Sunday, April 08, 2012

Cultural Engineer's Report



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"To speak of beauty—the artistic gesture—as a rationale for arts funding is to risk derision and accusations of elitism." So writes Matthew Westwood in The Australain, as the conversation about a Federally-mandated national arts policy continues. What's a cultural engineer to do? For now, at least, just sit back, relax, peruse this latest issue of your Report, and spend the weekend formulating your own bold and innovative arts policy—in whatever form and gesture you deem appropriate. Why? Because, dear reader, it's what we do—and indeed, because there is beauty in it. Now let us begin...

A digest of things creative and interesting, can be found here.

Rebecca Harkins-Cross updates gets all meta-critical: The state of arts criticism in Australia has been a topic of doleful conversation for a few years now. From all accounts, things are pretty dire. Critics across the disciplines are bemoaning the shrinking space in print media, the “everyone’s a critic” mentality of blogging, the timidity of Australia’s close-knit arts community and the influence of a 24-hour news cycle that favours fast comment over considered analysis. In 2010, for example, Gideon Haigh issued a scathing summation of the problem for Kill Your Darlings. “Some newspapers and magazines in Australia have ceased paying for reviews at all,” he pointed out, while others were “winnowing costs away” ruthlessly. Similar critiques have been made here by Ben Eltham and Mel Campbell. This week, the Wheeler Centre has had a go at redressing such grievances, with the launch of The Long View, a new online review project. Made up of 10 long-form essays, the project has commissioned an impressive run of Australian writers and critics to pen serious articles on Australian literature. The site will be rolling them out every fortnight throughout the coming months. Read more from cultural engineer Harkins-Cross on her blog. 

“Is the Brucennial 2012 a joke?” asks The New York Times, “a madcap exercise in Relational Aesthetics? An Occupy-style protest against the New York art establishment and its carefully groomed exhibitions like the Whitney Biennial and the New Museum Triennial?" The organisers, the anonymous cultural engineers of the Bruce High Quality Foundation and Vito Schnabel, call it “the single most important art exhibition in the history of the world. Ever.” Well, OK then. What you'll find is a salon-style multifloor installation of works by close to 400 artists—a populist, radically inclusive survey of what artists in New York are really creating outside the filtering systems of galleries, museums and curators. Works by the young and unknown are incuded with those by Cindy Sherman, Ron Gorchov, Jean-Michel Basquiat, George Condo, David Salle, and Damien Hirst. Click here to read more about the ever-important, exceedingly-cool Brucennial!

"Ask Americans what they know about Australian art and their thoughts often turn to dot paintings, ochre colours and of course the ubiquitous kangaroo,” writes the Sydney Morning Herald. “But Aboriginal artist Reko Rennie aims to challenge that stereotype when he exhibits his work at a prestigious New York art fair this month – the first Australian to be invited. Rennie, who uses spray paint, stencils, photography, video and sculpture to produce vivid Andy Warhol-influenced works, says he is ”really excited” to have the opportunity to introduce his contemporary work to an international audience at the Scope Art Fair. “It will be interesting to see their responses,” the Melbourne-born artist says. “There’s this popular romantic notion of what an Aboriginal person should look like – that it’s someone living in a remote community doing dot painting and dancing but it’s not the case.” Read more at this link or visit the artists website here
The shoddy state of the profession is disappointing, but hardly surprising for those who have actually worked as arts journalists. Arts journalists — and let’s throw in their even more neglected brothers and sisters, the critics — are a motley crew, to say the least. But what they generally share are precarious, insecure and lowly paid working conditions. Indeed, it’s getting harder and harder to be an arts journalist in this country, in the sense that you can be a political journalist or a business reporter. The troubles faced by newspapers are felt most keenly in sections such as the arts pages, which are routinely cut back in hard times (probably justifiably, as they are not stellar performers when it comes to advertising revenue). Australia’s arts and creative industries are growing, but are still minnows compared to the giants of banking and mining. In any case, who wants to read about the back office when you can read about Cate Blanchett? The cultural sector contains stars and celebrities, and this is about whom audiences want to read. The only true creative industries reporter in the country is the Financial Review’s Katrina Strickland, and the Australian media is scarcely rushing to provide her with competitors. Read more about the lamentable state of cultural and critical reporting at Crikey
When Occupy Wall Street first parked their mattresses in Zuccotti Park, my friends and I felt that something very rare was happening, and that we should help however we could. Noticing a lack of OWS graphics, I drew up a clunky octopus with "Fight the Vampire Squid" written on its belly. It became a protest sign around the country. Since then I've been churning out posters for Occupy — for libraries and general strikes and unions. Doing political work enabled me to take the subtext dancing at the margins of my art, and make it loud and proud. Political posters are fast. I'd draw one, brain on fire, and two hours later a masked protester would be carrying it on the streets. But I wanted to do something bigger- to take the political content of my OWS work, and express it in paintings that were giant and detailed. I wanted to make the kind of art that takes 100 hours of carefully daubing paint onto a giant piece of wood. The sort of work that would traditionally be sold in galleries. While I was in a pop-surrealist group show here and there, no one was going to give me a solo show of my work. Especially of the sort of paintings I wanted to do. And who could blame them? Read more of Molly Crabapple's words at this link to
Kathy Keele is well acquainted with the f-word. As boss of the Australia Council, she's responsible for distributing more than $170 million worth of government funding for the arts every year. It's a job that has its fair share of critics. Partly because publicly-funded art is such a controversial topic; mainly because everyone always wants a bigger slice of the pie. But without it, a whole lot of art in this country simply wouldn't get made or exhibited. And if it did, it would look, sound and feel very different to the way it does today. "In terms of the publicly-funded subsidised arts, they are of essential importance," says Justin O'Connor, a professor at the creative industries faculty at the Queensland University of Technology. "If you're a big arts institution looking for consistent public funding, they're the people you have to deal with." Read more about OzCo's potentate at this link to The Power Index. And click here to read about the top twenty "powerful" people in Australia's arts ecology. 

SITE VISIT: The Selvedge Yard
A historical record of artistry, anarchy, alchemy & authenticity, can be perused here.

Ecatepec, Mexico is a poor industrial city with increasing crime statistics. When residents there look to the hills, they now see the faces of crime victims staring back at them. Enormous photographic portraits cover concrete homes as part of a community art project that captures what has become a Mexican obsession: visualizing victimhood or, more broadly, turning cold, mind-numbing data back into real people. “We speak too often in terms of numbers,” said Marco Hernández Murrieta, president of the Murrieta Foundation, which organized the photo project here in a suburb of Mexico City. “We’re putting a face on the statistics.”
Other groups have recently given voices to victims, in videos with famous actors like Diego Luna playing Mexicans who have lost loved ones to drug violence or human rights abuses. Twitter accounts like @Tienennombre also name the dead, often adding ages and other personal details. These efforts speak to more than just frustration with Mexico’s mounting insecurity. Experts and activists say they are also a shout of outrage against the impunity and lack of transparency that keep Mexicans in the dark, often unable to separate the guilty from the innocent. And yet, while earlier examples of victim-focused advocacy in Latin America have been aimed mainly at governments, many of Mexico’s so-called victim visualizers say they are less interested in politics and marches than in changing their neighbors’ mind-sets. Their campaigns are mostly attempts to create a public conscience, to keep people from committing or accepting violence by making them feel the suffering that ripples out from crime — largely through efforts that can be shared easily by word of mouth or social media. Read more in the New York Times here

Singapore is already home to two new floating luxury nightclubs, a glass-and-steel Louis Vuitton "island" jutting out over the bay, and Marina Bay Sands casino resort, which includes an infinity pool longer than the Eiffel Tower. Now the city is thinking big again: In June, it will open the 380-acre Gardens by the Bay. As part of the $700 million project, 18 "supertrees," artificial treelike structures between nine and 16 stories high, will offer shelter from the blazing Singapore sun. They sport silver-pink "branches," made from twisted steel, and are covered with flowering climber plants. Landscape-architecture consultant Grant Associates, working with Wilkinson Eyre Architects, designed the "trees," which will offer projected media and light shows at night. Read more at this link, and see renderings of the supertrees here.
Bureaucrats, advisers and a secretive reference group are tinkering away at the federal government's National Cultural Policy in the lead-up to the budget session of parliament. The people have had their say, via 450 submissions to the NCP discussion paper released last August, and many more online comments. Now the nuts, bolts and sheet metal are being screwed and hammered into something resembling a policy. To help point the way, federal Arts Minister Simon Crean has assembled a reference group of 22 people from arts and cultural bodies. It is chaired by Julianne Schultz, editor of literary journal Griffith Review. She co-chaired with Cate Blanchett the Creative Australia panel at Kevin Rudd's 2020 summit and was a Rudd appointment to the ABC board.
The group - the names of its members have not been made public until now - includes publisher Louise Adler; company director Sam Mostyn, one of the architects of Paul Keating's Creative Nation; cultural economist David Throsby; Louise Herron, chairwoman of the Australia Council's Major Performing Arts Board; and Helen Nugent, appointed by the Howard government to formalise funding arrangements for major performing arts companies. There are some worrying signs. The panel has only three artists on it: that is, people who make art, rather than show, market or talk about it. Click here to read more by Matthew Westwood in The Australian. 

SITE VISIT: My Modern Metropolis
Beautiful photography, incredible art and clever design. That pretty much sums it up—where art enthusiasts and trendspotters connect over creative ideas. Visit this fabled cyber-place here
Intrepid cultural engineer Ben Eltham was in Brisbane the other weekend, where he was able to spend a couple of afternoons at the Gallery of Modern Art’s latest contemporary art exhibition, 21st Century: Art in the First Decade: The gallery was filled with people from across the demographic spectrum: young hipster couples, tourists, senior Australians, and families. So many families. This is an exhibition that seems to to capture the imagination of kids, as well as those who refuse to grow up. And who can blame them? This particular vision of art in the 21st century could be criticised for many things (some have even used that most devastating of artworld barbs: “safe”), but one thing you can’t fault is its sense of sheer, innocent joy. GOMA’s take on the art of the past decade is filled with the interactive, the relational and the funny, from Martin Creed’s room filled full of purple balloons (Work No. 965: Half the air in a given space (purple)) to Carsten Holler’s signature slippery dip Test site, and from Rikrit Tiravanija’s key relational work — a Thai meal for four — to Olafur Eliasson’s giant Lego play pen, The cubic structural evolution project. Read more of Eltham's musings on his blog

Artist Tomás Saraceno (born in Tucumán, Argentina, in 1973) will create a constellation of large, interconnected modules constructed with transparent and reflective materials for New York's Metropolitan Museum's Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. Visitors may enter and walk through these habitat-like, modular structures grouped in a nonlinear configuration. Over the past decade, Saraceno has established a practice of constructing habitable networks based upon complex geometries and interconnectivity that merge art, architecture, and science. The interdisciplinary project "Cloud Cities/Air Port City" is rooted in the artist's investigation of expanding the ways in which we inhabit and experience our environment. And see images from the artist's 2011 Berlin installation at this link.
Reviewer Caroline Melia had this to say about Java Dance Company's charmingly quixotic Back of the Bus, which played almost every day, rolling thorugh the streets, during the 2012 Adelaide Fringe: This has to be one of the best shows on offer at this year’s fringe. The young dances are lively, engaging and keen to impress, with plenty of surprises that keep the audience on their toes. The confined setting might, at first, seem a little unpromising, but it soon become clear that this is no obstiacale to the performers. As the bus moves of and the music begins, you are thrown into a world that enacts everything you are told never to do on a bus; running in the isles, swinging on the rails, singing and more. The characters become distinct as the evening progresses and every time you are bid to get off the bus and follow the performers a new and exciting piece of the show awaits. It’s part dance show part follow the leader with never a dull moment. One of the most unexpected and comic parts of the show came from watching the other motorists along side the bus, in traffic and pedestrians on the street staring at the bus in wonder and disbelief, as the dancers hang upside-down from the rails. Read another glowing review in Glam Adelaide. And learn a bit more about the strikingly inventive Java Dance Company here or at their website
SITE VISIT: The Green Room
Queensland's Professional Theatre portal. Enter here

The Australia Council's Dance Board has committed $300,000 over three years to develop a Screen Dance Initiative, and proposals are being invited through an open tender process. The Australia Council acknowledges that the dynamism and vibrancy of the small-to medium performing arts sector is essential to the cultural life of Australia. The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that screen dance in Australia is supported in the most effective and innovative way—and to generate fresh thinking in the sector, new delivery models, and to foster new strategic partnerships.
The Screen Dance Initiative is open to Australian arts organisations working with dance and screen projects including hybrid, digital and interdisciplinary art. Proposals that investigate possibilities of artistic practices that intersect with broader cultural activity are encouraged (e.g. digital culture and creative opportunities for the National Broadband Network; Indigenous and intercultural collaborations; augmented reality and cgi staging).  To learn more about how to apply, click here, or contact the program coordinator, Adrian Burnett by clicking here
The latest trending social media video, Kony 2012, is interesting, not just for its popularity, but for questions it raises about crowd sourcing tactics.There’s a lot of terrible things in the world, a lot of terrible individuals doing unspeakable things, and a lot of causes that attract passionate people. So, if you’re into righting wrongs, using something like Facebook or You Tube or Vimeo to further your cause seems like a good idea. It’s not a new concept. There are those who willingly jump on the next ever-so-cool and trendy bandwagon. The number of hits on the video is testimony to this. But can this sort of emotive, simplistic approach to causes make a difference in the longer term? Will those nearly five million people who have viewed (or partially viewed) the video still care next week or next month? Or will they have jumped on the next trendy bandwagon instead? So writes cultural engineer Judy Barrass in the latest blog post at Critical Mass

SITE VISIT: Bizarre Bytes
A blog about the peculiar aspects of pop culture and art, can be glanced here.

It was obvious from my very first day that Sotheby’s would be exactly as I had come to imagine it. As the elevator reached each floor, archetypes spilled forth. Tweedy men got off at Rare Books, preppies at Impressionism, former sorority pledges at HR. The cool girls got off at Contemporary. In their jewel-tone flats and blended eye makeup, they were the ones who most resembled works of art. These girls seemed immune to New York’s damning seasons, which always threaten to expose one’s tax bracket, especially if it is low. The summer sun didn’t melt their makeup, and the winter wind didn’t mar their manes. They were driven in cars and cabs that were kept at a constant 68 degrees. At night and on weekends, they attended galas, museum openings, and brunches in East Hampton. But during business hours, they went on client visits, consulted on prices, and tirelessly secured property. They were friendly on the phone, enthusiastic about the art, and harder working than people who look and talk like that usually need to be. Alice Gregory writes more about her time at the auction house at this link
No 6: If you’re an artist, critic, or curator, someone will inevitably ask you what you’re working on. It’s good to have either two projects that can be mentioned briefly, or one project that can be mentioned in more depth—though still kept within the bounds of appropriate party chatter. In different cities, artists, critics, and curators take different tacks on describing their workload. In Los Angeles, artists must always look like they are rested and fresh. In New York, the more haggard and hardworking you look the better. It’s always appropriate to be on your way to or to have just returned from international travel, e.g., “I just got back from being in this biennial in Prague, but I’ve only a couple of weeks to get on my feet before I have to have some meetings in London.” Read the rest of the rules, posted by Andrew Berardini, in cultural engineering destination, Paper Monmument. Then read James McGirck's chamred account of the source at this link

Architect John Locke is doing to the phone booths of New York what every self-respecting bookworm has silently wished for since cell phones became ubiquitous and books became redundant. Almost! As part of his Department of Urban Betterment project, he has been converting normally grimy, grotty phonebooths in the city into useful resources for the bookish subway trawling population. Says Locke: "Even as they are rendered obsolete by the ubiquity of smartphones, I’m interested in pay phones because they are both anachronistic and quotidian. relics, they’re dead technology perched on the edge of obsolescence, a skeuomorph hearkening back to a lost shared public space we might no longer have any use for—but they can also be a place of opportunity, something to reprogram and somewhere to come together and share a good book with your neighbors." Read all about it in the Lost in E Minor blog, or here in Design Boom, then proceed immediately to the interventionist cultural engineering work and manifesto at the Department of Urban Betterment, at this link

Michael Brand, incoming director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, on his cunning plan to elevate Australian art and artists: In general, you would obviously like to see an international demand for Australian art rather than what might be described as one-sided export promotions. Many have tried to achieve this over the years, but not always with great success. How might the Art Gallery of NSW help? I believe the best place to start is by building partnerships on both the museum-to-museum and curator-to-curator levels. Another important contribution is the publication of serious scholarship on Australian artists that places their work in an international as well as national context. Click here to read more commentary, and the full interview with Dr Brand. And if that's not enough, click here for another interview with the soon-to-be Sydney cultural engineer, from the ABC's The World Today. 

With the Getty Trust's recent announcement that, after a gap of more than two years, a director has finally been hired to lead its museum, a perennial question arises. The Getty's art collection certainly hasn't languished, with important additions periodically made, but few would say it has lived up to hopes for the hugely wealthy institution. What does new leadership portend for it? THis September, Oxford-educated Australian Timothy Potts will become the Getty Museum's fifth director. Read what the Los Angeles Times has to say here

SITE VISIT: Art Threat
Culture, criticism, politics, more, and it's here.

Alexandra Wolfe writes about the latest trend of hotels becoming art havens, in the Wall Street Journal: Arty hotels have long been the domain of bohemian travelers who were looking for value and character in their accommodations. But recently, luxury hot spots across the globe have been adding art to their offerings—in the form of rotating displays, art concierges and even sculpture gardens you can shop in. These highbrow additions might just make you a more cultured guest, not to mention add a little bulk to your luggage. Click here to learn about some of the artful destinations, or click here to learn about New York's low budget, uber-arty Gershwin Hotel, or Hobart's Henry James Art Hotel, or (a favourite of this cultural engineer) the singular properties of Melbourne's Art Series Hotels.   

Combining dry wit with artistic depth, Billy Collins shares a project in which several of his poems were turned into delightful animated films in a collaboration with Sundance Channel. Five of them are included in this wonderfully entertaining and moving talk -- and don't miss the hilarious final poem! A two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins captures readers with his understated wit, profound insight -- and a sense of being "hospitable." Learn more, thanks to TED, at this link

Why did Bob Dylan compose the classic “Like a Rolling Stone” only after he had become so disgusted with his own music that he was planning to quit the business permanently? How did Silicon Valley become a hub of innovation while other genius-packed cities did not? And what does the placement of a company’s bathrooms have to do with the number of innovative products it makes? These questions–-and many more like them—are at the heart of Jonah Lehrer’s new book “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” Click here to read the rest of the review. 

Two huge William Street properties will become a hub for creative Sydneysiders, as part of a Council push to provide affordable space for artists throughout the city. The buildings, 101-115 William Street, have showrooms, warehouse space, offices, shopfronts, as well as six one-bedroom apartments, which could be used as artist live-in work spaces. Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP said a flourishing creative culture was essential to Sydney's social and economic wellbeing. "Sydney's creative culture attracts people to live, visit, work and invest here - but there's no creative culture if artists can't afford to live and work," the Lord Mayor said. "As a council, we're looking at underused properties that we can use to encourage artists and creative start-ups." Click here to read the official announcement
a blog about ideas, inspiration, and how to do it. Click here.

Here's a well-scripted opportunity for Australian playwrights, The Edward Albee Scholarship. The award provides the winning playwright with the professional development opportunity of a lifetime: a summer month in New York to write a new play, introduction to a range of US-based playwrights, literary managers, agents and artistic directors, and an opportunity to “plug in” to the New York theatre “grid.” Accommodation, flights and a stipend are provided to the winner, who is expected to present a full draft of his or her new play two months after returning from the US. The playwright retains all rights to their work and the award is open to any Australian resident. Entries are due by 4 May 2012, the shortlist will be published on the website on May 21, then Edward Albee will choose the winning entry from the shortlist. The winner will be announced in June.
Soundclash is a contemporary music initiative of the Australia Council's Music Board. The initiative seeks to assist the creative development of music which takes risks and demonstrates innovation within the popular music form. Click here to learn more

Candy Chang is an artist who explores making cities more comfortable and contemplative places. This is her website. With help from old and new friends, Candy turned the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans into a giant chalkboard where residents can write on the wall and remember what is important to them. Before I Die is an interactive public art project that invites people to share their hopes and dreams in public space. Painted with chalkboard paint and stenciled with the sentence “Before I die I want to _______”, the wall becomes an enlightening way to get to know your neighbors and discover what matters most to the people around you. It creates a public space for contemplation and reminds us why we want to be alive in the world today. It’s a question that changed Candy after she lost someone she loved very much, and she believes the design of our public spaces can better reflect what matters to us as a community and as individuals. Learn more about Before I Die at this link. And read about the project's latest host, the cultural engineers at the ever-inspiring Chicago Urban Art Society
SITE VISIT: Stage Diary
News from the Australian theatre front. It's here

When The Art Newspaper be­gan an annual sur­vey of the best at­tended exhibitions in 1996, to make the top ten a show needed to attract around 3,000 visitors a day. In its survey of 2011 shows, to make the top ten required almost 7,000 visitors a day. Among them was “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”, a posthumous tribute by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. On average, more than 8,000 people a day went (in total around 660,000). The must-see show helped the Met to a record year, taking its annual total figure to more than six million, up from 5.2 million in 2010. Rather than a US, European or Japanese institution, a Brazilian one, the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil’s (CCBB) Rio de Janeiro space, comes top. The former bank building in the city’s centre hosted no less than three exhibitions that have made the top ten. All were free, with “The Magical World of Escher” being the most popular (9,700 visitors a day). Click here to read more about museum-going patterns around the world.

Following the highly successful Creative Communities Conference in 2009 and 2010, Creative Communities 3 will provide a forum for critical discussion and knowledge exchange when it is unleashed on the Gold Coast in September. The Conference will be held at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Surfers Paradise, hosted by the Griffith Centre for Cultural Research at Griffith University. Dates are 26 to 28 September 2012, and a major focus will be ‘Risks and Possibilities’ of unleashing creativity in communities. The gathering will bring together an interdisciplinary array of national and international art and community development practitioners, creative researchers, and cultual engineers working in sociology, youth and ageing studies, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity studies, and mass media.
Griffith Centre for Cultural Research currently invites proposal submissions from scholars, arts & cultural workers, designers, urban designers, architects and policy makers interested in presenting oral papers, presentations, interactive workshops, panels or roundtable discussions.  Click here for the Call for Proposals or register for the conference at this link.
San Francisco-area landscape artist Andreas Amador turns large beach landscapes inot swirling, complex works of epehemeral design. During full moons, he etches large-scale patterns, often organically designed for the site, using only a rake and several helpers. His works exist for a few hours, before being completely engulfed by the encroaching high tide. Check out his short-lived oceanfront art at this site

From March 22, millions of people strolling at night near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. will be able to see a museum turned inside-out. The Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is giving its trademark circular cement exterior a glowing, 360-degree makeover. Through to May 13, from sundown to midnight, artist Doug Aitken’s "SONG 1" installation will use 11 high-definition video projectors to seamlessly blend moving images around the entire iconic, cylindrical building to the tune of the pop song “I Only Have Eyes for You.” The massive projection will include more than 15 covers of the song from a diverse group of artists including Beck, Devendra Banhard, Lucky Dragons, and The Flamingos. According to Hirshhorn deputy director and chief curator Kerry Brougher, "SONG 1" toys with the concept of "liquid architecture"—a constant shifting that transforms museum architect Gordon Bunshaft's heavy, cement mass into a light, ethereal work of art. The public installation is designed to challenge the boundaries of architecture and redefine the concepts of cinematic and urban space. Check out the HIrschorn's makeover at this link and also here.  

Los Angeles' newest rock star, like so many before her, sleeps by day and rolls on by night, gathering, as they say, no moss. She stops in one town after another — in Ontario, La Palma, Lakewood and Long Beach. In each, she tantalizes and mesmerizes, conjuring a joyful circus, even a few moments of unbridled exuberance that some might regret down the road. Then, just as her star is brightest, she moves on, as if someone had given her the same advice offered by Gypsy Rose Lee's mother: Always leave them wanting more. Organizers knew moving a two-story-tall granite boulder from a Riverside County rock quarry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art would be a logistical trial. The rock, after all, destined as the centerpiece of a massive art installation, weighs 340 tons. It is being toted 105 miles in a steel sling by a 176-wheel transport truck that is nearly as wide as three freeway lanes, at speeds so slow that some escorts have been on foot. What museum leaders and transportation officials could not have anticipated—so they claim—was the carnival that would surround the rock on its 11-day journey. Click here to read all about it in the Los Angeles Times. 

Yarn bombing, the modification of aspects in public space thorugh the addition of knitted covers and attachments, has turned into a guerrilla beautification movement. “You basically vandalize outdoor things with yarn—be it crocheted or knitted,” said a wolly artists known as the Kitting Guy. “It seems to be tolerated by the authorities because it’s pretty innocuous; it doesn’t really alter the object that gets yarn-bombed.” Click here to read more about this tolerably hobby, and proceed to this link for examples of the world's best yarn bombing. 

SITE VISIT: The Design Files 
Design, design, and more design. Go here.

"The idea of curation and having guest curators was a very visual arts model, but it hadn't been done in music in the same way," says David Sefton, now heading the Adelaide Festival. Read more about him, and his programming ethic, in The Australian

In a small brick building just North of Melbourne, is the axis mundi of Australian theatre-making. The forge of experimental stage works, and genesis of thousands of new plays over the past four decades, La Mama Theatre is a creative institution like no other. We just thought it might be important, dear reader, to point that out—and then warmly invite you to peruse the startling, upcoming productions at La Mama

Last month 200 dealers, collectors and curators gathered in Qatar for the opening of the first showing in the Middle East of work by Takashi Murakami. The hostess of the evening sat laughing with the pony-tailed Japanese artist on her right. On her left was Dakis Joannou, a Greek-Cypriot industrialist and avid collector of the work of Jeff Koons, an American sculptor. Larry Gagosian, whom many regard as the most powerful art dealer in the world, was placed at a table nearby, with the other art dealers. Few people could get away with asking Mr Gagosian to dinner halfway around the globe, only to sit him with the rest of the class. Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani is one. The emir of Qatar’s daughter has become one of the most talked-about figures of the international art world: collector, patron, cultural advocate. Mr Gagosian is not the only one who would like to catch her eye. Read more here in The Economist

Vintage Advertisements are usually humorous to us nowadays, what with the racism, sexism and other isms you can find in the ads from yesteryear. But the ads also have something comforting: maybe they deliver a feeling that in our past things used to better and can be again, a certain nostalgia hits us – maybe even for those who weren’t alive at that time. Who knows for sure, but the Bizarre Bytes website takes a look at "vintage" ads for some familiar new products and online services. Click here to look.

Each month, the Awesome Foundation chooses an applicant who has proposed an awesome project, and we fund them. Our first grantee was an oral history project. More recently we helped fund the Onn/Of Light Festival. Since we operate on a monthly basis, we move quickly. Just a couple of weeks after we make a decision, the $1,000 cash is in the pocket of the grantee. Literally cash. The Awesome Foundation was founded in 2009 in Boston by a guy named Tim Hwang. He came up with the simple formula of 10 people giving $100 each that is handed out as grants on a monthly basis. It went from the one chapter in Boston to four chapters to 12 chapters. Two years later, it’s at 30 chapters. Read more about small-change funding for big ideas at this link, and check out the Awesome Foundation website here

At the Australia Council, we know what our artistic leaders, our cultural leaders, look like. They are the ‘go to’ people, the first names that pop into your head when you need to get communities informed, wrestling with issues, or engaging in serious debate. They bring cool ideas to the big table, and have the strategies to make those ideas play out. Other artists are drawn to them for advice or help, because they know that even if this person can’t solve their problem, they’ll know someone who can. They hang in there when the going gets tough and know how to take their colleagues with them. Yes, their actions encapsulate all the buzz words. They have incredible vision, they motivate others and demonstrate fortitude in the face of adversity. Most importantly, they possess that intangible gift: the ability to inspire change. Read the entire opinion piece by Lyn Wallis, Director of the Theatre Board, at the Australia Council for the Arts website.
SITE VISIT: Obsessed Artist 2.0
The virtual world for the artists is here.

Instead of contribute in a physical way to the 2012 Whiteney Biennial, artist Andrea Fraser submitted an essay. "It has gotten to the point that most forms of engagement with the art world have become so fraught with conflict for me that they are almost unbearable, even as I struggle to find ways to continue to participate." Click here to read about her "work," or download a copy of the essaye "There's No Place Like Home." Or click here to read more in the Huffington Post. 

The Future Generation Art Prize established by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation is a worldwide contemporary art prize to discover, recognize and give long-term support to a future generation of artists. The Prize hopes to become a major contribution to the open participation of younger artists in the dynamic cultural development of societies in global transition. The Prize is an innovative new international award for artists up to 35 years of age, investing in the artistic development and new production of works. Awarded through a competition, judged by a distinguished jury, the Prize is founded on the idea of generosity, a network of outstanding patron artists and institutional partners, and a highly democratic application procedure. Founder and Ukrainian businessman Victor Pinchuk says: “Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics." Read more about his Future Generation Prize at this link.

The Birmingham Opera Company is producing the first complete production of Karlheinz Stockhausen's opera "Mittwoch aus Licht" as part of the London festival this year. The five-hour opera is split into six parts, and the first hour of the performance features electronic music, and is followed by a choir singing acapella in a fake language. But the most bizarre aspect of the work is sure to be the 20 minutes of the performance where four helicopters, each prepared with a pilot, sound and audio technicians, as well as string quartet players, will transmit audio and video to the audience down below. The sound of the helicopters is a featured aspect of the performance, which was first performed in 1955.
"Stockhausen's vision is utterly beguiling, seductive, irresistible and fabulous," Birmingham Opera Company's artistic director Graham Vick told the Guardian. "He is one of the great originals of all time: a dreamer, a visionary, a man who dared to believe that things were possible which I have no idea how to achieve." Vick also described the difficulties in getting the opera to audiences, which, aside from the helicopter stunt, also requires two performance halls and choirs. Not to mention that the two performance halls have to be large enough for the helicopters to safely land in. Read more about this modernist Olympic mission in the Telegraph, or here in the Guardian.  

On 20 March the Australia Council and the City of Sydney hosted a presentation and discussion session 'Culture Count: Measuring Cultural Value' at Customs House, Circular Quay in partnership with the Centre for Creative Industries Innovation at Queensland University of Technology. The event featured a presentation from Hasan Bakhshi, director for creative industries in NESTA's policy research unit, as well as insight from local policy and planning experts. If you couldn't make it, the Australia Council is still interested in your views about Culture, and your ideas for future events. Cultural Engineers can share their thoughts with this short questionnaire or read more about the Culture Count discussion at this link

The feature documentary This Space Available began as a discussion between a corporate branding guru, Marc Gobé, and his daughter, Gwenaëlle Gobé, a filmmaker who is passionately against advertising in public space. The debate blossomed into three-year investigation of outdoor advertising and its effect on communities, from São Paulo to Toronto, and what activists, street artists, and cities are doing to stop it. Gwenaëlle Gobé, who directed the film, discusses the evolution of the project at this link to The Atlantic.

The younger Gobé has this to say: "I feel brands infiltrate our space, our privacy and our health without asking permission. Everywhere we go we are treated as potential consumers. There needs to be a place for everything, and we, as a culture, as individuals, are many other things besides consumers. It’s important to create and maintain public and private spaces that respect the citizen. Things are a bit out of control in Los Angeles; when I go for a walk sometimes I think, there is a virtual pick-pocketing going on. When we read in the newspaper that the city of São Paulo had passed a law to take down all billboardswe decided to make a film on the subject."  

Sydney's famous harbour has undergone several character changes. Once a rich source of food for Australia’s indigenous aborigines, it later evolved into the country’s biggest trading port and a point of arrival for ship-borne immigrants. On March 24th Sydney Harbour was transformed once again, this time into an opera venue. Opera Australia, the country’s main opera company, staged a triumphant premiere performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” on a water-borne stage before an audience of 3,000 people on shore. Nothing like this had ever been done before. The dimly-lit roof sails of the Sydney Opera House, the company’s usual home, provided a stunning backdrop across the water. For once, Australia’s most iconic structure took second place, set against the daring new stage.  Read more in The Economist.  

All it takes is a rope swing—and a few curious passersby—to turn a patch of shade under a giant tree into a playground. In Tampa Bay, Florida, there are more than 100 handmade swings scattered across the city and its surrounding communities thanks to Reuben Pressman and Hunter Payne of Swings Tampa Bay, an organization known locally for its experiments in urban recreation and “spontaneous community building.” Click here to read how they started with one swing, and about what is happening now in Tampa. And click here to visit the Swings Tampa Bay website and get the full overview.

Plenty of startups are trying to figure out how to make music's digital revolution pay off  for recording artists by stripping out middlemen and turning musicians into entrepreneurs. But perhaps none has a mission as altruistic as CASH Music, a nonprofit working on a suite of tools to let artists and labels promote and sell music directly to their fans, free of charge, on an open-source platform with minimal technological barriers to entry. CASH Music's current features include tools for musicians to collect email addresses, integrate their social streams and manage tour dates on their own websites. Artists already on board include Zola Jesus, Calexico, and Iron & Wine. Click here to go to the CASH Music site, and find out what Sam Beam already knows. 

Postmodern eye shadow, anyone? Tomato-soup blush? A new line of cosmetics is being launched that will bear the name of Andy Warhol, the Pop artist who immortalized Campbell's Tomato Soup cans and made silkscreen portraits of seemingly everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Mao Tse-Tung. The new collection of makeup will be developed by Nars Cosmetics, under license from the Andy Warhol Foundation. It is scheduled to be launched in the U.S. in October and will be a limited edition collection, according to a report in Women's Wear Daily. Read more in the Los Angeles Times

A little over two years ago a website started up to help users collate and share images on the web. Within a year its users were growing from the thousands to the millions and its popularity was spreading from the US to Europe. Suddenly people were sitting up and taking notice of the Silicon Valley startup. Now, according to comScore, in February 2012 Pinterest hit 17.8 million monthly users in the US, up over 6 million users from the January figure of 11.7 million, making its rise amongst the fastest of any site to ever hit the web. Yet a lot of people still only have a vague idea what it’s about. Click here to find out, thanks to Fiona Mackrell's overivew in ArtsHub.

Ever wanted to discover a vending machine that dispenses hand-made works of original art? Ever wanted one that does it for $5, and includes works by 20 artists from around the world? Then visit the KickArts GIft Shop now, in the lobby of the Cairns Centre of Contemporary Arts, and make friends with the first Art-o-mat machine in the Southern Hemisphere. It was commissioned by Cairns Festival in 2010, and is one of about 100 repurposed machine in existence. Sure, you could spend $500 on a nice print or painting. But why not get 100 new works, and an instant art collection, instead? Click here to see the Far North machine, or here to learn more about the Art-o-mat network.  

In May, artist Tom Sachs will take over the Park Avenue Armory’s fifty-five thousand square foot drill hall to simulate a month-long expedition to Mars. Presented by perhaps the most amazing cultural engineering organisation on earth, Creative Time, Astronaut’s Training Manual: Space Program 2.0: Mars features a Martian landscape, mission control, spacecraft, exploratory vehicles, and a launch pad, all constructed from a variety of common materials. Sachs and his thirteen assistants will perform procedures, rituals, and mission-related tasks throughout the month. Previously, Sachs constructed his own 1:1 scale lunar module and Tyvek space suits to stage a mission to the moon at Gagosian LA. Click here to read more about Sachs, who has been called "one of the brightest, most entertaining, and most voraciously inquisitive artists on the contemporary scene.”
SITE VISIT: No Plain Jane
Jane Howard takes a critical, well-worded look at the art world around her, here

Do you have information or opportunities that other Cultural Engineers should know about? Almost 2000 of them, from all over the world, are reading this with you. Do you post critical comments on your home-grown blog? Have you invented something funky? Are you producing a cabaret in a decrepit jail, um, gaol? Maybe you run a cool museum? Or are you dreaming of a new civic vision? Perhaps you want to give a special cultural welcome, a package of creative content, to every newborn baby in your region? Or maybe you've submerged 400 life-sized figures off the coast of Mexico? Let us know, as what you are doing might just be fodder for the next Cultural Engineer's Report. Click here to tell us.

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