I Don’t Know, The DMV Line Is Usually At Least Novella

I saw a really cool story via Americans for the Arts in May about a partnership between the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles and the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. They worked together to place kiosks that delivered short stories in a motor vehicles branch. People standing on line to conduct business can select, print out and read one of the short stories.  The library sees this as an opportunity to serve their community outside of their branches.

The stories are printed on demand and scroll out of the kiosk somewhat like a register receipt.

The story kiosk has a library of more than 8,500 short stories, varying in length. Stories are free, and readers can choose between selections for kids or content for all ages. Short Edition has also made the machine earth-friendly with eco-friendly paper that is FSC- and BPA-free.

I took a look at the website of the French company that makes the kiosks. Even though they talk about the printers being useful for business where people have to wait for service, I noticed some of the accompany pictures depict the stories being read at leisure in uncrowded cafes.

This made me wonder if there might be a use for the technology to deliver supplementary material at performances or perhaps only the parts of the playbill you are interested in. If you don’t care about the bios but want the program notes, you might choose to only print those and save on paper. Granted, this may not please those who paid to have their logos placed in the program, but perhaps they can be included on the print out on an ongoing basis.

Being able to see what types of material people are printing on demand might provide the organization with a better sense of what information to provide people in promotional materials to help them make the decision to attend. Likewise, it could be used to shape the programming and attendance experience to reflect these interests/needs.

How Many Times Can You Cut The Budget And Still Claim To Be World-Class?

If you don’t already read Drew McManus’ blog Adaptistration, you may want to take a look some of his recent posts as well as the conversation on Facebook that ensued.

Drew started out yesterday linking to an article on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that suggested the drop in people auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony might be a consequence of the pay cuts musicians agreed to after a strike in 2016.

The article in and of itself is interesting in terms of considering if musicians are factoring this in a decision not to audition versus those that are just eager to gain some relatively stable employment, regardless of past labor negotiations. While I was reading it, I wondered if there might be a similar drop in applicants and auditioners in states whose governments have enacted laws and rules artists and administrators deem problematic.

Drew goes on to mention the “orchestra caste system” providing some insight into the dynamics between orchestras.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: those who earn less and work in organizations with smaller budgets must defer to those who earn more or work at larger budget groups because the latter are “better” than the former.

…For example, if musicians from an orchestra like Minnesota are on strike or locked out, it is assumed they have carte blanche when it comes to offers of substitute work at a smaller budget orchestra, like Grand Rapids. They won’t be expected to go through any formal substitute hiring process and existing subs will get booted in order to make room.

But if the situation were reversed, you’re far less likely to see a group at the level of Minnesota extending the same degree of latitude. Instead, you’ll see positive thoughts and well-wishes and by the way, we have this substitute hiring policy and you’ll to go through that before we can offer you any work.

He goes on to talk about how standards are established and enforced in orchestras. That is the part that has turned into a lengthy conversation on Facebook that gets into the standards being enforced, who is enforcing them, if others can override, people taking leadership about standards and so on.

The conversation got so involved, when last I looked, there was a suggestion that a few conductors, musicians and Drew get together and videotape a discussion of the issues.

Even if you aren’t involved in the classical music/opera scene, check the conversation out because some version of this situation probably exists in your field, just with different players wielding the power and influence, but also preferring to skirt similarly difficult conversations.

Ripples Moving Fish In Other Ponds

When I caught the name, “Penis Monologues” out of the corner of my eye, I felt a moment of trepidation that some men’s rights group was mounting a show as an aggressive counter to the Vagina Monologues. However, it turned out that the show is actually an attempt to combat the culture of “dominant male temperament” in China, a  term which is somewhat analogous to the English term, “toxic masculinity.” The show was created by a noted sexologist in China, Fang Gang.  (It should be noted that the title in Chinese doesn’t use the word “penis.” The articles doesn’t indicate what the actual title is.)

It was interesting to read how other cultures are experiencing the global conversations about gender roles. (China has had its own spate of #MeToo stories.) Many male participants in Fang’s project really had to overcome their reticence. Given that a number had never performed before, and unlike the generally empowering tone of the Vagina Monologues, the show dealt with some pretty negative subject matter, their reluctance is understandable.

But the play’s subject matter hasn’t made it easy for Tao to find willing actors. Most men she approached declined after reading monologue titles like “Penis Size,” “Domestic Abuser,” and “Erectile Dysfunction.” “They are afraid of being mocked or judged by the public,” she tells Sixth Tone.

When 42-year-old business owner Yu Lei read the play for the first time, he was shocked that it so boldly addressed taboo subjects. But after attending one of Fang’s sex-ed public lectures and seeing members of the audience calmly taking notes, he decided to join the troupe, despite never having acted before.

Tao assigned Yu to the play’s first monologue, “Date Rape,” which tells the story of a male college student forcing his girlfriend to have sex with him in a hotel room. Yu was so nervous about performing that he told his wife he was taking part in a charity event organized by White Ribbon, the advocacy organization launched by Fang in 2013 to end violence perpetrated by men against women. But he needn’t have worried: His performance wins thunderous applause from the 90 or so people in the audience, though Yu later confesses to Sixth Tone that he slightly regrets doing it. “I’m afraid people might think it was my own story,” he says.

According to article, in addition to challenging audiences to question the societal norms that men need to be dominant in their careers and relationships with women, the show also addresses some pretty ingrained binary definitions of gender.

That pain is familiar to Ye Chuyang, a queer actor portraying their own experiences in the monologue “Gender Queer.” “I don’t agree with binary gender divisions, because it limits people’s possibilities,” Ye tells Sixth Tone. “Most people think men are supposed to be macho, decisive, and strong. They don’t appreciate feminine or delicate men. Though my parents appreciate the sensitive and gentle side of me, they prefer me to be strong and tough just like other boys.”

Ye thinks the play is a chance to both educate people about sexual diversity and help more men understand the experiences of women. “If men could break the rules and speak out, women would feel encouraged and less lonely in this battle,” he says.

In addition to illustrating the power of arts and culture to facilitate conversations on difficult topics, for me this story represents the degree to which the world is becoming metaphorically smaller. We may be frustrated by lack of progress in our own local spheres, but the motion of a movement can create ripples that begins to bring resonant changes in other parts of the world.

Isn’t Everyone Creating A Museum In Their Basement?

There was an article in Forbes last month about the glut of empty museums in China. While many museums in the United States have larger collections than they can possibly display, storing the majority in basement vaults, museums in China have the opposite problem in that there is more museum space than objects to display.

Part of the problem, according to Forbes is rooted in the way commercial property development is handled,

According to Johnson, what has fueled China’s museum building boom has been a strategy where a local government will grant a developer a prime parcel of commercial construction land on the contingency that they also build and operate a museum (or an opera house, library, etc). In this way, a city can obtain their iconic public buildings while having someone else pick up the tab.

…After receiving accolades for building a world-class landmark, the developers often find themselves in more unfamiliar territory: actually running a museum.

“That isn’t to say that they can’t hire someone to be the curator to develop content, but at the end they don’t really care,” Johnson proclaimed. “They’re building it because they want to build the tower on the site adjacent to it to make their money.”

It light of this, it was somewhat ironic that on my recent trip to China, I found myself touring an extensive display depicting the Ancient Tea-Horse Road and elements of the Naxi ethnic minority in the basement of a family owned hotel in Lijiang. The owner and her father had created a 120 meter long diorama showing each stage of the journey in the tea-horse trade. (Though they currently only have room to display 80 meters.)

The floor of the basement are reverse frosted plexiglass with pictographs of the Dongba script once used by the Naxi along with the corresponding Chinese hanzi and English translation. The owner described how she, her husband and a friend created each panel.

The owner and her father spent a great deal of time and money both personally and hiring scholars and artists to assist in creating the diorama and floor displays. Clearly a labor of love and a testament to their pride in regional history and Naxi culture. But it is only accessible to guests of the hotel who are personally accompanied by the owner.

My sister and I just happened to choose the hotel from those that were available and then noticed the reviews mentioned that there was an amazing display in the basement.

I didn’t really press the owner to learn why her family continues to invest so much effort in a project so few people will ever see. Judging from the superior service and hospitality ethic she exhibited during our stay, it may just be rooted in the idea that pursuit of excellence brings it own rewards independent of external recognition.


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