Monday, December 12, 2011

Cultural Calorie Count

Santey, does this guitar music make me look fat?
A few weeks ago, storyteller, folk singer and cowboy historian of the Southwest (and my favorite Santa Claus) Tony Norris asked me if culture is "hi-caloric."  It was just one of those questions that I adore, a real conversation starter.

Tony, I've been wrapping my head around it for a couple of weeks now.

Last week I went to my the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy's (FALA) holiday dance and music performance to see my son perform in his ballroom dance group and jazz band.  It was the end of a really long, tiresome day.  I had been stamping out fires and my toes were singed.

But I got to the performance at 7 p.m., sat next to one of my best and oldest friends, and settled in for 3 hours of beautiful dancing and creative, talented musicians (it is, after all, an art school.)  Everything was pleasing to the eye, well-performed, and different.  It was one of those perfect foods--it tasted good, it was easily digestible, and it made me feel wonderful.  After the performance, my son looked like he had eaten spinach--he was wide-eyed and energetic.

I really started thinking about beauty and food.  For some reason, everything that makes me happy and is beautiful makes me say "yummy!"  If I see the cutest, chubbiest, happiest baby, I metaphorically want to take a bite out of her apple cheeks to show my appreciation. (Please understand, this is all in a good, loving way.)  My kitties, who are so cute, also make me say crazy things, like "I'm going to eat you up and serve you for breakfast."  When I saw the total lunar eclipse on Saturday, I wanted to devour the landscape, because it was so poignantly beautiful and meaningful in some way that I wanted to keep inside me, for a long time.  As an interesting aside, Hindus believed that a serpent or a demon was eating the sun or moon when they were eclipsed.

Why do we often use food and eating as a metaphor for things that have great meaning for us?!

A lot of people (mostly Italian) see something of beauty or taste something delicious, and make a similar gesture--putting their fingers to their mouths and noisily kissing them.  I think this gesture of bringing something intangible to your mouth and kissing it is a great way of showing appreciation.  Consumption of food makes us feel good, too, just like viewing and participating in art does.  It fills us.  It gives us nourishment.

I would say that the FALA performance was pretty nourishing too.  It made me feel a huge sense of connection, because the "food" was locally-grown and produced, and it was designed to fit the needs of the community that it fed.  It was pretty filling, and the calories were well-spent.  Everything was gourmet, high-energy, and satisfying.

And so, Tony, I have no idea if "culture" in general is high in calories, but I do know that it is essential to growth and development, just like good food.  When we see beauty, and it touches us, we want to integrate it into our cells.  We want to have it pervade our flesh.  We want it to infuse our spirit.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living off Laughter

It's almost the end of the semester, and the end of the year.  People are burning the candle at both ends.  Everywhere I look, students, faculty and staff are red-eyed from lack of sleep.  Tempers are a little short.  Everything's due, all at once.

I think I can say with confidence that this time of year can be very stressful.

With all this stress, I think that the College of Arts and Letters Film Series made a very wise choice to screen "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" as the last film of the semester.  A very full audience packed the house last night at Cline Library.  We weren't there for a political, thoughtful, enlightening or educational movie.

We were there to laugh, gol-danggit!!

It was easy to laugh.  The character of Pee-Wee had simple goals and simple needs.  His wasn't a complicated, emotional character.  He had a quest--he needed to find his beloved bike. (I can totally identify with this.  It's the worst feeling in the world to have your bike stolen.)  He had an enemy--the one-dimensional rich kid brat, Francis.  He was never alone, even in his loneliest moments, and never at a loss for words, especially funny one-liners.

Best of all, he had a fireman's pole in his house.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure also had some of my favorite movie tropes:  A breakfast-making machine line, a CLASSIC movie set chase scene, and, my favorite, a dance designed to be so absolutely funky and cool that the hero inexplicably wins over his worst enemies. (In Pee-Wee's case, it's a barful of bikers.  In Napoleon Dynamite's case, it's an auditorium full of high-schoolers.  In The Revenge of the Nerds, it's about beating the Alpha Betas.)  Warner Bros. even turns Pee-wee's life in a full-length film.  

People, this was pure comedy entertainment.  We were all just there to laugh at stuff again and lighten up.  It was pure movie pleasure, childish and immature, and all of a sudden the busy schedules and stressful classes didn't seem to matter so much.

Maybe you can't live on laughter alone, but it sure makes the rest of your life that much easier.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nickel and Dimed Culture

  I don't talk much about lectures or philosophical discussions in this blog, but I fully endorse them as cultural events.  Your basic online dictionary defines culture as "The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively."  This definition perfectly fits my own internal designation of "culture,"--what I want to experience  more of and examine my engagement with.

  I do regard thoughtful, smart presentations and discussions as proof of intellectual achievement, (and therefore a part of the collective of culture as a whole) and accordingly, I was very interested in the panel discussion for NAU Theatre's staging of "Nickel and Dimed" that was held on Nov. 17.

The play is based on the book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. The story follows as the author takes minimum wage jobs, lives in hotels, and basically "tries to understand the hardships and financial difficulties of the working class in America."  Many at NAU remember reading the book 6-7 years ago as part of a one-campus/one-book type thing. 

  The panelists were chosen from various departments on campus and in the city, and included John Eastwood (Economics and Statistics, NAU);  David McIntire (Permanent Affordability Administrator, Housing Program, City of Flagstaff);  Jason Matteson (Dept. of Philosophy, NAU); and moderated by Constance DeVereaux, (Dept. of Humanities and coordinator of the Program in Arts and Cultural Management, NAU.)

  My friend and I liked the fact that they had a community member who works with low income housing present- especially since he could speak about living impoverished himself for a while.  I really liked the fact that one of the panelists was a single mom who practically raised her kids in the library while she was getting her PhD.  She talked about how being a mom is one of the biggest impacts on your earning potential.

  One of the most informative issues raised, however, was thinking about the ways in which we are institutionalized in poverty or in wealth.  For instance, my friend and I had an education and support from families.  We had a knowledge base of experience and parental wisdom, and general know-how that taught us how to make our clothes presentable for job interviews, pursue a degree to further our economic advantage, and invest our meager amounts of money in things that helped us get ahead.  We may be cash-poor, but we have resources.  A lot of people who are classified at the "extreme poverty" level don't know how to apply to college, get scholarships, or network.

  This whole conversation started me thinking about making culture more accessible in general.  This is a guess, but I would venture to say that a lot of people classified at the "extreme poverty" level are probably intimidated by "culture" and don't feel comfortable or welcome at art exhibits and museums,  classical music performances, or even a play.  Which probably means that many people that are affected by the issues of "Nickel and Dimed" won't be there to see it!  What a shame!  Art should be available to everyone--it's an essential part of the human experience.

  It's a vicious cycle and a huge cultural issue--and I am grateful that NAU Theatre is trying address the issue of poverty and bring attention to the problem.

"I hope that talking about what we can do as a community, dealing with working class issues, will bring better awareness to social issues of poverty that we're dealing with now," said Season Ellison, director of "Nickel and Dimed."

  By the way, there's still time to catch the play.  "Nickel and Dimed" will stage Nov. 30- Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. at the Studio Theatre.  (Call 928-523-5661 for tickets.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eternally Thankful for Beauty

Bruce Aiken and me, in front of one of my favorite pieces at "It's Elemental"--Ryan Lamfers: "A Feeling of Discontent."
It's Thanksgiving week.  What am I thankful for?  So many things...

I took a friend to the NAU Opera performance of "Albert Herring" last Saturday night.  I had an extra ticket, and put a call out on Facebook.  I was gratifyingly surprised that my friends were so responsive, and even had a little bit of competition over who got to go.  (I'm thankful that my peeps are cultured folk.)  Meghan and I went and had a taste of fine culture.  We agreed that it was long, and we are not conditioned to long stretches of entertainment (do we have cultural ADHD?) We also agreed that it was funny, the singers were fabulous (Emily Wells and Quentin Lee were especially excellent), and I was very thankful to experience the opera in its new space this year.  The Prochnow Auditorium is intimate and simple,  and had a classic beauty that enhanced what was onstage.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to experience challenging and enriching mediums such as opera.

I am also so happy and grateful for John "JT" Tannous of Flagstaff Cultural Partners for the energy and hard work he and his staff puts into making and maintaining a dynamic and thriving art scene in Flagstaff.  On Friday night I went to the Member's Preview of "It's Elemental."  It's always fun to go to art openings at the Cultural Center for the Arts and enjoy a consistently high-quality exhibit.  It's also a good place to see many of the most influential people in the arts in Flagstaff.

In my mind, one of those people is Bruce Aiken, an artist of international acclaim, best known for his Grand Canyon oil paintings.  Bruce is also a dedicated community member and advocate for the arts.  He has served on and led the City's Beautification and Public Arts Commission (BPAC) for 4-5 years, and has made tough, visionary decisions about how to spend money on artistic contributions that benefit the entire city.  He is fantastic role model for people young and old, because he cares about the arts and always encourages artists and creative individuals to recognize and develop their talents.

 I'm thankful and grateful for a job that literally requires me to stay connected with the art community.  I'm grateful for a community that gives me access to performances such as the NAU Opera production of "Albert Herring."  I'm grateful for friends who will go with me to all the concerts and experience it with an open heart and mind.  And I'm thankful for leaders who work hard to promote a vision of artistic excellence and who show us the way.

And finally, I'm thankful for beauty, and the ability to appreciate and treasure it.  It brings me infinite happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Another of my favorite pieces at "It's Elemental" by Bob Fain.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Modern Communication Enhances Classical Music

Fifth House Ensemble--Nov. 14 

Usually, I reserve Thursday-Saturday as my evenings to go out.  But there's something more intimate about a Monday night crowd.  It's like going to a film festival in a snowstorm, or getting last-minute directions to the evasive forest party.  If you go, you get the t-shirt.

That's how I felt last night when I went to the Horizons Concert Series performance of Fifth House Ensemble.  The crowd was small, but we were special.  We were watching something new, something bold--we were watching something develop before our eyes.  The Horizons Concert Series, organized by School of Music director Todd Sullivan, is meant to provide "mind-bending experiences that complement all else that happens in town, and make the musical opportunities and experiences deeper and wider."  The performance, "In Transit: #undercoverhero" was a musical exploration of "Tim," a young boy who experiences bullying.  His story included comic books, online chat rooms, Twitter, hashmarks and Mozart.  

My friends wavered between watching the narrative unfold on the screen to paying attention to the music.  It may have been a little distracting for musical purists--The music was at times a sound track; at other times it was the main character.  But the beauty of this performance was that Fifth House Ensemble (5HE) provided a world to step into.  Our everyday sensibilities of modern communications were engaged in ways that classical music doesn't usually do. For a young audience, In Transit transcended the classical music boundaries and engaged us in the performance, actually asking us to pull out our cell phones at the end of the evening! 

The finale was when we each texted and tweeted our own hopes and dreams for Tim.  The various texts from the audience were displayed on the screen as they arrived.  "I hope the meathead's bullying days are over."  "I hope Tim and the meathead become best friends for life!"  "I hope Fifth House comes back to Flagstaff."  (here's their Twitter page, to see more of the audience's remarks.)

The Horizons Concert Series can sometimes go under the radar because it's held on Monday nights.  Don't be fooled.  Sometimes the biggest things happen on the quietest evenings.

The next Horizons Concert Series will feature award-wining Elena Urioste, violin joining  Michael Brown, piano on Wed., Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m. at Ashurst Hall.

Individual tickets for the Horizons Concert Series are $20 for adults, $12.50 for seniors and NAU faculty and staff, free for NAU students with an ID and children. For tickets to all events, call 928-523-5661. For more information on the season, please visit

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vegas is an Art Museum

Looks like Dale Chihuly at Treasure Island?

I went to Vegas this weekend to celebrate my sister's birthday.  Even though it has a reputation for being tacky, Vegas actually has art oozing out of its pores.  There are street performers, art galleries, fabulous examples of architecture, and all kinds of art mediums; glass, sculpture, fashion, and tile-work are just a few things I admired.

I think what Vegas really suffers from is not enough "white space."  Just like any good designer will tell you, the eye needs some space to rest.  All the great art in Vegas can be hard to take in; the eye is working overtime!   Vegas is famous for sensory overload, but this time I noticed that it was an "art overload."

I can get overwhelmed at museums, not from walking around, but from visual fatigue.  So I tried my favorite museum strategy, and only carefully looked at the pieces of art that were visually attractive and compelling to me.  I didn't see everything, but I liked what I saw, and best of all, I remembered what I saw!

Fall leaves at the Bellagio.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Creativity and a Child-Mind

Juan Carlos shows me his family altar.
My personal ofrenda.
   In the same way that going to a costume party without a costume on is no fun at all, going to an art event and not participating is pretty lame.  Why are you at the concert if you aren't going to listen to the music?  Why go to Celebraciones de la Gente if you aren't going to make a couple of paper flowers or color a calaveras?  Why even watch a street performer if you aren't going to clap and interact with them?  

  This week I DID participate in the artistic experience.  I went to the Museum of Northern Arizona, for their Dias de los Muertos, and taking the cues from all the children around me, I colored a calavera mask (complete with "jewels"), made paper flowers, and got a personal tour by 10 year old Juan Carlos (he's also featured in the Arizona Daily  Sun) who showed me his family's ofrenda, or altar. The craft table was full of other kids-- like me-- who just wanted to engage by creating.
  I was just lazing around in the sunshine on Heritage Square when I got caught up in the street art performance of Dizzy Hips (he holds the Guinness Book of World Records for hula-hooping the most hula hoops).  He also hula hoops a 102 lb. tractor tire.  There was a lucky kid who got a ride in the tractor tire (a la Scout Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird") and after the show, I mentioned to Dizzy that I sure would like a tractor tire ride.  So I got one.

  I giggled the entire time, and spent the rest of the night trying not to get sick.  But I sure was engaged in that show!!

  It's so much more fun when you are part of the artistic process.  Somehow little kids know this instinctively.  If you are bored with the art you're taking in, maybe you should take a look at all the kids.  What are they doing?  Most likely, if it's a truly creative, interactive experience, they are CREATING and INTERACTING.  It's easier for kids to be silly and take part in those activities.  Creative playtime isn't just for kids--it's for everyone.  

  Let go of your inhibitions, and have some FUN for Chrissake!

This be me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The calmness of art

Float (version 3) by Jennifer Holt

"Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.  A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm... an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction."
-Saul Bellow (1915 - 2005)

 This past week has been hectic for everyone I know.  In my world, October is so busy for everyone on-campus, what with mid-terms, Homecoming, the peak of the performance season...And people are also busy with Halloween, and a general energy of activity.  It's during these times that I find myself close to getting sick, because I'm lighting the candle at both ends.  There's not much stillness, and much chaos.

  But no matter how busy I am, I always find the time to go to NAU Art Museum openings.  The NAU Art Museum focuses on challenging work by modern and contemporary artists, and they usually have 4-6 exhibitions yearly.  This year they have had a challenging time letting people know they are open throughout Historic Quad construction on-campus.

  I went to their 2011 National Juried Ceramics Exhibition opening on Thursday.  The exhibition was a great collection of functional/utilitarian work (i.e. teapots) and sculptural ceramic work made in a variety methods.  There was the exhibition winner, "Float (version 3)" by Jennifer Holt, made of slip cast porcelain.  They really looked like white paper bags, and when you looked inside, they were holding water with little origami paper boats (also made out of ceramic) floating on top.  It was absolutely charming.  

  Some of the pieces were from NAU ceramic students, including two wood-fired pieces by Blake McCord.  A very interesting piece by Eric Belz, "Bound," was made out of ceramic, glazes, slips, rubber, cords, and copper wire.  Yes, some of the pieces were disturbing (avoid the bunnies) but most of it was texturally interesting and visually compelling.  I just let my eyes rest.    

"Bound" by Eric Belz is on display at the NAU Art Museum.
  I could go on and on about the show (there were over 40 pieces) but you should just check it out for yourself.  The show is open until Nov. 23.

  It's really important for everyone to grab little snatches of time to relax.  Looking at art makes me do that--I find that there is no pressure to "understand" anything, follow the witty dialogue or keep track of the score.  With art, you can just "be," and "achieve stillness in the midst of chaos." In the midst of the distraction of our busy lives, achieving a sense of calm is so critical!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Film--Always a Happy Ending?

“When the Cowboys Rode the Indian Screenscape”
A talk by K. Harihara, Oct. 12

This week I watched a lot of films, and talked a lot about films.  I've been thinking about the art of film and why it's one of our societies most favorite mediums.   

  On Wednesday, K. Harhiaran from Chennai, India came to the NAU campus and discussed Indian film and the cowboy archetype in his presentation, "When the Cowboys Rode the Indian Screenscape".  After hearing about the melodramatic aspects of Indian film, I spent many hours at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival, Wednesday - Sunday,  watching documentaries on environmentalism, extreme sports, local issues, indigenous voices, and women's issues.  So I got to delve into two very different film genres--melodrama and nonfiction.  But really, are they all so different?

  There is an interesting distinction between melodramas, dramas, and documentaries.  Harhiarian, or "Hari" pointed out that most Indian films are very clearly melodramas based on the Hollywood golden age.  Melodramas exaggerate plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions.  In the New York Times this week, Nicolas Rapold defines the formula of melodramas of Hollywood’s Golden Age as containing:
  Like the Hollywood Golden Age love stories, Indian films are packed with archetypes and character types, as well as exaggerated plots, following the formula for melodrama perfectly.  The film industry in India created 1100 films in 2010 alone; almost all of these contribute to a "creation of cinema mythology" that consists of heroes, heroines, and happy endings.  Indian films are expected to follow a plot formula.  There is no room for personalized stamps by the directors--there is no individualism, said Hari. 
  When I  was watching the documentary films at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival this weekend, I wondered which was more dramatic--melodramas or real life.  For instance, I watched the local film "Greening the Revolution," about international food injustice, made by Katie Curran (who is also a College of Arts and Letters alumna, by the way.)  "Greening the Revolution talked about how globalization has created one economy for the entire world.  The United States is able to undercut local farmers in other countries, creating a dependence on imported food and destroying local farm economies.

  While the film was nonfiction and factual, it was incredibly similar to melodrama.  Like melodramas, the documentary had
  • A THWARTED LOVER  (Kenya, India, Zambia, Brazil and various farmers throughout the United States)
  • AN AFFLICTION  (local farmers are unable to compete with a global agriculture economy)
  • THE HORRIBLE AWKWARD SECRET  (companies like Monsanto, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are making record profits by getting small farmers hooked on fertilizers and genetically modified seeds and making prices increasingly unaffordable) 
  The only thing missing was the IMPLAUSIBLE REUNION.  Documentaries aren't as popular because they don't have the magic bullet ending.  This is real life, folks, and the dramas of real life aren't so easily resolvable into a neat and clean package.

  A lot of these documentaries are telling important stories.  They don't have an implausible solution at the end, because solutions take time and effort, and are usually logical progressions.  Yes, this film was hard for me to watch.  Part of it was that the situation sucks.  Part of it was that the point was hammered in until my heart got sore.  But another part is that I'm conditioned to expect a happy ending at the conclusion of every film.  I will try to overcome my Hollywood training to expect the happy ending--just because it's a film-- and watch these documentaries that make me mad, make me cry, and make me think.

  But it's a hard process.

"Greening the Revolution" a film by College of Arts and Letters alumna, Katie Curran.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh, ArtWalk...sigh...(A LOVE STORY)

"Marvin" by Simon Kirk.  (No longer) available at Gallery 113.
  This is a love story.  I admit it.  I love First Friday Artwalk.

  I had a friend who was having a party last Friday night.  I told her  "It's ArtWalk, I've missed it all summer long (4 straight months) and if I don't make an appearance, I might...die.."
  There's something special about Artwalk.  It's my favorite social event of the month.  Friends know (or soon realize) that if they want to see me, they have to come downtown.  There is always a huge sense of community--for instance, the Murdoch Center unveiled their community/historical mural last Friday, featuring many prominent and influential black residents from Flagstaff's history.  There's always a sense of celebration--there is wine, music and laughter at every venue.  And there's a sense of the importance of beauty.  We can even take that beauty home with us, and shop-keepers and gallery owners have started to give us options in all price points.

  Sometimes I even get to feel like I have been transported to another town, because the art and atmosphere is so edgy and different--(like when I visited Ivan's show "Unsung" at 100 Mike's Pike.  My friends and I all felt like we had entered into a Tron dance club.)

  John "JT" Tannous, executive director of Flagstaff Cultural Partners says that Artwalk started in either 1997 or 1998.  I remember going back in the early 2000's, when it wasn't as crowded.  Back then, it was more of an inside crowd, the people who came just for the art.  Nowadays, the crowds are estimated at 3,000+ during the summer months.  People are concerned that it has gotten too crowded, and that the true purpose- to promote art sales- is getting lost.  (Listen here to a related KNAU story here.)

  I think the radio spot has a good point.  Celebrating art within a festival-like atmosphere is valuable.  Personally, I have never had a problem with a party, especially if it involves art.  And, as my friends can tell you, going to ArtWalk with me is usually a blend of efficiency, maximum art-viewing, and pleasureable run-ins with interesting people.  I look at my map beforehand.  I make a plan.  I stick to a general area (on Friday it was mostly Southside.)  Sometimes, I even buy art.  So, really, it's the best of all my worlds.

  And as for my purchase, I bought a sweet little painting from UK artist Simon Kirk at Gallery 113.  There's proof that people do, indeed, buy art on Artwalk!  Peeps out there who want to give original art for the holidays...these little treasures are only $35!

Plugged in Robot (not original title) by Ivan at The Pike.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Flagstaff's Creativity Tribe Comes Together

Sir Ken Robinson speaks to a table of educators from NAU and FALA.

  October is here, and really, there is no excuse for you to stay home (unless you want to).  Last week I attended Sir Ken Robinson's public speaking event.  I also got to interview the Knight of Creativity himself.
  Robinson is a leading educational consultant known world-wide for his innovative approaches to creativity in the K-12 classroom. He has written many books and articles on creativity, the arts, education and cultural development, including the New York Times bestseller “The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything” and “Out of Our Minds:  Learning to be Creative.”

  And yes, he's a knight.  In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
  In his address, Sir Ken talked about the crisis we are facing as we cut the arts out of our school curricula, and deprive children of arts, music, dance and theatre education.  "As a system we have contrived to stifle the creative impulse," he said to the packed seats in Ardrey Auditorium.  "Kids are usually creatively rich, and adults usually aren't.  Creativity should be the heart of everything we do."  The implication here is that creativity isn't much a part of anything we do.  Or perhaps we don't identify it as creativity?

  Well, what is creativity?  Is it just the fine arts, music, or theatre?  "Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value," says Sir Ken.  So no, it's NOT just the arts-- creativity can be applied in math, working with people, and while running a company.  "Anything that evolves human consciousness is creative,"  he said.

  I think people need to stop feeling self-conscious about being creative.  You don't need to necessarily be a painter, or a jazz musician!!  I think this is a big one for me; I always feel slightly apologetic when people ask me if I'm an artist.  Well, no, I write a lot, I like to dance, and usually I can come up with a scrappy and unique solution... The biggest thing I came away with from Sir Ken's speech is that EVERYONE has the capacity to be creative.  No matter what field you are in!

Here's me, interviewing Sir Ken.  Photo by Steven Toya.
  After his speech, 160 NAU faculty, students, and K-12 educators in the Flagstaff Unified School District (as well as charter schools) gathered for a workshop to discuss creativity in education.  During that time, I had the chance to talk to Sir Ken about one's "tribe" and what that really means.  Much like the educators that were gathered together that day, Sir Ken described a tribe as "people who have similar areas of interest and a shared commitment to that type of discourse.  Not necessarily people you agree with.  That's the key thing," Having conversations about your passion and even arguing about it affirms the passion.  Being surrounded by other people's achievements elevates your own game.

  We are drawn to people that share the same interest.  And if we're really lucky, we will have 1-2 people who practically share our mind, says Sir Ken.  Yes, it's important to surround ourselves with people we admire, and people who encourage creativity.
  "If the Arts aren't there (in the school system) you're not educating people...(But) they're not dead, they're dormant.  If the conditions are right, creativity can bloom," sayeth Sir Ken.

  And those conditions include realizing that creativity is an evolutionary process; contains original thinking; and produces ideas of value.  I think we can all stand behind that.

An FUSD teacher gets creative at the Creativity in Education Workshop on Friday.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Art: Make it Special, Forget your Worries, and Emotionally Connect with Others

NAU Theatre students Tony Latham, Alex Oliver and Fantasia Noel take us away from it all in "Two Gentlemen of Verona: The Musical."  Photo by Bob Yowell.

 I didn't make it to any cultural events this week.  Instead, I was having many thought-provoking conversations with art and cultural researchers and performers about the value and place of the arts.  I'm sure you already know the value of art in our culture, but sometimes, we need to JUSTIFY and advocate for the them, if only just to remind our own selves of their healthy contributions to our life.

The first conversation was with Dr. Ekkehart Malotki, emeritus professor of modern languages at NAU, about his research on Southwestern rock art.  (More of the story, coming soon.)  We talked about his exciting new discoveries, and his interest in ancient rock art.

"In times of stress and crisis, people resort to the arts," said Malotki.  Rock art is a perfect example.  Art is not essential to daily life, it doesn't feed us or shelter us.  But, as ancient people have exemplified, we "artify" and decorate things because it makes it special.  It helps it to stand out, give it importance, and hopefully influence something.  "Art is a behavior that we are born with," continued Malotki.  Art helps us with our survival, probably because we all need to feel something special at times.  When things are rough, art helps us remember the good.  That's why art is especially important during an economic downturn.

I also got to talk to Darby Winterhalter-Lofstrand, lecturer in NAU Theatre, and director of the Shakespeare adaptation of "Two Gentlemen of Verona: The Musical."  (Go see it, Oct. 14-23 at the Clifford E. White Theatre.)  Lofstrand thinks that her upcoming play will be a huge kick for the audience and will be a welcome relief from the mundane life.  "Musicals suspend our disbelief and get us away from daily grind," she said.  "We're drawn to music as humans."

Ryan Holder, assistant professor and associate director of NAU Choral Studies, agrees with Lofstrand.  He finds that his vocal jazz group, "High Altitude" and other choirs often attain an intimate emotional connection with their audience.  "It doesn't get much more personal than the human voice," he said.  High Altitudes vocal jazz group is performing on Oct. 14 at the NAU Ardrey Memorial Auditorium. Holder is looking forward to taking his professional group, The Sedona Academy of Chamber Singers (comprised solely of current and recent NAU students,) to Cuba in May 2012, and believes that they may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be musical ambassadors of a sort. 

I think that these three professors hit on very essential points:  We love art because it makes our life special, it transports us away from our everyday lives, and it allows us to emotionally connect with others. 
Emotionally connect with High Altitudes vocal jazz group on Oct. 14 at the NAU Ardrey Memorial Auditorium.  Photo by Maria Nissen.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Music and the Great Outdoors

Run Boy Run at Heritage Square
There is something special about live music; sharing it with a community of music-lovers, watching the performers, being part of the spirit.  If you are lucky enough to be outdoors during the performance, it makes the music sound that much better.  I think that being outdoors makes you hungrier...for music!
  It was a big musical weekend for Flagstaff.  Not only was it the 6th Annual Pickin in the Pines Festival, but it was also the opening concert for the 62nd Annual Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. 

Outdoor concerts with friends--just about perfect.
  I went to the free concert for Pickin', at Heritage Square on Thursday-- Run Boy Run was playing.  Those sweet youngsters had some serious skills.  As I sat there with my son and our friends, I was already nostalgic for outdoor summer concerts.  Can one sit in Heritage Square during a free outdoor concert, watching the sunset, hearing the tunes, and not feel the warmth and draw of our town?

Zoe and me at the FSO opening concert.
  On Saturday I went to the symphony with my friend. It was the concert "Here and Now: Modern Works by Women Composers", and there were 7 modern composers that were represented.  I loved it all, but the piece that became most visually meaningful for me was the one that evoked nature, Hilary Tann's "Leggiero".  Her concert notes say "The first movement, marked slow and spacious, is inspired by Mount Hiei as viewed from Shoden-ji, a temple with a dry landscape (Zen rock) garden."

  Because of this bit of personal history/musical nudge, I couldn't help but set my listening experience outdoors again, this time amongst the Zen rock garden that my son and I toured last year at the Portland Japanese Gardens.  (It was pouring rain on that trip, of course.)

  Precious memories indeed.

A remembered outdoor Zen moment.

  I'm happy to have live music (of all kinds) in my life.  I'm happy to have nature in my life.  And in Flagstaff I get to have both. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sharp Pencils, Sharper Buildings

The school year has officially started, and the fight between competing technologies has begun.

Some people like their Boston Ranger manually-operating pencil sharpener (Model 55) mounted on a solid wood pedestal.  Others like their Stanley Bostitch Personal Electric Sharpener (and especially like saying it in Spanish.)
Now that's a tough choice.

But pencil sharpening technology aside, it's also time for technology upgrades and renovations.  Everyone at the College of Arts and Letters was excited about the Liberal Arts Building renovation.  There were safety upgrades, new audio/visual equipment for each classroom, and two new lecture rooms, including a new cinema screening space that will house 200 people. Students and professors will also enjoy new carpet, paint, wood paneling, tile floors, updated bathrooms and a student lounge with a flat-screen television and vending machines.

The Liberal Arts Building has become something of a cornerstone buildingon the NAU campus.  Almost every student at the university has taken a class in this building at one time or another.  (English 105, anyone?)  I, myself, spent many hours inside the Liberal Arts Building in my undergraduate days, dreaming of becoming a beatnik poet, a Mexican revolutionary, or even a Victorian heroine.

Students can now use their imagination in safety, in beauty, and with the aid of 50 new Macs and PCs.   

In true Arts and Letters fashion, the building was dedicated with a ceremony that included Nicole Walker's dedicatory poem "The Metamorphoses" (see below), a not-so-solemn cutting of the ribbon, a musical fanfare provided by the School of Music's Elden Brass Band, and a reception.  It was such a nice celebration of the arts and humanities, all in honor of the love of learning!

President Haeger, Dean Vincent, Provost Grobsmith and Associate Dean Boreen at the re-opening.
More pictures of the opening can be viewed here.

The Metamorphoses
by Nicole Walker
Ovid’s Deucalion and Pyrrha
only had to toss dirt
and rocks over their
shoulders to create a whole
human race. If only tossing here
had been enough.
Here, people worked
through dirt and rock,
mashed them up, cracked
them upon, dug the new
out of the old and turned
geologic into neologic
to make this new
inside place full of shoulders
and absent dirt.
A transformation more
blue than print, more
bones than HVAC, more
rock than LEED.

It is not like we didn’t
appreciate brown tiles
in the bathroom, the way
they sent sludgey bits
riding home with us
on our shoe soles and
backpacks, the way
the water turned on
and stayed on, promising
to flood the asbestos
right out of here.

We’ll miss some things.
A window, here, for instance,
in a someone named Bryan Short
office, the breeze of an open hallway,
the random, sciencey faucets
in a wing named
after someone Bacon
that we shouldn’t forget
in this wave of new blue.

But maybe, when Williams wrote,
no ideas but in things,
he really meant “in” and herein,
in this new building,
the new, blue carpet tiles,
the fire escape, the plastic hallway
interrupter, the new breeze of air
conditioning make that lost window
and maybe those lost sinks,
more idea than thing. In here, in this
Mandelbaum translation
of us, from one kind of earth
into another, in here, we’ll find
the new ideas in the new things
we find here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Celebratory Toast To The Expression of the Soul

"Portrait sans nom" by Mathilde Gatinois, 2011.  Personal collection of Elizabeth Hellstern, on display at Simply Delicious, 408 E. Route 66, throughout May.
  In August, I resolved to "attend or participate in a cultural happening once a week throughout the semester, and write about my musings every Monday on this blog."
  Guess what peeps?  It's finals week.  Students are running around with coffees in their hand, in a surreal party/studying all-nighter daze.

  That means it's also the last week of my school year resolution.

  I'm taking the summer off.  Literally.  I won't be in Flagstaff, and I won't be at work.  I'll be outside.  I'll still be attending cultural events, but preferably ones in outdoor amphitheaters (and probably not blogging until September.)

  Maybe it's the end of the year, but I'm feeling reminiscent and nostalgic about marking the end of many projects and stages this year.  I went to a lot of cultural events.  I wrote about half of them.  I'm a better listener and a better see-er, and I know how to calm myself down with music and visuals.  I also know that music, art, film and theatre mean a lot to my sense of self.  By giving me so much breadth of experience, they have helped me recognize my own style. 

  I also enjoy looking at my art friend's progress of their own personal style.  As a case in point, and a nice conjuncture within my own personal life, I'd like to leave you with two paintings by Mathilde Gatinois, a local artist and friend.  (Mathilde has a show at Simply Delicious, 408 E. Route 66, throughout May.)  When I had more time, I used to model for Mathilde.  The painting of me at the bottom of the page was done in 2007.  This year, I bought one of Mathilde's painting that she did with a different model (see above.)  The two paintings have the same style--the dreamy eyes and the ethereal faces, but clearly show different phases.  They are both lovely.  They are both expressions of Mathilde's style.

  I do think, though, that the older one is softer, more internal, and the newer one is a more dramatic expression of emotion.

  Looking at these paintings makes me sentimental about Mathilde's talent.  I love how she expresses herself on canvas.  I also know that it's not always easy for her to do so--when I modeled for her, she would voice her frustration with the process and the product.  And having one of her pieces reminds me of the effort of the creative process, and the beauty that can be achieved by such effort.

   It's a good reminder as a metaphor for life.  Even those that may not be artists have creative endeavors that take a lot of effort to express. Believe me, it's worth it!

  I propose a virtual toast to all the artists, musicians, filmmakers and speakers that I saw and heard this year!  Here's to appreciating the past, appreciating the present, and looking forward to as much and more in the future. The expression of the soul is a continuous process, and one that has no quantitative value, but a very real place that gets embedded in another's heart.  Thanks for enriching my life in so many ways!!

"Blue Belle" by Mathilde Gatinois, 2007. Personal collection of Susan Magaziner.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Magical Instrument Tour

 "The Magical Instrument Tour is dying to take you away!"

Accordion (above) and acoustic guitars at the Musical Instrument Museum.
   If you can't quite imagine how magical musical instruments are on their own, if you think that looking at musical instruments could be boring, then you DEFINITELY haven't visited the Musical Instrument Museum yet.

  I have to admit, I wondered myself how the intensely personal experience of a musical performance could  be properly represented by a static exhibit of the implements.  But MIM doesn't just hang the instruments on the wall and leave it be.  First of all, they gather the finest instruments, symbolic of the finest music of the world, and display them in ways that make us, the observers, realize the inherent beauty and craftsmanship.  Just like a good pen with a smoothly flowing nib helps us write more beautifully, a good instrument can serve as its own muse.  The first exhibit I saw in the museum, contained guitars ranging from traditional Gibsons to plastic molded star-guitars.  (And if a star-guitar doesn't inspire you to rock out, I'm not sure what will.)

  The museum curators totally pull out their inner rock star by enhancing the exhibits with indigenous recordings of live performances, displayed in short vignettes on a video screen.  The performers are often even using the instruments that we're looking at!

   But before we even got to see most of the exhibits, the group I was with watched a short introductory video.  This is where the museum administrators got all philosophical about what they were doing, and claimed that we would "stand in awe to the pageant of human life."  That "If we do not feed the music, some portion of us will starve."  And "Music, its meaning and its instruments are the wellspring of human culture."

  It was good food for thought as we went around and looked at all the implements of culture.  Many governments have tried to suppress music--but it's just not possible.  People's creativity in making instruments is unmatched, and their desire to express themselves through sound is irrepressible.

  One of the best things about the museum, though, was that it didn't exclusively exhibit "serious art."  Yes, classical music was well-represented.  But there were also displays on bluegrass, electronic music, hip hop and salsa.  It's a great way to bring all the forms of music onto the same playing field--and to realize that it serves the same purpose, no matter who is playing it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Manners, please...

Tony Latham as Truffaldino, Angela Kriese as Smeraldina in NAU Theatre's "The Servant of Two Masters."  Photo by Haleigh Sakas
  Today in a meeting, a colleague pointed out the dictionary definition of culture is a "refinement of mind, taste, and manners; artistic and intellectual development."

  I love that definition (it comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, 2009, by the way) and I particularly enjoy thinking about how culture is a "refinement of manners."  I've recently become fascinated by old-fashioned etiquette books that give us essential advice on living--such as this gem from Emily Post in 1922 on "Going Down The Aisle of a Theatre."

  "The host, or whichever gentleman has the tickets, (if there is no host, the hostess usually hands them to one of the gentlemen before leaving her house), goes down the aisle first and gives the checks to the usher, and the others follow in the order in which they are to sit and which the hostess must direct. It is necessary that each knows who follows whom, particularly if a theater party arrives after the curtain has gone up...For nothing is more awkward and stupid than to block the aisle at the row where their seats are, while their hostess “sorts them.” 

  Some of etiquette books are terribly out of date (or just plain common sense) but, as I tell my son, it never hurts to have manners.  Sometimes asking permission, following directions, meeting deadlines, and letting neatness count help us better navigate an ever-increasingly confusing world.  These outward forms of polite society help us get along easier.

  I also recently heard community artist William Cochran talk about how public art can help ease the friction of living in close quarters with other people (it's basically the macro equivalent of manners).  Art is another outward form of society. 

  Manners.  Culture.  They are very, very similar.  So is it so surprising that cultural performances have a nuanced form of refined manners?

  My son and I went to a recent Commedia dell'arte performance of "The Servant of Two Masters" performed by NAU Theatre.  NAU Theatre is very simple with its instructions on Theatre Etiquette--turn off your cell phones, don't take pictures, and no eating.  Very easy for us.

  I also like another synposis of manners for live theatre from CAL Berkeley.
1.  Arrive on time and be seated 15 minutes before the show.
2.  Be aware and remain quiet.
3.  Show appreciation by applauding.
4. Participate by responding to the action onstage.
5.  Concentrate to help the performers. 

  These pointers are not only things that will help the performers do better, they are ways in which we can enjoy the performance even more.  So when my son laughs hysterically at the physical comedy, he is not only completely engaged, he is actually displaying exquisite manners.
  One more thing about theatre etiquette that you can't live without.  When you are getting to your seat, always face the stage and press as close to the backs of the seats you are facing as you can.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Party You May be Missing

  The movie I went to last Wednesday had a full house.  It also had subtitles, there were no previews, and we were personally greeted with an introduction by our own little film tour guide.
  Would you fall out of your seats if I told you it was at the Harkins Theatre in Flagstaff?

  Yes, it was at Harkins, because a good little Samaritan, Patrick Schweiss, director of the Sedona International Film Festival used his influence and bonhomie to bring independent films up the hill and show them in Flagstaff.   The independent film series is now in Flagstaff every second Wednesday of the month.
  Lucky us.

  The film, "Biutiful," a Spanish film by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Javier Bardem, hit an almost-perfect pitch between life and larger-than-life.  If it were a Hollywood film, it would have tied up all the loose ends, but as a Spanish film, it made sure that it didn't.  And that made it really compelling.

   To me, a good film is like a really good conversation with a new friend.  It surprises you, and proves to be a fresh perspective, yet it is a true thing and resonates.  "Biutiful" was a really great, late night conversation, one that had numerous listeners propped on pillows all over the floor, perhaps after a few cocktails, and in a not so pretty part of town, listening to Javier Bardem tell his story.  It was like the conversation that made you happy you went to that party you almost missed.

  I was introduced to "cinema as an art form" through foreign film.  I started watching Spanish, French, and Italian films, and because they were a new style and it took me longer to read the subtitles and digest the meaning, I thought about them longer.  I began to see film as a conversation starter, not as a substitute for having to talk.  I was always surprised by the way people acted in these foreign films, and I began to see that they way I responded to life wasn't the only way.  I began to remember them.  Films like "Les Enfants du Paradis" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" made me start thinking about expanding my friendships.

  Then I realized that American cinema was just as interesting--I was just hanging out with the wrong crowd.  So I started going to parties that David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Woody Allen and the Coen Bros. hosted.  And while maybe they were jerks sometimes, and maybe they were tragically hip at other times, I started enjoying the different things that they wanted to talk about.

  When I get invited to a "screen conversation", where maybe the people are just casual acquaintances, but the talk is sure to be interesting, I try to go. It's like my social life--you can only blow off so many invitations before they stop coming in. We don't have as many great films as bigger cities, but there are more and more.  I figure, if I want to keep the parties going, I've got to show up for them!  Because nobody likes talking to themselves...