(A forewarning . . . this is the kind of piece that grandmas have permission to post.)
We have many reasons, of course, to do what we do. But we often talk about wanting to leave the world a better place for future generations. This is, indeed, a grand aspiration. I hold it too.
In the close-up fabric of my life, however, these “future generations’ are embodied, tangibly, in my grandkids. I’m lucky enough to share two – Livia and Henry – with quite a handful of other grandparents. A few moments from the past few years reinforce Grandma Anne’s commitment to working for a better future.
A trip to the locks in the summer.
A water taxi ride to West Seattle.
Dancing in Grandma Anne’s former home in the last hour she lived there (2013).
One way I’ll be “carrying on” in 2017 is through my “office hours” with Artist Trust as part of the Jini Dellaccio Project. Every month I continue to reserve the second and fourth Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 and 3:30 for these conversations. You can sign up here.
Last summer “office hours” was a fairly unformed and open-ended idea. The notion was based on amazing conversations I’ve had over the years with people who just wanted to talk and on a vague sense that seven decades of life and work experience might prove useful or at least interesting to others. I also imagined the conversations would be two-way exchanges and that I’d be a primary beneficiary.
Artist Trust and I started this experiment for real in September, and it’s proven to be just as amazing as the conversations that inspired it. The conversations have given me the opportunity to meet extraordinary people I hadn’t known before and to spend time with old friends, the kind of focused time that feels luxurious but that we give ourselves so seldom.
People – both women and men – of many ages signed up – some early in their lives, some in the middle thick of it, and others, like me, enmeshed in life’s upper layers. Some came with a specific question or project in mind, and a few said, in so many words, “I’m not sure why I made this appointment.” Regardless of what prompted it, in the end each conversation seemed to matter. Sometimes an experience from my past proved useful, many times we discovered something new or the beginning of a solution through our back-and-forth discussion, and other times it seemed that the simple chance to talk with someone who was interested and listened closely was enough. Each one took its own course, and the form remains just as open-ended as it started.
“Office hours” sounds more formal than they are, and they tend to last more than an hour. We meet at Artist Trust and usually walk down the street to a nearby coffee shop, or we simply take a walk and talk while walking. Come use me as a sounding board, pick my brain, or try out new ideas. Office hours are open to anyone. Let’s talk!
Penny U: A report on the last one and prep for the next one
The next Penny U – December 4, 2016
When it was clear that interest was high in the Penny U a week after the election, we scheduled another to follow up on what happened there and to give people who couldn’t join us the first time an opportunity to join the conversation. Our focus will be to build on what we learned and to find practical steps our community can take to organize around the issues that surfaced. (A summary of the notes participants took follows below, but if you’re impatient, you can also download it here.)
Penny U: Building Community in Our New Reality
2:00 p.m. Sunday, December 4
Town Hall Seattle, downstairs
The last Penny U – November 15, 2016
We need to connect. We need to talk together. — a Penny U participant
Co-organizer Edward Wolcher and I have been hosting Penny U at Town Hall since fall 2014, and we’ve generally had 20-30 people show up for the conversations. They’ve been terrific, and people left energized. But, Town Hall sold over 250 tickets for the Penny U on November 15 when the topic was, “Post-election: What’s next?” And this was the first time we even charged. Our retiring U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott was definitely a powerful draw. He helped set the stage with a few remarks during the introductory part of the program and received a standing ovation for his long service.
Among other things, Jim told us that we all have to speak out, and we have to organize. “If we don’t speak up for other people and take on these issues, the hate will continue to seep into our society.”
He went on to say:
We all want a nice quiet life; we don’t want to get involved in all this. But, folks, there’s no way out of this, you don’t have a choice. The fact that you came out tonight means that you can be a choir that goes out and tells the rest of the city. We have to come together as a community around the issue of the common good. What’s good for Jim McDermott and his family has got to be good for everybody else in this whole city, and in this whole state, and this whole country. But it has to start somewhere and it can start with something like this Town Hall. We each have a responsibility to do our part. 250 people are a lot of people to be out there, churning and stirring people up. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If we don’t stick together, we will hang separately.”
He also quoted Frodo from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: “All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”
While many came specifically to hear Jim speak, at least 200 people stayed for the conversations that followed. After Jim left to catch a red-eye back to the other Washington (something he hadn’t done for years, but did to be with us), we all moved downstairs from the Great Hall and began talking together around small tables or in small circles of chairs in all parts of the lobby.
From the Great Hall stage Edward and I had posed two questions to prompt conversation:
Was this election a symptom of something fundamentally broken in U.S. politics, in our economy, in our basic social structures?
Now that the election is over: what should concerned, engaged citizens do?
Most conversations were among four to six people, a few tables held more. As part of his opening remarks, Edward encouraged everyone to sit with people they didn’t know. From a quick glance around the lobby, I noticed that couples I knew had indeed split up and sat at different tables. Generations mixed. One person in each group volunteered to take notes.
The energy around the tables was palpable, and many people told me afterward how grateful they were to have had this chance to talk. One man said, “This isn’t what I expected, but sign me up.” Scattered through the notes, I found comments like, “It’s time to stand up and engage physically.” Or, “This is new to me, I want to be helping more.” “Complacency must end!” “We need to re-energize; it’s time to become an activist again.” “We can’t get used to this!” The chance to connect, face-to-face, mattered.
We collected over 30 sets of notes. In addition to being surprised at how legible and long most of them were, I was struck by the fact that, with a few exceptions, the focus was on the second question, not the first – on what we should do.
Following is a report on what happened. There is no way to adequately summarize all the observations, insights, and ideas that were captured in over 60 pages of hand-written notes. What’s below feels like a shorthand outline that only skims the surface. In most cases, comments are direct quotes from the notes. If you’d rather read the summary as a Word file, you can download it here.
In part because the upcoming Penny U focuses on practical steps we can take, the summary sticks primarily to the question of what we should do. Our aim is that the summary will provide a useful beginning point for the small groups that will form on Sunday. Comments have been grouped in two ways: specific areas of focus for our action and the kinds of actions we can take regardless of the specific focus. None of them are insignificant, they all matter. It’s also important to understand that no single one of us can cover all the bases. Many comments in the notes echoed this one: “Pick one issue and do it really hard.” Or, as Barbara Kingsolver said,
Trump changed everything. Now everything counts.*
Penny U summary: table conversations What should a concerned citizen do?
AREAS OF FOCUS / SPHERES OF ACTION
Hold the media accountable / understand the news we consume
Use difference sources of news, “choose your news”
Get outside own technological bubble; read The Big Sort, learn how much we’re “sorted”
Figure out how to fight inaccurate/false information, fight fake news
Identify biases in news sources
Learn how money and advertising control the news
Support nonprofit journalism, support free media, subscribe to a paper
Don’t let media “normalize” Trump, it’s unacceptable
Learn what’s going on internationally
Be aware of how social media filters the news
Get after media to broadcast positive messages & education
How can we change the national conversation?
Protect individual and civil rights/fight racism, sexism, LGBTQ bashing, and more
Help people feel safe
Stand up for/with people of color, LGBTQ
How do we address prejudice & hatred? How do we respond to bullies?
Protest against policies that promote hate & violate rights
Fight white supremacy
Address anti-choice movement
Daily acts of kindness to people who look different from you.
How do we have meaningful conversation about race with all sides heard & respected?
Can we use our privilege to give others a place at the table?
Share truths & articles on racism
Intentionally engage diverse people
Provide sponsorship & funding to immigrants
Fight misogyny, classism
Create a venue for people’s anger
Speak up whenever there’s a hate crime
Speak up if someone is being harassed
Build understanding & develop conversation with the “other side”
Build relationships with people, not just around politics
Bridge gap between eastern and western Washington, reach out, ask their views
Speak about our values, find empathy
Read books written for “the other side.” Connect with family/fiscal conservatives. How?
How can we engage people who voted for Trump? Read The Art of the Deal
Don’t demonize Trump supporters, target his team/administration.
Make ourselves open to the “other side,” allow ourselves to be uncomfortable
Can we have non-emotional conversations, with people holding opposite opinions?
Listen deeply, not to advance own agenda but to understand
What are culturally relevant ways to approach them?
Hold as many of these conversations face-to-face as possible
Understand the role of economics, and the needs of the economically disenfranchised; since the 1980s there has been mass impoverishment
Listen to other viewpoints, have conversations with people you wouldn’t usually speak to
Onus is on us to start the conversation. Listen to labor
Learn source of the fear that defined this election, learn about their pain, anger, mistrust
Ask “why?” We need to have these discussions.
Understand the “enemy” – the fear, disenfranchisement, longing for the way things were.
Understand the root causes of fear. Share your fear for what may happen.
Volunteering time can often further understanding better than direct, abrupt conversation
Connect across all lines, identify common ground, get out of our bubble. How?
Work against class divisions
Get a pen pal in a red state, tell your story
Review, revise, change the U.S. voting & election process
Work to change the electoral college system. It is a big part of the problem.
Change the electoral college process at a state level
Why don’t more people vote? Work to get more people to vote next time. Recruit youth
Fight gerrymandering. The 2018 election is crucial for redistricting.
The National Popular Vote needs to pass
Increase understanding of our political & electoral process–example, ex-cons can vote
Hold forums for candidates to express views
Advocate for rank voting
Fight Citizens United
Ask, are we still a democracy? Audit our system.
Set term limits
Fight for voters’ rights
Bolster the Democratic Party and communicate with current legislative bodies
Support & communicate with our own officials, representatives
Become active in the local Democratic Party to refocus on labor rights, access to education, economic opportunity, tax fairness; attend district meetings
Reshape the Democratic Party, co-opt the party’s need to rebrand itself
Crowdsource the research that politicians need.
We need a dynamic “change” candidate
Advocate for legislation to reduce economic inequality & to improve access to education
Write your member of congress, personally
Talk to state legislators, call and write. Do we want them to stalemate on specific issues?
Run for office
Support Democrats’ efforts to raise minimum wage
Work on the NEXT election in two years.
We need to transform Congress
Organize to change public policy from outside the current party structure
Traditional political action alone is not sufficient.
Two-party system is tribal. It doesn’t facilitate coalition-building
The two-party system silences anyone not part of the system
Why do we have essentially only two parties? Consider third parties.
Educate ourselves/improve our education system
Understand U.S. politics first
Engage young people in high school
“Democracy is only as good as an educated citizenry”
Broaden our historical narrative
Increase education on policy and politics
Learn how to politely debate around difficult conversations
Also educate elders and parents
Make presentations at schools, and provide resources to teachers
Teach children about tolerance, to be tolerant
Bring back civics as a required course
Be part of actions around specific issues. Many causes are interconnected.
Protect the environment, address climate change
Environmental degradation is an assault on human rights
Hold face-to-face conversations within & betweenspecific efforts
Talk with each other. “If we can’t talk to each other, nothing can get accomplished”
Stoke the fire with like-minded individuals. Host political meet-ups, Swedish “study circle.” Include young children. Bring dialogue back to America.
Help “move fear into political courage”
Get “offline” conversations going, create safe spaces for dissent
Engage in nuanced conversations
Have facilitated conversations with people on the other side of the aisle
Our fundamental values & institutions will decay if we can’t have discourse
Help coordinate many different efforts and a more cohesive movement
Develop overall coordination of many different efforts
Expand the choir, bring more people to activism, we need action on multiple fronts
“Politicize” liberals rather than convert Trump supporters
Figure out how to have a more cohesive movement
How do we make this movement “smarter”? and more disciplined
How do we engage as many people as possible & still maintain cohesion?
What are the big ideas that could be shared?
We haven’t developed a message. We need to be consistent. Focus & sharpen?
Learn basic strategies of movement building
Name the commonalities; tension among us is not pathological
Could this be a time of optimism?
How can a progressive umbrella be inclusive going forward?
We need goals & vision, we need more critical thinking and respectful deliberation
Keep attending events like this, keep hosting them, bring young people to them
Create a digest or resource for “what to do”
We should learn how the 30-year-long, right-wing, conservative movement got strong; it was a long-term, disciplined, multi-pronged strategy.
Expect this to be a 15-year fight
Engage in Transformational Activism”
Rebuild the public sector / civil society / sense of the common good.
KINDS OF ACTION regardless of the specific focus or sphere of action
Protest – In one form or another, this was mentioned a lot
Demonstrations, boycotts, rallies, songs
Piggy-back on existing forms of congregation (churches, schools, etc.)
Peacefully make it known that hate is not acceptable
Turn a march into a message
Show up, just show up, bring friends
Backup protestors in simple ways (I’ll bail you out, feed your cat)
Boycott companies that support Trump (list by Shawn King)
Movements, like Occupy, need to be more organized
Donate – Came up over and over as a response
“When in doubt, donate”
Donate to organizations and causes we believe in
Host events to raise money for groups that are helping people
Host a “booth fair” for these organizations.
Volunteer – Volunteering came up repeatedly as a way to respond
Find one cause/fight, and put yourself behind it. (said in various ways)
We each need to focus on our cause.
Organize – at neighborhood level, at national level, internationally
Such as, in neighborhoods meet neighbors, organize block watches, coordinate donations, politicize little libraries
Take personal action – Many items under specific causes are also personal actions
Question your previous assumptions
Protect your online identity
Put a family member on your bank account in case you’re arrested protesting
Look at our own “shadow self,” “what is my inner D Trump?”
Take little actions, something small and doable
Don’t slide back into complacency
Become activist again
Fuel yourself with positive, accurate information. Confrontation is not the answer.
Watch your conversations online; there’s no anonymity there
We can’t feel it’s so bad that we can give up.
Stay focused, fight personal sense of hopelessness.
On Tuesday, November 15, 2016, a week after the election, Penny U (short for Penny University) hosted a community conversation at Town Hall Seattle titled, “Post-election: What’s Next?” Congressman Jim McDermott joined Edward Wolcher and me, Penny U’s co-organizers, to set the stage for a conversation that followed. Our aim was to bring people together to discuss how we, the people in our country, can move forward from the deep divisions and extreme rancor of this election and the long campaign cycle that preceded it.
We announced that, in usual Penny U fashion, we would begin with introductory comments and then pose questions to prompt discussion in small groups. Our aim was to encourage everyone who came to participate, in the belief that if we are going to figure out a future we want, it’ll take all of us.
Conversations at small tables, we said, would revolve around these questions;
Was the election year a symptom of something fundamentally broken in U.S. politics, in our economy, in our basic social structures?
Now that the election is over, what should concerned, engaged citizens and residents do?
My invitation to friends and to an email list I usually save to announce new blog additions included the following reflections. Subsequent posts will report on what happened at Penny U.
Figuring it out
November 12, 2016
The ground shifted on election night and still seemed to be moving when I went out to walk on Wednesday morning. I saw others, alone and walking slowly, looking dazed. I imagined they were doing what I was – testing my balance, trying to understand what happened, and wanting to figure out what to do next.
By the afternoon, I noticed conversations had begun, among neighbors, in the coffee shop, in ones and twos and small groups of friends, with strangers on the sidewalk. In fact, in the past three days I’ve had more kind and open exchanges with strangers than I usually have in a month. And I’m not the only one. For Aviva, my much-loved stepdaughter, it’s the “random hugs” that stand out. For Divina who cuts my hair, it’s the warmer than usual greeting from the burley man behind the auto repair desk. I’m reminded of the “paradises built in hell,” the communities that arise in disaster, that Rebecca Solnit writes about.
While much more is part of the mix – anger, fear, anxiety, disorientation, the shock of realizing how much we don’t know or understand – the need to connect is powerful. Beyond meeting this basic need, conversations I’ve had have almost always been threaded through with a desire to figure out what to do next. What can I do? What can we do? Where do we go next?
Penny U asks, what’s next? what do you think?
Many news stories and opinions, insightful and angry perspectives, background stories, proposals and demands, accusations, and aspirations can help but also overwhelm us. (I’ve included a list of a few references and short quotes from a fairly random few that have come my way here). It can be hard to sort out what we ourselves think. Not all of us spend time on a stage, and most of us aren’t the first to jump to the mic at a post-talk Q&A. But I’m convinced we all have a lived wisdom that would be valuable if we share it. Acknowledging and engaging with our differences is valuable.
Penny U gives us each a chance to try out our ideas in small groups. We’ll ask someone at each small table to collect a few notes so some of the thoughts and ideas in these discussions can be gathered up and shared back to us later. I look forward to the task of pulling those ideas together.
Our efforts are reinforced by this thought from Henry Mintzberg, management writer and theorist:
Radical renewal will have to begin here, in communities on the ground, with groups of people who exhibit the inclination, independence, and resourcefulness to tackle difficult problems head on.
A spirit of making it up – of life and work as an experiment – has run through my life from the start.
When I was about six, I learned to twirl a baton at the same school where I had a few ballet lessons and learned to love tap dancing. From then on until sometime after I entered college, I always had a baton around. In my world, what twiddling-your-thumbs might have done for some meant twirling just about anything twirlable. . . a tennis racket, a stick from the side of the road, an especially big serving spoon, or even a new pencil. But my best “real” baton had a thin, shiny body and was carefully balanced with a large head on one end and a smaller cap with a weight inside on the other. I think it came from Sears. Remembering it even now, my fingers start moving automatically as if its shaft were rolling through them.
One moment stands out as a marker of the last phase of my twirling days. It came a few years into my college life and several giant steps into my hippie days of long hair, short skirts, and long, roped beads. That sunny afternoon, I learned that twirling, even with a good baton, was a complicated match with my lifestyle. That afternoon, I absent-mindedly picked up my baton to fill a few minutes. With one especially vigorous twist of the wrist to send the baton into the air, the head of the baton caught in my long strands of beads – bright blue and green – and it was as though they exploded. Bright beads flew everywhere. Despite the laughter of the moment, the baton seldom came out after that.
Between age six and college, though, my baton inspired an early instance of what I mean by “making it up.” Perhaps out of a need to find friends in a new high school, I gradually convinced a group of girls to twirl with me. I don’t remember if we actually took lessons or if they had also been in twirling classes when younger or if we simply drew on what I could remember. But I made sure that we had regular practices, that we made up and learned “routines,” found recorded music to march to, created outfits, and eventually convinced the school that it needed marching majorettes at football games. Even though our school had no band, the five of us marched in patterns to recorded music, twirling and tossing our batons into the air at halftime. It was one of the things I was remembered for at my 50th high school reunion.
The thesaurus contains many synonyms for “make up” that reinforce the way I’ve used the phrase to refer to what I do: imagine, invent, conceive, create, improvise, put together, put in order, dream up, whip up, wangle. The meaning shifts around – I also like fabulize, fictionalize, pretend, concoct, build castles in the air, wing it, play-act, play by ear, and just plain play. And it’s used when we take a school make-up test, put on make up, or kiss and make up. Other terms take darker turns – manipulate, fake it, trump it up, stretch the truth, falsify, fib, lie. These may be the risks that come with this aspect of my nature, of my makeup.
As an approach to life, making it up is still my way, even as I live into my eighth decade. I want to keep living an experiment, tossing possibility into the air without knowing quite where it will come down and whether I’ll catch it again this time.
An informal group of artists came together and asked itself this question on behalf of Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, who is running for Congress from Washington state’s 7th District. Brady is a neighbor, a committed progressive, and a long-time supporter of the arts. For these and many other reasons he’s had my endorsement since he began his campaign last fall. I’d be happy to tell you more about him, just ask. A fact sheet about his support for the arts is here.
When we asked ourselves what we can offer, the group first came up with many of the same things that others can give – volunteer time, money, advocacy among our friends – all valuable. But we also brainstormed ideas of our own. “Hack the yard sign” is the result.
Join us on First Thursday and get a sign!
Or pick up a sign at Brady’s headquarters
If you miss First Thursday, untouched yard signs are also available now and until Election Day at Brady’s Campaign Headquarters, 4038 Stone Way North. Get yours now!
Our group included Tommer Peterson, Matthew Offenbacher, Rebecca Cummins, Marcia Iwasaki, and me. We were cheered on by Gwen Demombynes, Carolyn Law, Andrew Russell, Barbara Earl Thomas, and Ellen Ziegler. The hacked signs you see here were created by Tommer, Rebecca, Matt, Ellen, and a team of Marcia and Stan. After you send a photo of yours to the Campaign, send me a copy, and I’ll create a gallery on my site of all the photos I receive. I’ll add a link to it from this page.
I can’t wait to see the yard signs showing up in the world!
As part of the Jini Dellaccio Project, I’m holding what for now we’re calling “office hours.” Tea time, coffee break, happy hour, chitchat, heart-to-heart, or even consultation – these conversations can take many forms. Artists and anyone else can use me as a sounding board, pick my brain, or try out new ideas. One-to-one or in small groups, we can talk about anything. I’ve reserved two afternoons a month for “office hours” at Artist Trust.
You can sign up by selecting a slot here. (Thanks to Artist Trust for setting up this scheduler.)
Like so many other people my age, I seem increasingly to be asked for advice, for stories about the “old days,” or simply for the chance to puzzle over a problem together. I think of these as two-way exchanges because I always learn something in the process. Let’s talk!
I’ll soon be setting up “open door office hours” at the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design. Information will be posted in “office hours” under the References menu on my website’s main page.
“Half a century” seems SO long ago, much longer than 50 years. “Five decades” feels closer to my experience; after all, I can count up to five on one hand. No matter how it’s put, though, that’s about how much time has passed since I received my undergraduate degree in Art History from the University of Washington. It was 1967.
In the intervening decades, I’ve been an invited guest in a few college classes here and elsewhere, edited writings by wonderful scholars, attended events on college campuses, and donated papers to Special Collections at the UW Libraries. But I haven’t spent any real time in an academic setting – not taking classes, teaching, or doing research.
Alum in Residence
All this is why it’s such a special opportunity to have been appointed Alum in Residence* at the University of Washington’s School of Art + Art History + Design for the coming school year. It’s exciting, if a little daunting, to walk through the front doors of the School, knowing that I have an office upstairs and that pretty soon the halls, empty now, will be filled with students and faculty and staff.
“So, what will you do?”
When I’ve mentioned my new role to friends, their first question is almost always, “So, what does that mean? What will you do?” And, as I usually say when venturing out on a new project, “Well, I’m not completely sure yet. I get to help make it up!” Which doesn’t mean, of course, that we have no idea what I’ll do or that we don’t have some plans. But my enthusiasm comes partly from knowing that we’ll be learning what the position can be as we go through the year. I’ve been given considerable flexibility in the way I use my time, partly because it’s an unfunded position. I’ve been encouraged not to feel pressure to take on everything that comes my way. As someone who often tries to do everything and all at once, this will take some self-discipline. I’m already learning that the School is a very busy place.
Although we know the program will morph and change over the year, here’s what’s planned as the year begins:
Archives. Over the years I’ve lived through a lot of history. Perhaps as a faint echo of my art history education, I’ve accumulated many documents and ephemera from that history – and/or, Artist Trust, Artech, Arts Wire, early artist fellowship programs nationwide, Grantmakers in the Arts, and more. Some of this is already in Special Collections at the UW Libraries, though much more is in my own storage. My position as Alum in Residence gives me the opportunity to offer internships to students who might want to work with me to examine this history, organize materials, and perhaps find homes for some of it. We will also view the materials through a contemporary lens, as a springboard for discourse and writing on topics of relevance today.
Open door office hours. I’ve been given a nice office – with a window even! – and I’ll establish specific times when I’ll be there with the door open, welcoming anyone who wants to talk about just about anything. You can use me as a sounding board, pick my brain about the past, try out a new idea . . . whatever. No scheduling needed. As I’ve said about my office hours with Artist Trust, I think of these as two-way exchanges. They could be called, “mutual mentoring”. I’ll learn a lot, and I hope it will be mutual. Specific times will be set as soon as I understand more about the flow of activity at the School once it gets underway in late September.
Conversations with purpose. I’ll host informal but focused discussions that build on my 15 years or so organizing conversations in different forms and in collaboration with others. I look forward to extending this practice to the School and to making connections between the School and the community.
One event is already on the books: on Monday, November 21, the UW’s entire undergraduate art history class of 1967 will host a conversation – all two of us. The other graduate in my class, David Mendoza, remains a friend today. We’ll talk together about those years (as far as we can remember them) and about what we’ve done since then with the preparation our art history degrees gave us. Our conversation will then spill over and involve anyone who joins us.
Class visits. As possible and at the invitation of faculty, I’ll participate in classroom sessions or other activities. (A past example from another school is briefly described here.)
“How did this come about?”
A second question friends ask is, “How did this happen? Did you apply? Did they seek you out?” As with many new things, the beginning point is a little fuzzy. Perhaps it’s like the headwaters of a river. Does a river start with this little stream or with that one? with the confluence where they come together or with a whole drainage basin? I suppose that’s why the word is usually plural, there’s almost never just a single source.
From my perspective, the Alum in Residence started with many of the same questions I ask in other contexts. Since someone my age today will live, on average, 30 years longer than someone did 100 years ago, what are we going to do with those extra years, so many of which are past the official age of “retirement”? If we aren’t completely undone struggling for money to cover our costs, how do we stay active, keep learning, and continue to be engaged, contributing members of the community?
Wanting a home where I could explore questions like these but not wanting to create a new organization, I looked around for compatible institutions that might house experiments to find and try out answers to these questions. Good conversations with several people in institutions both in and out of the arts yielded some declines but gave me good solid start. Artist Trust was one place where the idea stuck. I’m so glad to have the fiscal sponsorship of Artist Trust in a collaboration that is developing the Jini Dellaccio Project. (See more about this project here.)
While exploring possibilities with Artist Trust, I was also paying attention to new energy bubbling up at my alma mater. So, as part of the same search, I sent a query to Jamie Walker, director of the School of Art + Art History + Design, expressing my interest in the possibility of establishing some kind of “chair” or residency within a sympathetic organization that would allow me to pursue this experiment and share my decades of experience with others in a mutual exchange. “Since a position like this doesn’t seem to exist at this point,” I wrote, “I’m doing what comes naturally, making it up.”
As it turned out, my focus on the work and contributions of older people along with my history at the School resonated with Jamie’s interest in developing closer relationships with School alumni and, as he said, “taking possession of our own history.” The timing was right, it seems, for our respective ideas to meet, bounce around, adapt, expand, and come together. The process, he said, is “fortuitous and that’s different from luck.” As we talked about how we each get things done, he said he likes “to encourage things to happen that haven’t happened before,” and he often does this essentially from the side. Which, in my lexicon of such things, means exactly what we were doing: listening to each other, nudging, getting little obstacles out of the way, letting initial ideas soften and meld together. So, through our conversation, along with his doing all the necessary administrative work inside the University, we’ve come out the other side of these conversations with this Alum in Residence program.
I love watching and being part of a process like this – one idea bouncing against and intersecting with another, within a specific set of circumstances, adapting and shifting to find what’s shared, resulting in something that can look as though it were planned that way from the start.
One last quiet aspiration. In the past month, I’ve received many helpful introductions to the school and its people. In one of these, I heard someone fondly described as the “resident hipster.” If I try hard, perhaps by the end of the year I’ll have earned a similar status as the “resident geezer”…and in the process break down a few stereotypes of just who gets to be a geezer.
* About the word “alum,” to quote Merriam-Webster: “Many people are comfortable using the word alumni to refer to someone who was a student of a particular school. However, others feel quite strongly that this is an error and that the following Latin forms should be used: alumnus (for one male), alumni (for multiple males, or for a mix of males and females), alumna (for one female), and alumnae (for multiple females). The shortened form alum and its plural form alums began to be used in the 19th century. Initially, alum was widely viewed as highly colloquial or informal, but is increasing in use as a gender-neutral alternative.
One thing I’ve learned in my 10 months of blogging, or as I like to say “writing in public,” is just how much any site, even a fairly quiet one like mine, attracts spam comments. Ads for medical treatments, sexual aids, long nonsensical posts where I suspect someone is being paid by the word, and many offers of help – to generate more traffic, solve technical problems, or improve the content of my site. You don’t see these comments because an internal process lets me “cut them off at the pass,” so to speak.
Every now and then, they make me laugh. My favorite so far is a comment posted to the page where I give some background on myself, “About me.”
I’m pretty sure of my source, though she still surprises me.
But the “conclusion”?
Well…I try not to pretend it won’t ever come, but ultimately it remains one of those big mysteries.
In August 1991, the Headlands Center for the Arts1 gave me a room, a food stipend, and most importantly about a week and a half away from the constant demands of my office.
I arrived with the intention of mulling over questions of artists and economics that had been on my mind for several years. Many of my thoughts on the subject had been prompted by specific writers, and at the Headlands I took time to re-introduce myself to their work. I carried a pile of books with me and used a computer that was considered “portable” in its day. I lived and worked in one room of a big house full of other artists on their own journeys.
Every day I took at least one long walk, to Rodeo Lagoon and the ocean beach on the other side of the sand bar, or up and over the low windswept hills, past cliffs and coves, decommissioned officers’ quarters and sites of former military installations, to views of San Francisco across the bay. I especially loved the smell of the head-high wild fennel.
But except for the walks and time out to prepare my meals, I buried myself in the books, mostly resisting the temptation to join the other artists in community-oriented activities. Every day of reading and writing was precious.
The books I took with me examined economics from a range of perspectives. They included: Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1985) by Jane Jacobs, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (1983) by Lewis Hyde; Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life (1984) by Dolores Hayden; If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics (1988) by Marilyn Waring; an anthology edited by Paul Ekins, The Living Economy: A New Economics in the Making (1986); a short book, Behind the Veil of Economics: Essays in the Worldly Philosophy (1989) by Robert L. Heilbroner; and Economics in Perspective: A Critical History (1987) by John Kenneth Galbraith. Because I was intent on exploring ideas about artists and economics not just by writing but also by finding ways to take action in my own life, I also used a few experiences from my own life.
I recorded my engagement with these writers’ ideas in a paper, Artists and Economics: Notes from the Headlands, that contains short excerpts from their writing, paraphrases of their ideas, and some of my own thoughts, especially about artists and economics, that the writers provoked. The first book I considered was Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jane Jacobs. That section is posted on this site as “Jane Jacobs – Economics and messy inefficiencies.”
The paper remained open-ended and, for 10 days’ work, it felt finished enough. At the end of my time there, I made a few copies and presented them to a small group of artists and others at a gathering organized by the Center.
All in all, it was a very satisfying time away.
1 Headlands Center for the Arts offers residencies and other programs to artists in all disciplines to support independent and collaborative work. The Center took over the property in the early 1980s and since then has rehabilitated its historic buildings through artists’ commissions. Much has happened since I was there.
About the photos. In 1991 I didn’t carry a camera in my pocket as I do now (that is, my phone), so I have no images of the Headlands that I took myself. I’m grateful to the website of the Headlands Center for the Arts for the photos here. Even though taken several decades later, they bring back the spirit of the place I experienced.