Facebook Pulls Philadelphia Museum Post: 1960s Art Too “Suggestive”

Eating-Icecream

The Philadelphia Museum of Art got a surprise earlier this week when its Facebook post promoting their upcoming exhibition of Pop Art from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was deemed inappropriate. The offending image was of Ice Cream, painted by pop artist, Evelyne Axell in 1964. The museum said the reason given for removal was because it contained “excessive amounts of skin or suggestive content.”

Philadelphia Magazine reported that the painting was on loan to the PMA from the Collection of Serge Goisse in Belgium. The museum’s associate curator, Erica Battle, told the magazine, “We chose this work by Evelyne Axell as one of our keystone marketing images because it speaks to so many themes found throughout Pop: consumption, pleasure, and seduction.”

According to Norman Keyes, communications director for the art museum, who is quoted in the online newspaper, Metro, “‘International Pop’ features paintings, sculptures, assemblages, installations, prints and films by 80 artists, drawn from both public and private collections from around the world.”

The painting, depicting a woman licking an ice cream cone, is by one of the first female Pop artists, whose work, according to a Philadelphia Museum Tumblr post, “can be understood as a critique of mainstream Pop Art, in which women were often depicted as passive, decorative objects. In contrast, Axell sought to depict active, confident women who pursue satisfaction on their own terms—such as the protagonist of Ice Cream, who unabashedly enjoys her dessert.” The image can also be seen on a billboard ad on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia promoting the exhibit.

The painting (and many others) will be on view at the art museum from February 24ththrough May 15th.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

 

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

15 MFA-statues

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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Can a Robot Win the Newbery?

15 Robot Newbery

I know we’re just getting adjusted to social media, big data and predictive modeling, but it’s robots I think that (who?) we need to watch out for. Like it or not, the movie “Her,” which was not a personal favorite, did pose the question of just how wily those robots can be in making us think we could have a meaningful relationship. But as science fiction has often warned, they don’t care and might well leave us in the end. In fact, it looks downright scary, and many are predicting vast changes in our work and lives going forward.

Robots started out alright, just offering to vacuum our houses, clean the pool, scoop the litter, and turn on lights to deter burglars. But now they’ve gotten so personal – telling us when to exercise, if we’ve had too much chocolate, and insisting there’s one right way to cook broccoli.

Friends have said, “Let them do the rote tasks, help keep us healthy, crunch data to ensure we only hear about the products we want.” A recent email thread even suggested we might eventually do away with jobs in sales, marketing, and those held by overpaid CEOs – and advance to a time where we can focus on technology, science, art and creative fields that “need the human touch.”

What? Marketing not creative??!! Well, we’ll save that for another time…. But, in fact the question we increasingly face in light of developments in AI, is, what is uniquely human and what is meaningful in our business and personal interactions – and what can robots really be taught to do?

Right now, we’re witnessing the rise of robot journalism and even the beginnings of robots doing art. In March, Associated Press announced robots will be covering college sports, the Los Angeles Times is using robots to cover some news, and others are finding robots perfectly suited for disaster coverage. The company Narrative Science has developed a program to facilitate all this and which takes statistics and data from sports, finance and other areas and turns it into articles. In fact, the founders have been predicting it won’t be long before a robot wins the Pulitzer. Bryan Clark, gave an excellent overview of robots covering news on the tech site, MakeUseOf, entitled, Meet the Robot Who’s Trying to Take My Job.

Robotic art’s not quite so far along, but experiments are well underway – and some that are doing art might surprise you. iCub, one of the most advanced humanoids can dance and make music, and learns by interacting with the world the way a toddler would. Paul-IX, according to the Huffington Post, is “an automated sketch-bot who can outline a still life better than your high school art teacher,” and The Painting Fool is a robot that/whose work has been exhibited in galleries.

So how far are we, and will AI go in making robots to replicate and even improve on the things we do? Things are changing fast, and we don’t know what will be possible, but perhaps the lesson for all of us in art and in marketing is to think about our human connections and, possibly, not be so quick to want to automate and abbreviate everything we do.

But we should realize we’ve always had predictive systems in place to project successful outcomes. Bryan Clark sums it up saying, “the robot is more than capable of telling us who won as well as identifying key facts, but “they aren’t able to recognize the subtle nuances that really tell the story. The bad jump on a fly ball that led to a double, the bunt single that a replay showed to be a foul ball – these are all details that a human beat reporter relies on to deliver a compelling story. These nuances are why sports fans watch games, but they’re largely qualitative and beyond the scope of modern machine learning.”

Ken Goldberg, Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs a lab on automation sciences, concurs in a recent article for Nautilus, “Robots Can’t Dance.” Goldberg says working with robots has taught him “to have a huge appreciation for the nuances of human behavior and the inconsistencies of humans.” It’s the “ability to have an emotional response, to be compelling, to be able to pick up subtle emotional signals, these are all the things that we haven’t made any progress on with robots.”

Will he and others do so going forward? We don’t know, but for now, it’s the ability to use all those skills in to create nuanced, multifaceted stories, whether in writing, art, or in marketing, that will as it always has been able to — touch others in a meaningful way.

And, if that doesn’t work – I’m for waiting for a good rainy day and pushing those smug robots right outside to rust!

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Global Initiative to Ensure Women Artists Gain Traction in Museums

The history of women in art has traditionally been about the pieces in the museum or gallery, rather than about the artists who created the art that’s there. That’s because so little of the art is by women, and few women artists have gained the access and the level of acceptance and success their male counterparts have in the male dominated art world.

The work of women artists has been barred, banned, and belittled in past generations, and even now, many would agree, they are significantly underrepresented in public and private collections around the world. In fact, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C., founded in 1987, still bills itself as “the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to women’s creative contributions.”

But now, Valeria Napoleone, a philanthropist and art collector who has made women’s art the sole focus of her own collection since she began collecting in the early 1990s, has launched a global project in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Society in London and the SculptureCenter in New York to try to help even the score. According to ArtNet News, the new project, entitled “Valeria Napoleone XX,” will “endeavor to increase the number of commissions and number of female artists in public collections.” The first work was a commission by Anthea Hamilton from SculptureCenter in New York.

“The UK project will see a work from a female artist donated to a museum each year,”ArtNet News reports. To qualify for the UK project, institutions have to examine their collections, identify where they lack female artists’ work, and then make a case to be a candidate for the donation. If chosen, the museum will then host a solo show for the female artist. “Institutions who are members of the Contemporary Art Society and interested in the project can apply to the CAS and Napoleone for consideration from April 2016.”

There’s a lot of work to do to achieve parity, as evidenced by stats on the National Museum of Women in the Arts website. They report that while 51 percent of visual artists today are women and women earn half the MFAs granted in the U.S., only a quarter of solo exhibitions in L.A. and New York galleries feature women. In Europe, at the Venice Biennale, the 2009 edition featured 43 percent women, but in 2013 and 2014, the numbers dropped to only 26 percent and 33 percent respectively.

“Museum collections necessarily reflect historical gender imbalances and the 20th and 21st centuries have seen many more female artists achieving international recognition,” said Caroline Douglas, director of Contemporary Art Society. “But there’s still work to do. In joining forces with Valeria Napoleone, we have a unique opportunity to proactively help our Museum Members build collections that accurately reflect the diversity of great work being produced by living artists.”

NMWA’s director, Susan Fisher Sterling, has concurred, saying, “Women in the arts receive more recognition than they used to, but you only have to look at the winter auctions in London to see that we’ve got a long way to go: none of top 100 prices were for pieces by women artists. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with issues that are very entrenched, like those to do with power and money, it takes a long time to see a significant change.”

And then there’s the perception of value, which also needs to change. As Georgia O’Keefe famously said, “The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Gold, Silver and Tin: Metalsmithing with Marlene True

Marlene True, Metal Sculptor

13 Marlene True art

As an undergraduate student, Marlene True thought she would pursue ceramics, her first love in art. But when she took an elective in metal work, she found she loved the range of materials and techniques that involved.

She did find it challenging to find ways to bring color to the metal work, but that changed when she heard a lecture by Bobby Hansson, author of The Fine Art of the Tin Can, which provided a whole new medium that she found she loved and is still using today in her art along with other metals.

Tin cans, which are actually made from mild steel with a thin tin coating, proved to be colorful, lightweight, yet structurally strong, so allowed for working in larger pieces. True knew that in the process of fabricating, soldering would remove painted images, but discovered she could use gold plating and powder coating to get the surface color she wanted.  Fabrication methods such as Cold-connecting gave her the ability to build pieces while retaining the original color or image.

True started working with tin ten years ago and, by 2008, she felt really established with it.  She sold at craft shows and found she loved talking with people and engaging – and saw that consumers often wanted to share what they knew about the history of some of her found tin items – whether they were food cans, cosmetic tins, or other types of old containers. She also enjoyed doing research and finding out more about the product’s background and how it had changed – both in its graphic design and usage over the years. When at one point her work turned to using bottle caps to make tiny spoons and other items, she discovered people had some very particular brand loyalty to favorite types of soda and beer!

While selling at craft shows she found that she needed to make a lot of production items to have enough inventory to sell, and through that process learned she preferred working at her bench making one of a kind pieces which kept the work moving in new directions.

Following graduate school at East Carolina University, she was invited to teach at Pocosin Arts in Columbia, North Carolina. She enjoyed the experience and asked to do a metalwork residency and, since they didn’t have their own metal studio, she brought her own bench and material and had a fantastic experience. True then helped write a grant to get a metals program started and, when the grant came through, she stayed on to teach a Jewelry and Business class. “It’s a great place to be, and now we have students and teachers coming from all over for all sorts of metals and jewelry classes.”

True has embraced the business side herself and believes artists must be prepared to be active with that if they want to gain traction for their art and career. “It’s time-consuming. You have to order materials, do your accounting, handle photography and advertising, attend shows, and teach courses. Perhaps you can get help with some of it, but most people have to expect to spend about fifty percent of their time on the business side of the work. It’s best if you can view it as part of your creative process.”

Personally, True has found that the big challenge is managing her time. “You can easily spend every waking hour doing your artwork and what’s related to it. I try to keep a balance with my personal life – and find that stepping away for a bit helps me get refreshed to do better in my art.”

Her main tip for artists is: Don’t rush! “I find when I teach, students are often anxious to get to the end point of a project quickly. I tell them that, if they try to find a shortcut and rush through the work, they’ll usually pay for it in the end trying to correct something that a little more time spent in the beginning would have made a non-issue.”

For those interested in working in metal, she recommends The Society of North American Goldsmiths, which was the most helpful to her in learning more about the field through conferences, workshops and the opportunity to meet other artists. “They run a lot of exhibitions of work, so people can enter art into shows. I’ve also found their Maker’s Profiles very helpful because it provides a place for people to post images of their work and news about what they’re doing – like a mini website, but even better because you get the benefit of traffic from a large audience.”

True is now Director of Pocosin Arts, where she still does some teaching and continues with her own artwork. Her work can be seen at Penland Gallery, Penland, NC; Dow Gallery, Deer Island, ME;

Metal Museum Store, Memphis, TN; Facèré Gallery, Seattle, WA; and Equinox Gallery, San Antonio, TX. She’ll be teaching at Thomas Mann Studio Flux in New Orleans from October 30 – November 5 and then in scheduled to teach at West Dean College in Chichester, West Sussex, UK from May 2 – 5.

Arts to Market celebrates the work of artists, innovators and arts organizations and shares advice on balancing the creative life with arts marketing and business development.

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Exploring with Fiber, Images and Mixed Media: Artist Wen Redmond

"Touch the Soul" - mixed media

“Touch the Soul” – mixed media

"Landlocked" - digital fiber

“Landlocked” – digital fiber

"Shine" - holographic images

“Shine” – holographic images

Inspiration: images, the outdoors, feelings, evolving techniques – and getting into flow during the art process. Rules: not many, but two are — Stop listening to other people. Try new things.

While many artists enjoy working with specific steps and structure, Artist Wen Redmond prefers the and alchemy of mixing original images, mixed media materials, substrates and mediums and responding to what evolves. Not someone to create the same thing over and over, she constantly changes her work and processes. One of her variety of workshops is called Serendipity Collage, and it includes painting, dying, stamping screen-printing, mono printing, stitching and other means of surface design. The emphasis is to catch the muse, go with the flow and allowing the materials to inspire art making.

Materials: fiber, fabric, paper, foil, photographs, scotch tape, paint, fabric dye, photocopies, thread, lace, leaves, coffee grinds, tea leaves, seeds, molding paste, wire mesh – and whatever inspires and seems to fit a piece.

During her career, she’s made art-to-wear-clothing, wall art, jewelry, art books and several signature digital imagery works. She uses a wide range of materials and particularly likes working with non-precious material – you’d be surprised what coffee grounds can do to add interest and texture — and she’s constantly exploring and expanding the boundaries of what can be done.

In describing her work, Redmond has said, “Fiber art has sustained my creative impulses since 1973. It’s a fluid and expanding art form.” Early on in her career, she moved from making art for personal gifts to making art to sell, including pieced wearable clothing and jewelry and wall art. “You have to be a business person to be an artist,” she explains. “It’s easier to find a market today because of the Internet, since you don’t have to run to each brick and mortar store and gallery to try to find the right venues to sell your work. I’ve done that, and I’ve also done the art and craft fair route, and it’s a lot of work and folks don’t realize that when they start out. Now, you can promote your artwork and programs you teach online. I have an art blog, a blog about my workshops and a website. That said, I also have placed my work in galleries. More recently, I’ve been doing more teaching, which I’ve found very rewarding.”

She will be leading workshops in Quilt Surface Design Symposium, Columbus, OH from May 26-June 8; the Abrusso School of Creative Art, Italy from Sept 2-8, 2014, and the Hudson River Valley Art Workshops in Greenville, New York from December 4-7.

Early on, Redmond found the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, an art guild in the state where she lives, was very helpful in finding opportunities. Initially, she was juried into one of their shows and then began selling her work at numerous galleries in New Hampshire and then branched outside the state. Her work can be found nationally.

Wen’s work lately has been creating larger scale wall art and abstract collage, which is a form she gravitates toward. “I like the effect you can get with transparency when working in layers because when you view collaged art from a distance you see the overall picture, and as you get closer, you find there’s a lot to discover hidden underneath. She often uses watercolor paper as a base. She has learned how to use different mediums and materials to get desired textures, effects and images into her Media Mix work.”

Redmond has created several signature techniques, including the Serendipity Collage Technique published in Cloth, Paper, Scissors Magazine; and her Digital Fiber Techniques. Holographic Images, using printed photographs on silk organza to create a unique 3-D effect, published in Quilting Arts Magazine and featured on Quilting Arts TV. Textured Photographs is her most recent publication both in magazine and now a DVD workshop. Her workshops are available on Interweave.

Her work has been exhibited nationally including at Fiber Philadelphia, Art Quilt Elements, Columbia University, Craft Boston, and the Museum of AQS in Kentucky.

She’s represented by galleries including the League of New Hampshire Galleries; the Tappan Zee Gallery, NY; the Textile Center, MN; the Visions Gallery Shop, CA and the York Art Association, ME.

Arts to Market celebrates the work of artists, innovators and arts organizations and shares advice on balancing the creative life with arts marketing and business development.

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Immersion Learning for Art at Peters Valley NJ

Kristin Muller, Executive Director

Peters Valley School of Craft

Making time to do art can be a challenge, particularly when it’s not your day job. And, even when it is part of your weekly schedule, the distractions of email, social media, and other daily demands can put what’s left for creative time at a premium. “Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton, New Jersey is one of just a few places in the country to offer an immersion program for craft where people can go to explore new areas and to move their art to a new level. New and returning students go there to learn from artists working in multiple disciplines,” says Kristin Muller, Peter’s Valley’s Executive Director.

“What we offer is different from attending a class or a workshop because we have everything right here on site. Many people who come stay on campus, so they’re working, eating and socializing with our resident artists and staff and with the artists who are teaching here during the time of their stay. At any given time, we have classes in ceramics, metalworking, fiber arts, jewelry, woodworking and other media, so people have a chance to explore beyond their own area. Further, since courses run over a 3-5 day period, it requires more of a time commitment, so we get pretty committed students. Our process is also different than a lot of other programs because the focus is more on process than on producing a product.

“This is a tough time for people working in the arts, particularly with what’s happening at the government level. We’re all feeling it, and it’s important to realize that we need to support the arts and arts education. At the same time, many people recognize the value of this type of learning and how it can contribute to society, business and other areas. Artists learn to be problem-solvers, and here we’re teaching those skills, which are very important.

“Our organization, like many in the field, is looking for new ways to expand our outreach and gain more visibility. We’re exploring bringing artists into schools, expanding into assisted living, and recommending artists for special needs programming.

“Programs here run between May and September. We offer around 125 workshops. There are 30 buildings on our campus, which is in the Delaware Water Gap and part of the National Park Service. We have a store, and at the end of September each year, we hold a large craft fair. This year, the Fair will be September 28th-29th. Overall, we handle about 600 students in the course of the season.

“I’ve been here about four years, and right now we – the administration and our Board – are running a lot of assessments to see how we will handle future funding, how we can improve operations, and to see what kinds of business systems and marketing will help us meet our needs over the long term.

“We’re also always talking with artists and arts professionals about what’s going on in the field, since as with many fields, so much is changing, and we will all benefit from working together”.

Kristin Muller is also a passionate ceramic artist and writer.  She grew up in both South and North America attending schools in Argentina, Chile and the United States.  She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Studio Arts from Southern Connecticut State University and a Graduate Certificate in Ceramics from Hood College where she is completing a Master of Fine Arts degree.

Arts to Market celebrates the work of artists, innovators and arts organizations and shares advice on balancing the creative life with arts marketing and business development.

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New Roles for Puppets in the Arts

Robert Smythe, Festival Director, Puppeteers of America

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Adventure of a Boy and His Dog on the High Seas -Mum Puppet Theatre

Adventure of a Boy and His Dog on the High Seas: Mum Puppet Theatre

As with many artistic fields, the world of puppetry is seeing a lot of change. Performers are facing new challenges in an increasingly complex marketplace, but there are new opportunities for crossover in the arts as well.  This month, more than 500 puppeteers came from across the U.S. to participate in Puppet Festival (r)Evolution, hosted at Swarthmore College and organized by Robert Smythe, this year’s festival director for The Puppeteers of America.

Today, puppets, are finding their way into an increasing number of arts disciplines and Smythe believes this reflects a growing understanding that puppets can play a unique role that goes beyond special effects or standing in for human characters. “People engage differently with puppets, because puppets represent an alternate type of reality, and so require a person to suspend disbelief and be willing to connect with the character differently than we would with one portrayed by a person,” says Smythe. “What you realize once you’ve worked with puppets, is that they broaden the range of possibilities for telling a story. For example, in theater, you normally have to allow time for action to shift – whether that involves making a scenery change, or having characters move in or out of the action. With puppets, you’re working in an alternate reality, so they can say and do things the people can’t, they can appear and disappear instantly, and exist in a fantasy world.

“The integration of puppetry with other fields such as theater, music and dance, reflects a larger trend in puppetry, which is that it’s become a much more collaborative art form than it’s traditionally been which I believe is a good thing. In the past, if you wanted to do your art, you’d hire staff you’d teach your methods to, and then you’d focus on having the group create your vision. Now, people in the field are much more specialized, and no one’s expected to do everything. As a result, you gain the benefit of having a group of individuals with specific talents, training and expertise, come together to produce a great performance.

“The Internet has also had a big impact, and we’ve seen that effect even in the make up of our conference. It used to be that the people who attended were primarily coming to learn how to build and operate puppets. Now, anyone can learn that online. So, we shifted our focus to be more about what you’d do after that, so our focus is on storytelling, performance and about the business of puppetry. Our organization also wants to create a place for people to connect and to learn from each other.”

Not surprisingly, technology is also a driving factor in change. There are many new things possible and at the same time, new questions are arising about what puppets even are. Some practitioners would prefer to see that answered in the purist, traditional form; but others see a lot of overlap with disciplines like robotics, animatronics, and even with computers, which is why one of the festival workshops was about creating digital puppets.

Robert Smythe has been working with puppets for about 45 years. He is the Director of Writing for The Puppet Theater at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and the Director of the 2013 National Festival of the Puppeteers of America. He was also founder of Mum Puppettheatre, which ran in Philadelphia for more than twenty years.

For more information, visit The Puppeteers of America.

Arts to Market celebrates the work of artists, innovators and arts organizations and shares advice on balancing the creative life with arts marketing and business development.

 

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Green trends and Landscape Design

Nick Flachsbart, Landscape Design

Nicholas Flachsbart design

What’s trending in your field in terms of design?

Right now a big trend in landscape architecture is the incorporation of green infrastructure for, mostly, large buildings. From high rise office buildings to classrooms and apartments of nearly any size, a green roof may create an outdoor social environment for its occupants while also acting as a climate controlling device and greatly reducing water runoff.
Though this area of the field is focusing upon private space, and is geared toward an engineering standpoint, I find it enormously critical for helping the general public to understand how dynamic the field is. Where people would often confuse landscape architecture with horticulture or simply landscaping, they are now seeing more consciously and carefully designed green spaces where it is highly unexpected, and beginning realize the social and cultural impact of the field.

How are models used in the design process?

Landscape architects use models for a whole number of reasons and purposes. A preliminary model may be built during the design process in order to analyze spatial creation. It is extremely crucial to produce these models because it brings any design flaws to your attention, which are often overlooked on a two dimensional drawing that lacks depth. I find more abstract models to be the most effective during the design process because it gives you a chance to explore different materials and mediums. For instance, where foam may be the best representation for trees in one design, metal wiring may be more appropriate in another. One may study the layout of a site by layering chipboard to fit the contours of the topography, allowing them to walk themselves over hills, through valleys, across bridges or along a shoreline. You could perhaps use a model to discover or manipulate different view-sheds you want users of the landscape to have. That is, you may want to block a view of a river until one reaches a certain point along the curvature of a path – and now you are creating a more intellectual experience for that person.
In short, there is no limit to how and why a model may be used. A good landscape architect will design with models, and of course to show a client your design, a model can make or break their decision to use it. Today, many models are done via computer programming, but the more sophisticated and large scale design firms seem to be more likely to build a final, physical rendering to show a client
Where do you see the intersection of fine art & landscape design?
I don’t believe that the idea of fine art is something that can simply drift in and out of landscape architecture. They are interwoven into something that is both expressive and practical. High Modernism of landscape architecture suggests even that it is fine art. Many people consider architecture to be fine art if it displays a great concern for aesthetic qualities, even though an architect must consider structural engineering into their work. Similarly, landscape architects juggle the principals of design as well as civil engineering, yet people seem extremely reluctant to call it fine art. Personally, I do not believe that the field fits in as a traditional fine art, but instead uses the same theories to create pieces of work much more literal than the method by which it was conceived.
 

Which artists have inspired you?

Environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have probably been my biggest influence as an undergraduate student in the field. Known best for the Running Fence project in northern California and The Gates in Central Park (images attached), they have redefined the idea of art for me. British artist, Andy Goldsworthy has definitely been, and continued to be, a great source of inspiration for me as well, beginning when I watched the documentary Rivers and Tides. What both artists have in common is the temporary nature of their work. What is most beautiful to me is that an artist can have the selflessness to create a work of art that is not in a museum or gallery, but instead ceases to exist after a few weeks or even hours after completion.

 

What are the most common design mistakes?

It seems to me that most design mistakes in the field root from a misunderstanding of the goal of taking on a project. I have made all of these mistakes, often more than once, and I’m sure with more to come. The first and biggest design mistake is to compete with surrounding architecture. Because most projects have structures in the vicinity, a designer will become offended by ostentatious buildings and thus try to place more importance on the landscape with great amounts of hardscape and materials (excessive concrete, granite, marble, wood, walls, lighting, exotic plantings, water features…etc) in space that does not benefit from such.
Another common mistake is to design for yourself. One cannot simply conjure up a design they like and use it where ever they wish. A landscape is a living, breathing, and dynamic palate that changes on a daily basis, and thus the design of a landscape is inherent in nature. The question is not how you want to design the land, but how the land wants to be designed.
Thirdly, it is very typical of landscape architect students (as most mistakes are made before becoming a professional, but certainly not all) is to overestimate the power of landscape elements as space definers. What I mean is, when attempting spatial creation in a design in plan view (from above, on paper), it may appear that a row of trees and light posts will define an edge. Yet, if you’ve ever walked along a path that has a tree every 20 feet and a light post between each pair of trees, you’ll know how weak that edge truly is. However, using topography for instance, we can build up a 7 foot high hill at a very steep slope along a path and define the edge quite well because we cannot see over it. One must understand what a point is, how we turn that point into a line, the line into a plane, and the plane into volume.

What tips would you give to people who might consider pursuing this field?

Do not let people discourage you. The truth is, most people have no idea what landscape architecture is – and even the first year studying in the field may not be enough to understand it. Read books about the subject, as it can be very motivational. Be sure you love the artistic and technical aspect of it, because a pretty drawing of a landscape means nothing if it you don’t know how it will be built, and designing commercial parking lots limits expressive opportunity

Which organizations would you recommend to people who want to learn more?

The most important organization in the field (in the U.S.) is the American Society of Landscape Architects, which has an enormous amount of information on what we do. Theirs is the official organization from which a graduate and experienced (2 yrs minimum) junior landscape architect can receive their license after a series of exams. Another great way to learn about the field is to simply google search, “(city of your choice) landscape architecture” and see what firms come up. Click on their link and read through their design philosophy and check out their portfolios.
Nick Flachsbart is a seventh semester student of Landscape Architecture at the University of Connecticut.
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