Innovating Through Artistry

Archive for the ‘Theater/Film’ Category

My 2009, and Yours?

In Art, Cooking & Food, Creative Support, Emotional Intelligence, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Fashion, Health & Wellness, Leadership, Marketing, Music, Risk, The Idea, Theater/Film, Writing on December 28, 2008 at 3:37 am

dreamstime_7322003Before every New Year, I find myself always hoping to be and do better than the year before. Don’t you? Yet, lately I have been feeling like my progress has seemed more like 2 steps backwards and 1/2 a step forward.

But if you’re anything like me, artistic, sensitive, self-critical and gushing with ideas, it’s hard to not want to let yourself flow with your creativity, even when you know progress can sometimes be painful. After all what do you have to lose- except for 2 1/2 steps one direction or the other, right?

The issue, of course, is when what once felt like a peaceful flow has now turned into a raging river. The kind of shift in your thinking or situation that makes you wonder what possessed you in the first place to ever think you could peacefully have your ideas flow into accomplishment- just the way you envisioned.

So now what?

I know how you feel, if you have ever felt this way. This whole past year for me, with my book, has felt like a roller coaster ride. My ride has had lots of unexpected twists and turns and the occasional jolt, just for good measure, when I least expected it. And all this adventure has me feeling a wee bit wobbly. (just like the Weeble Wobbles, remember them?)

Do I really want MORE adventure in 2009?

How about you? Are you ready to let your creativity spring like jack, out of-the-box, unconventionally? Are you ready for some bumps, twists and turns on your entrepreneurial creative adventure ride?

Not sure?

But remember, parts of the ride are GUARANTEED to be exhilarating- and it’s always those parts we most remember. Terror-filled-moments only last briefly, but when they occur how much more the rush of exhilaration mattered. Feeling creative freedom is worth a little terror, I think. Don’t you?

And so for me, wobbly legs and all, 2009 must include a number of new challenges and a few more new adventure rides.

My first, on both fronts, will be to self-publish Build a Blue Bike. My friend, composer and jazz pianist David Cutler, has just finished a book called The Savvy Musician. He and I have decided to release our books together sometime before June of 2009. Our books fit nicely together.

Of course this is not at all the road I expected to take, but it’s one that has just opened and I have to explore. I am over feeling stuck and wondering “so now what do I do with the manuscript?” It’s more fun to be looking forward to the anticipation of being on another creative adventure-filled-ride, really.

I have about 5 other projects, too, that I need to sit down to chart my course of action for in 2009. Of course, I already know that I will ultimately have to learn to let go of each of my plans, eventually, because each I plan will twist and turn and jolt in ways I cannot possibly right now even begin to imagine!

So why bother to plot my planning?

Because I believe luck favors the prepared mind. Hard work and perseverance in the end always win. Adding new hands, feet and heads as unexpected surprises into your adventure sometimes means rewritting the plan. And, as a result, that may mean the story may take longer to tell, but your determination and effort only make your story all that much more compelling when you reach your “lucky” happy ending. Our dreams, with preparation and perseverance, really can come true.

Welcome in 2009!

To ring in the New Year I am headed off to Santa Fe. It’s cold there but a good fire, a few unfinished books and a massage, and hot tub or two, at Ten Thousand Waves, are waiting for me there. I hope you too will spend some time before the New Year to plan your “luck.” I’m rooting for both of us in 2009!


The Joy of Being Dustin Hoffman

In Theater/Film on December 26, 2008 at 5:30 am

This article was written by Jeanne Wolf and appeared in Parade Magazine on December 21st. It is an insightful read into the mindset and life of many a starving artist- only this one made it!

My wife says the one thing that differentiates me from a lot of other people, or at least is an essential part of my character, is that I don’t have a censoring gene,” Dustin Hoffman says with an impish grin. “My friends just wait for me to reveal what’s on my mind. They know for sure that I’m going to say something inappropriate.”

Hoffman, now 71, has been saying surprising lines onscreen for more than 40 years, since his Oscar-nominated debut in The Graduate. He starred as the confused college grad Benjamin Braddock, who famously asked an older married woman (played by Anne Bancroft), “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me…Aren’t you?”

The self-described “short, funny-looking guy with acne” went on to win the Academy Award twice and score seven nominations. His films include Midnight Cowboy, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, Rain Man, and Lenny. This year he lent his voice to animated movies, including the hit Kung Fu Panda and The Tale of Despereaux. In his latest film, the romance Last Chance Harvey, Hoffman plays a lonely guy who finds late-in-life love with Emma Thompson. And proving he still likes to be a bit inappropriate, he looks at me and says, “Don’t worry, there’s no big bedroom scene. We didn’t have enough money for the special effects to make me look great naked.”

Hoffman grew up in L.A. His mother was a jazz pianist, and his dad was a set decorator. Ironically, Hoffman stumbled into his acting career by accident. “It was only because I couldn’t do anything else,” he says. “I was flunking out of college. And I didn’t want to go into the service because my brother had gone in, and he said, ‘Whatever you do, Dusty, don’t go into the service.’ I happened to take an acting course when I was 21. It was the first experience I had in my life where there was no clock. Time didn’t matter. I had never felt that before.” After two years at the Pasadena Playhouse, Hoffman moved to New York City.

“Then, for 10 years, I was an unemployed actor,” he remembers. “I roomed with Gene Hackman, who was friends with Robert Duvall. They were also unemployed. We’d have little parties because we didn’t have any money. You know, the Chianti bottle with the candle on it. Everybody comes over and brings stuff. And if someone were to say, at any of those get-togethers, ‘See those three guys there? They’re going to wind up being movie stars,’ the place would have laughed. And we would have laughed the loudest, because we were beat up by all the rejection.”

The lead role in Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate made Hoffman an overnight star. That soon was followed by Midnight Cowboy and a second Oscar nomination. Though anxious to keep proving himself, he was never willing to compromise. He gained a reputation for delivering knockout performances—and also for being a pain-in-the-neck perfectionist.

“It got in the press that I was difficult,” he says. “That was my signature—they want everyone to have a signature. Warren Beatty’s reputation was that he screwed around a lot. And yet he will tell you, ‘Hoffman screwed around more than I did.’ ” Whatever the count, that early wildness has given way to a calmer, more relaxed, and definitely funnier Hoffman.

“It’s true,” he says. “I am a happier person now. I’ve changed a lot. I had a big break-through after I took a couple of years when I didn’t want to do movies. I went back to work with total passion. You change as you go. Time alters you. It’s been a flip from the time when I was a shy, unhappy teenager. Now I can appreciate my own joy and my sense of irony.”

Instead of becoming daunted by the shadow of his own legendary image, he’s learned to be more playful as he’s gained wisdom. At a recent gala honoring Hoffman and Clint Eastwood, the audience got restless as speeches went on and on. When Hoffman finally came to the podium, he said, “A thought went through my mind as I was sitting at my table: What if I died while I was waiting to receive my Lifetime Achievement Award?” The room roared with laughter.

Leaning back in his chair recently in the office of his L.A. production company, Hoffman smiles about that night, then turns serious as he reflects on the meaning of his life and career.

“I guess making things fun is the only revenge you have against mortality,” he says. “Of course I think about mortality. So many of my colleagues and friends have died that I’m forced to think about it.” He pauses—figuring out how he wants to describe his attitude toward death. “What we would all like is to kind of choose when we’re ready to go, and we’d not have any fear. The best part about death is that it’s not selective. It’s comforting to know that everyone dies. Death is the pure democracy.”

Hoffman has always tried to have his family with him when he works. He has six kids—two with his first wife, actress/dancer Anne Byrne, and four with his current wife of 28 years, Lisa.

“When I got married for the second time, my wife and I made a deal,” he says. “We agreed that we wouldn’t let work separate us. We’ve stuck to that. I sometimes say that we’re wealthy gypsies. I was holding my kids when they were babies on the sets of my movies. A couple of my children even saw me dressed as a woman in Tootsie. Lisa knows me. We can read each other. We’ve always had this loving connection.”
Hoffman remains proud of his grown-up children. “They get mad at me for telling everyone about their accomplishments or for finding cute girls for my sons,” he says. “But even though they love to hate me for it or cruelly imitate me, I can’t stop bragging. They are my true credits.”

How do his children express their affection? “We’re a tactile family,” he says, “and I never get over the fact that even though my kids are no longer ‘kids,’ they like to kiss me for no reason or when we greet each other. When they’re leaving, they say, ‘Bye, Pop,’ and they grab me and kiss me on the cheek. I’ve never taken that for granted, even though they don’t even know that they’re doing it.”

I ask Hoffman if this love from his family and his need to keep changing at 71 is what has brought him to his current point—mellow but not satisfied. “Mellow?” he says, surprised. “Let me think.” He pauses, then polishes the description of himself: “OK. I’ll say, ‘Satisfied but not satisfied.’ ”

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

In Accounting, Art, Cooking & Food, Creative Support, Current Events, Customer Service, Emotional Intelligence, Employees, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Artist Contest Contestants, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Fashion, Health & Wellness, Interesting Articles, Leadership, Legal, Marketing, Money, Music, Networking, Risk, The Clarinet Shop, The Entrepreneurial Artist Competition, The Idea, Theater/Film, Writing on December 23, 2008 at 3:04 am

f91ddde14399af3663324567dfa4My wish for you, ON CHRISTMAS DAY,
will be for you TOO, to keep the GRINCH at bay!

But if by chance, you simply cannot,
Band mighty together, as a great big Who-Ville lot!

WWHHYY????? Smarty-Arty, I hear you say?

BECAUSE, with all your JOY stirring together,
the grinch who came to visit, just might feel a WEE bit better.

Merry Christmas, my dears, what’s your ETA,
to ENTREPRENEUR The Arts, in a new innovative way.
PLEASE COME WITH ME, lets ride far, far and away!

signed your friend, an artistic missionIST, a student of Dr. Suess-a-visionIST, gliding, and sent with love.

And They Said It Couldn’t Be Done…

In Cooking & Food, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Interesting Articles, Leadership, Money, Risk, The Idea, Theater/Film on December 12, 2008 at 8:09 am

This article appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine online and offers four classic inspiring examples- mini-case studies- of four great entrepreneurs who made it big when other said they would not succeed.
Entrepreneurs are notorious for their ability to press on with their ideas despite what other people tell them. Naysayers abound when innovators want to try things nobody has ever done. Fortunately, innovative entrepreneurs have persisted with their efforts and given us some of the modern luxuries we now take for granted.

The Wright brothers mimicked the birds. Henry Ford harnessed horse power. They are but two well-known examples of visionaries who propelled the 20th century forward. Other now-famous people stared down negativity and triumphed. Find out how four such business-savvy folks stuck it out in the face of adversity.

Clarence Birdseye knew inferior freezing methods led to bland-tasting reheated food, so he developed quick-freeze machinery to produce quality frozen food. Shoppers didn’t believe. Birdseye went broke. He stuck with it, eventually overcame consumer skepticism and went on to set the industry standard. Read more here.

Television network executives weren’t sure the viewing public would accept a sit-com with a Cuban leading man married to a feisty, American redhead. So Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball produced the “I Love Lucy” pilot with their own money. Network execs said TV shows had to be produced in New York and with kinescopes. Lucy and Desi took a salary cut to produce the show in Hollywood on expensive film, but, as part of the deal, the couple kept rights to the show. At every turn, Lucy and Desi were a step ahead of the studios, revolutionizing television along the way. Read more here.

Fred Smith wrote a term paper based on an idea for reliable overnight delivery. His professor gave him a C because the idea wasn’t feasible. Years later, many potential investors agreed with the professor, refusing to send capital Smith’s way. The funds he did raise in 1971 and ’72 were gone by ’74, along with his investors. One catchy slogan and several million dollars of hard-won capital later, Federal Express was on its way to profitability and long-term success. Read more here.

Steve Jobs wanted to give everyone a computer at a time when nobody realized computers were necessary to have. He founded Apple to create home computers, experienced some early success, faltered in the consumer market with the expensive Macintosh, was ousted from the company he founded, dabbled in computer animated movies—Pixar ring a bell?—and was eventually asked to return to his first love, where he turned around Apple at a time when it was in trouble. Read more here.

Is Starving an Artistic Risk?

In Art, Cooking & Food, Emotional Intelligence, Fashion, Health & Wellness, Leadership, Music, Theater/Film, Writing on December 5, 2008 at 9:25 am

According to Wikipedia a starving artist is: someone who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. Typically living on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes towards art projects. Some starving artists desire mainstream success but have difficulty due to the high barriers in art such as visual arts, the film industry, and theatre. These artists frequently take temporary positions (such as waitering or other service industry jobs) while they focus their attention on breaking through in their preferred field.

According to Merriam-Webster, risk is defined as: the possibility of loss or injury : peril

If we financially place ourselves in low paying or dead end jobs are we expanding or limiting our artistic potential?

If you can’t pay your rent, and your big artistic break isn’t showing up at what point exactly are your choices in life diminishing? Is it when it comes down to leaving the profession you chose because you simply can’t pay your bills?

Or is it when your disregard for your mental, physical and economic health erodes your happiness and self-confidence?

Or is it when many of your life goals have a serious life sucks “gap” between what you hoped to accomplish and what you actually can accomplish?

Or maybe its when you feel like your creativity and imagination are almost all gone because you cannot endure the difficulty of a life that does not inspire your evolution and creative abilities?

Is it worth your time to consider if there is another path, one that only you can imagine, that can fill your artistic potential and provide you with a host of economic options?

How much value exactly do you place on nurturing, protecting and supporting a life filled with your own creativity?

A Playground for the 21st Century Artist Entrepreneur

In Art, Cooking & Food, Current Events, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Fashion, Leadership, Music, The Idea, Theater/Film, WEBSITES & BLOGS, Writing on November 28, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Eight years and $200 million in the making, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or Empac, resembles an enormous 1950s-era television set on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

But inside are not old-fashioned vacuum tubes but the stuff of 21st-century high-tech dreams dedicated to the marriage of art and science as it has never been done before, its creators say — 220,000 square feet of theaters, studios and work spaces hooked to supercomputers.

Within its walls, scientists can immerse themselves in data and fly through a breaking wave or inspect the kinks in a DNA molecule, artists can participate in virtual concerts with colleagues in different parts of the world or send spectators on trips through imaginary landscapes, and architects can ponder their creations from the inside before a single brick or two-by-four has been put in place.

As a facility, the new 220,000 square-foot center is like no other, boasting unrivaled presentation and production capabilities: a 1200-seat concert hall designed to the highest acoustical standards; an intimate 400-seat theater; and two highly flexible studio spaces, configurable as traditional black-box theaters or as fully immersive environments. Linked to a massive supercomputer, EMPAC’s potential for art and science spans the physical and virtual worlds and the spaces in between.

The EMPAC building’s conception and construction include many firsts relating to acoustics, theatrical and media presentation, structural integrity, lighting, heating and ventilation. The building is an extraordinary architectural statement. An international architectural competition led to the selection of the acclaimed British firm, Grimshaw, and to the building’s bold architectural conception.

Dedicated to advancing research and artistic production at the intersection of technology, media and the performing arts, EMPAC is poised to be a major contributing force in many artistic and technological domains. A main focus and major emphasis at EMPAC is the development and production of new works in the performing and media arts. Projects, residencies and productions at EMPAC will come from all domains of time-based arts, including but not limited to video, dance, music, theater, internet art, DVD productions, interactive installations, and multimedia art. Some pieces that are created or presented at EMPAC may grow out of the media-rich environment of EMPAC and could travel to other venues, nationally and internationally, others works may be site-specific to EMPAC.

As a facility and an environment, EMPAC will serve as a magnet to artists in a wide variety of time-based disciplines – performance, theatre, dance, music and film/video. The facility opened on October 3rd, 2008 and now offers artists residencies and commissions which include a rare and powerful combination: time to experiment in performance and production spaces of the highest quality combined with a technologically advanced infrastructure. As part of its mission to support artistic production with resources and facilities which are project-specific, EMPAC will provide access to equipment, expertise, rehearsal space, research, or other support as part of a commission, according to the needs of that project.

Here is an example of one of EMPAC’s commissioned projects, “There Still is Time… Brother”:

Commissioned by EMPAC, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute [USA], produced by EMPAC together with the UNSW iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research [AUS], and the ZKM | Institute for Visual Media [D] and in collaboration with The Wooster Group,THERE IS STILL TIME.. BROTHER« is a commission for an installation that consists of an interactive projection for a 360° screen.


The commission is rooted in the recording of a Wooster Group performance developed specifically to be viewed as a projection on a 360° screen. The video is revealed by way of a window that scans around the screen, never showing the whole of the projection at once. The window is controlled by an audience member or performer who selects which part of the 360° video to reveal at any given time. However, it is clear that the sections of the video that are revealed are all unfolding in one, continuous 360° space and that there is some kind of linear timeline to the sections of the performance that we are watching unfold.

This piece challenges the notions of linear narrative in theater or film by creating a time-based theatrical experience that can be experienced in a new way each time it is “performed” by the individual controlling the interface which dictates that which we see and hear in the immersive space of spacialized sound and projection. The viewer is involved in an immersive process of discovery where their chosen point of view creates the dramaturgy of the piece and literally activates the story.

President Dr. Jackson said Rensselaer prides itself on interdisciplinary research and hands-on engineering learning, has a tradition of electronic arts, which includes a major in games and simulations. A performance center had been part of a long-range plan she and the trustees approved in 2000. The concept of Empac was born, she said, when she and her advisers decided to combine art with the problem of making sense of data, a problem that she said lay at the nexus of art, science, technology, cognitive perception and learning.

In 2001, an anonymous donor gave the university $360 million, one of the largest private grants ever made to an American university, enabling Dr. Jackson to jump-start not just Empac but other elements of her plan as well. That gift was later augmented by $40 million from Curtis R. Priem, one of the founders of Nvidia, a maker of graphics processors, and for whom the center will be officially named.

This center is a 21st Century Artists dream come true. Is there a project or an idea you would like to undertake with Empact?

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the nation’s oldest technological university, offering degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, the humanities and social sciences. It is pre-eminent in research into biotechnology, nanotechnology, IT, and the media arts and technology. In addition to its MFA program, RPI offers bachelor degrees in Electronic Arts, and in Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication – one of the first undergraduate programs of its kind in the United States.

Contestant #1: Brian Owens

In Art, Creative Support, Entrepreneurial Artist Contest Contestants, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Money, Risk, Theater/Film, Writing on November 3, 2008 at 6:22 am

Written by Brian Owens

I was a bright kid in Detroit at a time when grant money for college was available. After four years of college I hired on with Chrysler Defense because I was broke and that’s where the money was. I was one of many engineers working to build a battle tank simulator to train tank crews for combat in the “european theater”; a war that never came.

Later, I moved to Florida because I was tired of winters and dodging bullets and was looking for an adventure of sorts. Again, I was one of many engineers working to build simulators, this time for combat aircraft.

I returned to art because I am an artist. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Since I have no children I could move in any direction I wanted. Maybe there is such a thing as a person being born to do a specific thing. My life is a pressurized, precarious life but this is part of the experience of being an artist, at least for me.

David Mamet said it best as he described the main character from a screenplay of his: “every lesson is driven home with such force … inescapable force … the real question is … can you get something from it; can you look at it?”. The lessons can be difficult. Still, I feel fortunate to know with certainty why I’m here.

I work in bronze and oil because it’s a challenge and requires discipline. But mostly, I do it because I like it. The awards and honors are great. They add institutional validity to a resume that is absent a degree in art. Also, grants make it possible for me to compete effectively for public art projects. I see them as tools in my toolbox; acquired beforehand so they’re there when needed. But it’s not the degree or award that makes you an artist, it’s the art you make that makes you an artist.

David Mamet said that many of the actors who audition for him don’t have the emotional makeup to withstand the level of competition and rejection that that must continually face. They are “too fine an instrument” and “don’t hit the marks when the pressure is on … but it only counts when the pressure is on”. I’m not an actor but I’ve had a deep personal struggle with this for many years. Being self-employed is like stepping, naked, under a brilliant light. Any weakness in your emotional makeup will be evident; if not to you, then to everyone else who is looking. It’s hard to change who you are. But I’ve learned that with time any skill can be improved and the things that used to floor me now just make me wince.

My income from fine art accounts for 20% to 100% of my annual income depending on what year it is. I got whipped in 2008 but 2009 is lining up nicely. There’s no explanation for it. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate the words of Leonard Cohen, who said “as a writer, you have to show up and go to work every day. But you do so knowing that today it may not come; that you are not in control of this enterprise.”

I’ve always been suspicious of advice; unsolicited advice offered by people who mean well but have not tested themselves on the free-market battlefield that they so easily send their students onto.

Early in my career, I identified the people who appeared to be successful doing what I wanted to do. Then, after I assembled my first portfolio, I carefully reached out for their advice. Also, I’m not making the type of art that academia would instruct me to make. That may be working in my favor, nowadays.

During the last few years of this “postmodern” age, we have seen a renewed interest in classical training, the portrait and the figure. There is a slow but encouraging change in perspective on the importance of discipline and skill. Donald Kuspit said “Art is again a means of aesthetic transcendence with no loss of critical consciousness of the world.” As an artist, I have no special insight into history or the hearts of men but I offer this belief: When the culture is accepting of it, artists will respond with their best work.

William H. Gass said, they will “add to the worlds objects and ideas those delineations, carvings … and symphonic spells which ought to be there, To make things whose end is contemplation and appreciation.”

As the nation races into an uncertain future; as we question the recent past; many of us will return to art to reflect, to heal and (in words of Harlan Ellison) “to be humbled and to be renewed”.

Brian Owens

Artistry + The River = An Economic Catalyst

In Art, Cooking & Food, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Fashion, Health & Wellness, Leadership, Marketing, Money, Music, Networking, Risk, The Idea, Theater/Film, WEBSITES & BLOGS, Writing on October 28, 2008 at 5:04 pm

What do artists have in common with supporting economic development along our most important and prominent rivers in the United States?

Believe it or not, more than you might think.

Today John Cimino, Creative Leaps Intl, myself and members of the American Heritage River Alliance have a meeting in Mayor Daley’s Office to discuss Chicago’s expressed interest in applying for federal funding for the Chicago River in 2009 through the American Heritage River Alliance.

The AHRA, established by President Clinton’s Executive Order #13061 in 1997, is a network of locally-driven partnerships working to restore rivers, promote sustainable development, and improve quality of life. When President Clinton issued this Executive Order, federal funding was given for ten years to fourteen different rivers. Chicago applied ten years ago and was not selected. In 2009 federal funding will become available to six more rivers, for ten years, through an application process.

The first 14 rivers that were originally funded are now being converted into 501c3’s. Each river, through this White House initiative, was originally assigned an Interagency River Navigator– a key person who helps match local needs with their ability to fast track available federal resources for environmental, economic, and cultural/historic preservation efforts.

With the original river navigators still in their original roles, and in need of a new source of funding, the reason the AHRA and several of the key river navigators are in town this week is to promote the marketing potential of supporting this organization at the Chief Responsibility Officer Conference– the newest emerging corporate executive role created in the last few years- this coming Wednesday here in Chicago. Both John and I will be attending the conference to help the AHRA network to advance fundraising initiatives. Did you know that the original 14 rivers, the AHRA is looking for these corporations to financial support, has a marketing reach of over 1/2 of the population in the United States?

So why, you might be thinking, are John Cimino and I involved in this project?

Well, Creative Leaps is currently working on a project in the Hudson River, one of the originally funded 14 rivers through the AHRA, for their Quadricentennial celebration. John is serving as the educational director for a project that the AHRA and Creative Leaps conceived called the Arts-Science Challenge. From this project, which will last through 2009, the AHRA is committing a portion of the 400 million dollar funding it hopes to raise, to development John Cimino’s idea for The Renaissance Center, which the AHRA believes on its own provides an economic engine for the region it is built in.

The Renaissance Center is a center devoted to for Leadership, Innovation and Learning. It will serve as an interdisciplinary center using the arts as a catalyst, to convene business, government, education and sustainable technology sectors together to solve their problems and develop teaching artist consultants to do some of this work in each area it serves.

My interest in the project is to help John place one of these centers in Chicago and to be responsible for its development and involved as a teaching artist in its work- thus a new viable twist on my idea of a Chicago Arts Incubator.

So what do a couple of artists have in common with ecomonic development along the Hudson River and The Chicago River? It appears a lot!

What kind of interesting lense can you bring into binocular view- something paired to your artistry- to make your work more fully integrated into the community in a significant and financially meaningful way?

The Human Trafficking Project

In Art, Current Events, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Health & Wellness, Music, The Idea, Theater/Film, WEBSITES & BLOGS, Writing on October 14, 2008 at 6:09 am

If you live in the United States right now and are feeling squeezed as a result of our economic financial melt down, remember your life could be worse. MUCH WORSE. Imagine losing your freedom and being subjected to modern day slavery known as human trafficking.

Focused on this important social cause, The Human Trafficking Project (HTP), a New York-based non-profit organization, utilizes art, innovation and technology to raise awareness to this form of modern day slavery. Their mission is to connect those working to combat human trafficking, as well as providing support to trafficking survivors.

2009 upcoming projects include a hip-hop album, a documentary and a photography project. The goal is to provide a multimedia body of work that will convey the facts, emotions and complexity of human trafficking to bring the issue into mainstream consciousness. The HTP website is in the process of developing featured trafficking facts, downloadable songs, streamable video, photographs, links to relevant news stories, and original articles and insights on the problem.

So what exactly is human trafficking?

Trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, sexual exploitation, peonage, debt bondage, slavery, or other forms of exploitation. Human trafficking is the third most profitable organized crime/business, just after drug and arms trafficking. According to the United Nations, it generates an estimated 32 billion dollars annually in revenue.

And if you think that human trafficking does not occur in the United States- think again- an estimated 17,000 victims are trafficked into the United States each year. According to the U.S. State Department up to 800,000 people are trafficked around the world annually. Free the Slaves, a Washington D.C.- based nonprofit, estimates there to be up to 27 million active slaves in the world today.

This project is a pretty fantastic example of what artist can do as social entrepreneurs.

About the Artists Involved in The Human Trafficking Project

Merissa Nathan Gerson-Writer (Boulder, USA)
In May 2008, Merissa graduated with an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Her writing can be seen in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Apothecary, and local Colorado journals. For the past four years she has worked as a farmer, a waitress, a sixth grade teacher, a bilingual tutor, a lamp-maker, an intern for the Native American Rights Fund, and a creative writing teacher at a juvenile detention facility. In May of 2004 she received a BA with a dual focus in American Culture Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Washington University in St. Louis where she headed their rape prevention initiative.

Ligaya Domingo- Filmmaker (Philippines)
Ligaya is a visual artist based in Manila. A filmmaker and advocate of women’s and children’s rights, Domingo studied Fine Arts and is currently completing her Master’s degree in Art History at the University of the Philippines. Ligaya has worked as an assistant director, production designer, art director and actress in various independent film productions. She is an active member of Sinekalye, a group of independent filmmakers and video artists from the Mowelfund Film Institute. Besides the HTP film Gimikera, Ligaya recently completed Perya, a documentary about a community of carnival workers.

Kat C. Palasi- Photographer (Philippines)
Kat is a freelance photographer who has documented women’s issues and the changing traditions of her Igorot clan, the Ibaloys of Benguet. A graduate of Communication from the University of the Philippines, she has received the Asian Cultural Council grant twice from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which enabled her to study at the International Center of Photography in New York City. She is currently preparing to shoot a documentary on Filipino youth culture. See more of Kat’s work here.

Veejay Villafranca- Photographer (Philippines)
Raised by a photojournalist father, Veejay was attracted to the camera at an early age. In college, Villafranca worked as a staff photojournalist for the Philippine Graphic covering events such as the conflicts in the Southern provinces of Zamboanga & Sulu and the insurgencies in the Cordillera mountain range. Villafranca also covered the official visit of U.S. President George W. Bush to the Philippines in 2004. Most recently he has worked for wire agencies such as Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Reuters news agency. Veejay was also part of the recently concluded Angkor Photo festival held in Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Meryl David- Singer (Philippines)
Meryl started singing in 2003 with an acoustic group called Soulground that regularly performed throughout Metro Manila. Wanting to explore different forms of music, she decided to form a band that would play neo-soul for the underground Filipino hip-hop scene. Meryl is currently collaborating with indie artists alongside her career as a registered nurse. “What brought me here isn’t just because of the mere fact that I sing. If it’s the truth, I’m in; if it’s not the truth, I’m out. Awareness leads to nothing without action. It’s more than cool to know what to sing for and what to sing against.”

Mike Hortaleza aka DJ Grimrock- Musician (Washington, USA)
Mike is a Filipino musician born and raised in Portland, Oregon. Influenced by hip-hop culture at a young age, Hortaleza found his talent on turntables in high school and became a DJ entering DJing competitions and practicing the art of Turntablism. He has performed with or opened for various musicians including Live Human, DJ Craze, One Be Lo, Eternia, Scratch of the Roots, Native Gunz, Sadat X and Sleep. Mikey was also the main DJ on the War of the Words tour in 2006. Mike is currently building an Oregon Chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation to promote community service through hip-hop.

US Financial Crisis Creates Artistic Opportunity for Global Transformation

In Art, Cooking & Food, Current Events, Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Fashion, Leadership, Music, The Idea, Theater/Film, WEBSITES & BLOGS, Writing on September 22, 2008 at 7:40 am

Last week I spoke at, and attended, Linda Naiman’s Transformational Leadership for an Age of Innovation workshop in beautiful Vancouver Canada.

David Fushtey, who is both an excellent sculptor and an attorney, principal for The Governance Council in Canada, gave an incredibly thought provoking presentation on the importance of governance with a conscience. What does this mean and why should we as artists care?

Well, I think last weeks devastating news about the financial meltdown of the United States most prominent and oldest banking institutions, that has not been seen since The Great Depression in 1929, and which will cause the US taxpayers ultimately to incur liability for at least 700 billion dollars, frankly, is enough. And in case that does not speak to you, or you don’t make enough money to care about the generations of taxpayers to follow that will pay for the greed of big business, perhaps understanding, with an election upon us, that it is UP TO US to help change how our leaders govern and what kinds of ethics they bring with them will.

Yes, your heard me correctly– I said UP TO US! Read the rest of this entry »

Your Big Fat Greek Wedding

In Creative Support, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, The Idea, Theater/Film on January 22, 2008 at 12:40 am

As the writer and star of the autobiographical comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002), Nia Vardalos took the entertainment industry by storm when the film came virtually out of nowhere to become a surprising hit. However, the real-life story of how Vardalos was able to make the film in the first place proves as interesting as the movie itself.

Born in Winnepeg-Ontario, Canada, Vardalos was raised in a quirky and eccentric family that proudly embraced its Greek heritage and encouraged her creative energies early on. She began her professional career on stage at a local theater, the Rainbow Stage, using her experience to earn a scholarship to Toronto’s Ryerson University. She joined Toronto’s famed Second City improvisational comedy theater troupe in an unconventional manner, taking a job in the box office where she dutifully watched every evening’s production.

One night an actress fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital fifteen minutes before curtain before a sold-out house. Vardalos saved the day by convincing the producers she knew the show well enough to step into the part-which she did. Her success there led her to move to Chicago’s even more acclaimed Second City theater, where she would ultimately win Chicago’s Jeff Award for Best Actress.

While in Chicago Vardalos met fellow Second City performer Ian Gomez and the two married and moved to Los Angeles in 1993 to further their careers. Gomez hit early with recurring roles on popular TV shows such as “The Drew Carey Show” and “Felicity” while Vardalos had a tougher time, toiling in tiny TV guest spots and small film appearances.

Seeking to find her artistic purpose and desperately in need of a creative outlet, Vardalos began to pen a one-woman stage show to produce and perform in Los Angeles. Risking her own life experience by drawing upon her colorful relatives, the traditions of her powerfully ingrained heritage and the humorous hysteria that surrounded her own wedding to the non-Greek Gomez, she created a play that both affectionately skewered and celebrated her oddball upbringing. Vardalos finished the first draft of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in just two weeks. In this play Vardalos played ten characters presenting it in various theaters around L.A.

The stage incarnation (which she also fashioned into an unsold screenplay) was a modest hit in Los Angeles, and the play’s sole piece of newspaper advertising happened to catch the eye of another woman who grew up in a traditional Greek family and married an outsider, actress Rita Wilson.

Wilson attended, loved the show and returned for a second performance the next night, this time with her husband, actor Tom Hanks, in tow. The couple was duly charmed by and impressed with Vardalos, and Hanks quickly optioned her screenplay for his personal production company, Play-Tone, and agreed to keep her as the star. Meanwhile Vardalos’ play was nominated for an Ovation Award for Best New Play in Los Angeles and also ran in Toronto and Montreal.

Even with the backing of one of Hollywood’s most powerful actors, Vardalos had to weather much attempted studio tinkering with her screenplay, with executives trying variously to cast a more bankable star, re-work the script and even change the ethnicity of the family. The actress was able to stick to her guns and keep the central role of Toula, joining a talented ensemble of actors with TV director Joel Zwick at the helm.

Made for under $5 million, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was released in April 2002 by HBO Independent Productions with little if any pre-release fanfare-including virtually no television advertising or billboards-yet somehow the film was able to attract an audience.

Positive word-of-mouth spread from people who saw the movie, and soon audiences were lining up-Vardalos’ easily accessible comedy transcended its Greek label and appealed to a wide cross section of people, feeling funny and true to anyone who’s had to deal with ethnic differences, eccentric relatives and even simply the often arduous task of getting married.

By the summer of 2002 the breakout film, aided by the media embracing Vardalos’ underdog success story and her connection to Wilson and Hanks, continued to open in more and more theaters and its box office numbers were suddenly challenging concurrent box office blockbusters like “Austin Powers: Goldmember” and “Signs.”
Its take escalated upwards of $230 million….

It might be hard to imagine right now what your next best idea can do, but just look at what Nia was able to do with hers? Instead of continuing to choose the same path every other actor takes in Hollywood, Nia decide to exploit what she uniquely could offer the world. It was Nia’s willingness to risk exposing who she really was through her acting that not only transformed her life as an actress, but also changed how the world feels about Greek traditions because she did. As a fellow Greek, I can assure you her film has helped make each one of us raised in the Greek culture feel so much better. Now our strange quirky customs and rituals are more understood and accepted.

Check out this funny ad peppered in Greek culture. Once upon a time I would have feared what you would have thought, but now, thanks to Nia, I know you will laugh.

God Bless Brad Pitt

In Emotional Intelligence, The Idea, Theater/Film, WEBSITES & BLOGS on January 2, 2008 at 12:03 pm

I can’t say I ever thought I would say this but God Bless Brad Pitt.

God knows Brad might be easy on the eyes, but who ever thought he was more than a pretty face? Certainly, up until now, not I.

I admit to being enamored with Hollywood figures, not for their physical beauty or often incredible stupidity-that only too much money can bring- but instead, because I wonder just exactly how did they get there? Call me odd, but I find myself the most curious about why people wind up in the places in life they do- famous or not.

Well, at least for me, if not the rest of the world, I now know why Brad Pitt is where he is. It is not to be a famous actor or to have been involved romantically with two very pretty women. Nor is it to raise his newly adopted children, as generous as that may seem.

I think Brad Pitt is beginning to find his true calling- finally- and New Orleans is going to benefit from the wealth and fame that his art form, acting, has brought to help him accomplish it. I would buy a ticket to the next film Brad Pitt makes for this reason alone.

Pitt’s passion is easy to spot with his Make it Right project for New Orleans. Pitt intends to build 150 affordable eco-friendly homes during the next two years in the still devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Pitt and film producer Steve Bing have each promised to match five million in contributions to the project.

While Pitt could fund this project entirely on his own, to me, makes little difference. What I see is a man beginning to risk and act with his heart, letting everyone see a part of who he really is. He is using his art form as a tool to change what he can about the world even if not a single one of his movies, that made him rich and famous in the first place, has.

I hope every artist can find his or her own way to be so lucky.