It’s Time To Paint The Town Red

Hey all! If you live in a small or medium sized town and have always thought the asphalt and concrete slabs of your streets wouldn’t be so bad if they just had a coat of paint, Bloomberg Philanthropies is making it possible to take your art to the streets.

Their Asphalt Art initiative is open to applications from communities with populations of 30,000-500,000 people. Deadline is December 12, 2019

The initiative will fund “visual interventions on roadways (intersections and crosswalks), pedestrian spaces (plazas and sidewalks), and vertical infrastructure (utility boxes, traffic barriers and underpasses).”

There is a CityLab piece on the project with gorgeous examples of what other cities around the world have done. Bloomberg Philanthropies also offers a free guide and promises to include project planning information like model contracts, permits and insurance. If you don’t intend to apply for a grant, but are contemplating a project along these lines, these resources could be valuable.

A type of project along these lines that has been very popular lately is painting crosswalks with the goal of making pedestrians safer in the theory drivers will tend to slow down when driving across/near an image that doesn’t conform to familiar road markings. If that is an appealing notion, you should be aware that the Federal Highway Administration frowns on crosswalk art and actively requests cities remove them.

The Kentucky removal particularly peeved Lydon, who said that piece of street art saved lives.

“That was at an intersection with almost 10 crashes a year,” he said. “After it went in, it went down to zero. But the state DOT there too them to get rid of it because of the letter from [the federal authorities].”

And locals living near new street art in Rochester, New York told local radio station WXXI that the rainbow designs there calmed traffic on streets that were less than pedestrian friendly.


But the Highway Administration doesn’t see it that way, ruling in its report that “crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians.”

There are still a lot of other type of projects one could undertake. There are a number of pictures of pedestrian plazas and parking lots in the articles, but I think vertical structures like utility boxes, traffic barriers and underpasses are particularly ripe for development. I passed this information on to some people I know who were eyeing a train underpass I frequently walk under. I think more people would feel safer walking through there if there was more light and color.

We Can Never Beat Overhead By Ourselves, It’s Time To Merge!

When I saw a story on Non-Profit Quarterly about four Kalamazoo, MI non-profits entering a shared-services partnership, I immediately assumed it was confined to back office functions as I had written about before. However, that isn’t entirely the case. Moreover, the impetus for their partnership isn’t so much driven by a desire to save money as it is by the fact that funding entities won’t allow grants and donations to be used for administrative overhead.

The four non-profits, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, Prevention Works, Urban Alliance and Big Brothers Big Sisters, didn’t form the shared entity, Hub ONE, just to handle their back office functions, Hub ONE staff will help people navigate the services offered by each of these groups. “With each organization working to combat an aspect of generational poverty, the partnership appears to be a natural fit.”

A three year, $8.3 million grant from the Stryker Johnston Foundation will largely support developing the infrastructure of this new shared services entity. Some of the money will also go toward staff development and retention–something that is actually the long term goal of the shared services model.

…Gail Pico notes that overhead caps stifle social progress by restricting funding for use in effective management (e.g. professional development, evaluation, and strategic planning), keeps direct-service employees in poverty, and discourages innovation by not permitting organizations to take risks in trying new methods.

Each member of Hub ONE has been negatively impacted in some way by overhead myths. For instance, many of their employees are eligible for the programs they offer. Consequently, the group asserts that much of their time is spent trying to hire and retain employees who are driven to leave the sector for better pay. Sielatycki hopes the new collaborative will free resources for member nonprofits to pay employees more competitive wages, thereby helping reduce turnover and its associated retraining and onboarding costs.

The title of this post is a reference to the merging robot motifs of cartoons like Voltron

Of course, what can be a threat to the folks in Kalamazoo and other places is when one organization prioritizes themselves over the whole. (offered more for entertainment than caveat)

A Hack At The Opera

No, no, no, this isn’t a story about someone with little talent and unoriginal ideas, quite the contrary.

Recently my Arts Hacker colleague, Ceci Dadisman, had linked to an article about an Opera Hack-a-thon that happened at the end of July.

If you are wondering how a “diverse group of opera industry composers, librettists, producers, directors and designers as well as experts in the fields of virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, software design, creative coding and 3D printing” can solve problems facing opera, among the ideas they came up with where: (my emphasis)

There was also a discussion of using virtual reality to map the interiors of the theaters that opera companies use as well as the use of 3D printing technology to create low-cost costume, prop and scenic elements.


One idea involves creating an online database that producers and scenery designers could use to virtually create a three-dimensional scenic design inside a digitally mapped theater to determine how that scenery would fit in the space and what construction materials would work best for the venue, Bennett said.

Last season, San Diego Opera was forced to postpone a production of “Hansel and Gretel” because the company discovered after announcing the production that its rented scenery was too large to fit on the stage of the Balboa Theatre. Technology like this virtual database might eliminate problems like this in the future.

The article said the winning ideas from the Hack-a-thon wouldn’t be announced until August. I was curious to learn what emerged so I sought that article out as well. What caught my eye was that it sounded as if some solutions emerged outside the structured conversation of the event.

[Angel Mannion, project manager for Opera Hack, said]  “I think that we in the arts often live in our own heads, where we forget to ask for help, and that usually leads to re-creating the wheel in both artistic and administrative ways. We found that there were several problems that came up in side chatter where technology could provide an easy solution.”

One of the ideas coming out of the July event will receive funding to develop virtual reality equipment focused on delivering the sonic experience of an operatic performance:

The listener would be able to walk up to a virtual performer in the visual environment to listen more closely to their voice. Vibro-tactile haptic sensors strapped to the viewer’s body would also enable the viewer to “feel” the music.

Another project melded the digital mapping of a space for scenic design I mentioned earlier with project team collaboration software:

The database would incorporate the use of 360-degree “protogrammetry” to map the stages of opera theaters around the country, so that opera producers could work with scenic, lighting and other designers to see how a set might fit on their stage and appear from the vantage point of audience members. Eventually, the database would offer virtual reality “meetings” where multiple users could “beam into” the same virtual space together for planning meetings.

This proposal will be tested first by Houston Grand Opera, which is one of the lead architects of OPERAMAP, but will be made available to opera companies and designers nationwide.

The third project to receive funding, Open Show Bible, aims to cut production costs by making it easier to coordinate all the technical and performance cues for a show.

Using existing score-following software, the process would be tied into a live-animated open-show display that would be immediately accessible to multiple collaborators.

Creators say the new system would dramatically cut production costs by reducing the time it takes to “dry-tech” a rehearsal and it would improve communication between departments. In the long-term, the show bibles could be shared among multiple opera companies to present lower-priced, turnkey production with pre-programmed digital cues.

These latter two ideas especially would probably be welcome in other performing arts disciplines since dance and theater face many of the same design and production coordination challenges as opera.

No One Has Been So Energized About You Visiting The Bathroom Since Your Parents Potty-Trained You

If you want to read a great story about taking the initiative to provide great customer service, check out the story about Tonya Heath, head usher at the Forrest Theatre where Hamilton is being performed in Philadelphia.  She has undertaken one of the most important tasks of all — guiding the women’s restroom line at intermission.

After two weeks of porcelain chaos, she knew she had to do something.

So she assigned herself to bathroom duty and now ropes in at least two other ushers to help her. It would be devastating, she says, for someone to miss the beginning of Act Two.


Heath climbs on top of a piano bench outside the bathroom and makes an announcement:

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. We are at minute five out of a 20-minute intermission, which means I have 15 minutes to get you into this bathroom. I’ve formed a serpentine line. And it works. It only takes about six minutes from that door to get you in this bathroom.”

“All I need you to do,” Heath tells the crowd, “is trust me and trust your sisters.”


But then the lights flicker, the ladies in line seem to collectively gasp: “Nooooo,” women say. They don’t want to miss even a minute of Hamilton, a show for which people paid as much as $499 a seat. Should they throw away their spot?

“All right, my loves, we are approaching minute 13. That was a scare tactic,” she says. “That’s how we get people into their seats a little bit faster. We’re only at minute 13. I promised you 20 minutes. We have about seven to eight minutes to get you back upstairs.”

Heath sings her instructions: “Stay in lineeeee.”

The crowd that a few seconds ago seemed terrified is now clapping and cheering.

This is one of the best examples of embodying the ideals of relationship building using the arts’ inherent home field advantage I have come across in a really long time. The only issue with promoting her as a reward is that she might be taken out of direct contact with audiences and her natural talent would be difficult to teach to others. (None of which should used as an excuse for not promoting and paying her more, of course.)

I also have to give some props to Philadelphia Inquirer write Ellie Silverman who put in the effort to add some tips at the end of the article about where to use the restroom in the neighborhood before you get to the theater; how to tell when intermission is arriving so you can be prepared for the mad rush to the restrooms; but also not to assume there are any boring parts you can skip out of to use the restrooms during the show.

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