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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

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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Photo: Matthew Genge, Imperial College London.
The simulation of the Scottish countryside for an online geology class included buildings, walls, and gravestones.

Although it always seemed likely I would turn out to be an English major, I did have to choose a science in college. My mother thought it was charming that the geology class had the same two professors from the time she was there. She recommended the course. And a few people said geology would be easier than the other sciences. Ha! They were wrong about that! But I learned as much as I could, if not very well, and to this day I can tell you if your dorm is made of Wissahickon Schist.

If I thought geology was hard back then, what would it have been like this past year? At Atlas Obscura, Robin George Andrews reports on the challenges of teaching it online during the pandemic.

“If you decide to pursue a degree in geology,” Andrews notes, “be prepared to spend some time in the wilderness, where you will be asked to find and analyze rocks that will help teach you how the planet works. You will sketch curious outcrops, smash stone to pieces, peer at crystals through a hand lens, and, every now and then, even lick rocks, if it comes to that, all under the watchful, judging eye of your instructors.

“When the pandemic kicked into gear back in March 2020, these both scintillating and stressful field schools were no more. Geology instructors across the world were at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Many understandably concluded that there was no way to replicate this hands-on learning experience and just made do, but Matthew Genge, a planetary scientist at Imperial College London (ICL), had an epiphany.

“By happenstance, he had taken up the hobby of video game design a decade earlier. ‘It’s pure problem solving,’ he says. ‘You get that achievement buzz when you make something work or overcome some challenge.’

“One of his colleagues, fellow ICL geoscientist Mark Sutton, had also been dabbling in the same digital sandbox. So they decided to put their skills to pedagogical use:

They built video game versions of the field trips their undergraduate students would normally go on, where they could practice the same techniques and learn about the planet in the same way they would in the real world.

“It started with a 3D replica of Sardinia (and Mt. Etna on Sicily), where students galivanted about, looking for ancient fossils, prodding volcanic rocks, and exploring an abandoned silver mine. But like in all good video games, things escalated quickly. Before long, students were piloting spaceships, fending off hostile fighters, and trying to find a good place to land on an asteroid (to study its chemistry). …

“Back in 2019, Sutton had brought a drone to Sardinia — one of the usual field trip locations — and took a bunch of photographs of the places they were visiting to learn geology. A year later, Genge used those photographs, along with some bespoke computer code, to whip up a virtual version of the study area.

“In the (real) field, the objective would be to examine a location, study it scientifically, pose a research question, and then attempt to answer it. The same scenario played out in the virtual world Genge and Sutton created.

“For example, an area that was once a lake, 330 million years ago, is now jam-packed with plant and animal fossils. There are even ancient traces of rain, which made little indentations that have been naturally preserved. Some of these impressions are elongated in one direction, which can be used to estimate wind speed. A student might find these rain prints, examine them in high resolution, and then write something about how they might be used to understand what Earth’s atmosphere was like back then.

“The students were engaged, and the quality of their work was similar to what the instructors had seen in previous field seasons. ‘Two of the projects were close to being publishable,’ says Genge.”

More details (including how the video game meant the study of meteorites could become a space adventure) at Atlas Obscura, here.

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These are real New Yorker covers, but for a laugh (or a tear), check out fake pandemic covers created for an art class, here.

In New York, an art teacher’s creative idea in the pandemic was to make magazine covers in the style of the New Yorker magazine. The next thing the students knew, their work had gone viral on social media.

Michael Cavna writes at the Washington Post, “A masked woman pauses to perch between two worlds: the Zoom-room confines of her virtual life this past year, and the real physical realm of a post-pandemic future. As her classmates spring across a laptop keyboard, the emotional moment resonates, a split-second frozen in art.

“Its creator, Lauren Van Stone, a New York college student originally from Connecticut, rendered the work to empathize with anyone else enduring virtual learning. ‘I felt inspired to illustrate a piece that focused on the tentative reopening of schools,’ she says, ‘and the mixed feelings that many students will inevitably have upon re-entering society.’

“Van Stone created the artwork for her third-year illustration class taught this semester by Tomer Hanuka [@tropical_toxic on Twitter] at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Hanuka had asked his students to create moving-past-the-pandemic works in the style of a New Yorker magazine cover — and was so impressed with the finished pieces that he shared some of them last week on Twitter.

“Soon, the virtual world was as moved by the students’ art as Hanuka was. Within a few days, the first tweet in the viral thread of 17 works attracted more than 130,000 likes and more than 30,000 retweets. Nearly 60,000 liked Dou Hong’s poignant image of two figures on a park bench: One is of a woman, the other an outline filled with names of covid victims. …

“Hanuka, a veteran illustrator who has contributed covers to the New Yorker, was shocked by the public response. … He had merely sought to give the student artworks some exposure beyond the classroom. But his timing couldn’t have been better: As millions of Americans are vaccinated daily amid cultural debates over evolving social and medical protocol, the art reflects the year we’re emerging from — and where we hope soon to be. …

“The assignment was to analyze the storytelling mechanisms within ‘classic’ New Yorker covers and create original ideas using some of that visual vocabulary.

‘It’s about observing a seemingly mundane detail that, by the way it’s presented, illuminates a bigger story,’ says Hanuka. …

“Amy Young, who’s originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, created a powerful cover showing a family around the table with the deceased matriarch missing, her living husband and their wall picture bathed in the lavender tint of loss. Existing alongside the buoyant hope of vaccination, she says, is the ‘grief, sorrow and perhaps even bitterness experienced by those whose loved ones have already passed away. I wanted to show that duality of emotions in my cover, and how they can find co-existence in a family.’ …

“Katrina Catacutan, from Baltimore, drew a reunion with her significant other, in a home brimming with her collection of pandemic plants that evolved to include ‘propagating cacti’ and various vegetables.

“Once their works were posted on Twitter, the students were stunned by the impassioned response. ‘It really showed me just how powerful art is, in the way it can connect countless people from across the world over one shared feeling or image,’ says Jane McIlvaine of New York, who depicted a cat watching its formerly locked-down owner exit their home. …

“As for their teacher, he is not only wowed by the outcome, but also by how his young artists have persevered academically during the pandemic. Some of them hold day jobs, and some have been cut off from their families for a year. Yet, Hanuka says, ‘They had the emotional bandwidth to gather for four hours a week — and that’s just my class — to discuss color choices and compositions with all the gravity and focus these topics demand. … They were asked to find logic in the chaos — to make sense of it, by way of beauty. They practiced their craft rigorously and showed up.’ ”

See the covers at the Washington Post.

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Photo: Anna Chojnicka via Republic World.
She bruises bananas to make art.

Connie Chang has such a funny and inspiring tale at the Washington Post! You’re going to love this one!

“Anna Chojnicka was bored as she quarantined last year in her London apartment because of a suspected case of covid-19. She was so bored that she absent-mindedly picked up a banana on her kitchen table and started running her fork along the outside of the peel.

“The dark lines that appeared on the peel looked interesting to her, and she watched as the marks gradually got darker. She continued doodling and was soon fascinated. She drew eyes, a nose and a mouth and — satisfied with how it looked — decided to see how far she could go with it. …

“Chojnicka, 35, started making pictures that were more and more intricate using the same method — only pressure, no paint — until she sketched an Ethiopian coffee pot and cup. Her new hobby was born. …

“Since that first day she figured out what she can do by bruising a banana peel, Chojnicka has been posting her daily creations on Twitter and Instagram, where she has thousands of followers. … She inspects her daily sketch, takes a photo and then eats the banana — she doesn’t like waste.

“Her popular banana art ranges from familiar cartoons such as Homer Simpson (which she cheekily labeled ‘self portrait’) to painstakingly rendered portraits of people such as Greta Thunberg. She does puns, like a zipper around a partially peeled banana. She is often inspired by current events, such as the coronavirus vaccine drive. She recently made one with the slogan ‘Empowered women empower women,’ nestled in a yin-yang of two women in profile.

“ ‘Bananas have a really beautiful way of going from yellow to black by way of gold, orange, and brown,’ said Chojnicka, who liked art as a child but hadn’t practiced it much as an adult until last year. …

“Her art comes to life by oxidization. Just like apples, bananas oxidize, or turn brown, as the enzymes in their cells are released and interact with the oxygen in the air. Cells that are damaged — because they’ve been poked with a fork or dropped on the floor — brown faster. By varying when she applied the marks, Chojnicka discovered that she could create a palette of shades, resulting in surprisingly intricate pictures.

‘I saw an opportunity to put it to some good,’ said Chojnicka, whose day job is working for a company that supports local businesses focused on social or environmental issues.

“With the help of her social media followers, she has raised about $1,600 for FareShare, a charity in the United Kingdom that provides food to people in need. Admirers, moved or just amused by Chojnicka’s art, have donated to the organization through the fundraising site JustGiving.

“Once she realized her fruity art had a following, she decided to branch out into other causes close to her heart. She helped bring attention to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which aims to address the country’s energy shortage. She felt close to that project, she said, because she worked in Ethiopia for four years and said the dam ‘has the potential to lift people out of poverty.’ …

“Among her most popular pieces was a banana she made in February scrawled with the word ‘banana’ in different languages. ‘What language(s) do you speak? Do you see your language here?’ she asked in a caption on the post. Responses flooded in from all over the world: Brazil, the United States, South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.

“The post ended up ‘sparking separate conversations between people around the commonalities in their languages,’ Chojnicka said. …

“Chojnicka said she realizes that bruising a banana to make a sketch isn’t everyone’s thing. But for anyone who might want to give it a try, she has a few tips.”

The tips are fascinating. For example, she shows how to get different shades of brown by waiting different periods of time. Learn more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP.
Gardening gurus Jim and Cindy Kaufmann met when they both worked at the National Gallery. Today they work in separate government jobs to brighten Washington, DC, with 300 acres of landscaping and flowers.

Have you ever thought about how the beautiful flowers appear in public places like the US capital — and what it takes to keep them beautiful, even in a pandemic?

Cari Shane reports at the Washington Post reports about a married couple who are responsible for more than 300 acres of the the Washington, DC, landscape.

“Cindy Kaufmann, 56, is chief of horticulture services at the National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden. Her husband, Jim Kaufmann, 48, is the director of the Capitol grounds and arboretum for the Architect of the Capitol, which maintains the buildings, monuments and gardens on the U.S. Capitol campus. He also chooses the National Christmas Tree. …

“They call themselves ‘garden geeks’: Jim is ‘a tree guy,’ he says. (His favorite is the white oak.) Cindy loves pink flowering plants the most. ‘But it’s like having children,’ she says. ‘You really just love them all.’

Cindy grew up in Rockville, Md., where she spent hours in the garden, ‘growing flowers and vegetables just to see how they would look,’ she says.

“After studying horticulture at the University of Maryland, she started at the National Gallery right out of college. Jim grew up in Philadelphia, helping his parents take care of their vegetable garden. He attended a public vocational-technical high school that specialized in agriculture, then graduated from Temple University with a degree in horticulture. They met when they both worked at the National Gallery. …

“Cindy’s pre-pandemic life meant arriving at the office at 6 a.m. and ‘walking five miles every day, visiting the campus and directing the wide variety of areas we support from the Sculpture Garden — the greenhouses, the garden courts, terraces and every exhibit and interior space,’ she says.

“Now, like for many of us, her work is done mostly over Zoom. The National Gallery closed and reopened a few times over the past year; each time, Cindy had to be ready, constantly ‘planning for normal.’ The museum’s March anniversary is celebrated annually with a rotating display of 250 azaleas in the Rotunda, and Cindy and her staff spent the winter preparing the plants to transfer from greenhouses in Frederick, Md., but the museum didn’t reopen after all. (The Sculpture Garden reopened in February.)

“For Jim, the pandemic and the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol — which was followed by the erecting of non-scalable fencing — meant some pivoting, too.

“He and his team continue to care for more than 4,500 trees and all the flowering plants on 274 acres of Capitol landscape. …

“Like Cindy, Jim’s days this past year have been less hands-on, which he misses. ‘Nothing ever replaces the ability or the experience to walk the grounds, feel the landscape and talk to people,’ he says.

“But the pandemic has allowed the Kaufmanns to spend more time in their own garden in Silver Spring, Md. Last summer, tending it was their ‘pandemic therapy,’ says Cindy. It reflects their different horticultural styles, and over the years, the yard has naturally divided into ‘Cindy’ and ‘Jim’ sections.’ “

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor.
Shoppers in Chelsea, Mass., have benefited from cash payments during the pandemic.

How many years have we kicked around the idea of a guaranteed income to eliminate poverty? If you search at this blog on the topic, you will see several forms the concept has taken in the past. And since COVID-19 became part of our lives, the feeling of urgency around Universal Basic Income (UBI) has grown.

At the Christian Science Monitor, Simon Montlake as a report on Chelsea, Massachusetts.

“Inside the hillside church where she works part time as custodian, Ana Vanegas-Rivera rests on a wooden bench and pulls out her phone wallet. She holds up a blue debit card, similar to the others in her wallet, minus her name or any issuing bank. 

“The card belongs to Chelsea, a blue-collar city outside Boston that is using it to give cash to around 2,000 low-income residents during a pandemic that has disproportionately hit its Latino-majority population. Every month the card is reloaded with between $200 and $400, depending on family size, allowing recipients to spend the money as they see fit. 

“Ms. Vanegas-Rivera’s $400 goes toward buying food, household items, school supplies, and shoes for Dylan, her third grade son. For now, the family is getting by on her modest custodian salary and disability checks, along with what her husband earns from sporadic construction jobs, so every extra dollar counts.

“ ‘It has been a big help. I’m very happy that we have this opportunity,’ she says. 

“The pilot income program, which began in November and runs until May, has been underwritten by federal and state COVID-19 relief dollars, as well as private donations, and is geared to feeding families, as its name, Chelsea Eats, suggests. ‘Our overriding goal is to get people through the spring,’ says Tom Ambrosino, the city manager. ‘For some of our families that is the only money they have.’ 

“Chelsea is also a national testbed for a simple idea: to help people by giving them money. Not a housing voucher, not food stamps, but a cash-equivalent payment that ensures recipients have a basic income that they can spend any way they want. The rationale is that people know best what they need, and letting them make decisions on how to use the money, without restrictions, is direct and empowering, and doesn’t require a big bureaucracy to implement.

“Chelsea is one of several U.S. cities experimenting with unconditional cash transfers to help some residents quickly – an idea that could become the basis for an alternative to traditional welfare and other safety net programs that have existed for decades. Indeed, advocates see these cash experiments as a building block toward a federal guarantee of a basic income for all, or at least all who manifestly need it. 

“The idea of a universal basic income that would fill in some of the crevasses in capitalist economies isn’t new. … But UBI has always been a provocative notion that seemed just a little too provocative, an unfathomable expense – free money for all – that nobody would want to pay. That was before the pandemic.

Once economies started closing down, governments around the world began to dig deep and spend freely, putting cash directly in people’s hands. …

“Most U.S. social assistance is modest and conditioned on certain requirements, such as work and family size. Except for older adults or people with disabilities, it rarely arrives in the form of cash. This reflects an ethos of self-reliance, as well as decades of conservative criticism that welfare is wasteful and breeds dependence. Backers of basic income believe these traditional assistance programs no longer work. 

“Yet the politics of governments handing out cash remains complicated. Many liberals like UBI but some don’t. Many conservatives don’t like UBI but some do. 

“For now, momentum is building for at least some form of basic income in the face of a lopsided economy that seems to generate more losers than winners, even before the pandemic. But the question is: How far will the idea go? …

“In Chelsea, Mr. Ambrosino doesn’t really focus much on whether the idea of a basic income is gaining ascendancy in Washington or not. His priority is simply to help families in a tough spot, and he’s happy with what he’s seeing so far with Chelsea Eats. ‘We’re getting money in the right hands,’ he says. 

“Roseann Bongiovanni, a former city councilor and now executive director of GreenRoots, a local nonprofit, agrees that the extra money is helping families. But Chelsea faces challenges of housing affordability and environmental justice, and overall demand at food pantries hasn’t gone away. ‘This is a short-term fix,’ she says. ‘It’s not resolving a larger structural issue.’ 

“Ms. Vanegas-Rivera knows that her debit card is temporary. Though she owes less on her credit cards and is managing better, her money problems haven’t gone away. What has changed, she says, is that she and her husband are no longer lining up daily at food pantries.” 

More here.

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Photo: PD Rearick.
Sarah Rose Sharp’s “Avolare A Alveare (Fly Away from the Hive),” 2016, wool, salvage quilt fragment, found embroidery, printed cotton, iron-on letters, silk, hem binding.

You and your friends have probably already speculated about how many lockdown adaptations will survive the pandemic. Working from home, FaceTime and Zoom calls with distant family, increased handwashing and awareness of aerosols, paying for entertainment online, etc.

In today’s article, an artist praises the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits to freelancers and imagines a world in which basic income could provide a kind of at-home residency for creatives.

Sarah Rose Sharp writes at Hyperallergic that government payments allowed her to create without worry about money during the pandemic.

She says, “One of the basic truisms of freelancing is: You can have time, or you can have resources, but you will almost never have both simultaneously. A foundational lesson of this workflow is doing the work when it’s available and saving as much as possible for the slow times. But its counterpart is this: When times are slow, that’s the opportunity to do your own (uncompensated) thing, and you should not waste this time wallowing in anxiety about the next paid gig.

“I truly never expected the government to identify freelancers as a vulnerable population needing to be covered by unemployment. Mostly 1099 workers pay disproportionately into public benefit systems without being able to access them. Imagine my complete surprise when I discovered that freelancers were being offered unprecedented unemployment benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. In other words: every 1099 worker is being offered a paid artist residency. …

“In pre-pandemic times, artists competed tooth and nail for residency opportunities. Even when you get them, they tend to conceal sunken costs, such as requiring travel away from your life and home, thus necessitating use of resources you’re granted just to maintain your permanent homestead. You may have to pay to board pets. You may have to ship supplies or buy new ones when you get to New Hampshire or Maine or Houston or a tiny remote island and realize you left the perfect thing back in your studio.

“There are arguably many benefits of destination residencies, from offering new social connections, to providing bucolic surroundings, to the stimulation of a change of scene, but

In my experience, the best conditions for making art involve getting paid to make art where I’ve already built the infrastructure that enables me to make art.

“Since March of 2020, that’s what I’ve done, and it’s been a productive year.

“And it’s a terrific moment to have creative people collectively on paid residency, because this past year has otherwise been hell, with many of the things that inform and structure quotidian existence shaken to their foundations. Because artists make meaning out of chaos the pre-COVID world that others inhabited so effortlessly didn’t actually make all that much sense to us to begin with. During this time I find myself and other creative people asking a lot of questions about how necessary nine-to-five workdays were in the first place (or conversely, understanding how utterly crucial and underpaid teachers are), and dreaming about new ways we might approach what is to come — ways that centralize, value, and hold people when our labels peel back or entirely fall away.

“The work I’ve seen artists doing this year in lockdown, the solace and continuity the creative community has offered to a population scared, grieving, uncertain, and bored, the ways people have found a way to stay connected through distance, difficulty, and estrangement from social norms — all of these are testaments to the creative spirit. And on a policy level, they also make a strong case for Universal Basic Income. [Read three of Suzanne’s Mom’s posts on that concept here, here, and here.]

“I haven’t seen anyone working less, I’ve just seen them directing their efforts into things that feel meaningful, instead of clock punching.

“The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ While this year has made it clear that some of humanity’s problems stem from bats, it’s definitely given some of us the opportunity to attempt to live in the solution to our other problems — which is to say, there are worse things we could practice than sitting quietly in a room alone. There are lots of things that I will never see in the same way again, but personally, I no longer see the artist residency as an away-game activity, but one to be cultivated as thoroughly as possible on the home field.”

Pascal’s words are worth thinking about. As Maria Popova at Brain Pickings likes to remind us (quoting Ruth Krauss), “Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: The Telegraph.
The United Kingdom’s Marsh family has been singing spoofs of popular songs since the beginning of the pandemic.

Probably at some point during the pandemic, you saw the Marsh family’s early 2020 spoof of the song “One Day More” from Les Miserables. But did you know the funny, sometimes off-key, UK family has kept going?

Isabella Kwai has the backstory at the New York Times. “The family of six is lined up in front of microphones, ready to perform. The stage: their living room, complete with flowery curtains and family photos. The costumes: for the children, pajamas and bathrobes. The song: Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 raspy-voiced power ballad ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ [below], tweaked for the pandemic era.

“ ‘Third lockdown,’ the father croons, before his son Alfie cuts in: ‘2021 … and it’s a little bit lonely, no one’s ever coming ’round.’

“Meet the Marshes — Ben, Danielle, and their four children Alfie, 14, Thomas, 13, Ella, 11 and Tess, 9 — a family from the English town of Faversham that has gained unexpected fame for their revamped, tongue-in-cheek cover tunes about life in times of Covid. This six-voice choir, with its sweet harmonies and the occasional wobbly note, is creating songs that dramatize the mundane moments of lockdown life, from too much screen time to the horrors of remote learning.

” In their version of ‘One Day More,’ from the musical Les Misérables, the parents groan about grocery shopping online during the first lockdown as the children lament: ‘Our grandparents can’t Skype, we’re brokenhearted.’ …

“And with England crawling through a third national lockdown, they felt the time was ripe for ‘Total Eclipse’ — ‘Used to be bright eyes. Struggling to tell the days apart. Now we’re Lords of Flies.’ …

“In a time when there has been little cause for celebration, the Marshes are just some of the many people around the world who have embraced music as a way to boost morale or income, and to cope with a pandemic that has confined many people inside. During the first wave, Italians sang from their balconies, mariachi bands in Mexico played in the streets, and the percussion of people banging pots to celebrate frontline workers became a nightly soundtrack in New York and other cities.

The Marshes have not limited themselves to song; their performances have included moments of bickering, dance — captioned ‘interpretive angst dance’ — and dramatic flourishes that have amused an audience around the world.

“ ‘This is the first thing that made me not just smile but laugh out loud,’ said one fan online who had been depressed about Germany’s extending restrictions. ‘Can you adopt me?’ another joked.

“The fame is new but the singing isn’t. Mr. Marsh, 44, and Mrs. Marsh, 43, who both work at the University of Kent, met as students at Cambridge, where they sang in low-budget university productions. Reworking lyrics was a family affair even pre-pandemic. … The difference is those earlier spoofs were mainly for their own entertainment. Then the pandemic hit.

“In late March [2020], the family was searching for ways to celebrate some birthdays that suddenly had to go remote, including that of Mrs. Marsh’s mother. Their gift, they decided, would have to go virtual.

“ ‘There was no schoolwork, there was no nothing,’ Mrs. Marsh said. ‘That’s when the music became a focus for us all.’ …

“So now they’re famous, but are they cool? Well, no, Mr. Marsh said. ‘I think if we tried to do “cool,” it would all fall apart.’ But at a time when ‘so few can sing together in one place,’ the family members hope to use their sudden fame, which Mr. Marsh called ‘bewildering and incredible,’ to do some good.

“They said they are donating the proceeds from guest appearances to the W.H.O. Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which supports efforts to end the pandemic, and Save the Children. But recently they also decided to take a chance by encouraging people to get vaccines, a departure from their more comedic fare. …

“How did they deliver the message? Try replacing ‘Hallelujah’ in Leonard Cohen’s iconic song with this: ‘Have the new jab. Have the new jab. Have the new jab. Have the new-ew-ew-ew jab.’ (Sung by Tess, in fuzzy p.j.’s, as her father strums the guitar.) …

“ ‘I would have never spent this much time with my 14-year-old,’ said Mrs. Marsh.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Map: Britannica
New Zealand is seeing a renaissance in the magazine business.

Sometimes a small, well-networked country or state can do a better job making challenging things happen than the big guys can. I’m thinking, for example, about West Virginia’s remarkable success in getting the Covid vaccine into people’s arms. (NBC has a cool story about Mom & Pop drugstores and the advantage of knowing your community.)

Today’s story comes from a very different part of the world and concerns a very different topic: the struggling print-magazine industry.

Elle Hunt reports at the Guardian, “At 8.31am on a Thursday, Henry Oliver received a text message from his employer, alerting him to a company-wide Zoom call in 29 minutes’ time.

“The day was 2 April 2020, a week into New Zealand’s national lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus. Oliver, who is the editor of Metro magazine, and his team had been scrambling to adjust to remote working and – with magazine publishing not among the ‘essential services’ permitted to continue through the pandemic – a new digital-first operation.

“Within an hour of that text, Oliver and the 300-odd other employees of Bauer Media New Zealand were told they were being made redundant, the titles they worked on would be put up for sale, and the entire company was to close. …

“A privately owned German company operational in 13 countries, including the US, UK and Australia, Bauer had been a pillar of the New Zealand magazine industry since 2012. In particular it was known for its current affairs and long-form features journalism, as the home of the Auckland-centric Metro, North & South and The Listener – titles with steady subscriber bases and some of the most experienced and awarded journalists in the country on staff.

“In its suddenness and its sweep, Bauer’s decision seemed to sound a death knell for an entire industry. … Yet less than a year later, not only have Bauer magazines been brought back to life under new ownership, but also new titles have been launched – reflecting a flurry of investment and innovation in New Zealand media precipitated by the pandemic.

“Sydney private equity firm Mercury Capital purchased Bauer NZ for an unspecified sum in June (later renaming it Are Media) – extending a lifeline to The Listener and four other mastheads.

Metro and North & South were both acquired by independent investors seeking to preserve New Zealand’s tradition of long-form features journalism.

“Meanwhile, four entirely new monthly titles – staffed by former Bauer editors and writers, with former CEO Paul Dykzeul advising – were launched by School Road Publishing in November.

“The recovery, since the dire outlook in April, has exceeded all expectations: testament to the appetite of New Zealanders not just to read magazines, but to make them.

“The day after he was made redundant, Oliver started work on a zine. With a budget procured from property developer Britomart Group, he was able to deploy the talents of many of the journalists and designers who had been let go with him from Bauer. He gave it the tongue-in-cheek title Essential Services, describing it as a ‘small affirmation of life in the face of media industry collapse.’

“Oliver went on to produce two more issues with funding from government agency Creative New Zealand. … ‘I just thought to myself, it’s not really up to a German billionaire whether I get to make magazines or not.’

“Others too had spied opportunity in among the rubble. German-born journalists Konstantin Richter and Verena Friederike Hasel … made a ‘spontaneous’ offer on North & South to ensure its survival, as subscribers themselves. Richter is also a board member of the Swiss media giant TX Group, founded by his family, and splits his time between the two countries. …

“Richter describes their vision as ‘a mix of change and tradition’: retaining North & South’s time-honoured focus on issues that span the length of New Zealand, bridging the urban-rural divide – while injecting news and perspectives from further afield. He sees an opportunity to build on the tradition of investigative and long-form features journalism in a nation that is more receptive than others to the concept.

Metro, meanwhile, was bought by media entrepreneur Simon Chesterman, who retained Oliver as editor and moved the magazine to quarterly publishing. It relaunched with a splash in November with an exclusive essay from Lorde.

“Oliver says they were aligned on the importance of an Auckland-centric title in the age of coronavirus. ‘We’re going to be living in a more local world for the foreseeable future, so a city magazine, an authority on a specific place, can be more relevant than ever.’

“Plus, at a moment of up-to-the-minute, pandemic-driven doom-scrolling, ‘here is space for a slower media,’ says Oliver. ‘That was really what was taken away with the shutdown of the magazines.’

“To [Colin Peacock, host of Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch programme], the industry’s reinvention suggests a new era of ‘start-up-style media’ in New Zealand. … Peacock points to Shepherdess – a new quarterly magazine for rural women, which launched in mid-March – and the free ‘mountain culture’ publication 1964 as examples of how print might be reinvented to serve a specific, perhaps localised audience. …

“In April, Bauer’s Australia and New Zealand chief executive Brendon Hill had said magazines would be ‘untenable’ in New Zealand through the pandemic: ‘Publishing in New Zealand is very dependent on advertising revenue and it is highly unlikely that demand will ever return to pre-crisis levels.’

“But the industry’s bounceback from catastrophe reflects New Zealand readers’ loyalty to their long-standing magazines – potentially to a fault, Peacock suggests. … The resurrection of The Listener, almost identical in form and focus, suggests there was next to no enthusiasm for a refresh, says Peacock. …

“Richter and Friederike Hasel are hopeful that North & South readers will embrace a new global perspective – especially at this time of transition, not just for New Zealand’s media but New Zealand itself. Bauer’s exit was ‘a shock to many,’ says Friederike Hasel – ‘but I think something good might come out of that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Mike Birbiglia
Behind the scenes of one of Birbiglia’s virtual comedy shows.

My older granddaughter is having a birthday this week, and her joker dad told her she wouldn’t really be 8 until after the pandemic. Maybe sometime in the summer.

She is on to his tricks, but I laughed as I unnecessarily reassured her over What’s App that she would be 8 on her real birthday. Gotta be grateful for any wisp of humor in a pandemic, even goofy humor.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia always knew that laughter was important, but since he started putting his comedy online, he’s learned just how hungry people are to laugh in difficult times.

At Vulture, Birbiglia how his virtual shows got started. “On March 10, 2020, I drove from my apartment in Brooklyn to a weekend of club shows in Buffalo, New York, to work out new material for a theater tour. … I like Buffalo because I like the people at my shows and the hotel near the club and the people at the hotel and the coffee shops near the hotel. In general, those are the folks I encounter when I’m on the road.

“And I love being on the road. I like meeting people from all over the country and performing shows. … The further you go into more remote locations, the more people seem to crave live comedy.

“When I was 24, I was asked to perform in Seward, Alaska, which has a population of 2,700 people. I was booked there by, I believe, the town of Seward. If memory serves, I was pretty terrible and the crowd was pretty great. Same with Fargo, North Dakota. I remember driving there with my brother Joe through many feet of snow and thinking, This show is gonna be as bad as these roads, and then it was one of the most appreciative crowds I’ve ever played for. …

“These types of shows are typically called ‘hell gigs’ by comics — shows that don’t take place in clubs, but instead loud bars, town gymnasiums, bowling alleys, sometimes even laundromats.

I’ve performed in the center of all-night college walkathons and in the deli lines of cafeterias in the afternoon. I’ve shown up to at least 30 shows that didn’t have a microphone and 100 that didn’t have a stage. Hell gigs are part of the job.

“But the location actually doesn’t really matter. People just want to watch comedy. Everyone’s reason for watching comedy is different, but for me, it’s the shared catharsis of a person onstage talking about the same anxieties you might be experiencing. …

“At its best, stand-up comedy is one person taking the mic and providing the audience with an hour of escapism from the predictability of life. … In one moment, it shocks us, and in the next, it hangs a lantern on the universality of the absurd.

“Stand-up comedy on TV can shrink the format. It can feel like reheated pizza. When you show up in Fargo or Seward, you’re delivering the fresh, hot pizza of comedy right to their door. Showing up in people’s towns cements the communal upside of comedy, which is that it isn’t just the comedian who is seen and heard, but it’s also the audience.

“On March 11, 2020, I was driving to Buffalo via Ithaca, listening to epidemiologists on NPR weigh in on the spreading virus. I stopped at a local pizzeria called Thompson and Bleecker and sat down at the communal table. I was sitting with a couple of strangers who just drove in from Maryland, and they were concerned about the virus too. The guy said, ‘We were listening to Joe Rogan, and he had this scientist on, and we’re starting to think this is really serious.’

“That was the moment I knew I had to drive home. When the Venn diagram of Joe Rogan intersects with NPR, I know there’s something of a national consensus. Things are bad and are about to get worse.

“I drove the four hours back to Brooklyn. We postponed the Buffalo shows for what we thought was a shocking amount of time: four months. My agent asked me to consider doing some virtual shows, to which I was completely resistant.

“The next person I talked to was comedian Sam Morril, who [said] to me, ‘I actually get a lot out of it. I also didn’t expect that not only are you performing for people who can’t leave their houses from the shutdown, but you’re also performing for people who maybe couldn’t even leave their houses before COVID.’

“That’s when I decided I would try this at least once.

“In summer 2020, I did one night of Mike Birbiglia: Working It Out Virtually for 500 people who were located around the world. It was weird. And fun. Then I decided to do more.

“I started adding virtual crew members: a cinematographer, a sound technician, a director. We added three more iPhones to give us new camera angles. We lit my brother Joe’s Rhode Island office like a TV studio. It became this strange hybrid stand-up comedy interactive talk show.

“What I discovered was that the same thing people enjoyed about the live shows were things they were able to enjoy on the Zoom show. One of our producers noticed that during one of the shows someone wrote in the live Zoom chat: ‘I can’t unmute! I want to laugh!’ Those folks were unmuted by the hosts. They were seen. They were heard. …

“People Zoomed in from the most remote locations: living rooms with their cats and dogs and rabbits, gathered around bonfires with whiskey, families huddled in their children’s playroom because it has the best Wi-Fi, a woman knitting a shawl in her TV room, a couple carving a pumpkin with their family in the kitchen. Five continents and over 20 different countries were represented. …

“I’ve done about 18 of these virtual shows, and I’ve learned things from them that I thought I had long understood after 20 years of being a professional comedian. People need comedy. At very least, they need to laugh — particularly when life is most burdensome and unwieldy. People need to laugh to be reminded what laughter feels like and why anyone would have laughed in the first place. It’s the defibrillator that sends a shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. …

“I enjoy it because I feel connected to people all over the country and all over the world. I’m not saying it’s ideal. Arguably these are the worst conditions imaginable for comedy, but I think the people participating appreciate that I’m showing up at all. I mean, let’s be honest. It’s a hell gig.”

More at Vulture, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here.

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