Resonance and Wonder and The Living Archive

Steven Greenblatt wrote of the difference between objects of wonder and objects of resonance. By wonder, Greenblatt referred to “the power of the object displayed to stop the viewer in his tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention” while resonance was meant to describe “the power of the object displayed to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to evoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged.”

It was this description that I kept in mind as I considered my vision for Art Apéritif and later my curatorial contribution to The Frontier, a project celebrating the Charlotte Street Foundation’s 15 year anniversary and “considering the history and future of artist-driven practice in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city’s ‘frontiers.’”

The Frontier aspires to begin to build, in a modest and incremental way, a living archive.  This archive is conceived as a breathing, evolving, inclusive and many-authored endeavor that may encompass documentation of conversations and activities occurring in real time,  timelines, print materials, photographs, film, videos, correspondence, podcasts, creative and critical writing, discussions based in social media, original artworks and more.  In terms of scope, we are interested in materials that relate to the  pioneering roles artists and artist-centered projects/spaces/publications/activities have played in the evolution of our city and culture–again, as a means of regarding and more deeply knowing our history, and with an eye to informing future efforts.

Greenblatt described that it is often the objects intended to contextualize a work of art which can present the most resonance.

 A table, a chair, a map-often seemingly placed only to provide a decorative setting for a grand work-become oddly expressive, significant not as background but as compelling representational practices in themselves. These practices may in turn impinge upon the grand work, so that we begin to glimpse a kind of circulation: the cultural practice and social energy implicit in map-making is drawn into the aesthetic orbit of a painting, which has itself enabled us to register some of the representational significance of the map. Or again, the threadbare fabric on an old chair or the gouges in the wood of a cabinet juxtapose the privileged painting or sculpture with marks not only of time but of use, the imprint of the human body on the artifact, and call attention to the deliberate removal of certain exalted aesthetic objects from the threat of that imprint.

I contemplated how this power of resonance might be translated into a digital form where the texture of a torn old photograph or the smell of a twenty year old periodical is sacrificed for the immediacy and abundance of contextualizing narratives online. I came to the conclusion that one platform will never suffice for the other.  Online space must be shaped differently than the space within the gallery. Linear storytelling that might seem applicable to a physical archive might need to be discarded in order to find the circularity Greenblatt describes. The deluge of data available online had to be culled and mediated in order to bring focus on the discursive value attached to the objects cataloged and the memories they represent. And whatever format is chosen the unique perspective of the contributors must be considered in what is a many-authored narrative.

Michael Kaiser, Digital Sharecropping and the Walker Redesign

In 1845 Edgar Allen Poe wrote that the mass production of books was “one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information.”

Over 165 years later Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center echoed this sentiment. In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Kaiser condemned the “growing influence of blogs, chat rooms and message boards” for contributing to the decline of art criticism, shifting it into a “participatory activity rather than a spectator sport.”

He lambasted cultural organizations who allow audiences to write critiques on their official websites, claiming, “this is a scary trend.” His controversial remarks were rooted in no small part to a belief that the influence of these “citizen critics” was contributing to a growing trend of art that “appeals to the lowest common denominator” and is “measured by a popularity contest.”

Perhaps made unknowingly, Kaiser’s argument was one against digital sharecropping, a term coined by blogger Nicholas Carr to reference the “distribution of [digital] production into the hands of the many and the concentration of [its] economic rewards into the hands of the few.” Sites like Facebook, Yahoo’s Flickr and Youtube are profitable ventures only by aggregating the content of its users “on a massive scale—on a web scale.”

Kaiser saw these bloggers as “workers” creating competitive products, sellable goods that challenge the work of professional critics rather than considering their contributions as “acts of sharing.” As Lev Manovich, author of The Language of New Media notes, the web of the 1990s may have been a publication medium but the current web is a communication medium, in which conversation happens to take place “between users and around user-generated content through “a variety of form besides email: posts, comments, reviews, ratings gestures and tokens, votes, links, badges, photo and video.

Cognitive Surplus author Clay Shirky echoed this sentiment:

As long as the assumed purpose of media is to allow ordinary people to consume professionally created [and curated] material, the proliferation of amateur-created stuff will seem incomprehensible…. But what if all this time providing professional content isn’t the only job we’ve been hiring media to do? What if we have also been hiring it to make us feel connected, engaged or just less lonely?  What if we’ve always wanted to produce as well as consume but no one offered us the opportunity? …The phrase ‘user-generated content,’ the current label for creative acts by amateurs really describes not just personal but social acts.

Indeed, no more are we a generation defined by “we are what we own” but rather “we are what we share.”

When the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, launched a redesign of its website in late 2011, the organization was cognizant of its need to become an “online hub for ideas about contemporary art and culture, both inside the Walker and beyond.” What it actually created was viewed by many including  Seb Chan, Director of Digital and Emerging media at the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, to be “a potential paradigm shift for institutional websites.”

As of 2006, 43% of museum visits took place remotely, primarily through museum websites.

Few institutions, however, consider their website beyond its function as a marketing tool, “pretend[ing] that the museum is an island unto itself.”

Walkerart.org, on the other-hand, is the museum, bringing artistic discourse from around the web to a central portal.  Olga Viso, the Executive Director of the Walker explained the impetus for this new focus. “As a pioneer in developing new platforms for scholarship, publishing, arts journalism, and creative exchange with our audiences, we believe we can play an important role in offering alternative media infrastructures as arts coverage in the mainstream media outlets everywhere have been dramatically reduced in recent years (sic).”

Beyond being one of the sites Kaiser condemns for allowing visitors to comment on content, the Walker offers “Arts News from Elsewhere,” which aggregates news stories from other sites and sends readers out beyond the virtual walls of the Walker to explore new forums for learning and participation.

The Walker refers out to content all over the web, placing independent blogs such as Hyperallergic and IndiWire on the same plain as The New York Times and The Atlantic.  In an anonymous post on Artlog, popular blogger, Museum Nerd, commented

Museums no longer need to think of their stakeholders as the people who come through the door. The Walker has positioned themselves at the center of the global conversation about contemporary art. By placing the content of others (as well as excellent editorial content of their own) right there on the homepage, they’ve created a website you want to go to if you have any interest in contemporary art, regardless of whether you’ll ever visit the museum. They’re not just positioning themselves as an arbiter of taste (the connoisseurship thing has long been in every art museum’s bailiwick): the Walker is also placing themselves at the center of the conversation that their mission is all about.

“My dream,” said Nate Solas, the Walker’s Senior New Media Developer, “is of the site to be both the start and also links in a chain of Wikipedia-like surfing that leads from discovery to discovery, and suddenly an hour’s gone by.”

The Co-opting of Curation and Reconsideration of Expertise

Famed curator Harold Szeeman once defined his role as that of an “administrator, amateur, author of introductions, librarian, manager and accountant, animator, conservator, financier, and diplomat.” Hans-Ulrich Obrist added “guard, transporter, communicator, and researcher” and David Levi Strauss listed “advocate, auteur, bureaucrat and cultural impresario,” just to name a few.

There are as many connotations of the word curator as their are disciplines and professionals who employ it. As this title becomes co-opted by more and more art forms, watered down in the jargon of commercialization, and the idea of curation spreads across traditional and digital mediums into the day-to-day playlists, menus and wardrobes of our lives, it is important to examine the concept of curatorial practice at its most basic, fundamental core.  Curation requires the acquisition, preservation and dissemination of something and in doing so implies a level of expertise, the necessity of which is called into question by a shift towards egalitarianism in the arts that is facilitated by the access offered through technology.

The word curator stems from the Latin word “curare” meaning “to care.” Originally used in reference to those who oversaw the care of lunatics or minors, it evolved to mean the “officer in charge of a museum, library, etc.

Kate Fowle, director of Independent Curators International notes that “in each case it has hierarchical connotations – a curator is someone who presides over something – suggesting an inherent relationship between care and control.”

It is this idea of control that has been latched onto by theorists such as Mari Carmen Ramirez, who suggests that “curators are, above all, the institutionally recognized experts of the art-world establishment, whether they operate inside an institution or independently.”

Peter Walsh investigates this idea of the expert in “That Withered Paradigm: The Web, the Expert, and the Information Hegemony,” which began with a listserve discussion about a curatorial project where an artist commented that the “withered, disreputable, often laughable ‘expert’ paradigm is what the Net now displaces.” Walsh hypothesizes that this expert paradigm originated with the dawn of human culture and “evolved as a counter to brute force in human societies. It was a way of creating a value and use for intellectual activity and insights.” The expert paradigm found in the art world, in a sense, functions in the same hierarchal fashion of modern religion. “All members of the ‘expert class’ are still in some sense priests, practitioners of a hermetic cult giving access to divine knowledge. And as members of a priestly class, all experts still have special, quasi-religious status.”

Non-experts are faced by blockades to participation from “tiny ‘mutual admiration societies’” that social scientist, Pierre Bourdieu, describes in his essay, “The Market of Symbolic Goods,” as being “closed in upon their own esotericism.” Bourdieu suggests that pure art is not made for the general public, or in particular, “the non-intellectual fractions of the dominant class” but is for art producers to create, critique and disseminate amongst themselves.

If Bourdieu’s assertions hold true, then it begs the questions how and why do those outside of the insular production-for-the-producer communities ever engage in culture? How and why do artists and those interested or influenced by the creation of art engage in discourse with others outside their given professional fields or predetermined socio-economic pigeonholes? And what does it mean to share knowledge in a non-hierarchal system where ideas are not passed down from the elite to the masses but rather ideas are created through a shared, unmediated dialogue—an organic discourse.

The age of digitization has opened up the channels of communication between the inside and the outside, allowing non-experts to find new inroads to learning and offering them the opportunity to possess independent knowledge becoming active participants in dialogue. The most common objection to this proliferation of shared knowledge and content is the need for professionalism and skill, “an idea often expressed with the observation that you wouldn’t want brain surgery performed by someone who learned their craft from Wikipedia.” The assertion being made in this example is that individuals will always choose the perspective of experienced professionals over amateurs but, as Clay Shirky explains in Cognitive Surplus, “were this preference for the professional universally applied, we would all be patronizing prostitutes — they are, after all, far more experienced in their craft than most of us will ever be.” The point is that the authoritarian voice is not always the most valued position in dialogue. “Sometimes the value of professional work trumps the value of amateur sharing or a feeling of belonging, but at other times people find large-scale and long-lived sharing better. As more people come to expect that amateur participation is always an option, those expectations can change culture.”

Click!  A Crowd Curated Exhibit, Brooklyn Museum, 2008.  Photo via brooklynmuseum.org.

Whether through installation specific participation, continual civic engagement or visionary insight into the direction of an organization’s mission, the community that supports arts organizations is now doing much more than taking in the work and ideas of the institutional elite. They are providing context and value to the structure of organizations and art discourse. These institutional changes are enabled by and a result of the influence of technology and while the function of the curator within institutions themselves is not the sole focus of this exploration, understanding these shifts contributes to a fuller comprehension of the curator’s role in a new art discourse. It is therefore a goal of this project to consider both the time and space in which we now engage in order to determine the new role of the curator in our ever-changing digital landscape. Does access to limitless information call for the end of an authoritarian voice?  How do we as individuals utilize technology to engage in cultural discourse and do we need a curator to help us define and sift through the noise?  As the curator has worked to provoke participation within the institutional setting, must he or she now extend this responsibility to mediating the discourse around culture on-line and in the community?

Creativity Steals

I am a big fan of Austin Kleon. A writer/artist/tublogger living in Austin, Texas, Kleon’s projects offer bite-sized food-for-thought that leaves a lasting impact. When I first stumbled upon his book, Newspaper Blackout at one of the many hipster boutiques in my Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, I had no idea that what looked like a fun, though albeit unoriginal concept, would highlight such an innovative idea.

Speaking on the Economist’s Ideas Economy forum, Kleon explained how the backlash he received from critics and online commenters, who said his work was unoriginal, would send him on a research spree, discovering the 250 year old history of his idea that, to his surprise, was derived from the work of Tom Phillips’ visual poetry, which drew on the work of William Burroughs’ cut-up method, who was a friend and follower of Brion Gysin, whose work was pre-dated by French poet Tristan Tzara, and on and on and on.

Quoting T.S. Elliot, Kleon illustrated that it is transformation that is the greatest form of flattery, rather than mere immitation.

“An immature poet imitates, a mature poet steals, a bad poet defaces what he takes while the good poet makes it into something better or at least different.”

I keep returning to Roland Barthes’ idea of the interdisciplinary, a violent coalescence of disciplines or ideas that does not stand to “take a  ‘subject’ and to arrange two or three sciences around it,” but instead creates “a new object, which belongs to no one.”

For Kleon, “every new idea is a remix or a mash up of ideas.” Further still, we all have the capacity for creativity, “a mash-up of what you let into your life” defined by the people, products and practices that influence and inspire us.  (See Art Apéritif: The Exhibition)

I have now had dozens of conversations for this project with invested stakeholders of the Kansas City community who are striving to create conversation with members of our various artistic and entrepreneurial disciplines.  The aims of The Speakeasy, the Think Big Conference, the America’s Creative Crossroads campaign or the Bi-State Innovation Team for the Google Fiber Launch are not terribly different from that of Art Apéritif or one another.

Which is not to say that any of these conversations are either identical or redundant and unnecessary.  Each conversation provides value.  The challenge now is to find a synergistic approach (to steal a word that keeps be thrown about at my meetings with tech folk) which will allow these siloed initiatives to find a forum for shared dialogue and — even if it is only in the transferring of ideas.

Forward thinking is not proprietary.  It is open, permeable and unafraid of conflicting positions.  It steals. And is willing to be pillaged.

Techie Engagements

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would share a few great stories that came across my Twitter feed yesterday, showcasing the silly, sweet and downright original ways that creative folks have used both technology and art to proclaim their love.

Drake Martinet, professor of Journalism at Stanford University and Associate Editor at D: AllThingsDigital recently proposed to Mashable’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Stacy Green using this infographic.

Source: mashable.com via Lyndsey on Pinterest

“Love makes us do crazy things,” said Martinet on Mashable, “and this infographic is an attempt at the impossible — to quantify just how fortunate I am to have Stacy Green in my life. She calls us “soulmates” — the perfect match. And I didn’t realize how rare that fit actually is — not until I ran the numbers, at least. Some of the infographic math is super-factual, some just good fun, but the truth underneath stands out just fine.”

The full post is worth checking out if only for the comments, in which typically die-hard data fanatics, relish in Martinet’s not-so-perfect math, all in the name of love.

Equally adorable, and perhaps even more time-consuming, was the proposal of self-described geek, gamer and developer, Matt Hudson  to long-time girlfriend, Rebecca Gadell.  The couple had wasted away many hours together over the course of their relationship playing the popular app, Words with Friends, so when it came time for Matt to propose he went straight to the source.  Matt contacted Zynga, creators of Words With Friends and asked if they could help with his proposal.

From my initial request, Zynga bent over backwards to assist. Paul Bettner, VP/GM at Zynga, loved my idea so much that he made T-shirts to commemorate my big night. There’s something to be said for technology these days; when you can reach out with an idea and get a response… well, that’s why I love the world we live in.

Zynga helped Matt create this custom screenshot, and though the process of enacting the proposal became an epic game in and of itself (read the whole story here), Matt eventually surprised his now bride-to-be and won the best prize – her.

Last January, Dana Burck and Greg Hill, Cinncinati residents and avid users of the social buying site Groupon became engaged through a once and a lifetime “deal” facilitated by the site. (Groupon and I have been in a customer service related battle this week, and I must say, this story redeemed them a little in my book.)

“He initially wanted to put a banner ad on the site,” said Julie Mossler, a spokesperson for Groupon, in an article for the New York Times,  “But we decided to have fun with it and take it to the next level by turning it into a regular deal.”  All of Cincinnati’s Groupon nearly 220,000 subscribers, received an email about the “deal” and 114 people used the site’s review forum to leave well wishes for the couple.

The page featured “fine print” that read, “Expires Jan. 5, 2011. Nontransferable. Groupon entitled to no less than 15% of your marital bliss.”  and a pop-up message proclaiming, “Congratulations Dana or Stranger, you are now unofficially obliged to marry Greg!”

Needless to say, Dana did, in fact, “buy” the deal.


Finally, because techies aren’t the only ones having fun and because I have a love of all things Muppets, I thought I would share with you the December 2010 engagement of Sid Ceasar and his now-wife, Sara Prindiville Ceasar, which you may or may not have seen as it became a viral sensation with over 319,000 views.

Sid and Sara had been discussing marriage for a longtime and Sid knew he wanted to something completely unique.  A photographer and Muppet aficionado, Sid came up with a plan to create his own Muppet movie trailer proposal and sneak it in to the previews at the local movie theater.

Sid built custom Muppets to look like the couple through FAO Schwartz’s Muppet Whatnot Workshop and created the three-minute proposal with the help of a few friends and the use of a simple Flip Ultra HD. He developed an elaborate plan with Kalenna Guzman from Red River Theater in their home of Concord, New Hampshire, to host a faux screening of a new documentary and surrounded by friends and family, who snuck in “ninja” style, Sid proposed to Sara, through this heart-warming, embarrassingly tear-enduing Muppet Movie.

The proposal wasn’t the end for The Proposal film.  The couple continue to receive press about the video and have since made a follow up to thank everyone who helped them in their special day.  Sid beautifully details this story and its continuation on his blog and it is worth a read for anyone looking to linger in the Valentine’s Day spirit just a little longer.

Updated: Craft, Thumos and the Creative Economy

In a piece for Forbes Magazine this month, Steve Denning author of The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, offered an expansion of Joseph E. Stiglitz’s prescription for the changing economy.

Stiglitz forecasts a shift in the U.S. market economy paralleled to that which he theorized occurred as a cause rather than result of the Depression era phase change from an agricultural to manufacturing-based economy. It is his belief that America is once again in a time of transition, this time from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.

For Denning, it is not enough to simply focus on expanding our service industries.

If all American workers do is mow lawns, cut hair, export raw materials, and market and sell goods manufactured in other countries, the wealth of the nation is unlikely to be great. The US will in effect have become a Third World economy. It will be unable to support even the current standard of living, let alone an improving quality of life.

Instead Denning advocates the fostering of a Creative Economy.

The Creative Economy is one in which both manufacturing and services play a role. It is an economy in which the driving force is innovation. It is an economy in which organizations are nimble and agile and continually offering new value to customers and delivering it sooner. The Creative Economy is an economy in which firms focus not on short-term financial returns but rather on creating long-term customer value based on trust.

One challenge, Denning states, is that the traditional firm structure is not organized for continuous innovation and is unable to mobilize the fullest creative talents of its employees, the validation of which has become the defining priority for the latest generation to enter the workforce.

According to MetLife’s fifth annual survey of American ideals, young American’s priorities are changing, becoming “less concerned with professional success and the trappings of material wealth, instead aspiring to a greater sense of personal fulfillment.”

This is a central idea presented by Economist Blogger, A.C.S., in “The Return of Artisanal Employment,” in which he looks to the work of Harvard economist Larry Katz to explain how a new generation of Americans are harnessing their liberal arts backgrounds to forge new career paths dependent on highly developed skills.  It is the investment in the process of work rather than focus on expeditious production and compensation that A.C.S alludes might differentiate this generation.

Millennials get a lot of grief for allegedly being hard-working, yet entitled and self-involved. But in order to build your human capital and be that modern, competitive worker it seems you must believe you’re a little special. The company man was content to be a cog in the machine, the modern worker must take pride in his talents.

A focus on craftsmanship is expanding throughout all industries. Artisan opportunities, as A.C.S. defines them, are not restricted to traditional fields, but could manifest, for example, in “thoughtful, engaging” care to the elderly or the skilled work of a contractor.

In The Craftsman, Richard Sennett, too, expands the role of the craftsman. A carpenter or mason, lab tech or conductor, doctor or writer— all offer opportunities for craftsmanship and “all craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree” and is driven by Plato’s arete, “the standard of excellence, implicit in any act: the aspiration for quality [that] will drive a craftsman to improve, to get better rather than get by.”

Within this aspiration for excellence, comes a question of autonomy. Not only does Sennett see the search for autonomy or “the drive from within that impels us to work in an expressive way, by ourselves”  as the differentiating factor between art and craft, in this case it is a determining factor in the Millennials’ economic and vocational benefits analysis.

And here in lies the rub, as to quote A.C.S., “Believing you’re exceptional and in control maybe a necessary characteristic of modern workers. But it must be balanced with realistic expectations and humility.”

There is a push within this newly coined creative economy to seek fulfillment through even menial tasks. Sennett point to a “modern managerial ideology urges even the lowliest worker to work “creatively” and evince originality.”

The problem with this Fordist rhetoric is that it fails to take in the motivations and attitudes of this generation that are so very different from their elders and are rooted both in a lifetime of access and entitlement but a need for constant validation.

For Noreen Malone, a Millennial Brooklynite writing for New York Magazine, the issue for Millennials is not a matter of lusting for money or success but for Greek concept of thumos, “we want glory through our ideas—we want to know we matter.” With a hunger for fulfillment and pride in one’s self they are tapping into their own creative wisdom, challenging traditional notions of what does and does not determine an artistic process.

It’s part of the American way to get a lot of self-worth from your job. Meanwhile, one of the reasons there aren’t enough of those jobs out there is that America no longer makes enough stuff. Young people feel that void, intrinsically. Making stuff is what got us smiles from our parents and top billing in refrigerator art galleries. And since we are, as a generation, more addicted to positive reinforcement than any before us, and because we have learned firsthand the futility of finding that affirmation through our employers, we have returned to our stuff-making ways, via pursuits easily mocked: the modern-day pickling, the obsessive Etsying, the flower-arranging classes, the knitting resurgence, the Kickstarter funds for art projects of no potential commercial value. The millions upon millions who upload footage of themselves singing or dancing or talking about the news to YouTube. Of course, funny videos and adorable hand-sewn ikat pillows aren’t the only kind of stuff that people are making as a way of coping with harsh economic realities—meth, for instance, comes to mind. But putting aside those darker enterprises, this is a golden age for creativity and knowledge for their own sakes. Our pastimes have become our expressions of mastery, a substitute for the all-consuming career.

Malone isn’t challenging the present reality. Americans, young Americans are ready, able, and in many cases desperate to work.  But if this generation is in any way positioned to alter the course of this creative economy, it will be through institutional change beyond structures of service or manufacturing.

We must consider both the conditioning and motivations of these latest creative offspring as well as the tools and technologies they are harnessing in order to innovate on their own terms.  And as a counter to any lingering perceptions of their raging narcissism, (even Malone points out, “we are self-centered and convinced of our specialness and unaccustomed to being denied”), we might reflect on the origins of innovation in the craftsman workshop structures of the past, communities that Sennett reminds us held people together in social space, through ritual, mentoring and the sharing of information.  In other words, creating space for new members of the work community to develop independently while finding value in their relationships and development process.

Inspiration: Henry Jenkins and his favorite things

Henry Jenkins is kind of a hero/inspiration for me and this project.  When I first read Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide last spring, I devoured it in one sitting.  I was taken with his exploration of the concepts of media convergence, participatory culture and collective intelligence. Though his examples now feel quite dated and he focuses his application of these concepts on mass culture (specifically looking at modes of discourse in relation to television audience engagement and branding, trans-media storytelling, fan film and fan fiction and civic engagement) his ideology is highly relevant to the curator seeking to create reciprocal dialogue between the institutions and the community at large.

Jenkins defines “convergence” as representing a “cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content” and the term “participatory culture” as “contrast[ing] with older notions of passive media spectatorship.” He makes this position clearer by stating, “Rather than talking about media producers and consumers occupying separate roles, we might now see them as participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules that none of us fully understands.” The theories in Convergence Culture draws heavily from the insight of French cybertheorist Pierre Lévy who coined the term “collective intelligence,”  to reflect as Jenkins puts it, “None of us can know everything; each of us knows something; and we can put those pieces together if we can pool our resources and combine our skills.”

On his blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan,  Jenkins describes the path that fostered his current belief systems.

Part of what drew me into graduate school in media studies was a fascination with popular culture. I grew up reading Mad magazine and Famous Monsters of Filmland – and, much as my parents feared, it warped me for life. Early on, I discovered the joys of comic books and science fiction, spent time playing around with monster makeup, started writing scripts for my own Super 8 movies (The big problem was that I didn’t have access to a camera until much later.), and collecting television-themed toys. By the time I went to college, I was regularly attending science fiction conventions. Through the woman who would become my wife, I discovered fan fiction. And we spent a great deal of time debating our very different ways of reading our favorite television series.

When I got to graduate school, I was struck by how impoverished the academic framework for thinking about media spectatorship was – basically, though everyone framed it differently, consumers were assumed to be passive, brainless, inarticulate, and brainwashed. None of this jelled well with my own robust experience of being a fan of popular culture.

To Jenkins there is a key differentiation between interactivity and participation that breaks down this assumed power structure between those that control culture and those who consume it.

“Interactivity refers to the ways that new technologies have been designed to be more responsive to consumer feedback.[...] In almost every case, what you can do in an interactive environment is pre-structured by the designer.” This differs from participation, which “is shaped by the cultural and social protocols.” Unlike interactivity,  participation is  “open-ended, less under the control of media producers and more under the control of media consumers.”

This active participation, dominated by people of power who “imagine participation as something they can start and stop, channel and reroute, commodify and market” but challenged by consumers “asserting the right to participate in culture on their own terms, when and where they wish”

lies at the heart of civic participation, the ability of diverse communities to work together to forge new opportunities for artistic development and is imbued in the show-me State philosophy where artists and art patrons refuse to sit passively and wait for opportunities to engage with art but are finding new and innovative ways to participate in the process.  To read more about some of these great projects visit the links in the blogroll to the left and add more of your own projects or experiences below.

Oh, and to add to the ongoing series of things that inspire our practice, visit Henry Jenkins’ blog to read more about his favorite things, including this music of composer performer Raymond Scott.

Seizing Opportunities for Connectivity

Last night I had the great pleasure of heading to The Phoenix for jam night hosted by Everette DeVan Trio, including the beautiful birthday girl Ms. Eboni Fondren.

For three years I made the River Market my home, living mere blocks from The Phoenix (for closer than the distance I walked almost daily to get a snobby coffee fix from my apartment in Brooklyn) and I never went there.

More than just being a shame with no justifiable excuse because the vibe there is fantastic, the cocktail—champagne with a splash of St. Germain which Eboni has named The Jazzy Lady—was delicious and the music transported me to another time, it is a testament to the roadblocks often faced not just in Kansas City but in every art market to pull people into our events and to force ourselves to take advantages of the abundant opportunities for culture.

I recently had coffee with Paul Tyler of the Metropolitan Arts Council (more on that to come) and I asked him if he had been out and about much lately and he offered a familiar response about not seeing as much as he could or should, being tired by work and unenthusiastic about going out back in to the cold after a long day.

One has to be ready to take in art, mentally, emotionally, physically.  It is easy to cast the blame on non-engagement on a lack of access or opportunity but give the multitude of outlets for content online and community engagement offline, that just is not true.

The idea that great art and great art experiences do not exist outside of major markets a misguided notion based on an inability  to either see the opportunities available or to created a space within oneself in which to be open to these experiences.  I mean this practically. You can’t enjoy what you don’t know is out there and often that means implementing tools and technologies to curate the scattered though abundant opportunities.

But I also mean this philosophically. Curator Mary Jane Jacob outlines this idea of making space for art brilliantly.  To make space is to create an experience of permission, offering “the conditions and circumstances, intellectually, socially, physically, and in whatever ways necessary” for one to engage with the artist inside themselves or “to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity” in the face of unfamiliar art, to linger in the “mind of don’t know.”

To engage is difficult.  It takes work.  The fact that I never once made the short walk to The Phoenix in the three years I lived in Kansas City spoke not to what experience I would have there or even my own commitment to engage in my community, but perhaps the ease with which we have not to engage.

The technological resources we have to let us connect with new and different experiences often foster even less connectivity than we might have without them.  Why have coffee or meet for a drink to discuss a new project or to talk about something fascinating I saw/heard/read about when I can post a link to your facebook wall or twitter feed.  Instantaneous connectivity with little to no connective responsibility.

With any luck this tide is changing. The newest wave of social media tools are focused on bringing about real world socialization.  Art organizations are driving the content that audiences create and consume online into offline experiences that bring them back into the institutions. And art centers large and not so large, including our very own KC are pooling their collective online voices to drive growing community and collaboration.

A Curated Practice – Inspiration for Art Apéritif: The Exhibition

As I begin conceiving of the final component of this project, Art Apéritif: The Exhibition, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to best capture the artist experience beyond the works that they create. It is in the process of creation that we often find similarities between disperate disciplines or even personalities. As an ongoing series in this blog, I will turn my attention to the way in which online content curators are showcasing the ephemera of peoples’ lives, often painting a clearer picture of our personalities than any traditional portrait.

The Burning House is a personal favorite and felt like a great place to begin this exploration.

The tumblog created by Foster Huntington asks the question “if your house was burning, what would you take with you?”  Readers submit masterfully curated photos of personal items that matter most.  According to Huntington,  “It’s a conflict between what’s practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities.”


Interestingly the concept for The Burning House came to Foster while at a dinner party discussing another ubiquitous form of social media connection, online dating.

I thought it would be interesting to ask a potential date what they would take if their house was burning as a way to find out what they were interested in and valued. Everyone at the table immediately had a response that showed their backgrounds and interests. I started working on the project that night on the subway home.




The Anthropologist, an online space supporting the works of individual artists created by the creative team at retailer Anthropologie (where I incidentally used to work), showcased the images in Huntington’s project in relationship to the generational perspectives of their contributors, noting ” the definition of the word “irreplaceable” is quite subjective, and shifts considerably with age.”

As my project charts the relationship of Kansas City artists to the tools and technologies currently changing their relationships both to their work and audiences, I am particularly interested in these notable generational differences.  And while I am not quite sure how it will manifest itself in the final project, Huntington’s work has certainly offered food for thought.

The Burning House Images Courtesy of Foster Huntington.