Sunday, April 29, 2012

Art tasting

The end of the semester means service projects come to fruition in Honors classes. I've been kept hopping by documentary filmmakers and student researchers all swirling around the topic of public art. My freshman class used a mural painted by a student as a thesis project in their residence hall as a jumping-off point for a public education campaign and opinion polling about campus art in general.


We gathered the night before the event for all the prep. An essential element to any campus event, I've discovered, is the banner -- projected onto a bedsheet to trace the outline, then painted on by enthusiastic student artists.


Our concept was to exchange homebaked treats for responses to a quick 1-minute survey. The idea came about when my initial questionnaire of class skills revealed that eight of fourteen class members were bakers.


Even the best ideas need a helping hand. A class member's mom contributed these unsolicited and totally awesome cakepops in our theme colors.


Theme, you ask? Yes indeed. I don't consider a project really graspable or executable until we have a name that provides the core idea and the driving force. A student came up with SweetARTS, and two others designed this incredible logo, playing off the iconic SweeTarts brand.


We passed out specially-designed informational flyers with surveys attached at various locations on campus associated with public art -- the university's art gallery, the sports complex that houses mascot statuary, the library whose walls are lined with donated collections, near prominent outdoor sculptures -- and asked recipients to come to Alumni Circle, the campus's historic heart and the site of a much-ballyhooed but unfortunately abandoned public art installation a few years ago, to submit them.


The surveys (approved by our institutional review board) used pictures to assess the respondent's familiarity with outdoor sculpture on campus, and asked a few questions about the value and priority the respondent would place on campus art collections.


We were hoping to collect 100 surveys during the three hours of our public event. Community members stuffed this box with 316.


Respondents also were invited to paint or leave handprints on a temporary art wall at the Alumni Circle site.


It seems strangely appropriate that two random passersby snuck into our group photo. After all, our project was all about getting people walking through campus thinking about the art around them, and amplifying their voices. Kudos to the SweetARTS team for an amazing project!

You can follow the project results by liking our SweetARTS page on Facebook. There we'll share the full project report, including the research students did into public art and campus examples, and the results from our SweetARTS mini-survey, as well as a focus group and survey on the large mural installed as a student thesis project in the Honors residence hall last year and on opinions about the place of art within the Honors living-learning community.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Endings and beginnings

I'm in Chicago for the spring board meeting of the AAR. This is my sixth and last spring board meeting, at least on this shift. I joined the board in 2007 as a regionally-elected director. I voted myself off the board in a governance restructuring in 2010. I was asked to stay on for two years as treasurer until an election could occur for that position. And here I am nearing the last meeting with this shifting, ever-changing group I joined so innocently when my daughter was two years old.

Earlier this week, I found out that another position of responsibility I've held since 2007 is coming to an end. The Ravelry Welcome Wagon has sent an individual welcome message to every new member of the site for the past five years. Almost two million people have joined the site in that time. I've personally sent over 27,000 welcome messages. It's a daily ritual for me -- open two tabs, post in the thread for my designated letter of the alphabet indicating where I started, copy the welcome message template from Evernote, and start clicking on the new user page until I reach the person I ended with last time. I've developed a system that I can do very quickly. And yet I reflect every time I click the "send message" button how special it is that we do this intentionally as users, rather than having the system automated.

Such a system is unsustainable at a large enough scale, however, and the pioneers whose brainchild the Welcome Wagon is have decided to shut down the effort rather than try to keep the ship afloat in increasingly high seas. I'm glad to see that the volunteers don't question their resolve or their decision. We're counting down to the last welcomes coming on May 1, and celebrating the legacy we've left for hundreds of thousands of knitters and crocheters.

I like being in positions of responsibility and influence. I like being in positions of service that make a difference for lots of people. And I'm leaving a couple of those positions soon. There are plenty of other things I have planned, that the demise of these responsibilities will help make time for. But I'll miss them. It will be painful seeing April and August and November roll by without anticipating a trip to see the AAR staff and my board colleagues, without strategizing and sympathizing about board issues and politics. It will be a lack and a loss every day to click over to my Ravelry tab without the need to spend a few minutes copying the welcome template into a couple of dozen private messages, replacing my name in the salutation with the user I'm welcoming. I will miss that more than anyone can imagine. It was a perspective on a site and a community I dearly love, that kept me grounded and connected and allowed me to answer a thousand random questions, showing people that there are people on this site, not just forms and forums and bewildering folkways.

I'm going to need an avenue of service to replace these. Stay tuned. I predict it won't take me too long to say yes to some other massive endeavor that will eat up six years of my life.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Know your audience

I'm preaching this Sunday -- a traditionally "down" week, the Sunday after Easter. But there's else something different about this Sunday for me.

At the beginning of the year, our church went from two services on Sunday morning to three. The 8 am service is Rite I, the more traditional language. The 11 am service is Rite II, the more recent standard liturgy.

The newest service in the lineup is the 9 am service. It's shorter, with contemporary language, and aimed at families. Because of that, the sermon can't be the exact same preached at the other two services. It might be eight minutes at the most, where the others are ten. And the academic or theological content needs to be toned down.

That's a problem for me, an academic theologian. I tend to start at that level when meditating on the scripture readings. My sermon is written, but I'm still stumped with the task of modulating it for the 9 am congregation. I'm talking about the shifting point of view at the end of the gospel of John, and the idea of testimony in the passage in Acts about the apostles holding all things in common. How can I find a way to take that idea and make it comprehensible and meaningful to kids and their parents -- in under eight minutes?

It's a puzzle that's worth cracking. I teach adults and almost-adults every day. Learning to speak to upcoming generations is something that should make me a better communicator, full stop.

Now to do it ...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

In full bloom


We were behind on our Easter prep after a busy week.


It was Saturday afternoon before we got to dyeing eggs, but we made it count.


Nineteen wax-crayon beauties. There is one still soaking in the orange dye as of this shot.


I even enjoyed the abstract patterns left on the paper towel that we used to clean our egg dipper between colors.


When the big day came, we put on our Sunday finest. For us, that's not very fancy, but relative to our usual jeans and t-shirts, it makes an impression.


As usual, the church courtyard was covered with red plastic eggs. Can you spot Cady Gray in her white dress and blue cardi beginning her mad dash?


Greed knows no bounds of basket size when there are Easter eggs on the line.


Then it was time to extract the delicious candy and recycle the eggs for next year.


At home, while dad was getting a delicious ham sandwich lunch on the table, we hunted for the eggs we'd dyed.


Archer rated the difficulty of this hunt a 7 out of 10, with a 9.8 fun rating. (The church egg hunt scored only a 2 on the difficulty scale, but a similar 9.5 on fun, with an additional 7.5 score for competition difficulty, which was not rated at home because both Cady Gray and Archer are good players.)


They were moving too fast for me to catch them hunting. But here they are with their loot.


Another spring, another Easter. And still they rise.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's our love that makes it shine

Today's post about a well-traveled scarf is at Toxophily.


I lost the original WIP of this scarf -- in the same yarn but a different green colorway -- somewhere between the parking lot and the mammography clinic of the local hospital two years ago. Now finally it's been finished!

Monday, April 2, 2012


I walked into our department office today where a colleague and staff member were looking at a lovely envelope.  It was dark blue, with the colleague's name written in silver marker, and it closed at one of the short ends with one of those strings on a button -- you know the kind I mean?

String & Button Envelopes - Paper Source
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(I grabbed this image from Paper Source, and I think this might have been the very envelope.)

Upon seeing this striking bit of folded paper, I commented on how much I love string-closure envelopes in general, at least when they're new and haven't become creased and fragile due to too much interoffice reuse. "They may be my favorite office supply!" I exclaimed.

My colleague turned to the staff member. "The problem with Donna," he deadpanned, "is that she's not enthusiastic about anything."

After dinner tonight, my daughter came back to the house from playing with a friend across the street, and I told her that there was a surprise for her on Archer's computer desk.  She went to look and returned with a page that was completely blank except for an egg outline.  "It's for the Eggseptional Design Contest on Tinkatolli!" she said, wide-eyed and breathless.  "THANK YOU!"

Noel and I exchanged a smile at that emphatic "thank you," a Cady Gray trademark.  It's not a squeal of delight or a yell or happiness; it's a deep, satisfied expression of solemn gratitude.  "Our daughter is enthusiastic about things," Noel observed.

As am I. As is Noel. I think it's one of our few semi-intentional parenting strategy successes. We enjoy things. We're unabashed about it. And we've encouraged our kids to do the same. I love watching them in constant delight at what life has to offer, from the quotidian to the extraordinary. And I hope they never lose it.