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

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

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

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

“Hyperallergic: What is the origin story of LAAGP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The quirky Frog & Toad shop on Hope Street carries a variety of these funny metal creatures. This lobster on ice is an especially good one for New England.

Most weeks when I am in Providence, I volunteer at Dorcas International Tuesday morning and at the Genesis Center Tuesday afternoon. Last week, because Dorcas was doing its standardized testing, I had the morning off and decided to stop in at the Swedish-themed shop called Café Choklad and then at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Here are a few photos of that morning and another day of Providence wandering.

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Here’s my latest photo round-up.

The three cheerful and unsuspecting little pigs are hanging out at Chez Pascal in Providence. French-inspired, the restaurant features wurst and local produce. The horse dancers grace a wall of AS220, an arts powerhouse. The Roy Lichenstein POW! art is on a Rhode Island School of Design Museum banner. I think the iris-like banner is of a vase.

The “Bed Early” mural is part of a longer thought at the charming Dean Hotel. The skinny windows are just skinny windows. The fork, which I just noticed after several years of walking past, is on a Wayland Square restaurant called the Red Stripe.

Providence is not all food and fun. If anyone can tell me what church was behind the Assumption of the Virgin parade on August 7, I’d be much obliged. It was impressive. I Googled everything I could think of. I can at least tell you that the guy waving the hat is George M. Cohan at Fox Point. A king of parades, he nevertheless probably composed no music for the one I saw.

From Concord, we have a typical lichen-covered stone wall near the North Bridge, a garden ornament in the shape of a mushroom and grapes hanging on a blue fence.

Sometimes KerryCan tells me which photo she liked best. I’m always grateful for signs that someone’s reading.

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I gravitate to stories about older people who keep on truckin’ and don’t let age keep them from doing what they love.

Here’s one about a 102-year-old museum docent, who is being honored with a café in her name.

Chuck Hinman of Rhode Island Public Radio reported, “There’s something new at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence … . Visitors to the [Rhode Island School of Design] Museum have been unable to use its Benefit St. entrance since mid-April, but that entrance now has been re-opened, as RISD unveils what it’s been working on these past few months: its first café, called Café Pearl, after one of the museum’s most dedicated and long-serving docents, Pearl Nathan.

“RIPR’s Chuck Hinman talked to the 102-year-old Nathan at her home in East Providence, about her long association with the RISD Museum.”

Hinman goes on to say Nathan is bemused by the café and her new fame. She tells him her “emphasis was on my art collection,” not the food.  She graduated with a degree in art history in New York. When she came to Providence, a friend got her involved in “touring with the children,” and she stayed on. For 70 years.

When Hinman asks who Nathan’s favorite artist is, she says she thinks she will surprise him: “I adore Francis Bacon!”

Now, that takes a certain kind of person, I’d say. A person open to experience. Listen to the audio here and see a photo of Nathan leading a tour in 1962.

Photo: Chuck Hinman / RIPR

Pearl Nathan, 102, a guide at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design.

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Over at the Brain Pickings blog, Maria Popova has a review of a book that features photos of famous meals in fiction.

“Food and literature have a long and arduous relationship … But nowhere does that relationship come alive more vividly and enchantingly than in Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals  … an ingenious project by designer and writer Dinah Fried, who cooks, art-directs, and photographs meals from nearly two centuries of famous fiction. Each photograph is accompanied by the particular passage in which the recipe appeared, as well as a few quick and curious factlets about the respective author, novel, or food.

“The project began as a modest design exercise while Fried was attending the Rhode Island School of Design a couple of years ago, but the concept quickly gripped her with greater allure that transcended her original short-term deadline.

“As she continued to read and cook, a different sort of self-transcendence took place. [Although] a near-vegetarian, she found herself wrestling with pig kidney for Ulysses and cooking bananas eleven ways for Gravity’s Rainbow. …

“All of Fried’s photographs are immensely thoughtful (Ishmael’s austere dinner from Moby-Dick is not only a nautically appropriate serving of clam chowder, but also appears lit by candlelight), and some bear a distinct undertone of cultural meta-satire (representing A Confederacy of Dunces is the ultimate edible Americana, a hot dog on a classic All-American diner tablecloth).”

Check out Popova’s review here, and revel in photographs that include Sylvia Plath’s avocado and crabmeat salad, Oliver Twist’s request for “More,” Proust’s petite madeleine, Alice’s Mad Tea Party, and Heidi’s toasted cheese.

Photo: Dinah Fried
“On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.” — The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

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Jan Flanagan at the Providence Journal has put together a great list of things to do on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, next Monday. I’ll highlight a few to help you plan ahead, but rather than lift the whole calendar, I hope you will go to the ProJo website, here.

The Providence Public Library will feature an exhibit with photos showing the famous Selma to Montgomery March, about which a movie was made in 2014.

In case you are near Newport on the 18th, Chevette Jefferies will speak at the Thompson Middle School at 9:30 a.m.; James Gillis will keynote a lunch at the Mainstay Inn; and St. Joseph’s Church will hold a special worship service at 5 p.m.

You could also consider participating in a Day of Service at the Martin Luther King Elementary School in Providence, a collaboration with RISD (the Rhode Island School of Design) “to help children reach their full potential by engaging them in arts, crafts, special activities and conservation.” And here’s something that sounds like fun: a celebration of black storytelling, ribsfest.org.

The Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence will hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Sister Ann Keefe,  a longtime supporter of the Providence nonprofit, which follows in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr.

NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, will hold a memorial service and reception 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Woonsocket.

Finally, the Providence Children’s Museum will feature living history portrayals of civil-rights activists Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks and others by local actors.

Get all the details about these and other January 18 events here.

Photo: AP
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at the University of Rhode Island on Oct. 5, 1966.

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Gotta love MIT. There is always something crazy going on over there. And when MIT and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) ideas come together, watch out.

At WBUR radio, Fred Thys explains about a new, multidiscipline design program.

Matt “Kressy has put MIT’s first-ever integrated design and management (IDM) students in a kind of boot camp. He wanted to immerse the engineers, designers and business school students in a project where they would have to work in concert. …

“The task: build instruments from found materials. And boy did the students find materials. Mechanical engineer Maria Tafur, from Bogota, made a clarinet from a carrot. Engineer Tammy Shen, from Taipei, has made an instrument that includes glass bottles. …

“Kressy was teaching a course at the Rhode Island School of Design when he got the idea for the new IDM master’s program. He was also teaching engineers and business students at MIT — but it was the design students from RISD that caught Kressy’s attention by asking a critical question:

‘How does this product enhance our lives?’ …

“Kressy says it took 13 years for his idea for a design program to get traction at MIT. When it did, he was able to pick 18 students with completely different criteria from what MIT typically uses.

“ ‘And that rubric had crazy metrics, such as the metric love,’ Kressy says. ‘And the love metric was basically: Does this candidate have a large capacity for love and compassion? …

“ ‘When I showed the rubric to my colleagues here, let’s just say it got mixed responses,’ he says, laughing.”

To get at the love-and-compassion metric, he asked applicants to submit a portfolio indicating their efforts to make the world a better place.

You can read here about the impressive portfolios, struggles to get to MIT from poor countries, and inventive ideas for the future.”

Photo: Jesse Costa/WBUR
MIT integrated design graduate students Maria Tafur and Masakazu Nagata play their homemade instruments along with Brave Sharab, 7, on Main Street in Cambridge.

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