Monthly Archives: June 2018

What I Actually Do 

So, what do you do?

On the surface, the question seems simple enough. Standard opener for casual conversation. Simple questions carry complexities, though, and even though I’m expecting it, even though it’s been asked of me a million times, I somehow always struggle to answer.

This past week in particular I’ve found myself frequently faced with this situation of needing to succinctly sum myself up. Several new folks have joined the team at The Art Effect, and the question’s come up with them. In addition, I just got back from a three-day conference in Houston, a gathering convened by the Fund for Shared Insight to bring together the hundreds of non-profit grantees who, via receipt of the grant award, are embedding into their organizations the practice of listening in a simple but systematic and rigorous way that builds participant experience and expertise into the structuring of operations. In other words, the grant helps use make sure client input is valued and prioritized when we make decisions as an organization, an intentional action of equity that helps shift the dynamic from transactional to transformative. It was a fabulously informative and heart-warming few days of community building amongst the non-profit grantees, and given all the networking time built in, I again found myself being asked (and struggling to answer), over and over again–

And what do you do?

Part of the issue is time. I wear so many hats that it takes time just to list out the general departments and programs I supervise. In these kinds of situations, I usually answer at first with my job title — Director of Education and Experience — and in some cases, it clicks. If I’m met by a puzzled expression, I can always list off some of my various job description responsibilities: ensure cross-departmental programmatic success, manage relationships with schools and community program partners, provide input on curriculum and ensure programmatic evaluation being conducted in accordance with funding terms…

Even then, for many, these descriptions remain abstract. When I say I ensure and manage relationships and provide input, it can be hard to envision what that actually entails on a daily basis. It can feel like just words, lip-service lacking the weight of the real substance of the work (which is the satisfying and exhausting part).

What do I do? Well, here’s a breakdown.

First, I’m the primary coordinator on conducting the work involved in the aforementioned Listen for Good grant. I designed the L4G survey campaign for the overall organization, as well as co-designed with program directors mini-surveys to collect segmented feedback on program-specific issues. I oversaw implementation of the survey, getting the message out to program participants, and upon closing the survey once we git 160 responses, I analyzed the data and met with program directors to discuss turning feedback fats and trends into actionable next steps for implementing as program changes. I’m currently creating materials and an outreach plan for closing the loop with all of our audiences, and I’m excited about what we heard and how we can put this feedback to very productive use.

I’m also acting Faculty Director for D-LIT, a digital literacy smartphone summer camp for middle-school students in Poughkeepsie. After co-teaching a semester-long fieldwork class on teens and iPhones in conjunction with Vassar College’s Urban Education Initiative, we’re taking our research and implementing it in this intenive summer program that will revolve around critical and creative use of smartphones. My duties include reviewing student and counselor apps, structuring intern and counselor work, creating task delegation schedules, synthesizing class research into set of best practices which we will implement in a two-week intensive this summer.

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I supervise the Spark Studios program: SparkStudios2018Flyer_Final

Spark Studios is probably the most innovative project I’m managing. For years, when we held after-school programs for teenagers, many of the youth we serve were in the position of needing to choose between doing our program or getting after-school jobs. We lost several students to jobs at places like McDonald’s, Target, and other service and retail industry jobs. And that’s real. If your family needs you to pull in a paycheck, suddenly after-school arts and media training programs seem like luxuries.

I wanted to disrupt this cycle, to make it so that youth in Poughkeepsie didn’t have to choose between gaining the benefits our program has to offer and helping to support their families.

I am happy to say that this spring, our Spark Studios program employed 12 teens as filmmakers, grips, boom operators, script writers, production managers, and more. They functioned as an entrepreneurial video production house to take on commercial work from paying clients. I am so proud of the work they’ve been doing and how well the program is working so far.

One Spark Studios project has had me researching/playing with 360° filmmaking technology and overseeing our students in creating a VR film promoting the City of Poughkeepsie as a tourist destination, to be used with a publicity campaign the Walkway Over the Hudson will be running.

 

And I also supervise the MADLab program: MADLabSummer2018Flyer_Final

The MADLab (Media, Arts, & Design Lab) is an arts career exploration and job skills training program that addresses the needs of Poughkeepsie youth ages 14-17 facing multiple barriers to employment. The Art Effect will be working with Scenic Hudson on the Fall Kill Community Outdoor Art Installations project, which will be the primary project of its 2018 summer youth employment session of MADLab.

Through the Fall Kill Community Outdoor Art Installation project, MADLab youth will work to pull trash from the Fallkill Creek at two sites (N. Cherry St behind PUF and Pershing Ave), design original sculpture art using repurposed Fall Kill trash, and create the art/urban design installations at each site to be unveiled in an exhibition grand opening at the end of the summer.

Not to mention, I handle scheduling and staffing fall classes and programs, scheduling and staffing auxiliary/offsite workshops, writing for and hosting our weekly youth-produced radio show Radio Uprising, both teaching professional development workshops (most recently, NYSATA) AND overseeing the organization’s internship program… it’s a lot.

My goal is for the organization to grow such that each of the above responsibilities could become their own respective individual full-time positions, possibly even departments… if we’re looking that far down the road. For now, perhaps when asked “what do you do?” I should just start telling people I’m a juggler.

 

 

 

 

Re-Thinking Innovation: The Art Effect at Remix NYC

Back in March, several colleagues and I attended Remix NYC, thanks to generous support from the Wave Farm Foundation.

What a wonderful time we had at the Remix NYC Summit on Culture, Creativity and Technology! Two days packed full of thought-provoking speakers, stimulating conversations with colleagues old and new, and some of the coolest venue spaces NYC has to offer.

Both days were attended by The Art Effect’s Director of Education and Experience (aka me) and our Spark Studios Program Coordinator Paul Thompson. Joining us on Thursday was Experience Program Assistant and Teaching Artist Sarah Taylor, and rounding out the team on Friday was our Media/Art/Design Lab coordinator David Wong.

Despite our varying job titles and workloads, every single one of us found invaluable insights and solid strategies to take away for innovating and improving on our own programs. In particular, several recurring themes from across the conference struck us and stuck with us.

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CONSTANT BETA

During her presentation, Julia Kaganskiy, Director of New Inc (New Museum’s art & tech incubator) mentioned the phrase “constant beta,” and it really resonated. Being in a state of constant beta means approaching your work as being in development, existing in a constant state of testing things out and evaluating how well implementation went with an eye towards making changes for improvement next time. In an age of constant change where technology evolves on a daily basis, such flexibility and adaptability is crucial to keeping competitive. Using the same business model year in, year out will no longer hold the same promise of security. Instead, embracing “constant beta” means entering a mutually beneficial adaptive relationship with customers or clients, where supply changes in response to demand.  So much is changing and being re-shaped, we have to embrace being in constant beta in order to survive and thrive.

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CREATIVE DISRUPTION

Another recurring theme was the idea of “creative disruption,” or the idea that in order to truly innovate, you need to stop your habits (or years-old strategies) and insert some totally new method, idea, or approach into things, in order to break free of the confines of routine and find views and vantage points you just couldn’t see while you were keeping your head down.

The Art Effect endeavors to be as innovative as possible, but innovation means change and evolution, so if there are things we’ve been doing the same old way for years and years, if we want to be innovative, we’ve got to rethink things and disrupt ourselves to see how innovations would help us improve.

We witnessed dozens of examples of truly innovative work, some of which is being done by The Lowline, an organization using NASA technology to harness the power of the sun and bring rays of sunshine underground to create parks out of abandoned subterranean spaces.

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STORYTELLING AND PAIN POINTS

Another issue repeatedly addressed by speakers and conference-goers alike? The centrality of storytelling to all creative enterprises, whether they be commercial or non-profit. People aren’t drawn to facts and figures, we learned, so much as they are drawn to stories. And within the stories, if an entrepreneur is truly listening, one can discover new opportunities by paying attention to “pain points.” For example, this is Winston:

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Winston lives near the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, and heard dozens of concert-goers describe how inconvenient and annoying it was that Barclay required paper printouts of tickets to scan. For someone visiting from out of town, this requirement could mean doubling back and re-traveling miles and miles to find a printer. Hearing about this “pain point” over and over, it occurred to Winston that there was an opportunity there. He began bringing a portable printer and standing near the admissions line at Barclay, offering to print people’s tickets out for them… for a price. It’s this kind of responsiveness to people’s stories, this method of really listening and identifying the parts of the story involving inconvenience and annoyance, that enables people like Winston to capitalize on opportunities others may not see.

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WHO CARES? SO WHAT?

Ultimately, The Art Effect staff came away from Remix NYC with a renewed sense of optimism about our own work, how to invigorate our staff and inspire our students while integrating truly innovative forms of creative entrepreneurship into all of our programs, as well as the importance of grasping the story of our work and why our work matters. Emily Best of Seed & Spark told an anecdote during her presentation on Thursday about her moment of revelation when she told her father all about the exciting work she was doing, only to hear her father respond “so you’re changing the world… so what? Who cares?” The line got a hearty laugh from the audience, possibly become the room was full of folks so close to the cutting edge that the meaning or mission of their work isn’t always immediately apparent or accessible, or at the very least difficult to communicate to the average person. And that was Emily Best’s point exactly: while we’re doing all of this incredible work, if we want our messages to reach people it’s extremely important to parlay our innovations into terms and stories easily understood by those we’re trying to reach. We have to understand what we actually mean when we say we’re doing good work and changing the world, and we’ve got to be ready to respond in case someone asks us “so what?”

For The Art Effect, the “so what?” should be straightforward–particularly after attending Remix NYC. Arts empower communities, and we help facilitate that growth and transformation. Our programs offer youth skills practice, arts exploration, and college/career opportunities they otherwise may not have gotten, and to the students we serve, it makes all the difference in the world. And while we were so glad and grateful we got to be a part of such an incredible few days, innovation is not something that is attained once and then permanently possessed, like trophy on a shelf. Innovation is a CONSTANT process, and we’ve got to keep fueling those fires on a daily basis. The past few months have seen several innovative initiatives being put into place, as well as shown several “pain point” places where we are in urgent need of creative disruption.

What are those initiatives and pain points? Well, that’s a post for another day.

2017 Papers, Projects, and Passions

This morning I sat down to write an update prior to Slayage 2018, the biannual international convention of the Whedon Studies Association, at which I will be delivering a keynote and which is rapidly approaching at a panic-inducing pace.

I realized the last draft post I’d saved was an announcement for the Calls for Papers for two NeMLA sessions I (co)organized….. last year, in 2017. And looking further back, much to my chagrin, I realized that the last time I updated this site BEFORE that was about a year ago, when I was announcing my panels for NeMLA 2016!

If you taste something funny, just might be ’cause I let this site go stale.

My excuse for the delay in updates is none too juicy, either.  I’ve been too busy living life–or, I should say, too exhausted from living a busy life–to be writing about it. I admire those who can lead busy, engaged lives and write daily, or even weekly, updates. But I’m not one of them. Not yet, anyway. My whole life I’ve been a side-writer, daily doing something else and occasionally writing in frantic, late-night bits of impassioned panic. While it has its own kind of magic, writing that way is physically and emotionally draining, and that’s something I want to change.

So, with that in mind, c’mon, Mare, write! (right?)

Since this was originally meant to be an early 2017 update on my professional projects, I’ll preserve the language from back then.

Here’s what’s happening in my corner of the world:

Race in Whedon book

At long last, the edited anthology I’ve been working on has been published, and it’s won an award for Best Book in Whedon studies! Joss Whedon and Race: Critical Essays contains 15 essays on of race, ethnic identity, and Otherness in the works of Joss Whedon, and is available for purchase here. My co-editor (the wonderful Dr. Lowery A. Woodall III) and I are grateful for the hard work years-long efforts of all of our contributors, and for everything this process has taught us about coordinating copyright agreements, communicating requests for revision, clarifying our own vision for the book, and contributing to the vibrant scholarly community that is the Whedon Studies Association.

Official back-of-the-book blurb:

Joss Whedon is known for exploring philosophical and political questions through socially progressive narratives in his films, television shows and comics. Whedon’s works offer critique of racial stereotypes, sometimes repudiating them, sometimes reinforcing them (sometimes both at once). Joss Whedon and Race: Critical Essays explores his representations of racial power dynamics between individuals and institutions and how the Whedonverse constructs race, ethnicity, and nationality relationships.

 

Slayage 2016

If you follow me on social media, you’ll surely have seen by now the slew of photos/videos I posted from something called EuroSlayage. The Slayage 2016 conference, held in Kingston-on-Thames, UK, proved to be yet another momentous occasion for me, a real highlight of my life, as I saw old friends and made new ones, got to co-present with one of my academic idols (the amazing Lorna Jowett), and was given the honor of receiving a second Mr. Pointy Award for an essay published in 2015.

This essay forms the basis for one of my two aforementioned NeMLA 2017 panels.

Call For Papers!

On UPenn:

Superheroes and (Dis)Ability

Transmedia Storytelling: Questioning Canon

On H-NET:

Superheroes and (Dis)Ability

Transmedia Storytelling: Questioning Canon

 

Negative Space, Narrative Subjugation

Ms. Marvel Chapter for “Can The SubAltern Be A Superhero?” (anthology edited by Rafael Cordero and Derek McGrath)

I’m really excited for this book project. My work so far has included conducting close readings of Books 1-11 and scouring fansites and message boards for evidence as to how these texts were received and understood.

If you’re interested, the abstract follows below.

Negative Space, Narrative Subjugation, and Paradoxical Representations of Empowerment in Ms. Marvel

What happens when the disempowered acquire superpowers? The question resonates throughout Ms. Marvel, as Kamala Khan, nerdy, daydreaming high-school student, imagines herself within superhero stories in order to escape discrimination at school and overbearing parents at home. When she suddenly acquires her own super powers, she negotiates their acquisition as a metaphor for political empowerment. At first, the fact that a teenage Muslim-American girl engages and navigates Western models of superhero empowerment seems a subversive and politically radical enterprise. Given the Marvel canon’s overwhelming focus on superpowered characters who already inhabit privileged bodies (straight/white/cis men), Kamala initially seems a revolutionary character. However, when viewed through Post-Colonialism and Critical Visuality Studies frameworks, the politics of Ms. Marvel’s visual composition reveals a paradox of representational empowerment. As Kamala Khan engages Western constructs of visual superhero narratives, certain subversive elements are mitigated by the teleological white supremacy of these constructs; for instance, when her powers first emerge, Kamala becomes a white, blond woman, and Kamala’s first quest involves her rescuing a popular classmate who embodies white privilege (thereby reinforcing a status quo which marginalizes Kamala’s non-superpowered identity).

This chapter explores the possibilities and the problematic politics of visual composition and narrative empowerment by considering how Ms. Marvel features the marriage of aesthetics and ethics through negative space and narrative subjugation to inform and deepen our understandings of racial representation in media’s affect on the real world. Building on critical visuality theorists Richard Dyer, Nicholas Mirzoeff and Scott McLoud to conduct a historically-contextualized visual explication of specific key panels (abetted by Post-Colonialists Guyatri Spivack and Chandra Mohanty), I ultimately argue that the extant issues of Ms. Marvel demonstrates a paradox wherein engagement of Western constructs of narrative empowerment reinforce the very institutionalized inequalities they elsewhere successfully destabilize.