An article based upon my master’s research is included in the January 2012 publication of Culture Work. You can view it here.

Culture Work is an electronic publication of the University of Oregon Center for Community Arts and Cultural Policy. Its mission is to provide timely workplace-oriented information on culture, the arts, education, and community.

This month’s publication also includes an article from my colleague Daniel Linver about Crowdsourcing.

Thanks to Julie and Robert Voelker-Morris for their hard work curating the publication.

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At the outset I should make a confession: my gut feeling is that pop and the museum just don’t go together. Actually, I’m not sure music of any kind really works in a museum, a place of hush and decorum. Museums are primarily visual, oriented around display, designed for the contemplative gaze. The crucial element of sound has either to be absent or suppressed. Unlike paintings or sculptures, you can’t have sonic exhibits side by side; they interfere with each other. So music museums contain the ancillary stuff (instruments and stage costumes, posters and packaging) but not the main thing itself. Ephemera, not what’s essential.

– Simon Reynolds, Retromania, p.3

This is the beginning of a chapter in the book that I’m currently reading. Throughout the rest of the chapter, Reynolds dissects several music museums and specific exhibits therein,  the British Music Experience, the Rock’n’Roll Public Library, the Rock and Roll hall of Fame and Museum Annex in New York, and the Experience Music Project in Seattle among them. The chapter itself leads from these descriptions into an analysis on what Reynolds describes as “archive fever,” which is centered on whether Rock and Roll and/or Punk music is old enough to really be archived. Reynolds seems to question whether the “artifacts” that are on display belong instead in personal collections at this juncture in time, especially when these artifacts can be viewed as somewhat idolatrous, including the clothes that John Lennon was shot in, or Kurt Cobain’s one sweater. The writer seems to struggle with the idea that clothes that were worn just twenty or fifty years ago are now behind a glass panel as part of an exhibit of the past, and whether this is appropriate, necessary, or educational in any way.

It is Reynolds’ strong statement that begins this chapter that is off-putting for me and frames the chapter in a way that suggests that it is maybe not the non-necessity of including these stories of music in history, but the inadequacy of the museum template to facilitate that educational and preservation process that makes it questionable.

I agree that the typical museum experience doesn’t facilitate an educational music experience- but let’s think for a minute – how often does the typical museum experience facilitate the topic at hand? Staring at a row of paintings, as Reynolds refers to, is possible because, I suppose, the actual act of looking at a painting is silent. But what are you going to learn about a painting from staring at it? Especially if- as many audience members to a music museum would be- you have limited knowledge of art in general, relating mostly to what you experience on a daily basis? Special exhibits can often accomplish this goal a bit more easily- I visited the small but well designed and curated Art Deco exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum last month. Without anyone guiding me through the exhibit, without a printed pamphlet in hand, I was able to follow the narrative and ethos of the exhibit. But as a whole, museums, even topical ones such as “contemporary art” or “craft,” can be difficult to navigate without some sort of ancillary information, and much more is gained from the experience with a guide, whether it be a live one or an audio tour.

The museums that Reynolds describes- particularly the British Music Experience and the Experience Music Project (the latter of which I have visited), mostly stray away from the traditional museum template. Each has interactive and media supported exhibits that rely on the artifacts such as guitars and photos as more of an environmental place-setting instead of the experience itself. In all honestly, I don’t find that the museum experiences that Reynolds describes support his theory that music has no place in the museum. This is evident at the Experience Music Project- in my favorite room there, which features audio and video (and both) from musicians of many time periods and places telling the story of their musical heyday. The British Music Experience seems to have a similarly interactive option where visitors can use a digital device to scroll through different topics in a time period and hear and/or see about them.

So if these museums that he writes about are actually curating interactive exhibitions that extend the box of the museum experience, is it just Reynolds’ perception of museums that holds him back from thinking that they are an appropriate place for music history education?

After a long hiatus from the arts conference/festival circuit, I am attending OFFF Cincinnati this Thursday and Friday.

According to its website:

OFFF CINCINNATI WILL TAKE PLACE OCTOBER 27-28 AT THE CONTEMPORARY ARTS CENTER. FOR ONE AND A HALF DAYS, THOUGHT-LEADERS, ENTHUSIASTS AND ADVOCATES FROM ACROSS DISCIPLINES WILL PARTICIPATE IN A CREATIVE FESTIVAL LIKE NO OTHER. OFFF CINCINNATI GIVES YOU THE CHANCE TO PLAY WITH SOME OF THE MOST NOTABLE CREATIVES MAKING HEADLINES AROUND THE WORLD TODAY. THIS IS YOUR INVITATION TO SEE WHAT THE FUTURE LOOKS LIKE.

That last sentence obviously sold me on the whole thing. In addition, OFFF is being held at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center, which the downtown stop for all things in Contemporary art in Cincinnati, and often shares exhibits with the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, which I loved when I lived out there.

One of my favorite things is that leading up to the festival for the past couple of weeks, there has been an integrated mobile app that has “tasks” to perform that will result in crowd-sourced art on display in the space. From things like taking a picture of your shoes, to a pictures of “something you want to change,” this app has already proven that the event is worth my first “professional” ticket to an event.

If you want to follow along with the festival, you can hashtag it:  #offfcincy

While much of what McLuhan forecast has apparently come to pass, understanding him has not become any easier. The author Douglas Coupland (“Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture”) recently read all of McLuhan’s books after he was commissioned to write a short biography of him. But Mr. Coupland found the material so difficult that every two to three pages, he had to take a break from reading.

I love this quote from this article about the centennial of Marshall McLuhan’s birth.

This post is the musings of two different streams of thought, both about the New York Times.

Two weeks ago, I went with my mother, the journalist of 20 years, to see Page One, a compelling plea of a movie to not only prove the validity of newsprint as a medium, but to ensure the NYT as a media entity in the history of media. It succeeds.

Today, while drinking my coffee and doing my overnight-Tweets catchup, I saw a (re)tweet from @brianstelter that said “RT: @brooke: Pick up a copy of the New York Times today. Look at cover photo. And then ponder how it is that we can’t do SOMETHING. #Somalia“. I was intrigued, but didn’t go to the NYT web site just yet, because I had a few more tweets left in my feed.  It was a couple of hours later that I saw a story on the media page of HuffPost that was a reaction purely about the image above the fold of page one that I remembered the tweet.

The movie, as I said, instills a conviction in even the most social-media savvy to pick up a piece of print. And yes, printer ink probably runs in my blood. And I am forever a student of all media, never exclusively the digital kind. But it’s a very convincing film. So. Two weeks ago I took in a narrative about the brave and controversial point of view of the New York Times. How they spend the long journalist hours uncovering “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” (I know, the phrase is a cliche. But they print it on the front of their paper every single day). And I walked away with a respect for the brave journalism that takes place every day in the newsroom, that takes place despite the page two question that always lingers: how long before the dinosaur of the New York Times ceases to evolve?

So. Then today, the NYT runs a picture of a starving child as the very first image below that beloved catchphrase. And while Stelter’s tweet wanted me to be immediately mobilized to “do something,” I was immediately immobilized with a question that is often discussed in non-profit circles: is it ethical to use an image of a child in need to sell something? Isn’t it…exploitation?

But it’s true. The photographer, Tyler Hicks, took that picture in Somalia. That child is in Somalia, starving, maybe even, already a past-tense starved. And from the HuffPost article, it almost seems that the NYT ran that story as kind of an alternative news to the impending-yet-paused debt crisis (of course, the debt crisis article is, actually, running alongside the image). But the “arresting” photo, as the article says, is, in fact, the only large image that would be visible if the paper was in a vending rack. So it is the only image selling the paper today.

The fact that the child is helpless, is what the newspaper is hoping will engage a reader, possibly to action. The fact that the child is helpless, almost makes it seem inhumane to take a picture of it.

My main question is, couldn’t a picture of a starving and curled up adult be just as arresting and representative of the dire situation in Somalia? Couldn’t that sell the front page?

Interesting to note is that online, that photo is not the one “selling the click,” it is instead a photo of a child (partially covered by a sheet) laying on a cot with an adult leaning over them.

A post is coming regarding this project/video:

But I’m so stoked on it right now that I cannot even form coherent thoughts about it… I just have a jumble of word notes. So hold tight, and enjoy the twelve-plus minutes of community content.