Creativity Isn’t Locked Away In This Shed

Rochester Institute of Technology (RTI) has a new building that puts creative spaces right next to each other. The Student Hall for Exploration and Development (SHED) has acting and and dance studios with transparent walls as featured spaces in the building next to maker spaces with equally transparent walls and garage style doors which open to a common space embracing the philosophy that arts and STEM practices can inform each other.

“Placing performing arts facilities so close to tech-project spaces encourages a unique kind of cross-fertilization. For a play presented in the Glass Box Theater called Ada and the Engine, fourth-year mechanical engineering major Catherine Hampp used the SHED’s 3D printing technology to build a stage version of Charles Babbage’s 1832 calculating device, a precursor of today’s computers. The textile lab can aid costumers of theatrical productions, then turn to the task of crafting headgear that can comfortably support devices that allow facial and eye movements to control a wheelchair. These are refined by student researchers in the co-located electronics lab.”

These spaces open on to an atrium with tables and chairs where students can socialize. The building connects the library and student union which results in about 15,000 students passing by all this creative activity and displays on a daily basis.

Right from the start of the article, I immediately thought of the way Steve Jobs designed Pixar Studios building with the restroom and mail room at a central hub so that people from different parts of the company would bump into each other and talk about what they are working on. His goal was to spur innovation with cross-pollination of ideas. The story I linked to in my 2014 post on the topic isn’t available any longer, but my recollection was that employees at the outskirts rebelled at having to walk so far to use the restroom and Jobs eventually relented and installed some in other parts of the complex.

Interestingly in that same 2014 post, I wrote about the segregation of the creative class from the rest of the community in many cities, especially in college towns. This sort of dynamic manifests in a cultural divide because there isn’t intermixing between the general community and the creatives who gather near the campuses. One of the places where the divide is least present are places in the Midwest and Sunbelt. In 2014, Rochester, NY was the second least segregated community behind Minneapolis-St. Paul.  RTI’s approach with the SHED isn’t new to the institution so I wouldn’t be surprised if they contributed to the overall culture of of the city in this respect.



Choose Yourself Over The Long Haul

Seth Godin had posted on the 150th anniversary of Impressionism which is benchmarked from the April 15, 1874 art exhibition organized by a number of artists whose work had been refused by the prestigious Salon de Paris.  The original show by the “Refused,” as Godin terms them, included 31 artists, among them were Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot and Paul Cézanne.

Godin notes that first exhibition was a failure, not even attracting 1% of the Salon show and garnering largely negative reviews.

One of the most positive things to come from the exhibit was a scathing satirical piece, the one that gave the impressionists their name. The insecure critics came to regret their inability to see what was possible.

And yet, the artists persisted. Year after year, eight times, gaining momentum each time, they returned, working their way from outsiders to become the dominant form of artistic expression of their time.

But most of all, so much easier today than in Paris 150 years ago, these individual painters did two things: They picked themselves and they did it together.

I am amused to learn that the Impressionist name actually came from a satiric piece.

I am not sure the moral of this story is to stick with it and one day you will succeed. There were 31 people who participated in the first event, but most of their names are unknown.

While I agree with Godin that it is important to pick yourself and that it is easier to do today than it was 150 years ago, eight years is an eternity in terms of trend and tastes and people’s expectations of results. Success might be possible sooner, but how many people have the endurance to wait that long to gain recognition.

That said, I still remember seeing Sen. John Fetterman speak at an APAP conference when he was still mayor of Braddock, PA and spoke about an observation Sen. Arlen Spector made about it taking seven years for any sort of policy to garner enough momentum and support to become implemented.

Getting All Eyes And Minds On Accessibility

Yesterday, the Western Arts Federation (WESTAF) sponsored a webinar on accessibility lead by Betty Siegel, Director Office of Accessibility and VSA at The Kennedy Center.

Siegel was absolutely fantastic. Her presentation was dynamic, full of relatable examples, and humor. One example she gave as the best sources of information about the history of accessibility was Comedy Central’s Drunk History episode on Judy Heumann’s early advocacy for disability rights. She frequently claimed the Drunk History series was a primary source of information for her.

While she did talk about legal and human dignity issues associated with accessibility, the overall goal of her presentation was about getting staff and volunteers to the point of internalizing the philosophy of making spaces and events accessible. You can renovate the physical space and compose policies, but if everyone isn’t invested in the practice, situational barriers may arise that people overlook as problems.

The example she used was of a historic building that has stairs at the front door and a ramp to a side door. The janitor opens both doors every day, but one day he is absent an a staff/volunteer comes in and not being aware of the full practice, only unlocks the front door.

Interestingly, that aligned with an experience I had just a week earlier when I realized that cleaning or facility staff might be deactivating the powered doors in our buildings at night and no one was turning them back on in the morning.  If someone hit the door plates, they wouldn’t open. So I had taken to tapping the door plates on my way in every day to make sure the doors swing open. But I also need to make sure everyone else is checking the doors as well.

Video of the webinar below. List of resources WESTAF provided below that.



Accessibility Resources

  • U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ): 
    • 800-514-0301 (voice); 800-514-0383 (TTY)
  • U.S. Access Board:
  • ADA Centers National Network:
    • 1-800-949-4232
  • W3C (wcag 2.1 aa)
  • National Endowment for the Arts:  
  • Access Smithsonian:  
  • Kennedy Center Office of VSA and Accessibility:  

There Is A Group Naming Names And Advocating For Better Funding Practices

Around the start of the year, the group Crappy Funding Practices was created on LinkedIn. Vu Le who writes the Nonprofit AF blog had started calling out the problematic practices of funders on Twitter a few years ago, but with the help of some volunteers, they decided to expand the scope of their activities and started to solicit submissions of bad practices non-profit staff have run up against.

A lot of what they call out are things like onerous reporting requirements or twenty page applications requiring world changing results in return for $5000 grant or prohibitions on fundraising for a quarter of the year. And even an instance where you had to pay $100 to attend a luncheon to learn if you received a grant.

One of the very worst examples were the requirements from a foundation supporting classical music.

The team also praises some positive funding practices like the Minnesota Council on Foundations which offered tools for other funders to use in order to reduce barriers for grant seekers. The Fairfield County Community Foundation got a shout out for acknowledging that they listened to feedback from grant seekers and had revised their processes.

Even though the page has only been operating for about four months, a writer from Inside Philanthropy took notice and reported on the page, the problems it was addressing, and the change that is slowly taking place as a result.

I expect that the profile of the group will continue to rise over coming months and years. Hopefully that will result in some industry wide changes that will make the process easier and more equitable for grant seekers.

As the article mentions, none of these problems are new. They have been acknowledged as hurdles in the granting process for years and years, but most funding organizations haven’t really worked at making changes to remove barriers for applicants. Vu Le started calling people out by name out of frustration. The group of volunteers behind Crappy Funding Practices has helped expand on this effort out to act as an advocate for non-profit grant seekers rather than out of spite. Though I imagine there is some angry frustration at the base.

I post about this not so much to encourage people to submit funders you dislike as to let people know that there is an organized effort to advocate for better conditions on your behalf. That said, if there are organizations whose practices and requirements are burdensome, you may want to consider completing their submission form.

Examples of Great Funders can be submitted here.