Monday, June 24, 2013

Samag - Community Engagement: Philosophies and Practices

Community Engagement begins with an invitation, and Samag (Seminars for Arts Professionals) has invited members and guests to the Australian Council for the Arts to discuss how the arts is engaging community.  Technology officer Nisa Mackie manipulated Poor Lizzy Galloway's laptop, executing her role with grace and poise as each presenter took to the podium.  It was a packed crowd, like the last Samag event I attended, minus a few inevitable empty seats in the front row.  The front seats were empty, that is, except for a possibly homeless man that arrived, surprising us all at the end!

Fraser Corfield - started his community engagement career in youth arts programs in South Australia, where the population is the oldest per capita countrywide.  Work on an opera project in another language with his youth broadened their horizons and changed their scope of what is reasonable and possible.  Perhaps the most successful story of community engagement for Fraser is his mystery bus tour where kids covered themselves with fake wounds like Zombies and bonded with those in the neighbouring communities by scaring them half to death.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

Lisa Havilah - "Being relevant to a community is being reflective of the community."  Lisa engaged in long-term 5 year strategies, resourced with non-arts partners and public housing communities.  It takes sustained efforts to conduct a program that is not too comfortable, near Campbelltown.  Projects and artworks developed reflect cultural protocols of the communities, ranging from Indian to Tongan.  Carriageworks, where Lisa serves as Director, is committed to long term relationships with artists and the local aboriginal communites in which the space resides in Redfern, the Black Capital of Australia.  The film "I am Eora" is one of the products of this cultural community engagement.

Khaled Sabsabi - Grew up in Auburn, with a background in hip-hop music.  Transitioned into work with youth prisons and NGOs, later through visual arts.  Development vs Engagement:  An artist or practitioner should understand the distinction between the two.  Artists don't choose communities; communities choose artists.  The situation in the community attracts and invites these people into their situation.  An outcome then forms from this process.  Like a legendary hero standing for what his represents, Khaled cut his presentation short to allow more time for questions at the end.

John Kirkman - "Community engagement is about risk.  People live and die about how they engage with community (and engage with technology)" he said, as the projector struggled to keep up with his presentation.  Working with communities is a transaction, as John put it, basically following a standard PESTEL analysis with Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal impacts.  John got my attention when he started talking about aspects of cultural community engagement in the Disco era, including a myriad combinations of sex and drugs.  "War & Peace: Memorial to Disco, Rock and Parramatta" is an archival memento named after a Parramatta dance club that he references regarding an Australian past and history through personal stories and archives as opposed to expert historical analysis.  When John's father drove past a Lebanese area of Granville, he was quoted as saying with disinterest, "Oh look, that's where the Lesbians live." 

Shakthi Sivanathan - Served as MC in a very gentle treatment of the speakers, keeping time and curating good conversation in the following Q&A.  One resounding question Shakthi asks is what can we learn about the engagement of institutions with the community based on the perspective of the panel?  Lisa at Carriageworks states that the organisation's ideas should reflect the ideas of others.  She went on to state that community issues can be content within the construction of community engaged work.  Unabashedly your author broke the ice with the first question from the audience, giving the example of Brett Dizney-Cook and his Face-Up Project with Duke University Center of Documentary Studies in the City of Durham, North Carolina.  This community arts initiative could be managed with bold vigour as past community leaders' portraits as the subject made it easy to align local labour and executed.  

Before the formal closing of the event, the last question came from our friend in the front row making a statement that was so profound the panel responded with enthusiasm.  The man's name is Peter, and his question was regarding the proliferation of popular culture drowning out local community artists.  He asked "Is the impact of popular culture on community art a good thing or a bad thing?"  Fraser answered that it is a useful conduit through which youth can be engaged and mobilised.  As an Elance Mobilizer, I have community engagement resources to share, and am interested in how peer-to-peer marketing programs can interface with the arts community.  This is one example.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A letter to the editor of Anthill magazine

Dear Mr. James Tuckerman,

Thank you for your response to my emails regarding my perception of Anthill as being guilty of defaming the design community.  Perhaps as editor in chief you have not had a rewarding experience to make you value design services.

With all due humility I aim to conduct my own design business in a way that increases the amount of respect our profession deserves.  I'm one of many active members in AGDA and DIA after being an AIGA member in the US before coming to Australia for an MBA degree.

The travesty of design crowdsourcing, like that which you mentioned in your article about facebook's use of such a deplorable service, is that it devalues the quality of the work and threatens the continuity from job to job as someone doing work for free is neither sustainable, nor legal.

The clearest message design crowdsourcing sends is a woeful misunderstanding of the value of design as a profession.  I would show an equal level of ignorance if I created an infographic showing how publications like Anthill would be better managed by crowdsourcing their editorial services.

If you think a graphic like this would be a useful addition to the Anthill publication, I am happy to offer my design services at the lawful award rate through Fair Work Australia, if not the rates my IP Lawyers Finn Roache drafted for $1K after a few hours of their professional service.

Jonathan Blackwell, MBA
Lineaist Design

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cloud Computing and Co-working, Hand in Hand

As an independent design professional at the moment, I enjoy a lot of personal freedom.  With that personal freedom comes personal responsibility, and sometimes I struggle with that.  Luckily for creative workers like me, there are tools out there we can use to impose structure on our otherwise fractured and whimsical minds.  In my case, that tool is Elance.

Every since I was fortuitously granted a contract to work with Silicon Valley Startup Trymph, Inc on their word games Spell Me Right and Unscramble This, my work day has always begun with a little plug-in on my computer, Tracker, opening and inviting me to choose which job I will bill my time towards that day.  This program, like the little floating bit in TRON, hovers over my work, taking stock of my performance with regular screenshots.  This keeps me on task, and I know that the work I've done is the work I'm billing, and, more importantly, my client knows this too.

The only problem with working online and all that personal freedom, aside from the inevitable slump between jobs when one job is finished, before another is found, is the loneliness.  I sit in my room and enjoy loud music to overpower the construction going on outside my window, but the construction workers aren't the best company for my profession.  In the global flattening of the world Thomas Friedman describes, I can see a global realm of opportunities, and only perhaps at lower hourly rates to compete with my third world brothers and sisters in the healthy sibling rivalry that evolves in the age of cloud computing.

We come to believe in this realm of virtual servers, virtual desktops, and virtual workrooms, that we can live in a virtual wonderland of opportunity, given the realistic drop in value as the relative lower value of third world workers comes to be recognised as the equal service it may be in some cases.  While everything is going "to the cloud" with remote hosting, even the people are being co-located in the computational heavens, as Elance touts their online work management system of Startups and Freelancers as "The Human Cloud".  Someday we may all be living in the clouds together, but unfortunately I can't ascertain that at the moment.

In the meantime, we are still human, and no human is truly in the cloud(s).  We are in front of our computers (or hopefully away from the computers being inspired to return to the computers and share), and for long periods of time this experience can be quite isolating.  While the work we type, swipe and click away may take us further into our individual professional development, the worker in question must prairie-dog their head above the relative cubicle walls to analyse their surroundings.  Who in this office community will help shepherd your individual work in the right direction?

Because I have no cubicle walls to prairie-dog, and working alone, for me anyway, has it's limitations, I must engage in the community of similar workers with similar feelings and similar longings and needs.  This movement out of my home and into co-located desk space is commonly called the Co-working movement, and I embrace it wholeheartedly.  Going back to what I was saying about Elance as an online work management solution, co-working spaces like HUB Sydney are the other side of that fortuitous coin.

On one hand we have the global supply and demand of work through online platforms.  On the other hand with have inherent human needs for community and companionship.  People must come together to realise their full potential.  Anyone who has played in a team sport, sung in a choir, acted in a play, or served on a board of directors will tell you that.  We already know it.  It takes events like Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo, repealing the work at home policy to get her workforce back together work as a team and pull the company in a new direction.

The exciting part of the coworking movement is that we don't know where that direction is going until we find that local office like WeCo and see what opportunities lie ahead that could not have been realised otherwise, "because working from home sucks".  The more I write this, the more I realise how important it is that we leave our homes as independent workers and join forces as co-workers in arms.  We can't even begin to realise the problems we will solve until we start sharing together and forming the common ground for their solutions.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Australian Art in the Asian Century

Over the weekend I attended an artist conversation with Vernon Ah Kee, an Indiginous Australian artist of Malaysian background at Art Atrium, hosted by gallery director Simon Chan and moderated by Imogen Yang, one of the curators along with Djon Mundine OAM. The topic of this conversation was an emboldened perspective on the aspect of Indigenous Australian art from artists with an Asian ethnic background.

Today the Australia Council for the Arts hosts *samag - Seminars for Arts Professionals, with a compelling panel featuring Aaron Seeto, the Director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Dr Thomas Berghuis, a lecturer in Asian Art at the Department of Art History & Film Studies at the University of Sydney, Paschal Daantos Berry, an independent Filipino/Australian writer and dramaturg whose practice is focused on interdisciplinary, cross cultural and collaborative processes, Lorraine Chung, Translator/Project Assistant at Gallery 4A, and Su-wen Leong, a COFA artist and arts administrator assisting the Curatorial Department at Object Australian Centre for Design.

The resounding themes of the two talks are the struggles of artists in Australia from other ethnic backgrounds, whether it be the exclusion of an aboriginal heritage or the hurdles of finding immigration opportunities to stay after graduating with an academic degree or upon expiration of a working holiday visa.

The focus of much of the conversation centered around the Australian white paper, "Australia in the Asian Century", available on the Australian Government Asian Century website. The panel at one point cautioned the audience when looking at Asia as a "resource", which is often how the white paper defines the Australian/Asian relationship and the opportunities that lie ahead.

The most controversial statement made by the panel may have been from Thomas Berghuis when he said "The 20th Century was the Asian Century", not the 21st Century as the white paper claims. In the questions and answers following the panel Thomas defended his statement "The 20th Century was the Asian Century" and evoked a great chorus of clarifying statements from the panel.

Thomas mentioned research at Harvard like that of Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School on the Indian and Chinese economic powers. Thomas stressed an emphasis on the 500 million people taken out of poverty in Asia in the 20th Century.

Aaron Seto adds that most of the work to create the Asian Century was done in the 20th Century. The mid to late 19th Century saw a great flood of immigrants out of Asia, and the 1901 immigration act restricting that immigration. The fall of Saigon and decolonisation of South East Asia and other cultural and historical changes laid the foundation for what the white paper so aptly defines.

Paschal confirmed "Australians are the new Americans", as spoken by his Filipino audience on his travels to the Philippines. He explained this means that the wealth and influence in the region, whilst of American origins in the 20th Century, comes more noticeably from Australian business and governmental influence in the new millenium.

Lorraine added that she chose to study in Australia and not the United States where she grew up because of her belief that Australia is the up and coming, a Western power to rise from the Asian conflicts of the 20th Century. Starting from its inexplicably low status in the global stage during the 20th Centuray, Australian influence in the 21st has plenty of room to grow and be noticed in its influence as a prosperous European chaperone.

Later from Pedro de Almeida, Program Manager at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, the question was posed "What must Australia do with its focus on Asian art to bring the cultural rise into an approchable format?" The panel answered with their own examples of past curatorial choices that set this example, and ideas of what can be done in the future, naming specific artists and these artists' own take on the communication of the pressing issues around the Asian cultural influence that is on the hearts and minds of the international audience, attracted to this event hosted by *samag at the Australian Council for the Arts.

On a personal note relating to the confusion of Asian cultural identity, I can't help but think of my friend and classmate from Duke University, Pete Ortiz, when in a discussion about finding a partner of your similar ethnic background he said, "I don't meet many Japorican women." His mother is Japanese and his father is Puerto Rican, and he grew up in the military outpost of Fayetteville, North Carolina, working in his mother's noodle shop.  God bless you, Pete ;)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shining Night with Morten Lauridsen

I just watched "Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen" by Michael Stillwater and was reminded of the incredible experience I had with Sacred Passage at Flinders Island, reflected in the blog entry I posted on Friday November 12, 2010.

Morten's biography is impressive, earning the National Medal for the Arts in 2007 with his music being played worldwide, invoking emotions that leave audiences speechless. For an introduction and explanation in his own voice, see the Wall Street Journal article he penned in February 21, 2009:

"O Magnum Mysterium" is one of the focal points of his musical oeuvre and referenced at the beginning and end of Stillwater's film. The only two sentences of the latin verse touch on the wonder of the birth of Christ and have been set to music for centuries. I cannot boast that I have composed music to express the wonder of this and all creation, but my experience on Flinders Island brought me closer to how Morten addresses the subject.

While Morten composes on secluded Waldron Island in the San Juan Archipelago in Northwest Washington State, I captured some of my surroundings on Flinders Island off the northern coast of Tasmania. I was fascinated at the opportunity of connecting this profound relationship with nature and the daily tasks of my experience in business management, set in motion by the same values that provided a cultural fit at Ensemble Partners.

With respect to Morten Lauridsen and a challenge to reiterate that experience, I've reposted the entire entry from 2010 here in hopes to keeping the experience and insights fresh in my life, if not the lives of any readers present.

With a profound respect for our interconnections to the Divine Creation of which we are all a part, JB.

I. Describing the Indescribable
II. The Life of John P. Milton, Creator of Sacred Passage and The Way of Nature
III. A Valiant Beginning to a Lifetime of Teaching
IV. Who Am I?
V. Your Call to Action, Leader of the Future World

I. Describing the Indescribable

What would happen if you camped on a solo site for five nights, nourishing your body on a liquid diet while undertaking a strict regimen of guided meditation and Qi Gong to forge a deeper connection to nature and all the interconnected forms of life?

Dig into your most profound memory of being human and bear with me.

It’s hard to condense 100 hours of profound experience in one blog entry. After attending Sacred Passage with John P. Milton on the recommendation of the Founder of Ensemble Partners, our CEO and five others including myself are left somewhere between navigating life as usual and dissolving completely into the ultimate sustainability of becoming one with nature.

If one man has become one with nature, a thousand years says Milton comes close.

No matter how many pictures I could take or videos I could record, nothing would begin to clearly articulate the whole picture. Because of Who I Am (explain of Caps later), I will share some drawings made during the experience to send you on your travels for the remaining four sub-headings.

II. The Life of John P. Milton, Creator of Sacred Passage and The Way of Nature

What’s the most engrossing film you’ve ever seen?

Remember it... Think about it... Relive that feeling of being completely engrossed...

Somewhere between Star Wars, Seven Years in Tibet, and Batman Begins lies the life of John P. Milton. The summary of John’s life goes from studying Zen Meditation in the 1950’s to becoming the first Ecologist at the White House under Nixon; from studying with Taoist Masters on Wudang Mountain in China to spending years with Buddhist Masters in the remote hilltops of Tibet.

There’s no way to summarise when just two in the list include following the Taoist lineage of Chang San Feng from the 13th Century and studying Vepassana meditation with the now deceased S.N. Goenka in Nepal, whose recorded voice remains the sole guide for all Vepassana meditations worldwide.

It’s better that I let John speak for himself, down to the details.

The following excerpt is taken from an interview with John P. Milton by Carla Brennan:

“Since the late 1950's, I have been honoured to work with fine teachers in Taoism and T'ai Chi, Buddhism, Dzogchen, Vedanta and both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra:

In 1958 I had my first teacher of meditative Qi Gong for spiritual cultivation; that opened an ever-deepening form of Taoist practice which I have continued with ever since. Then, in the late 1960's I was first exposed to T'ai Chi Ch'uan and immediately fell in love with that system of spiritual and energetic cultivation. From 1973 through 1980 I studied Cheng's Yang family style T'ai Chi - predominantly with Robert Smith and Ben Pang Jeng Lo - but also with Maggie Newman, Tam Gibbs and others. I also studied Qi Gong and Taoist yoga with Sifu Fong Ha, Mantak Chia and other Taoist teachers.

I have taught these systems since 1979.

In 1958, I also began practicing Zen meditation with Ed Maupin as his teacher. For many years, I practiced classical soto style zazen meditation between four and eight hours a day and Zazen continues until today as a core practice for me. Later on in the 1960's, I also became a serious student of the teachings of Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism and both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. In the 1970's, I was deeply influenced by the blessings of shaktipat and Siddha Yoga with Swami Muktananda. As a result of all this spiritual cultivation, my first major experience of the arising of Kundalini Shakti and the opening of central channel came in the mid 1970's.

Also starting in the late 1960's and through the 1970's until now, I have been fortunate and very blessed to have many fine teachers from several Tibetan lineages, particularly Sogyal Rinpoche, His Holiness Dilgo Khentze Rinpoche, H.H. the Karmapa, H.H. the Dalai Lama, Lama Tharchin, Lopon Tenzin Namdak, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and many other wonderful Lamas. In particular, the blessings of opening and deepening Dzogchen contemplation have been at the heart of my personal cultivation.

From the late 1960's on until now, I have been very active in helping protect Himalayan forests and in setting up wildlife reserves and national parks in Nepal and Bhutan. I often hired large numbers of Tibetan refugees to help me in survey and parks work in the Himalaya Mountains along the Tibetan frontier. All this has given me some extraordinary opportunities to study and practice with Himalayan masters on their home ground and often in a very traditional way, with few or no other westerners around.

I was also fortunate to study Vipassana meditation with S.N. Goenka and his wife in Nepal. Another major teacher for me has been the great tantrika, and devotee of the Divine Feminine, Vasudev of India and Nepal. Over a number of years I was blessed with being able to study with him in mountain caves, at Nepal's great temple to Shiva as the God of All Nature, Pashupatinath, and in the cremation grounds of Nepal and Varanasi (Benares). His teachings, transmissions and direct initiation into the Sacred View have been an incredible blessing to my life and my ability to serve my students.”

III. A Valiant Beginning to a Lifetime of Teaching

Have you ever used a metaphor from nature to describe your life experience? In any deeply rooted conversation about what just feels right, there is an example of it in nature. From animals who mate for life to the industriousness of an ant colony, nature offers something for everyone to understand the world we have shared for thousands of years.

By Day 3 I began to feel accepted by Gaia on her own terms. On Day 4 I had a profound shift as I climbed to the top of Mt. Strzelecki. The three hour hike to the summit involved the buzzing of flies that would often drive a human into a fit. By the time I performed the 11 Direction Ceremony looking out over the Bass Strait, I came to feel at one between Sky and Earth and joined the flies buzzing around me as electrons in the the atomic connection shared between everything in the universe. The flies were my buddies, along for the energetic ride we all call life.

The profound responsibility that comes with the thoughts I’m having is not lost on me. Looking out over all of Flinders and the surrounding Tasmanian Islands realise what it will take to protect this island development from a population of 700 into the future of what’s to come. I believe this can be a place of Zero Impact similar to the plans for Masdar in Abu Dabi. It’s in alignment with the preservation of Tasmanian wilderness and what’s reasonable and possible in the current paradigm shift in global consciousness.

IV. Who Am I?

(Not to be confused with “Who Am I Now?”, a puberty video my brother will recall...)

I want to share one thing that happens when an updated contract is signed with Mother Nature, being accepted by Gaia on her terms. The name I sign with exudes a deeper understanding of Who I Am. As one of many teachings in Milton’s Sky Above, Earth Below, the “Who Am I” exercise borrowed from the Hindu Master Ramana Maharshi reminds us that we are not any of the trappings that normally form our identity. This profound realisation stops us then to ask, “Who Am I?”, and come up with a meaningful answer that transcends space and time.

The best I can come up with is that I Am The Happy Wandering Artist. I’m on the verge of adding Heterosexual, but nature takes care of that for me. Just as nature takes care of Homosexuals, I might add. It’s no surprise that Penguins can change their sexual orientation from breeders to non-breeders when their population balloons out of control. Almost 7 Billion humans are forever in gratitude to you Non-Breeders out there. But I digress.

Perhaps in a past life, (you know me, Egon Schiele) and in the current life, I am a filter for the human experience constantly on the move. This return to the deepest understanding of myself I’ve had in a decade reminds me of not only Who I Am, but also the weaknesses that come with it. As John so lovingly pointed out when I received his council on my return to buildings and humans:

It is the constant addiction to my own entertainment that drives me. This is a life out of balance when I realise after three days of being confined to peaceful meditation that I can’t sit still for that long and break out to climb a mountain. Nature requires an inner peace in all of us. The need for constant stimulation must be balanced with the personal mastery of meditating for hours and connecting to Deep Source.

I have a lot of work to do on that. I’ll let you know how I go.

V. Your Call to Action, Leader of the Future World

I first saw Milton speak at a Wake Up! Sydney event hosted by the resourceful Jono Fisher in 2009. Little did I know at the time that my future employer Ensemble Partners had brought John to Australia to form The Way of Nature Australia, an Oceanic subsidiary of his institute in Boulder, Colorado, which led in turn to Sacred Passage on Flinders Island.

The take-away from his 2009 speech before a sold-out audience was the vision of what would happen if all the world’s leaders, CEOs, and top thinkers decided to spend at least three days immersed in nature, focused in deep meditation guided by the past thousand years of enlightened human experience.

It was a profound vision of the future then, and it remains profound now.

I urge you, Leader of the Future World, to go out into nature for as long as you can until you begin to feel that Gaia accepts you on her terms. When the world understands you with a Universal common denominator, you will start to understand yourself in ways I am only beginning to see in me.

When you get back, give me a call. Learning from each other, it will start to make sense.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inauguration of Barack Obama

I was just watching coverage of the Inauguration of 44th US President Barack Obama from where I stand in Sydney, Australia.

Truly a global event, a dark-skinned gentleman standing next to me was slowly clapping in celebration of the incumbent.

In 2012 I was introduced to Democrats Abroad in Sydney, working alongside Dae Levine in an acting Social Media role, ultimately delivering the news of Obama's re-election in November.

I continue to enjoy being a part of the US Democratic system and US Democratic Party from this land of opportunity Down Under in the Asia-Pacific.

God bless Barack Obama, and God bless the United States of America as we navigate the international waters of friendships and allegiances towards a solution-oriented Design Thinking approach to Global Possibility.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lineaist Design Branding Process

In a recent job of rebranding for Turning Green, a sustainability recruitment consultancy, the Lineaist Design brand development process has taken some patented steps into a stylistic competitive advantage.

As most successful brand designers will agree, brand management is about trust. To develop the level of trust necessary between a designer and business owner takes time and some shared exercises.

In this case we went through a series of rehearsals with a scripted engagement, video-taped with a whiteboard presentation as a part of the conversation. What emerged was a very simple logo and brand message.

Lisa Tarry, Managing Director of Turning Green, says, "Thank you Jonathan Blackwell! It was fantastic working with you and I love the new branding!"

Visit Lineaist Design on facebook to watch for more Lineaist client updates.