Archive for juli, 2009

Bringing home ideas

In 1871 a big fire destroyed most of Chicago City. Three hundred people died, 100.000 became homeless (total inhabitants at the time was 300.000) and the material damage was devastating. Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland at the time, felt, say the story, such compassion with the inhabitants of Chicago that she quickly decided to send a large box of books with the thought that all their literature must have gotten burnt up. What she didn’t know was that Chicago didn’t have a public library and hadn’t had one. With all these books arriving from across the ocean, something had to be done and the city quickly decided to build the first one.

The Swedish right-wing politician Valfrid Palmgren was a lady in forefront. She had a remarkable career and was, one of many things she achieved, 1905 the first female Amanuensis at the Royal Library in Stockholm. In 1907 she went on a long trip to USA to investigate the idea of public libraries for all. In USA libraries was seen as a civic right, placed in the center of cultural and educational politics. She was quite cultural conservative, it’s said, at the same time as she fought philanthropic values and saw it as her task to bring the idea of public libraries to Sweden. Literature should be accessible to everyone, and is a right beyond questions of class, was her idea and she hoped libraries could act to mitigate class differences. Libraries should not be led by politics, market or religious ideas. The librarians should therefore be people with education and expertise. Back in Sweden after her trip over the Atlantic, she within four years founded the first children and youth library in Sweden in 1911.

In Chicago, the city in 1991 built a ten floor high new public library on South State Street, this is, I am told, the world’s largest. True or not (there are many things we are told during the visit in Chicago are the biggest, widest, largest). Nevertheless, it’s an incredible building; the architecture is post-modern with reminders of old pompous eras, the collection of literature impressive with books, journals, magazines, audio for every taste.

Read the article written by Swedish cultural journalist Ingrid Elam in Dagens Nyheter of Valfrid Palmgren (in Swedish), published in June 2007 as a reflection concerning the then newly formed the Committee of Inquiry of Cultural Policy, with the task of revising Swedish cultural policy. You can also download it here: allmanna-bibliotek-en-borgerlig-ide-dn. Read posts on the Swedish Cultural Policy here, here and here. And libraries and entrepreneurship here.

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27 juli, 2009

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More traces of Chicago

Little Black Pearl, situated in Bronzeville south of Chicago, is a nonprofit organisation with ambition to create opportunities for young adults through Artistic and cultural work. In the Centre they can work in one of the many studios with wood, glass, painting, ceramics, run workshops or put up shows. Gwendolyn Pruitt, Director of Product Design, shows us around and tells us the story of this community based organisation with enthusiasm and passion. It’s both about what they achieve with the students, she shows an example of tables they did with beautiful mosiac cover on top, which they sell to customers. It can be anything. Their mission is to deepen the creative involvement through Arts, and learn how to run things. It’s also about the struggle of getting the budget to sum up in the end and the constant search for funding bodies, she tells us with a sigh. ”I found that I don’t have the time to teach them that personal component”, she tells us with referral to the young students. She finds it’s a great need to also teach teachers ”It’s a gap between the structure and the student”.

In 1974 a group of classmates at high school got together to set up a theatre play by Paul Zindel. Since they only had one semester left, it was not until they came to Illionis State University that the idea formed and they looked for a place to set it up. Their first production was played in a Church in Chicago, and since they at the time was reading the book ”Steppenwolf” by Herman Hesse, they named the theatre the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Today the theatre is a prestigous one on Halsted Street, with the ambition of advancing the vitality and diversity of American Theatre .

We see the play ”Up” by Bridget Carpenter of the man who once reached the sky, the clouds, in a chair with balloons, and could not let go of the idea of doing it again. In another machine he would build. His vision held him alive, this was his passion, while everyday life and the reality of having to pay bills at the end of the month was taken care of by his wife. Until the situation changed and the pressure of supporting the family came closer.  After the play there was an interesting discussion with the audience, reflections  showing how differently we interpreted the play. The discussions at the conference of Artists and entrepreneurship become very real in this beautiful and sad play of having dreams and struggling with reality.

The Art Institute in Chicago is impressive in many ways, but mainly and mostly of two things. The collection of Art they have is impressive, to say the least. In this institute you can see everything from American contemporary Art to the Impressionists, African to Asian Art, photography and industrial design. You can stay days in there. Secondly it’s free for the public after five pm Thursdays and Fridays. The Institute and its collections are open and accessible for the public, something that seems in line with the attitude of giving Art and culture a central role in Chicago.

The study to  Chicago is part of the conference ”Creative Entrepreneurship and Education in Cultural Life”, held in Chicago on July 16–18 2009, organized by Columbia College Chicago and Encatc.

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19 juli, 2009

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Chicago Conference traces

After the opening speeches of the conference ”Creative Entrepreneurship and Education in Cultural Life”, the poet Marc Kelly Smith took the floor. He is best known for founding Poetry Slam in 1987, a new presentation and reading style of poetry now spread around the world. Is he an entrepreneur, he asks himself and the audience, before he changes into one of the characters in ”Wilderness”,  a poem written by American (and on-and-off Chicago-based) writer and poet Carl Sandburg. He performed ”Chicago”, another poem by Sandburg, and also a piece by the English poet D.H Lawrence.

Three intense conference-days going from theoretical discussions and reflections to practical examples from USA and Europe in workshops and seminar sessions, as well as study visits were included in the conference, arranged by Columbia College Chicago and Encatc in Chicago on July 16–18. The main topic – if and how artistic education should include entrepreneurial skills – were tossed and turned over the days. The participants, professional educators and artists from many different countries, shared their experiences and expertise. Many examples were put forward, where management skills, career planning, project planning was part of the curricula, a trend that goes well into today’s discussion of entrepreneurship. The question of cultural economy was pursued; both the perspective of the impact of culture and art to the economy in society as a whole, something put forward by many studies; and the economy for Artists and how these professionals could build a sustainable economy on their profession.

Conference programme can be downloaded here: program_pdf.

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19 juli, 2009

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Art & Business Council Chicago

There are 1100 non-profit art organizations in Chicago, one third of these are theatre groups – Chicago is a theatre town. These organizations bring economic activity of 1.1 billion dollars, ticket costs excluded. People park to go to a show, eat and drink, and perhaps spend the night at one of the hotels. Only one of twenty-five of these non-profit groups has a budget over a million dollars a year. It’s the large organizations that stand for most of the revenue and money. But the small groups are still recognized as important, not only in economic returns to the city, but also for democracy and society. It is these groups that Arts&Business Council of Chicago are mainly working with.

The small organizations struggle. They have small budgets, do most things themselves, and are many times volunteer based. At the same time they have an ”entrepreneurial savvy”, they are described as creative, very skilled and practice-based. The idea of the program is, we are told by Executive Director Peter Kuntz, to give these people some business skills to be able to better run their organizations. Art&Business Council set up a programme where they train volunteer business people, ”use corporate brain-power to help Art organizations”, to take a role in the board of a small art organisation, and help out with change. They are ”change-agents”, but the changes suggested must take into account the actual situation for the organization: they have small budgets, few people wear many ”hats”, changes might take time.

One of the misunderstandings that might arise in the meeting between business people and the Art, Andrew Michel says, is the double-ended misconception of the other. To succeed, the Council needs to prepare both sides. The ideal volunteer candidate have five years or more of business experience and has in one way or the other been involved in Art and would like to contribute. This has given many positive results.

The study visit to Art&Business Council Chicago is part of the conference ”Creative Entrepreneurship and Education in Cultural Life”, held in Chicago on July 16–18 2009. Read the opening speech by Nätverkstan here:chicago_opening.

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16 juli, 2009

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The Green City

On the 25th floor at the Department of Environment we get a good view of the City Hall rooftop garden. It was planted in 2000 as a demonstration project to show how a green rooftop improves temperature and air quality. 20.000 plants were planted, more than 100 different species of native prairie plants known to grow in the Chicago area, to make sure they would endure the climate and the rooftop conditions of being exposed to sun and wind.

The project was a success and the green roof has been shown – and proven – to serve many benefits to the city and the building: It improves air quality, conserves energy, reduces stormwater runoffs and is a sort of self-sustained heating system. When it’s cold it has an isolating effect and a hot summer day it’s cooler inside. But only on the City Council side of the building. In the other half of the building is the County Council and they have decided to not join the project. The rooftop is divided in two halves, one with the green roof, the other without. And the effects are direct. Measures have been done showing the direct benefits for the working environment inside the building of the half with the green roof. One half is the future, the other is left behind.

The initiative has now spread and around 400 rooftops in Chicago have green roofs, Mr Larry Merritt, Public Information Officer at Department of Environment tells us. And also the private sector see the benefits. More an more private firms install green roofs.

Chicago was once called the Green City and during the time Mr Richard M Daley has been Mayor of Chicago (elected 1989) 300.000 trees have been planted in the city. By the end of the decade, the park district each year sowed 544.000 plants, 9.800 perennials, 156.000 bulbs, and 4.600 shrubs (Kotlowitz, 2004). The Mayor has put a sustainable environment high on his agenda and perhaps the largest green project could be said to be Millennium Park. The Park took six years to build, finished in 2004. and is built on top of railway-rails and several parking garages, hiding the still active railroad under a 24.5 acre (97 124 square meters) large green roof. The green gardens, together with a concert hall designed by Frank Gehry, several art works like Anish Kapoor’s ”The Bean” is attracting tourists and has made Millennium Park to be the second largest tourist attraction in the USA, we are told (Las Vegas still holds number one).

An article of  green roof projects can be found in the latest issue of the Swedish edition of National Geographic. Also read National Geographic News about the Chicago green roofs. In the book ”Never a city so real. A walk in Chicago” (Crown Journeys 2004), written by Alex Kotlowitz gives both facts and insights of the city.

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15 juli, 2009

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Hope?

On the train-trip from O’Hare Airport into Chicago a young man steps into the train and sit down in front of us. His eyes are covered with shades, he speaks loudly in his phone, holding another, an iphone or perhaps it’s the ipod, in his other hand together with a bottle of apple Snapple drink. As we confused try to figure out where to get off, he overhears or feels, our confusion and turn around to help out. ”So, where are you guys from?”, he asked when our end-station was figured out. ”Sweden”, we reply and he turns a bit more towards us: ”Oh, that is so nice! I hope to be able to travel there one day…”. ”What do you work with?”, I describe that it’s about Art and culture. ”So, you are more driven by passion, than money?” he looks at me, lean back and smiles: ”That’s so amazing!”. And as the train moves to the city he starts talking, telling us his story.

On the fortyfive minute trip a story unfolds of a young boy climbing the fence between USA and Mexico with his family (”Do you know what that does to you, seeing your mother climbing that fence?”). They tried several times, got caught and sent back but finally, when he was the age of 12, managed to get into the States. They moved around a bit, he went to some schools but it didn’t work out. He didn’t know the language and was not treated well, he says. They were illegally in the country and for that reason had no rights, or didn’t dare to pursue their rights. He is still, at the age of around 25, illegally in the US. And the price for this is high, he told us.

”You have no rights. I can’t do anything, but I don’t want to end up where most Mexicans do: doing low-paid jobs at a factory or as cleaning staff with no hopes of ever getting a change. I am not doing that. I have a job, it’s ok, but the personal price I pay is too high, I think. I don’t like it. It’s haaard. I have to go to all these parties, and you drink and there are drugs you have to take…If you don’t, they think you are weak…The drugs I can handle, but the alcohol…mmm…”, he gives a crocked smile, ”It is hard, you know. I really want to get out of this shit, but you have to socialize. You just have to”, he takes a sip of what I now realize is not apple drink, but alcohol hidden in a Snapple bottle. ”Sometimes you just want to cry, but I can’t cry. Never show weakness. Just deal with it. You just don’t talk to anyone. I have never told this to anyone.” and he looks at me through his shades and asks ”What do you think? What should I do?”

On the plane over to Chicago I read a tribune to Barack Obama and the election promises that are now slowly coming true, the magazine proudly presented. Words of Hope. Change. American Dreams come true. The young man on the train had a dream, but no hope and few possibilities for change. The story follows me several days. What could he do to change his situation? He himself saw no ways other than the track he was following. A lot, of course, due to his illegal status.

The other morning we visited the House of Blues and listened to gospel so strongly sung that the rooftop nearly lifted. You could sense the enormous power generated among people in the room, the sense of hope, the strength to change a difficult situation. The power people got from gospel and spirituals played an important role in the change for African Americans in the USA, from slavery to civil rights.

One man without hope. A president urging people to believe in hope. A gospel choir singing their hearts out of hope. How is it related?

Nätverkstan is in Chicago, USA, to be part in the conference ”Creative Entrepreneurship and Education in Cultural Life”, arranged by Colombia College Chicago and Encatc. More to come about this. Read also this post of the Mexican–American border.

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13 juli, 2009

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Trans-Racial Institute

Maybe you are actually white, even if your skin is black? Maybe you were born Chinese, but come to think of it you are really a Swede? Perhaps the color of your skin deceives your real identity? Are you who you think you are?

The Trans-Racial Institute is a project, a workshop, an Institute, working with issues of race and identity. You get a chance to become the race you actually are, through a workshop find the real you. As they put it themselves ”Your desire – our mission”. The project is developed by Max Valentin, an inventor and entrepreneur, and Yolanda de los Bueis, a Basque video Artist based in London. Max Valentin is also running the consultancy firm Fabel, based in Stockholm. Their mission is to help organizations to develop and design methods and processes to put light on and affect people’s attitudes and values.

The next Trans-Racial Institute workshop will be in Israel in August. Have a look at these two clips from Shanghai (China) and Graz (Austria).

10 juli, 2009

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More on Africa

Another interesting website for Art in Africa is the website started by the Arterial Network, artsinafrica.com. The aim is to provide information on Arts, culture, creative industries in all African countries to enhance and facilitate cooperation and new connections.

4 juli, 2009

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Authors

Lotta Lekvall
Director of Nätverkstan, a Cultural Organisation in Sweden. Nätverkstan provides services …

Cultural and Social Entrepreneurship

On this blog we would like to explore entrepreneurship from a cultural and social point of view. Or rather put forward entrepreneurial initiatives within these two fields.

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