New York’s Art Students League in Battle over Air Rights Decision

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art S...

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art Students League of New York on a sunny afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Creative space is sacred to an artist. So, it’s not surprising that passions have flared on West 57th Street in New York at the prospect of change adjacent to—and cantilevered over—the site of the famed Art Students League. The 140-year-old nonprofit art school “that counts Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mark Rothko among its alumni” is, according to The New York Times, the scene of a “battle being fought between the school’s leadership and a faction of its 3,945 voting members” over the granting of air rights to build, in part, above the school.

On paper, the deal looks good for the Art Students League, which has negotiated to be paid close to $32 million in return for granting air rights—the right to build in the empty space above a piece of property—to Extell Development Company, which intends to build “one of the tallest residential towers in the world” next door.

The League administration’s plan, according to the petition that was circulated earlier this year to gain support for the decision, is to allow Extell to “build a cantilever some 30 stories above the League and 6,000 square feet of air rights.” Then, they’ll use that money in the arts building to add floors, additional studios, unveil skylights that have been covered up, and to restoring “gallery space and the library.” Their board also sees this as a way to provide the League “a strong foundation for a capital fundraising campaign to pay for the expansion.” Further, they want to have money to use to “keep tuition low, and augment the League’s endowment to serve future generations of students.”

The dissenting group, which is called ASL 2025, has also expressed dissatisfaction with the school’s president, ­­­­­­­­Salvatore Barbieri, claiming that he has “ruled by fiat, making up the rules as he goes along.” Led by Marne Rizika, a painter and printmaker, and Richard Caraballo, a graphic designer, ASL 2025 claims there have also been “efforts to intimidate and stifle any dissent.”

In return, according to the Times, President Barbieri, has called the attacks a “classic pattern of amateurish slanderous writing” filled with “false and distorted allegations without supporting facts.” And the institution’s lawyers have said, “Under Mr. Barbieri’s tenure, the league is in better financial shape than it has ever been…. Its prospects for longevity and the ability to educate artists for generations to come have never been brighter.”

But that’s not the way Rizika and Caraballo see it. “The sense of collegiality that formerly existed between art students, instructors and administrators, in an ‘open-door’ policy, has disappeared,” said Ms. Rizika, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Barbieri for the presidency several weeks ago, “and been replaced with autocratic rule, which has included hiring armed guards for members’ meetings.

“The opponents agree that overturning the sale itself is impossible. The purpose of the suit, Mr. Caraballo said, is to challenge the way the 2014 vote approving the deal was conducted.”

Today, the League remains an institution run by artists for artists. They follow in the footsteps of the many famous artists who have “shaped the vocabulary of art worldwide, [and] have been instructors, lecturers and students at the League. They include, among many others, Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Red Grooms, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Ben Shahn and Cy Twombly.” Hopefully, the two sides can reach a comfortable agreement soon. Perhaps it can help to recall what Paul Klee once said about his art space: “All is well with me. The rain doesn’t reach me, my room is well heated, what more can one ask for?”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Is the Romance with Tiny Houses More Than a Fling?

Tiny house

Tiny house (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tiny house movement, which is often credited as having gained popularity thanks to Sarah Susanka’s 1997 book, The Not So Big House, has captivated architects, designers, city planners, and increasingly eco-conscious homebuyers on either end of the buying market. There are millennials who, faced with uncertain economic growth and unwilling to tie to the long-term mortgages of their parents’ generation, are considering tiny houses. Architects and designers are intrigued with the challenges of making 1,000 square feet and smaller feel like living large. City planners appreciate the economic possibilities, and even Boomers are willing to engage if downsizing to tiny can work with a lifestyle they can enjoy.

Not everyone is a fan, of course. As NPQ reported in an earlier article on possible use of tiny homes for the homeless, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino expressed his concern about tiny homes, on average “the size of a garden shed,” and which are “built on wheels so that [they] can be moved frequently enough to skirt laws against loitering or trespassing.” Buscaino felt “each home would require reflective markings” and that this idea overall might not be the best of solutions.

But many others, as the Star Tribune piece showcased this week, would argue tiny houses are a game-changer and feel they offer exciting alternatives to traditional notions of housing in addition to posing the question of “how much space one really needs—and encourages living in a sustainable way.”

Among the architecture community, there has sprouted “a competition of sorts to design appealing, cost-effective, environmentally friendly tiny homes. […] One of the movement’s pioneers, Geoff Warner of St. Paul-based Alchemy Architects, has teamed with the Robert Engstrom Cos., the city of St. Paul, and an East Side nonprofit developer to propose a tiny house cluster as a demonstration of how such homes could spur development of affordable for-sale housing.”

A cluster of Alchemy Architecture’s “Weehouse” prefabricated tiny homes has been proposed for St. Paul’s East Side, an area that connects downtown St. Paul “with an “emerging business and entertainment corridor.” The Weehouses are described as “modular boxes prefabricated in factories and designed by Warner to vary in size from 300 to 850 square feet. They can be set up side-by-side to create stand-alone neighborhood clusters, or stacked on top of each other to build bigger single-family or multifamily dwellings.” The Star Tribune article also said “their real innovation is that they’re hardly Spartan: They include modern aesthetic features such as floor-to-ceiling glass and open kitchens, while also emphasizing energy efficiency with passive solar design, reflective roofs and geothermal heating.”

The hope of planners there is that the “units will market for around $100,000,” putting it at “a price that can appeal to a wide range of people, including first-time home buyers of all racial backgrounds.” According to a report issued by tech company SmartAsset, “in over half of the biggest U.S. cities, the typical millennial can’t afford a 1,000 square-foot home.” Warner’s hope, which is shared by many enthusiasts of the growing trend, is that more and more people will realize “you don’t need to have huge spaces to have really nice spaces.”

In the city of St. Paul’s case, the municipality “will need to craft a new zoning overlay designation governing such clusters of tiny housing.” But this is being “envisioned as a possible template for other cities across the state and country seeking to encourage the tiny living phenomenon.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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One Million Children Forced from School by Boko Haram

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Attacks by Islamist military group Boko Haram have “forced more than 1 million children to abandon their studies and closed at least 2,000 schools in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries,” according to Bloomberg News. Neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger are also now experiencing violence as well.

In a story this week following a UNICEF report, Bloomberg News said, “Schools have been hit by attacks as Boko Haram, which means, ‘Western education is a sin’ in the Hausa language, pursues a six-year-old campaign to establish its version of Islamic law in the region.”

Boko Haram gained world attention last year following the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls—most of whom still have not been found—from their dormitories in the town of Chibok, which sparked the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign championed by Michelle Obama and thousands of others. Most of the girls haven’t been found. Associated Press reports that overall, “Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed about 20,000 people and displaced 2.3 million, according to Amnesty International and the United Nations.”

Since starting its war on the Nigerian government in 2009, “Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools, students and teachers,” reports The Guardian. Further, the New York Times adds that while “hundreds of schools in northeastern Nigeria have reopened in recent months…many classrooms are overcrowded or are used as shelter for those displaced.” Security continues to be a challenge; the instability has kept teachers from returning to class, given that as many as 600 teachers have been killed during the six-year insurgency.

“Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director in West and Central Africa, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups.” In fact, the Bloomberg story said, “In Nigeria, 10.5 million children are out of school,” making it the highest in the world.

And there are increasing fears lack of education will fuel further radicalism. Yan St-Pierre, terrorism analyst at Modern Security Consulting Group in Berlin, said, “There was already a problem with getting kids to school on a regular basis that simply became worse once Boko Haram emerged.”

Between bloody raids and incessant suicide bombings, Boko Haram has severely damaged what little infrastructure existed in Nigeria’s impoverished northeast at a time when the commodity-dependent country is facing a cash crunch thanks to plunging oil prices. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had given the military there a December deadline to beat back the group. But, according to the site Foreign Policy, “Even with some assistance from the United States, United Kingdom, and France, that goal looks increasingly unrealistic. A multi-regional military task force has dismantled some of the group’s strongholds, forcing the extremists to rely on asymmetric tactics. Those attacks, in turn, are increasingly involving children.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Critics Blast New Forms of Public Art as It Goes Mainstream

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Street and public art is having a heyday here and abroad, thriving in once-desolate parts of cities. And while it’s exciting to see an art form that harkens back millennia to the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, there’s a question of whether its power and its artists are being coopted by gentrification.

New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz is quoted in Vulture as saying he worries that the cultural forces responsible for “something like a new golden age of public art,” also support soulless and synthetic art and architecture that he loathes. And UK curator and author of The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, Rafael Schäcter, prompted a flurry of discussion last month on the site The Conversation when he claimed that street art has moved from “dissident to decorative,” and sold out.

Schäcter explained in his piece, “Street art—as well as its artistic forebear graffiti—are often thought of as radical, rebellious aesthetic practices. Both the artists and their works are portrayed as the very definition of “edgy”; dangerous and dissident, but also creative and avant-garde. Yet within the last five years or so, street art…has been commandeered by the corporate interests of the ‘creative city’.”

Schäcter describes the creative city doctrine as “one in which public space is privatized and monetized.” City authorities in these cases look to “draw the emerging creative class to their sites” by marking themselves out “visually and recreationally to entice the key demographic of well-educated professionals and ‘bohemians’ (the coders, the designers, the “knowledge-based” professionals) who form the basis for a post-industrial economy.”

At or near the top of Saltz’s list of offenses in New York City is the High Line project, which he calls “that stretch of elevated rail lines strung through the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and the Hudson Yards, refurbished with private money a dozen years ago as the spine of the massive luxury redevelopment of each of those neighborhoods.” The mile-long public park, which snakes over and across a section of New York has, since it opened in June 2009, “had more than 27 million visitors.” And with annual attendance in excess of 6 million, it’s more popular than the city’s Museum of Modern Art or Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now developers have even more ambitious projects for art and entertainment centers to construct at either end of the High Line—Pier 55, at the southern end of the High Line, and the even bigger Culture Shed, at the northern one.

Saltz is not at all a fan, and he can envision problems of epic scale for these centers, the larger of which he calls a behemoth projected to cover 200,000 square feet (roughly the size of 3.5 NFL football fields). “The hubris of all this will be how costly these spaces are to build and maintain—predicated as they are on the belief that there will always be enough money for crews and equipment to come in at night and restore them for the next day’s audiences and merrymakers,” Saltz said. “It’s fitting that when this cycle of abundance recedes, these caprices may become the very “ruins” that inspired them.”

Saltz envisions the following dilemma: having new opportunities for putting art in the public sphere is good, but the creation of environments that mix experiencing art with planned programming and entertainment may change the dynamic in ways that aren’t beneficial.

He sees the High Line as a “harbinger of a bad pathogen now transforming public space into fussy, extra-busy, overdesigned, high-maintenance mannered playgrounds, curated experiences, and crowd-pleasing spectacles.” He admits that the “semi-privatization of public space has produced some of the best public art the city has seen in decades,” but at the same time he worries that “the money people who make major projects happen” are too interconnected.”

For his part, Schäcter believes this “transformation is due, in part, to the steady rise of the street-art festival. From Miami to Manila, these festivals have given institutions a way to establish the ultimate delivery system for creative city policies. They make and market “place”, turning physical space into a branded commodity. The “edgy authenticity” of street art makes it the ideal fit for this task: it is just perfectly, marvelously edgy enough.”

He continues,

“Much of the street art pumped out through the festival apparatus provides an aesthetic of transgression, while remaining perfectly numb to the social realities of its setting, treating public space like a blank canvas, rather than a site already loaded with cultural, historical and personal significance.

“It appears political while in fact being perfectly non-partisan. It performs a charade of rebellion and insurgence, while being officially sanctioned by commission and invitation.”

It’s not hard to see just how mainstream “street art” has come. One has only to look to Madison Avenue, which has just come up with an Instagram campaign for the color-trend-setting company Pantone. To gain consumer awareness for its #ColorOfTheYear (actually two colors this year), it’s having street artists “with large social followings in Los Angeles, New York City and Miami” create art installations to “showcase the colors’ harmony and their dominance in fashion, art and design.”

And in Toronto, a children’s art studio just announced it will be offering “Express Yo Self,” graffiti classes for kids, to introduce them to street-art techniques. Purists will certainly find this unsettling.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Guards at Boston Museum of Fine Arts Protest More “Militarized” Role

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Museum of Fine Arts – Boston / Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

For the past three weeks, guards who usually serve to protect the treasures of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) have instead been walking the pavement outside. Members of the Museum Independent Security Union (MISU) object to changes that museum officials want to make to reduce flexible scheduling and the coverage they’ve provided inside the galleries to assist patrons and protect the art. According to Hyperallergic.com this week, MISU president Evan Henderson explained the guards’ position saying the proposed changes are “pushing guards out of their positions,” and would “reportedly be less focused on providing artwork protection and guest support within the galleries, and require them to cover shifts in areas of the museum like the attic, offices, or outdoors.”

Henderson was quoted in the Boston Globe saying, “They want us to be more like unlicensed cops, in which we’ll be more militarized…. We’ll be doing, like, drills in the morning. They want us to not focus on the artwork and be able to fight things like active shooters.”

Protecting visitors and property in public venues is increasingly complex, and according to R. Michael Kirchner, chairman of the security committee for the American Alliance of Museums, there’s no single template. “It varies worldwide because of the different size of facilities and resources.” Each museum has its own security challenges and priorities.

Boston MFA’s public relations director Karen Frascona explained the museum’s stance: “In today’s environment, it is critical that our security workforce is prepared to protect our staff, students, volunteers, visitors, and the collection in a variety of situations. Industry-standard training in areas such as emergency preparedness, conflict resolution, and security operations is included in the MFA’s current plan.” But Henderson and the nearly 100 guards who are opposing the changes are concerned the new policies would hinder their ability to aid visitors and provide them with a friendly experience.

According to the Globe article, “Frascona declined to describe details of the MFA’s security system, citing its sensitive nature.” But Steve Keller, a museum security consultant, said, “The MFA is in the forefront of a broader trend among museums to adopt technologically advanced security systems.” Keller added, “The museum uses a predictive video monitoring system that incorporates ceiling-mounted cameras and video analytics to sound an alarm before a person actually touches an artwork.”

He said the MFA’s system goes “beyond what most museums do,” by enabling the museum to statistically analyze audience movement patterns to determine which artworks (and even which parts of an artwork) are vulnerable to damage.

But Henderson and others are not convinced that even such good technology can do the job well. As one guard put it, people don’t always respond correctly to alarms, even when they hear them. Then there’s the personal touch they feel will be lost. Henderson said, “Customer service was a huge aspect of the job. We all take great appreciation in the artwork that we’re around. We’re very knowledgeable.”

He’s quoted in DigBoston, saying, “With the ‘new security model’ and ‘take it or leave it’ schedules, people are being laid off through attrition,” since many work their schedules around childcare or other jobs.

Currently, according to the Globe, “Guards can work shifts of varying lengths. Frascona said the museum was working to standardize the guards’ schedules, creating regular day, evening, and overnight shifts, starting Jan. 3rd.” According to the guards’ current contract, the museum “retains the right to alter the guards’ schedules independent of negotiations.”

In response, Henderson is considering filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. And this Saturday, December 19, the Massachusetts Jobs with Justice coalition is sponsoring a rally from 12 to 2 p.m. to support the guards.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Herb Gardens, Goats & Real Estate Developers: Considerations in Community Development

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Urban farms and community gardens have been popular for a number of years, particularly as the farm-to-table movement took off. In cities across the country, many vacant, often blighted lots were adopted and converted to bring “healthy food, commerce and eye-pleasing greenery to dreary neighborhoods” and to supply restaurants and farm markets with locally grown produce. But now, according to the Associated Press, “as more people look to live and work in central cities, growers say it’s harder to find and remain on land now sought by developers.” At risk, farm advocates say, is not only the ability to grow food nearby and cultivate nature in more parts of the city, but the community spirit that often grew up around these projects.

Community gardens have often provided neighborhoods, local schools, and programs that work with at-risk youth with the chance to bring diverse people together to work toward a shared goal. But with big money at stake, local officials are often unwilling to champion these projects in opposition to housing development. St. Paul City Council Member Amy Brendmoen is quoted as saying that she saw the decision there to support building projects instead as “sad but inevitable.”

At the same time, ABC News reported this past week on a contradictory trend taking place in some suburban subdivisions and various communities wherein housing developers are responding to the farm-to-table movement themselves by “adding farms to neighborhoods to give people what they want…old fashioned roots to grow.”

Some urban farm promoters are “pushing local officials to begin setting aside plots for urban agriculture because of the health and community benefits.” In the Seattle area, “officials have designated portions of parks and other public land. In Los Angeles, community groups are encouraging developers to have farming and green space designed into housing, including on rooftops.”

At The Cannery in Davis, California, which presents itself as “the first farm-to-table new home community,” ABC News reported that “nearly 540 homes will be walking distance of a 7.5-acre farm” with housing styles ranging from affordable apartments to million-dollar estate homes. Given that when it opened to potential buyers in August, 5,000 people came through the Cannery on the first day—and that buyers have ranged from millennials to retirees and empty-nesters—the developers seem to be onto something.

Ed McMahon, senior fellow at the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, a real estate research group in Washington, D.C., told ABC “agrihoods” are hot. “Almost every week I get a call from a different country about a new development,” McMahon said. “What people are finding is that it is an amenity that can really actually create some value in a community.”

Across the U.S., these communities take different forms. “At Agritopia, outside of Phoenix, residents take pride in growing on their own plots, whereas, “people who buy in the Davis development won’t work the farm.” In Serenbe, a community within an hour of downtown Atlanta, “homes are scattered throughout a 25-acre organic farm, where professional farmers tend the land and sell fruits and vegetables to local residents.”

There’s even a movement afoot in some places to push the concept even further to include livestock. The Detroit Free Press just reported that, where “city laws technically don’t allow for the raising of livestock,” city councilman James Tate is looking to sponsor an ordinance that would change that to “allow homeowners and urban farmers to raise their own livestock safely while also making sure that neighbors aren’t upset.”

Not everyone is a fan, of course, but a recent study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute that looked at emerging trends in real estate for 2016 suggests, according to the Christian Science Monitor, that “more urban farms will sprout up across the U.S., especially in areas where vacant land sits unused and unwanted.” The report also said, “What is important—and trending—is the new vision that has urban land as the most precious and flexible of resources.”

Mikkel Kjaer and Ronnie Markussen, who run a Danish urban design lab and who were written up in September by UK firm Collectively, are among those hoping this is true. They are designing a type of urban farm in a box intended to “increase food security in cities, lower the ecological footprint of food production” and “easily adapt to changes in the urban landscape.” Eyeing the U.S. as their primary target market, their “Impact Farm” kit is designed to be built with “an assembly-kit of ready-made components” which when put together, is a two-story vertical hydroponic (or soil-free) farm…designed to be self-sufficient in water, heat and electricity.” Once installed, their farm’s production area “stretches to 538 square feet. Crops include greens, herbs and fruiting plants.”

Kjaer foresees it being used by “catering companies, housing cooperatives, schools, municipalities, restaurants, and local communities.”

NPQ would love to hear from advocates of community development about the importance of such projects to development in poor urban communities and whether you have had to protect them from other development plans.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Well-Placed Subversive Art Slams Business Rhetoric at Paris Climate Talks

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Eighty artists from around the globe took to the streets of Paris recently to plaster over 600 corporate ad spaces owned by ad firm JCDecaux with pieces of protest art to air fears about climate change.

According to NPR, the protesters have “gotten much attention,” particularly because “the French government—in response to the terrorist attacks—banned mass gatherings.” The “subversive art campaign…is replacing outdoor advertising spots with art posters indicting big corporations for their role in climate change.”

In doing so, world leaders were bombarded with images challenging the corporate sponsors of the United Nations summit and with art installations around the city designed to remind leaders the world is watching closely.

Calling the action “subvertising,” the initiative was mounted by the UK organizationBrandalism, which since 2012 has been mounting a “revolt against corporate control of the visual realm” and claiming to be running “the biggest anti-advertising campaign in world history.” According to the World Post, Brandalism is looking to highlight the hypocrisy “of allowing corporations to sponsor the climate talks when their products contribute to global environmental problems such as over-production, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.” Brandalism Spokesperson Joe Elan said in the press release, “By sponsoring the climate talks, major polluters such as Air France and GDF-Suez-Engie can promote themselves as part of the solution—when actually they are part of the problem.”

Resulting media coverage has shown a variety of posters, but one that has garnered the most attention, and which NPR called “especially damning,” targets Volkswagen and the recent revelations that the company had circumvented government emissions standards. The ad reads, “Now that we’ve been caught, we’re trying to make you think we care about the environment.”

Other corporate targets include Air France and Motorola.

According to Gizmodo, there’s also been an organized art festival in Paris “devoted to climate change installations, called ArtCOP21, responsible for work from street artists like JR and Shepard Fairey to the filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. […] Together they’ve transformed Paris with work that ranges from beautiful, infuriating, and sad, to very, very clever.”

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One, entitled The People’s Climate March, depicts “20,000 pairs of shoes, arranged in perfect lines around the Place de la République.” It’s meant to stand in for the protesters who couldn’t march in Paris. Another, called The Standing March, at the Assemblée Nationale, depicts the “intense stares of 500 strangers from around the world” and is “a piece by the street artist JR and the filmmaker Darren Aronofsky.” Together, they took 3D scans of 500 different people and tiled them to create a “dynamic, moving audience on the façade of the neoclassical landmark.” They say the piece is meant to “remind leaders that the world is watching as they gather to negotiate a deal aimed at keeping global warming below 2°C.”

In another art installation “not far away from the Eiffel Tower, on the side of the American Center for Art & Culture, the artist Andrea Polli is using projection mapping to show the exact levels of air pollution in the city for a piece entitled Particle Falls.”

The point of having these strong artistic messages front and center during the summit, rather than simply corporate product ads, is that it gives voice to the masses who will be impacted by the decisions made, rather than, as Elan says, to those who just “have the most amount of money” to advertise.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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The Promise of Introducing the Mona Lisa to the Blind

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The Mona Lisa is among the most famous paintings in the world—revered for centuries, owned by emperors and kings, and visited in the Louvre by approximately 6 million people annually. Still, its beauty and impact are diminished for people who cannot see it because of visual impairment. But that may be about to change if either of two crowdfunding campaigns currently on Indiegogo and Kickstarter succeeds.

The one on Indiegogo is a campaign proposed by Unseen Art that’s “raising $30,000 to create a software platform that would allow those without sight to download famous artworks and 3D-print them.”

Founder Marc Dillon has said, “The classical artworks of the world are something we believe everybody should have accessibility to and it should be free. […] So we have to build something in order to do that.”

The notion is to “let artists create 3D interpretations of artworks by scanning a photo of the original, then adding depth and simplifying detail.” Then, anyone with access to a 3D printer could access the file, download, and print.

The project on Kickstarter from the group 3DPhotoWorks is different in that it is looking to fund a much more expensive, commercial platform for use by museums, science centers, and other cultural organizations. They’ve developed and tested “a process called 3D Tactile Fine Art Printing” that is “capable of converting a painting, drawing, photograph or other form of traditional 2D artwork into a 3D printed tactile fine art” as large as five feet by ten feet.

The technology is based on the science of neuroplasticity and inspired by “the work of Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” which shows “that the human brain is capable of processing the tactile information obtained from fingertip contact like it had been obtained from visualization.” In these cases, sensors have been “implemented into the prints, which when touched, give off audio that tells the user what is being shown at that part of the painting.” In that way, their brain can put together a mental picture of what’s in the painting, photograph or drawing.

One aesthetic question raised by this, according to Tech Crunch, is whether “a 3D painting [is] still a painting?” And, in another sense, are the new creations new pieces altogether? Dillon sees this as a differentiation between the two approaches, and describes 3D Tactile Fine Art Printing as “more of a relief style” versus the fully 3D models Unseen Art aims to distribute.” He argues that there’s particular value in the 3D modeling he’s proposing because they found, “there needs to be some depth of touch, and there needs to be some limitation to detail—a perspective on the art, or an impression of the art, for people to really understand it.” Using the Mona Lisa as the best-known example, he says, if you included every bit of detail about the picture, then people aren’t really going to get a lot out of it.

Regardless, Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in talking about 3DPhotoWorks, stressed the importance of increased accessibility:

Too often people invent ways of describing art to blind people rather than creating authentic means for the blind to perceive visual imagery in nonvisual ways. This technology opens up new avenues for exploration and understanding and will enhance the experience for everyone. This technology also has the potential to allow greater participation by the blind in a wide variety of fields, especially the visual arts and STEM subjects.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Indiegogo Aims to Take the Lead in Non-Profit Crowdfunding

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In a major strategic move in the crowdfunding arena, Indiegogo has just announced the rebranding of its charitable crowdfunding arm, “Indiegogo Life,” to a new platform now called “Generosity.” The intent is being seen as an effort to try to unseat the current “leading platform for personal causes, GoFundMe,” which reported in September that it raised $1 billion in donations over the previous 12 months and $1.6 billion since its 2010 launch,” according to Forbes.

Other cause-based platforms referenced by the New York Times in their coverage of today’s Indiegogo news, are YouCaring, GiveForward, and Fundly. These sites “are a popular choice for funding, “memorials, educational projects and other charitably minded giving,” according to the Times. The new move by Indiegogo, according to VentureBeat, will also broaden the scope “to include nonprofit organizations” and they also noted that it’s a “milestone in Indiegogo’s evolution, as it’s the first time it has launched a service outside its main Indiegogo domain.”

According to the New York Times, Generosity, “is designed to be a cheaper alternative to traditional crowdfunding sites, including its parent. Indiegogo, which levies a 5 percent platform fee on money raised through its site, a 3 percent payment processing charge and 30 cents per donation.” GoFundMe charges a 5% fee for all money raised plus additional credit card processing fees.” Generosity.com, like its predecessor Indiegogo Life, “has no platform fee, but processing charges will be deducted before funds are disbursed.”

Forbes’ article names cause-based campaigns as “crowdfunding industry’s largest vertical,” and said that Indiegogo, “has totaled pledes over the course of its nearly seven-year history of about $750 million for projects ranging from personal robots to fitness trackers to disaster area aid.” Forbes reported, that while Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin declined to address GoFundMe when asked about the company,” he did say “that Indiegogo was ”the first to offer personal funding and nonprofit funding.” He was also quoted in the New York Times saying, “the main difference between Generosity.com and its predecessor was that all nonprofit campaigns would now be hosted on the site.

“We’ve seen the impact that a group of people coming together to support an important social cause can have and our commitment to support nonprofit and personal funding has literally changed lives for the better,” explained Rubin in an email to FORBES.

GoFundMe CEO, Rob Solomon, in an email statement he sent to Forbes said, “In their time of greatest need, people don’t need a cheap platform, they need one that works.” He’s also said, “that Indiegogo’s presence has had little impact, with users flocking to GoFundMe to find campaigns.” Now, the question is whether Generosity can change that.

At Indiegogo, aside from the differences in fee structure, the two sites will operate very similarly. One change is that “Indiegogo has done away with time limits on Generosity, allowing a campaign to be an open-ended amount of time similar to what is allowed on GoFundMe. Generosity also provides integrations so that users can run their campaigns on their own personal websites.”

Indiegogo launched in 2008 and which is most often seen, “in competition with its top rival, Kickstarter, facilitates fund-raising for creative and entrepreneurial projects.” As the Forbes piece points out, a challenge for the company going forward will be to differentiate between “the kinds of cause-based campaigns that Generosity.com is designed for and those that should be on Indiegogo proper. “Mr. Rubin said he was confident that campaign organizers would choose the right site for their endeavor. Indiegogo has more robust tools for campaign marketing and tracking, while Generosity.com’s interface is stripped-down and simpler.”

“Existing Indiegogo Life listings will be transitioned into the new platform, while Generosity is also launching with four new nonprofit campaigns, including Khan Academy Lite, an initiative aimed at bringing Khan Academy education to people without internet connection, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is raising funding for 100 Bay Area blood cancer patients.”

Indiegogo, according to Breanna DiGiammarino, senior director of Generosity outreach, commenting in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, sees a number of benefits to the launch. She said they’ve observed that, “nonprofit users like to have their crowdfunding efforts rubbing shoulder to shoulder with other cause efforts, including individual campaigns,” and that donors also like “a one-stop shop for a wide range of donation opportunities.” For Indiegogo users overall, she says, they can now see these causes “all in one place.”

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Diversity is Critical to the Success of the Arts—and Arts Education is the Key

Diversity-millennials

Calls for increased diversity are no longer episodic or quixotic; they are regularly heard across our business and cultural landscapes. And, if trends we see currently with Millennials continue, the need to cultivate diverse arts audiences will increase.Advertising Week this year identified the need to focus on diversity as a main theme, pointing out that while Millennials represent our “largest (and most diverse) generation, most marketing decisions and campaigns are run by alarmingly non-diverse groups.”Science News reported, too, that Americans are growing more genetically diverse, “choosing mates with ethnic backgrounds different from their own.”

In the arts, the desire for change bumps up against a number of challenging realities. One is that there are fewer non-white artists and organizations in traditional areas of the arts, such as classical music, and it takes time and a commitment to arts education to effect a change. Afa Sadykhly Dworkin, president and artistic director of the nonprofit Sphinx, and her husband, Aaron Dworkin, who is a MacArthur fellow who served in the Obama administration, have been working to change that for quite some time. Sphinx, headed by Ms. Dworkin as president, operates programs that reach “over 100,000 students, as well as live and broadcast audiences of over two million annually.” Last week, for example, Syracuse, which has “the highest rate of concentrated poverty among black and Hispanic communities” in the U.S., benefited by having the Sphinx Virtuosi ensemble perform at schools throughout the city and at the Red House Arts Center at Syracuse University.

Dworkin, whose organization is based in another struggling city, Detroit, and who runs yearlong programs there, has seen the impact arts education can make, providing “a place of refuge and a place where [children] can feel confident, where they can have fun and have a break from their everyday challenges.”

As in other traditional areas of art, “classical orchestras tend to be overwhelmingly white. According to a 2012 report by the League of American Orchestras, only 4.5 percent of orchestra musicians are black or Latino—hardly representative of the general population, which, according to the 2010 census, was 13.6 percent black and 16.3 percent Hispanic or Latino.” Sphinx has been responding to that in a variety of ways, including providing free violins and lessons to elementary students in underserved communities, hosting a summer camp to work with aspiring young musicians who “demonstrate aptitude toward classical music but lack resources and access,” and by sponsoring an annual national string competition for Black and Latino youth. Red House Arts Centerhas worked similarly on the local level in Syracuse, to help underserved populations by “creating opportunities…and bringing the arts to students in struggling Syracuse elementary schools reaching 2,200 kids each day.”

“In the Syracuse City School District, about 10 percent of students in kindergarten through eighth grade play instruments, and about 65 percent participate in choral ensembles. In high school, students generally choose one or the other, or participate in art classes,” according to the Syracuse New Times. Sarah Gentile, supervisor of fine arts there, has been working had to improve that, but that type of change requires funding, parental and community support.

A big part of the equation is the value placed on arts education and the arts by the society overall. According to Americans for the Arts, “In America, the arts are often seen as a luxury. They are the first thing to go when school boards cut budgets, and successful arts policy is seen as the exception, not the rule.” As Creatiquity, a research-backed news site that explores issues in the arts, said in an article entitled “Why Don’t They Come,”

People with lower incomes and less education participate at lower rates in a huge range of activities, including not just classical music concerts and plays, but also less ‘elitist’ forms of engagement like going to the movies, dancing socially, and even attending sporting events.

Jennifer Swan reported on this for the NPQ Newswire at the beginning of this year,outlining findings from three National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) studies. The article concluded with a quote from NEA Chairman Jane Chu:

“The implications from this research are significant. The findings show that there is great diversity in how people engage in the arts, and this gives us a framework to use our creativity to innovate new ways to reach these audiences.”

At a time when funding and support for arts and cultural nonprofits is on a decline, it is more important than ever to prove their importance to our representatives, communities, and leaders. With reports like these, and other arts advocacy groups like Americans for the Arts, we are evolving from a perspective of “art for art’s sake” into one of “art for business’s sake.” No longer are arts and culture something “extra”—they are an economic driver with an impact on our neighborhoods, our jobs, our employment, and, as always, our creativity.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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