Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let's try this again.

I found myself with no time to blog during the entirety of the last school year, for which I will blame mostly the pain I feel at having to try to understand STATISTICS, along with the fact that I basically did nothing of interest for an entire year aside from study and do school work. Such is the life of a a 30-something student.

However, now I am settled in at my internship at the Miami County Museum in Peru, Indiana. Peru is a cute little town which is known for having been the wintering quarters of several circuses in the early 1900s, the birthplace of Cole Porter, as well as being the headquarters of the Miami Nation of Indiana. The people are friendly and the museum itself is a wonderful place so far.

One project I have begun to dig into is developing an exhibit about the 1913 flood. I did not know anything about the event until I began working here, and reading about the extent of the devastation that occurred, as well as being a history buff, I am somewhat embarrassed about this seeing as I am originally from Columbus, Ohio, which was also hit hard by the flood.

One thing that this brought to mind was how easily history can be forgotten. This flood has been called by many the greatest natural disaster that ever hit the Midwest. It seems important to me that events like this not be forgotten, but why not? Don't we have enough clutter in our brains already without having to think about 100-year-old weather events?

I suppose this is part of why I love museums. They allow us the chance to learn about and talk about these kinds of events, keeping them within our collective memories in a way that encourages dialogue and interaction. In reading about this flood I can't help but compare it to other natural disasters in recent memory, such as Hurricane Katrina, and think about how much more difficult it must have been in 1913 -- limited phone access, no planes, no FEMA. Then, as now, there are a lot of incredible stories of heroism, individuals with boats working tirelessly to rescue their neighbors and sharing their homes -- as well as more discouraging stories of looting homes and stealing supplies which called to mind a topic I researched last year concerning the theft of aid money from Katrina victims by call center employees.

I'm hoping to be able to scan some of the images for the exhibit and to share what I find as I go along. One resource I found while researching the flood is that there exists a website called has Allan Eckert's out-of-print and difficult-to-find historical fiction novel A Time of Terror, set in Dayton during the time of the flood, available for free. You know, in case you want to study up along with me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Orientation Service Day

Today, because our program is focused on community service, we were all supposed to choose from among several community organizations with whom we'd do some sort of project from 9a.m. til noon. There were a few that I was interested in, but ultimately I chose to do my stint with HAND (Housing and Neighborhood Development.) I wasn't sure exactly what we'd be doing, but having lived in Bloomington for several years, I'm quite familiar with some of the housing issues that happen here in town, so I thought I'd like to at least meet some folks at HAND and see what sorts of things they do. My only previous experience with HAND was when I called to complain about my landlord not fixing my roof.

Our project ended up being painting over graffiti, which I, as an artist as well as being an advocate of emerging artists and public art in general, felt more than a little strange about. However, I feel like it's important to experience all possible facets of a situation when reasonable, so I figured this was a great chance to get a first-hand perspective on what the city's take is on street art.

Here is the art we were expected to help cover up. I didn't get the greatest pictures, but essentially it was two walls that met to form an L, and each one had work by several different artists or writers.

The first wall .. USE covering up some other stuff

The other wall - the one to the left having already been painted over
What we were helping with was apparently a "pilot program" in place to help "deal with" (? control?) graffiti in Bloomington. The pieces we were covering were on the walls of a business, and when I asked why it wasn't the building owner's responsibility, Dave (the city worker that was supervising us) said that it was, but that this pilot program was part of helping business owners to deal with the cost of covering the graffiti. The business owners help pay for the paint, and HAND, along with volunteers like us, provides the labor. The paint is one of a few stock colors though, I guess to save money ... so I'm assuming the business owner pays less than if s/he got the exact match.

The idea is that the faster graffiti gets covered up, the less likely it is to keep happening because the artist's work ends up not really being worth the amount of time the work is up. And also that the faster it gets covered, the less likely it is that others will add their tags to the same wall. I don't know if I agree with this philosophy, but that's what Dave said.

I also have some serious doubts about the assertion that the people doing this are trying to be "like big city thugs." I mean, maybe a few of them are. And maybe they're also 12. I think the reasons why people do street art are as varied as the artwork itself. But the city's approach -- and I suppose this is the simplest way -- is to treat it as all being the same.

"Is there any kind of distinguishing factor between art that maybe makes the wall look better than it did before, and graffiti that's not so good?" I asked. The reply was definitely "no." It's all vandalism and it all costs the city money.

I volunteered to go first. It was sort of like painting the walls of the gallery. I didn't feel super bad about it for many reasons, including the fact that I know that when people do this sort of art they do it knowing it will get covered, and also the fact that as I said, although I'm more sympathetic to the artist, I really felt it was important to get this experience of being on "the other side." It was weird, though. Because we weren't covering it to make the wall more beautiful, or even to match the original paint. It was SOLELY to cover this other person's artwork. Which, true, s/he didn't ask permission to put it there, apparently. But I still feel strange about the fact that aesthetics and permission are coming together in this weird, bureaucratic, uneasy way that doesn't make logical sense to me. I can see painting the wall to look exactly as it did before. I don't really get covering graffiti just to cover it.

Dave was an interesting guy. He said that before he'd gotten the job painting over graffiti, he'd been unemployed and making his living scavenging and selling scrap metal. He was either fairly passionate about the graffiti "problem" or very good at seeming he was. But I think he was being truthful. He advised us all to tell our graffiti writing friends that it costs people lots of money to cover this stuff up, and to please ask permission if they wanted to paint on a wall.

there it goes
I don't disagree with some of the reasoning when it comes to covering graffiti, but I also don't agree with a lot of it. And I certainly don't see how it's the city's responsibility to help business owners paint over graffiti on their buildings, particularly when I don't really see what the city's doing in terms of assuaging the social unrest brewing here (which may or may not manifest in street art -- as I said, there are a zillion reasons why someone might paint on a wall, some political and some not at all and many somewhere in between.) I guess I wish I felt like they were thinking more about what they're doing when they're covering graffiti, and what it means, rather than just making blanket observations and assumptions about it.

At any rate, Dave was really helpful and nice, and I do felt like I learned a lot. Sorry, USE. I did ask if the city had any idea who you were and they said "No."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

hello, whirled

I am sort of quite bad at keeping up with blog updation (and I also know that is not a real word), but it seemed like a good idea to perhaps track my experience as I make my way through a Masters in Public Administration program. 

I already have a master's degree, in Library Science, and for me it was something of an expensive mistake. I do not intend to repeat that -- it is pretty obvious to me already that this program is much more right for me and I am incredibly excited about making this change in my life. It is a bit scary - I am a returning student, a full ten years older than some of the other students (can I call them kids? Maybe not yet), and although I feel completely qualified and confident ... well, it is still a little weird. 

So far, though, it is about as un-weird as it could possibly be. The people I have met so far are just fantastic, both fellow students and the folks both running the office and the faculty I've talked to. I'm going to be a TA and I am more than a little nervous about meeting the person whom I will be assisting, who has pretty much done everything in the world outside of taming lions and traveling to space (or maybe that just wasn't included in her resume). But of course I'm thrilled to get to interact with people that have such incredible experience and who can hopefully impart a bit of that wisdom to me.

And you know, being an older student does have some advantages already. I feel so much more confident about what I want to do and in how I talk to people than I would have 5-10 years ago. I know how to manage my time and I have some real-world experience, unsexy but useful. Believe the hype - returning to school can be a good idea.

I did a remedial week-long math review last week and today was the first day of new student orientation. On top of this I'm still continuing to co-organize the Bloomington Handmade Market as well as helping to run Paper Crane Studio & Gallery (although I'm going to be doing a little less there than I have been in hopes of keeping my sanity.) And last of all I'm working on some electronic textiles art projects with a buddy of mine. Never a dull moment. I hope I can keep all this up while I struggle through statistics ... stay tuned.