Community engagement projects and Grow This Block!

In the past year or so, I’ve been working with my sister Ainé on several community engagement projects in Germantown, a neighborhood located between Mt. Airy and Nicetown in Northwest Philadelphia. After working on our own and doing solo projects for years, we decided we needed to engage the larger community and inspire other block residents to take action. First, we reorganized our block, working closely with neighbors to make improvements on our street and implement real, meaningful, visible change. Then, we established new leadership. In early 2011, both Ainé and I became official Co-Block Captain’s alongside another long-time block resident. The city’s Block Captain program is organized by the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee (PMBC), part of the Streets Department’s Sanitation Division.

This weekend marks a big turning point in our work, which we’ve (slowly) documented on our blog: Ainé is launching a new project called Grow This Block! – a back to basics approach to improved quality of life. Follow the links below to read about our block-wide planting project, which will be held on Saturday, May 28 and learn more about the ideas behind Grow This Block!


Ainé's been growing plants from seed in the backyard for Grow This Block for months!

“Why Creative People Need to Be Eccentric” from 99%

Loved this piece posted on 99% about creativity, eccentricity and work habits. It’s interesting to think about your work environment and what kind of rituals you have that help to trigger your best creative work. I generally tend to work best to music. If I’m writing, I prefer to tune in through a solid set of headphones. All different kinds of music can influence how I work from speed to focus or creative thought. I’ve written press releases to the tunes of Aimee Mann, Missy Elliot, Le Tigre and OutKast. The music doesn’t set the tone of what I’m working on, but the practice of closing down my environment and cutting off the sound of other life (street noise, phone calls, office noise) helps to make my task at hand the center of attention.

Why Creative People Need to Be Eccentric

by Mark McGuinness

Creative people have a reputation for eccentricity. It’s not hard to see why when we consider the habits of some well-known creatives.

Like Truman Capote:

I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.

Or Friedrich Schiller, as described by fellow poet Stephen Spender:

Schiller liked to have a smell of rotten apples, concealed beneath his desk, under his nose when he was composing poetry. Walter de la Mare has told me that he must smoke when writing. Auden drinks endless cups of tea. Coffee is my own addiction, besides smoking a great deal, which I hardly ever do except when I am writing.

Or artist Maurice Sendak:

All of my pictures are created against a background of music. More often than not, my instinctive choice of composer or musical form for the day has the galvanizing effect of making me conscious of my direction… A favorite occupation of mine, some years back, was sitting in front of the record player as though possessed by a dybbuk, and allowing the music to provoke an automatic, stream-of-consciousness kind of drawing.

Or Victor Hugo:

He gave all of his clothes to his servant, admonishing him NOT to return them until he (Hugo) had completed his day’s work.

[…] Many people would classify these examples as ranging from harmless eccentricity to borderline insanity, but if you’re an artist or professional creative, you can probably relate to some of them. And having spent 15 years coaching creatives and observing their work habits up close, they look perfectly normal – even essential – to me.

If we recall last month’s piece about the effect of mundane routines on creativity, this kind of behavior starts to make sense. Remember the three characteristics of a hypnotic trigger:

  1. Uniqueness – it should be something (or a combination of things) you don’t associate with other activities, otherwise the effect will be diluted.
  2. Emotional intensity – the kind you experience when you’re really immersed in creative work.
  3. Repetition – the more times you experience the unique trigger in association with the emotions, the stronger the association becomes.

When these three elements are present, the trigger has the effect of inducing the particular state of consciousness that is essential for creative work. In the case of daily routines, repetition is most prominent; but when it comes to bizarre working practices, uniqueness is probably the most powerful element […]

There is a lot more meat to this story and plenty of comments from other readers. Read the full article at 99%.

Maurice Sendak’s mural at the Rosenbach

One of my favorite publicity projects to work on recently has been the story of a mural painted by Maurice Sendak which was removed from an apartment wall in Manhattan, conserved in Philadelphia and installed at the Rosenbach Museum & Library where it is now in collection and on permanent display. I wrote about this mural on Canary’s birdfeed blog a few months ago. I had a lot to say about the mural and my experiences working on the project! Read about it over on birdfeed (where you can see more photos) or below.

A mural party at the Rosenbach, a frank conversation with Maurice Sendak & the musically inspired “Grace Notes”

The Chertoff Mural. © Maurice Sendak 1961 and 2011. All rights reserved. Photographed by Douglas A. Lockard. Post-production by Stephen Stinehour.

On April 13, the Rosenbach Museum & Library threw a very special party to celebrate the completion of conservation work on The Chertoff Mural painted by Maurice Sendak. I’ll simply say the author and illustrator’s only surviving mural is charming and whimsical; it’s journey to Philadelphia from a New York apartment, almost unbelievable; the conservation work, remarkable.

The party was attended by Nina and Larry Chertoff, who were just kids when Sendak painted the parade of animals and children marching along their bedroom wall circa 1961. Friends and family of the Chertoffs, the mural conservation team, friends of Maurice Sendak, many generous supporters to the project, and Rosenbach staff (who have worked tirelessly to share the mural with the public), all joined in the festivities. Sendak, now 82, was unable to attend, but was there in spirit, and the party went on in his honor!

Last week, Amy Rosenberg interviewed Sendak from his home in Connecticut for a story in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer. The subject of their discussion went far beyond the conservation project.Sendak spoke about why he chose the Rosenbach to be the home for his life’s work (where it can be seen, not simply archived), his memories of painting the mural, life and aging, his new book Bumble-Ardy, opera, being gay, his late partner Eugene Glynn, and much more. I could tell you more, but you should just take a quick break and read the article: Sendak, picturing mortality.

At the party, guests were invited to sign a life-size replica of the nearly 4’ x 13’ mural alongside the very signature of the artist himself. The replica will go in the museum’s archives. Derick Dreher also presented Larry and Nina with copies, thanking them for their generous donation to the museum; Maurice Sendak kept the printer’s proof.

If you visit the Rosenbach this Spring and Summer, you’ll also get to see Grace Notes: A Sendakian Rhapsody (on view through August 7). Sendak has said music helps inspire rhythmic compositions, colors, and even characters in his pictures. Standing in the gallery, you can see clearly the influence of music in his art – some of the figures seemingly dance off the wall.

The museum has a touchscreen in the gallery space that plays selections of music with special significance to specific pieces on display. Side by side with the artwork, it’s easy to picture Sendak working late in his studio to Mozart and Beethoven and more. Imagine that.

Still want to know more about the mural? The New York TimesWHYY’s NewsworksThe Associated Press, and The Philadelphia Inquirer all spin the tale. Larry, Nina and Sendak also spoke with NPR’s Robert Siegel in February for a delightful segment on All Things Considered. You can hear that story online and a follow-up story featuring letters from listeners who had much to say. Last but not least, our early press release announcing the project includes some fine insider details about Sendak’s long relationship with the Rosenbach.