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March 8, 2012
art + science = innovation ART + SCIENCE = INNOVATION VIDEO BY JEFF BURTON THURSDAY MARCH 8th, 2012 Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, international creativity experts and co-authors of Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People, talk with ArtServe Michigan about their research and how innovation, scientific creativity and the arts intersect. Their homebase is Michigan State University but their findings are piquing interest all over the globe!
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE KATIE DONOVAN THURSDAY MARCH 8th, 2012 There is a unique gift that being in school offers to those that are willing to accept it. Aside from the daily classes and curriculum where, hopefully learning occurs, there is the bonus opportunity to discover and explore your own thinking and creative point of view by connecting with and bouncing off of others searching for knowledge. For artist Wesley Taylor his time at the University of Michigan and then Cranbrook Academy of Art yielded not only a Masters in Fine Art in 2-D Graphic Design, but also the friendships, connections and experiences that have fostered big thinking. “I like complexity over simplicity,” states Taylor as he discusses his inspirations and points of view. “the future and the idea that the future holds things that have been predicted but are not possible yet inspires me -things like time travel. A lot of my artistic endeavors are centered on my favorite themes of science and complexity. I see complexity in the structure of nature and scientific principles but I also see complexity in communities.” Ideas about community have evolved for Taylor from his time at U-M where in addition to his course of study in the arts he was promoting and performing in hip-hop musical performances and creating community by doing what he calls “scene building” – which for him was participating in throwing shows, performing, and growing audiences. It was these experiences that led him to establishing a media company called Emergence Media with his long time friend and hip-hop artist, Invincible. “Emergence Media is deeply rooted in activist work – through this work I find myself being involved in community building,” said Taylor. “Our interconnectivity can bring about change, and that is the idea that our company was founded on – emergent theory. We draw inspiration from change, and display those images of change in performance. We emulate those images using new technology.” Through his association with Invincible, Wes Taylor was introduced to community activist, Grace Lee Boggs, who created a program called Detroit Summer for young people from pre-high school age to those transitioning to college. The summer program is youth-led and focuses on projects or issues selected by the students to positively affect the community. Last summer Taylor was an artist-in-residence for the Detroit Summer program to help guide the students during their summer quest for change. While still at Cranbrook, several of Taylor’s fellow students began talking about a cooperative art studio. Those conversations laid the ground work for “Talking Dolls,” a collective of five now-Cranbrook-graduates with diverse talents and disciplines. The space allows for members to pursue their own art, create regular critiquing events and the possibility of a residency for three current Cranbrook art students. Taylor’s long term vision for the studio collective expands beyond the Detroit studio, to a far flung network of studios in creative hubs across the country and the world, with a structure similar to a vacation time share. “This idea came from a conversation at school about how to help artists that are often called to a nomadic lifestyle as they pursue shows and sales through art fairs,” comments Taylor. The challenge as Taylor sees it is to answer the question “…how will I still be relevant in a global market?” Going forward, Taylor sees himself managing the Detroit Talking Dolls studio collective as part of a larger network as he acknowledges more options. “There are an infinite amount of possible futures and that makes me think about hope and wonder, not apocalyptic endings,” shared Taylor. The artist thinks about future this way, “…the spoils go to the people that can predict the future, the ones with the most creative predictions of the future. Here in Detroit, artists can think about the city as rich with creative opportunity. There are so many open spaces or voids for new ideas to flow in. Possibilities can happen in those voids. One of my favorite art themes is inspired by OSB (the composite wood often used to board-up vacant buildings). I see through the cracks between the boards into the void. That is the potential behind those boarded up buildings.” Wesley Taylor is moving through life with several titles – musician, artist, graphic designer, teacher, curator of art and community builder. Whatever the title, Wesley Taylor is one to watch – for the future.
A LASTING LEGACY ALEXANDRA FLUEGEL THURSDAY MARCH 8th, 2012 The Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids has been providing support and advocacy to the region’s arts organizations and artists for over forty years, making it one of the oldest arts councils in the state. It played a pivotal role in the steady growth of the arts in the region. Yet, with growth comes change, and in June 2012 - the nonprofit will close its doors forever. Caroline Older became the council’s executive director in 2008, and said that she sees the closure as a fulfillment of the organization’s mission. “I think it’s really important for organizations to know when it’s the right time to close. It’s a really difficult decision to make. But if you’re a ‘nice to have’ in the community but not a ‘need to have’ in the community, it’s quite valuable to evaluate that and face it, and sometimes make the decision to come to a close or completely reinvent yourself,” she said. Founded as a united arts fund in 1967, the Arts Council’s original role was to raise money for the city’s six major arts organizations, which Older noted is a very unique characteristic. “There really isn’t a norm for arts councils, but most arts councils tend to be the performing/producing place in their community,” she explained. In addition to being a ‘home’ for arts organizations to perform and hold exhibitions who don’t have their own facilities, arts councils serve as catalysts for cultural development, often playing a vital role in coordinating public art installations and creating bridges between arts communities across the state and nation. As the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids developed, so too did the local arts organizations, and that caused the Arts Council’s role to evolve. Older explained that as the area’s first arts organizations grew, they began to rely less and less on the Arts Council for funding support. “Over the years, many organizations became more sophisticated – they gained their own development staffs, and began raising their own money. They didn’t need the Arts Council (of Greater Grand Rapids) the way they once had.” In addition to the evolution of the arts organizations, Older said donor behavior has dramatically changed, with more donors choosing to give directly to the organizations they support. “It is very difficult anywhere in the US for third party organizations to raise funds. Especially with the access the Internet gives individuals to support smaller nonprofits or to give funds directly, it’s easier for them to do it. There’s less interest in giving to a third party organization (like the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids) that is going to take a portion of their funds for overhead expenses.” In spring 2009, the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids lost approximately 75% of its state funding when Michigan’s budget for arts and culture was cut dramatically, reducing available funding for arts councils statewide. These budget cuts, implemented through the Granholm administration, caused the Arts Council to search for new ways of earning income. “Because we have 83 members, the board and I couldn’t come up with a way to earn income that didn’t compete with our members. There wasn’t really any uncharted territory out there. And our goal or mission is to never compete with our members, it’s to support them,” said Older. “With those three things combined – having fulfilled our mission, financial challenges, and the inability to create earned income without competing with our members – our options were to merge with another organization, which meant we would probably lose our identity in a few years, or to go out on a high note, close our doors, and use our assets for a final grant program that benefited our members.” Together with an outside consultant, Older, the board of directors, and staff made the unanimous decision to go forward with a planned liquidation of the Arts Council assets, and to disburse $500,000 of reserve funds to member organizations and artists through two grant programs. Grant awardees will be announced at a farewell celebration on March 28 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. In addition to the grant programs, $100,000 has been invested into a scholarship fund through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and will carry the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids’ name. The needs-based scholarship is for college-bound students who want to attend an arts program. “We didn’t feel right using those funds for our operating support. We wanted to return those funds to the community,” said Older. She said the support from the community has been essential to making this transition smooth and rich with positivity. “That’s really been a lesson for me in this industry - it doesn’t have to be a negative or a failure to close. We’re closing on a high note, we’re planning our ending, we’re closing with a purpose and it’s very positive for the community. It’s been a great experience to go through.” The Arts Council’s programming spanned a variety of offerings, including a mini-granting program which disbursed state funding to organizations in seven counties in West Michigan, the Poet Laureate program, and a variety of workshops for organizations and artists in funding, advocacy, board development, and marketing. Older said she is thrilled that other local organizations have stepped up to take over a majority of the Arts Council programming. LowellArts!, the Lowell-area arts council is taking over the mini-grant program, the Grand Rapids Public Library will run the Poet Laureate program, and Older said the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University is excited to expand their services for arts organizations, which range from workshops to one-on-one training for nonprofits. There was one area Older believed may be more difficult to fill by another organization. “We provided connection to all of our members,” she said. “If someone needed to get a message out to all of the arts organizations, they would come to us; yet with the collaborative spirit of the local groups, I believe they will find ways to keep one another in the loop.” As for Older, although her decision put herself and Program Manager Angela DeLuca-Placencia out of jobs, she said she is proud of the board and staff for making a hard decision and embracing it. “I feel a great deal of pride for doing the right thing for the Arts Council and the community.”
COLLABORATORS, BOOTSTRAPPERS & FOOLS ANDREW SMENTKOWSKI THURSDAY MARCH 8th, 2012 PHOTOS COURTESY MICHIGAN HUMANITIES COUNCIL Like the miners and loggers that came to the U.P. in the late 1800’s, Upper Peninsula artists and organizers get by on a can-do attitude, collaboration and the ability to produce results with the most meager of resources. While there are not any arts organizations that serve the entire Upper Peninsula, the Marquette Monthly comes closest, with distribution in Munising, Marquette, Houghton and the rest of Copper Country (the Houghton and Keweenaw county area). Citing the Pine Mountain Music Festival, Pat Ryan O’Day, owner and editor of the Marquette Monthly, says, “There are a lot of individual organizations that have a local focus but work together really well.” Ryan O’Day also said that the lack of peninsula-wide organizations is partially overcome by the strength of the volunteerism in the area. “There are a lot of volunteers that step forward to help groups like The Lake Superior Youth Theatre. It’s the only way they could’ve made it. I’ve always thought that more is done around here through volunteerism than any other place I’ve lived.” Her comments were underscored by a 1986 visit from a Kellogg Foundation representative who told her, “…Don’t ever think you live in a resource-poor area because there is so much strength in the volunteerism and the ability of people to work together.” The group that Ryan O’Day mentioned, The Lake Superior Youth Theatre, has also benefitted from the experience and resources of more established organizations. Nikke Nason, Arts Administration Director for the City of Marquette, who helped bring theatre programming to Marquette youth in 2001, said that the City of Marquette Arts and Culture Center initially funded the Lake Superior Theatre in 1998 and eventually helped them become their own 501(c)3 organization. Now, the Lake Superior Theatre is returning the favor and helping bootstrap the fledgling Youth Theatre as it too is spun-off from the Marquette Arts and Culture Center. The Arts and Culture Center also played a similar incubator role with The Marquette Symphony Orchestra, helping them get on their feet in 1996. One of the most unique creative resources in the Upper Peninsula is not an organization per se, but a one-woman force of nature. Since 1996, Mary Wright has involved thousands of unsuspecting people in her community-wide projects that have included decorating ice shanties, carving totem poles and painting stories about their grandmothers on old doors. There aren’t any traditional job titles for Wright. In a recent interview, she claimed the most appropriate title was “Fool… Because that’s what I have to be to take on some of these projects.” Dave Hagley, a longtime friend and collaborator, was more generous saying “…she is a community organizer for the arts.” What makes Wright’s projects so powerful is that they focus on the work of individuals who would never consider themselves artists. Instead, her participants are area residents who are able to connect with one of her projects on an emotional level. Working with Wright, they find that the arts can offer an outlet for an emotion that they never knew how to express before. Wright takes responsibility for generating the initial project idea, coordinating all of the materials and providing a healthy dose of artistic support. Then, she waits for someone to walk or drive by. Hagley related a story about Mary during the early days of the Heritage Family Tree Project, a 1999 undertaking in Marquette, which enabled families to create totem pole-like constructions portraying a story from their family histories. Once Wright and her team had all of the materials ready-to-go in Marquette’s harbor, people were reluctant to join in. However, Wright didn’t put up with that for long. “I was with her right down in the parking lot while she chased people down to get them to participate in the project… literally chasing after cars,” said Hagley. Once Mary got a few initial people to start work on a log, Hagley continued, “…they ended up with 500 people. They were down there painting, branding and carving. What really got me was that some of these people were so moved about it they were just crying… about their grandfather who just died or their father who just died. And this was a tribute to them. It was quite astonishing the effect it had on people.” Wright has also collaborated with other arts groups throughout the U.P. and Canada. For instance, The Story Line Project was a project commissioned by the Pine Mountain Music Festival. Wright’s role in the project focused on working with Upper Peninsula families to transcribe stories of perseverance during the mining and logging days. These stories were then transferred to small pieces of fabric and hung on a clothesline in Michigan Technological University’s Rozsa Center. Meanwhile, the Pine Mountain Music Festival used the project to highlight their premier of Rockland, an opera based on the story of a copper mining strike in Ontonagon County where two Finnish miners were shot by sheriff’s deputies in 1906. The next challenge for U.P. arts groups is to reach out to the two-thirds of the Upper Peninsula residents who don’t live in one of the major metropolitan areas. Nason, who is very positive about the Lake Superior Youth Theatre’s impact on the Marquette community, says that there are lots of people that reside in areas too remote for organizations like her’s to serve. “There are many kids in these rural areas that won’t see their first play until high school or even college,” says Nason. Despite this lack of exposure, the arts groups are doing their best to encourage participation. The first production of the Lake Superior Youth Theatre, stages March 9th & 10th, with a presentation of Annie Jr. involving a cast of 85 area performers.