Eugene O’Neill’s Grant Writer Walks Into A Bar….

Posted by Bill O'Brien On December - 7 - 2012

Bill O’Brien

…and spots the dramatist hunched over in a corner booth, scribbling in his notebook. He walks over to the playwright, drops the first draft of Long Day’s Journey Into Night on the table and says, “That’s great, Eugene—but how am I supposed to prove economic growth or improved health and well-being with this?”

Obviously, this never happened. But if it did, it would be a great example of the conundrum we sometimes find ourselves in when we try to “scale up” societal benefits via the power of the arts. Identifying positive outcomes we’d like to pursue on policy levels at 20,000 feet can sometimes feel far removed from the missions being pursued by artists on the ground.

Trying to harness the power of the arts to provide broad public benefit in a strategized way is a good idea. The idea that our greatest American playwright should bend his art-making towards these aims is not. So if we’re trying to organize a way to share specific impacts of the arts so more people can benefit, how should we proceed?

In an art-science post called “The Imagine Engine!” on the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Art Works blog this spring, I stated that it may be possible for artists and scientists to “borrow freely from each other’s methods and practices and share insights with each other that they might be unable to find on their own.” This fall, through a program we’ve established via a partnership with the Department of Defense, we’re beginning to see evidence suggesting this hypothesis may be true. Read the rest of this entry »

In This Body – Dreaming Awake

Posted by John R. Killacky On November - 9 - 2012

John R. Killacky in “Dreaming Awake” (Photo by Laurie Toby Edison)

Sixteen years ago, I had surgery to remove a tumor from inside my spinal cord. Although the tumor was benign, the surgery paralyzed me from the neck down. I spent six weeks in a hospital and months learning to walk again.

I called upon my artist-self during those darkest hours. My fingers were the first part of my body to experience any functional return. While others at the rehab hospital were wheeled off to occupational therapy, I asked to go to the computer lab to tap out sentences with the one finger up to the task.

I felt an overwhelming urge to put on paper the thoughts crowding my brain, make some sense of the experience, and reassert authority over my body. Some of this writing was later featured in the Lambda Award-winning anthology I co-edited entitled “Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories.”

As the weeks progressed, standard physical rehab provided little success. I realized when being transferred from bed to wheelchair my body could hold itself up (although briefly and with assistance). While the kinesthetic connections were lost, I thought I might be able to learn to stand up visually. So I asked to work in front of the mirrors. Therapists were skeptical and reminded me everything is backward in a mirror. “Yes,” I countered, “but as a young man I was a dancer and learned to dance with mirrors”

It took some days with leg braces and a walker, but eventually I stood in front of that mirror. What I could not do kinesthetically, I accomplished visually. Over the next weeks, I began to walk between two parallel bars in front of the mirror. Tentative steps grew ever more confident. The dancer in me taught my mis-circuited body to walk again. Sixteen years later, I continue dancing through life, albeit slowly and with the assistance of a cane. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Core Architect Adds to Blog Salon Discussion

Posted by David Coleman On September - 17 - 2012

David Coleman

David Coleman, an architect of the Common Core State Standards and incoming president of The College Board, sent the following to Kristen Engebretsen in reaction to last week’s arts education blog salon on the common core:

I am so glad that the arts community has gotten the message that the arts have a central and essential role in achieving the finest aspects of the common core. So many of the blog posts are so thoughtful and imaginative about the possibilities. They were a delight to read.

Let me review a few critical points that many have already grasped:

1. Knowledge. Building knowledge through reading, writing, listening, and speaking is essential to literacy. As has been noted, the standards say explicitly that knowledge includes coherent knowledge about science, history, and the arts. So I hope the arts community is investing in finding remarkable high quality source material to learn about the arts. Remember that source texts should meet the text complexity requirements of the standards at each grade level and the selection of texts should be designed to build coherent knowledge within grades and across grades. There should be an influx of wonderful source materials to explore the arts. And now they can be shared across states and classrooms.

2. Observation. The arts have a great advantage in that they place a priority on the careful observation that reading requires. No one looks at a great work of art once; likewise, any great piece of writing deserves careful consideration and reconsideration. The arts can train students to look and look again; to listen and listen until one really hears. CS Lewis, himself a gifted author and reader of literature, writes this about looking at a painting or reading a book carefully: “We must look, and go on looking, until we have seen exactly what is there…the first demand any work of art makes on us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.” Henry James says the finest writer and reader is one “on whom nothing is lost.”

3. Evidence and Choices. A key idea of the standards is to base analysis of works of art and of writing in evidence. The standards require that analysis includes the ability to cite that evidence as the basis of understanding. Of course, we draw on sources of evidence outside of a text and a work of art, but the standards insist that students come to grips with evidence from the specific work of art or text they encounter.Part of what this kind of close attention includes is noticing and analyzing the choices artists make—choices such as what is the object of a painting, to how it is treated, to color, to light to all the choices that accumulate to make  a work of art. Good readers examine the choices writers make—their choice of specific words and broader choices—of how to order events and develop characters—of what to say—all these choices are examined by a careful reader. Read the rest of this entry »

Stop Stealing Dreams (Part Two)

Posted by Seth Godin On March - 13 - 2012

Seth Godin

All week, we will be sharing (numbered) points from Seth Godin’s new education manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?). You can download a free copy of the full 100-page manifesto at Squidoo.com

33. Who will teach bravery?

The essence of the connection revolution is that it rewards those who connect, stand out, and take what feels like a chance.

Can risk-taking be taught? Of course it can. It gets taught by mentors, by parents, by great music teachers, and by life.

Why isn’t it being taught every day at that place we send our kids to?

Bravery in school is punished, not rewarded. The entire institution is organized around avoiding individual brave acts, and again and again we hear from those who have made a difference, telling us that they became brave despite school, not because of it.

Harvard Business School turns out management consultants in far greater numbers than it develops successful bootstrapping entrepreneurs. Ralph Lauren, David Geffen, and Ted Turner all dropped out of college because they felt the real challenges lay elsewhere.

70. Grammr and the decline of our civilization Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing Anew: How Serving on a Selection Panel Changed My Perspective (Podcast)

Posted by John R. Killacky On February - 28 - 2012

John R. Kilacky

(Editor’s Note: Play the podcast above to hear John read his post. Both were first published by Vermont Public Radio earlier this month.)

Recently I served as a panelist for the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. Forty-nine applicants wanted to be embedded in scientific research teams. They sought to explore the ethos, mythologies, and realities of this extraordinary continent.

Composers wanted to listen to the wind, water, animals, and shifting ice. Visuals artists hoped to delve into infinite striations of whiteness: the effects of transparency on ice, the glitter of ice crystals, and light and shadow patterns on the surface and internal features of the frozen landscape.

Photographers and documentarians were drawn to the heroics of transformative research under such harsh conditions. Poets and writers wanted to go with a blank page free of hypothesis. Choreographers aspired to locate themselves in the overwhelming immensity of endless horizons.

My panel duty did not ignite a travel-lust of my own for Antarctica; instead I have been inspired by these artists to pay more attention to my own home environment. Seeing anew, I observe how the longer days continually shift the light in the woods behind our town house to reveal an ever-evolving panorama. I never realized before, just how many different kinds of birds live there even in winter. Read the rest of this entry »

To Face Ruin is a Victory

Posted by Kenji C. Liu On April - 29 - 2011

Kenji C. Liu

This post originally appeared during the Emerging Arts Professionals/San Francisco Bay Area’s blog salon entitled “Cultural Policy 101″ earlier this month. You can view all of the postings from that salon on their website.

In my last post [for the salon], I suggested framing art as a human right, in the sense that community art is a practice that can sidestep or challenge the spreadsheet mentality that exists in the United States when it comes to arts and culture policy.

This is not to say that we can completely escape this mentality, as recent proposals to zero out arts grants by the City of Oakland show.

Oakland is a vibrant arts city despite the lack of robust institutional support. With some notable exceptions, much of it is grassroots or on the down-low.

Although we need this kind of city and state support and should advocate for it, if arts looks for its value only through the affirmation (funding) of the state, we are in dangerous territory.    Read the rest of this entry »