June 29, 2005

Stuff, Things and Data - The Museum of Me

Stephen hit the road on Monday afternoon after the movers spent eight hours packing up our “things”. We both thought that we had reduced our load by getting rid “stuff” including un-needed furniture, clothes and old “data” files. Despite the de-acquisitions we managed to fill an entire truck.

Speaking to moves and lightening loads, last week we attended a goodbye party for our friend Rupert Jenkins, Curator of the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. Like us, Rupert is moving to the middle of the country, Colorado in his case, with cats and favorite furniture in tow. Rupert’s final curatorial statement is in the content of these exhibitions.

BARI ZIPERSTEIN: 10X10: 8 WEEK LEASE (RELUCTANT MONUMENT) and MARKING TIME MAPPING THOUGHT are artists’ studies into the collection of “things, stuff and data”. In MARKING TIME MAPPING THOUGHT artists create systems to make sense of seemingly random but personally-significant information. The by-products are the artworks themselves.

BARI ZIPERSTEIN’S solo exhibition features a mountain of moving boxes and asks the viewer to question why we accumulate “stuff, things and data”. Are we defining ourselves by creating the “Museum of Me?” How have we become so consumed with possessions?

The process involved in moving all your possessions - the evaluation of your “things, stuff and data” is an exercise in figuring out what defines you. How do we decide what makes the cut? What criteria do we use: quality, memory, value, space?

Although Stephen encouraged me to get rid of an old and broken laptop, it has Quickbooks with all my personal data, so that made the cut. The same with my archives of memory boxes and frayed photo albums filled with pages of stickers, postcards, letters and aging photos. “You have so much stuff”he told me as we assessed the rooms filled with boxes. Welcome to my traveling exhibition. Next show, Houston.

June 25, 2005

Namistay to Alameda Yoga Station

Leaving my Saturday morning yoga class at Alameda Yoga Station with Nancy Leigh-Smith is one of my greatest losses in moving to Houston.

For three years Lance, Larry, Michael and I have been loyal Saturday, 8:30am yogis. Others have come and gone but we are the core group. Together we’ve experienced the teaching of Stacey, Jamie and now Nancy.

What’s interesting is that through three years of weekly meetings - stinky, greasy, garlicy from our Friday night outings - we’ve never asked anything about each other’s lives. You never know whose going to show up each week and are always delighted to see the core group, hoping that if one is missing they will be back the next week.

But what we do know is everything about each other’s physical strengths and weaknesses. We’ve watched each other become more flexible over the years, both with our bodies and our open mindedness to getting bendy. With good humor we’ve contorted our bodies into whatever pose our teacher presents, aware of our various life injuries.

Today’s class featured partner poses, always hard since I don’t feel comfortable touching other people. This time we looked like S&M fanatics. Nancy declared, “you really have to trust each other for this pose” as we used straps to help each other fly forward like swans. And trust we did.

Ever since the group has become aware of my departure to Houston our silence about life outside the studio has been broken. We’ve shared bad weather stories and tales of jobs in far off lands. As class ended Nancy handed me a beautiful card signed by the group. I realized this is a special circle of friends who see a secret and vulnerable side of me that never comes through in my always-business-minded life. I hope that I can be this vulnerable in Houston.

June 23, 2005

"I've never seen you run away from responsibility, this quickly."

Now that Stephen and I are leaving San Francisco we are seeking out adventure and doing all the risky things we some how couldn't find time to do in the past 10 years. Yesterday six of us ventured out on a good-sized sailboat on the San Francisco Bay with OCSC Sailing. It may be the first time that my friend's actually saw me "lose it" in a way that is all too familiar to Stephen - who stood back and watched me with glee and a smirky smile. Okay, I admit that I amuse myself sometimes, too.

Have you ever held your friends’ lives in your hands, literally? The evening was beautiful, no fog on the Bay, hardly a breeze and actually warm. We ventured out of the Berkeley Marina with our skipper at the wheel and the rest of us sipping wine form plastic cups. But what you don’t know about the Bay, until you’ve been out on the open water, is that it is windy and choppy in the center. It’s much different from being on a commuter ferry. Let’s just say that wine wasn’t a good idea. Everyone taking a turn at the wheel wasn’t so great either.

Stephen is a natural sailor, despite me criticizing his every movement as the side of the boat leaned oh, so, desperately close to the water. But it didn’t prevent flashbacks to Camp Jewell, at age 10, with my buddy Karen Teig, as we capsized our sunfish in the murky pond. No amount of pushing, pulling or jumping on the rudder could turn that boat back over. Flash forward to a significantly larger boat and five more lives to end (don’t be mistaken, Karen survived the camp adventure). Okay, so the Bay is only 10 feet deep and 58 degrees, but ever since doing the California AIDS bicycle ride I only see the potential fatalities and disasters of outdoor adventure.

An hour into the escapade and everyone insisted it was my turn to take the helm. Stephen turned the boat into the wind, facing Point Richmond, and handed control over to me. Conveniently he was given a glass of wine as he sank comfortably into the corner of the boat. Nestled in the other corner was the skipper. Instantly I knew that this was a mistake. I steered left and we went right, I steered right and we went right. Desperate, I begged Stephen to take the wheel but he sat back smiling. Everyone was laughing but all I could see were the headlines, “Rudderless Friend Kills Posse and Escapes to Houston.”

When no one is taking you seriously, and their lives are in your hands, the best thing to do is get serious. “Stephen, take the #&$% wheel now!” I hissed. Okay, fun and games were over. He handed me his wine and we switched places. The definitive comment from one friend, “I’ve never seen you run from responsibility, so quickly.” What does that mean, you’ve seen me run from responsibility before, just not at this pace? Instantly I was the most amusing and memorable highlight of the outing. But that’s okay, I saved everyone’s lives and for that I can sleep better. And no, those weren’t tears; it was suntan lotion in my eyes, thank you very much.

June 20, 2005

Moving Bites

Sure, we've leased a great place in Houston and I'm psyched to get there, but moving bites. Stephen and I are tweaked to the extreme. Every discussion has the perfect ingredients for becoming a huge argument. Tonight we sat sunken in the couch, shoulder-to-shoulder, irritated that we were touching, watching the A’s and surfing the web figuring out if I should sell or donate my car. Blue Book says, “you can’t give it away.” We nearly killed each other because I forgot our current zip code and was certain he was using the wrong one to figure out the value of my car. I had to get up, retrieve a piece of mail, and admit that I was wrong.

For some reason I can't remember the details of when the movers are coming and when possible renters are scheduled to view our place. Today I spent 30 minutes hiding near the garbage cans out back while two women toured our apartment. They must have thought I was nutters. "You didn't tell me they were coming at 4:30." "Yes I did." "You're being a snot." Is it the Scottish accent or have I finally tuned him out? Is this result of moving or our one-year anniversary blues? Maybe both.

If only we could snap our fingers and be in Houston with all our stuff unpacked and ready for living. We're offloading tons of things via Craigslist. In fact, it is so easy to sell I am searching for items, “$50 or best offer for Scottish bloke with exotic accent and crazed look in his eyes, slightly used by hard-of-hearing, emotionally tweaked wife.”

June 18, 2005

Art in the Neighborhood - The Menil Collection

We're back from our two-week house hunting expedition to Houston. Pleased to report that we leased an amazing property in the heart of the Gay district. Housing is ample and inexpensive compared to the Bay Area. Now we begin the packing in Oakland and de-acquisitioning our stuff that doesn’t make the cut.

There is quite an arts scene in Houston. In the last few hours before heading back to Oakland we visited the Menil Collection described on the website as follows: "The Menil Collection, which is operated by the Menil Foundation, Inc., opened to the public in June 1987 as the primary repository of John and Dominique de Menil’s private collection. One of the most significant of the twentieth century, the collection consists of nearly 15,000 works dating from the Paleolithic era to the present day."

I have not seen an arts center like this in California. Nestled into a residential neighborhood in the Montrose Museum District of Houston, The Menil occupies approximately four city blocks. All of the surrounding cottages were purchased by the Menil’s and are now occupied by artists and arts organizations. The tree-lined streets allow for quiet meandering between the buildings and surprise visits by squirrels and herons attempting to cool themselves in the spring heat.

The most stunning components of the Menil Collection are the Rothko Chapel and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum. The Rothko Chapel is a meditative space featuring 14 floor to ceiling black canvases by Rothko. After a first viewing you realize that the paintings actually have various hues of black, traditional to the Rothko color fields.

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum is extraordinary. "Intimate in scale (4,000 square feet), the Chapel Museum is the repository in the United States for the only intact Byzantine frescoes in the entire western hemisphere." As stated on the website. A full sized glass replica of the actual chapel has been created inside this building, with the frescos positioned in their original locations. The space feels like a stage set or performance piece as you sit on the wooden pews and gaze up at the frescos.

To live in a city that has tastefully incorporated the arts and culture venues into the surrounding neighborhoods is exciting. The arrangement emphasizes the importance of art in every day lives and makes the traditionally inaccessible venues completely approachable.

June 15, 2005

Warning: Your Clever Little Blog Can Get You Fired - Headline in USA Today

First of all I apologize in advance for reading USA Today but when you are living in a hotel for two weeks it is at your doorstep each morning. Today, instead of stepping over it I decided it would make good bathroom reading.

Turns out there is an interesting article in the Money section about blogs (can you make money off a blog?) Warning Your Little Blog Can Get You Fired by Stephanie Armour of USA Today.

Check out these stats from Armour’s article: "About 20,000 new blogs are created daily and an estimated 10 million U.S. blogs will exist by the end of 2005. Together these blogs link up to create what is known as a blogosphere, a collective Internet conversation that is one of the fastest-growing areas of new content on the web. More than 9 million adults in the US have crated blogs, according to two surveys and 32 million Americans are blog readers."

My friend Kevin Smokler Editor of the just-published anthology Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times and the person who convinced me to start a blog, claims that blogs are hottest and latest trend in marketing. From these numbers it is clear that they are the newest form of word-of-mouth marketing and illustrate Malcolm Gladwell's discussion of the personality types of Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople.

But buyers beware. Some blogs, like gossipy emails, are a forum for airing gripes, spreading rumors and making mischief. The written word is easily shared, especially on the internet with our ability to copy, paste and sends. My advice – stop, consider the consequences before pressing the send button, and realize that what feels powerful is actually the ultimate wimpy act.

This blog is a place for self exploration, reflection, discussion and advancement of ideas. Letters that I published here are always sent to their addressees prior to being posted on the blog. Responses are not published unless I seek and obtain permission from the writer. If I can’t say it to someone directly, it certainly won’t show up in my blog.

June 13, 2005

Why I Joined the Arts Action Fund

This weekend I joined nearly 800 Arts Managers from across the U.S. at the Americans for the Arts
conference in Austin, TX to discuss the state of the arts. The first action I took was to join the Arts Action Fund Arts Action Fund.

For as little as $20 anyone can become a member of the fund as we look to build political advocacy muscle for the arts. Numbers matter. The more individuals and businesses that join the Arts Action Fund, the better our ability to map arts support. Clusters of participation add up to political influence.

The following is taken from Media Matters

New York Times: Panel Would Cut Public Broadcasting Aid

"It is clear the G.O.P. agenda is to control public broadcasting or to defund it," said Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "House Republicans have gutted funding for public broadcasting stations across the country."

The vote came as public stations and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are engaged in a debate over the editorial balance in programming and the independence of the stations.

The head of the Republican-controlled corporation, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, has pressed public broadcasting to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias. That has prompted public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial independence."

Stephen and I are having a heck of a time finding National Public Radio broadcasts here in Houston. I've resorted to listening to KQED radio of San Francisco and WFUV of Fordham University online. But we can find plenty of religious radio.

Austin, TX art car in front of the Contemporary Art Museum, photographed by Stephen Duncan Posted by Hello

June 9, 2005

Response to Barry Hessenius's Blog of June 6, 2005

Barry was Director of the California Arts Council and is now Executive Director of Alonzo King's Lines Contemporary Ballet


I too was at the Business Arts Council's MetLife Forum event at which you spoke and I was inspired by your situation analysis of the arts business environment. As an arts management consultant I work every day with small and midsize organizations that are struggling to stabilize the business of their arts, much less envisioning sustainability.

Like the American Dream of a little house with a white picket fence, arts groups run towards 501(c)3 incorporation and then are unable to build the capacity to support the move. Others go even further by attempting to independently lease or purchase an arts venue while still building their artistic product.

I believe that a better model is to fund the development of Hub organizations, such as Intersection for the Arts
and the quickly-evolving Oakland Metro
which incubate and present small and midsize arts ventures. Ideally, acting as fiscal sponsors and presenting partners, these Hubs can offer collective management resources, co-marketing opportunities, provide ticketing services, and house rehearsal, performance and exhibition space.

Building sustainable Hub organizations requires funder investment in the development of arts and business partnerships. Arts leadership is sorely missing and is ideally a partnership between artists, arts managers, trained board members, funders, civic leaders and business arts advocates. Currently the artists are the managers, the marketers, the fundraisers, the board members and often the audience members too. The Hub model promotes the development of art and a powerful growth opportunity for arts leadership.

June 8, 2005

Day two and I see the beauty

Robert Gray www.GrayHomeTeam.com spent the afternoon taking us around to 9 amazing loft style town homes. The choices, the size, the beauty. We're narrowing our search down to the Heights and Montrose. Now to get me and Stephen in agreement. He likes the ultra-contemporary angular, industrial properties and I like the soft, rounded, landscaped ones. We're hoping the next round of properties will result in one that meets both our interests.

Tomorrow I begin making contact with arts organizations. Any city that has an Arts Car Museum has to have a sense of humor - and a burgeoning underground arts scene.

Stephen arriving in George Bush International Airport, Houston Posted by Hello

June 7, 2005

Houston Here We Are

After much driving about I have found an internet cafe Krafts'men Baking on Montrose. People are friendly, food is good, and humidity is high.

Craigslist is a great resource for housing. Through a rental listing we made contact with a realtor who has fast become my driving advisor. Robert gave me a call while I was on the road searching for any sign of internet access and he briefed me on the do's and don'ts of driving in Houston. "Because of the short stop lights, construction and heat people's fuses are short so watch out. They don't signal until they are half way in your lane and they jump through red lights. And, pedestrians do not have right of way." Important info.

Good news on the rental front. You can actually negotiate your rent and possibly rent-to-own. Unheard of in San Francisco. Robert tells me that buyers and sellers are on equal footing (unlike the guy on crutches who just sat down next to me - note sandals - may be cause of crutches. Another person here on crutches. Casualties of trying to street-cross?) Tomorrow we venture out with Robert to see some properties.

June 4, 2005

T-2 days until we visit Houston to find a place to live

We're building steam towards our two week visit to Houston to find a place to live. So many people have given us advice and it appears that our best bets are Montrose, the Heights or the area near Rice University. Our goal is artsy-gay, we'll feel most at home there.

June 2, 2005

The arts matter - and so does drawing crowds

A response to the 6/2/5 San Francisco Chronicle article
  • The arts matter and so does drawing crowds
  • -by Steven Winn

    Emailed to Steven Winn 6/2/5


    I too attended the Business Arts Council's MetLife Forum last week at SFMOMA and thought that Barry Hessenius' comments were the most direct and impactful. Thank you for highlighting the concept that you need people to have the arts. Barry also talked about supply and demand and I believe that there is significant supply and not a great deal of demand. Audience development needs to be a focus for arts organizations and the recognition that potential audience members don't differentiate between going out for dinner and a movie from seeing a dance performance, unless they are trained artists themselves.

    At one of the San Francisco International Arts Festival performances I chatted with Erika Schuch about the Festival's programming. She was frustrated that her performances were scheduled at the same time as other dance groups'. The already small dance audiences were split between the two performance and many of those people were the dancers themselves.

    I use to be the Director of Business Volunteers for the Arts matching business professionals as pro bono management consultants with small and mid-size arts groups in the Bay Area. The greatest challenge for the volunteers was finding the arts. I heard countless times that they couldn't uncover or navigate the arts scene. Some had tried performances and felt burned by poor quality, dicey venue or not understanding the work.

    Survival of the fittest is the model for most business ventures and arts are competing with all types of other businesses for audiences' attention and dollars. Artists and arts organizations need to get savvier at understanding how potential audience members gather information, make attendance decisions and experience the venue. Without deliberate action we are reducing arts audiences.

    Amy Kweskin

    June 1, 2005

    Stephen at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, Mexico City, May 2005 Posted by Hello

    Amy at Diego Rivera's and Frida Kahlo's connected houses, Mexico City, May 2005 Posted by Hello