the event described it as a ‘takeout window for music.’)

“Another participant, Philip Weinrobe, 34, found his form hanging beside the gallery’s busy bar. It indicated his earliest memory was ‘sitting in a playground and looking up,’ that his favorite advice is ‘measure twice, cut once,’ and that at the time his last Google search was, ‘Why aren’t my marigolds flowering?’ ”

More here.

Photo: Emon Hassan for The New York Times
At a Chinatown gallery in February, visitors read forms people filled out so Grey Gersten could write customized songs.

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