Sunday, December 16, 2012

Special Olympics Polar Plunge

On February 2nd, I will be jumping into the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach to raise money for the Special Olympics. This if my first time doing that sort of thing, and I don't even want to think about how cold the water is going to be.

If you want to donate $10 (or more or less) to the Special Olympics, so that there is actually some point to me freezing my patootie off,  please visit my fundraising page:

If you are brave and daring, join a team yourself and take a dive! Here is some youtube footage I found from past years:

Yeah... I'm gonna do that!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Be Sure and Vote Today!

I voted this morning about 10:30 am. My district has a little over 1300 registered voters. I was voter number 539. Not a bad turnout for the morning so far!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Working Artists and the Greater Economy

Got this in my email today:

Marion Von Osten: Be Creative! With responses from Andrew Ross +plus+ new developments in W.A.G.E. Certification

November 8, 2012 at Artists Space : Books & Talks

For this talk, originally scheduled for March 27 2012 and the third in a series of public forums contributing to W.A.G.E. and Artists Space's Research Partnership, curator, artist and writer Marion von Osten will give a presentation on the current conditions of artist labor in relation to the formation of creative and cultural industries. Von Osten has produced numerous texts and projects plotting the evolution of artists' work as a model for neo-liberal economies, including the exhibition Be Creative! The Creative Imperative (Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, 2002); the research and event based project Atelier Europa (Kunstverein Munich, 2004); and the recent text "Unpredictable Outcomes / Unpredictable Outcasts: On Recent Debates over Creativity and the Creative Industries" fromCritique of Creativity (Mayfly books, 2011).

Following her presentation, von Osten will be joined by Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU. Ross's research analyzes contemporary labor, the urban economic landscape and the organization of work. His books include No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs (Basic Books, 2002), Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push for Fair Labor (New Press, 2004) and Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times (NYU Press, 2009).

Marion von Osten and Andrew Ross will be preceded by a brief presentation by W.A.G.E. summarizing recent developments in the conception of W.A.G.E. Certification, an initiative that will 'certify' nonprofit organizations and museums which follow an established best practices model, and pay artist fees meeting a minimum payment standard. The presentations and following discussion will look to locate W.A.G.E's advocacy for the payment of artist fees by non-profit art institutions, and the research into the establishment of best practice models, in a broader discourse around the economies of creative labor.

For more info, go to

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Witch House

Happy Halloween.

Here's a project I worked on with my friend Ronda Loyer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Art, What is it Good for?

I frequent an online arts discussion forum, and every now an then the subject come up of the "value" of art. A poster wrote:

I want to understand the value of young artist work. There seems to be a plethora of cartoons and work influenced by video games, violence, and seemingly shallow and markedly gruesome subject matter. I am open minded. Someone please explain to me how to appreciate such expressions. Has formal training in the visual arts died? I understand commercialism, replication, pop arts and pop culture. But these doodles that fill the smaller galleries in Philadelphia are warping my artistic sensibility. I want to see the value in this but am struggling. Anyone up for a critical discussion? 

I wrote this in response:

You seem to be implying that art should be implicitly good for something other than self expression.

Certainly there are other types of art... commercial art, commissioned art, "social practice" art. But fundamentally, in my experience an artist creates because he/she "has to", not because it is "good for" anything.

In the free market, that work will either be collected, or it won't. If the art is purchased, it means that that piece of art somehow communicated with another person.

Artistic expression tends to speak in languages. If you are creating art about Harry Potter, you are speaking to Harry Potter fans. If you are creating zombie art, you are talking to a particular subset of horror genre fans.

Artists who are formally trained tend to talk to other artists. Rules of self-generated composition and techniques that are esoteric languages designed to communicate to those who are "in the club".

Commercialism, pop arts, and pop culture says "f*ck that". It is the difference between telling a joke like:

Renee Descartes was on a flight to France when the stewardess asked him, "Coffee, tea, milk, Mr. Descartes?" "I think not," he replied. And VANISHED!

And a joke like (told in a southern accent):

Why's my fanger like a lemon pie? "Cause it's got my rang on it!"

The pun has been called the lowest form of humor. But I enjoy them throughly. What is a joke good for? Do you need to be versed in existential philosophy to be able to laugh? Do you need to be formally trained in visual art to enjoy imagery?

Think of how poetry has evolved over the centuries. The complex rules surrounding sonnets, haiku, etc...

Imagine if humor had those rules. Granted, limericks have a foothold in the world of poetry and humor, thus the rigid structure. But imagine a parallel world where there were subsets and genres of humor, each with its own set of rules... a "school" of humor. Humor snobs would create comedy clubs that wound up hosting comics who told jokes that only other comics would understand.

Imagine if you had to be versed in the origin of the "Niagara Falls!" routine (Slowly I turned, Step by Step, Inch by Inch) in order to understand a whole evening of jokes. Imagine all the people pretending to "get it" as they drank wine and nibbled on crackers and salmon; the room filled with queasy laughter, and half a dozen genuine deep belly roll laughs.

That is what we have done to art.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When "Dance" isn't Dance

Here's an intriguing one from

A sharply divided court in New York says lap dances don't promote culture in a community the way ballet or other artistic endeavors do, and so shouldn't get a tax break.

The article states that a lawsuit was filed by a strip club in Albany, NY that was trying to take advantage of the tax examption for "dramatic or musical arts performances".

The fascinating thing to me isn't that the lawsuit was denied. It is that the state's top court was split 4 to 3.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Politics of Gaming

Back in April, I wrote a post about my experience with Role Playing Games. Seems that the irrational "Jack Chick" days of gaming are not yet over.

Jack Chick's take on Dungeons and Dragons
I just read an article "Warcraft-Playing Candidate Shamed by Republicans".  Democratic candidate Colleen Lachowicz enjoys playing World of Warcraft, and online fantasy role playing game.

If she enjoyed playing shuffleboard and was ridiculed for that, I imagine the AARP would be up in arms. Time for gamers to become a political force, I think.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Richmond, Virginia First Fridays

I went into Richmond for First Fridays this past... um... Friday. The event has grown a lot since I went a few years ago, and has changed tremendously over the last 10 years.

Sidewalk lights in front of 1708 Gallery

Pretty, and safe to walk on too!

I went down specifically to see a piece by one of my favorite artists, Lynette Shelley. Lynette emailed me to let me know she would have a piece on display at Art 6 Gallery, and I had to make it a point to go see it. I've been a fan of Lynette's for years, but this is the first piece I got to see in person.

Art 6 Gallery. 6 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA

The gallery was pretty packed. There was not only artwork, but a performance by the Latin Ballet of Virginia.

Latin Ballet of Virginia performs on landing at top of stairs at Art 6 Gallery

As it turns out, the performance was being video taped. And where did the intrepid camera man decide to set up? Right in front of Lynette's piece!

My view blocked by a videographer, capturing the Latin Ballet of Virginia performance!

The videographer and the DJ who had been hired for the evening both loved Lynette's piece. The DJ even had had the time to view her work online that morning, and was a big fan. The videographer graciously moved his camera for me.

Bird of Truth, 16"x20"
Afterwards, my wife and I stopped by Gallery 5 to take in a bit of the fire show:

Poi spinning has become popular in Richmond over the past several years

Music, spinning, and random fireball bursts
There was a side alley that had a number of artist vendor booths. Lantern making seemed to be a hit of the evening.

Vegan Cupcakes and Tacos were on the Menu
And I finally got to see some of the murals that were done during the G40 Art Summit in April.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

LOST, Teleportation, Time Travel, and Tenerife

The television show LOST was one of my favorites for six years. I spend a lot of time posting my thought about the show online under the screen name Desmondisthekey. I have to admit, I spent a lot more time thinking about the show than I did watching it, and had a blast doing it. Here's a peek into just how far "down the rabbit hole" I fell:

The Island is a Brane: Parallel Dimensions

Well, today I was reading an article about teleportation using quantum entanglement. It seems that scientists have been able to instantly teleport information over a distance of 89 miles. It is all very complex and fascinating stuff.

Here's a bit of a fun LOST link (besides the fact that it involves quantum entanglement, teleportation, and the possibility of Time Travel. The teleportation experiment involved the Canary Island of Tenerife. What is the relevance of that you might ask?

The character Richard Alpert originated from Tenerife:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Obama Campaign hops on the "Great opportunity for exposure!" Bandwagon

The local Obama campaign office posted this on craigslist:

The East Henrico OFA office is in need of a local artist willing to come and paint some of our campaign office walls for the election. 
We have the supplies and permission to paint some of our blank walls and need someone talented and willing to come help out the OFA team and get President Obama re-elected. This is a great opportunity for an artist to gain exposure as many people are going to be coming into the office and seeing their work between now and the election. 
If you or someone you know would be right for this please contact us! Our Office is located at 4719 Nine Mile Rd in the Basement of the McEachin & Gee Law Firm. Please email or call us at 937-4725.  

Here is my response to them:

I am writing to you in response to your posting on craiglist seeking an artist for the campaign office.

I am an Obama supporter, voted for him in the first election, and intend to vote for him again, without hesitation.

However, I am terribly disappointed in your post. The Obama campaign has raised $690 million dollars as of August according to the NY Times. That money is being spent on high end advertising firms, network advertising time, youtube ads, Hulu ads, and just about every other place it is possible to squeeze and ad before a viewer.

Here is an opportunity to hire someone locally... a member of the 47%, to create original artwork for your campaign office. The good will generated in the artist community in Richmond would go a long way to generating support. Instead, you are repeating the tired phrase of "great opportunity for exposure". Here's a newsflash... the entire world is selling the same thing you are... opportunity for exposure. Artists are dying of exposure.

When considering commissioning an artist, one should use a variation on Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative; assume everyone else is asking for the same thing you are asking for. An artist who is exposed as "working for free" will certainly generate more opportunities... to work for free. If this is the economy the Obama administration is promoting, perhaps my unquestioning vote needs to be reviewed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paying for Internships

Well, it has obviously been a while since I posted here. After daily blogging for almost three months, I decided to take a bit of a breather. I'm hoping to settle down into a weekly posting schedule.

(Side thought... if I saved up all my posts, and scheduled them to automatically post once a week, I would have had almost two years of posts!)

Ok, now that I've justified my slacking off, I thought I would talk about internships. I've posted before about my frustration with how arts organizations use interns. For-profit businesses have jumped on the bandwagon as well, trying to get away with using low or non paid interns instead of actually hiring bona-fide employees.

Well, there's a new wrinkle in the formula. Businesses actually CHARGING folks for the "privilege" of interning.

I first came across this in an arts discussion forum I participate in. Someone was hawking their gallery, and proudly announcing that opportunities were limited for people to pay for internships! Apparently, this is not limited to the arts. Here's an article from the Washington Post from 2010,

More would-be interns paying thousands to land a coveted spot

The article reads:

The Washington Center is the city's largest program, and for the past three years it has placed about 1,500 interns annually, up from about 1,300 in 2007. It charges nearly $9,000 for a summer, including housing.


The National Internship Program, formerly the Washington Internship Program. It charges an enrollment fee of $3,400 without housing and has seen its numbers increase from 166 students last year to an expected 250 to 300 this year. The for-profit company has doubled its staff in that time and is beginning to expand into other major cities.
"There has never been a harder time to get hired," said chief executive Lev Bayer, whose mother started the company nearly 30 years ago. "There is such a need for internships. We have more students than we can ever deal with."

From the U.S. Dept of Labor 

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination: 

The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment; 

The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern; 

The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff; 

The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded; 

The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; 

The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

On the flip side, people art starting to wake up. This from the New York Times:

A former unpaid intern for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing its parent company, the Hearst Corporation, of violating federal and state wage and hour laws by not paying her even though she often worked there full time.


The lawsuit against Hearst states, “Employers’ failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.

“Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work,” said Adam Klein, one of the lawyers for Ms. Wang. “The practice of classifying employees as ‘interns’ to avoid paying wages runs afoul of federal and state wage and hour laws.”


Last September, Mr. Klein’s Manhattan-based law firm, Outten & Golden, filed a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures, accusing it of violating wage laws by using unpaid interns to work on “Black Swan” and other films. Fox Searchlight has denied any wrongdoing.

It is about time. This foolishness of people working at unpaid interns so companies can avoid hiring actual employees has to end!

Ah... and  the latest update. From July 23, 2012

A federal judge has conditionally certified a class action lawsuit covering unpaid Hearst Corp. interns who worked at 19 of the company’s magazines, including Harper’s BazaarCosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, since February 2009.

Monday, August 6, 2012

More Chalk Crime Unleashed

I know I've been away from this blog for a while, but I had to report this one.  The fair city of Richmond, Virginia has made national news for the horrendous crime of a child drawing on rocks with chalk:

Oh, the humanity.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chalk Walk Riot in LA

From the Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2012:

Los Angeles police arrested 19 people after several hours of clashes with protesters during downtown L.A.'s popular monthly ArtWalk event, authorities said...

The melee appeared to have stemmed from a sidewalk-chalk drawing demonstration, witnesses said...
A woman who identified herself as part of Occupy L.A. said protesters attended the ArtWalk with the intention of showing support for people previously arrested for chalking on the sidewalk. A Facebook event advertised the planned demonstration, apparently named "Chalk Walk."

A melee? Arrested for chalking in the sidewalk? WTH?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Utilitarian Art

A couple of weeks ago I instigated an outdoor brainstorming session for people to think about potential locations for art. This included public and private property for murals, sculpture, and creative signage. We had a great turnout of artists, organization leaders, and town staff.

After the photo was taken, we were joined by another nine people

One of the areas talked about was utility boxes, meters, and pipes. Here are some photos of the specific areas discussed:

CSX Utility Box

Electric Meter Boxes

Gas Pipes

Well, it seems we aren't the only one thinking along these lines. I was alerted via a tweet to an article from which reports on a movement in Rochester, NY to turn public utility boxes into public art.

From the story:

Two local artists have been commissioned by the business association to paint three utility boxes with their own designs. They were chosen after an open call for artists, said Priscilla Auchincloss, president of the assocation.


Artists were given a $400 stipend for each utility box in addition to $125 for supplies, Steward said. Both artists hope to have their utility boxes painted by the end of June. The project was inspired by other neighborhoods in Rochester, Auchincloss said. Other neighborhoods have also painted bus stops.

Update, 9/26/12
Seems the Democrat and Chronicle article is no longer online. Here's another link I found to the story:

Sounds like a great plan to me!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Signage vs. Art

I live in a peculiar world where signage and art do not have clear classifications. I have created three dimensional sculptural interpretations of logos, and designed murals that showcase retail products.

Last night I went before town council to ask that they defer voting on a new sign ordinance, because I would like to see language that not only more precisely defines the difference between signage and art, but take a more forgiving view of art that is created to promote business, so that it does not have to conform to the restrictions of a sign ordinance.

From town code, here are two interesting definitions to consider:

Mural. A picture on an exterior surface of a structure. A mural is an attached sign only if it is related by language or logo to the advertisement of any product or service or the identification of any business.

Sign: displayed for the purpose of information, direction or identification or to advertise or promote a business, service, activity, interest or product.

These definitions might appear to be clear on the surface, but what if I want to create a mural that visually promotes a service provided by a business, and is intended to promote that business, yet I do it using neither language nor the logo of the business?

Specifically, (assuming obtaining copyright permission) what if I wanted to put this image or something similar on the side of a soda shop?

Normal Rockwell's The Soda Fountain

What about this one?


At what point does a mural become a sign?

I don't think there is a definitive answer to this question. I believe the answer goes to the goals of a community, and how they would like to present their community to the rest of the world. My own opinion is that a more forgiving definition of mural (or is it artistic definition of sign?) would allow not only for a great deal of creativity, but much better odds that a business owner would be willing to pay for a mural on the side of their building or some type of interesting sculptural display.

Now lets apply the same logic to sculptural art. I'll give a specific example from a project one which I was one of the designers. Virginia artist Tom Wright was commissioned to do this piece, and he and I designed it together.

Mt Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries Fountain
The fountain is a rather broad interpretation of the church's logo:

I've been told that essentially only the circle or rectangle within a mural that contains the name of the business and logo is considered a sign. So for instance, in the image below, only the red circle with the word Coca-Cola would be a sign, and would be restricted by size according to the sign ordinance:


So lets say that we apply the same logic to three dimensional art. First off, is this merely a sculpture, or is it a sign?


What about this?:


What if that coffee cup has a logo on it? Would only the logo part be a sign?

This isn't just a local conversation. These are questions every town should be asking. What do you want out of your sign ordinance? What do you want in terms of art?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vagina Censorship

Seems I'm not the only one getting flack for using the word "vagina" in somewhat public places. Here's a newsbit from CNN:

Put that in the context of "A Tap Dancing Vagina"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

National Goverors Association Presents New Engines of Growth: Part 5, Delivering a Better Prepared Workforce

This is the fifth in a series of posts discussing a study released in May 2012 by the National Governors Association titled "New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design".

The report makes the argument that arts, culture, and design can assist states with economic growth because they can:

1. Provide a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster
2. Help mature industries become more competitive
3. Provide the critical ingredients for innovative places
4. Catalyze community revitalization; and
5. Deliver a better-prepared workforce.

My first post discussed The Industry Cluster, and I showed how the newly formed networking group The Ashland Arts Alliance serves to solve many of the issues raised in forming and accelerating the growth of a creative industry cluster.

My second post covered how creativity can help mature industries become more competitive through creative marketing, bolstering tourism, and innovative manufacturing.

The third post talked about:
  • Launching cultural districts and arts enterprise zones.
  • Creating spaces for artists and other creative talent to cluster, interact, and thrive.
  • Integrating arts, culture, and design into innovation hubs that encourage collaboration.
The fourth post talked about investing in infrastructure through creating artists spaces and artist relocation programs.

Now we get to chapter 5, and how artists can be used to create a more creative work force.

In one of my early posts on this blog, "Education and the Arts", I comment on a study from Americans for the Arts which reports that:

85 percent of surveyed business executives indicated that they are currently having difficulty recruiting individuals who possess creative ability. The demand for creative people will increase as U.S. firms pursue innovation.

I also comment in my post regarding an National Endowment for the Arts article on Arts Education regarding the way No Child Left Behind has decimated the arts in schools:

The U.S. Department of Education painted a somewhat bleak picture of the state of arts education in America’s schools this week. According to new findings - the first government survey in a decade that tracks the availability of arts in schools – fewer elementary schools are offering visual arts, dance and drama classes than during a decade ago.

Chapter Five of the New Engines of Growth study begins:

The art and design disciplines teach many of the skills that support innovation and high productivity and thus support high-wage jobs. Those skills include everything from understanding the creative process, to collaborating on inno- vative breakthroughs, to knowing when and how to fix a problem on an assembly line. Economic development, education, and arts and culture agencies are natural partners in workforce development. Areas in which such partnerships can provide benefits include:

  • Setting formal requirements for arts and creativity in K–12 education standards;
  • Integrating arts into K–12 cross-curricular learning;
  • Engaging at-risk youth in art and sustainability activities; and 
  • Including the arts and design in adult education and workforce training.
The Study speaks to not only incorporating more arts education into the core standards for K-12, but also teaching the arts in conjunction with language, science, and history. As a concrete example of this, I am in conversations with a young local school teacher who wants to develope themed environments in her classroom to enhance her literature lessons. One of the projects would be to create an African landscape in the classroom to support studying (recently deceased) Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt". I'm pursuing finding funding to create an immersive display that can not only used in her classrooms, but could travel to other schools, possibly throughout the state.

As for engaging at-risk youth in art, I've proposed teaming up individual artists and arts educators with existing non-profits in order to secure funding for after school and summer arts programs. I'm hoping to have a local meeting about the very topic within the next month.

Finally, including the arts and design in adult education and workforce training is another thing I'm working towards. I have repeatedly said that much of the knowledge I've obtained through the years came through mentor type relationships. One of my goals with the Ashland Arts Alliance is to pair up experienced professionals with those who have an interest in learning in "mentor/apprentice" type relationships. "Passing it on" is an essential part of the philosophy of the Alliance.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

National Goverors Association Presents New Engines of Growth: Part 4, Catalyzing Community Revitilization

This is the fourth in a series of posts discussing a study released in May 2012 by the National Governors Association titled "New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design".

The report makes the argument that arts, culture, and design can assist states with economic growth because they can:

1. Provide a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster
2. Help mature industries become more competitive
3. Provide the critical ingredients for innovative places
4. Catalyze community revitalization; and
5. Deliver a better-prepared workforce.

My first post discussed The Industry Cluster, and I showed how the newly formed networking group The Ashland Arts Alliance serves to solve many of the issues raised in forming and accelerating the growth of a creative industry cluster.

My second post covered how creativity can help mature industries become more competitive through creative marketing, bolstering tourism, and innovative manufacturing.

The third post talked about:
  • Launching cultural districts and arts enterprise zones.
  • Creating spaces for artists and other creative talent to cluster, interact, and thrive.
  • Integrating arts, culture, and design into innovation hubs that encourage collaboration.
So now lets talk about number four: Catalyzing community revitalization. The chapter begins:

All over the country, states and cities are scrambling to find ways to reinvent and revitalize communities and neighborhoods. The arts, culture, and design sector can be a catalyst to revive older commercial districts and neighborhoods and can be part of a state strategy to reclaim abandoned investments in physical infrastructure and communities.

As an example, the study cites Austin Texas:

Because creative people like to be around other creative people, even if they are in different businesses, Austin, Texas, is one of the great economic success stories in the United States in the last 30 years. There is no question that the region made great strategic moves and creatively exploited its assets, especially the University of Texas, in building new pillars of economic prosperity. But it is also true that Austin’s flourishing music scene and its funky cultural attitudes—best summed up in the local slogan “Keep Austin Weird”—were key ingredients as well.

Now I'm not familiar with the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan. A quick Wikipedia search yields:

Austin is the self-proclaimed "live music capital of the world" and the people of Austin reflect a friendly, accepting culture of artistic and individual expression that maintains the city as a vibrant and eclectic creative center and haven for anLGBT community, intellectual community, community of naturalists and environmentalists, and for subcultures and people(s) who are not mainstream. In a mostly conservative Texas, Austin is "Weird" because of that and because it continues to be liberal and progressive politically, socially, in culture, in the arts and in music, among other things. "Keep Austin Weird" moves beyond a mere slogan, to reflect the dynamics that encompass Austin.

I like this. It reminds my of my welcoming blurb for the Ashland Arts Alliance:

This is a group for creatives in all arts disciplines in the Ashland, Virginia area to find each other for potential collaboration. I believe that Ashland has a lot of "arts" professionals and hobbyists who live under the radar, and are looking for significant change in attitudes about arts both locally and nationally.

This is a call out not only to fine artists who might think that the area is not ready for the subject matter that they deal with, but also for musicians, dancers, videographers, photographers, graphic designers, filmmakers, illustrators, stylists, recording artists and anyone else that considers themselves to be "artists".

Lowbrow, body art,street art, spoken word, hoopers and spinners, and any area of alternative. Diversity is a word being bandied around a lot lately. Lets see some real diversity in Ashland. I know its there... it is time to be seen. All economic levels, all lifestyle choices.

Here's a photo of some of our members from a story in Richmond's Style Weekly magazine:

Nicole Randall (front), Heather Addley, and Courtney Ford, part of The Clockworks Collective, and members of the Ashland Arts Alliance

It illustrates that if you want to have a successful arts and culture scene, the more open and welcoming it is to the people who dedicated their lives to creating art, the more successful you will be. And yes, we are often considered "weird. See my post on Xenophobia

Part 2 of the chapter speaks to restoring distressed communities and reclaiming abandoned spaces, and the trend for artists to be the pioneers in such efforts. The study reads:

Taking heed of this trend, in April 2011 the Ford Foundation started a $100 million program to develop artists’ spaces across the country. In announcing the program, Luis Ubinas, the foundation president, cited the economic potential of artist communities in the founda- tion’s decision to commit such a large sum:

“We...believe that this investment in arts infrastructure will advance the well-being of communities because artists and art spaces can play a significant role in boosting local economies.”

States and cities are propelling this new economic vitality as well as using historic preservation and artist relocation programs, for example, in catalytic roles.

Read that again: "artist relocation programs". As I keep saying, the competition to acquire artists is rising. Not just artists, but artists who are leaders. Catalysts. I'll go ahead and be self indulgent, and point out that the title I gave myself as founder of the Ashland Arts Alliance is "Catalyst". This was before I read or was aware of the report. I'm starting to think perhaps I should be shopping around, looking for the best opportunities in the country for my particular set of talents. The incentives are rising.

The study points out the city of Paducah, Kentucky:

The Paducah, Kentucky, Artist Relocation Program was started in August 2000 as a way to reduce urban blight, preserve historic buildings, and bring artists in particular to the downtown area of LowerTown, the city’s oldest neighborhood. Incentives offered to artists and others include 100-percent financing for the purchase and rehabilitation of an existing structure or the building of a new structure; free lots for new construction, as available; assistance in paying professional fees; and national marketing exposure as a part of the LowerTown Arts District. In the first year, eight artists moved to LowerTown. In the second year, the number increased to around 20. In 2010, more than 100 artists lived and worked in the neighborhood.

This is sort of like giving artists 40 acres and a mule.

A study conducted by Americans for the Arts in 2009 found that Paducah’s arts scene brought in $27.8 million in 2007

The final part of the chapter addresses improving livability and quality of life through creative spaces:

The question of how to foster high-quality places is one of the most important in economic development today. By providing amenities, connectivity, and sense of place, public art and well-designed public spaces can be part of the answer. They contribute to the visual landscape and character of a state or city. They help transform transportation corridors and waterfronts into welcoming places for people to live, work, play, and gather as a community.

As an example, it cites percent-for-art programs, and this interesting bit about Vermont:

In Vermont, artists, community members, and engineers are working to integrate artistic enhancements into the redevelopment of a portion of U.S. Highway Route 2 through the village of Danville in a way that combines state and local efforts. The Danville Transportation Enhancement Project brings together the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Agency of Transportation in a first-time partnership to work with the town. Much of Route 2 throughout Vermont has already been widened and better designed, but the Danville section of the highway remains to be completed. Route 2 is essentially the community’s main street, as it runs through the town center connecting the school, general store, and several churches. The goal of the project is to upgrade road conditions through the town to meet Federal Highway System requirements, while enhancing the feel of a small, close-knit, rural community and pre- serving a pedestrian environment. With broad public, private, and multiagency support, the Danville project provides a template to help small communities deal with quality-of-life issues as they relate to the demands of infrastructure.

I'll conclude this series with part 5, Delivering a Better Prepared Workforce. The chapter speaks to creative education, which has been a recurring topic on this blog.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

National Goverors Association Presents New Engines of Growth: Part 3, Critical Ingredients for Innovative Places

This is the third in a series of posts discussing a study released in May 2012 by the National Governors Association titled "New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design".

The report makes the argument that arts, culture, and design can assist states with economic growth because they can:

1. Provide a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster
2. Help mature industries become more competitive
3. Provide the critical ingredients for innovative places
4. Catalyze community revitalization; and
5. Deliver a better-prepared workforce.

My first post discussed The Industry Cluster, and I showed how the newly formed networking group The Ashland Arts Alliance serves to solve many of the issues raised in forming and accelerating the growth of a creative industry cluster.

My second post covered how creativity can help mature industries become more competitive through creative marketing, bolstering tourism, and innovative manufacturing.

The third chapter of the study opens:

The most successful American places in the 21st century are likely to be innovation hubs. They are locations that support an open innovation business model, foster co-location, and promote easy and constant interaction among many different industries and a wide variety of creative workers, from artists to scientists to engineers. It may seem ironic in today’s global economy, but place has become more important than ever.

Later it states:

Proximity reduces the overall costs of collaboration and makes it easier for the collaborators—both businesses and individual workers—to respond to new opportunities quickly and retool or reconfig- ure as needed.

And then later:

A number of states are supporting the development of more and better innovative places generally and innovation hubs specifically. Three recurring themes have appeared in this effort:

  • Launching cultural districts and arts enterprise zones.
  • Creating spaces for artists and other creative talent to cluster, interact, and thrive.
  • Integrating arts, culture, and design into innovation hubs that encourage collaboration.
The town of Ashland Virginia just launched an arts and culture district. I've been working up in Arlington Virginia, where one of the most remarkable and innovative spaces I've ever seen was created, the Gunston Arts Center. I'll be writing a post on that in the near future. Here's a sneak peak; a theatrical scene shop and two performance spaces on the campus of Gunston Middle School. The shop is available to all county theatrical companies to build sets. Here I'm beginning construction on the set for The American Century Theater's production of Sister Mary Ignatious Explains It All For You.

Scene Shop at Gunston Middle School

Overhead view of Arlington County scene shop at Gunston Middle School

Here are a couple of shots of the installed set. Note, these are not photographs of a classroom at a Middle school. They are photographs of a set of a classroom built in a black box theater on the campus of a Middle School!

The set installed in Theater 2 at Gunson Middle School

Close up of set for Sister Mary

The study goes on to say:

Just as states have created spaces for individual artists to live and work, they have created spaces within cities and towns for a wide variety of creative individuals and enterprises—artists, website designers, architects, writers, university professors, product engineers—to be close enough to visit one another “before the cup of coffee gets cold.” Increasingly, states are helping to create hubs and zones that encourage this kind of proximity, not just within economic sectors but across a diverse range of industries in which creativity matters, such as technology, entertainment, journalism, finance, and high-end manufacturing. The most successful of those initiatives are incorporating the arts and creative enterprises, not only as part of the industry mix but also as partners in the planning and development of the innovation zones. Inclusion of the arts and culture in all dimensions of hub development helps to create a fertile habitat for innovation and, ultimately, economic renewal and long-term prosperity, even in states that are facing some of the most acute economic challenges.

There is a recurring theme in all of this. That of government providing not just a hand wave of zoning with a few tax incentives amounting to a hundred dollars a year or so, but of providing real tangible space and other incentives to draw creative people to their communities.

I say the competition is on. I say that it has never been a better time to be an artist in America, and that communities will have to up the ante if they want to draw driven, committed, creative individuals to be part of their economic growth strategy.

This is serious business folks. We are talking about the potential extensive relocation of many of the most creative people in America. What is going to draw them to your town? What are you going to do to keep them?