The Smithsonians: catch them if you can

AmericanArtMuseum

American Art Museum

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

If you’re planning to visit the Smithsonian art museums in D.C., you might want to make other arrangements — six of the galleries are closing their doors at random and without warning, according to an article on The Verge.

Sequestration budget cuts are forcing the Smithsonian to close the doors of the National Portrait Gallery, the American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of African Art and the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art, six of the Smithsonian’s most prestigious galleries.

The details of the closings have not been disclosed, and the news came as a surprise to many because the Smithsonian vowed to keep its doors open despite the sequestration, according to CBS. Now, The Verge reported that the museums are supposed to cut off nearly 5 percent of its budget, approximately $42 million, in this year alone.

Employees and visitors alike are flustered that the closing schedule is not posted. Many contracted security guards from AlliedBarton (a private firm that details the staff at the Smithsonians) will be affected, but this statement from the company shows they neglect to release information about the employees’ future:

“AlliedBarton Security Services does not release information related to client contracts. We work in conjunction with our clients to meet their ongoing needs for security officer services.”

Not only will the security guards take a toll, but there will also be a freeze on new hires, a decrease of employee travel and postponed maintenance at major museums such as the National Air and Space Museum.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Secretary G. Wayne Clough testified before Congress last week to outline the effects of the sequestration:

“We have little budgetary flexibility remaining, and these required reductions will be felt by our visitors and those who are increasingly expecting services online.”

So why leave employees and visitors in the dark? 

Linda St. Thomas, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian Institution, told The Verge that none of the officials even know when the exhibits will be closed:

“The reason we can’t post [closing information] online is because we don’t know … We won’t know enough time in advance to do a web post.”

Decisions will be made on a day-to-day basis by the Institution’s museum directors and heads of security.

Although these budget cuts are temporary, Smithsonian officials are not at ease. Both Clough and St. Thomas cautioned that the cuts could become permanent if they continue past 2014.

Clough didn’t expect the effects of the sequestration to even get this bad, according to the CBS article from February of this year. Clough told CBS he wanted to avoid layoffs and museum closings.

The effects of the sequestration could “translate into permanent staff reductions,” and museums will be “forced to postpone or cancel exhibitions,” Clough told The Verge.

Despite rumors of the Smithsonian Institutions charging admission, authorities made it clear that the museums will remain open to the public without a fee. The Verge reported:

The idea has been floated repeatedly by members of Congress and other parties throughout the Smithsonian’s 167-year history, but each time, the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents — the governing board of the institution — has summarily rejected it.

[WC: 540]

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Afterschool program in Ward 7 proves positive connection between art therapy and economic, social success

Art therapy in Heisa Island Aswan

Art therapy in Heisa Island Aswan (Photo credit: rouelshimi)

By Nicole Lafond

Editor

An afterschool arts program in a struggling D.C. neighborhood recently helped African American boys and young men develop goals for their future, as a part of the program’s adolescent art project.

As a component of an art education series, NPR published a piece this week about the afterschool program, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, an art program for boys and young men in the Ward 7 neighborhood.

This program strives to give boys and young men living in the area a safe place to go after school to express themselves and form positive, mentored relationships, NPR reported. Life Pieces to Masterpieces teaches boys and young men in the program values through “The four C’s,” which are Connect, Create, Contribute and Celebrate. Program participants are called apprentices.

The program was strategically established in a struggling neighborhood in D.C., Ward 7.

According to the organization “Ward 7 for Life,” a group that strives to combat the rise of HIV/AIDS infections in the area, Ward 7 has the highest rates of teen pregnancy, unemployment, rates of recidivism, persons living below the poverty level and single women as heads of households in D.C.

A co-founder of Life Pieces, Mary Brown, told NPR the program specifically focuses on younger males in this neighborhood because of the struggling reputation the neighborhood holds and the statistical nature of male reactions to emotions and tragic life experiences.

“The little boys and young men [have] been exposed to all types of horrific things. And being the natural little boys and young men that they are, they swallow it all.”

In a recent art project, the young apprentices artistically developed and expressed their goals for the future. Most of the boys dreamed of becoming pro athletes, NPR reported.

Through these different types of activities, the mentors hope the apprentices in the program not only develop aspirations, but also learn that it is OK to share these feelings with one another, mentor Maurice Kie told NPR. This type of atmosphere is an “urgent need” in D.C., according to the organization’s website.

“A home away from home … That’s what Life Pieces to Masterpieces provides to the hundreds of African American young men and boys growing up in Washington, D.C.’s most poverty-stricken and volatile neighborhoods. And, in a city with the highest rate of poverty in the United States, there is an urgent need for this loving, safe environment for expressing fear, anger, hope and joy.”

All of the mentors and apprentices in the program are males, which helps the younger boys develop a male-figure relationship that many in Ward 7, statistically, are lacking.

Brown considers the program to have been a continued success since its founding in 1996. 1,000 young men have gone through the program and just shy of 100 percent of them graduated high school and went on to higher education.

According to Brown, the statistics of the program speak loudly for the important role art plays in cognitive and social development. “The paintings are not the masterpieces, our boys lives are the masterpieces,” Brown told NPR.

Because of the success of programs such as Life Piece to Masterpiece, I am convinced that art therapy programs are the best methods of igniting positive social and cognitive development and rehabilitation in children and adults, mainly because participants do not necessarily recognize that they are going through therapy.

A study published in World of Psychology last year studied the role of art therapy in occupational and social development. Those surveyed were given the choice between different types of “therapeutic” activities. Art therapy was the most popular out of the 16 choices.

However, after completing the “art therapy,” the majority of study participants indicated that they found the activities to be unhelpful and unbeneficial to their personal occupational and social development.

The author of the study argued that because the study participants were distracted by the actual activity, they were less likely to recognize short-term results, but would, likely, over time, feel real therapeutic results.

The engaging nature of art therapy programs may be the very reason it is highly successful as a means of counseling or therapy.

This claim is not a new argument, either.

Artistic legend, Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

And sLife Pieces to Masterpieces is not the only program in D.C. to have recognized the importance of art therapy in cognitive and social development.

Organizations such as Art Therapy and Art Group at Thrive have harnessed the idea of art therapy as well, making the practice of “creating” the main aspect of their counseling and therapy services.

Art Therapy group recognizes the importance of art in various aspects of development, calling it an integral part of their organization’s mission on the group’s website.

“[Art Therapy] is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self esteem and self awareness, and achieve insight.”

Along with being integral as preventative and development services, art therapy also plays a role in rehabilitation at organizations such as Thrive, which provides art therapy sessions four times a week for the homeless, StreetSense reported.

Following those lines, a group called Art Therapy in Prison is currently conducting and collecting research about the essentials of art therapy as a rehabilitation measure in prisons. This organization has recently done extensive research into the positive results art therapy can have on individuals with anger issues and what types of preventative roles the results could play in prisons.

This concept ties back to the success of art therapy and the idea that because people are engaging in activities that only relate to their issues theoretically, rather than practically, the therapy sessions can have a stronger, or more lasting, impact.

Blue Streak invades your space

*Photo courtesy of the Hamiltonian Gallery

Photo courtesy of the Hamiltonian Gallery

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Art has been known to defy conventional practices and surprise viewers for years. But this recent installation at D.C.’s Hamiltonian Gallery goes one step further — it invades your personal space.

A giant blue construction in the gallery’s hallway makes it hard for visitors to walk through without feeling uncomfortable.

You must be thinking: what’s the artist’s point?

“Blue Streak,” as it’s named, “is about these moments of awkward choice. It’s more about art-making and art-experience than it is about the distinct interpretation of a made object … about contemplating space, the memory of space, the expectations of space, and the mechanics of space as experienced by each individual viewer,” according to the Examiner.

Go check out artist Timothy “Mike” Thompson‘s piece in the “Gathering Space” exhibition.

Art students use NEXT exhibit to address political issues

Kim Jong Un

Oil painting of Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, by student Robert Yi.
*Photo courtesy of VOA

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Art students from D.C.’s Corcoran College of Art and Design presented their final art projects at the college museum, on display until May 19, many of which have a politically charged meaning.

The students’ artwork has been compiled into an exhibit called NEXT, the name symbolic of the students who will receive their degrees move on from the undergraduate art program in May.

Robert Yi, a student from South Korea, presented many paintings in the exhibit, including one of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

He explained his intended message to Voice of America:

“My paintings are called Mask paintings. And it’s the idea that, in society today, no matter where you are, people put on a mask,” he said. “That idea is expressed in North Korea because the people of North Korea, the citizens, put on a face…they’re required to act happy.”

Other students targeted different political issues.

Jason Tucker, a fine art photography major, sought to reflect his homosexual identity in his artwork by researching the meaning of derogatory terms for homosexual people.

“I started doing a lot of research into words that have a specific meaning within a gay male context, and so I started with the word ‘faggot,'” he said. “The root of the word comes down to ‘a bundle of sticks.’ So I started with that and wanted to make a self-portrait. So I ended up collecting my exact body weight in sticks…I wanted to take something that I’ve been called before, that was an epithet, and make something beautiful out of it.”

Read more about the D.C. students’ art exhibit here.

Amid citizens’ anger about White House concert, educational purposes prevail

*Check out this video of the “Memphis Soul” concert on April 9, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Despite devastating budget cuts from the sequestration, the White House decided that their show must go on; the Obamas hosted a “Memphis Soul” concert, the 10th installation of the concert series “In Performance at the White House” on Tuesday, April 9.

While an article by Fox News cited that many Americans scoffed at the performance, angry that the exclusive star-studded show remained on schedule amid federal cuts, I have read other articles about the concert that lead me to believe this frustration is unjustified.

It seems that the event’s thoughtful purpose, private funding and student workshop (held before the concert) conflict with accusations that the first couple has become selfish, thoughtlessly spending federal funds on lavish parties while the closing the White House to the public.

The concert was an informative event that encouraged and promoted community through arts participation and appreciation; it was not a show that merely entertained the Obamas and their chosen guests.

An article by CBS quoted President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the importance of soul music:

And that was the spirit of their music — the sound of Soulsville, U.S.A., a music that, at its core, is about the pain of being alone, the power of human connection, and the importance of treating each other right … After all, this is the music that asked us to try a little tenderness …

And the Obamas’ said they hoped this Memphis Soul music event would inspire connection and respect, too. But their communal and educational intentions were not praised, or even recognized, by most citizens. Instead, many complained that federal dollars were being used for the concert.

One reader, under the name “Dry Chardonnay,” commented on the Fox News article about the concert to express frustration about U.S. spending. The commentator added that the concert was unwarranted amid a time of budget cutbacks:

When the furlough strikes in May, I will be one of the over 750,000 employees who will lose 20 [percent] of their paycheck … for goodness sakes stop throwing concerts, unless it is a fundraiser to pay down the national debt!

But according to an article posted on Red Alert Politics, the concert was funded by outside sources. “… these concerts are partially funded by private and corporate donations, [and] most of the costs are covered by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” wrote Laura Byrne, a writer for Red Alert Politics.

Additionally, the Fox News article reported that some federal employees have made several cries against the “First Couple’s” White House events because the “people’s house” was closed to the public, yet high-profile celebrities were invited to attend the concert.

Outcries also targeted the White House’s suspension of public tours to cut back on security spending, yet its doors still opened for an event that surely required a paid Secret Service security staff, according to Fox News:

Republican lawmakers ripped the administration for its decision to cancel White House tours, which affected school groups and others who had made spring plans to visit.

Jon Hart, a Republican spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was one of these critics.

Although he did not specifically comment on the concert, he did bash the Obamas for discontinuing the tours, the Washington Post reported:

They can tour the country on the taxpayer’s dime but can’t allow taxpayers to tour the White House?  Seriously?

Contrarily, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted “The History of Memphis Soul,” an interactive, educational event for 120 middle and high schoolers across the country on April 9.

The workshop encouraged budding musicians and featured music industry legends such as Sam Moore, Mavis Staples, Justin Timberlake, Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper.

According to the CBS article, the First Lady offered words of support and advice to the students:

At the workshop, Mrs. Obama also tried to encourage the students, including some aspiring musicians, by noting that it took years of perfecting their talent for the artists perched on stools in front of them to get where they are.

Not to mention the Obamas invited the public to their recent Easter Egg Roll event on April 1.

While most people criticized these White House events, some did praise the Obamas for their efforts to promote education.

One Fox News reader by the name “xybann” wrote:

I am SO impressed that the first lady is going to talk to bunch of students about the history of Memphis Soul.  That is so important for young, eager minds to hear about from the most influential woman in America!

[WC: 776]

Music Man concerned about community

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Our increasingly technology-obsessed society seems to encourage individualistic tendencies — we often prefer to surf Facebook or Twitter while on our morning bus commute rather than converse with the man sitting next to us.

We could all use a little glue to pull us back together.

And that is George Whitlow’s plight.

Dubbed as D.C.’s “music man,” Whitlow can be heard from blocks away as he rides his “boombox bike” through the busy District streets near Howard University. He plays signature anthems, such as Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” or Kool & the Gang’s “Too Hot,” to encourage bonding through song, dance and laughter in the community.

An article on the Washington Post described Whitlow’s reasoning behind his mobile music machine:

His goal is to get hyper-scheduled, ambitious, uptight D.C. to get loose and listen to music — together.

Whitlow will persistently fight our “anti-social” culture, as he calls it, one day and one ride at a time.

Read the full story on the Washington Post here.

Street artist Hanksy sneaks into Easter Egg Roll

hanksy-white-house-egg-3

Photo courtesy of Hanksy (tumblr)

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Although it hasn’t been confirmed, evidence of the pun-loving street artist Hanksy attended President Barack Obama’s Easter Egg Roll at the White House, according to Blouin Art Info.

What evidence supports this claim?

Well, photographs of graffitied Easter eggs filled with puns have exploded across cyberspace, posted on the artist’s Tumblr and apparently confirmed by his gallery coordinator Benjamin Krause.

Photo courtesy of Hanksy (tumblr)

Photo courtesy of Hanksy (tumblr)

Some are skeptical, though, because the rumors of Hanksy’s work began to spread on April Fool’s Day. Could it be a hoax?

Well, examine the convincing photos and see if you think they’re authentic.