header image

In London, the Vans skateboarding brand has converted some underground tunnels into a recreation complex called House of Vans, complete with skate park, and art gallery.

Photos from House of Vans

It’s not uncommon for those of us with grand ideas in the arts to struggle to find the right venue to realize our vision.

  • What unexpected space in your community could be creatively re-purposed?
  • What events can you imagine there? Music? Art? Theater?

Anyone looking for something to read? Or perhaps, you have a surplus of books that are in need of a new reader?

One creative solution is the Little Free Library!

Photo from LittleFreeLibrary.org

This is a grassroots network of homemade mini-libraries that is free for anyone to use. Check out what’s available on the shelf and take what looks good. Return it when your done, or even trade it for one of your own.

Each little library is as unique as its environment and the person who set it up.

Photo from LittleFreeLibrary.org

There’s even an interactive map on the Little Free Library website that lets you find any that are located near you. And yet, it wasn’t until last night that I learned from our friend Roseanne Yoakum, that there is one right around the corner from our home!

2014.8.8 Little Library

I think street art is wonderful. It’s a moment of beauty, hidden in plain sight.

And just to reiterate my definitions from an earlier post: I believe that street art is generous and creative, while vandalism is destructive and selfish. That particular dividing line is not fixed–what seems beautiful to me may not seem so to you if it has arrived uninvited on your private property. But at least it’s a reference point for discussion.

Anyway.

I came across this brilliant idea, and immediately envisioned a new kind of street art: it’s a giant spirograph toy created by a design studio called HaHa Bird.

Photo from HaHaBird.com

It’s so large that it takes four people to hold it in place and spin the gears around the inside, and instead of the little one you had as a child that used colored pens, this one draws with chalk on cement.

Here’s what I imagine: You carry the giant spirograph out to a public stretch of sidewalk. Someplace where there is foot traffic, but not so much or so narrow that you would block the way. You set the pieces up on the ground, all ready to go. But instead of using it yourself, you invite passersby to take part! You give adults the pleasure of becoming a kid again, and kids the pleasure of creating on an epic scale. But then, once you’re done, you leave behind colorful chalk snowflakes that continue spread delight as they slowly fade away underfoot.

Photo from HaHaBird.com

HaHa Bird actually includes the plans for making this on their site. It’s fairly involved, but if someone has the woodshop skills to whip one up, we could make magic together.

  • Where would you like to see some street art in your city?

Just look at this little beauty! This is a programmable coin slot from Adafruit. It can identify four different kinds of coin, and can be combined with various kinds of DIY micro-controllers (like Arduino) to perform different functions.

Photo by Adafruit.com

Okay, this is the kind of thing that makes me wish I had an iota of technical knowledge. My imagination just starts to run with this thing!

Picture yourself walking down the street, and you spot a coin slot where there was no coin slot before. Maybe it’s under a sign promising some kind of impossible surprise. Maybe it’s just there, a secret to be discovered by those with eyes to see. And maybe you’re busy and you walk on by without testing it out.

Or, maybe you stop, you fish through your pockets or your purse for a coin, and you drop it in the slot. What happens?

Maybe music begins to play. Maybe moving colors and shapes are projected onto the ground around you. Maybe you are suddenly treated to a screening of a short, vintage film. Maybe a curtain drops and reveals a hidden work of art. Maybe a curtain is raised, revealing an actual live person who does a short performance, just for you. Maybe a tiny window opens, letting you peep into a miniature art gallery.

  • What surprise would you like to experience when you step up and drop a coin into the slot?

Look what we picked up today!

They will be available soon!

20140802-111821-40701732.jpg

Am I the only adult who misses participating in the science fair?

I guess it’s not really the science I miss, exactly. Although, that was cool, I guess. (In 9th grade I got high marks for an experiment on sonoluminescence—creating light by bombarding water bubbles with ultrasonic waves, causing them to vibrate fast enough that they throw off electrons, creating tiny bursts of light that can be captured on film. Like all great science fair projects, it was an idea I came across and played with, and not something I came up with myself–just in case you were wondering.)

But more than that, I miss getting all dressed up, getting excited on the Big Day, setting up my little booth, listening to the rumble of a room full of little geniuses and their families.

I miss feeling heard. I miss having a public forum where I got to share an idea that seemed pretty cool to me, and to have people listen attentively.

Okay, you might argue that that’s what a blog is as well—except that it isn’t the same.  A blog is created and consumed as a private experience. Doing this in an actual public environment is a different experience entirely.

So, here’s how my brain works: I ask myself, what would be a good application of the science fair outside of junior high?

My answer is called the Future Fair.

Instead of being about science, this fair is about civic engagement. Anyone who wants to would be able to register to present an idea for improving their city. This could be something grand, or something practical, or something totally fantastical. In fact, maybe ribbons should be awarded in those categories.

There would be a category for kids, and a category for adults, and maybe a team category so the child and parent can work together.

And the best part? Because the focus is on ideas instead of experimentation, the focus of your preparation could be where it truly belongs: on the backdrop! You could go factual and display charts or news articles supporting your ideas, or you could go the creative route, busting out your model-making and diorama skills. What better way to get people excited about your high-rise playground concept than to build a tiny version of one, and show just how much fun those tiny, toy children are having!

In addition to the pleasure of working on something creative, and the challenge of presenting and defending your ideas publicly, I like the idea of creating a new channel for civic engagement. We are all involved in the daily goings on of our cities, and yet it is easy for us to step back and assume that our officials have everything well in hand (or to assume that our officials are incompetent, but there’s nothing we can do about it!). Can you imagine a society in which we are all excited to make our voices heard in civic matters?

  • If the Future Fair took place in your city, what would your project be?

Today I’m giving a shout-out to a game app.

Yup. Not a great work of theater, or an art installation. Just a game.

I don’t usually even have games on my phone. I get little enough accomplished without them. But what sets this game apart, I think—what makes it an extraordinary experience—is its remarkable artistic vision.

It’s called Monument Valley, and it was created by digital studio UsTwo. You can check out the game trailer here.

Imagine, if you will, a platform game where you don’t have to kill anything. Instead, you just make your way through a world of dream like beauty, trying to find your way through shifting paths that follow the logic of an M.C. Escher drawing.

2014.7.30 Monument 1

Image from MonumentValleyGame.com

Why would I include a video game on this blog?

First of all, a video game could be considered an art, just like a novel or a play. Low quality shoot-‘em-up games no more define the form any more than summer blockbusters define film making.

But secondly, this is a game with an artistic vision. It’s not a long game, but I cannot remember the last time a piece of entertainment surprised and delighted me so often.

  • What is a work of art that you discovered in an unexpected place?

2014.7.30 Monument 2 2014.7.31 Monument 3

Images from MonumentValleyGame.com

Have you ever seen a play by Bertolt Brecht?

Generally, there’s a lot of scowling involved. Very serious theatre, all about Ideas, you see. And there’s that whole verfremdungseffekt. That’s German for  “Alienation” or “Distancing Effect”, to the uninitiated—it’s all about exposing the machinery of theater-making so that the audience never gets too emotionally involved in a play.

Aaaaaand, enough of that.

The problem with Brecht plays is that so often they are performed in a way that is so deadly serious. If you were to read any of Brecht’s theories about how theater should work, however, you would discover that he thought theater should be fun! Imagine that!

In fact, he says we should look around at our sports stadiums. Look at how full they are! People go to watch live sports, sometimes even paying hundreds of dollars, because it’s fun.

Now look at the arts. Look at how hard our theaters and dance companies have to work to pull in an audience. Think about how little money some people (you?) are willing to pay for a ticket for a local performance.

Could it be the problem is that we’re not offering enough fun to draw people in?

These questions came to mind in response to a blog article on the website of The Guardian, a newspaper in the UK. Written by playwright Anthony Nielsen, it asks why the arts have to be so boring.

“Boring an audience is the one true sin in theatre. We’ve been boring audiences for decades now, and they’ve responded by slowly withdrawing their patronage. I don’t care that the recent production of The Seagull at the Royal Court was sold out. To 95% of the population, the theatre (musicals aside for now) is an irrelevance. Of that 95%, we have managed to lure in maybe 10% at some point in their lives, and we’ve so swiftly and thoroughly bored them that they’ve never returned. They’re not the ones who broke the contract. They paid their money and expected entertainment; we sent them back into the night feeling bored, bullied and baffled.”

So, instead of going for fun, people often go out of a sense of obligation—a feeling that they “should” go.

“That ‘should’ tells you that people see theatre-going not as entertainment but as self-improvement”

How are we supposed to become un-boring, then? I happen to like Nielsen’s prescription for this:

“We have to give the audiences what they can’t get anywhere else. Debate they can get in a newspaper. Reality – well, they can get that on TV. We can offer them “liveness”, but few plays, or productions, take advantage of this.”

Film and television can be great entertainment, but they are never the same as being there yourself. That’s why people keep shelling out for sports tickets, right?

So what can we do to make the arts more experiential? More memorable? And more fun?

Figure that out, and you have found your key to a successful future.

Where do you go to have fun in your city?

I’m currently living in the small-ish city where I grew up, and remember that it was quite fashionable as a teen to complain that there is nothing to do here.

But what if the “fun place to go” is a much more fluid concept? What if the fun place can appear and disappear, and never be in the same place twice? Does that add to the magic? (Or just make it annoying?)

“Pop-up” is a very trendy concept in retail right now, were a store appears in a space for a limited time before being taken down again. That same spirit can be applied to recreation.

 

Take Roof Garden as an example. It’s a community gathering place in the Dutch city of Arnhem, complete with gardens, table tennis, live entertainment and more. And it springs into life each summer on the top level of a high-rise parking garage, thanks to a group of eager volunteers.

In a city (like mine) without a high-rise parking garage, where would be an unexpected place for a community gathering spot to appear? What site would be surprisingly wonderful? What location would prompt the most people to come enjoy the space?

2014.7.28 Roof Garden

From Popup City

 

On a smaller scale, there’s something like Park(ing) Day, where non-profits, groups and individuals in a community transform public parking spaces into tiny little parks. They bring enough quarters to feed the meter all day, lay down some turf and decorate their little corner of paradise with whatever amenities suit them. It becomes an unexpected and inviting green space, even in an urban area.

What would you add to your mini-park?

2014.7.28 Parking Day

From Park(ing) Day on Facebook 

 

For something a little wilder, you can find inspiration in the Lost Horizon Night Market. It’s an underground event where groups or individuals decorate rental truck to become ad hoc theaters, bar rooms, video arcades, haunted houses and more. Like some kind of mysterious carnival, the trucks park late at night at an undisclosed location, which is revealed at the last minute to those in the know (ex. Twitter or Facebook followers).

What groups or individuals do you know who would create an amazing Night Market truck? What amazing experience would you like to have there?

2014.7.28 Night Market Zoo

Petting zoo, photo by Yana Paskova for NYTimes 

macattitude

Mac and Attitude Diner, photo from NPR 

Melanie Bayles, my friend and a new board member of the Musical Research Society, has taken on the task (among many, many other projects) of helping to organize a Messiah sing-along at the Mormon chapel this December.

First of all, what a great idea is a sing-along! To me, the perfect cultural event has elements of bridging and wonder. I made those terms up just now off the cuff, but this is what I mean by them:

“Bridging” is about uniting a group in a shared experience. Sitting in a darkened movie theater typically offers low levels of bridging. Sitting in a darkened movie theater at the midnight premier of a movie, surrounded by 500 vocal fans all dressed in costume, offers a much greater bridging.

 “Wonder” is the quality of an experience that seems to take you out of the mundane world for a time. Riding the elevator to the fifth floor usually only lifts you up in the physical sense. But stepping onto an elevator and discovering that a play is being performed inside is something remarkable that makes you stop and take notice.

 A Messiah sing-along has elements of both of those things: The people most excited to go are likely those who have heard the Messiah year after year, and have a shared enthusiasm for the piece. Being allowed to join in the performance of such a transcendent work of art is an experience of wonder.

 

And so, this is how my mind works:

I think, Huh. A Messiah sing-along. That’s pretty cool. What’s another, unexpected application for that kind of experience?

Ah. I’ve got it: Stravinsky.

I think perhaps the time has come for a Rite of Spring dance-along.

2014.7.18 Rite of Spring

Drawing of Marie Piltz in the “Sacrificial Dance” from The Rite of Spring, Paris, 29 May 1913

 

Just like in a Messiah sing-along, the dance-along would have soloists to carry some of the more technical sections, and the volunteer amateurs would be broken up into small groups, each with a trained leader or two for them to follow.

But while a Messiah sing-along generally taken seriously, with the goal of reaching as near transcendence as possible with an untrained ensemble, the Stravisnky dance-along would primarily be about having fun. If you look at Nijinsky’s original choreography, it was designed to be “primitive” anyway, so a group of willing participants might get a great laugh as they stomp, and clap and run in circles, followed by refreshments.

Considering the fact that fistfights broke out at Rite of Spring’s premier, it seems proper to turn it into an experience that would be a real riot.

What other cultural [blank]-along do you think needs to be invented?

« Older Entries     Newer Entries »