Cleaning Up Litter Never Looked So Cool

Video came across my social media last month about the litter picking samurai of Tokyo.  These theater performers call attention to the trash dropped in the streets of the city to generate a sense of responsibility and pride in keeping things clean.  Some commenters to the video wonder if they set things up for the performance given the timing and spacing of some of their movements. That may have been the case to create some drama for some of the shots, but I found other videos of them cleaning and sorting the trash they collect before disposing of it so it appears they are committed to putting in a full effort.

During Covid the arts community has become thoughtful about ways in which they can contribute to change in the world. These folks in Japan seemed like a good example of how performance skills can be employed in informal settings, (as opposed to performance spaces), to model positive actions.

Additionally, since there is so much uncertainty and tentativeness regarding the status of events and the return of audiences, the format of these types of performances can help the arts remain relevant and visible in communities.

Not to mention emphasizing the fact that the arts can be used in efforts to solve problems.



Similar efforts can be intentionally employed to achieve a specific goal. Back in 2014 the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Sojourn Theatre partnered on a project to call attention to the fact that crosswalk signals were timed too short to allow senior citizens to traverse intersections.

What Can Cotton Candy Teach Us About Sculpture?

Among the biggest questions I have when it comes to creating a presence for my organization on a social media platform are: 1- Is it worth/appropriate for our organization to present in this space and 2 – How do we participate without appearing to be a clueless, self-promoting business trying to sell something.

Seema Rao over at Museum 2.0 addresses these questions in a post she made last week about lessons learned during Akron Art Museum’s three month foray on to Tiktok.  Rao is the Deputy Director and Chief Experience Officer at Akron Art Museum.

Her advice basically not to approach TikTok with the intent of disseminating a planned calendar of information about your brand, goods and services.  Instead go in planning to have fun and follow cues about what other users are interested in.

As soon as I saw what she and her team had been doing on their TikTok account it was so obviously the way museums could talk about art while not talking about themselves I kicked myself for not thinking of it before. Many of their posts amplify the work of other content creators while pointing out the technique being employed.

Additive sculpture with cotton candy, for instance:


#duet with @feast24seven additive sculpture #arttiktok#arttok#museumtok#museumtiktok#edutok#learnontiktok

♬ The Simpsons – TV Hits

or use of lines:


#duet with @fridacashflow line #arttiktok#edutok#learnontiktok#museumtok#museumtiktok

♬ original sound – ourfriendsonfacebook

There is also a really relatable Art Appreciation for the Average Person series of posts:


#greenscreen #arthistory #artappreciation #eternals #contemporaryart #art #hats

♬ original sound – Akron Art Museum

Rao says their account is small in the context of all museum TikTok accounts, though two of their posts have been in the top 10 in terms of number of views of #museumtok posts. If you are considering starting an organizational account TikTok, read her post and watch some of their posts to get a sense of how to think about using the space.

A Grant Proposal Isn’t An Investment Pitch

Last week Vu Le made a tweet that revealed a very troubling picture of corporations misunderstanding how non-profits operate and work that they do. This seems to be the “non-profits should be run like a business” taken to the extreme.

The goal of Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Mental Health grant program is to:

“…specifically addresses the lack of both private and public investment in children’s mental health and of effective ways to connect innovative ideas with capital.

The resulting systemic funding gap has only increased with the deepening crisis in children’s mental health due to COVID-19 and ongoing social injustice issues.”

That sounds like it is a mix of a venture capital opportunity and a grant program. They do specifically say they applicants can receive up to $100,000 in grants, but as Vu Le notes, they also have to spend six weeks working on their pitches:

Early October: Finalists announced; six-week program commences, during which finalists learn from industry experts, enhance their proposals and develop their pitches.

Which makes it sound like applicants will be judged on the slickness of presentation rather than on quality of their solutions.

I do think a lot of organizations suffer from not having access to a skilled grant writer and can benefit from help and coaching, but that isn’t a problem it takes six weeks to solve.

While the program acknowledges there is a “systemic funding gap,” since there is no guarantee of funding, the only groups that can afford to invest time in generating innovative approaches to mental health services and have staff attend six weeks of pitch coaching are those who are already well-resourced enough to absorb that cost. Those at the other end of the funding gap will have had to make a heroic superheroic effort and leap of faith just to submit to the first round.

I will say that despite all the focus on new, innovative ideas, I didn’t see anything that disqualified existing programs as Vu Le’s post suggests. There is a question about whether the program is a new pilot or an existing program, but immediately follows asking how it is innovative and transformative. Pretty much every other description of the ideas they are looking for indicates a bias toward brand new rather than under recognized and underfunded.

I could hold forth at length about all the problematic dynamics operating here, but want avoid having casual readers tune out and move on. A lot of the language from the commercial sector has been creeping into non-profits and this grant program is really replete with it. The fact there is so much money at stake is sure to influence the vocabulary used by non-profit organizations going forward.

A few months back I had tweeted about my discomfort with the use of “deliverables” in the non-profit because so much of the work done does not result in discrete commodities. I think it is even less appropriate to be applying that concept and attendant time lines to addressing mental health.


Low Wear And Tear Is Not Necessarily A Good Thing

We ran into an unanticipated complication of the Covid epidemic last week.

You may have heard that cars are engineered to operate more efficiently at highway speeds because engines get hot enough for a long enough period to burn off impurities, etc. (Though certainly hybrids are well on the way to turning that situation around.)

Well apparently there is something similar at work with septic systems.

A combination of smaller audiences; new, low water use toilets; and the flushing of supposedly “disposable” wipes over the last year meant there was not enough water flow through the pipes to keep things clear. When one thing snagged and came to rest, there was insufficient pressure to ensure the next things through passed by.

And lest you think this is a problem experienced by older, historic buildings, the issue was exacerbated by plumbing installed during a renovation completed three years ago. As the guys who came to address the issue said, it was up to code but the people who installed it never had to service their own work.

My suspicion is that as many venues gear up to to return to capacity they will find that the low demands placed on their infrastructure during the last year hasn’t necessarily forestalled degradation and, in fact, may have resulted in new problems.

We were fortunate in that we were sensitive to some early warning signs and took some action to investigate, otherwise things may have backed up at the next large capacity event. Folks would do well to be a little paranoid about unfamiliar, but seemingly minor sights, smells and sounds as they prepare for the return of audiences. It may pay to take extra time to examine equipment and technology, especially if you assume there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it after so much inactivity.

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