Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Community

Redesigning the world (“Healing or Stealing” by Paul Hawken)

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I must admit I’m a sucker for a great speech and Paul Hawken gave one last year as the commencement speaker at Portland University about what “it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating.” A few excerpts below and a link to the full text.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

2009 Commencement Speech by Paul Hawkin (at Portland University): Healing or Stealing?

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 29, 2010 at 11:19 am

Social Media & Social Capital (an applied approach)

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As an ethnomusicologist applying my training as a researcher and scholar to work outside of academia, I am looking for ideas of how others are approaching putting humanities and social science research and analysis to work in cultural projects (commercial or non-profit or public). Although, undoubtedly shaped by a different cultural and political setting, the efforts of the InteractiveCultures group of the Birmingham School of Media recently caught my attention. The description of their work presents an engaging model for the much-needed creation of effective interfaces between arts & culture research and arts & culture practice and policy:

Our work is part of a wider strategy by the Birmingham School of Media to make arts and humanities research useful in commercial and cultural projects, and to ensure academics engage with commerce and culture. Our partners have improved their business models, developed new insights, or instigated new cultural strategies as a result of their work with us….   We provide a consultancy service for partners from businesses and organisations in the cultural sector, developing new modes of working and informing public policy.  We demonstrate creative online techniques, assist our partners in developing new strategies, and work on online prototypes.

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My interest was especially captured by a recent blog post on InteractiveCultures by Jon Hickman (Social Capital & Social Media) that resonated with my prior work on the social capital created by a nightclub district in North Richmond, California and research on online musical communities. Hickman expands upon an earlier conference paper to make a simple, yet important, point: a community created by social media is not simply a network but a culture dependent on the availability of social capital to its members. The social capital created by social media is not equivalent to that described by Robert Putman in his landmark Bowling Alone (which built on the work of earlier sociologists, such as M.S. Granovelter’s “The Strength of Weak Ties”) but firmly in line with the earlaier use of the term by Pierre Bourdieu as:

…aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to the possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition (Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. 1986, p.248)

Eschewing the theoretical frameworks and formulas placed on the analysis of social capital by Putnam (and others that came before and after him), this approach simply acknowledges “that social capability can confer power upon individuals and groups.” As Hickman states, “… that is the key issue at the basis of much that is interesting about social media.” Further, this approach opens up many interesting questions. The one Hickman addresses is how social media communities use social capital to work together for a particular benefit to the community. Community members utilize the potential social capital “resource” that existed and “was activated by a set of social media practices, delivering benefit to its collective owners. Without the social capital, the clever social media tools would be useless.” The last sentence is crucial to remember when examining social media practices — it’s not the technology but the members that have agency.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 24, 2010 at 5:13 pm

LeBron pulls the plug on Cleveland

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from Live Journal

Some may argue that writing about LeBron James’ decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to  play for the Miami Heat is stretching the theme of this blog. His decision will significantly impact the community but do sports belong in the same category as art? An argument could alway be made either way but, since at least World War II, sports stars have been entertainers (and with Vince McMahon’s brilliant creation of sports entertainment the blurry line between sports and entertainment has become almost invisible). And to belabor the point, Charles Barkley rightly stated that he shouldn’t be held up as a role model to other people’s children but he never maintained that he wasn’t an entertainer — Sir Charles knew better. But back to LeBron and Cleveland. Much has been written over the years of the negative impact of cities’ frantic efforts to attract sports franchises and the debts incurred, but this is the first occasion I remember of calculations of the detrimental effect of one athlete moving on. MSNBC estimates that the city will lose $100 million per year (Cleveland’s financial reasons for loving LeBron. Worries downtown renaissance might ebb is Cav’s star free agent leaves). However, the loss goes far beyond economic concerns and, according to Please Don’t Leave 23 (a site dedicated to a campaign to keep No. 23 in Ohio) far beyond the realm of sports:

LeBron James’ impact on Ohio goes far beyond basketball. LeBron will have the option of leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of the 2009-2010 NBA season. This campaign is dedicated to keeping LeBron James in Cleveland for the betterment of all Ohioans. We believe, if we show LeBron James that his greatest supporters are right here in Ohio, that it will have a significant impact on his decision. Now let’s get to work!!!

Unfortunately they failed but we all saw that coming, didn’t we.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 8, 2010 at 7:27 pm

LDN24 — data visualization of a day in the life of London

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FIELD, a London-based graphic design studio, has created LDN24, an installation at the Museum of London that “draws filmic impressions and the facts and figures of London life into a picture of 24 hours in the life of the city.”    Working in collaboration with the Light Surgeons (Production), FIELD (Data Visualization) has created what it labels an “immersive, interactive experience” — an engaging simulacrum of quotidian life in London. One of the more creative applications of data visualization.

From Nathan Yau on  Flowing DataFacts and figures of London life (nice video clip too).

LDN24



Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 30, 2010 at 10:40 am

Has the construction of “Creative Cities” exacerbated economic disparities?

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An important article from the Community Arts Network that raises questions regarding the actual effects of the UNESCO sponsored effort to transform 19 middle-tier cities into Creative Cities to gain global standing. The same questions apply to other communities trying to develop reputations as creative centers.

Creative City Fever: The 2010 City, Culture and Society Conference, Munich

By Tom Borrup

Singapore skyline at night

“The built city is the most complicated cultural artefact humankind has invented,” wrote Phil Wood and Charles Landry in “The Intercultural City.” And as such, cities cannot be understood from any one vantage point or through any one academic lens. A small but significant conference in Munich, Germany, in late February 2010 brought a dozen of these lenses into one room and raised a number of timely questions relevant to all of us concerned with cities, culture and social equity.

The Creative Cities movement has spread across the globe during the past decade. Since 2004, UNESCO has promoted a Creative Cities Network highlighting cultural diversity, heritage and the unique products of urban centers. Nineteen current member cities, mostly second-tier cities, compete for the gold in literature, film, music, craft and folk arts, design, media arts and gastronomy. Corporate media outlets, meanwhile, focus on the dominance of cities and their industrial, technical, medical or financial titles. Titans such as London, Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Singapore and Beijing compete for dominance in global finance and business acumen. Meanwhile creative-economy guru Richard Florida has turned the spotlight toward cities’ hip factor, their ability to wrestle for the top talent needed to power these 21st Century empires.

Does the Creative Economy or status as Creative City that so many North American, European and capitalist Asian cities aspire to, widen or narrow economic disparities? Is the idea of the Creative City more than the latest tourism marketing or corporate recruitment strategy? Is it an opportune rationale for repositioning investment, or a smokescreen obscuring issues of social justice, environmental sustainability and real inclusion for all people? Will Creative City Fever soon be replaced with a passion to be the Sustainable City, the Slow City, the Bio City, the Just City or just the Next Great City? (to read the rest click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 21, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Gentrification and the loss of music venues

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Reposted from History is made at night: the politics of dancing and musicking

Monday, March 08, 2010

Freddy’s: a Brooklyn bar facing demolition

If one threat to music venues is over-regulation through increasingly onerous licensing laws, another is gentrification. As land and property values rise, spaces of conviviality (pubs, bars, clubs) are often swept away by developers to be replaced by upmarket residential and retail buidings. In London, the clearest example is The Foundry in Shoreditch, facing demolition to make way for a hotel.

City of Strangers notes a similar case from New York, where Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn is facing demolition to make way for the huge Atlantic Yards Development. City of Strangers ‘started hanging out in the very late 90’s, when I still lived in Fort Greene. It was nice having a good bar in walking distance. In those pre-hipster days, there weren’t many bars in Brooklyn with found video loops broadcast on a TV over the bar, or that played the whole Velvet’s Banana album or the Ramones or 80’s British punk. The back room featured everything from hardcore to experimental jazz’.

If the developers get their way, 16 high rise buildings will soon replace not only Freddy’s but a whole neighbourhood, including many pesky low rise buildings with controlled rents. Freddy’s patrons – some pictured below –have threatened to chain themselves to the bar to block its eviction.
History is made at night: Freddy’s: a Brooklyn bar facing demoltion

“Dancing flashmob riot in Berkeley” (from History is made at night)

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Reposted from History is made at night: The politics of dancing and musicking

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Dancing flashmob riot in Berkeley

Last week in Berkeley, California, a flashmob dance party on the University ended up in a riot as students protesting against cuts in education funding took their party off the campus and into the streets.

According to Occupy California: ‘In Sproul Plaza of UC Berkeley, hundreds gathered for a dance party that began around 10pm on Thursday, February 25. At the peak of the party (around 12am) the 250 people dancing surrounded the loudspeakers as together they moved farther into campus’.

After temporarily occupying a vacant University building, the mobile party moved off campus and into surrounding streets: ‘Some 500 people were present, a combination of observers and protesters. The dance party continued to rage on as more and more people took the intersection, by now at least three hundred. Then without a clear reason, the police began to descend on the people in the streets. Some ran to the sidewalks to observe from a distance, others stood their ground, refusing to move. The police pushed people with their batons, the protesters pushed back and some were caught in the middle. Then an officer grabbed a woman at random and smashed her head to the ground… What had started as a dance party and occupation quickly turned into a direct confrontation with the police, whom had been following the protesters through out the night’. Shop windows were smashed and some bins set alight.

The context is an ongoing movement of student occupations and demonstrations across California prompted by cuts in education funding and increases in tuition fees.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

An urban neighborhood tells its own stories

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Over the last thirty years, the Iron Triangle neighborhood in Richmond, California has gained a reputation as one of the most distressed and dangerous urban neighborhoods in the U.S. One of the bright spots in the Iron Triangle has been the East Bay Center for Performing Arts. The East Bay Center has embarked upon the Iron Triangle Legacy Project through which more than 250 of the residents and artists are exploring their own culture, history and vision for the future through public performance works — music, theater, community gardens, photography…

Today, the Community Arts Networks posted an article by Jordan Simmons, artistic director of the East Bay Center, talking about this exciting project:

My Iron Tri-Angel: An Urban Neighborhood Seeks To Tell Its Own Story

By Jordan Simmons

My iron tri-angel,
You have with your damaged wings swept the white chalk from where
Syetha’s body’s outline lay quickly sketched on the pavement.
And whenever she laughs now, all the tears of the saints
Are close by. Still, what did she leave us?
I hit the spring-board and somersault up to the basketball net, legs wide
Open, and facing down before I dunk, I pray:
Little girls everywhere, little sisters everywhere,
Be careful when you cross the street.
Be careful when they shoot.
Be careful.

—From “My Iron Tri Angel” a new work-in-progress of the
Iron Triangle Theater Company, Richmond, California

“Just because you’re poor, it doesn’t mean you’re spiritually dead. Art comes from within. Soul: sometimes we lose touch of it in day-to-day struggle. We can help people come back to themselves. It is the easiest way to express that one is alive. When you create a piece, something that people can relate to or react to, it acknowledges that you are alive. “

— Anthony Allen, resident of Richmond’s
Iron Triangle Neighborhood

Here is an introduction to the Iron Triangle Legacy Project, a collective work led by East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and a ten-member advisory committee of neighborhood residents and activists. The work of the project is to tell the story of Richmond’s Iron Triangle, a neighborhood whose tale has been told by others in the media often enough, and deserves to be told by its own residents. The arts play an important part in the telling of this tale, and in the crafting of the project.

The Iron Triangle is a neighborhood in Richmond, California, of about 18,000 residents. Richmond’s overall population of 110,00 is rich in culture and heritage, and yet it has suffered from disproportionate urban blight and economic depression since its industrial heyday as a WWII shipyard, loomed over by one of the largest oil refineries on the West Coast and divided by railroad lines — hence the “iron triangle.” In 2004, both the local school district and the city made national news with their near bankruptcy. Since then, local public schools are regularly threatened with closure for failing to meet minimal national and/or state standards. “The Triangle,” as it is commonly referred to in Richmond, once a vibrant immigrant portal, is now a historical icon, marking the post-WWII migration of southern African Americans to the West Coast (many finding work in the Kaiser shipyards between 1941 and 1944); a destination neighborhood for California’s Mexican-American newcomers since the 1960s, and, since the 1980s, for refugees from the Southeast Asia Indo-China conflicts, especially from Laos. (to read more go to CAN)

For more info. on the Iron Triangle Legacy Project click the photograph..

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 11, 2010 at 11:23 am

“Literature is like love; it is best enjoyed in private but has social consequences.”

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A short thought-provoking article from Axess magasin, a Swedish publication that “aims to unite academic culture and publishing culture to create a forum in which researchers in the humanities and liberal arts can meet a wider public.” The article is entitled “Imagination is the Enemy of Tyranny” and, focusing predominately on literature, author Per Wästberg writes:

The Earth is not the inexhaustible resource we thought it was; it must be protected as something very precious. The same is true of the freedom of expression – it has no life of its own; it must be protected but also defined in a debate that is constantly being renewed. In a vulnerable world fraught with danger, the free flow of ideas plays a vital role. The visions of our poets and thinkers are not concerned with easy solace or a flight from reality but instead with providing nourishment and energy, creating new connections, devising new solutions.

To read the entire article click here: “Imagination is the Enemy of Tyranny”


Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Chapter 3: Art is a temporary condition (Wild Caught Stories @ Center for the Study of Art & Community)

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Milenko Matanovic

Insightful piece from last spring by Milenko Matanovic expressing a utopian vision of art as a desirable component 0f everyday life. Matanovic asserts that ” in the future we must create communities and cities that are themselves works of art, rather than being satisfied with ugly and wasteful communities with token artworks that show our repentance, asking absolution for our sins. In this future, like the traditional Balinese people, we may have fewer cultural institutions because artistic quality will be expected of everyone and deposited, with care, into more and more things until everything is art. Excellence will be the norm.” (To read the entire article or other thought-provoking chapters go to Wild Caught Stories).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

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