Archives for category: Regional New York / New England

2012 is the 30th Anniversary of a true artist-centered community.  It is also, not coincidentally, the 25th year of tenure for Laura Faure, the guiding force that has made Lewiston, Maine a center of creative gravity in the contemporary dance world internationally.  It was meaningful and logical that Bates was the first stop on the Agileseed Tour, as it was from Laura that I first witnessed the curatorial power that comes from trusting self-organization and allowing the inner structure of a collaboration to emerge and reveal itself rather than be imposed.  We worked together for five years finding resources to realize Festival artists’ next best ideas, working at high velocity in the climate of extreme uncertainty and entrepreneurial fierceness that is nonprofit arts fundraising.

The evening’s performance was the award-winning Kate Weare and Company, featuring Kate’s breakout work Drop Down which received an Audience Choice selection when it premiered at The Joyce Theater in New York in 2006.  The company’s newest work in-progress, Dark Lark, will premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music.  BDF is one of the co-commissioners.

Dining at the college cafeteria beforehand I ran into Boston-based dance critic Debra Cash, who delivers contextual insight to the works performed on stage in the form of Inside Dance Talks.  Another part of her professional life is dedicated to helping companies prepare for and navigate culture change.  We discussed the upcoming Agile Culture conference.

Meanwhile, my oldest son was rhapsodizing about the Festival as a field of earliest memories from when he was toddler-in-tow.  There were a host of children in-residence with their parents this summer, a good sign that the dance world is finding its way toward healthy work-life balance.

Aimee Petrin, a longtime colleague and Director of Portland Arts, presented Laura with a lovely and well-deserved tribute before curtain.  And Laura pointed out the remarkable press the Festival has gotten this summer – including this coverage on Maine Public Television:

Musings in progress…more to follow…

While I was musing aloud about transforming our city’s dingy old water tank into highway-visible public art to announce the opening of its first fine arts center next year, my son asked a very practical question:  how are you planning to get the paint up there?  Details, details, she says, waving her hands around in vague circles…then: enter a team of experts.

Among the latest round of Rockefeller Innovation Fund winners just announced, this one focuses on water as a resource:

THEY must know how to get the paint up there!  Right on time, so I can submit the idea as part of a collaborative proposal led by my neighbor and focused on the nexus of sustainability, aesthetics and civic pride to solve urban blight in West Haven, CT.   The big picture includes rain barrels for all – citizens, city parks and City Hall – and drought-resistant native plants on our classic New England Green.  Connecting these dots and others, we are responding to the Mayor’s Challenge, an exciting way to focus those rambling, summertime philosophical discussions over crushed ice, mint and lime:

Don’t creative people have a duty to respond to such challenges?  Oh my, did “creative” and “duty” just pop up in the same sentence?  Yeah, they did.  Still a few days to go before the deadline, and even if we don’t win, we can improve our capacity for big ideas and learn from each other along the way.

Meanwhile, after all these years I only just discovered the secret to a great water balloon fight, revealed by an eight-year-old:  fill the bucket with water first so the balloons don’t break.   DUH! to him, an innovation to me…

Here’s to the rest of a summer filled with ideas that refresh and inspire.

With provisional space, repurposing and the growing popularity of the “charm bracelet” approach (diverse cultural groups branded together as one district or neighborhood), how do we think and talk about, much less pay for, the iconic showcase-spaces that drive civic PR and tourism?  Here are two relevant and thought-provoking articles:

A sobering piece in the New York Times about building expansions, cultural capacity, and Board members with misplaced enthusiasm:

Best read alongside this, for a pick-me-up afterwards:

20 Most Beautiful  Museums in the World, from Flavorwire.

In my opinion, they should have listed 21, with MASSMoCA added to make blackjack!


A former Sprague Electric Company plant, the flat-out droolworthy contemporary art museum in the Berkshires ( in North Adams, MA) is thriving, and might offer a few clues to arts groups looking apply others’ lessons and avoid some of the pitfalls:

  • hybridize – old plus new; visual plus performing; art plus technology; science plus humanities.  Creativity is less about invention and more about recombining, so should its containers be!   This is the big limitation of feasibility studies – the holy grail of capital campaigns.  If several others have already done something successfully, chances are you’ll need to put a new twist on it to succeed.  It’s hard to quantify vision, but there’s also no substitute for it and no single discipline, art form or perspective that’s going to compel its narrative forward in isolation.  Build and/or expand accordingly.
  • generalize – niches are nice, but don’t make yours too narrow.  Propose eclectic contents for your container so people will wonder what happens next!  Make sure more purposes are possible in a given space than you ever even imagined at the start.
  • localize – if your proposed architectural project could be somewhere else in the world other than where you’re putting it and still make sense, don’t do it!  Buildings should be indigenous to their surroundings, reinforce their places, and story their communities.

Above all, let’s consider and embrace the notion than everyone is allowed to have an opinion about what makes space important, appealing and interesting, and what spatial alterations and innovations their communities actually need to express cultural vibrancy.   Models, maps and prototypes – tents, carts and flashmobs – might just be the kinds of shrines and palaces that fit these times the best.

Meanwhile City Wide Open Studios is coming up in October 2012 in New Haven, CT – three weekends of feasting on an eclectic free range of art spaces turned inside-out, all invitational-like.  This year is the first to have a theme – Crystal for the event’s 15th Anniversary – making the entire urban area a kind of composite, crowdsourced glittering art palace.




Generally speaking, and safe bet this is true in your neighborhood, the pretty flippingest cool stuff happens in garages.

Natulis ArtTemporary invites us to recap this historical cultural trend as they put out an open call for free studio space this August in a former car repair shop in Berlin, Germany:

  • Bands from The Clash to Iggy Pop and Mc5
  • Bill’s early Microsoft experiments
  • Chelsea district art galleries

True, the liminal space of a garage is irresistable.  You can try things out in the garage that you could never get away with in the house, even in the basement.   It is space that feels set apart, where one can experiment and suspend cultural notions about what is safe, what is allowed and what people do.   Everywhere, there are local, national and international heroes garaging it old school while keeping it innovative.   Samples from my personal ‘chive? – Ta-DA:

S.L.A.M  (Streb’s Lab for Action Mechanics) 5,000 squ. ft at 51 N. 1st St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Biopunk scientists hacking genomes around MIT (ever hear of glow-in-the-dark squid?)

And of course there’s West Haven, Connecticut.   In a backyard garage on Savin Avenue, a horse and carriage are kept in circulation, you see them cruising around town.  And in a more industrial setting, 14 Gilbert St. hosts  a long-term affair between sculptor and sculptures in the studio of Guggenheim award-winner Robert Taplin.

Do you know what interesting ideas are taking shape in some of the garages near you?  Believe me, it’s worth investigating.   Welcome these incubators into your midst, even or especially if it is unclear what’s being spawned.  And on August 30, if you’re anywhere near Berlin, enjoy the party at  Scharnhorststraße 32 celebrating nine artists who have made “ephemeral, time sensitive art at tremendous growth rate” in their provisioned spaces for  Garage Art 2012.

Heather L. Johnson’s work is up for a few more days at Kesting/Ray, one of the more exciting galleries in New York.

The image shown is SPIN.  The whole show is embroidery on linen “…part-objects with a decidedly anthropomorphic cast…Here Johnson depicts the consecutive stages of action in a Wankel engine. Removed from their original frames of reference, however, the objects’ meaning multiplies: mechanical, celestial, and physiological systems are all evoked…”


Poking around in the all-consuming passion with which surfers hunger for their next wave, I can’t help but be inspired to think about art, innovation and the quirky thoughtfulness that makes us humans, human.  International Surfing Day will take place on Saturday, June 23rd….the beach is the perfect place to spend the day. This year will celebrate ISD in Milford, CT. …There will be surf lessons/demos, surf bands…and much, much, more! ”

Surfing may well be the world’s purest form of recreation.  It is athleticism that does not require a man-made arena.   It pits the human body against a rhythmic, unpredictable force that challenges its scale and its limits.  It unites people around the world in ecological awareness and a self-interested activism that is, therefore, authentic.  Bonus: aesthetically, it is beyond beautiful…it is breathtaking.

Like Zen Buddhism, surfing seems to inspire people to wax philosophical (unavoidable pun) about an existential state that defies articulation.  “Step Into Liquid, ” a film that is less of a documentary and more of a sensory feast (available on Netflix Instantwatch), includes interviews with several of the world’s outstanding surf posses.   Three brothers, for instance, traveled to Ireland and set up a surf clinic where Catholic and Protestant children could be together, both in their element.

Surfers are not competitors in the traditional sense.  Sure, they occasionally want to “best” each other, but what they seem to be mostly questing after – and what we miss in other sports when it is lacking – is the essence of excellence.  Hence, statements like: “Surfing is not a lifestyle.  It is life…style is optional.”  And, “Surfing is not a matter of life or death.  It is more important than that.”

Science tells us waves are an energy transport phenomenon, with cross-cutting properties regardless of medium.   Throughout the universe, wave nature surrounds and envelopes us.  In approaching the ocean, a surfer is concerned more with its energy than with its matter.  Is it too big a stretch to try and make a connection to today’s workers in the new economy dealing more now with “ideas” than with “stuff?”   Aren’t we all trying to ride the waves in one way or another?

Every project, every flow of work contains some rhythmic unpredictability.  It is a pattern we cannot escape, so we might as well bring to it our agility, a deep appreciation for others’ agility and a spirit of contagious courage.   We may as well try and get chaos down to a human scale where we can have fun with it.

My friend Ellen, who lives nearby in our shoreline community in Connecticut, has this voicemail message, one of the best consolation prizes I’ve encountered for missing someone who’s unavailable:

“We can’t control the waves, but we can learn how to surf.   Surf, baby, surf!”

I hope you will celebrate International Surfing Day with me on June 23rd by mastering whatever waves you may encounter.   Even better, why not do a little traveling in search of the challenge of bigger, riskier and more awesome ones?

Must interrupt regularly scheduled TGIF interview about the recent nonprofit development sprint to bring you the following, just published by Mind Edge, learning in innovation (based in Waltham, Mass).

Cheers, and make sure your weekend ROCKS!

This August I’m taking my two boys cross-country, stopping at organizations along the way to share and discuss Agile practices.   In our family, having a blast is never mutually exclusive with getting things done.   Quite the contrary!

Departing from New Haven on July 25, cities along our proposed route include: Portland, ME; Montreal; Ottowa; Minnesota/St. Paul; Helena, MN; Seattle; Portland, OR; San Francisco; Salt Lake City; Boulder; Kansas City; Chicago; Detroit; Buffalo/Toronto; and Saratoga Springs.

Please let me know of a manager I should look up,  or if you’d like to discuss materials to include on the memory sticks.  Linked In is the best way to get in touch.

Let’s see what grows from this rapid velocity, face-to-face exchange.   As our pediatrician once remarked, sometimes things are just so old school they’re innovative!

Takeaway from Day One of Agile Games at the Microsoft Center in Cambridge: for every problem to solve, there is a game to play.

Keynote speaker Michael Sahota addressed the power of play to unlock learning potential, boost motivation, and create a safe space for risk-taking where true transformation can take place, enabling lasting positive change.

So…LEGOs in the Board room?  Believe it or not – YES!  And Nerf Guns for the teams…and this is just the tip of an unbelievably enjoyable, self-organizing iceberg.

Play is an opt-in activity.  Unlike most other species, humans possess the ability/inclination to play throughout life, a neotenous characteristic.   The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.  Work that is so satisfying that it invites deeper levels of engagement becomes a space  of play.  This is also a space of learning and flow. is a site where you can find appropriate games.   Invite thought workers into this idea of work as play and you will get powerful results.

Artists and arts organizations – let’s gather some corresponding examples!  Games that invite deeper involvement with subject matter or with others…integration of play into processes for getting things done…Please email me at

“Sponsored by Agile New England, Agile Games 2012 is an Agile Conference devoted to the serious play, collaboration, and experimental learning that power Agile software development. Agile Games 2012 will be held April 19-21, 2012 at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, MA.”

Full schedule available at

I cannot WAIT to attend and report back to the arts community!

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