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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

Photo: Genna Martin/Crosscut.
Writes Crosscut, “In their roles as King County support services specialists, Kirk Rodriguez, right, and Joe Barnhart walk the area around the King County Courthouse and City Hall Park, as they build relationships with those who live or hang out in that area, … using their own lived experiences with homelessness to form connections.”

After a recent post on better approaches to homelessness, Hannah sent me a link to a New York Times opinion piece by Maia Szalavitz.

“The needs of homeowners and businesses and those of people who are unsheltered often conflict, ” she writes. “Community leaders, faced with increasing crime and disorder, frequently see police sweeps as the only answer, while advocates for homeless people argue that this response is merely a stopgap that does more damage than good.

“But what if there was a way to stop shifting ‌‌people from encampments to jails to shelters to hospitals and back again? In Seattle a unique collaboration among businesses, neighborhood groups, the police, advocates and nonprofits is fighting cynics and misperceptions driven by politics to cut homelessness.

“The coronavirus pandemic presented Seattle with a crisis and an opportunity. In early 2020, authorities closed congregate shelters, emptied jails and stopped new arrests for minor crimes. Lisa Daugaard, a lawyer, saw a rare chance to develop a new approach to addressing homelessness that didn’t involve law enforcement.

“She’d already had success in getting officials to cooperate across siloed systems: In 2019, she won a MacArthur ‘genius’ award for helping to create a program originally called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which has now been replicated in over 80 jurisdictions across the United States.

“Instead of re-incarcerating homeless people who typically already have long histories of minor arrests, police departments that participate in LEAD refer them to case management services. The program has an overall philosophy of harm reduction, which, in addition to securing shelter, focuses on improving health, rather than mandating abstinence from drugs and other risky behaviors. LEAD originated as a collaboration of public defenders, the police and prosecutors, who put aside differences to work on solutions.

“Peer-reviewed research published in 2017 by the University of Washington found a 39‌‌ percent reduction in felony charges for participants (a group of over 300 people suspected of low-level drug and sex work activity in downtown Seattle) in LEAD compared with controls and an 89‌‌ percent increase in the likelihood of being permanently housed for participants after they started case management. ‌‌

“At the height of the pandemic, when the police were ordered not to make minor arrests or referrals to LEAD, Ms. Daugaard decided to try something new. With federal pandemic funds becoming available and desperate hotel owners newly open to being paid to house nontraditional guests, she said she saw ‘our chance to show that there is another way.’

“Ms. Daugaard and her colleagues created a program now known as JustCare. JustCare staff members, rather than police officers, would respond to urgent calls about encampments. After building trust with ‌‌local homeless people, the workers would move them into housing without strict abstinence requirements and then help clean up the site. The police would be contacted only as a last resort.

“An early success involved an encampment on a major thoroughfare, Third Avenue‌‌, where around two dozen tents were ‌‌erected directly outside the popular local restaurant Wild Ginger, which had closed under pandemic restrictions. A co-owner, Rick Yoder, wanted to reopen the restaurant in the summer of 2021, but he told me, ‘I couldn’t get the windows repaired because the guy said, “I’m not going near those tents.” ‘ …

“Outreach workers from JustCare managed to house ‌‌those living in the encampment and clean up the site without police reinforcement. …

‌”The work begins with no-strings offerings of items like food, water and clean needles‌‌. These regular visits help‌‌ demonstrate trustworthiness and defuse fear about coercion. Creativity is also a must: Conflicts arise over everything from open drug use to burning items for heat. Workers neutralize tense situations with humor and compassion and by recognizing that often bizarre behavior is driven by fundamental needs like hunger, thirst and exhaustion.

“Alison McLean owns a condo in the Pioneer Square neighborhood and contacted JustCare for help dealing with tents that started being pitched against her building during the pandemic. …

“JustCare began its outreach. ‘Maybe two weeks later, they were like, “We found housing for everybody,” ‘ Ms. McLean said. …

“Between the fall of 2020 and this past spring, JustCare closed 14 encampments and placed over 400 people in hotels and other lodging.”

More at the Times, here. Thanks, Hannah. Good tip.

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Pandemic Jazz

Photo: Mark Lennihan.
Emmet Cohen (left), Nicholas Payton, Russell Hall, and Kyle Pool livestreaming one of the weekly jazz concerts Cohen launched from his small apartment when the pandemic struck.

I was listening to Christian McBride hosting “Jazz Night in America” (streaming weekly at WICN, here), and he made me want to learn more about the young musician Emmet Cohen.

Allen Morrison wrote at about Cohen’s pandemic venture at the Guardian: “It’s the most exclusive jazz concert in New York. Only about eight guests can attend the weekly shows, by invitation only, squeezing into the 32-year-old jazz pianist Emmet Cohen’s fifth-floor walk-up in Harlem. Meanwhile, thousands more around the world tune into livestreams of the event on Facebook and YouTube.

“Live From Emmet’s Place started as a near-desperate response to the disappearance of gigs for musicians when the Covid-19 pandemic began. Ninety-four shows later, the weekly concert featuring Cohen, his trio with bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole, and a roster of guest musicians who represent some of the jazz world’s leading lights, has evolved into the most highly watched regular online jazz show in the world.

“Talking on a recent Monday afternoon four hours before showtime, Cohen, a one-time child prodigy who has become one of his generation’s most highly regarded jazz pianists, was chilling in a T-shirt and shorts. At this hour, his one-bedroom apartment seems relatively spacious by New York standards. But that’s only until the technicians – a piano tuner, a sound engineer, a videographer – start arriving and setting up equipment. …

After two and a half years, [it’s] been transformed from a ragtag live shoot using only an iPhone into a hi-tech, multi-camera production with pristine sound.

“The superior production values would count for little if they were not in the service of a charismatic, often dazzling, trio of performers. Partly it’s Cohen’s energy, exceptional musicianship, and likable personality. Partly it’s the appeal of his inclusive brand of jazz, incorporating the entire tradition of the genre from the 1920s to the present day. And partly it’s the joy and esprit de corps with which the trio perform, evident in Cohen’s frequent ear-to-ear grin and the trio’s telepathy.

“At first, the current music scene in Harlem was the central focus of the show. ‘There’s such a high concentration of great musicians living here, right down the block,’ he said, citing regular guests like saxophonists Patrick Bartley and Tivon Pennicott and trumpeter Bruce Harris, all rising jazz stars on the New York scene.

“ ‘There’s a rich history of great jazz musicians living in this area: Billie Holiday lived on the corner, Mary Lou Williams up the street, Thelonious Monk would hang out here … all the stride piano greats would play Harlem rent parties. Duke Ellington and his whole band lived here, Sonny Rollins … So, it just felt very natural to host a Harlem rent party, but an updated, digital, virtual version, where we could invite people in to try to make the rent and get the musicians paid at a time when people were really struggling.’

“These days, Live From Emmet’s Place has an audience that averages about 1,000 fans each Monday night on Facebook and YouTube, but videos of most of the shows, as well as dozens of individual songs, have logged tens of thousands more views on YouTube. One video, featuring the sparkling French-born jazz singer Cyrille Aimee, has racked up 4.6m views.

“ ‘I wanted to figure out how to create an online community where we could play and make money. When you play at [the New York City jazz club] Smalls there are 80 people, if you sell out; at Birdland, 250. When we did the first concert from the apartment on March 22, 2020, after one week the livestream had 40,000 views. For a jazz group to reach that many people requires months, if not years, of touring.’ …

“In its pre-pandemic infancy, the webcast’s unlikely success could scarcely have been imagined. In February 2020, Cohen and the trio were flying high. … ‘Suddenly we had no gigs and no idea when we would play again.

“[The show] quickly became an international ‘communal gathering,’ Cohen said. ‘And community, in a time of hardship, turned out to be the most important thing.’ …

“ ‘When I’m on the road,’ Poole said, ‘people say to me, “I’m part of the Emmet’s Place community.” ‘ …

“ ‘The pandemic caused incredible destruction and dismay, but there was a silver lining,’ Cohen reflected. … ‘The fact that we’re a family, Kyle, Russell and me, showed the brotherhood and what it means to be a band in a time of crisis.’ ”

Live From Emmet’s Place can be viewed most Monday nights at approximately 7:30 PM ET on Facebook and YouTube. More at the Guardian, here. And at NPR, here, you can click on links to several of the musical numbers.

French speakers, Rejoice.

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Photo: Everybody Dance.
Summer dance participant in Los Angeles.

There are certain kinds of opportunities that are taken for granted in higher-income families. Being able to participate in sports that require equipment, tutors, summer camp, music and dance and art classes, college. Mary McNamara writes at the Los Angeles Times about a dance class that gets lower-income children and families thinking that opportunity might be possible for them, too.

“We could all use some good news these days, and that’s what Natasha Kaneda offered when she said [‘You can’t be scared when you’re dancing’] to her Jazz I class of 8- and 9-year-olds. …

“She was reminding them to stay focused even if something went wrong during a routine — to resume their dance without fear. She said it quickly, almost as an afterthought, but it should be on a T-shirt, like the Everybody Dance LA! T-shirts these kids were wearing.

“Practicing for their upcoming spring recital, these boys and girls could be part of any dance program. Well, maybe not any — their execution of steps exhibit grace, precision and energy, and their teachers, though unfailingly patient, are not about to let an imperfectly pointed toe or lethargic arm movement pass uncorrected.

“Whatever the skill level, the courses at Burlington studios, part of the building that also holds Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, are so instantly familiar they could be anywhere.

“Except that … for kids living below a certain income bracket, dance class is too often an impossibility. Clothing and lessons cost money; access to those mirrored rooms, even the ones at the local Y, is often out of reach.

“The dancers and the parents at the Burlington studios … wouldn’t ordinarily be taking pride in last summer’s performance with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Dance Project, or preparing to send all of their graduating seniors off to college.

“Yet here they all are, part of the Everybody Dance LA!, an almost-too-good-to-be-true program founded more than 20 years ago by a grieving mother who believed that things should not remain unequal — and that you can’t be scared when you’re dancing.

“In 1999, 13-year old Gabriella Axelrad was hit by a car while biking in the Grand Tetons National Park. After Gabriella died, her mother, Liza Bercovici, found herself unable to simply return to her life as a family law specialist. Instead, she decided to commemorate her daughter, who loved to dance, by creating a program for low-income children. She would employ top dance teachers at professional wages and emphasize excellence and life skills along with creativity and collaboration.

“Bercovici’s biggest fear when she opened the doors to those first classes a year later, in the ballroom of the renovated Sheraton Town House hotel near Lafayette Park, was that no one would come.

“ ‘I looked out the window and saw this huge crowd,’ she says now. ‘I thought it was people wanting to rent apartments in the [low-cost] building. But it was people who had come for the dance classes.’

“What started as 35 children in 12 extra-curricular classes grew to more than 5,000 served by in-school, after-school and summer camp classes; in 2014, Everybody Dance won a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

“Many students enter the program when they are 4 or 5 and stay until they graduate high school; a few, like Zuleny Ordonez and Kimberly Gomez, returned to work for EDLA!

“ ‘When you’re a low-income family, there’s a stigma about asking for help,’ says Gomez, now a teaching artist with the program, who joined the staff as a dance site coordinator after graduating from UC Irvine. ‘The teachers here gave us someone to talk to, someone to listen to us. I would be here from right after school until 9. Change in the car, do homework here, it was my second home.’

“Ordonez works here as teacher’s assistant while taking classes at Santa Monica College. ‘I was very hyper as a child and my mom found this,’ she says. ‘I grew up with the other students here.’ …

“Bercovici realized she could do even more good if she ‘had the kids for eight hours instead of two.’ So she founded the Gabriella Charter Schools; in 2015, she stepped down as Everybody Dance’s director, turning it over to Tina Banchero, a former dancer and artistic director of Dance Mission Theater’s Youth Program in San Francisco. Banchero has run it ever since. …

“EDLA! lost about 1,100 students during the peak of the pandemic. For those who stayed, dance class, like everything else, went virtual. ‘We pivoted to online in less than two weeks,’ Banchero says. ‘I was so proud of everyone.’

“Children across the country were trapped at home for more than a year, struggling with online learning and isolation. But Banchero’s students, Banchero’s families, have had a harder time than most. For low-income, urban families, COVID-19 has been particularly devastating. Many parents lost their jobs and many of those who didn’t continued to work in person. Cramped housing, which often included multiple generations, left little space for kids to study, much less dance.

“ ‘We had kids dancing between two bunk beds,’ Banchero said. ‘But it was so important for them to turn their cameras on, see our teachers and other students, and dance. We had a number of kids who were struggling with depression. So many of our families lost a loved one. …

“ ‘I realized how much l love my job during that time,’ Kaneda says. ‘Because when I ended my Zoom class, I would feel happy for the first time that day.’ “

More at the LA Times, here.

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Video still: Millicent Johnnie Films.
Filmed by a drone, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar dances in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park in Where Water Is Not Thirsty.

The shut-in days of the pandemic made changes in everyone’s life and work. Many kinds of artists accepted the challenge to their own work and responded with bursts of creativity that made use of weird circumstances. Today’s article addresses what some choreographers did.

Zachary Whittenburg reports at Dance Magazine, “On a bright but chilly day in April 2022, choreographer Biba Bell and composer-director Joo Won Park premiered A DREAM IS A HOUSE for remembering the future. Created specifically for the McGregor Memorial Conference Center in Detroit, the hourlong performance by 21 dancers, nine musicians and Park embraced architect Minoru Yamasaki’s prismatic jewel box of marble and glass, built in 1958.

“Taking advantage of the faceted atrium’s unusual acoustics, Park’s original score for electric guitar, percussion and eight laptop computers emanated from small amplifiers distributed throughout the skylit room, whose tall panels of teakwood resonated with every whisper and rhythm. At one point, the entire ensemble of dancers rushed from one end of the space to the other, as if the McGregor Center was a cruise ship rocking and rolling in turbulent seas. Cloud cover during the 3 o’clock performance brought somber qualities to the action, but, when repeated at 5 o’clock and lit vividly by the setting sun, it was an ascension.

“Every dance is site-specific in some sense, but, in a warming world changed by war, political upheaval and a pandemic, some choreographers forgo traditional venues entirely. Whether their work is about climate change, social dynamics, systemic oppression or community vibrance, they’re all drawn to the friction between moving and staying in one place.

“ ‘Sites outside of a dance studio are fields of infinite potential that can be very generative as places we have relationships with,’ says transmedia artist d. Sabela grimes, a professor at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, who grew up on California’s central coast and attended UCLA. While he lived and worked in Soweto, South Africa, and Philadelphia, grimes maintained a connection with the Leimert Park Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, where the community weaves performance — both planned and spontaneous — into daily life along Degnan Boulevard. …

” [During the pandemic] ‘I can’t explain to you how important it was, how valuable it was, how special it was, to be in public space with people making music, to see them dancing, to be in communion and fellowship,’ grimes says. …

“ ‘The streets continue to be a driving force and wellspring of knowledge production and transmission,’ he says. One night reminded grimes how performance can be not only site-specific but a way to bring the essence of one place to another: TOB, a band that plays go-go, a variant of funk music specific to the nation’s capital, played Leimert Park Village from a stage on top of a bus booked by Jolly and Long Live GoGo DC. Dancing ensued. ‘I had no idea so many people from Washington were living in L.A. … It literally was like the spot turned into a street in DC.’ …

“At a May 2022 work-in-progress showing in Chicago of reorientations, by SLIPPAGE resident artists Kate Alexandrite, who is white, and Thomas F. DeFrantz, Ayan Felix and MX Oops, who are Black, Alexandrite wore virtual-reality goggles while the other three interacted and made eye contact. The four artists might technically have shared space, but, experientially, Alexandrite was often somewhere else. A large screen periodically displayed a live feed of video from inside the goggles, revealing to the audience where Alexandrite ‘was.’ …

“As a choreographer of mixed European and Moose Cree First Nation ancestry, Starr Muranko’s work as co–artistic director of Raven Spirit Dance in the Canadian city of Vancouver is informed, she explains, by Indigenous values.

“ ‘A lot of our research is land-based and takes place outside,’ says Muranko. ‘Even though the work might eventually end up on a stage, it’s often rooted in a particular place or in going home.’

“For a piece titled Before7After, about seven generations of Cree women, Muranko traveled to an island in the Moose River in northern Ontario, 500 miles from Toronto. ‘The idea that I wouldn’t go back to the land for that project made no sense. How your body moves is influenced by certain surfaces, by the land around you, by the temperature, by the climate, by the time of year.’

“After developing material on location, Muranko and her collaborators sometimes return to the studio, where ‘we then have that landscape and that map within our bodies, as well as within the space. It’s not a “blank studio” or a “blank theater.” It’s where that river is, where that mountain is.’

“In creating The Sky Was Different for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Season 43: A Virtual Homecoming, the company’s 2020–21 virtual season, company alumni Jonathan Fredrickson and Tobin Del Cuore collaborated with Hubbard Street’s dancers on a 50-minute film, shot in and around the 1938 home and studio of architect Paul Schweikher in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg.

“ ‘For me, site-specificity is about utilizing a space by being aware of it and letting it dictate what happens,’ says Fredrickson, a choreographer now based in Germany and a guest artist with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. ‘The house itself was a character, this body in which the dancers were its organs, its bloodstream, its brain, its heart. The narrator of the piece was the house itself.’ In long, meticulously choreographed takes, Del Cuore’s eye-level camera glides through the house’s rooms. …

“Fredrickson choreographed a solo for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jamar Roberts in director Bram VanderMark’s I Carry Them, produced by Jacob Jonas The Company. Released in May 2022, the five-minute film uses an editing technique called cross-cutting to move Roberts from place to place, while his fluid dancing continues uninterrupted. …

“Site-informed performance can be a way to raise awareness of threats to a community’s existence, says Millicent Johnnie, founder and CEO of Millicent Johnnie Films and chief visionary producer at 319 productions.

“In 2013, Johnnie and her collaborators, including New Orleans–based companies ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro, won a Creative Capital Award to develop Cry You One, which addressed the impact of climate change on wetlands in southeast Louisiana. …

“Johnnie says that Cry You One asked the question ‘What happens to art and culture that’s tied to land when that land disappears?’ After premiering in St. Bernard Parish, the project toured for two years, bringing with it the artists’ embodied knowledge of its source.

“Sometimes, site-specific research plants seeds for works that bloom elsewhere. During the four years Johnnie lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she would often visit the Tijuca rainforest­ to write, improvise movement and develop studies for future projects. When Toshi Reagon, then the festival curator for the Women’s Jazz Festival at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, paired Johnnie with Ethiopian American musician Meklit Hadero, ‘that wasn’t intended to be a site-responsive work,’ Johnnie says, ‘but there were certain sounds and textures I kept hearing in Meklit’s music that paralleled sounds and textures from the Tijuca rainforest. That helped me create and build the world that I needed to improvise with Meklit.’

“Johnnie recently collaborated with Urban Bush Women founding artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar on Where Water Is Not Thirsty, responsive to Tallahassee, Florida’s Lafayette Heritage Trail Park and Lichgate on High Road, and captured on video by a camera built into a remote-controlled drone. …

“Dance companies large and small pivoted to site-specific, digital filmmaking as part of their pandemic responses. … Time will tell whether major dance institutions continue such location-based experimentation.” More at Dance, here. No firewall.

If you love dance, consider signing up, here, for short, free videos from the summer dance festival Jacob’s Pillow, in the Massachusetts Berkshires.

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Photo: Adria Malcolm/ NYT.
Lieutenant Colonel Susana Corona of the New Mexico National Guard worked as a substitute teacher in a third grade class in Estancia, New Mexico.

When things are bleak, it’s helpful to remember the advice that Fred Rogers’s mother gave him when he was small: “Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

On National Public Radio the other day Ari Shapiro interviewed a woman who had just escaped from Ukraine and came back to the border the next day to help people with translation. And yesterday I learned that Asakiyume — from her home in Massachusetts — was helping translators make their English sound more natural. Perhaps I can also help with that.

Many, many people have also stepped up during the pandemic to meet needs wherever they are. Consider this story about a National Guard lieutenant colonel filling in for an elementary school teacher in New Mexico.

Erica L. Green wrote at the New York Times, “The chorus of small voices ringing from a third grade classroom on a recent morning signaled how far Estancia Elementary School had come in resuming a sense of normalcy after the latest coronavirus surge.

“Students in this small, remote community were enthusiastically engaged in a vocabulary lesson, enunciating words with a ‘bossy r,’ as well as homophones and homonyms, and spelling them on white boards.

“But there was also a sign of how far the district, about an hour outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, still had to go. The teacher moving about the classroom and calling on students to use the words in a sentence was clad in camouflage. ‘My substitute is wearing gear,’ one student responded.

” ‘Yes,’ Lt. Col. Susana Corona replied, beaming. ‘The superintendent allows me to wear my uniform. I’m wearing a pair of boots.’

“[Dozens] of soldiers and airmen and women in the New Mexico National Guard have been deployed to classrooms throughout the state to help with crippling pandemic-related staff shortages. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also enlisted civilian state employees — herself included — to volunteer as substitute teachers. …

“The presence of New Mexico’s state militia — whose members are trained to help with floods, freezes and fires, as well as combat missions overseas — has largely been embraced by schools as a complicated but critical step toward recovery. Teachers have expressed gratitude for ‘extra bodies,’ as one put it.

Students were mostly unfazed but aware that, as Scarlett Tourville, a third grader in Corona’s class put it, ‘This is not normal.’

“Superintendents were given the choice of whether to have the guardsmen and women wear regular clothes or duty uniforms; most joined Cindy Sims, superintendent of the Estancia Municipal School District, in choosing the uniforms. ‘I wanted the kids to know she was here, to know why she was here,’ Sims said. ‘I wanted them to see strength and community.’ …

“ ‘Trying to have school at a time when everybody’s heart was broken was very difficult,’ Sims said. ‘Our mission is to keep hope alive, and the National Guard is helping us do that.’

“Corona, an intelligence officer in the New Mexico Guard … never envisioned that one of her missions would require being armed with a lesson plan, Wet-Naps and dry-erase markers. But nor did she envision watching her own fourth grader try to learn from a teacher through a screen last year.

“ ‘You always have to be ready when there’s a need,’ she said, ‘when there’s a call to service.’ …

“Coronavirus-related illnesses, quarantines and job-related stress have hit many districts hard. But the country’s education leaders say the pandemic is just accelerating trends that were at least a decade in the making. …

“ ‘Crisis is the word we have to use now,’ said Becky Pringle, the association’s president, describing the enlistment of the guard as a ‘stopgap.’ …

“At Belen High School, in a farming community less than an hour south of Albuquerque, the staffing crunch has been felt acutely. … Principal Eliseo Aguirre said he believed the death of a teacher from COVID-19 had a chilling effect on teacher and substitute applications.

“The arrival of Airman 1st Class Jennifer Marquez last month was a ‘blessing,’ Aguirre said. On a recent Wednesday, she was covering a Spanish class — her third subject in two weeks. …

“Veronica Pería, a freshman at Belen, was happy to see [her]. She said her grades suffered last semester when her teachers were absent and random staff members were popping in and out of her classes, leading to inconsistent instruction. ‘It’s better than watching a video or something,’ she said of having Marquez filling in. ‘It’s good to have someone I can go to and ask for help.’ …

“When the call came from the governor, the New Mexico National Guard’s commander-in-chief, Brig. Gen. Jamison Herrera, knew he would have no trouble recruiting volunteers for Operation Supporting Teachers and Families, or STAF.

“Many guardsmen and women had already seen how the pandemic affects students up close, having delivered meals to those at risk of going hungry when schools closed. …

“Although some members have advanced degrees or certifications that could translate to the classroom — a welder is teaching shop class in one district, for example — Herrera, a former teacher, impressed upon his team they were there to accomplish one goal.

“ ‘We are there to support the learning objectives of the teacher, because we certainly know we can’t fill their shoes,’ he said.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Federico Vespignani/Bloomberg.
The Standard of Saint Mark, the flag of the Venetian region, flies above gondolas. Venice is eager to attract young professionals who want to live in, not just visit, the city. 

I’m not sure how a floating city puts out the welcome mat, but this one is inviting young professionals to come and be part of its daily life. Just don’t try to recreate the culture of any other city there. As one resident says, “You do have to live by Venice’s rules.”

Catherine Bennett writes at Bloomberg’s City Lab, “From Karuna Clayton’s window, she can see a gondola bobbing in a Venetian canal and a simple white stone church on one side of a small campo, or city square. Normally there would also be a steady trickle of tourists walking below, but on a January afternoon amid the pandemic’s omicron wave, the square’s empty. 

“For the last nine months, this has been Clayton’s home and workspace. Formerly a commercial food photographer based in London, she now shares an apartment in Venice with her partner and two-year-old daughter, running a coaching business and teaching yoga alongside her photography.

“ ‘I’ve always called myself location-independent,’ she says. … Young, skilled and nomadic, the 35-year-old Clayton represents exactly the demographic that the new Venice-based project Venywhere is trying to attract.

“Launched in December 2021 by the Università Ca’ Foscari and the Fondazione di Venezia, a nonprofit group that protects Venice’s cultural heritage, Venywhere aim is to convince people who can do their jobs from anywhere to do so in Venice. …

“Inspired by the Tulsa Remote work program in the U.S. and a slew of similar efforts from around the world, leaders in the Italian city are eager to bring in young professionals who want to live and work there, not just vacation. …

“ ‘The pandemic has created a large population of highly skilled people who want to move,’ says Venywhere founder Massimo Warglien, a professor of management at the Università Ca’ Foscari. He believes that the pandemic’s disruptive impact on the world of work, from the ‘Great Resignation’ to a new breed of flexible and remote workers, could present a solution to Venice’s chronic brain drain. ‘This is a way of repopulating Venice,’ he says. …

“Unlike remote-worker programs in less-charismatic sites, Venywhere isn’t offering cash incentives to prospective residents. Instead, digital nomads who want to move to Venice will pay a one-time fee to get access to a concierge service that eases them into Venetian life: viewing apartments on their behalf, advising them on how to get a SIM card or access the health system, and even showing them where to shop. The platform promises to help newcomers navigate the city’s many eccentricities, connecting them with workspaces, language lessons and recreational amenities off the beaten tourist paths. …

“The latest population data shows that there are twice as many people in their 50s living in the historical center as there are people in their 20s. Sara Ajazi, a 26-year-old project manager at Venywhere, says that she was the only one of 300 students in her management class to stay and work in the city after graduating from the Università Ca’ Foscari.

For freshly minted graduates who don’t want to be gondoliers, tourist guides or waiters, building careers in Venice can be a challenge. …

“Could an injection of remote workers reverse this demographic trend? The Venywhere project is banking on a domino effect: If large firms send remote teams to the city, that will attract investment and, eventually, more startups who would hire the city’s graduates.

“But some people say it’s hard to see Venice transforming into an entrepreneurial hub or hot destination for remote workers anytime soon. ‘It’s not the easiest city to live in,’ says Riccardo Longobardi, a former Venice resident and the founder of the Digital Nomads in Italy Facebook group. ‘It’s very beautiful, but it’s a bit isolated. Digital nomads tend to look for places with a big nomad community.’

“Clayton agrees. ‘Venice isn’t set up for remote workers, unless you have a nice space to work in. There are almost no coworking spaces and it’s not a thing here to sit at a café for a few hours, getting coffee or lunch and working on your laptop. Lots of places don’t even have Wi-Fi.’

“Solving connectivity problems is one of the first things Venywhere plans to address, in part by creating a network of open-air Wi-Fi hotspots around the city. …

“To accommodate new workers, Venywhere proposes repurposing historic buildings, scattering workers across several sites. The economics campus of the Università Ca’ Foscari, where the team behind Venywhere works, is a perfect example of this: Sleek, white-painted coworking stations, student cafeterias and tutor rooms occupy mid-19th century brick buildings that used to be the municipal San Giobbe slaughterhouse.

“Alternatively, remote workers could hop on a vaporetto and head to Giudecca island, where the bare stone galleries and vaulted ceilings of former tanneries, mills and shipyard buildings in the Giudecca Art District are more often used to host art exhibitions during the Venice Biennale. Venywhere plans to use spaces like these, along with unused rooms in museums, artists’ studios that lie empty without an artist-in-residence, vacant hotel rooms and even restaurant tables between mealtimes as alternatives to the traditional rent-a-desk coworking set-up.

“ ‘This isn’t an expensive project because we are using what is already there. So many structures in the city are only half-used,’ says Warglien.

“The same can be said for the city’s rental housing during the pandemic. Living in Venice can be expensive: In the last few decades, efforts to build social housing have stalled as the region’s conservative politicians have chosen instead to turn residential lots over to the more lucrative tourist market, driving up prices in the city center. Venice has become increasingly unaffordable for Venetians, many of whom have migrated to terraferma, the mainland. The apartments that they left behind have been bought up by private companies for rent to tourists through platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com. Ocio, a local organization that investigates the city’s housing issues, has found that there are now as many beds for tourists in the city as there are for residents.” More at CityLab, here.

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Photo: Taylor Luck.
The near-empty Souk Chaouachine, or traditional chachiya hat market, one of many historic souks facing closure from a pandemic-induced recession in the Medina in Tunisia.

The list of pandemic effects just keeps growing. Today’s story addresses what happened after Covid kept tourists from the colorful small shops in Tunis. Just like workers in the US that have decided they need to join unions, Tunisian businesses are realizing there’s strength in numbers.

Taylor Luck reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “It takes one glance to tell all is not well in the Medina. The walled, historic old city of the Tunisian capital – once marked by bustling markets and streams of people hustling between the shops, homes, and government offices along its narrow streets and hidden passageways – is nearly empty. …

‘We are waiting for nothing,’ a chachiya hatmaker says as he shuffles boxed hats from one wall of his shop to the other. ‘We just show up for a few hours out of habit. No one is coming.’

“The Medina’s shuttered shops serve as a stern warning that the pandemic and a recession are threatening to undo the old city’s rich tapestry of families and artisans who have made it their home for centuries. But not, it appears, without a fight.

“Banding together for the first time, Medina business owners and families are trying to reintroduce the UNESCO World Heritage Site to Tunisians and the world, sharing its secrets and inviting people to take part in its history – and save its identity in the process.

“M’dinti, or ‘My Medina,’ the brainchild of Leila Ben Gacem, a social entrepreneur and advocate for Tunisia’s artisans, is an initiative that has united two dozen boutique hoteliers, artisans, and restaurant owners into an economic lobby to advocate for the old city and search for new ways of resilience.

“ ‘By ourselves, we cannot survive the pandemic’s effects,’ says Ms. Ben Gacem, who is also a Medina hotelier. ‘But together we can make changes to improve the Medina.’ …

“For seven centuries, hatmakers, cobblers, silver and goldsmiths, and tailors have occupied craft-specific streets – separate ecosystems within the maze-like Medina. But with no business, unable to afford monthly rent … many of these artisans are now packing it up. … In their place are popping up cafes, cigarette stands, betting outlets, and fast-food joints – their chrome and blue plastic storefronts incongruous with the World Heritage Site’s cobblestone streets and wrought-iron windows. …

“Silversmith Mohammed Sidomou, whose family’s shop has stood on the narrow street of the birket al-fidhah (pool of silver) market for a century, [describes] the pandemic as the ‘greatest challenge’ the Medina has seen in his four decades in business.

“ ‘We have been hit by a revolution, terrorism, instability, but there was always some economic activity to keep us going. With the pandemic, everyone is affected. … It breaks my heart to see the Medina turned into shuttered storefronts. It’s as if the Medina is losing its soul.’

“Compounding troubles are the pandemic-induced jump in international shipping costs, inflation, and the devaluation of the Tunisian dinar, making it logistically difficult or financially prohibitive for artisans to get the raw materials they crafted, pounded, and molded into Tunisian heritage crafts for centuries. …

“The economic downturn is also fraying a unique community of 20,000 people who live in the Medina, including working- and middle-class families and transplants from rural villages.

“Before, residents say, families, shop owners, and artisans supported one another during lean months and years. … Neighbors would loan a few dinars, share groceries, and cook for each other’s weddings. Shop owners and artisans whose businesses were flush would divert customers to other craftsmen they knew were facing a rough patch. …

“Says Mohamed Ali Dweiri, a 26-year-old Medina resident and hotel worker, ‘People have become more selfish; no one is helping each other. This is the biggest change to the Medina I have seen in my lifetime, and it’s sad.’

“Enter M’dinti.

“With no foreign tourism, the joint initiative’s first priority was finding ways to attract Tunisians to the Medina. …

“Since October 2021, M’dinti has hosted weekend activities for families, inviting Tunisians into the district’s historic homes and businesses for culinary classes and workshops with artisans – such as carpenters or cobblers – offering a glimpse into the centuries of knowledge of the maalam, or craft master. …

“ ‘Each activity is bringing 100 guests to the Medina. They are learning there are days’ worth of sights to see, they are appreciating the traditional crafts we fight to keep alive,’ says Mr. Ghorghor, the perfumer. ‘Word-of-mouth is our best hope.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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A girl photographs a bridge over the foggy Seekonk River.

What’s been hard about the most recent iteration of the pandemic is the feeling of going backwards. For a while, there was a sense of forward movement even though we were still taking some precautions. But with Omicron so transmissible, many of us chose isolation again.

It hit me right before Christmas when a friend stopped by. We both had had three vaccine shots and were used to being together without masks, but because I knew that some of her coworkers were not wearing masks, I decided we had better go back to masking when together. Sure enough, not long after that she caught Covid from a coworker. (Doing OK, thanks to the shots.)

Most of my photos reflect the grayness of this period. The view below of the Sudbury River was taken on New Year’s Day: outlook foggy.

I took a lot of snow photos, as you can see, but I’m also including a sunny one of the library’s brand-new children’s wing, several pictures from friends (Kim Gaffet’s snowy owl, a tiny island that Jean Devine’s students planted last summer), and scenes in Providence yesterday (the girl photographing a fogged-in bridge, an icy sandbox, a pond starting to melt). Sandra M. Kelly made the 2022 photo of snow in New Shoreham, where heavy snow is a rare event.

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Rent-a-Pub

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe.
Brothers Craig and Matt Taylor built a miniature Irish-style pub on wheels, dubbed the Wee Irish Pub. Want to rent it?

Journalist Steve Annear at the Boston Globe gets all the fun assignments. This report is about a perfect little Irish pub available for rent.

“At first, brothers Craig and Matt Taylor thought building a miniature Irish-style pub on wheels, a traveling taproom they could rent for private events and parties, would just be a hobby — a pandemic project that would take their minds off the world’s problems and let people enjoy the familiar comforts of crowding into a bar (albeit a very small one) at a time when it had become almost impossible to do so.

“But within days of launching the ‘Wee Irish Pub’ in September, it became clear that the fireside chat-turned-business venture was going to be much more than a side gig. …

“ ‘The floodgates have opened,’ said Craig, 58. ‘We are getting requests [to rent it], at least two an hour, for the last week.’

“The idea to construct a tiny Irish pub, complete with a small bar, stools, bench seating, and many of the other features found in traditional venues of its kind, had been in the back of Craig’s mind for years, since he read about an inflatable Irish bar that people could rent for a day in their own backyard. …

“ ‘I had been talking about it sort of as a pipe dream that would never happen,’ said Craig, who works in marketing.

“But as the Reading residents found themselves spending a lot of time around a fire pit in Matt’s backyard early in the pandemic — one of the few activities that was still safe and allowed — the possibility surged to the forefront, like the head on a perfectly poured pint of Guinness.

“ ‘We’d talk about it night after night,’ said Matt, 49. ‘Finally it was like, “Alright, let’s just do this.”

‘It’s kind of the perfect pandemic project because people were having backyard get-togethers and staying outside.’

“Last February, after batting around the notion and discussing logistics, they decided to try their luck. They bought a large trailer for the tiny pub to be built on, so it could be towed from place-to-place upon request.

“When it was finally delivered in April, they got to work on construction, a joint effort bolstered by Matt — ‘an IT guy by trade’ with a penchant for carpentry.

“ ‘I’m definitely more about the overall impression and the ambiance,’ said Craig, who took a genealogical tour of Ireland in 2018 with his family, visiting the homeland of his wife’s ancestors. ‘Matt is precise to the micro inch on making sure that every rafter is exact.’ …

“They sourced materials from online marketplaces like Craigslist, and repurposed and recycled old furniture and other items to try and give it an authentic look and feel. Their siblings and other close family members pitched in considerably.

“Within months, the cozy pub had it all: A Sláinte sign graced one wall, under a weathered horseshoe. A framed map of Ireland hung above an electric fireplace. The small bar was installed, with a refrigerator and taps for kegs. A plaque dedicating the project to Craig’s late father-in-law — who was of Irish descent — went up behind the benches, forever holding a seat for him.

“The design of the cream-colored cottage is similar to mobile pubs built by the Irish-based company The Shebeen, which brought one of its units to Boston in 2015.

“The Wee Irish Pub, which can fit up to 12 people inside, finally rolled to its first event — a company gathering in Melrose — in September. It hasn’t slowed down since. …

“The company, officially dubbed ‘Tiny Pubs,’ is based in Reading. But the brothers will deliver the bar to people’s doorsteps up to 30 miles away (or more, depending on the situation). Rentals cost between $800 and $1,200 per day, with Craig and Matt arriving to help with the set-up in the afternoon and then whisking it away the following day. …

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe.

“Most people are renting it to celebrate a milestone birthdays and retirement parties, the brothers said. But they recently received one call from a customer who has a terminally ill relative who had always wanted to visit Ireland, but no longer can.

“Instead, ‘they’re bringing the pub over to her in the driveway, to have a little taste of Ireland,’ Craig said. ‘It’s very sweet.’ More at the Globe, here.

I want to expand on the idea of bringing a bit of Ireland to a patient who can no longer travel. I remember when Animals as Intermediaries (now the Nature Connection) was founded in Massachusetts in 1983. It all started with asking an elderly, disabled woman what would cheer her up and receiving the answer, “Bring me the ocean.” The nonprofit’s founder was able to bring her a collection of items that really made her feel like she was near the ocean. Read about that early, perhaps better, version of virtual reality here.

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Photo: Mile Marker One.
Igloos at Mile Marker One restaurant in Ipswich, Mass.

Plenty of people I know are eating indoors at restaurants again, but I’m still too Covid-phobic. I want to support restaurants by doing takeout, but I am not going to take off a mask indoors unless I know that everyone in the building is triple vaccinated.

One innovation during the pandemic has been the tent for outdoor dining. Although some of those tents look too enclosed for your faithful hypochondriac, I thought it was interesting to read what Carolina A. Miranda had to say at the Los Angeles Times about their evolution.

She wrote, “Over the course of the last year, I’ve eaten enchiladas in a party tent. I’ve gotten COVID-tested in a party tent. I spent a night dancing to house music in a party tent. I’ve seen party tents double as retail shops, church naves, gymnasiums and outdoor living rooms. …

“Last year, as the pandemic isolated us into our respective domestic cocoons, designers took to their AutoCAD to imagine a brave new world of design ‘solutions’ for the pandemic. These included wearable head-to-thigh social distancing shields and space-age cones [But] we’ve learned infinitely more about how to rethink the design of our buildings from the pandemic’s most prominent workhorse: the party tent. …

“It can be staked into soil or anchored on pavement. The simplest models, a standard canopy, can shield you from the sun; more protective ones come with collapsible walls that can be adapted to the weather as needed. …

“The party tent is symbolic of all the other improvised architectures that have arisen during the pandemic: the parking lots turned into eating spaces with twinkle lights and umbrellas; the wooden dining platforms crafted out of plywood and two-by-fours; the izakaya on La Brea whose collapsible walls are actually transparent shower curtains. In Echo Park, Misty Mansouri, the owner of the Lady Byrd Café, has turned an impractical triangle of concrete on her property into an al fresco dining room courtesy of an ebullient agglomeration of Christmas trees and portable greenhouses employed as individual dining pods.

“Temporary structures can even be found in hyper-glam iterations — like the space-age, vented dining pod at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills. A 6,500-square-foot modular dining room constructed in the middle of Canon Drive, it was created by VX Design Solutions, a custom fabrication studio, and Choura, an event production company, and was assembled in less than a week. That structure opened in March 2021 and is still going strong. ‘We fill it up every single day,’ says Steve Scott Springer, the restaurant’s general manager.

“Party tents may not be around for the long haul, but they have qualities that are worth integrating into the hardscape of our cities. They offer flexibility and permeability and serve as a reminder that in the mild Southern California climate we don’t always need to encase ourselves in hermetically sealed cells of HVAC. If well-building design issues such as fresh air and sunlight had been gaining currency before the pandemic, COVID-19 and its many variants have made it a matter of urgency.

“ ‘Being able to kick open the doors makes people who are inside those doors feel so much better,’ says architect Oonagh Ryan, founding principal of ORA, an L.A.-based studio that has worked extensively in the commercial and hospitality sectors. ‘And operable windows, those are key.’

“One of ORA’s most recent projects is the design of Agnes, a popular Pasadena comfort food outpost that also contains a cheese shop. Housed in a 1920s stable once employed by the Pasadena fire department, the bulk of the restaurant’s design was conceived before COVID, but a number of programmatic choices made since the pandemic began have helped make the space more resilient.

“The key is flexibility. The street-facing side has operable windows and the rear of the dining room has sliding doors that can be propped open to connect with a patio out back, drawing fresh air through the building. A private dining room likewise opens to the elements. The patio, which harbors additional seating, is protected by a weatherproof canopy that can be pulled back when the weather is mild. It’s an outdoor space that can be used come rain or come shine. And the furniture isn’t fixed, so it can be reconfigured into different densities. …

“When the restaurant opened in June, the surge of COVID-19 infections had tapered off and indoor dining had resumed. But the pandemic made the coming months wildly uncertain, meaning that the design needed to be responsive to shifting health directives. ‘If the pandemic was still going strong,’ Ryan says, ‘we had a plan for how we could rearrange everything into more retail.’ ”

“If the pandemic was still going strong.” Is it? Who knows?

You get several free articles at the LA Times, here, if you’re not a subscriber. I think you will enjoy the variety of party tents in the photos.

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Illustration: Shivani Javeri.
Many artists in India donated their work to fundraisers such as the Fearless Immunity art sale to help others during the height of the pandemic.

You can trust artists to come through when there’s a need for empathy. They are often sensitive enough — perhaps wounded enough — to feel someone else’s pain and want to do something about it.

For example, as Rohini Kejriwal reports at Hyperallergic, India’s creative community became a beacon of hope during Covid-19, using their talents to raise money for vulnerable populations.

“In April and May, amidst a devastating second wave of COVID-19, India faced an overwhelming shortage of hospital beds and vaccines, choked crematoriums, and a rising death count. …

“From their homes, artists took to social media and used visuals, words, and even cake to raise funds for frontline workers and organizations helping affected communities get basic supplies like oximeters, thermometers, basic medicines, and masks. From every part of the country, illustrators, photographers, poets, and bakers came together to do their bit. 

“Hundreds of illustrators across the country have sold their prints, calendars, and other merchandise in exchange for donations to individuals and organizations most affected by coronavirus. … Keeping transparency in mind, the artists and their supporters shared donation receipts publicly, and Instagram was suddenly flooded with posts by good Samaritans doing whatever they could. 

“Several artists also took on commissions, like Shivani Javeri and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, who made digital portraits for COVID-19 relief, and Divya, who did pet portraits on commission. Ria Mohta of Artisan’s Arbor created Feel Good postcards, through which people could buy postcards and write a customized message for loved ones. Creative Dignity, a volunteer-run movement, has been working to help traditional artisans and craftspeople from India who face the double threat of a health crisis and livelihood uncertainty. 

“Several print sales have been hosted by the photography community as well, like Art for India, Ode to India, and Prints for Hope by Eight Thirty; Chennai Photo Biennale’s PhotoSolidarity, as well as the Print for Srishti sale, with 45 participating photographers, initiated by photojournalist Smita Sharma.

“A series of art sales, in which multiple artists pooled and sold their work to raise funds as a collective, also arose. Author-illustrator Devangana Dāsh brought together 26 talented women artists to sell digital artworks; Kulture Shop ran two Art Fights Covid campaigns with 50 artists selling their art for oxygen relief; the Fearless Collective created an art sale Fearless Immunity; and LOCOPOPO and a group of artists and illustrators sold their original works and art prints.

A Friendly Fundraiser was started by a group of friends who decided to donate their time in exchange for donations, offering a variety of services and experiences from home coffee brewing, writing better college essays, personalized digital portraits, and even guidance on raising a puppy in lockdown. More recently, community fundraisers with various workshops and panels have grown in popularity, like student-run initiative Moonflower COVID Relief and Sensory Expansion by Unlocked

“India’s poetry and music communities have also had a part to play. In May, a group of writers hosted an evening of poetry, In the Dark Times, There Will Be Singing. Poet Nakuul Mehta is currently running #PoemsForHumanity, where he writes and performs an original poem for those who donate. 

“Even the independent music community has been doing their bit. Producer Arjun Vagale mobilized his friends in the Indian electronic music community, and together, they created a charity compilation album titled SOS. Producers Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Javeri collaborated with the coffee estate Kerehaklu to create Kerelief, natural soundscapes intended to bring calm. Sanaya, along with 11 other producers, also helped create CRSP (Covid Relief Sample Pack),  a bespoke sample pack of sounds produced from across the globe.

“Offering workshops as a way to share practical knowledge also became a way to incentivize donations. Shub (also known as the Hungry Palette) hosted a visual journaling workshop, and natural color maker Manya Cherabuddi started a fundraiser called Find Your Calm and donated all the proceeds from her classes on natural dyes and pigments. In June, NPI Collective hosted a 3-day workshop on children’s books as maps to help navigate the pandemic.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Slum2School.
Slum2School volunteers in Nigeria come from all walks of life and help coordinate enrichment activities for children.

One precept that the pandemic underscored for us all is that children need to be in school. We know how hard the year was for American children who couldn’t go in person, but just imagine what it was like for kids in a poor Nigerian neighborhood with no computers! In fact, the children in today’s article are lucky to have school at all. An idealistic young Nigerian man made it happen.

Shola Lawal writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “It was one of the few times Otto Orondaam was ever tempted to quit.

“The year was 2012 and Mr. Orondaam’s passion project, Slum2School, was off to a bumpy start. Here in Makoko, a low-income neighborhood on the Lagos Lagoon, many fishing families need children to stay home and help with their trade. His brand-new nonprofit aimed to get those kids into school, and for weeks, he’d planned an event, hounding a medical company for mosquito nets to hand out as an incentive.

“But just minutes before, the company called – it could not deliver the nets.

“ ‘I cried horribly,’ the young reformer recalls, laughing, sitting in a well-lit office and sporting a deep-blue turtleneck. ‘The parents were waiting and this was going to be the highlight of the event, the only thing they could take home, but there were no nets. It was a heartbreaking moment for me.’

“But Mr. Orondaam’s upbeat personality soon took over. He quickly called up friends, asking for donations. Two hours later, he zoomed in and out of a market, purchasing and distributing 200 mosquito nets – and ended up enrolling 114 children in existing public primary and high schools that the organization partnered with.

“Fast-forward to 2021, and Slum2School says it has directly sponsored almost 2,000 children. Many are still from Makoko – including Hamdalat Hussein’s grandson, Abdulmalik.

‘What Slum2School is doing for us here is good,’ she says in the local Yoruba language. … ‘I am praying to see him become somebody after he finishes school.’

“Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of out-of-school children, according to UNICEF – around one-third – although primary education is free and compulsory. Learning during pandemic shutdowns has been especially challenging, since only around half the population has internet access. … When the pandemic struck, Slum2School launched a virtual class for high schoolers, after distributing hundreds of tablets.

“ ‘I was able to teach myself graphics design and many things like how to make logos and flyers,’ says Habeebat Olatunde. Her siblings had skipped around her, fascinated, as she joined hundreds of children in class from their home in Iwaya, another low-income neighborhood bordering Makoko. Now in her final year of high school, Habeebat says she wants to be a human rights lawyer and fight for vulnerable teenage girls. …

“On a recent afternoon, Mr. Orondaam sat in Slum2School’s headquarters in the upscale Lekki area of Lagos, with outer walls shaped like colorful crayons. He flicked through old photos and chuckled at one of himself, thin and sunburned – one of the first times he went to Makoko, standing beside smiling parents holding nets, with the neighborhood’s wooden shacks as a backdrop.

“Growing up in Port Harcourt, a city in southern Nigeria, Mr. Orondaam studied to be a doctor but pivoted to social work, influenced by his parents. His father was the first doctor from his village and would offer free services. His mother was basically ‘everyone’s mother,’ he says. ‘Our classmates would not have sandals, and my mum would come and take yours and give them. The things I picked up from that was devotion to service, serving with your heart.’ …

“He first encountered Makoko through a documentary. … He felt compelled to visit while completing his National Youth Service Corps in Lagos – a mandatory one-year program for Nigerian university graduates.

“ ‘It was the first time I was seeing that kind of community,’ Mr. Orondaam remembers. ‘There were kids there who had never been in school and had no plans to go. I loved the energy. I knew they were happy, but I thought, “You can be happier with education; if you have an education, you can make better choices.” ‘

“He resigned from his stifling bank job and started weekly visits to Makoko, updating friends via a blog. When he came up with the idea to send 100 children to school, they supported him.” 

Read what happened next at CSM, here.

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Photo: Jörg Gläscher via DesignBoom.
A photographer built nine massive waves of deadwood in a forest near Hamburg, Germany.

A few years ago, I blogged about seeing Patrick Dougherty’s giant stick sculptures in Salem, Mass. He was getting a lot of attention at the time, and I studied up on him at the Smithsonian.

So I was reminded of Dougherty and the beautiful possibilities of sticks when John sent me a link to an article at This Is Colossal. The German photographer Jörg Gläscher, or @joerg_glaescher on Instagram, is the artist. (Colossal was tipped off to the story at This Isn’t Happiness.)

Grace Ebert reported, “As the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 swept through Germany in the fall of 2020, photographer and artist Jörg Gläscher decided to channel his own worry into a project that felt similarly vast and domineering. ‘I was working (with the idea of) the pure power of nature, the all-destroying force, which brings one of the richest countries in the world to a completely still stand,’ he tells Colossal. …

“Between November 2020 and March 2021, Gläscher spent his days in a secluded location near Hamburg, where he gathered deadwood and constructed nine massive crests — the largest of which spans four meters high and nine meters wide — that overwhelm the forest floor in undulating layers of branches and twigs. Each iteration, which he photographed and then promptly destroyed in order to reuse the materials, overwhelms the existing landscape with pools of the formerly thriving matter.

“Gläscher’s installations are part of a larger diaristic project he began at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, he published a few magazines to present the works that range from photography to sculpture in one place. … Find more of his multi-media projects on his site and Instagram.” Great photos here.

I like thinking about an artist pursuing a project suggesting tidal waves when, like him, we were all isolating ourselves from the tidal wave of Covid. There is something intriguing about his taking the waves apart and reconstructing them in different forms. Doesn’t coronavirus do that, too?

The Covid Art Museum on Instagram was and still is an artistic response to the pandemic. And considering that the pandemic wave hasn’t yet crested worldwide, I’m sure we’ll be seeing other, Covid-inspired artworks — not to mention, more art from sticks.

As Patrick Dougherty has said, “A stick is an imaginative object. … I think we have a kind of shadow life of our hunting and gathering past, especially in our childhood play. Because a stick — a piece of wood — is an object that has an incredible amount of vibration for us.”

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Photo: Yenvy Pham.
The owners of a Seattle Vietnamese restaurant, Phở Bắc, came up with the idea of a “Pho Now” cup and a “Pho Later” meal kit during the pandemic. “Survival mode is in our blood,” says Yenvy Pham.

I like to have a pipeline of possible articles in case I draw a blank some morning. But after Covid changed so much, it seemed like a good idea to check whether last year’s stories were still relevant. So I did a search on the restaurant in today’s article and found that the Covid innovations described here really worked.

In June 2020, Ashley Nguyen wrote at the Lily that Seattle’s Phở Bắc pivoted fast. “On March 13, Yenvy Pham went to New York City to celebrate the grand opening of her friend’s new Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Social. But as the coronavirus spread, Helen Nguyen — Saigon Social’s chef and owner — decided to cancel.

“By the time Pham flew home to Seattle on March 16, Washington Gov. Jay [Inslee] had ordered restaurants and bars to cease in-person dining. Pham and her siblings, who own and operate several restaurants called Phở Bắc in Seattle, saw sales plummet. … They instituted new safety precautions, made sure their employees had masks and gloves and started pivoting.

“Phở Bắc’s namesake dish is not something people typically order to-go, Pham said. To appeal to their customers, the Pham siblings introduced a ‘Pho Now’ cup that people could eat while sitting on a nearby curb, on their walk home, or in the car. They also began selling a ‘Pho Later’ meal kit, complete with broth, separately wrapped ingredients and assembly instructions. The restaurant started delivering orders using an old parking enforcement vehicle dubbed the ‘Pho Mobile.’

“As it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to end anytime soon, Pham and her siblings had to start making tough decisions. They closed two of their four Phở Bắc locations, and they were forced to reduce staff. … But if any of Phở Bắc’s current or former employees need something, the restaurant owners try to help: ‘My restaurant dynamic is very Vietnamese,’ Pham said. ‘It’s very practical. If [workers] need money, help [or] loans, we just kind of do what we can.’

“Operating multiple restaurants during a pandemic isn’t easy, but ‘survival mode is in our blood,’ Pham explained. Her parents, Theresa Cat Vu and Augustine Nien Pham, opened the first Phở Bắc location in 1982, a year after they came to the United States. Ultimately, Theresa and Augustine created a nourishing landmark in Seattle’s Little Saigon: The restaurant takes the shape of a red boat.

“Yenvy Pham and her Phở Bắc partners, siblings Khoa and Quynh-Vy, are dedicated to supporting fellow business owners in Little Saigon as economic fallout from the pandemic persists.

‘It’s my neighborhood, my Little Saigon,’ Pham said. ‘For me, business comes and goes, but the vibe of the neighborhood is so important, and so are the characters here. You’ve got to take care of your own people.’

“They recently donated $5,000 in proceeds from the Pho Mobile to the International Community Health Services clinic, where their sister works as a primary care doctor, and a small business relief fund for business owners in the Chinatown International District. …

“The siblings are also collaborating with other business owners. They added Hood Famous Bakeshop’s mini Filipino-flavored cheesecakes to their menu. Pham let Mangosteen — a traveling Texas-style barbecue joint from chef Thai Ha — take over one of their closed locations to sell brisket and wings with specialty sauces for pickup.

“The pandemic has given people more time to take stock of what’s important, Pham said in late April.

“ ‘I like the world stopping for a second to reassess our morality and get us out of this state of complacency,’ she said. ‘We’re doing powerful thinking about each other, ourselves, about the world. … We’re being more creative too and helping each other out,’ Pham added. …

“Despite the unknowns, Pham is confident that everything will work out. In her family, ‘we either fix it, we take care of it, we accept it, or we move onto something else.’ ”

More at the Lily, here.

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Photo: Zack’s Cafe via ABC3340.
At Zack’s Cafe in Miami, Oklahoma, receipts for pre-paid meals hang on the wall. Zack’s Cafe is among several local restaurants that enabled neighbors to help one another out during the pandemic.

Often in the past there has been restaurant outreach to hungry people who can’t afford a restaurant. I’ve covered a few instances at this blog. But there’s nothing like a pandemic to enable such efforts to really take off. An Oklahoma town, for example, found there was no shortage of customers who would donate meals so others less fortunate could eat.

Last month, Cathy Free wrote at the Washington Post, “In a growing number of restaurants in Oklahoma, the walls are decorated with hanging receipts. Anyone can walk in, pull down a receipt and order a meal free of charge. The receipts are put there by customers who prepay for food and tack them to the wall, leaving them on offer for anyone who is hungry.

“Since early February, restaurants in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma — in towns like Miami, Grove and Vinita — encourage people who are short on cash to pick up a prepaid meal receipt and enjoy everything from three-egg omelets to chicken-fried steak, no tips expected, no questions asked.

‘Maybe if we can show people what it’s like to take care of your neighbor during a time of need, it will spread throughout the United States,’ said Bless Parker, 51, the volunteer mayor of Miami (pronounced my-am-uh). ‘We want to bring back the old hometown values that I saw when I was growing up here as a kid.’

“During the historic Arctic blast earlier this year, Parker helped homeless people get into church shelters, and around that time he and others decided they needed to do something to help people who were having a tough time during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami, a former mining town with a population of about 13,000.

“Sandye Williams, an assistant manager at the Miami Walmart, said she remembered a story she had seen in 2019 about a restaurant in Arkansas where customers had bought meals in advance for those in need and posted the receipts on the wall for anyone to pick up.

“On Feb. 3, Williams tagged Dawg House restaurant owner Jennifer White in a post about the story, saying, ‘Look at this. I would pay for a meal once a week.’ …

“ ‘I loved the idea and thought I’d give it a try,’ said White, 28. ‘I want people in my community to be fed whether they have money for a meal or not.’

“When White posted a sign near the entrance inviting her customers to buy $10 meal receipts and post them on the cafe’s giving wall, word spread quickly in Miami, she said. …

“Hours after Parker’s receipt went up the wall, another local restaurant, Zack’s Cafe, decided to get on board with the idea. And a few days later, Montana Mike’s Steakhouse joined in. …

“The giving wall concept soon spread to surrounding towns, including Vinita, which has a population of 5,423, where Beth Hilburn runs the Hi-Way Cafe on historic Route 66.

“Hilburn, 52, said she invited her customers to buy something extra from the menu such as a slice of pie or a cheeseburger, then post their contribution beneath a sign she printed: ‘If you are hungry or know someone who is … these tickets have been paid for in advance by previous customers. Please grab a ticket and eat!’ …

“The restaurants’ Facebook pages have been flooded with comments about the giving walls from local customers and out-of-towners alike. ‘One of the main reasons I love our small town!’ a Miami resident commented on the Zack’s Cafe page. …

“Some of the free meal recipients have returned to put a meal ticket on the wall to help somebody else once they’re able to, Perry said. She estimates that more than 300 free meals have been ordered at Zack’s. …

“At Montana Mike’s, general manager Jennifer Highton said she recently took a phone call from a man in Chicago who wanted to purchase several meals and add them to the wall.

“ ‘He’s never been here and doesn’t know anything about us, but he loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it,’ said Highton.”

More at the Washington Post.

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