The power of an unresolved chord

In New York, I attended a concert, “Concerto per violini: 18th-century Italian virtuosi“, performed by members of Early Music New York (EM/NY).

At the end of the event, EM/NY announced the retirement from public performance of Frederick Renz, the storied conductor and early music expert who directs the organisation. They also announced that plans for future performances by EM/NY were as yet unclear.

The program notes for the event reminded us that, while most people think of concertos as works for solo instruments accompanied by an orchestra, the original definition of the term in the Baroque era, was “a work for musicians playing together.”

Such were the works performed at the EM/NY event, including pieces by Vivaldi, Arcangello Corelli, Pietro Locatelli, and Francesco Geminiani.

There’s a tension within the very name “concerto”: not just the way in which the term has evolved musically, but between the literal Italian meaning “gathering” or “accord” and the Latin derivation “concertare”, which denotes confrontation or battle. There are so many ways we can come together, in collaboration, competition, or opposition – sometimes “either/or”, sometimes “both/and”.

I was reminded of a workshop series which I ran for an organisation facing a challenging strategic situation, thick with uncertainty. Together, we built scenarios to explore how these uncertainties might play out in ways beyond their expectations, assumptions, hopes, or fears.

Those scenarios were then presented to the organisation’s board during an away day. Board members were introduced to the scenario planning approach, worked with the scenario material created by the organisation’s staff and other stakeholders, and then engaged in strategic conversation: what did these scenarios mean for the organisation? How could they inform the decisions which needed to be made?

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Summer Reading, Summer Viewing: Film and Fiction

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, and that means holiday season for many of us.

I’m a pretty voracious reader at any time of year, but I squeeze in one or two extra books when the days run longer and vacations slow the pace of people’s work emails. And a trip to the movies takes you out of the heat and out of your head, with an air-conditioned spell in the world of someone else’s projected dream.

Inverted Manhattan skyline from the cover of Fleishman is in Trouble
The flipped city of New York, from the cover of Fleishman Is In Trouble

My summer recommendations are two very different works of art about New York, one old and one new, both offering prisms through which to look at how we live together today. Read more

#NotEnoughScifi: Good things happen

Seven years ago now. Springtime in New York.

I had read Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker back in 2010 and it had blown my mind. One of the greatest kids’ books I’d ever seen, wondrous and witty and thrilling.

>Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch Review at Brooklyn Rail

Nnedi had a new YA novel coming out – Akata Witch, the beginning of a fresh series.

I wanted to sing the praises of an incredible writer who, at the time, was still not quite getting the attention she deserved.

I pitched a review to Brooklyn Rail, the New York arts paper.

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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.

Guest Post: Marta Cabral, Teachers College, New York: Being in Wonder

This week I’m joined by an exceptional arts educator, Marta Cabral of Teachers College at New York’s Columbia University. Marta supports young children in creating art which is then exhibited in a gallery space, allowing her students to experience the roles of artist, curator, and exhibition guide. Her passion for student-directed learning and supporting the artistic expression of even the very youngest children is exceptional.

Here’s Marta on “Being in Wonder (Wonderings and Wanderings of an Early Childhood Studio Teacher)”:

Marta Cabral at MoMa NYC
Marta Cabral at MoMa NYC

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Comics in the classroom: the artists’ perspective

As a writer with the shaky draftsmanship of a toddler on Red Bull, I tend to avoid discussing the visual aspect of comic book literature – this despite holding a Ph.D. which looked at the lives of many 20th century art historians!

I really struggled with art in high school. The only recognition a teacher ever showed for my artistic talents was at the age of 13, when I decorated the interior and exterior covers of my maths book with an epic stick-figure comic depicting the escapades of Jimmy Joe the Spew Surfer as he battled his way to a Ramones gig.

At the bottom of that week’s homework, Mr. O’Grady wrote: ‘7/10, some corrections to be made. Please kindly cover over the adventures of Jimmy Joe et al, or purchase a new exercise book.’ He then made me collect litter from the campus after school.

Jessica Abel, self-portrait
Self-portrait from 2007’s Life Sucks, by Jessica Abel

In this blog post, I want to redress the balance and hear artist-educators’ thoughts on using comics in the classroom. From the USA, we’re joined by acclaimed graphic novelist Jessica Abel, co-creator of the Drawing Words, Writing Pictures comics textbook. In London, Kel Winser works with children and young people creating Egyptian-themed superhero comics at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian archaeology, while Australian writer and illustrator Steve Axelsen runs workshops for young people in Western Sydney via the Westwords programme.

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Comics in the classroom: Dr. Yen Yen Woo and the Dim Sum Warriors

Dr. Yen Yen Woo is a filmmaker, comics creator and associate professor of education at Long Island University. She’s one half of the creative team behind Dim Sum Warriors, a comic-book iPad app which features pork buns, dumplings and other dim sum dishes battling for the throne of a fabled kingdom. The narrative is designed as a bilingual learning tool including English and Mandarin Chinese elements.

Yen Yen joins us today for her top tips on using comics in the classroom.

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Comics in the classroom guest post: Nick Sousanis of Teachers College, New York

American artist and educator Nick Sousanis is one of the experts interviewed in this month’s education article on Comics in the Classroom. Nick made his name on the Detroit art scene before beginning a Ph.D. at Teachers College in New York.

Unusually, Nick’s own doctoral thesis takes the form of a comic book – putting into practice his belief that the medium can be a powerful tool for intellectual inquiry and the communication of complex arguments.

Possibilities comic by Nick Sousanis
A page from Nick Sousanis’ ‘Possibilities’, a philosophical and historical examination of games

Nick is currently speaking at the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels. In today’s guest post, Nick shares his thoughts on making the most of comics in education.

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Cody Pickrodt – Comics in the classroom

This is one in a series of posts supporting my article in the curriculum supplement to New Zealand Education Gazette, out on June 18th. Find more resources, interviews and features on comics in education via my site’s comicsedu tag.

Cody Pickrodt is an American indie comics creator and educator who runs comic book workshops for Brooklyn kids through the non-profit organisation Uproar Art.

Poster for Chicago Alternative Comics Expo
Cody Pickrodt will be attending CAKE – Chicago’s Alternative Comics Expo – this weekend.
Image by Laura Park.

Cody joined me for an interview on my site back in February 2011, and features in my upcoming piece for the Gazette.

Today, Cody shares some of his top tips for getting students to create their own cartoons, comics and graphic narratives.

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The joy of copywriting: taking on government garble

I recently took a contract putting stilted government language into plain speech.  I’m rewriting hundreds of web pages covering all kinds of public service – from pest control to parking and schools to recycling.

Public sector copywriting might not sound glamorous, but it’s fun to attack a mountain of jargon and break it down into something clear, friendly, and informative for a wider readership.

I meet a lot of students who want to make a living as a writer. Although there’s a few working on screenplays, many teens imagine themselves growing up to be novelists – solitary, self-reliant figures hunched over a desk, creating a masterpiece which will earn them Rowling megabucks.

Yet the joys of many writing jobs are not solitary but social. Journalism and copywriting both involve getting out, talking with people, communicating and learning.

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