More Reminders About Importance of Libraries

I was reading a story about the earthquake that hit Christchurch, NZ ten years ago today which damaged large parts of the city. According to the article there was a significant effort by the local government which collected more than 100,000 ideas from over 10,000 people about how Christchurch should be rebuilt, but those plans and ideas were discarded by the national government of the time. The basic theme of the article is that much of the development which has occurred in the last 10 years hasn’t revitalized Christchurch.

The one place where local input was included in the plan generated by the national government was Tūranga, a library and community space which looks pretty dang awesome. Not only are there cafes and play areas, but there is a lot of focus on indigenous Maori culture and art as well as a digital wall depicting Christchurch’s features, history and stories. It is easy to see why the facility is well-regarded by residents.

Before I took a deeper look at the library in Christchurch, I was immediately reminded of the State Library of Queensland in Australia which Nina Simon had spoken about in a TED talk about 4 years ago. I summarized her story in a blog post at the time.

…State Library of Queensland which built a gorgeous new white building and then invited aboriginal elders in to help them design an indigenous knowledge center. The elders noted that for them, knowledge wasn’t shared through books, but rather through music, dance and storytelling in a setting that wasn’t so sterile looking, most importantly around a fire. The librarians, true to their intent renovated a space for music, dance and storytelling and infused it with color. And they built a firepit (away from the flammable archives, of course).

Part of the reason I checked out the floor plan of the library in Christchurch is because I wanted to see if they had included anything like a fire pit at their library. It doesn’t appear that there is, but there are plenty of other facilities and equipment for sharing ideas and stories.

By the way, if you want to see pictures of the fire pit area in Queensland, they are on the library’s webpage. Scroll down to “Story Circle” heading. It almost doesn’t look like it is outside, but I found some YouTube videos of events and while it is nicely enclosed there is definitely a lot fresh air flow through the space.

The lesson here may be not to give libraries short shrift in the economizing that may come now or as we emerge from Covid restrictions because they are important community spaces.

One specifically arts related thing I wanted to note was the significant role the article said it played in helping people transition post-earthquake in Christchurch:

If you don’t live in New Zealand and you read about Christchurch in those years, most likely it was about the creative, guerrilla projects that popped up in the immediate aftermath of the quakes. Temporary site activations—Gap Fillers—brought life back to the empty gravel lots with music, performance, art, and community participation. These were almost spontaneous events, a community responding to challenging times however it could. They represented the best of the city, and inspired residents and visitors to believe that the new Christchurch that grew from the rubble of the old could be eclectic, engaging, and exciting.


The Secret Lives Of Museum Tour Guides

Long times readers know that when I was living in Ohio I had a close relationship with a local group called the Creative Cult. We did a number of projects together and I participated in the events they sponsored. The local art museum wisely decided to bring one of the cult’s inner circle, Nick, on staff and he has been making some great contributions to the organization.

This week the museum has made a series of Facebook posts under the title “Things Written At The Front Desk,” with some pictures from Nick’s journal/sketchbook and other projects he has worked on while at the desk. Today was the second post in the series and really caught my attention because it featured Nick’s illustrations of a guide to a gallery exhibit.   At first I was excited because I thought perhaps the museum had reopened for socially distanced exhibitions, but the guide was made for a pre-Covid exhibit.

Regardless of when it was made, the concept of walking into a museum and picking up a guide to an exhibition which was hand illustrated by one of the people greeting you struck me as something that would make the whole experience feel more welcoming and accessible.  The pamphlet Nick illustrated reflects his quirky aesthetic, presenting the visitor with Marty, a cartoon figure who will accompany on your journey complete with a map of Marty’s suggested route through the exhibition.

Then things take a strange turn and some of the illustrations reference to Marty’s diary and a beast being hunted down by a classic mob armed with pitchforks and torches. Clearly the whole guide isn’t depicted so we are missing parts of the story, but that makes you want to learn more, right?

Not only that, wouldn’t you be interested in seeing a museum exhibition framed by an information pamphlet that implied your tour guide may have a monstrous alter-ego….or perhaps it was all just a strange dream?


Heavy Lifting of Leadership Occurs Before Baton Is Raised

A week ago I cited a couple of posts Seth Godin had made about leadership. I and other readers were taken by his statement that leadership is a voluntary, risky and creative endeavor.

Since then he actually made a post about leadership that is directly related to the arts, using the what the public sees of an orchestra conductor vs. what the time and effort that under girds their appearance as a metaphor for all leadership.

(Just to note, I don’t know his characterization of what conductors do is completely accurate and exclusive to conductors within an organization, but trust the reader will get the overall meaning.)

Godin opens by saying the quality of a conductor is judged in one-two hour increments in which they wave a small stick and don’t make any noise. However, among the things great conductors do are:

Conductors set the agenda.

They amplify the hard work and esprit de corps of some, while working to damp down the skeptics within the organization.
They figure out which voices to focus on, when.
They have less power than it appears, and use their position to lead, not manage.

They transform a lot of ‘me’s’ into one ‘us’.

They stick with it for decades.

It’s a form of leadership that happens in private, but once in a while, we see it on stage.

In the interests of not copying and pasting 3/4 of a blog post, this is only an excerpt of his list. The gaps indicate where some of the omissions fall. Take a look at the full post if you are interested.

Like the posts I quoted last week, Godin’s view of leadership is one of generosity and humility that doesn’t seek the limelight or employ some form of duress to accomplish an objective. Though there also seems to be an implication that recognition is a natural reward for taking on the risk and work of being a leader. I am not sure that is entirely accurate in practice–especially when faced by people who employ or value the opposite characteristics.

They Are Serious About Play

I didn’t properly record the source, but last week someone tweeted a link to the LEGO Foundation’s document, Creating Creators, which has the subtitle: “How can we enhance creativity in education systems?”

The document is a collection of seven essays on the subject. What interested me was the more international perspective on the topic than I had really previously seen. There are pieces written by the Minister of Basic Education for the Republic of South Africa as well as one by a student of that country’s University of Pretoria. Apparently teaching to the test is also perceived to be a problem in South Africa.

There was also an essay discussing how the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will test for creative thinking for the first time in 2021. The PISA is the cause of much hand wringing over how students in the US compare to students in other countries in different subject areas so it can be worth paying attention to the results when they are issued and using them to initiate conversations.

That is if the PISA is administered next year. I was surprised there was no acknowledgement of the impact of the global pandemic in any of the essays. It turns out that while this document is new to me, it was actually published in 2019. With so much learning disrupted this year, they may decide to postpone the administration of the test for awhile longer.

I poked around the LEGO Foundation’s site a little bit and was not surprised to find they had created “A guide to playful distance learning – online and offline.” While it is focused on educational institutions it has a lot of fun ideas that arts & cultural organizations and libraries can use for their programs –or individual parents can use with their kids.

As the title of this post indicates, LEGO Foundation is serious about play and the Knowledge Base section of their website reflects that. It is a good place to visit for research and ideas on the topic.

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