Today, the first day of spring, is also Arts Advocacy Day. In case you’ve missed it, the arts and humanities are on the chopping block in the proposed federal budget.
It comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a huge advocate for the arts. I found this link incredibly useful in that it offers a variety of ways to reach out, respectfully and thoughtfully, to your representatives. Your reps (remember, they work for US) need to hear from you regarding your opinion on matters that important to you.
If being in band shaped you into a better math student (and it probably did – they’re closely related); if being in theatre helped you overcome a fear of speaking in public; if sculpting helped you decide to become a mechanical engineer – then you benefited from an arts education.
If a play made you think, or a dance made you feel, or a painting made you question, or a symphony made you weep – then you have been touched by the arts.
If those things are important to you, your family, your children, your community, our culture and society, I urge you to connect with your elected representatives and explain specifically WHY it’s important that the arts remain a part of the federal budget.
There are a variety of links on the page that explain in greater detail what I’m talking about. Click on each one to gain a greater understanding of how the federal money is distributed, used, and matched.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the morning I stood on the balcony of the Maka’ala and saw a glorious rainbow emerge above Waikolohe Valley. In Hawaiian, rainbows suggest transformation and that’s certainly an accurate word to describe my experience here.
The first guests were welcomed to Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, located in Ko Olina on the island of O’ahu five years ago today. In that time, the resort has quickly become one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the world. What happens when Disney, a company of storytellers, comes to Hawaii, which is full of storytellers?
Magic. That’s what happens.
So, while much has been written in the travel press about the resort and it’s amenities, I want to give you an artists look at Aulani, and share some of the ideas and concepts behind it. In other words, it’s time to “talk story”…
Central to Aulani was the concept of “ahupua’a“, a complex system of land division dating back to when the islands were ruled by chiefs. An island would have multiple ahupua’a – wedge shaped plots of land that stretched from the mountains to the sea. Within each ahupua’a were most of the necessities to sustain a community – water from mountain streams, koa and other trees in the upslopes for building structures and canoes, farmland in the valley for animals and crops of taro, the lowland and beaches for living, and the sea for fishing. Whatever could not be found in one ahupua’a might be traded for something of value from another; enabling trade and commerce. While this certainly seems a practical approach, it’s actually rooted in Hawaiian spirituality. The Hawaiians believed in the interrelationship of humans and the elements. The ahupua’a infused all of the elements of nature into the activities of daily and seasonal life. Not only were all of the elements necessary and important but so was each person and their contribution to the community. You hunted, or built, or gathered, or cooked, or fished. Each person had value. Each contribution to the community had value.
If you look at Aulani, you’ll see that the hotel towers begin far from the beach. They represent the mountains, and just like the mountains, decrease in height as they approach the water. Large timber elements grace the facades of the towers, representing trees in the upper reaches of the mountains.
In the Waikolohe Valley below, multiple sources of water meander through areas thick with lush, overgrown foliage; spanned by “old” bridges. Dark-colored textures and stones appear within this area of the valley.
As you get closer to the beach, the landscaping thins and the stonework becomes more arid, similar to the Ewa plain upon which the resort is built; and as you get closer the beach, small structures begin to appear as they would have in the lowlands of old Hawaii.
Another element underlying Aulani is that of gender duality; acknowledging that everything has a masculine and a feminine side. This is expressed primarily in two areas. First, on either side of the Maka’ala as you enter through the front doors of the resort, there appear two streams. The one on the left (the Ewa side) is tranquil and calm (feminine). The one on the right (the Waianae side) is lively and boisterous (masculine). Further representation of this concept can be found on the towers themselves. The Ewa tower features rounder, softer graphic elements. The Waianae tower’s graphic elements are sharper.
Additionally, the sides of each tower capture, in magnificently oversized bas relief, key Hawaiian legends
Aulani is suffused with the Hawaiian concept of “look twice, see three times”. This is perhaps most evident in Pu’u Kilo. At first glance it appears to be a caldera. Upon closer inspection, there appear to be discernible shapes. An even closer look reveals silhouettes of island animals carved into the face of the caldera.
A HALE (or home) FOR ART
Guests are welcomed to Aulani through Maka’ala. Maka’ala is distinguished on the exterior by three large arches, echoing the inverted hull of a canoe (which is how the first polynesian settlers arrived). The interior of the lobby features a wraparound mural telling the story of the islands, from its pre-contact days through the present. The mural, along with the rest of the art on the property, was created by Hawaiian artists. The resort houses the single largest collection of original Hawaiian art (outside of a museum) in the world.
Hundreds of details abound across the property. Instead of tiki torches, the resort has custom designed torches inspired by one of the Hawaiians first sources of artificial light – the Kukui nut. At the entrance, you aren’t greeted by tiki figures (tiki is not Hawaiian) but by Hawaiian Ki’i figures). The guest room carpet features sculpted Taro leaves, one of Hawaii’s original food sources. Everywhere you look, graphics and design elements rooted in Hawaiian history tell a story.
None of this would have happened without a concerted effort and outreach to local leaders, artisans, elders, Auntys, and Hawaiian historians and scholars. They shared their history, their knowledge, their stories, and their hearts with the Imagineers who were tasked with designing and building Aulani. That desire to honor Hawaii and its people is abundantly clear; and the resort delivers on its original intent which was to be authentically Hawaiian, yet distinctly Disney.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the evening at MorYork. It’s tempting to call it an art gallery (which it is) or a studio (true also) but a better description might be what Los Angeles magazine describes as a “modern day cabinet of curiosities” in this article from March, 2015.
Located at 4959 York Blvd in Highland Park, in a building that formerly housed a Safeway and a roller rink before falling into dereliction in the mid-80’s when it was purchased by artist Clare Graham, it serves as gallery, studio, incubation, and event space.
The building, with high ceilings and wonderfully creaky original wood floors, is packed to the rafters with Clare’s work and collections of ephemera.
Furniture made from soda can pop-tops sits next to a display case filled with primitive carved sex toys. A whole series of art features stuffed animals sealed in plastic and bound together with twine.
Still other corners reveal furniture inlaid with human teeth, woodblock art, armoires covered in scrabble tiles, and display cases filled with animal skeletons and doll heads.
One enormous section of shelves near the entrance is filled with vintage carnival knock-down dolls while the opposite end of the space is dominated by a stunningly gorgeous lighthouse mirror.
It’s a mind-boggling, fascinating, and intoxicating environment. Added to the mix is Clare’s recent decision to invite music artists in to perform at MorYork. Alma Sangre (a trio with flamenco) and Edith Crash (LA-based French singer-songwriter) provided a lively evening during our visit, interspersed with drinks and munchies, all surrounded by this incredible collection.
The mix of art and music works, especially because neither is held up as being particularly “precious”. Clare’s work (which has often used recycled materials) is as much about craftsmanship as it is about anything. He’s an approachable artist who has a tremendous respect for, and love of, craft. That’s evident by his work on display at MorYork, and in the musicians that are selected to perform there.
If you’re looking for a deliciously surreal place to spend some time, I’d suggest taking a trip down the rabbit hole that is MorYork.
For those who have read his book, “Cabinet of Curiosities“, this exhibit is especially thrilling. In the book, readers get a view inside Del Toro’s suburban Los Angeles home (named “Bleak House”). The home is packed with all manner of unusual oddities, props, artwork, and collections.
In this exhibit, those collections have been placed on view for the public; and it is horribly magnificent. The show is not a retrospective of Del Toro’s work; but a look at his influences and inspirations. In keeping with that idea, the exhibit is laid out thematically. Paintings, drawings, maquettes, full size sculptures, and more bring Del Toro’s unique visions into full relief in this exhibit that surrounds and immerses you into one mans fever dream.
The work of many artists is on display, and its easy to see where Del Toro derives his inspiration.
Taking its inspiration from the tone and architecture of Bleak House, the exhibit is housed in an architectural shell, with long hallways that twist and turn, opening into room after room. The walls and other elements are in muted tones of black, gray, and blood red. The use of rafters overhead is enhanced by lighting that casts shadows onto the ceiling and surrounding walls.
One room in particular is modeled after Del Toro’s writing room, in which a perpetual rainstorm falls outside the “windows” of the room.
The exhibit is truly wondrous. It’s a through and detailed examination of artistic inspiration and process. A good example is that there are several of his notebooks on display. Since they could easily be damaged by the public, all the pages have been scanned and patrons can flip through them virtually on a touch-screen adjacent to the actual notebook. It’s a great way of revealing the artist while preserving the work.
I have only two small quibbles with the overall exhibit. The first is that it appears to have been put together quickly. The finishes on the display vitrines are somewhat slap-dash, with visible paint brush marks and drips. One would think that an exhibit with this sort of “draw” in the marketplace would have warranted a greater attention to detail. My other minor negative comment is that I would have loved to seen LACMA embrace a greater degree of theatricality through lighting and video. The black costume from “Crimson Peak” is especially poorly lit, diminishing its detail and beauty.
In Part I of this post, I covered some of the practical issues in preparing for a presentation. Now that you know when and where you’re speaking AND what you’re speaking about, it’s time to begin collecting your thoughts, words, and images.
Consider theme. Most of the talks I give are meant to be inspirational, as opposed to informational so I tend to start by thinking thematically. Recently, I was asked to speak to high school students about the importance of arts in education. I knew I wanted to include a personal story, given that I have received the benefits of arts programs; and I knew I wanted to include a few statistical examples that reinforced the overall point of arts education. After some thought, I landed on a theme of creativity since that is common to all arts classes. My story and my data both spoke to the importance of arts education to those who pursue and (perhaps more importantly) do not pursue the arts; and how it improves their overall education (and aptitude in non-arts subjects). Having an overarching theme allows you to connect seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive presentation. You don’t have to put your theme in the title; in fact, no one even has to know you have one. It’s simply a tool to help guide you in assessing whether or not all of your points fit under one “big idea”.
Along with theme, consider your point of view. Audiences respond to speakers who know their subject and, perhaps more importantly, are passionate about their subject. Infuse your presentation with words and thoughts that originate in your core. If your words are rooted in conviction and reinforce your points, you will deliver them in a more genuine, honest way. Otherwise, your audience may sense you’re being disingenuous which will cause them to disengage.
Create structure. People are story-based. We crave a beginning, middle, and end. You can insure that you deliver on this by carefully considering your presentation in the context of your theme. Typically this involves presenting a point, providing illustrative information that reinforces the point, then referencing it back to your larger theme before moving onto your next point.
There are several ways to create your structure. Analytical, logical types may want to start with an outline in a word program. Others might choose to create mind maps. I actually prefer to work in Keynote. Many presenters believe this is a bad idea, because it can place too much emphasis on “snazzy visuals” instead of content (and it can, so beware). My work, however, inherently relies on relaying concepts in a visual way so I find “thinking” in Keynote to be very helpful. I usually start with a theme/title page, then create pages for each of my points and fill in some preliminary information. This forces me to stick to my point when I’m putting info on the page. I can instantly see whether or not it fits on that page or should move to another. It’s essentially an outline built in Keynote, but it works for me. Your approach can also depend on the style of presentation. Experiment with a few different approaches and use what works best for your style.
Create connection. People also crave connection. Anyone can stand up and read stats from a slide. Make your presentation personal by sharing a story that illustrates your point (bonus points if its humorous and allows people to see themselves in a similar situation). Take a look at this video on TED. In it, Sir Ken Robinson establishes his points, but then goes further by telling several compelling stories that illustrate his ideas; some are about other people, some are about him or his family. What stories do is open a window between the audience and speaker, allowing the audience to see themselves (or someone they know) in these stories; creating a connection. This brings the audience closer to the storyteller and makes it easier for them to digest the ideas the speaker is presenting.
Collect your visuals. Eventually, you’ll need to start gathering all of your images. I’m primarily motivated and moved by visuals; so I allow a lot of time to browse for images and video that support my subject.
You’ll create a folder for your talk. In it, create a subfolder for notes, another for images, and another for video. Then search through your own files and the internet, remembering that this exercise is all about volume. It’s okay to harvest a LOT of images. You’ll edit later (more on that in part II).
Go for striking, uncluttered, high-contrast images because those tend to read best from far away AND can be seen clearly even when the projector is dim or low-quality. Steer clear of the banal and the literal. You want the visual to support your idea, not bludgeon the audience with its obviousness. To that end, don’t be afraid to be abstract or whimsical.
Collect high-resolution images (aim for 1920×1080 minimum). Crop out any extraneous or distracting details. Rename the file to something that is easy for you to remember or locate quickly; and place all of the files in your respective folders.
One last point on visuals. Someone went to the effort to create the visuals that you find so wonderful. Be an awesome human and give them credit. The easiest way to remember the creator is to put the credit info in the file name; but the best way is to right-click on the image and fill out the meta-data (using Properties on PC or Get Info on Mac). Both platforms provide editable fields, allowing you to enter the creators name and other info, along with tags to make it searchable.
So now you have your thoughts together, an outline made, and a collection of images and video. What’s next? Part III will cover creating your visual presentation and rehearsing. Part IV will cover presentation day.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted six different workshops for high school arts students. At the end of each workshop, there is time for Q&A. Invariably, no matter what workshop I’m doing, one of the questions I always get is, “Should I go to college for an arts degree?”.
Well, that depends.
There are a variety of factors that can influence this momentous decision; among the many are location, financial feasibility, desire, and expectation. Making the choice to engage in higher learning is a deeply personal one and, sadly, it is one that few high school students are equipped to make.
My real answer is that it all depends on what you want to be when you grow up and what you want from life. What are your long-term goals; and I do mean long term (30-40 years from now)? If you desire to be a Broadway designer or a professor at a University; it helps considerably to be packing at least an MFA. If you want to teach at a junior college, you may just need a teaching certificate along with the appropriate coursework. If you want to be a roadie, traveling the world on concert tours, then an MFA might be superfluous. Again, though, if you look at the career of a roadie, it’s important to look past the 25 good years of your youth (when the job is physically easier) and into your 50’s. What does life look like then?
When you’re a junior in high school, projecting that far into the future is difficult. It’s too abstract; but I encourage students to try nonetheless. What is the future? City or suburbs? Buy or rent? Spouse? Kids? Travel for work? Vacations? The inklings of answers to those questions can point you in the right direction.
Perhaps more importantly than “Should I go to college?”, is “Which college should I attend?” There are a plethora of exceptional schools out there; and it’s important to remember that YOU are hiring them and paying them; not the other way round. It’s perfectly fine to demand the most for your money. The key thing to remember is that this is YOUR decision. Picking the school that fits your learning style, that offers you connections to your industry, and that excels in teaching what you want to learn will take time. Talk to the professors, recruiters, and administrators. Interview THEM; not the other way around.
That sounds like a lot of work; and it is. But I will tell you that I know a number of people who blame their school or college for not preparing them adequately, or who feel their degree was a waste of time. The work you put in is directly related to what you’ll get out of it in the end. YOU have to do the work.
Another way to think about college is to do what my buddy Mike did. He always wanted to work in lighting. He had a lot of experience and was quite good even at a young age. He looked at his industry and realized that most people were free-lancers; and that in order to be very successful, he would want to run his career as a business. He also realized that he didn’t know the first thing about being in business, or free-lancing, or entrepreneurship. He paid his way through college doing lighting gigs, and graduated with a business degree. He’s now incredibly successful. I tell this story because its a great example of someone willing to engage in tough self-examination of their strengths and weaknesses, resolving to do something about it, and then following through with the hard work.
Finally, if you decide not to go to college, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you need to bend to societal norms or your parents expectations. Also, take a look at this story from Mashable, offering 6 ways to succeed without going to college.
Just a quick post today to share a few brief tips.
I read an article recently in Dramatics Magazine. Written by Sean O’Skea, “How To Talk Design” is a helpful guide to young designers navigating their first production experiences. It also functions as a pretty good reminder to seasoned pros as well.
While it’s clear that his advice is aimed at theatrical designers, anyone in an artist/client relationship can relate to these questions, which focus on getting concrete information out of a director (which, sometimes, is no mean feat…).
A few of my favorites are:
“Why is the director taking on the show?” This one can be important because we all do projects for different reasons. Understanding why the director is participating can give you insight into what they are looking for.
“What does the director think the play is about?” I think “Sweeney Todd” is about how revenge destroys us from the inside. Others think it’s about British societal castes. Still others think it’s a charming little tale about embracing opportunity. The point is – everyone has different opinions about what the play is about; but only one really matters.
“What is the director’s vision for the ‘world’ of the play?” If the director says he’s doing a traditional staging of “Hello, Dolly”, you begin to form certain images in your head. If the they say they’re doing “Hello, Dolly” as imagined by Tim Burton, you get a very different set of mental images.
Perhaps his best statement is “Communicate artfully, early, and often”.
Communicating artfully is something with which I believe we all struggle. To state your artistic intent clearly and with purpose in a way that allows people to understand what you see in your head is something that must be worked on continuously. It first requires that you know what you want to see on the stage. That is informed by the project, the research, and a myriad of other influences; all combining to create that vision. But as long as the vision stays stuck in your head, it’s virtually useless. It’s YOUR responsibility to get it out of your head through drawings, words, and actions. Communicate artfully!
You can read Sean’s full article here (on page 31).
This week (Sep7-13, 2014) is Arts in Education week in California. In celebration of that, I’m sharing this article, written earlier this year for The New York Times by Laura Pappano.
In it, she covers students presenting projects for “Introduction To Creative Studies” taught by professor Cyndi Burnett.
While critical thinking has long been treasured by employers as a desirable trait, creativity has come into its own as well. An IBM study, conducted in 2010, of global CEO’s ranked creativity as the factor most crucial for success. Now, classes are beginning to pop up in the nations universities to inspire, nurture, and teach creativity.
Of course, everyone has different but similar definitions for “creative” and some of the things mentioned in the article may not fit, depending upon your worldview of what is (and is not) creative; but it’s a great read on how our educators are grappling with a changing landscape.
Recently, I had the great pleasure of participating in the International Thespian Festival, held annually on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. We were treated to unusually cool temperatures and only a little rain, which made the week all the more pleasant.
The festival is produced by the Educational Theatre Association. It features a full week of activities for high school drama students. Some of the activities include performance and technical competitions (National Individual Events), college auditions, a wide variety of workshops for directors, choreographers, actors, techs, and playwrights, and fully-staged student plays and musicals. Among this years shows were, “Catch Me If You Can”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Mary Poppins”, and “Violet”.
Also included is an opening night event staffed onstage and backstage by specially selected students. Opening the festival this year was “An Evening with Shaiman and Wittman”, featuring the writer/composer duo of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, a cast of eight students, and two Broadway singer/actors.
The student technicians are mentored by seasoned pros and are afforded a unique learning opportunity; given that the show is blocked and choreographed in a day and teched in about an hour, with no cue -to-cue or other rehearsal.
It’s a great way for the students to learn how to pull a show out of thin air. I worked with three bright, motivated students and enjoyed my time with them immensely.
The students were also treated to a special cabaret featuring Broadway performers Carla Stickler and Justin Brill.
This week drove home for me, yet again, the importance of introducing and nurturing a love of the arts in our nation’s schools. Only a small percentage of arts/drama/music students choose to pursue a career in the arts. Those who do pursue a career in the arts face a mountain of challenges; made all the more daunting by a culture that devalues artistic contribution and rewards “celebrity” instead.
Those who do not pursue a career still carry a love of the arts into adulthood, introducing their friends, family and children to art, drama, music, and dance; four forms of expression that make us more well-rounded humans; that teach us more about ourselves.
It’s difficult to not be cynical about the state of the arts in our nation. With threatened cuts to the N.E.A, arts programs being cut out or scaled back in public schools, and theaters, operas, and symphonies folding all over the U.S., the outlook appears bleak. This, despite the numerous studies conducted within the last five years concluding that the arts support and cultivate creativity in the nations youth and that creativity is the number ONE quality sought by the world’s business in their leaders.
The conclusion ought to be obvious to our political leaders, but it’s clearly not.
In order to not cave into that bleak cynicism, I volunteer my time to work with these students through the California State Thespians. The time I spend with theatre students rejuvenates my own passion for my chosen career. I see their youthful drive, their unbridled love for their craft, their excitement, energy, and clear sense of purpose and it re-inspires me all over again. I hope they find their experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as I do.
Today launches a new section of cre8tivity lab – future cre8tors. This section will focus on creative education and careers.
First up is a quick post to relate this story – the release of the annual study conducted by Otis College of Art & Design in Los Angeles. The Otis Report On The Creative Economy has focused its efforts on southern California for a number of years. This year, however, the entire state was included in the report and the findings are interesting (if not exactly surprising).
Though the industries that comprise the creative economy are not legally defined, the report includes data from various industries, from automotive design to fashion, to gaming and entertainment. It finds that these combined industries contributed $155,000,000,000.00 to California’s economy and accounts for nearly 8% of the states revenue.
These figures speak to the demand in this sector and hint at potential growth. That’s certainly the hope by those generating this report; to statistically detail that creative jobs are important to the state. Policymakers, citing reports like this one, can then make the business case for arts and design when preserving or (heaven forbid) increasing funding for arts education. Perhaps it can even be used to lure creative businesses to the state with the promise of a skilled creative workforce.