“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

A beautiful piece on death, dying and grieving written by a friend of my poet friend Adam’s wife Lee, who passed away a few days ago, way too young, way too soon:

Saying Kaddish

I’m sorry I never got to meet Lee, and I’m heartbroken for Adam and their children. I cannot help but think of my mother, who passed away when I was 16, and of all the children who grow up missing their mother, for so many reasons. I’ve spent my whole life searching for my mother. The other day, for the first time I saw some old home movies of my parents and grandparents playing with my sister and I when we were very young. It was amazing to see my grandmother smiling, something I don’t remember her doing much, and most especially to see my mother, young, beautiful and alive…. I know I’ll be watching that DVD again many, many times.

This is a letter I recently sent to the folks at the Knight Foundation regarding the Knight Arts Challenge. If you agree with anything I’ve written here, or have thoughts of your own on how to improve the Knight Arts Challenge, please share a comment here, and let them know too!

~

An Open Letter to the Knight Arts Challenge
Why I Didn’t Apply This Year

March 31, 2011

Dear Folks at the Knight Arts Challenge,

First, thanks for all you have done for our community, both through the Knight Arts Challenge, as well as your other generous funding. I have personally benefited from this funding as an employee of the Broward County Libraries, teaching computer classes on a grant from the Knight Foundation throughout much of 2010. I know our students greatly benefited from these classes as well – they really made a difference to a lot of formerly computer-illiterate people! I also appreciate the funding the Knight Foundation provides in a multitude of communities throughout the US.

I was thrilled and interested when I first heard about the Knight Arts Challenge, attended several information sessions, and eagerly prepared and submitted my ideas for multiple arts projects. And I have submitted multiple ideas every round of funding, until the most recent round.

What happened? I got discouraged. Not one of my ideas ever even made it past the first round. This has been disappointing, but that’s not what really discouraged me. What discouraged me the most was observing that very few individual artists have received any funding whatsoever in the Knight Arts Challenge. I am not the only person who has noticed this imbalance, it’s something a number of applicants have brought up in conversation over the past several years.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and concluded that this imbalance could be a result of one or more of these factors:

1. A majority of applications are submitted by non-profits and few by artists (though I doubt this is the case).
2. Non-profits submit more polished applications, due to having paid staff and grant writers available to prepare applications.
3. An institutional bias may exist at Knight Arts Challenge favoring non-profits, based on a belief, conscious or sub-conscious, that non-profits are more credible.
4. Individual artists are not submitting good, credible ideas and applications (though I doubt this is the case).
5. An institutional bias may exist at Knight Arts Challenge favoring non-profits, based on Knight staff being more familiar with and having long-term working relationships with non-profits and their staff.
6. Other factors which I have not thought of yet.

I don’t know what the real reason is that you’re funding very few individual artists in the Knight Arts Challenge. You have gone out of your way to solicit applications from artists and encourage artists to apply. And I know many, many artists who have applied, with great enthusiasm. Whatever the reason, I appreciate the fact that you allow individual artists to apply – many grantors don’t – and I would like to see a more level playing field here, one that results in more grants to individual artists.

While you are clearly devoting a great deal of funding to the arts, it seems to me this funding tends to benefit arts audiences and organizations more than artists. While these things are not entirely separate, and developing greater appreciation for the arts among audiences, and building audiences for the arts does benefit artists, I encourage you to find ways to directly support and fund artists. Because without working artists, there will ultimately be no arts for audiences to appreciate.

To quote your application: “We are seeking projects that strive to create good, high quality art in our community.” Other priorities for your funding include arts that bring the community together and create a sense of community. Perhaps your focus on community has obscured the fact that artists, those who actually create the art that audiences and organizations are consuming and promoting, are one of the most important parts of that equation.

I’ve seen similar situations with a lot of arts funders, who often fund non-profit organizations but not individual artists. This creates an environment where artists are either pressured to turn themselves into non-profit organizations, even when this may not be the most appropriate business model for their work, or towards compromising their artistic integrity and vision for the sake of commercial viability. While some artists do find ways to achieve commercial success without that kind of compromise, more direct non-commercial funding for artists would make a difference in artists’ working environment, and allow more artists the time and resources to create great work.

So I would encourage you to ask yourselves why it is that so few individual artists are receiving funding from the Knight Arts Challenge? I suggest that you consider designating a certain amount of funding for organizations, and a certain amount for individual artists. Perhaps this has already occurred to you, as you do ask applicants to indicate whether we are applying as an individual or an organization.

Or if you discover any factors affecting grant decisions such as the ones suggested above, I strongly encourage you to work to remedy them, so that more individual artists can receive funding for their excellent projects.

I would be happy to discuss this issue with you, and to engage with you in a revision of Knight Arts Challenge procedures, in order to create a more level playing field for individual artists. I would also be happy to recommend other outstanding artists in our community who may be interested in assisting with this revision.

Again, thanks for all you do, and I hope this feedback will be meaningful and helpful to you in your work to enhance the arts in South Florida and other communities!

Sincerely yours,
Laura Sue Wilansky
The Silver Nightingale
Creative Economy Committee – Broward County’s 2020 Cultural Plan
Vision Broward – Creative Industries Task Force

Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yeah, in shock! I wrote a voluminous blog after the election, which is still sitting in my drafts folder waiting to be finished. And then, I just kinda… was in shock for a while, and stopped blogging. It was GREAT that Obama got elected, but I couldn’t believe it actually happened. To tell the truth, it’s still hard for me to believe it. He’s not perfect, and he’s not doing everything I want, but I’m still happy Obama got elected. President Barack Obama. No one can ever undo that.

From reading other people’s blogs, it looks like blog pauses are pretty common – people just stop for irregular periods of time, usually with no explanation. So maybe we’ll just call that my little Sabbatical, leaving the fields fallow for a while. That’s something we’re all supposed to do every once in a while anyway, planned or spontaneous!

But for a while now, I’ve been thinking alot about things I want to say in this forum again, so stay tuned! More posts coming soon, including something that I hope will stir up some conversation in the South Florida Arts Community (and maybe even beyond!)

“All of us, we all have a responsibility. You have to get your news from news sources, not just one, ’cause they’re all biased, especially the cable channels: MSNBC – very liberal; Fox News – very conservative; The Animal Planet – always meerkats, never badgers.

“You know what bothers me is that every election year as well, you get the voter registration drives aimed at the young people – Rock the Vote, Think the Vote, Music the Vote…. Are we so lost we have to be sold our own democratic right?!…. We have to sexy up the vote for young people?

“Here’s what I would say to you: ‘If you don’t vote, you’re a moron.’ I know what you’ll say: ‘Not voting is a vote.’ No it isn’t. Not voting is just being stupid!

“Voting is not sexy. Voting is not hep. It is not fashionable. It’s not a movie, it’s not a video game. All the kids ain’t doin’ it. Frankly, voting is a pain in the ass! But here’s a word – look it up. It is your DUTY to vote!

“The foundation in this democracy is based on free people making free choices. So young people, if you can’t take your hand out of your bag of Cheetos long enough to fill out a form, then you can’t complain when we wind up with President Sanjaya.

“We have two patriotic candidates. They both love this country, they have different ideas about what to do with it. Learn about them, read about them, question them, listen to them. Then on Election Day, exercise your sacred right as an American and listen to yourself.”

– Craig Ferguson, The Craig Ferguson Show, 9/11/08

~

“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
– Josef Stalin

~

Best Campaign Season Song:

They Lost My Vote by my dear friends Ellen Bukstel and Nancy Wuerzburger
Watch it on the YouTube: They Lost My Vote
(I actually appear in this video very briefly!)

~

Best Number to Call if You See Something Funky Happening at the Polls:

ELECTION PROTECTION HOTLINE
866/OUR-VOTE – that’s 866/687-8683

~

Most Satisfying Campaign Violence:

David Alan Grier pulverizing an Obama-to-McCain vote-flipping electronic voting machine with a baseball bat – Chocolate News, 10/25/08

~

Best Campaign Season Commercial:

Video collage of people ordering at the drive-thru, followed by: We know you have a voice. We hear it every day. Use it November 4th. VOTE. Have it your way ’08 – Burger King

Best Way for Broward County Voters to Check Your Voter Registration:

You can now check your voter registration status online. This is a great thing to do, especially for people who just registered for the first time and want to make sure they’re on the voter rolls, who have moved, or who have any questions whatsoever about their registration status.

Go to Broward Supervisor of Elections Office and click on “Check Your Registration Status” in the middle of the page. You’ll enter your name and date of birth. Please note: enter just your first name, even if you registered with your first and middle name like I did. When I entered my first and middle name, the system could not find my registration, however when I entered just my first name, it came right up.

Based on my experience as a Broward County pollworker, the earlier you register and/or make changes in your registration, the better. Changes made close to the election often create problems at the polls.

I highly recommend you check your registration status before going to the polls, and take your voter registration card to the polls with you! (even though having your voter registration card with you is not required to vote) In the current election environment, many, many voters are being wrongfully removed from the voter rolls without their knowledge. So it is up to us to make sure our Constitutional right to vote is not compromised or denied. Those of you not in Broward County, check with your local county Supervisor of Elections Office and hold them accountable!

~

Best Way for Broward County Voters to Get Involved in Election Protection:

1. Vote for Ellen H. Brodsky, NPA for Broward County Supervisor of Elections
2. Join Broward Election Reform Coalition

or: Are We There Yet?

“New Rule: Stop saying we can’t impeach George Bush. We still have two months!” – Dennis Kucinich, DNC New Rules, Real Time with Bill Maher, 9/08

“Mo [Rocca] used to host a TV show called ‘Things I Hate About You’. I’m sure I’ve seen that program, only I believe it’s now called Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” – Dick Cheney, 2008 Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner

“We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” – John McCain, Presidential Debate the Third, 10/15/08

“It reminds me a little bit of what Mary McCarthy once said about Lillian Hellman: ‘Every word out of her mouth is a lie including and and the.’” – Jonathan Alter of Newsweek on McCain’s lies about Obama, The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/10/08

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Gov. Palin brought up Joe Biden’s quote [re offshore drilling] about us raping the ocean floors this evening. Does Gov. Palin support the ocean paying for its own rape kits?” – John Oliver to Senior McCain Advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the Vice-Presidential Debate – The Daily Show, 10/06/08

“Keith, I’m going to be as restrained and measured as I possibly can about this, but this is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed comment that we have seen from Gov. Palin so far, and there’s been a lot of competition for that prize.” – Richard Wolffe of Newsweek on Gov. Palin’s ridicule of scientific research using fruit flies during her first policy speech, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 10/24/08

“There’s no doubt that what Sen. Edwards did shows a serious lack of judgment. But just because a married man cheats on his wife with a younger blonde he met in a bar doesn’t mean he’s not a patriot. Just ask John McCain.” – Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, 9/08

“This bailout does feel like trying to pull a car out of a ditch and finding out it’s out of gas. You’re making progress, but you’re still not going anywhere.” – Craig Crawford of CQPolitics.com, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 10/03/08

“It’s a good idea to save your money. One day it might be worth something again!” – Alfred E. Neuman

“This campaign… began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as ‘The One’. Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him ‘that one’. He doesn’t mind at all, in fact he even has a pet name for me: George Bush.” – John McCain at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, 10/16/08

“I was thrilled to get this invitation and I feel right at home here, because it’s often been said that I have the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Neuman.” – Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, 10/16/08

“How come we choose from just two people for President, and fifty for Miss America?” – Alfred E. Neuman

“The reason why Absurdist plays take place in No Man’s Land with only two characters is primarily financial.” – Arther Adamov, Russian-born French dramatist

“In our time of lies and hate it seems appropriate to be reminded of the beauty of saying yes to the chaos of truth….” – Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses

I have, until now, refrained from commenting upon Republican Candidate for Spokes-Vice President Sarah Palin and her oh-so-many commentworthy characteristics. I do have my opinions about Palin, but so does everyone else – and as far as I could see, everything I’d been thinking was already being said by someone else.

But now I feel I must speak up, being uniquely qualified to comment upon one particular facet of this multi-faceted candidate: Sarah Palin as Flautist.

This is in my bailiwick.

By now you may have seen the video of Palin playing “The Homecoming” during the Talent portion of the 1984 Miss Alaska competion (Though her name wasn’t Palin then, she was Sarah Heath.)

In case you yourself are not a professional flautist or music journalist like me, please allow me to give you the benefit of my expertise in evaluating this performance.

The MC introduced Ms. Heath, saying the piece she was going to play was arranged by “Sarah’s favorite artist, James Galway”. Unfortunately, the Galway influence was in no way evident in her performance.

Palin’s posture was good, and her flute position was generally good as well, but not her finger position. Among other things, she makes the classic rookie mistake of moving her fingers way too much, and most especially, sticking her left pinkie way up in the air. Good flute technique dictates keeping your fingertips close to the keys at all times, and using the absolute minimum amount of movement required to play each note.

It’s easy to see Palin’s stage presence, self-possession and charm in this video, as she smiles unwaveringly despite her generally horrid playing. If you watched the video with the sound off, you would probably think she was feeling good about a very successful performance. Her ability to put the best face on things in this way has obviously served her quite well over the years.

But with the sound on… well, that’s another story. Her breathing is shaky and uneven – like many amateur flautists – making her phrasing short and choppy, and her tone shrill and unsteady. More experienced flautists learn how to breathe through the stage fright everyone gets, so it doesn’t affect our playing.

There’s no passion or genuine artistic expression in her playing; what we hear here is a pretty rote delivery of (approximately) what’s written in the sheet music. Worst of all is Palin’s pitch – really, really bad pitch.

In all fairness, I must say that the live house band accompanying her is also pretty bad, especially in the pitch department, and the whole lot get progressively more out of tune as the song wears on. Unfortunately they’re all off-pitch in divergent directions, resulting in a painfully dissonant ensemble, rather than the sweet, slightly chaotic disharmony of, say, Lisa Simpson’s school orchestra.

All in all, I’d have to place Palin’s performance on a level with an okay grade-schooler, or a not very good junior high student musician. That said, as far as I know, we haven’t had any decent musicians among our Presidential candidates for quite a while now. Ah, for the days when politicans valued the arts!

~

“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”
– Pres. John F. Kennedy, honoring Robert Frost, October 1963

~

The Campaign Gets Personal – Episode 1

“Who are we to give up? I’m a black woman living in America. At any other point in America I would have been enslavable. I would have been Jim Crowed. I’m a Professor at Princeton University!

“Who am I to give up? How dare I give up and say ‘Oh, we can’t fix it, it can’t be done.’ When people overcame, when people who are my people – my grandmother, who was a domestic worker, my father who went to Jim Crow public schools…. How dare I give up? I feel like we just have too much privilege to be the ones to give up.”

– Melissa Harris-Lacewell, on Hurricane Katrina Recovery
Bill Moyers Journal, August 2007

Perhaps you have heard the story of Maher Arar. If you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell: Mr. Arar, a citizen and resident of Canada was grabbed up – basically kidnapped by the U.S. Government – in 2002 during a family vacation stopover at JFK Airport, and illegally sent off to be imprisoned and tortured in the Middle East for over a year. The notorious Syrian prison where Arar was held and brutally tortured for over 10 months is known as “The Grave”. Arar’s arrest was made based on false information, and Arar was given no opportunity to consult with a lawyer – told by our government that he had no rights whatsoever because he is not a U.S. citizen.

Since being returned to Canada in 2003, the Canadian government has cleared Arar of any wrongdoing, made a formal apology to him, admitted its complicity in Arar’s wrongful detainment, and awarded him over $10 million dollars. The U.S. Government has yet to admit its illegal actions, or even take Arar off the terrorist watchlist – which he should have never been on in the first place – even though the Canadian Government officially requested Arar be removed from this list in January 2007. Arar’s case against the U.S Government continues.

I’m writing about Mr. Arar because I am moved by the story of his suffering and survival, and disturbed by how little I’ve heard about Arar in mainstream media. And I am inspired by the ongoing efforts in pursuit of justice by Mr. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh. Were it not for the intense campaign of Mazigh to have Arar freed, he might still be imprisoned.

I first heard Mr. Arar’s story in 2006, and was reminded of Mr. Arar again when he was interviewed on Fresh Air recently. You can listen to the show here:
Canadian Citizen Imprisoned by U.S. Speaks Out

There have been a number of other excellent stories on NPR about Mr. Arar as well, which you can find and listen to by searching their website. You can find more info about Arar’s case on his website, as well as in an extensive Wikipedia entry on Extraordinary Rendition.

This is just one of many stories of illegal, unconstitutional actions taken by the current U.S. administration, and as citizens, I believe we all bear some responsibility for our government’s actions. So I sent this letter to Mr. Arar in October 2007, when members of the U.S. Congress also apologized to him, as he appeared before them to testify about his experiences:

Dear Mr. Arar,
I heard your story on several NPR programs in October of 2006, and was very moved hearing of the ordeal you and your family have endured. During an interview, you were asked about whether an apology from the US Government would help. As a citizen of the United States, I would like to apologize to you, knowing that an apology from this particular government will probably never be forthcoming. Though I am proud of my country, I am deeply ashamed of this government and its many inhumane and destructive actions. This government, which myself and many others believe was not legitimately elected, neither speaks nor acts on my behalf. And many, many of us are working to ensure that the people who did this to you will be removed from power. It is a challenge, but hopefully one which can be accomplished sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, I work for peace, most especially with my friends of many faiths in an interfaith peace group, where we work to educate each other and the public at large about the beauty of each of our religions, and the many common values we share. We work to support each other, and in particular to change the perception that Islam endorses violence and that Muslims are dangerous and should be feared.

What happened to you, I believe, is a direct result of the scapegoating and fear-mongering being used by this government to further its political goals. I pray that such injustice will pass away from our world, and that no one will ever have to go through something like this again.

I started writing this message in 2006 but never completed it. Then the other day I heard that you had testified before Congress recently, and remembered that I had not completed and sent this message to you. I hope that the apologies you received from members of Congress provided you with some small measure of comfort. I know nothing can erase the wrong that has been done to you and your family, or make up for your suffering.

I wish you peace and healing, and thank you for all you are doing to bring attention to these issues.

Peace and Love,
Laura Sue

PS I am sending this via e-mail because I wanted to send this apology to you with my personal contact info, so you would know it is coming from a real person and US citizen.

* Flute Fusion * from The Silver Nightingale
(—–(-o-o-o-`—o-o-o-(0-ooo-()
http://www.SilverNightingale.com

“Do not be preoccupied with killing the dinosaur. Rather, invent the gazelle.” – E.F. Schumaker

I am posting this information because this is a story everyone, especially everyone in the United States, should know, and because I greatly respect and support Maher Arar and Monia Mazigh’s persistent work – in the face of tremendous resistance from the current U.S. Government – to make sure that what happened to them does not happen to others.

~

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
So much has been destroyed –
I cast my lot with those who, age after age,
Perversely, with no extraordinary power,
Reconstitute the world.”
– Adrienne Rich

Great Words from Great Wordsmiths

“I am the strings, and the Supreme is the musician.” - Carlos Santana

“What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.” - Collette

“I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” - Rabindranath Tagore

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” - Maya Angelou
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