Zócalo Public SquareZócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org Ideas Journalism With a Head and a Heart Thu, 29 Jun 2017 07:01:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 Zócalo Public Square Managing Editor Reed Johnsonhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/29/zocalo-public-square-managing-editor-reed-johnson/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/29/zocalo-public-square-managing-editor-reed-johnson/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 07:01:30 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86504 Reed Johnson is the managing editor of Zócalo Public Square. He previously was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Brazil, a Los Angeles Times reporter in Mexico City, and also worked at the L.A. Daily News, The Detroit News and at the (now defunct) Times-Union in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Before moderating the panel at a Zocalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled, “What Does Blue Mean?” he talked in the green room about food, Brazil, and his Marlon Brando impression.

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Reed Johnson is the managing editor of Zócalo Public Square. He previously was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Brazil, a Los Angeles Times reporter in Mexico City, and also worked at the L.A. Daily News, The Detroit News and at the (now defunct) Times-Union in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Before moderating the panel at a Zocalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled, “What Does Blue Mean?” he talked in the green room about food, Brazil, and his Marlon Brando impression.

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How Charleston Celebrated Its Last July 4 Before the Civil Warhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/29/charleston-celebrated-last-july-4-civil-war/chronicles/who-we-were/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/29/charleston-celebrated-last-july-4-civil-war/chronicles/who-we-were/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 07:01:15 +0000 By Paul Starobin http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86510

In the cooling evening air, Charleston, South Carolina’s notable citizens filed into Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street for the traditional banquet to close their July 4th festivities. The year was 1860, and the host, as always, was the ’76 Association, a society formed by elite Charlestonians in 1810 to pay homage to the Declaration of Independence.

The guest of honor was one of the city’s most beloved figures, William Porcher Miles, Charleston’s representative in the U.S. Congress in Washington. A former professor of mathematics at the College of Charleston, Miles had won his city’s heart with his heroic efforts as a volunteer nurse to combat an epidemic of yellow fever on the coast of Virginia. He was not a planter, and not even a slaveholder, but he believed in the Constitution and in the slave master’s rights sealed by that compact—and he had come to believe that America was best

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What It Means to Be American

In the cooling evening air, Charleston, South Carolina’s notable citizens filed into Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street for the traditional banquet to close their July 4th festivities. The year was 1860, and the host, as always, was the ’76 Association, a society formed by elite Charlestonians in 1810 to pay homage to the Declaration of Independence.

The guest of honor was one of the city’s most beloved figures, William Porcher Miles, Charleston’s representative in the U.S. Congress in Washington. A former professor of mathematics at the College of Charleston, Miles had won his city’s heart with his heroic efforts as a volunteer nurse to combat an epidemic of yellow fever on the coast of Virginia. He was not a planter, and not even a slaveholder, but he believed in the Constitution and in the slave master’s rights sealed by that compact—and he had come to believe that America was best split into two.

Miles wasn’t happy when, amid the clinking of glasses, a poem approved by the ’76 Association was read out loud in the hall:

The day, when dissevered from Union we be,
In darkness will break, o’er the land and the sea;
The Genius of Liberty, mantled with gloom,
Will despairingly weep o’er America’s doom …

It was just a poem, mere words, sounded with a muted note of elegy. But there was no such thing as “mere words” in the blistering heat of this Charleston summer, with war about to erupt. Words, in 1860, were weapons. And these particular words struck a blow at an equation that secessionists like Miles had labored to forge between their cause and the broader American cause of freedom. This verse presented a quite different idea—the notion, heretical to the secessionist, that the sacred principle of liberty was bound up with Union, with the bonds linking together all of the states, and all of the people of the nation, from Maine to Texas.

So it went for Charleston in this year, beset with a complicated, even excruciating welter of emotions on the question of secession. As determined as so many in Charleston were to defend their way of life, based on slavery, under sharp challenge from the North, still there was room for nostalgic feeling for the Union and for the ideals set forth in the Declaration.

Independence Day in Charleston had begun as customary, with a blast of cannon fire from the Citadel Green at three o’clock in the morning. Roused from their slumber, Charlestonians made ready for a day of parades by militia units in colorful uniform. In the 102-degree heat, the men of the German Artillery, sweltering in their brass-mounted helmets, could only be pitied.

Surely, the town’s secessionists thought, it would be a fine occasion to trumpet their ripening movement. They would celebrate Independence indeed—the coming liberation of the South from the clutches of the nefarious Union. As odd, even bizarre, as this might seem today, Charleston’s secessionists sincerely felt they were acting in a hallowed American tradition. They saw themselves as rebels against tyranny, just like their forefathers who had defeated the British to win America’s freedom some 80 years before. In this instance, the oppressor was the Yankee Abolitionist in league with the devious Washington politician, together plotting to snatch from the South the constitutional right of an American, any American, to hold property in slaves.

As determined as so many in Charleston were to defend their way of life, based on slavery, under sharp challenge from the North, still there was room for nostalgic feeling for the Union and for the ideals set forth in the Declaration.

By the summer of 1860, these self-styled revolutionaries seemed to be winning their improbable campaign. Back in the spring, at the Democratic National Convention, held in Charleston that year, Charlestonians packed the galleries and cheered wildly when radical Southern Democrats walked out of Institute Hall in protest over the refusal of Northern Democrats to agree to a party plank giving the slaveholder an unimpeded right to operate in western territories like Kansas and Nebraska. The rebel delegates proceeded to establish their own separate “Seceding Convention,” as The Charleston Mercury called this rump group. In its comment hailing the uprising, The Mercury, a daily bugle call for secession, declared that, “The events of yesterday will probably be the most important which have taken place since the Revolution of 1776. The last party, pretending to be a National party, has broken up; and the antagonism of the two sections of the Union has nothing to arrest its fierce collisions.” A Northern reporter strolling the moonlit streets wrote of the occasion that “there was a Fourth of July feeling in Charleston last night—a jubilee … In all her history, Charleston had never enjoyed herself so hugely.”

In this electric atmosphere, public expressions in favor of the Union could scarcely, and maybe not safely, be heard. An abolitionist in Charleston risked being tarred and feathered. Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, America’s largest paper by circulation and a standard-bearer for abolition, was banned in the city.

It was all the more remarkable, then, that the poem confessing to despair over the Union’s impending collapse was read for all to hear at the banquet at Hibernian Hall on July 4. Rep. Miles could hardly let a handwringing cry for Union stand unchallenged. He held his tongue at the banquet, but five nights later, at a political meeting of town folk held at the Charleston Theatre, up the street from Hibernian Hall, he gave his constituents a tongue lashing. “I am sick at heart of the endless talk and bluster of the South. If we are in earnest, let us act,” he declared. “The question is with you. It is for you to decide—you, the descendants of the men of ’76.”

His words, and many more like them, would win the summer of 1860 for his camp. Charleston’s passion was for rebellion—and the banquet poem turned out to be a last spasm of sentiment for the Union. Repulsed by such feelings, the Charleston merchant Robert Newman Gourdin, a close friend of Miles, organized rich Charlestonians into a Society of Earnest Men for the purpose of promoting and financing the secession cause. When an Atlanta newspaper mocked Charleston’s insurgents as all talk, no action, a member of the group responded in The Mercury that the Earnest Men would “spot the traitors to the South, who may require some hemp ere long.” True to their identification of their undertaking with the American Revolution, the secessionists also formed a new crop of militia units known as Minute Men, after the bands that gathered renown in colonial Massachusetts for taking on the British redcoats. Recruits swore an oath, adapted from the last line of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, to “solemnly pledge, OUR LIVES, OUR FORTUNES, and our sacred HONOR, to sustain Southern Constitutional equality in the Union, or failing that, to establish our independence out of it.”

In November, with the election to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the antislavery Republican Party, Charleston went all in for secession. Federal officeholders in the city, including the federal district court judge, resigned their positions, spurring The Mercury to proclaim that “the tea has been thrown overboard—the revolution of 1860 has been initiated.”

Charleston’s “patriotic” uprising ended in ruin—ruin for the dream of secession; ruin for the owner of human chattel, with the Constitution amended to abolish slavery; ruin for the city itself, large parts of which were destroyed by federal shells during the Civil War. The triumph, won by blood, was for the idea expressed ever so faintly by the men of ‘76 at Charleston’s July 4th celebration of 1860, and made definitive by the war—the idea that liberty, and American-ness, too, were inextricably and forever tied to union.

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Oregon State University Scientist Mas Subramanianhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/28/oregon-state-university-scientist-mas-subramanian/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/28/oregon-state-university-scientist-mas-subramanian/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Wed, 28 Jun 2017 07:01:02 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86488 Mas Subramanian is a solid state materials scientist at Oregon State University. He has 56 patents and is best known for his accidental discovery of a new shade of blue, “YInMn blue,” during work to create compounds that might improve the memory of computers. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled, “What Does Blue Mean?” he talked in the green room about plants, food, and the biography of Linus Pauling.

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Mas Subramanian is a solid state materials scientist at Oregon State University. He has 56 patents and is best known for his accidental discovery of a new shade of blue, “YInMn blue,” during work to create compounds that might improve the memory of computers. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled, “What Does Blue Mean?” he talked in the green room about plants, food, and the biography of Linus Pauling.

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Original Saturday Night Live Cast Member Garrett Morrishttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/27/original-saturday-night-live-cast-member-garrett-morris/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/27/original-saturday-night-live-cast-member-garrett-morris/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 07:01:03 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86481 Garrett Morris, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, is an extraordinarily versatile artist, having worked as a comedian, actor, playwright, musician, and arranger. He’s also an entrepreneur, having founded Garrett Morris’ Downtown Blues & Comedy Club. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled, “What Does Blue Mean?” he talked in the green room about Chico Escuela, food, and playwriting.

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Garrett Morris, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, is an extraordinarily versatile artist, having worked as a comedian, actor, playwright, musician, and arranger. He’s also an entrepreneur, having founded Garrett Morris’ Downtown Blues & Comedy Club. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled, “What Does Blue Mean?” he talked in the green room about Chico Escuela, food, and playwriting.

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Can Engaging with Art Turn a Bunch of Selfie-Takers into Citizens?http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/26/can-engaging-art-turn-bunch-selfie-takers-citizens/events/the-takeaway/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/26/can-engaging-art-turn-bunch-selfie-takers-citizens/events/the-takeaway/#respond Mon, 26 Jun 2017 10:00:31 +0000 By Joe Mathews and Reed Johnson http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86448 If the essence of art is necessarily elusive and hard to define, so too is the essence of arts engagement. As audiences grow more diverse and demanding, and new digital technologies allow anyone to become a content creator with the click of a button, arts engagement now embraces a wide array of strategies, methods and goals.

On June 25 in downtown Los Angeles, more than 200 artists, producers, presenters, grant-makers, museum directors, curators, librarians, cultural administrators, government officials, members of philanthropic entities and journalists came together to consider “What Can the World Teach California About Arts Engagement?” The Zócalo Public Square conference attracted panelists and attendees from across California, the United States and other corners of the planet.

The gathering at the Omni Hotel began with welcoming remarks from Michael Alexander, executive director emeritus of Los Angeles’s Grand Performances series of free outdoor cultural events, followed by a live performance

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If the essence of art is necessarily elusive and hard to define, so too is the essence of arts engagement. As audiences grow more diverse and demanding, and new digital technologies allow anyone to become a content creator with the click of a button, arts engagement now embraces a wide array of strategies, methods and goals.

On June 25 in downtown Los Angeles, more than 200 artists, producers, presenters, grant-makers, museum directors, curators, librarians, cultural administrators, government officials, members of philanthropic entities and journalists came together to consider “What Can the World Teach California About Arts Engagement?” The Zócalo Public Square conference attracted panelists and attendees from across California, the United States and other corners of the planet.

The gathering at the Omni Hotel began with welcoming remarks from Michael Alexander, executive director emeritus of Los Angeles’s Grand Performances series of free outdoor cultural events, followed by a live performance by The Industry, the Los Angeles-based, independent, artist-driven experimental opera company led by artistic director Yuval Sharon.

To frame the day’s conversation, Sharon cited Bertolt Brecht’s adage that “a theater which makes no contact with the public is a nonsense.” Engagement is key to making art that is “responsive to our communities” and “to the times we’re living in,” and that enables us to address our hopes and fears, he concluded.

But how do artists tap into those communities? And does the public even know what it wants from the arts?

Chris Jones, chief theater critic of the Chicago Tribune, took up that question in the day’s first panel discussion. Jones flipped the question on its head, pointing out that some artists feel no obligation whatsoever to please their audiences, convinced that instead their main duty is to please themselves.

In response, panelist Randi Korn, who leads a Virginia-based museum planning firm, and has conducted extensive research on museum audiences, suggested that the real challenge for culture producers is how to create the memorable and meaningful experiences that arise “from people being surprised by what they see.”

“It’s not about meeting people’s expectations,” Korn said. “It’s about exceeding them.”

Another panelist, Cristina King Miranda, a Mexico City-based performing arts curator, suggested that being part of an audience requires its members to connect with each other, and not shy from the debate, conflict and even pain that great art sometimes provokes. “We need to become cartographers of our own experiences in our communities,” she said.

Leslie A. Ito, president of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, said that culture producers should be asking themselves how to create the kind of cultural spaces that encourage the fullest participation. She said that her center is presenting more non-Japanese artists in order to connect with the rest of Greater Los Angeles, but also was careful “to ground them in Japanese culture.” For a recent series on world dance music, for example, “we brought artists in for orientation that started with a tea ceremony—so they understand the space and the history of the place in which they are performing,” Ito said.

The conversation also took up the issue of how digital “sharing” and social media have conditioned audiences to seek out cultural events that make cool Facebook posts and generate dozens of Instagram “likes.” Korn warned against “superficial” arts experiences that rely on ginning up Snapchat and Twitter traffic. To make an impact, she said, you “want to be about deepening experience,” as opposed to broadening the arts experience.

Yet the panel concurred that arts and cultural organizations can engage wider audiences, and new audience segments, without pandering to them. Ito cited one New York Historical Society exhibition about taxi drivers that extended its hours from 2 to 6 a.m. to accommodate cabbies working the graveyard shift.

When Jones pressed about how the arts might survive if arts organizations offer collections that are a whole lot of “non-interactive stuff,” panelists said the ability to be in the presence of great stuff (otherwise known as art) still reliably draws audiences and keeps them coming back. “It’s about the intimacy of being with stuff,” said Ito, who recalled visiting a theater in Kyoto, Japan with a very small performance space, no bigger than a table, and the impact of experiencing art in such close, personal quarters.

Jones also pressed the panel on whether the arts must present ways of talking and interacting with people with whom we sharply disagree—particularly in stressed-out, polarized eras like the present. King Miranda responded by making a distinction between “normalization” and “democratization.” She noted that in Mexico, where the state “has failed us” in protecting “security, peace, and justice,” the arts represent a form of resistance.

“The arts remind us of our otherness and our normalness,” King Miranda said.

The morning panel’s exchange set the stage for Steven J. Tepper to deliver the lunchtime keynote address, entitled “Does Arts Engagement Even Matter?” Tepper, the Dean of Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design & the Arts, structured his talk around a transitional process that he described as moving from “Me Experiences” to “Bigger-Than-Me Experiences.”

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Americans generated much of their own art by themselves and at home, through playing parlor piano, reciting Shakespeare around the dinner table, and other exercises in Emersonian self-reliance. All that changed with the introduction of radio, sound recordings, movie theaters, and other forms of industrially produced mass entertainment. The audience’s role increasingly was reduced to coming to a large venue, sitting in a darkened room, then applauding on cue.

“We saw the rise of cathedrals of consumption,” Tepper said. “It distinctly removed arts and culture from our everyday lives and put it in other places.”

That paradigm persisted through the decades following World War II. But a Wallace Foundation study later recorded a sharp drop in participation in benchmark arts events, setting off some hand-wringing and soul-searching among the cultural cognoscenti.

What was missing in this analysis, Tepper said, was that new forms of engagement were emerging to replace the old ones, leading to a “renaissance” of engagement, in cultural as well as civil life. That ongoing renaissance has been powered by what sociologist C. Wright Mills called “the exuberant expression of self,” which Tepper reframed as the culture of the “I Want What I Want When and How I Want It” generation.

Tepper said he’d taken his daughter to a Taylor Swift concert at which costumed fans posed in front of Taylor Swift-branded props that had been set up to give fangirls a place to snap selfies. Meanwhile, Tepper said, his son has been ordering personally customized Nike shoes.

They’re all symptoms of a phenomenon that Tepper calls the “Curatorial Me.” But if that sounds hopelessly self-absorbed, it also is the phenomenon behind the soaring numbers of people who are buying musical instruments, making their own music, uploading 6 billion hours of content each month onto YouTube, and teaching themselves other new creative pursuits.

Has the pendulum swung too far toward cultural self-expression and consumer autonomy? Studies suggest that this overstimulating our brains may limit capacity for empathy, our receptivity to others’ stories and others’ lives, Tepper said.

Tepper added that “Bigger-Than-Me Experiences” are about purpose more than pleasure, about transformation rather than merely “doing,” about identification rather than identity, and about the “empathetic imagination” rather than the “egoist imagination.” Millennials have shown that they value immersive experiences, diversity, loyalty and the “slow-down economy,” which can be glimpsed in the comeback of vinyl records, the resurgence of community darkrooms, and the popularity of mass group experiences like the Coachella music festival.

“Something about re-immersing ourselves in these shared experiences is extremely powerful for the millennials,” Tepper said.

Alexander then took the floor again to direct an informal exchange among conference attendees, who were encouraged to share their own ideas about arts engagement. One conferee, a library historian, said that museums and theaters could learn a valuable lesson from libraries. “The message that I can bring you from library history is … [if you] provide access and content” you’ll maintain your value, she said.

The discussion moved deeper into the political realm with the day’s third panel talk, “Does Art Really Make Us Better Citizens?” Lynne Conner, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte cultural historian, said that our experiences as members of arts audiences have the potential to teach us how to be better citizens—by learning how to be free thinkers. She added that arts participation can be a means of “rehearsing citizenship.”

Luz María Sánchez, arts and humanities chair of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana de México, Lerma, argued that arts serve society and citizenship in three ways. First, the arts are one of the best ways humans have to include people whose voices aren’t being heard.

Second, she noted that in arts work she had done in San Antonio, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, art could make people more aware of the places they live, and empower them to improve communities. And third, the arts can democratize knowledge. “It is a better way to make outside knowledge, that is being made in the university, and get it out in the proper way and socialize concepts around it,” she said.

Lyne Sneige, director of the Middle East Institute Arts & Culture Program, said that arts play huge roles in social transformations and in response to conflict. As illustrated by the Arab Spring, she said, “the arts have been the way in which younger generations have resisted in a non-violent way … and the way that they have really demanded that they be treated as citizens in a dignified and respectful way.”

The global arts consultant Gail Dexter Lord said that the arts constitute “a soft power” that influences people’s behavior as citizens through persuasion and agenda setting. Such persuasion can be good—she said that 19th-century novels fostered readers’ empathy and provided the foundation of the modern human rights movement. And she noted that cities around the world have become welcoming places where artists and newcomers can champion notions of citizenship that serve as a check on states that rely on the “hard power” of war and violence.

But, she added, people with ill intentions can also use the arts to try to persuade or set an agenda. “My theory is that art makes some people better citizens, and some people worse citizens,” she said.

So how are the arts and artists innovating to take up these myriad challenges to reach broader audiences? Moderator Seth Porges, a technology writer and television personality, led the day’s third panel in chewing over that question. For New Orleans-based visual artist Brandan “BMike” Odums, an answer has been doing stealth mural interventions in New Orleans public housing complexes that were abandoned in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. Odums said he didn’t view these buildings as “blank canvasses” for making art, but as spaces that had histories and told pre-existing stories, and where a shared “level of struggle” was required of those wanting to share in the experience.

“You had to physically get dirty with the space and consequently to ask questions about what could be in that space and what should be in that space,” Odums said.

Lydia Steier, a Connecticut-born opera director who has been living and working in Europe for the last 15 years, emphasized the importance of having a public funding stream for the arts, as is far more common in European countries than the United States. That financial security allows for greater freedom to experiment with content and form, and permits occasional failure. In the United States, she said, the reliance on private money creates an artistic environment that is generally more conservative.

“The reason people [in America] think [opera] is an uncool art for uncool people is because you need funders who tend to be old rich white ladies,” Steier explained. “You’re looking at extremely traditional productions, corsets, the big wigs.”

Rosa Ferré, exhibitions chief at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, stressed the importance of helping audiences to grasp the relevance and context of artistic expression.

“I think that going to new audiences you need to have risk, you have to have the possibility of failure,” she said, recounting how hard it had been to persuade her board to do an exhibition on Big Data.

In a concluding keynote, Boon Hui Tan, the Asia Society’s vice president for global arts programming, warned against blockbuster exhibitions and attempts to define arts as global.

In this era, the former director of the Singapore Art Museum said, “the purpose of the arts is to awaken a sense of empathy—towards other lives.” With so many social, political, and economic forces creating a situation in which lines are drawn, “the purpose of the arts now is to scratch that line.” Specifically, that requires the arts to help build people’s “ability to read ambiguity,” though that is challenging because “the way things are funded” can encourage simplification or “dumbing down” of art.

“We need, across all sectors of art, to teach people how to engage with complex and ambiguous ideas,” he said.

He championed a “comparative approach” in which a specific locality connects its arts with those of a geographically or historically distant place. He mentioned efforts from Indonesia to Holland to do that kind of comparative work.

Finally, he argued that children’s exhibitions can be particularly powerful in reaching people, and he argued for creating physical spaces for communities (he noted powerful examples from Japan to France) and physical links between neighboring arts institutions so that people find their ways between them.

That brought the day full circle to a point made by emcee Michael Alexander several hours earlier, paraphrasing an observation made by late UCLA musicologist Charles Seeger. “The question is not whether the art is good,” Alexander said. “It’s what the art is good for.”

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Art Historian Carol Mavorhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/26/art-historian-carol-mavor/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/26/art-historian-carol-mavor/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Mon, 26 Jun 2017 07:01:06 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86443 Carol Mavor is a writer, artist, art historian, and the author of five books. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled “What Does Blue Mean?,” she chatted in the green room about notebooks, artichokes, and her next life as a novelist.

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Carol Mavor is a writer, artist, art historian, and the author of five books. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled “What Does Blue Mean?,” she chatted in the green room about notebooks, artichokes, and her next life as a novelist.

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Seeing Art from a Local Perspective in Hyper-Global Hong Konghttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/23/seeing-art-local-perspective-hyper-global-hong-kong/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/23/seeing-art-local-perspective-hyper-global-hong-kong/ideas/nexus/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:00:44 +0000 Eve Tam — Interview by Lisa Margonelli http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86419 The Hong Kong Museum of Art, where I work, is 55 years old this year. Though we have changed a lot over the years, we still hold to a special “hybrid” vision that fits our city and dates to the museum’s founding on the top two floors of City Hall.

Since that time our location has changed to a separate building; Hong Kong stopped being a British colony and became part of the People’s Republic of China. The way we apply our vision at the museum has changed considerably from what we started with. And it has prepared us to think about how museums work as more and more of humanity learns how to live in between the real and the virtual, the local and the global, the present and the past.

Back in 1962, Hong Kong was a British colony and the first curator was a British man named

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The Hong Kong Museum of Art, where I work, is 55 years old this year. Though we have changed a lot over the years, we still hold to a special “hybrid” vision that fits our city and dates to the museum’s founding on the top two floors of City Hall.

Since that time our location has changed to a separate building; Hong Kong stopped being a British colony and became part of the People’s Republic of China. The way we apply our vision at the museum has changed considerably from what we started with. And it has prepared us to think about how museums work as more and more of humanity learns how to live in between the real and the virtual, the local and the global, the present and the past.

Back in 1962, Hong Kong was a British colony and the first curator was a British man named John Warner who put on an exhibit called “Hong Kong Art Today,” bringing together artists working in Chinese and Western media. This was the first time there had been a professional venue for art in Hong Kong. Before that artists showed in restaurants and artists working with Western media showed in churches or hotels that were not easily accessible to the public. So the show was a historic occasion, and a period of exchange, between two types of artists that did not usually show together and a public that did not usually get to see art. The museum continued to hold these shows and also granted awards to outstanding artists.

The museum was important then because we brought art works from overseas to show in Hong Kong, so that art lovers would have an opportunity to see them. At this time people didn’t travel the way they do now. Other museums soon opened in Hong Kong, so we stopped being the only one. Yet with the diverse collection that we built of Chinese antiquities, traditional Chinese paintings, and contemporary art, we saw ourselves as a convenient place to see art in all its plurality.

Admission to the museum has always been free, or very low-priced. From 1962 to 1990 we were free. In 1991 we moved to our new building in Tsim Sha Tsui and began charging $10HK, which is very low (about $1.25 in the U.S.). Since last August all government museums have been free again, although for blockbuster shows that we have to pay to bring here we do charge $20 to 30 HK.

Ever since the beginning, the core business of this museum has been free art education. We bring school children to the museum, which is important because Hong Kong doesn’t have art education at the grammar school level. Visual art is not considered pragmatic. So getting children to the museum is important because museum going has to start very early. If a child doesn’t go to a museum by the age of seven they’re unlikely go on their own when they’re older.

We are also here for general visitors to nurture an interest in art. In Hong Kong people do not think of museum-going as part of life. You really have to make an effort to go. There’s a different environment and context in Hong Kong than in some European countries where families often go to museums. I think that one reason is that some parents find it embarrassing when kids ask questions and they don’t know the answers. In the West, the parents often take children to art they don’t know and the family makes guesses together. In Hong Kong, parents are more reserved.

The other population we’re working with is the senior generation of retirees who are not educated in art but would like to be. Hong Kong’s population is aging and we will need to work with them in the coming years.

In the past we always talked about globalizing the museum. Did we meet global benchmarks, were we a global city? It used to be that we’d bring in exhibits from London, but traveling exhibits don’t make sense anymore. Hong Kong is obviously a very global city, and so people travel and whenever they go to London, for instance, they go to the British Museum. And there is a crushing sameness to global exhibits. I know that when I travel to see the art “biennials,” I’m always seeing the same thing and the same artists. When you get more globalized it’s harder to find anything different. And we have to stay different to be unique and sustainable.

Juxtaposing art and our viewers’ experiences is a way to help people reach new understandings in a changing world. Often our work is to bring people in and show them things they know in a new, comparative way. 

When people came to realize that they cannot do without “local,” they invented the word “glocal” to be global and local as the same time. Yet “global” still came first. Instead, I’ve started thinking about doing “lobal” programming—really trying to put the local sensibility first in looking at a globalized situation. This is my current vision of the museum.

This shift to the local mirrors Hong Kong’s history. From the 1990’s through the early 2000’s the museum reflected the city’s status of being very cosmopolitan. But in 1997, at the time of the handover, there was a growing sense among young people of the importance of their local identity. They were very concerned about preserving local landmarks and old buildings. But don’t get me wrong in thinking that when we say “Hong Kong,” we are romanticizing the rural or being nostalgic. However, we began to look more at our own culture and nurture our own artists.

Hong Kong is so internationally-oriented that, by telling local stories in our programming, we inevitably end up telling the story of the world. Our collections, which draw from both the Chinese and the Western cultural tradition also fit Hong Kong’s history, style, and language.

So whether we’re bringing exhibits from mainland China or from Paris and London, we present them with a Hong Kong twist. We don’t use the canned exhibits; we feel we need to go deeper to make it particular to Hong Kong.

For example, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Return of Hong Kong to China, we’re showing an exhibit that comes from the Palace Museum in Beijing. It’s a collection of artwork and relics from the Yangxindian (the Hall of Mental Cultivation) —the working and living space of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. Here, we’ve rebuilt the way visitors experience the exhibit. Before entering you’ll feel like you’re entering a palace. Instead of putting the objects in showcases, we put them in “real” settings as they used to be in the palace. We also created an immersive visual experience for visitors to appreciate not only the artifacts but to replicate the experience of a palace visit.

In all, it is not object-oriented, but a total viewing experience which starts even before you enter into the gallery. We’ve installed a grand staircase at the entrance of the museum as well as a courtyard leading up to the gallery. Above all, we promote the Hall as a “home-office” of the emperor, a concept that is more accessible to contemporary audiences, connecting historical narratives to modern terminology. Of course we also created an area where people can take photos of themselves in the hall to let them see themselves a part of history. Our approach was so different from the Palace Museum’s that they sent a film crew to document what we did and how we did it.

But we do the same thing with Western art. A few years ago there was a traveling exhibition of Andy Warhol. We decided to highlight his visit to Hong Kong in the 1980s. We placed his work “Silver Clouds”—a set of large pillow-shaped silver balloons—right at the entrance of the gallery. Going under the balloons to the exhibition area prepared visitors for an imaginative journey. They were venturing into the creative mind of the artist, and leaving the real world behind.

Right now, the museum is closed—we’ve been renovating for the past three years, and so we’ve used that time to go into the community. We’ve really focused on children and have developed different art appreciation programs that include a mobile museum that visits schools. And we’ve made a set of videos about local Hong Kong artists working in a wide range of media, including painting, conceptual art, ceramics, photography, seal-carving, etc. Hong Kong’s schools lack local teaching materials: Most have been developed in the West and though they include Van Gogh, they leave out local artists. Our hope is that Hong Kong children will enter into the art world through the visions of Hong Kong artists.

Understanding art, particularly in Hong Kong, where citizens must work with people and institutions all over the world, means creating new knowledge and new meanings. Juxtaposing art and our viewers’ experiences is a way to help people reach new understandings in a changing world. Often our work is to bring people in and show them things they know in a new, comparative way.

This style of experiencing art reminds me of Charles Darwin. Everyone saw layers of fossils but they never thought of how to make sense of them in a holistic and comparative way. And then Darwin came and he told a story of evolution that made sense of the layers of fossils. Conventionally, museum collections are classified in way that compartmentalizes knowledge in disconnected ways. Like Darwin, we’d like to consider things that others would not; we’d like to look at ideas less for how they “fit” but to see where they lead.

Hong Kong is strategically positioned. Living between China and the West, between the very old and the very new, it’s in the Hong Kong blood to be hybrid in the sense that we are used to playing around with culturally paradoxical concepts. So it’s natural for us to see in a comparative way. It’s the Hong Kong method!

This essay was transcribed from an interview.

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Writer, Photographer, and Fashion Historian Catherine E. McKinleyhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/23/writer-photographer-fashion-historian-catherine-e-mckinley/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/23/writer-photographer-fashion-historian-catherine-e-mckinley/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 07:01:39 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86395 Catherine E. McKinley is a former Fulbright Scholar in Ghana and the author of Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World, among other books. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled “What Does Blue Mean?” she chatted in the green room about parrots, buckets, and her great-grandfather.

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Catherine E. McKinley is a former Fulbright Scholar in Ghana and the author of Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World, among other books. Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event titled “What Does Blue Mean?” she chatted in the green room about parrots, buckets, and her great-grandfather.

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70005http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/23/70005/chronicles/poetry/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/23/70005/chronicles/poetry/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 07:01:37 +0000 By Lucy Biederman http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86391 He lived in a city that doesn’t exist. Substantive trash—tractor tires, the skeleton of a yesteryear truck—was planted in the frontyards, and he liked it. The sci-fi-green plastic cups that came free with the copyrighted 1,000-calorie alcoholic drink enjoyed by visiting conference-goers and bachelor party attendees traced arcs on pavement 20 miles from place of sale. A subtle bar buzzed at the end of every street, unclear to even its owners whether it was closed or open. There, men hunched over beers—empty now, now full—like great mountains borne above tributaries. They had seen it done so on TV. Women, too. Screaming into each other’s concert-worn ears, or smoking like the occupation it used to be.

He rolled down boulevards of shotgun houses. Inside, America was throbbing, dinner on the table, back from war, hanging the laundry from the line, momma he proposed, out with the boys, turn on the teevee,

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He lived in a city that doesn’t exist. Substantive trash—tractor tires, the skeleton of a yesteryear truck—was planted in the frontyards, and he liked it. The sci-fi-green plastic cups that came free with the copyrighted 1,000-calorie alcoholic drink enjoyed by visiting conference-goers and bachelor party attendees traced arcs on pavement 20 miles from place of sale. A subtle bar buzzed at the end of every street, unclear to even its owners whether it was closed or open. There, men hunched over beers—empty now, now full—like great mountains borne above tributaries. They had seen it done so on TV. Women, too. Screaming into each other’s concert-worn ears, or smoking like the occupation it used to be.

He rolled down boulevards of shotgun houses. Inside, America was throbbing, dinner on the table, back from war, hanging the laundry from the line, momma he proposed, out with the boys, turn on the teevee, I just don’t know we can afford this, darlin get me a beer, will someone answer the phone, tough day at work, not in this house, Honey Just Allow Me Once More Chance, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now).

Nights when the sky was only pretending to sleep, its blurry backlit purple as bright in its way as a baby blue day, he parked and walked through the miniature streets. Overgrown greenery formed a constant canopy above him. The asphalt was spongy underneath his step. He could rip it if he wanted to and journey to the center of the earth. Everything was wet and changeable. Please, Please, Don’t Make Me Stop Now.

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California Can Reconceive the Arts by Offering More Choices and Ways to Participatehttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/22/california-can-reconceive-arts-offering-choices-ways-participate/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/06/22/california-can-reconceive-arts-offering-choices-ways-participate/ideas/nexus/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 00:00:30 +0000 By Jennifer Novak-Leonard http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=86406 California is undergoing massive changes in technology, demography, the nature of work and, thus, in leisure activity. So is its cultural sector, with consequences for how Californians experience art and for how California organizations and artists deliver the arts and engage their audiences.

Over the last three decades, the term “arts participation” has essentially been understood as arts attendance within the non-profit arts field. The field’s key indicator of arts participation over this time has been attendance at any of the seven “benchmark” arts events: performances of ballet, musical and nonmusical theater, jazz, classical music, opera, and visiting an art museum—at least once a year as measured by the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.

But in this century, rates of attendance at benchmark arts events in California have steadily declined. Even attendance at a wider range of arts events, extending beyond the

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California is undergoing massive changes in technology, demography, the nature of work and, thus, in leisure activity. So is its cultural sector, with consequences for how Californians experience art and for how California organizations and artists deliver the arts and engage their audiences.

Over the last three decades, the term “arts participation” has essentially been understood as arts attendance within the non-profit arts field. The field’s key indicator of arts participation over this time has been attendance at any of the seven “benchmark” arts events: performances of ballet, musical and nonmusical theater, jazz, classical music, opera, and visiting an art museum—at least once a year as measured by the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.

But in this century, rates of attendance at benchmark arts events in California have steadily declined. Even attendance at a wider range of arts events, extending beyond the benchmark arts, fell 10 percentage points between 2002 and 2012 in California.

Equally worrying, “benchmark” arts audiences do not resemble the population of the state; they are drawn disproportionately from those with higher incomes. In 2012 in California, 49 percent of arts attendees had household incomes of $75,000 or more—eight percentage points higher than the 41 percent of total California households earning that much. Arts attendees in California also had higher education levels; in 2012, 41 percent of them had at least a college degree, compared to 31 percent of the state’s population as a whole. Despite the fact that Hispanics have surpassed non-Hispanic whites as the largest portion of the state’s population, adult arts audiences remain 55 percent non-Hispanic white, even though this group comprises only 43 percent of the state’s total adult population. (These statistics draw from the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts and more about them is available here.)

Despite such statistics, there is considerable evidence of deep interest in the arts among California’s highly diverse population. What does a more complete picture look like?

Two years ago, I led an effort, supported by The James Irvine Foundation, that used a more inclusive lens for looking at the landscape of artistic and cultural expression and experience in California. What we saw was profound, and involves the very meaning of arts and culture, and thus raises all kinds of questions about the future of the arts, of participation, and of the state itself. Detailed findings are available in two reports, A Closer Look at Arts Engagement in California and The Cultural Lives of Californians; here I highlight some key findings.

Arts participation today isn’t only about sitting in a concert hall or pondering a painting in a museum. Bikers light up a night ride in Santa Cruz in 2015. Photo courtesy of Richard Masoner/Flickr.

Arts participation today isn’t only about sitting in a concert hall or pondering a painting in a museum. Bikers light up a night ride in Santa Cruz in 2015. Photo courtesy of Richard Masoner/Flickr.

Across many different cultural contexts, two themes often appeared: choice and control.

For example, using the NEA’s 2012 survey we found that the most popular venue for California adults to attend arts was in a park or open-air facility. Approximately one in four California adults attended an art museum, craft fair or visual arts festival, historic park or monument, or outdoor performing arts festival.

These are all types of cultural events that tend to offer people control and choice over their own experience. They allow each person to handpick what to see and do, and afford degrees of flexibility as to when to arrive and depart, or whether or not to engage in different aspects of the event. Events that were less well-attended, according to the survey, were ones that tended to offer less control; they were activities that usually had precise starting and ending times, and that adhered to a set program.

Geography also influenced choice. Even after accounting for socioeconomic and demographic differences among regions, we found that adults living in the state’s large urban areas were more likely to attend arts events in general. These regions also tend to have the highest densities of non-profit arts organizations, suggesting that issues of access also may be affecting rates of participation. Attendance rates are significantly higher for California adults living in the state’s urban regions, compared to those living outside of those areas, specifically for visiting art museums, touring historic parks or monuments, and attending musical plays, classical music, and jazz performances. Urbanites also were more likely to create visual arts (although those living outside of these areas are more likely to make textile-based art, such as weaving, crocheting, quilting, needlepoint, knitting, or sewing).

There were other disparities in arts participation: Whites reported participating in art at the highest rates. But we found that educational attainment, age, income, immigrant status, and living in metropolitan areas are more important factors in determining arts participation than race or ethnicity. Indeed, the differences in participation among racial and ethnic groups could be largely explained by differences in education, household income, and an individual’s immigrant identity.

Most strikingly, one’s level of education was the strongest explanatory factor for differences in rates across all arts participation measures. Having at least a college degree was the single strongest predictor of whether one participates in the arts.

Can the digital revolution, a shift led by many California companies and institutions, change this? Trying to answer that question led to more questions.

We found that the most common form of arts participation among California adults, as measured in the NEA’s 2012 survey, was consuming arts through electronic media, including television, radio, computers, or handheld or mobile devices. Seventy-seven percent of adults accessed arts electronically. Back then, the rate of consuming arts was almost 1.5 times the rate at which California adults attend live arts events (53 percent) or make art (54 percent).

The distinctions between artistic genres are blending and blurring over time. Art creators do not necessarily assign themselves to a genre or even a precise artistic form, and classifications are seemingly less relevant for audiences as other dimensions of arts experiences … come to the fore.

But five years ago is a long time. And the ways in which we describe and understand digital technologies as new means of consuming, interacting with, and creating art are evolving as technology changes. The ability to choose when and how to participate is central to the digital word. And that choice is in turn changing the definition of cultural participation, while enabling new forms of art. Platforms such as online gaming, crowdsourced art, writing and posting fan fiction, and sharing YouTube content (either self-created or otherwise) are forms of online cultural and arts participation.

And digital is only one force changing the meaning of arts participation. As attendance at benchmark events declines, arts participation through the making of art and creative expression is palpable. In 2012, 54 percent of California adults engaged in art making. The most commonly reported art making activity in California was social dancing (African Americans had the highest participation rates in social dance compared to any other activity measured in the NEA’s 2012 survey).

The range of artistic activities and forms of creative and cultural expression that are meaningful to Californians – and to people across the U.S. – demands that the term “arts participation” become more elastic. We must consider the many ways that people engage with art and artistic forms. For example, there are a large number and variety of folk arts in which people take part, though they have not traditionally been captured in arts participation studies. These activities often are passed along through family heritage. For example, an important part of traditional Hmong cultural activity, among Southeast Asian immigrants in the San Joaquin Valley, is a private home ceremony that involves playing the qeej, a bamboo mouth organ. (More about widening the aperture for what is considered arts participation is available here).

Not long ago, I conducted a study with Chinese and Chinese Americans in Chicago’s Chinatown who had reported low levels of arts participation in standard surveys. But in interviews for the study, they revealed their participation in a great variety of artistic and creative activities. For example, an interviewee shared that he had attended an exhibition of Chinese calligraphy at a library, but that he was not sure whether that could be counted and reported when he was asked a survey question about whether he had visited an art museum or gallery.

The gap between survey responses and the reality of our interviewee’s activities highlights the need for terms and research tools that better reflect what is happening in today’s society. The distinctions between artistic genres are blending and blurring over time. Art creators do not necessarily assign themselves to a genre or even a precise artistic form, and classifications are seemingly less relevant for audiences as other dimensions of arts experiences—particularly having more control and flexibility over arts activities and experiences—come to the fore.

This shift in the meaning and measurement of arts and culture is of course not just an issue for California. A UNESCO report in 2012 found:

“We are currently observing big changes and the rise of new cultural paradigms and behavior, armed with a set of research tools elaborated in the last century and adapted to analyze social life through a well-defined taxonomy that is every year less adequate for helping our understanding.”

Californians and California organizations could lead a fundamental reconceptualization of culture—in its forms, modes of interaction, sites of engagement, actors, and the roles it plays in community matters across California. This is a critical moment for posing new and fundamental questions that have the potential to shift traditional paradigms. We need to ask ourselves: What are the many artistic, creative and aesthetic forms that people engage in? And how can we describe and understand the multiple dimensions and variations in the experiences, settings, contexts, motivations, and benefits of individual engagement in this broad domain of activity that we used to call “the arts?”

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