Why dance?

For anyone who’s ever danced, wanted to dance, or knows me and wondered why I did it, this video by the Ontario Arts Council is the best explanation I’ve found. I’m truly grateful to the friend who sent it to me.

As we approach the New Year and take time to reflect on life, the universe and everything (to paraphrase the great Douglas Adams), this video helps me remember some of the reasons dancing made my life so rich, and that dancing will always be with me. If you’re so inclined, dance a bit; dance like nobody’s watching or like everyone’s watching – just dance.

 

Making the Case for a Liberal Arts Education

There has been quite a bit of discussion about this topic lately, given the cuts to post-secondary institutions in Alberta and the promotion of specialized education in the “professions” (medicine, law, business, engineering) that has seemed to take precedence in the rhetoric of governments in the name of being “competitive” in the global marketplace, as well as ensuring that our young people have what is believed to be the right “skill set” for today’s workplace. While a “professional degree” is undoubtedly a valid and rewarding choice, it may not be for everyone. Mercifully, there are some clear arguments for a well-rounded, liberal arts education that are becoming more prominent, and I’ve recently come across two of the more thorough and articulate.

The first is a Ted talk from 2009 by Liz Coleman, then the President of Bennington College, a small liberal arts college in the U.S. I highly recommend this. It spells out the need for study in the liberal arts so clearly it’s impossible not to recognize their importance.

The second is a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, making the same argument in a different way, in more detail, but just as convincingly.

I wish there were Canadian sources making similar arguments, but so far I haven’t found any. If anyone out there knows of any, I’d love to read them and blog about them.

 

And now…a post…about…knitting!

My very own Beer Mitt

My very own Beer Mitt

Please read the title of this post with the appropriate Monty Python-esque emphasis. And having done that, we move on to the rest of the post…

I love KnittyBlog! For those knitters out there who haven’t already explored Knitty’s magazine or the blog, I really, truly recommend you go there, if for no other reason than World Wide Wednesdays, when the post is a compendium of knitting stories from around the world.

You’ll find running stories like this

…And strange and wonderful tales like this.

And of course, Knitty’s mag is the home of the amazing Beer Mitt, which I blogged about here.

You don’t have to be a knitter to enjoy this stuff, either. Who knows, you might be inspired to become a knitter, and that would be amazing!

On Non-Profit Capacity

I read an outstanding article today from the Stanford Social Innovation Review about the real costs of running a non-profit organization. In short, overhead = capacity to deliver the programs that serve the organization’s mandate. Without investment in these costs, organizations are hamstrung and aren’t as effective as they can be. Since arts organizations are often non-profits, this absolutely applies. I can’t help but think about the creativity we could foster if we could (and would – we often restrict ourselves in this area by thinking that putting every penny we can “on the stage” will make us the most successful) make these types of investments not only in our artists, but in those who support them on the administrative side.

If, as some say, non-profits should act more like businesses, why is it that some donors don’t allow them to? And why do we keep buying in to this argument ourselves?

The article says it much better than I do, especially the paragraphs about the results organizations get from investing in capacity.

Bravo to the Stanford Social Innovation Review for publishing the article, to Julie Brandt for writing it, and to Ray Musyka for linking to it on LinkedIn.

Bravo also to Dan Palotta for making similar arguments through his TED talks.

Nonprofits are driven by mission, but they too have financial targets and other performance metrics to meet. In the private sector, we see that companies with high-quality training and development programs generate 26 percent more revenue per employee and realize 40 percent less voluntary turnover than their peers. What if we translated this to the nonprofit sector? If we invested in the training and developing staff who deliver these critical programs, would we see 26 percent or more impact per staff member? Would nonprofits achieve greater success because they could focus their people, time, and money on mission-driven activities rather than covering the cost of turnover?

The belief that nonprofits that minimize investments in overhead deliver higher-quality services or better results has deprived many organizations of the resources they need to serve their communities. Leaders of nonprofits need flexibility to invest in recruiting and sustaining the best talent, training and developing employees properly, and building a strong pipeline for succession. Expenses like this are not frivolous; they’re smart.

- See more at: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/overhead_costs_the_obsession_must_stop#!

 

Art Meets Business

Here’s an example of someone who’s in the business world, but who also really understands the role the arts play in our society. Todd Hirsch revisits the economic arguments for the arts and makes them immediate and relevant, while also tying their value to the other, non-economic-yet-extremely-important aspects of our lives.

See his blog post on the subject.

A side note here is that the statistics Mr. Hirsch refers to in his post are likely to be only the tip of the proverbial artistic iceberg in Alberta, as they only reference organizations funded by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts – the firmest province-wide statistics available at the moment. There are many arts organizations who aren’t funded by the AFA, as well as individual artists (funded and not funded by AFA programs) who contribute economically as well.

We need more people like Todd Hirsch to lend their voices to his.

 

This Week In Creativity

I read an interesting article in the latest issue of Alberta Venture magazine this week on stimulating innovation and creativity in the workplace. The article point out some truths about the conditions required for the creativity that stimulates innovation: the absence of fear, and the presence of humour. Both of these lead to inspiring the courage to fail – something I know I need to work on…a lot…

You can find the full issue on newstands, at the Red Arrow bus stop in downtown Edmonton, or if you have a library card, through the Edmonton Public Library’s on-line Zinio magazine service (one of the coolest ways to access magazines, in my opinion).

It was good food for thought and dovetailed with something I’d watched and read about earlier in the year: John Cleese’s thoughts on stimulating creativity and the 5 things that are needed to do that:

  1. Space (an “oasis” for creativity)
  2. Time (Cleese feels you need about 90 minutes, so that there’s time for any distractions to disappear and for what he terms “open” mode to occur)
  3. Time (to ponder ideas and question them)
  4. Confidence (which in my mind can also be thought of as the courage to fail – nothing is a mistake when you are in “open” mode)
  5. Humor (as in, allow it – in fact, go for it)

You can find his talk here. It’s worth the time. There are also excerpts on YouTube, but I recommend the whole thing.

…and then there was the coolest example of creativity I saw this week: The Beer Mitt, in the Deep Fall issue of Knitty magazine. I can see many of these in my knitting future. They would make outstanding gifts.

Finally, in support of creativity and the arts, the #yegvotesarts campaign is heating up. Get your button by emailing admin AT pacedmonton DOT com, follow the campaign on twitter, facebook or tumblr, and see which candidates support creativity and the arts in the upcoming Edmonton municipal election. There are also questions you can ask candidates in your ward – wherever you are in the province of Alberta, which has municipal elections throughout this year – or at public all-candidates forum or even on your doorstep.

 

The Story of a Shawl Design

I thought it might be fun to re-post this from my project page on Craftsy.com – which is an amazing site if you’re interested in learning something new, be it about knitting, crochet, quilting, sewing, baking cakes, photography, and so on. Even though I work in the Arts, it’s not often I get to create something like this, and learning how to design a lace shawl opened a lot of new thought pathways for me. …and it was a lot of fun!

Of the stitch patterns mentioned in this design, the Miniature Leaf pattern came from the pattern for the Little Silk Shrug in Lace Style (published by Interweave Press), and the Oriel pattern comes from Barbara G. Walker’s Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns (THE definitive stitch dictionary in my opinion – if you’re only going to have one, this should be it).

The first attempt at this top-down triangular shawl, as illustrated by the 1st chart (see photos below) and swatch/sample, worked fine for the Miniature Leaf pattern in the centre, but did not work when I switched to the Oriel pattern, which turned out not to be symmetrical, despite the fact that the increase rate worked well for both patterns (1, 1, 2, 2) (see detail photo – yikes!). Back to the chart to fix it…

The first chart - looks okay, but it wasn't when I knit it.

The first chart – looks okay, but it wasn’t when I knit it.

Definitely NOT symmetrical! Back to the "charting" board.

Definitely NOT symmetrical! Back to the “charting” board.

The second chart turned out better (see photo), with both stitch patterns symmetrical in each triangular wedge. I also made a better transition to the border, continuing the purl stitches into the border rows. However, the border on this attempt didn’t seem work as well – it isn’t as “pointy” as the first sample, but I’m not too bothered about that, as the other stitch patterns turned out well. Perhaps I would need to add more border rows to make the border more “pointy”?

The revised project chart - now it should work!

The revised project chart – now it should work!

Success! Both sides look the same.

Success! Both sides look the same.

When I come to knit it again, I will make the centre larger and use a wool or wool blend fingering weight yarn that will hold the blocking better than the cotton I used here – and that is in a colour I like better. The stitch definition of the cotton is wonderful, but cotton doesn’t hold blocking well, and I don’t think I’d want to keep having to re-block it.

It was a really enjoyable journey and now I’m working on another design for a triangular shawl that has a thistle motif to reflect my Scottish heritage.  When I come to knit that one, I will post on my progress here.