The morning after Sandy hit I read a post by John Herrman about how we use Twitter during disasters. “Twitter’s capacity to spread false information is more than canceled out by its savage self-correction. In response to thousands of retweets of erroneous Weather Channel and CNN reports that the New York Stock Exchange had been flooded with “three feet” of water, Twitter users, some reporters and many not, were relentless: photos of the outside of the building, flood-free, were posted. Knowledgeable parties weighed in.” Wisdom of the crowd?

Andrew Razeghi at Fast Company asks whether we should hire someone for what they know or whom they know. IQ or Klout score? He uses Edison and Tesla as examples of success (or lack of it) based on the strength of networks – Edison had a strong one, Tesla didn’t. “This difference between innovating privately and innovating out loud is one of the most significant differentiators between successful innovators and those that fail. It largely explains the success of new venture accelerators, corporate new venture groups, and even academic researchers. Those with the most robust, engaged, and diverse social networks win.”

Does this sound familiar? You’re excited about the potential that content marketing will bring to your company, but once you start thinking about what it will take, you feel overwhelmed and defeated before you even begin. Don’t despair. At Copyblogger, Eric Enge provides “9 tips on how to build a lean content marketing team in a way that might just make the size of the task a lot more manageable.”

Do paywalls work? Mathew Ingram at GigaOm says “the New York Times is clearly something of a bellwether — and in particular, a sign of whether paywalls can (or can’t) make up for the ongoing dramatic decline in advertising revenue. Unfortunately for anyone in the industry who was hoping for a definitive answer, however, the paper’s latest financial results are a mixed bag.” Association professionals will be interested in reading what he thinks about the membership model as an approach.

Anna Caraveli is one of my favorite association bloggers. She has written before about the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), a virtual professional network of veterinarians, not an association, that has “a growing membership of 49,000 and healthy profit margin.” How do they do it? Anna describes seven “practices from VIN that will help you translate aspirations and promises into new capabilities for engagement, relevance and innovation by embedding them in your organization’s DNA.”

The company that controls William Faulkner’s works has filed suit against Sony Pictures Classics, because Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen, included a line from As I Lay Dying. Dave Itzkoff at the New York Times says, “It hinges on a single scene in the film, when its time-traveling protagonist, played by Owen Wilson, states: ‘The past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.’” I read somewhere that one of Faulkner’s relatives is behind the lawsuit. I guess nobody ever explained Fair Use to him or her. This one should be thrown out, I’m sure every author, dead or alive, and lawyer would agree.

Finally, a feast for your eyes. Phillip Davies at The Guardian takes us behind closed doors into London’s hidden interiors. The photographs by Derek Kendall reveal “an amazing architectural heritage that rivals some of (London’s) most visited and celebrated sites.” Wouldn’t you love to take a tour of these secret places? Imagine sipping on an ale in The Black Friar!

Happy Friday!

I want to visit this Black Friar some day. Photo by den99 (Flickr).

Just scanning this collection of 99 creative life hacks will make you feel clever. This weekend you will find me wandering around the house peering at wood with walnut in hand.

Fellow liberal arts majors: no regrets! Yes, I know all kinds of very important people go on and on about STEM, but now, a STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and humanities, and mathematics) movement is emerging. In A Tech Geek on Why We Need the Humanities, Jason Got says, “Our ability to design machines that improve our lives depends upon our ability to understand what humans are, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed. That’s the domain of Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, and Radiohead – whether they come to us through word of mouth, parchment, iPod, or Twitter.”

When I search for something, I hate seeing the results dominated by content mill links – vacuous text created by offshore labor making a dollar a post. Jim Hornthal calls this waste-of-my-time “faux content” in a GigaOm article, Creating Order from Digital Chaos. But there’s hope: “Fortunately, there is a growing band of innovators who have taken up the challenge and are tackling those issues — with startlingly similar approaches. Their universal mission is to employ relevant, expert-based pattern recognition to generate a useful consumer outcome.”

Mitch Joel jumped onto one of my regular topics – the fall of Lance Armstrong. I swear I’m not someone who enjoys personal tragedy, but Armstrong has been the most arrogant bullying asshole in cycling for the last dozen or so years. He had it coming. Before the USADA published the tell-all affidavits of his ex-teammates, Lance used Twitter to scoff at his accusers and brag about his accomplishments. Now, all is quiet. Mitch says, “When things are good, social media was Armstrong’s best friend, but went things went south, it suddenly became the bane of his existence. It is both his silence mixed with a very vocal public…that is defining his brand (whether he likes it or not).”

My favorite art read of the week posed an interesting theory for the selection of artworks stolen recently in Rotterdam: it was the work of a rogue Symbolist collector. Morgan Meis at The Smart Set came up with this idea based on the one painting in the stolen bunch that didn’t seem to fit. His article includes a good explanation of symbolism as well as photos of all the stolen paintings. If you want to learn more about symbolist art, the Met has a good introduction. Then, check out the symbolist collection in the Google Art Project.

Like I needed another rabbit hole of art to explore with the Google Art Project only a click away, but here’s another one: Art.sy. The New York Times led me to this new productivity-killer that operates on the Pandora principle: “With 275 galleries and 50 museums and institutions as partners, Art.sy has already digitized 20,000 images into its reference system, which it calls the Art Genome Project.” Their Twitter account is fun to follow, you never know where you’ll end up and what you’ll see.

Happy Friday!

Harlequin Head by Picasso – one of the paintings from the Triton Foundation collection that was stolen in Rotterdam

“Sometimes I try to leave my narrow path and join the swirling mainstream of life, but I always find myself drawn inexorably back toward the chasm’s edge…”

He’s a dark one, Edvard Munch. I always knew he was the broody type, but until I learned more about him from John Coffey, deputy director for art at the N.C. Museum of Art, I had no idea how haunted and anxious he was. “Troubled, but powerful,” says Architects & Artisans.

Last Thursday I was invited by the museum to attend the media tour of Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print, so I expect to be a bit Munch-obsessed for the next month or so. But unlike Munch, I’ll do it in a celebratory, not despairing, way. To get a taste of the exhibit, check out the collection of tweets from WRAL producer Stephanie Beck.

If you’re in NC, I recommend seeing it, or for double the pleasure, wait until October 21 when an exhibition of still-life masterpieces visits us from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I’m featuring the work of Jeff Cobb twice this week, not because he’s a North Carolina guy, but because he published two good posts about lifelong learning. On his company blog, Tagoras, he asked why associations don’t have a bigger presence in the conversation about the need for lifelong learning and skills-retooling in today’s learning economy. “As far as I can tell, we do not yet seem to be offering much of a voice in the public conversation about the growing skill (and knowledge) gap and the critical need for effective lifelong learning.”

Read more on DIY retooling in this New York Times article by Shaila Dewan: To Stay Relevant in a Career, Workers Train Nonstop. I would say “to stay relevant,” period. We’ve had or will have many careers in our lives.

The other great post from Jeff was on his Mission to Learn blog about his “learning walks.” Thanks to his idea, I’ve stayed out longer on several of my walks around the neighborhood because the podcast wasn’t quite over.

Peg Tyre wrote at The Atlantic about a failing Staten Island high school that identified the underlying problem for many of their students: their “inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects.” After much research, they retrained teachers and reworked the curriculum by “placing an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class.” The results? Higher graduation rates and test scores, and inspired kids.

When I moved to California in 2004 from Washington DC, one of my friends said I would have no problem making the adjustment because I was “bicoastal.” She was right; I loved my life in Sacramento and only returned to the east to be with my honey. Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience digs into the cultural differences between the east and west coasts, specifically Boston and San Francisco. I grew up south of Boston and spent a lot of time in SF while I lived in California (my brother and friends lived there), and I think she’s on to something here.

Last one – a practical one, ICYMI, Kevin O’Keefe shares a guide to Twitter language and acronyms.

Happy Friday!

This is not your typical Madonna. This one might need a cigarette soon. (Edvard Munch, 1895-1902, Museum of Modern Art)

The 30 Americans exhibition enters its third week at the North Carolina Museum of Art. I visited it on opening day after attending a museum-hosted debate about: Can there be such a thing as truly black art?, a question I wrote about last week.

The exhibition features 75 works of art from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami by 31 African American artists — 31, not 30, because there was a late addition. The Rubells explain the exhibition name:

As the show evolved, we decided to call it 30 Americans. “Americans,” rather than “African Americans” or “Black Americans,” because nationality is a statement of fact, while racial identity is a question each artist answers in his or her own way, or not at all.”

My highlights (and other moments), in alphabetical order by artist name:

John Bankston: His three paintings, oil on linen, remind me of coloring books with their heavy black outlines and casual brushstrokes, but they’re not at all childish, on the contrary. The subjects seem mature and fairy tale-like, a bit mysterious. Frankly, I don’t know what’s going on. Is Rehearsal a rehearsal for Midsummer’s Night Dream or a mythological painting come to life? At the Crossroads has that same strangeness: a king in a long robe meets a tree, a tree with a face, perhaps posing one of those life and death riddles, like in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. His paintings captivated me. I wonder what kinds of books the artist reads.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: I was a lot more knowledgeable about the contemporary art scene when Basquiat became a big deal than I am today. I remember reading about his gallery shows and then his museum exhibitions, but I don’t think I ever saw one of his shows in real life. I know everyone raves about him, but his work was a ‘meh’ moment for me. Maybe I need to live with it more. Maybe I’m not feeling in the social commentary mood. Maybe it just wasn’t a Basquiat kind of day.

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Iona Rozeal Brown: Untitled after Kikugawa Eizan's Furyu nana komachi (The Modern Seven Komashi)

Iona Rozeal Brown: Love her! Not surprising since I’ve been in a Japanese mood lately. I change my screensavers frequently and the current roster features several Japanese woodblock prints. I fell in love first with Brown’s Sacrifice #2: It Has to Last (after Yoshitoshi’s “Drowsy: the appearance of a harlot of the Meiji era”), a long title for a Japanese woodblock style piece of enamel, acrylic and paper on wooden panel. It’s a portrait of ganguro, a fad I knew nothing about — Japanese teens emulating African Americans, geisha meets hip-hop. I love that the woman’s acrylic nails match her hair sash. A beautiful piece, both delicate and in-your-face. Her other, Untitled (after Kikugawa Eizan’s “Furyu nana komachi” [The Modern Seven Komashi]), is also a beautiful acrylic and paper on wooden panel. Eizan was a Japanese printmaker in the 1800’s famous for his portraits of beautiful women, including many from the “pleasure quarters.” I bet he too would love her work.

Nick Cave: His four Soundsuits are a joy, so different from everything else in the exhibition. The first one you see upon entering is the one that NCMA is using as their profile photo on Facebook, a wedding centerpiece Woodstockian get-up. Get up close and look at the detail on these suits. I wonder if he ever made clothes for his friends. The colored hair suit reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon. A video from the Seattle Art Museum shows what these suits look like in their full glory – dancing around.

Robert Colescott: You’re hit with the bold colors of Colescott’s three paintings when you walk into this gallery, particularly in contrast to the other work in the room. There’s a lot going on in these pieces. I wish Colescott was there to walk me through each one. Arabs has references to Arabs as past dealers of slaves and current dealers of oil, along with images of slaves in chains, flags, military officer, oil barrels and bananas. I thought of our nation’s dependency on these ‘exports’ then and now. Sphinx Speaks made me wonder, “Who’s the Sphinx now? Should you listen?” And Pygmalion made me think about the ideals we all strive for. His style didn’t do much for me but I liked how he provoked me into wondering about his message.

Glenn Ligon: Some art appeals to me first in a visual way, some in an intellectual way. Ligon’s does the latter but I enjoy his technique too. It’s the kind of art that makes more sense once you read the wall label explaining his inspiration, usually literary in this exhibition. I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance is installed so the black backing of the neon light display is facing the viewer, and the glare (or shadow) of the light is cast upon the wall. His inspiration is a saying that Sojourner Truth printed on her carte-de-visites (calling cards), a commentary on selling art and art as a shadow of the real self, the substance. His two ‘gold’ paintings, Gold When Black Wasn’t Beautiful and Gold Nobody Knew Me display quotes from Richard Pryor. They make you chuckle and reflect at the same time. From far away Stranger looks like a black Ad Reinhardt, but as you get closer you see textures, and then words obscured by black, words (thank you, label) from James Baldwin about being the only black in a Swiss village. It’s Ligon’s quote you see when you enter the exhibition: “We’re always at the mercy of people’s desires to place us in certain identities.”

Rodney McMillan: Untitled. My WTF moment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good piece of conceptual art as much as the next art fan. I had my epiphany when the Vogel collection was shown years ago at the National Gallery. I loved that exhibit and it opened up a whole new world of art to me. But this is a stained carpet to me, nothing more. At first I figured it was a carpet painted to look like it was stained which would still be odd but would give me a laugh and appreciation for craft. But no, it’s just stained carpet. The label said something about the mystery of not knowing the story or the absence of something, I don’t know. I’m all for wrapping my head around challenging work, but not this time.

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Wangechi Mutu - Non Je Ne Regrette Rien

Wangechi Mutu: Non Je Ne Regrette Rien.  This was the second painting I visited after entering, and the second one that hit a chord with me. I knew then this would be a good day. I loved its gorgeous, diaphanous, warm color washes. Is it animal, woman, both? Yes. I have no idea what’s going on here and I don’t care. Later in the show I also fell for The Evolution of Mud Mama from Beginning to Start, a series of six smaller paintings. More strange beauty, a mix of watercolor and collage with dark rich colors, they seem primordial, maybe symbols of something from our psyche or ancient past.

Lorna Simpson: Wigs (Portfolio). A mix of wig illustration and snippets of text, it looks like a historical museum display, but makes you think about judging appearances and, of course, slavery. What looked pedantic from afar drew me in.

Jeff Sonhouse: At first, I wasn’t overly impressed with these two wild paintings, Exhibit A: Cardinal Francis Arinze and Visually Impaired, probably because they share the gallery with Kehinde Wiley’s work (read on!). However, I grew to like them. He covers his faces with painted masks and uses lots of applied materials. My favorite Sonhouse appeared later in the exhibit, the more subtle Graphic by Design, a mixed media on paper in shades of brown. It’s another mask with traces of harlequin and a brown mist coming out of the top of the head, beautifully painted lips and nose in insets, hair of yarn, and what looks like the multicolored skin of a tropical bird behind the tinted lens of the eyeglasses.

Hank Willis Thomas: Priceless is enough to make you cry, a witty stinging parody of the MasterCard advertisements. The clincher: that’s his family mourning his cousin’s murder. He has two other photographs nearby, Branded Head and Basketball and Chain, that don’t need much explanation. He and his mother, photographer and art historian Dr. Deborah Willis will discuss “the roots of African American photography and how Thomas’ work in 30 Americans illuminate corporate America’s historical appropriation of blackness” on Sunday, April 10.

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Mickalene Thomas - Portraits of Quanikah

Mickalene Thomas: Portraits of Quanikah. These 15 portraits arranged in a grid first reminded me of a Warhol multiple, except they’re much more interesting with a mix of expressions and personal styles. Thomas’ other painting, Baby I Am Ready Now is the first one you see when entering the exhibition. It makes a powerful statement — the striking woman amidst bold fabrics and applied decoration. The wall label said something about her feeling triumphant but I thought she looked a bit world-weary, yet fierce, sort of like Quentin Tarentino’s Jackie Brown – great movie, by the way.

Carrie Mae Weems: Descending the Throne. This pair of prints was sad. I felt insulted on the subjects’ behalf. Weems is one of those artists I’ve heard about but never really experienced; now I want to see more of her.

Kehinde Wiley: Love him! Walking into the gallery with Sleep, I felt the same power and emotion I felt walking into an Italian cathedral and seeing a gigantic mind-blowing altarpiece. Except, I think Sleep might be bigger. At first I didn’t realize it was a play on Sleep by Restout because I don’t know that painting. I thought it might have been a reference to Christ after being taken down from the cross. I love how he paints; the color of the skin is beautiful. The flat decorative backgrounds seem out of place at first, but they work, invading the space of the figures. It’s humorous art. I did recognize the Velasquez-ish Equestrian Portrait of the Court-Duke Olivares, “urban meets classical.” The ornate golden frame sets the mood. I only wish I could get a closer look at the top of it. And the third, Triple Portrait of Charles I, after Van Dyke, completes the room. There’s a quote from the artist on the wall, “The whole conversation of my work has to do with power and who has it.” Rich white men had the power back when the inspirations behind these paintings were created, and they pretty much still have the power, although that’s slowly changing.

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Kehinde Wiley - Triple Portrait of Charles I

Why didn’t I mention the two videos? Didn’t I like them? No, it’s because I didn’t watch them. I learned something about myself that day: I don’t like watching videos at art museums, I don’t have the patience. I’m used to looking at art that stays in one place. I engage with it in my way, on my time. If I want to space out and think about things, the piece is still there, waiting for me. Video requires a different type of engagement that I’m not willing to give. My loss, I guess.

My overall impression – I really enjoyed the exhibition. I also was very pleased to be introduced to so many new, to me, artists. Just like buying a car and seeing it everywhere, I bet I’ll now notice them popping up in exhibitions all over. I’m looking forward to exploring more of their work. I’d love to hear about your favorite 30 Americans, particularly the ones that I didn’t mention.

“We’re always at the mercy of people’s desires to place us in certain identities.”

The words of Glenn Ligon are stenciled across the wall, one of the first things you see upon entering the 30 Americans exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, if you can avoid being distracted by Nick Cave’s wild and fabulous Soundsuit in the next gallery. Ligon, who coined the term “post-black,” is one of the better known artists in 30 Americans which “highlights the work of 31 contemporary African American artists in an exhibition organized by and drawn from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, Florida.”

My visit to the museum began with a debate in the morning by the UNC-Chapel Hill debate team. Two students argued in favor and two against the resolution: Can there be such a thing as truly black art? I wish Ligon was there. I would have loved his perspective.

I was expecting a bigger crowd for such a promising topic, but there were only 30 or so people attending, less than half of whom were black. The debate team raised a lot of interesting issues and struggled with some of the questions posed by the audience. It’s a bit uncomfortable to label art by the color of someone’s skin. I wouldn’t want to make that type of categorization in real life, why would it be different with art? But what about art that comes out of a shared experience of life, perspective or history? Isn’t that what black art is all about? It’s art first, that’s the key thing. Then any art work can be described using a variety of attributes – acrylic painting, expressionist, American, late 20th century, street, Buddhist, protest, women and black.

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Descending the Throne (from From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried series) by Carrie Mae Weems

I can’t help but think I’m not in the best position to answer the question because I’m not black. But then I think, I’m a woman and I’m okay with the label ‘women’s art.’ I’m looking forward to seeing an exhibition of women’s art, The Deconstructive Impulse: Reconfiguring the Signs of Power, 1973-1991, at the Nasher in September.

One of the debaters discussed whether labeling art as black would lead to discrimination? I thought about ‘separate but equal.’ Does the label ‘black art’ make it small somehow? Qualify it? Language has power. Labels can be tricky and perilous. What’s the motivation behind the label? If it’s in the spirit of celebration or recognition of deserved attention, then it’s fine. It’s art first. Then you can find more meaning through the lens of race, era, nationality, gender or a host of other descriptors.

If a group of people have a certain sensibility because they’ve experienced the same things, due to their skin color, nationality, gender or any other trait, then a categorization or label is valid. A black woman in the audience said, “black art is the perspective of blackness.” I’m happy to have the opportunity to immerse myself in that perspective. It makes my world bigger and richer.

Someone in the audience asked, is there white art? Is there a shared experience or history expressed in art that would lead to it being categorized as white art? The art world has traditionally been a white man’s world, so white art was always the default. Most of the western art displayed in museums is made by men with white skin that was later bought and collected by rich men with white skin. Thankfully, that’s slowly changing, although I’m grateful to the white-skinned Rubells who collected the magnificent art on display in 30 Americans.

In my next post, I’ll share some of my favorites from the 30 Americans exhibition. But don’t wait for me, go spend an hour or so in this great exhibition.

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Stranger by Glenn Ligon (the obscured text is from James Baldwin about his experience being black in a Swiss village)

A moment of unexpected bliss came to me this week while watching the trailer for the documentary, Desert of Forbidden Art. If only this film were coming to the NC Museum of Art (hint hint). In the 1950′s and ’60′s, Igor Savitsky traveled throughout the Soviet Union to collect (and save) 40,000 works of avant-garde art. The Stalin regime tortured, imprisoned and killed the artists responsible for what it called “decadent bourgeois art.” Savitsky stored his collection far from Moscow in the deserts of Uzbekistan. Today the Uzbek Ministry of Culture refuses to allow any of the collection to leave the country for exhibition elsewhere, so this movie is the closest we’ll get to these beautiful treasures.

The collection is still not safe according to Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times Bureau Chief for Central Asia:

“Central Asia is really not a stable region, and Uzbekistan is in a very turbulent area, of course it borders on Afghanistan. And some of the same trends that you see in Afghanistan have also emerged in Uzbekistan. The influence of Islamic fundamentalism could grow substantially. How that would affect a collection of art that is abstract, modernistic, and that is run by a woman, could be a little bit disturbing.”

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Image available at Desert of Forbidden Art website

A new exhibit opens later this week at the North Carolina Museum of Art, 30 Americans. It’s a survey of work from the Rubell Family Collection by 30 African-American artists of the last thirty years.

“30 Americans focuses on issues of racial, sexual, and historical identity in contemporary culture. It explores how each artist reckons with the notion of black identity in America, navigating such concerns as the struggle for civil rights, popular culture, and media imagery. At the same time, it highlights artistic legacy and influence, tracing subject matter and formal strategies across generations.”

I’m going Saturday to see the show and to watch the UNC debate team wrestle with this question: can there be such a thing as truly black art? Already there’s a bit of good discussion on NCMA’s Facebook page about that topic.

Do you remember the Hide/Seek show at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery? Caving into ridiculous pressure from ultra-conservative blow-hards, the Smithsonian removed a video from the exhibition after it opened, causing a well-deserved uproar. It turns out the Brooklyn Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum are making room in their calendar for the exhibition. “We are very keen on making sure that we represent the National Portrait Gallery’s presentation as fully as possible.”

The New York Times ran an interesting story this week about the White House curator, William G. Allman. Once when I was volunteering at the National Gallery of Art, I did a database search for a visitor to find out if any paintings by a particular artist were on view. That’s when I discovered that one was on loan to the White House. On further search, I found a few other NGA pieces that were temporarily sprucing up 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Times article gives us an inside peek at the man who keeps the most prestigious house museum ticking.

Like you, I still can’t wrap my mind around the devastation in Japan. I can’t imagine the pain they’ve suffered and the anxiety they’re living with still. I imagine that James Whitehouse of Signalnoise worked through his emotions by making this beautiful Help Japan poster. The poster sold out quickly with all proceeds going to disaster relief.

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Help Japan by James Whitehouse/Signalnoise

Here are some interesting stories about art that I’ve come across recently– an endlessly fascinating topic for me.

When does a work of art stop being itself? When does it stop being by the artist who originally created it? These are questions I would expect to ponder in a conceptual art exhibition, not while reading the news. I’ve seen work appropriated by other artists to create a new piece, but here’s a case of an artist, Anthony Caro, who says his piece Lagoon, a steel sculpture, is no longer the one he made and therefore no longer by him. Why? A gallery added metal feet to its base during an installation. As a result, Caro has disowned it.

This is a very cool idea that can be used in many places where art is endangered. The Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA) collects and stores images of works of art, along with publications, catalogues and other commentary. “MAIA’s goals are to raise awareness of the diverse body of modern works of Iraqi art, to help locate their current whereabouts, and to assist agencies working to prevent their illegal movement and sale. MAIA aims to reach a wide and participatory audience across the globe, and offers users the ability to document, discuss, explore, and enrich Iraqi artistic expressions and experiences.” Anyone can upload an image or add a comment or story about the works in the archive.

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From MAIA - title not known, by Farouk Hassan

I love this column from New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz about his marathon viewing sessions with some of his favorite art. Lordy, the man has staying power. I’m suffering from major art envy. A few of his selections have long been on my art pilgrimage destination list, like the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna, but all of them are places I’d love to linger in.

This is kind of funny. A Danish artist posted an image of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, which is quite graphic but also beautiful, only to have his account disabled because the image violated Facebook’s decency standards. Yes, yes, slippery slope and all that, I suppose you could say. Are all nipples and bums prohibited? What if they belong to a 500 year old painting or 2100 year old sculpture? Can galleries display work from exhibitions? Apparently some art depicting the naked figure is okay, but some, like Courbet’s portrait of nether regions, is not.

Last year Jamie Oliver received the TED prize ($100,000 and “one wish to change the world”) for his campaign to make school meals more nutritious. This year the prize went to JR, a Parisian photographer, for the Inside Out Project – “a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Upload a portrait. Receive a poster. Paste it for the world to see.” JR is known for posting large black and white photographs in public settings, often illegally, all over the world. I’m probably too much of a law-abiding weenie to do this myself but I’d love to see the work of others, especially here in North Carolina. Let me know if you’re participating.

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Misu by JR (Brussels) ~ photo by Julien Mourlon

If Mitchell of Modern Family dances in a flash mob, they must already be passé, right?

associations membership experience

Hells no! I’m still a sucker for a really good flash mob, especially the artsy ones, and I know I’m not alone. This food court performance of the Hallelujah Chorus still makes my eyes water. You want more?

Why are flash mobs so powerful? My latest theory is they bring us into the right now — this present moment. The present, strangely enough, isn’t a place we always hang out, unless we’re advanced yogis. We’re more likely reworking the past or speculating about the future. We live in the present when we’re in the ‘zone’ or caught up in the ‘flow’, for example, while writing a blog post, chopping vegetables, painting, climbing a rock wall or experiencing a great work of art.

Flash mobs take us by surprise and let us share exuberance together. Is it some communal Dionysian urge? Who knows, but it’s joyful. We’re knocked out of our routine, thrown a bit off balance. “Wait, what the heck is going on here? Who are these people? Why are they doing that?” And then, “Wow, this is pretty awesome.” You’d have to be a lost soul or curmudgeon to not smile a bit inside when you see a flash mob happening around you.

Even the Knight Foundation, usually focused on promoting journalism, can’t resist the allure of the flash mob. They’re sponsoring Random Acts of Culture in the communities where the Knight Brothers owned newspapers. They “strongly believe in the potential of the arts to engage residents, and bring a community together. Hearing Handel, or seeing the tango in an unexpected place provides a deeply felt reminder of how the classics can enrich our lives.” It’s part of their effort to encourage folks to regularly enjoy a concert, visit a gallery or see a dance performance by giving them a taste of that goodness.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’m going to somehow bring this discussion back around to associations. What possibly could be the connection? Well, there is the fun flash mob we did last year (some of us without any rehearsing, ahem) on the trade show floor at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Association Executives. But that’s not where I’m going.

Here’s my question. Maybe the Knight Foundation is on the right track, and flash mobs expose folks to great art and get them thinking that they might actually like the symphony, ballet or opera. They give them a taste of what that experience is like. It’s all about the experience!!

Compare an arts experience to a typical association membership experience:

  • a one-way mailbox relationship
  • a semi-productive committee meeting
  • an educational session or conference that provided a few handouts but nothing permanently imprinted in the attendee’s brain
  • an endless trade show floor of needy vendors

Count me out; I’ll be at the opera.

Can a mix of face-to-face and online community participation make the association experience better by offering more opportunities for sharing and learning, conversations and relationship building? Can a more innovative approach to education make that experience better? Do your members depart from an association experience, whether it’s online or in real life, with a glow on their faces and, even better, in their brains?

Yes, we need to focus on the value or ROI that members get with their association membership. But perhaps we should also focus on their experience – that’s an intangible benefit that we shouldn’t overlook.

associations membership experience

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