Category Archives: Observations

Good Weekend

I love this photo Dan snapped after an early morning beach walk. I’m happy. Ewan’s relaxed. The pale grey stucco of the house echoes the marine layer haze of our neighborhood. On this particular morning I started our morning walk in one mood and ended in another, much better, frame of mind. The image is a reminder of how much I love my family and also of how a short routine at the beginning of the day can make a world of difference in one’s mental well being.

This Friday, it’s sunny and there are dozens of surfers on the beach. We’re heading to a McSweeney’s picnic and are looking forward to a long weekend filled with art, nature, friends and good food. I hope to finish Zadie Smith’s NW. I also have some reading and writing to do in preparation for the Arts Dinner-Vention, so I’m thinking about leadership, and place, and working with a community. I’m excited to hear what the other guests have to say and thinking about how to choose my own words since there is limited time and I must choose carefully.

This week my cousin Hannah sent me a quote by Lao Tzu that has stayed with her during her year in Tanzania with the Peace Corps. I have heard it before but not in a while and was glad to be reminded of it:

Go to the people.

Live with them.

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know.

Build with what they have.

With the best leaders,

When the work is done,

The task accomplished,

The people will say

“We have done this ourselves”

-Lao Tzu


August: In Progress

SOMArts exteriorOver the past six months this blog has taken a back seat to some ambitious new initiatives at SOMArts, and to the everyday joys of being a mom. However, there is so much good stuff happening this August, I feel compelled to share:

  • Thanks to a $97k grant by Museums Connect, SOMArts is embarking on a creative and cultural exchange with youth in San Francisco and Kuala Lumpur, a new partnership with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.
  • Our most recent exhibition, Electronic Pacific generated some thoughtful press including this interview with artist Jenny Odell where she shares her approach to making people aware of the world around them, and the influence of place on her work.
  • The first artist meeting for the annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition took place last Tuesday. Fifty people gathered to share their ideas on the theme Imagining Time, Gathering Memory, which is dedicated to people whose lives have been affected by cancer.

The past few months have been challenging and the usual hallmarks of summer—warm nights, lazy mornings, a slightly slower pace—have been in short supply. Despite a serious lack of sleep and an endless to-do list, I am more grateful than I’ve ever been to be here, now, and am trying to make the most of every moment.

I snapped the pic above early one morning when I was the first person to arrive at SOMArts. A rare calm moment!

A Few Thoughts About ‘Lean In’

Seven weeks after I had my son Ewan in late January, Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” was published. I originally thought I’d be able to catch up on a lot of reading during maternity leave—now I know better. Between sleepless nights and 6+ hours of nursing each day, baths and pediatrician appointments and finding childcare for when I return to work, there is not as much free time as I had hoped.

And yet … the discussion  and emotions around”Lean In” were so intense I felt I had to read it. I downloaded the audiobook and finished it in two days while breastfeeding.

Because I listened to the audiobook, it’s hard to write a proper review with detailed quotes and excerpts. Which doesn’t matter, because I have a newborn and can only type with one hand these days, and because my main takeaway is Read. The. Book. The content of “Lean In” is far superior to the commentary, and more entertaining. Just do it. It’s only 6 and a half hours long as an mp3 and is very well suited to the medium.

Here’s my one-hand-typing review of the book: CONTINUE READING ]

Maker Months: July/August Update

My pregnancy-induced nesting binge has brought home the fact that I have not been much of a “maker” in recent years. Planner, editor and organizer? Yes. It takes a lot of work to run a cultural center, buy a home, and get married and all those things happened in the last two years. But actual, real-world assembly of parts and materials? Not so much.

So, in July and August I took time to re-learn some basic skills. I signed up for a few sewing classes at Workshop SF, checked out some how-to books at the San Francisco Public Library, began collecting online tutorials, ordered a sewing machine, and jumped in. So far, I’ve made three baby bibs and washcloths, a dog coat for Riggins, a baby snuggler, a blanket and some bloomers. I also hemmed our curtains and made some tablecloths for Feast of Words, SOMArts’ literary potluck.

People get crafty for all kinds of reasons and the main provocation in my case is to 1) save money, 2) have nicer things than I could otherwise afford. Not surprisingly, saving money and reaching above one’s financial means are two things I also think about daily in my work at SOMArts. At work, I like to call this “fighting above our weight.” It’s not about cutting back, it’s about doing more: how can we support more artists, reach a bigger audience, give them deeper experiences and make those experiences truly excellent? CONTINUE READING ]

Survival Instincts: June Update

June getaway in Mendocino + morning coffee=bliss.

I love this reflective post by Nina Simon about her first year as Executive Director at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Even more, I love hearing from so many friends who run organizations that since the 2011-12 season came to a close on June 30, we can safely say it was a good year. Not a perfect year (by any means!) but a year where many artists, organizations and groups—particularly those who are passionately creating/presenting work of, by and for communities—are feeling more stable, confident and prosperous.

June was filled with art for me and included two new exhibitions at SOMArts, The Lab’s art auction, and a Mother’s Day performance of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit starring the incomparable Rhodessa Jones (here’s a pic of me on stage as a rabbit). After the performance, I came home and there was a free music show at Mollusk Surf Shop featuring Yesway, who performed at SOMArts during the exhibition Frontrunners. I stopped by and it was full of familiar faces of all ages who I see walking around my neighborhood. The music was great, it was the kind of thing I dreamed of 10 years ago—living right next door to the ocean and a small local shop with good art and music.

Later in June Dan and I escaped to Mendocino and Fort Bragg, where we tried to visit Lost Coast Culture Machine (it was closed). I went on a summer reading binge which included four books in four weeks: The Botany of Desire, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, The American Heiress and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. June closed with the performance festival This Is What I Want and a weekend of game development workshops in the gallery to prepare for the Nov/Dec Commons Curatorial Residency by Come Out And Play.

My personal “June gloom” was talking with yet another friend who works in the arts who is moving out of San Francisco because she wants to put down roots and can’t afford to buy here. She was the fourth person I’ve spoken to in two weeks who loves the city but is moving out because once you are in your mid-30s you start feeling like paying the highest rent in the country is maybe a bad financial decision. As much as I love San Francisco, the thought of so many smart and interesting arts workers leaving depresses the hell out of me even though I know it is a smart thing to do for survival.



Dan and I take a break from wedding festivities in Piedmont Park, Atlanta.

Words With Care: Leadership & Communication Challenges

The other day I was scrolling through Harvard Business Review podcasts when an interview with Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola came on. He was talking about doubling the size of his company, but what amazed me was his double-speak: soda became a “full calorie beverage.” The nation’s obesity problem became an opportunity for philanthropists to promote “energy balance.” The content of the interview was normally something I’d skip, but I found myself transfixed by Kent’s style in answering the tough questions he was being asked about water supply, the environment, obesity and his first years as CEO. It reminded me of the story of how Steve Jobs lured John Sculley from Pepsi, saying ”Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?” What can those of us who want to change the world for the better learn from a CEO of Coca-Cola? CONTINUE READING ]

Picture Jasper Ridge, or Generous vs. Engaged

My iphone photo taken at Ann Carlson's 70-minute performance hike, "Picture Jasper Ridge."

On Friday I went to see Picture Jasper Ridge Ann Carlson’s 70-minute performance hike through the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve near Stanford University. You could not have asked for a more beautiful day to see art outdoors. As we passed through the gates of Jasper Ridge we were divided into smaller groups and asked to hold silence. This was my second “no speaking” performance this year, the first was Sleep No More by Punchdrunk Theatricals, where the audience followed—sometimes ran—after the performers, who ate and sang and danced and seduced one another through several floors of the McKittrick Hotel.

In Picture Jasper Ridge, the performers do not move or speak either. Visitors come upon them in tableaux vivants recreating archival images on or near the spot they were taken. Using a printed program, we were able to identify the images, along with some images of nature that indicated the passage of time: a skeleton of a deer who died giving birth, a rare leatherwood flower, a tree that had grown over the “No Swimming” sign affixed to its trunk.

One essay in the program addressed the experience of photographing a living image of an archive and many people brought along cameras. It is rare for an audience to be allowed to photograph work by someone as acclaimed as Ann Carlson. I brought my Nikon SLR but at the last minute decided against it and left it in the car. Even though I love taking photos, the thought of being an audience member with a large camera is intimidating to me even when given permission. So I didn’t bring my camera, but when people began taking photos I couldn’t resist taking several (including the one above) on my iphone instead.

For the first 20 minutes or so, it was impossible to silence the part of my mind that incessantly chatters white-paper jargon about “audience engagement” an “manufacturing meaning” because it was such a unique experience but one that seems tailor-made for community-based, neighborhood-based work. I was not surprised when, following the show, I learned that Picture Jasper Ridge was informed by Carlson’s earlier work Night Light, which was performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2002.

After the hike the audience and performers gathered around picnic tables to share a meal before taking the shuttle back to Stanford. It was opening night (afternoon?) so everyone was buzzing about the experience. I overheard one of the performers talking about how some of the groups seemed more “generous” than others because they took in the tableaux, while other groups—clearly the lesser groups according to the performer speaking—were busy snapping photos.

As someone who performed as an actor on stage every year for 20 years, I get what he was saying but I had never thought of it that way. It has been eight years since I performed and in that time pro-am photography and smart phones have become part of the live art experience. So, I’ve had the experience of being an audience member with a camera. And I’ve had the experience of being an administrator enforcing camera/no camera rules and conferring with artists about it. But until yesterday I hadn’t put myself in the shoes of a performer in the sense of what it feels like to perform for an audience who is actively engaged—with their cameras, or with some other activity that calls upon the audience as a creative or curatorial participant.

Of course it feels better to see emotion on the face of your audience, to hear them laugh and cry and gasp and clap. When the audience is active the rules change, the usual cues of an audience who is enjoying the performance are gone or different. After this experience I will be more mindful of that in my own work.

For Picture Jasper Ridge, I really enjoyed having permission to participate in a small interpretive way by framing and editing and sharing  the beautiful images created by Carlson and her collaborators. And a “performance hike” was well suited to this type of participation. The performers were still and we were not rushed from place to place. Because the hike was 70 minutes there was a lot of time between the performances to take in the experience with all senses and let one’s mind wander. As we got deeper into the hike I thought about my own history and how it connects with the natural world.

The morning after the performance, I enjoyed looking back at the photographs and recalling the whole experience. Picture Jasper Ridge was an experience that will stay with me for a long time.