Light at the end of the candle 2013

Being in Israel to witness what is the start of Anat's parents' recovery and healing from the accident in Germany was a gift to take into the future. Back home in Vancouver there have been other twists and turns, ups and downs along this year and we feel fortunate to work with what we have and make the most of it.
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Stories are waiting to be told. Our wish for you all in 2014 is simple and clear:
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Happy New Year


Talking about cars*

“So what is it about Vancouver that everyone’s talking about?”, my father's question from 2009 resonated in me as I was taking this picture. Downtown cities crammed with high-rises are a common sight in our world. Watching south from North Vancouver’s Waterfront Park you can definitely recognize it's Vancouver. However, to be honest, as a postcard image, it's just another big city. So what is it about Vancouver that everyone’s talking about? In my morning discussion with my wife we were talking about my future as urban designer. Am I actually contributing to our city's future?
One of my first incidents of planning for urban space was back in 2006. An invitation to participate in a public arts selection panel for the Steveston Community Center has introduced me to Doug Senft, one of three artists who had prepared a maquette for that eventHis Metal Cathedral from 1986 is a beautiful reflection on nature in and about the city. Still, our city is only as beautiful and meaningful as the people living in it and building it.
For our visit to the north shore we decided to take a walk starting from Lonsdale Quay and to let our steps lead us. Walking into the Waterfront Park, I was intrigued to see all these BMWs scattered around the lawn. My love affair with BMW started as a boy browsing through my grandmother’s National Geographic Magazine. Every month they used to have ads for BMW on one of the very first pages of each issue. I still admire what BMW are making but not so much as a drooling teenager anymore.
In 2009, after going to various places and experiencing some of Vancouver’s sights, my parents got over their flight inflicted back pains and jet lag. But it wasn’t until they had seen an acquaintance they’d known from a visit to Germany a few years earlier that the city made sense to them. Suddenly their whole visit turned into a story of success.

So what is it about a car club show that BMW lovers might talk about?

As Anat, Inbal and I were sitting on a bench enjoying the weather, the views and the hotdog, a passer by has asked me whether I was a BMW owner. Our first words drifted away from cars to let us learn that he had come from Acre. When he had realized our Israeli origins, our exchange shifted into an intriguing conversation. The whole visit to North Vancouver became a heart warming connection. Our city is only as beautiful and meaningful as the people living in it and caring for it.
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* This is for Judi, whose recent remark about blogging was probably a good push for writing this one. Thank you.


The Art of Engagement

Here's a way to prepare for a TED talk: go to a PechaKucha!
The July 2013 Richmond event brought on stage ten people affiliated with creativity. I appreciate the effort of talking in front of an audience while twenty of your slides change every twenty seconds. I've done this last year and had fun. Having said that, it's hard work to tell a personal story and be relevant to your audience. Most of this year's presenters had good content. Most of them failed to engage me as an audience. Unfortunately I come with expectations.
Next week I will audition for a TEDx event. I'm always curious to see others present their work, ideas and insights. Preparing for my own talk turned my interest into a quest for reference. Look. Creative people. What is it that makes you want to describe anything about yourself in front of an audience? What does it mean to interest others in your work, your life, your ideas?
Our lives are full of exposure to images, imagery, imagination. When I come to see and hear someone talk about something, anything, can you please deliver a show other than what I can zap through the internet as soon as I type your name? But it's not only the availability of information. It's the engagement. You are the medium. You are the show. The message is there. If you aren't there to deliver it, why are you there?
Well, Diyan Achjadi had lovely images in her slides but her reading from her pages didn't do justice to her insights; Laura Bucci entered the stage in a promising march and talked to the screen instead of to us; OK, Nan Capogna tried to sell someone else's show which she curated: not a good choice; and then two other presenters challanged my expectations until the break: Sammy Chien, who was cute but too nerveous to stand and talk and Yayoi Hirano, whose work is evidently graceful and impressive but her presentation was none of that. The intermission presented a very welcome break for my nerves.
Should I leave? Do I stay? Hmm, if anyone is about to be better, they deserve an audience. Maybe I'm not the right audience. But it's not about me. It's not about you. It's about our connection and what makes it exist.
They all had content. Good content as such. Toni Latour introduced a compelling story and if, again, she could move a bit or leave the papers at home... Her story was focused, interesting and successfully put together though; Greg Masuda had a fascinating story which he managed to read with his eyes fixed to his smartphone screen...; 
At last Vjeko Sager brought a whiff of relief: his kind of off hand delivery of disregard and contempt complemented his edgy works on screen which provided evidence that it doesn't have to be so hard to light a fire. Jeff Chiba Stearns managed to keep the juices running with an amusing description of his family's history. In my momentum of disillusionment I wish he were somewhat more lively on stage; finally we reached Rick Tae who had good images and a nice flow of a story if a bit fluffy to my taste, but hey!
It's not about me. It's not about you. It's about our connection and how we make it work. Did this help me prepare for the TEDx audition? Maybe it is about me after July 18th. You might tell me about it.



“How do you spell whatever?!”
Prior to my interview with the selection panel for the West Richmond Community Center’s Art project five questions were sent to me for reference. They involved my ability to work with a variety of age groups, my process of developing collaborative processes and the challenges and opportunities I see in the proposed space. The questions seemed reasonable to me. They almost felt too easy. I knew I had to find a way to present the panel with "How do you spell whatever?"

This was my response to a youth from the community arts project in Vancouver I was involved in - Norquay Park 2010 Clean Water. When I had asked him what the story was in the tile he had been working on he answered in a single word: “Whatever”... In response to my "How do you spell whatever", he mumbled "Aam,... Double U, eighche, A, ... Whatever." From then on he seemed to be just a bit more engaged and interested. It was a moment that made me realize a point in community engagement: No one is there for you. As a facilitator my responsibility is to be with my audience. And at that exact moment I was totally with him. 

My entry into the City of Richmond’s public art platform started at around that time. Richmond’s public art planner, Eric Fiss, was coordinating a Pecha Kucha event. I had been looking for an opportunity to present the mosaic story and the waiting list for the Vancouver event looked hopelessly long. It still is. The Richmond event was cancelled that year but I stayed in touch with Eric and got onto the artists roster for public community arts. The way community arts projects are handled in Vancouver made me curious to see what things were like in Richmond.

The traffic to Richmond on the evening of my interview had been surprisingly light compared to previous experiences so I have arrived pretty early to City Hall. Eric seemed a bit concerned as if a possible encounter with the artist who was being interviewed before me might not be the best idea. For me it was no big deal. I found a spot to sit and prepare stuff for my turn. When the artist before me came out of the meeting room I handed her my card and introduced myself. I later found out that she, Jeanette Lee, was the one selected for this project.

Engagement in community arts is all about collaboration and the connections we make. When I stepped into the room where the panel had been waiting it was my first time to see them. However, our discussion seemed to pick up as if from some time in the past. The question from Norquay didn’t have to wait for too long to be mentioned. In my Pecha Kucha presentation it comes on the second slide. As I was preparing for the interview I had realized that my way of responding to the reference questions would be through a story. And the Norquay Mosaics story is still fresh as an illustration of my approach to dealing with community, be it kids, adults or seniors.

Community Arts is not about arts. It’s not even about community. It’s about our connections and what we make of them. Then our community is built. Then we make art.

So tell me now, what is your story, and how do you spell whatever?


See me and Julio down at the... PAC meeting

My first visit to a PAC meeting might be remembered by some for my proposal to call teachers by name… First name that is. I certainly remember the reaction of some to my proposal: vehement rejection.
When I was considering raising the issue it seemed to me almost like a non issue that maybe I shouldn't bother with. My vision of it was that people would just nod and say sure, why not. After all, we are in the 21st century.
It turns out I don’t know people that well. Do I know what PAC is? Is it Council or Committee... ? Well, it’s Council: “All parents/guardians of children in a school are members of the Parent Advisory Council” (from the School Board’s Handbook).
So here I am, almost three years as a parent of a child in school; still learning what this whole education system is all about; still trying to remember people’s names when I recognize their face. Anat and I try to alternate in attending PAC meetings so that the burden (and sometimes boredom) is shared.
Yes, you don’t have to be there to be a member. Before we know it, our daughter is eighteen and…, yeah, what century are we still in?


How are we doing, you may ask.

Fine tuning a message is like mixing colors to reach the perfect hue. The industry would always market the latest offering as the best ever. Then next year a new variant will show up, again, as the ultimate solution.
Strength Based Learning (SBL) is a fine title for an educational concept.
For me, an underlying tension exists between our intentions and the resulting messages we try to promote. My interaction with my daughter involves many expressions of behavior. Some of them are more pleasant than others. As she acquires the communication tools through exposure and practice, our interaction becomes more complex, challenging and rewarding. What is it in what we do that helps her in life and what might it be that undermines her progress? These questions are hard pressed to provide answers when dealing with other adults.
Many times I brought home exams marked at 97 points out of 100. My grandmother used to ask me “Why not a hundred?” She always did it with a smile that showed her content. But the message stayed: anything but perfect is not good enough. This search for balance between aspirations and reality is a life long endeavour. Everyone has a version of it that is made of infinite bits of beliefs and behaviours that make any of us what we are. Social interaction is a journey full of collaborations and confrontations. Throughout life I absorb ideas as well as reject others. In raising my kid I hope to expose her to experiences that lead her to socially healthy independence.
What is the state of social health in our world, our city, our neighbourhood? My daughter is an avid reader, so it seams we’ve done well so far. In the context of SBL we are commended as well as encouraged to go for more. But more might not necessarily mean more of the same. In the meeting with Faye Brownlie I found myself saying that our kids don’t need us that much. When adults try to discuss methods of promoting success of their kids I tend to cringe a bit. The intentions are all positive and worthy.
Children grow into their family and almost simultaneously out of it. We have a varying degree of control over their lives. My hope is to see my daughter confidently take control over her own life. She might share her perception of our efforts in the future. At the moment her ability and interest in doing so are limited.
Until we get her feedback if at all, we are busy mixing the colors in search of the perfect hue.


Strength Based Learning

In January this year Norquay School Principal Tricia Rooney shared with parents at the PAC meeting the concept of Strength Based Learning. On Tuesday, March 12, Faye Brownlie, a literacy and learning expert shared insights with a few parents and teachers at the school library. Teachers and Staff of Norquay Elementary in Vancouver have been introduced to Faye and the principles of Strength Based Learning by Tricia some time before. Faye Brownlie’s talk provided an intriguing window of thought into issues relating to the education of our children.

The focus of Strength Based Learning is in promoting the natural ability of anyone to succeed. For better or lesser reasons, our interest in promoting our kids’ success is always challenged. In society we then face a reality that not all of us are performing to the extent of our ability.
A child’s entry into adult world hinges on their ability to communicate in support of the society we all rely on. Play, learning and practice expose us as kids to a process that eventually becomes who and how strong we are. As adults we continue to play, learn and practice. As parents we hope to pass the better parts of our strength to our children.

Reading and writing are the core tools that enable us to connect in society. How to promote literacy in the early stages of life is where Strength Based Learning has a lot of insights to offer. Faye’s work around BC and elsewhere is an ongoing effort of keeping us connected to the simple truth that any of us is successful.
Norquay PAC shared the costs of inviting Faye to talk on this occasion. In appreciation to this and Tricia’s enthusiasm as an educator, I will continue to contemplate more at the topic and post new thoughts as they surface.