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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