Marvellous Finale

It’s the final edition of Curious, Mysterious, Marvellous, Electrical today – the newsletter I’ve used to capture stories and secret histories from Australasia and beyond over the last two years.

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We started out by walking the coasts near Lisbon back in January 2016 and we finish the journey more or less where we began, exploring the history of one of Portugal’s most illustrious artistic families.

In the intervening years, highlights included:

And that’s not even including the drug counsellors, the Nazi hunting comedians, the dancer turned paramedic, the time travelling arts worker, or the Argentinian sisters running a horror-themed cake shop out on the tropic of Capricorn

…or the pastry.

Check out the complete Marvellous, Electrical on Google Maps.

Marvellous, Electrical: Distant Lands Are Not So Far Away

Pop stars at the fall of Communism. A man who builds imaginary tools to solve problems that never were. A mining engineer who made a ten-tonne truck disappear through a metre-wide tunnel.

Approaching the end of the year and the final instalments of Marvellous, Electrical, we’re joined by two humble figures with secret artistic careers.

Andy MacDonald, factory supervisor at Queensland’s Cobb + Co Museum, recounts a life spanning mining, sculpture, stage design, and jet fighter maintenance in Part 1 of The Fitter And The Handyman.

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Then Alf Klimek, doing odd jobs and broadband installation in Melbourne, reveals an unexpected career as a Berlin-based Cold War pop star.

You can also see two years’ back catalogue of Marvellous, Electrical over at the newsletter’s Google Maps page. Distant lands are not so far away…

Interview with @Sherlonya Turner, @aadl Ann Arbor District Library

I met Ann Arbor District Library (AADL)’s Sherlonya Turner on my visit to Michigan earlier this year. Sherlonya manages youth and adult services and collections for the library. This involves leading desk service staff, directing children’s programming, and contributing to client-facing operations across the board.

As a writer for AADL’s arts blog Pulp, Sherlonya reports on film screenings, book launches, festivals, exhibitions, and cultural happenings of all kinds. Whether she’s covering visits by Hillary Clinton or Roxane Gay, a meditative movie on Native American experiences in Michigan, or her own participation in a street art festival, Sherlonya’s words provoke reflection, self-examination, and a questioning of our own assumptions alongside an account of the event in question. (I’m particularly fond of her piece on a successful Guinness World Record attempt to amass the most women dressed as Rosie the Riveter).

IMG_3829.jpgWhen she’s not making magic happen within the walls of AADL or stoking the curiosity of her readers online, Sherlonya has an unusual side project – making cakes, ice cream sundaes, and other sweet treats to represent US presidents and other senior figures in the history of American political life. Waffles, cookies, scoops, and sponges become the gateway to a thoughtful interrogation of power and personality over 200 years of the American experiment.

Sherlonya joined me earlier this month to discuss topics including her journey into librarianship, leadership and play in library settings, community blogging, and, of course, the Head of State Cakes.

“What was your origin story? How did you get to the place you are today, professionally?”

I thought I was going to be an engineer. I went to a college of engineering but then drifted into the literature, arts, and sciences department.

The university had to get in touch: “Yo, you are a junior and you don’t have a major — do something about it!”

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4 Quick Questions with Ann Arbor District Library’s Josie Parker

Today, we’re joined by Josie Parker, Director at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), an acclaimed US public library service in Michigan.

Josie1.jpgAs Josie approaches her seventeenth year with the organisation, she took a little time to answer four quick questions about her journey with Ann Arbor – and what’s next for the Michigan library.

How did you get started at AADL and how has the organization changed during your time there?

I have been Director at AADL 16 ½ years. I came to work at AADL in 1999 as the Youth Department Manager. The Library was a very traditionally organized public library institution that had suffered a financial scandal leading to imprisonment for one administrator, and the eventual resignation of the Director.

I had been promoted to interim Director during the end of the upheaval, and was later offered the job. I took it without intending to be in one library most of my career, and yet, here I am. It is an awesome library and the community is very supportive financially, as well as, politically. We are able to take library services in many directions sometimes stretching them beyond recognition. We consider that a positive outcome.

What’s your proudest career achievement so far?

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I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

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Well, that’s it for the current stint in Australia. We’ve achieved so much at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and University of Southern Queensland (USQ) since I came over for the initial 12-month residency in January 2016.

I’ve a few more gigs in London before Christmas, and then some exciting announcements to make going into 2018. Watch this space.

Hard to pick out highlights from the past two years, but among them I’d say:

But really there’s been too much to mention. (Like the roadtrip. The roadtrip!).

You can see some highlights here:

Thanks to everyone who made these projects possible and worked hard to let our teams explore all things wondrous and strange.

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Where Do We Dream Ourselves Next?

My review of Darran Anderson’s book Imaginary Cities is up at Australian literary journal The Lifted Brow.

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Anderson’s grand literary tour of urban environments that never were, from citadels of myth to more manageable fantasies of the kind you’d find in Walt Disney’s EPCOT centre, challenges our vision of what cities could be in 2017 and beyond.

In my review for The Lifted Brow, I link Anderson’s work to projects taking place around Australia, giving local context to his epic global account of the urban past, present, and future.

Read ‘Where Do We Dream Ourselves Next?” at The Lifted Brow.

DNAInfo

I surfaced from my holiday to hear that Joe Ricketts, CEO of the news sites DNAInfo and Gothamist, has closed both enterprises a week after staff decided to unionize with the Writers Guild of America.

The abrupt move has shut down the sites entirely, so that even archived news stories are now unavailable.

I only wrote a couple of times for DNAInfo, but they were a place of welcome for me in New York and gave me valuable experience putting together local news stories through words and pictures.

Both the pieces I created for them, on New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read programme and the NYC Kids Food Festival, explored projects at the junction of literacy, culture, play, health and wellbeing – a place I still work today with Australian organisations like Metro South Health Board and the Griffith University School of Allied Health.

I’m grateful to the DNAInfo team for the kindness and collegiality they showed me on my visits to New York, and hope that all of their reporters and editors move on to better and brighter things.

All Things Good and Strange

I love TV, and I don’t think I watch enough of it.

I’d watch more but it’s so slow*.  You can spend weeks of your life trying to hammer through season after season of just one show.  In Douglas Coupland’s 1993 novel Microserfs, characters “blitz” movies by watching videos on fast-forward with subtitles switched on.** My friend Katie, equally impatient, listens to audiobooks on chipmunk speed, but I don’t think I could sustain either approach for a full season of TV.

I watch television to get ideas for work. TV shows and community experiences like the ones I design have a lot in common. You need a central conceit which draws people in, and on which you can hang a series of recurring episodes. Action-adventure, problem solving, and play are closely entwined. This year’s non-speaking, musical keynote was inspired by dialogue-free sequences in the TV show Legion.

The teams I work with are pretty explicit about this link between TV and the events we run. The working title for Ann Arbor’s Wondrous Strange event was ‘Weirder Things’.

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Stranger Things is a difficult one for me because I’m not super into it, and that makes me feel bad. It’s so popular, I feel like I’m missing something. Like I’m out of touch. It’s doubly bad because I grew up immersed in – and totally in love with – the late 80s/early 90s world of Stephen King novels and pirate horror movies on VHS.

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