Sunday, June 29, 2008

Art in the Heartland

This is the 11th year for the Des Moines Arts Festival as hosted by the Downtown Events Group. It continues a fifty year tradition of locally-produced and directed fine arts fairs. A handful of paid staff members and over a thousand volunteers work each year on this Art Fair. Every year it serves as a highlight of their efforts to revitalize and re-energize the evolving downtown scene in Des Moines.

Held on the broad, open vistas of the Western Gateway Park at the edge of downtown Des Moines, several streets are closed to vehicle traffic and a visitor-friendly and spectator-inviting atmosphere is created for the weekend.

This year over 1400 (!!) applications to show were received. As they needed to be culled to fit the 175 available spots in the show, a jury of fellow professional artists used a blind selection process to select those to be invited to participate.

Fifteen categories are represented, ranging from 2-D and 3-D Mixed Media through Digital, Fiber, Glass, Jewelry, to Sculpture and Wood.

A quick look at the list of artists presenting this year shows they come from as far away as Washington and Florida, from California to South Carolina. As a member of the International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA) the Fair has a growing reputation for quality in the art fair world.

The Fair also supports new Iowa artists through the Emerging Iowa Artists program and also supports art in school classrooms throughout central Iowa through the Nurturing a Student’s Vision program.

Of course, food, music, drink, and family fun are also an integral part of the Fair. It truly is an event valued by young and old, singles and families, any and every person that enjoys viewing the world through the eyes of artists.

Of the many artists exhibiting this year, a couple grabbed my attention.

It was hard to miss the woven wire sculptures of Michael Gard. Starting with a clay sculpture, which is then reproduced in wax, the wire itself (brass, aluminum, copper, silver, etc.) is then woven over the wax sculpture. When the piece is completed, the wax is melted away leaving the finished 3-D art work.

They are light, airy, strong . . .and incredibly beautiful. Now if only I had the jack to afford even a small one... The one shown is one of the larger sizes displayed, apparently 48 inches large, if it follows the example on his web site.

Another artist that captured my eye and my imagination was Gregory Story. From Fort Worth, Texas Story captures his visions in ceramic creations. Jars, bottles, floor 'totems', 'wallballs', etc.

I wanted to take a picture, but Gregory asked that I not, that instead I could use images from his website to illustrate his work. Unfortunately, his website is 'Flash'-based and I am too busy and clueless to ferret out the image URLs. I am sure you can google his name or 'wallball' and find his page. Sorry Gregory.

Some Des Moines residents complain there is 'nothing to do' here. I would suggest that there is much to do if one is willing to look around and take advantage of the opportunities available.


Here are a few more pictures of the grounds, some art-work, prepared by kids visiting the various exhibits, and a giant mural created from individual panels 'painted' by Fair visitors.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chicago 2008 post-'Meet-n-Greet' thoughts...

'Community' is the result of individuals banding together in a common activity. These activities are unlimited: sandbagging to save a flood-threatened town, participating on a sports team, working as a citizens group for civic improvements ...or writing on a website.

New members (OK, most of them) come to Epinions with similar game plans: to share their opinions by writing reviews. All member/writers utilize the same basic format: Pros, Cons, a Bottom Line, a star-rating, and their thoughts and words.

The Epinions review is the method for any member to define their personal level of participation on the site. To some the community side is less important, to others more important. Some look to balance the level of their writing on the site and the amount of time spent interacting with others. Some like to write, some like to read and rate, some like the social interaction possible on the site. The spectrum is endless and only determined by the desire and actions of any given member.

Some immediately (or eventually) become more deeply intertwined with the site than others. Perhaps they write more often, rate more often, comment more often. Perhaps they frequently interact with other members on the message boards or via e-mails. Each member defines their own level of involvement, either deliberately or by simply 'going with the flow'.

Over the years, the corporate side of Epinions has facilitated the next step of 'community-building' on the site by hosting 'Meet-n-Greets' for community members to interact both with the corporate staff of the Epinions website and their fellow members.

Recently such an event was held in Chicago. These 'Meet-n-Greet' events obviously cater to those members who are strongly interested in the community, in meeting both the individuals who run the 'business' side of the site and fellow members who pepper the site with their words, their rates, and their comments.

I had always told myself that if an official 'meet-n-greet' were held in my area of the country I would make every effort to attend. I knew the chance to meet, in the 'flesh and blood' so many fellow users that I know and trust would simply be too rich to miss.

Let me just say I was not disappointed. The ability to put a face, a voice, just a bit of a persona with a mental image we have of our fellow users is invaluable. Amazingly many of the users were just as I imagined they might be. I really felt that I would be lucky to call them friends in the real world as well as friends on a silly website.

Anyway, I am immensely pleased, beyond expectations, to have met each of them; to have shared just a bit of myself with them and to take from them just a bit of reassurance that not everyone you meet on the internet is really an ax murderer.


P.S. My wife and I would like to thank scmrak and pestyside for hosting us for the weekend and being our 'mini-tour guides' for our foray into the big city. Your friendship is valued and appreciated.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chicago 2008 'Meet-n-Greet' pre-musings....

Years ago I registered as a member of yet another website. I am sure we all have a littered 'net trail of sites visited, joined, and allowed to wither on the vine. For lack of interest, lack of 'stickiness', lack of value ...short or long term.

Epinions dot com was such a site for me. I am sure I was probably looking online for info about a book or book reviews when I first found it. I registered and then apparently moved on. Nine or ten months later I 'rediscovered' the site and somehow this time it pulled me in.

Epinions is a site for "unbiased reviews by real people". Reviews of products we all use everyday in our lives: computers, cameras, baby gear, outdoor equipment, books, movies, music, garden equipment . . .the list goes on and on.

What I have learned over the years is that the people of Epinions truly are 'real'. Through the process of sharing my thoughts about products in reviews and about other topics in essays I have learned that many members share my passion for the power of the written word and their ability to shape those words and their thoughts into a 'helpful' review. A review that serves the shopping customer while also meeting their need to reach out, to be heard, to communicate with others.

The passion of members on the site is real and tangible. Some lust for markers of recognition, some strive for popularity, some seek 'trust', some lust after the rising tally of numbers. Some immerse themselves in their own 'work', quietly pursuing their 'vision' of Epinions. While others actively engage, challenge, try to provoke their fellow members into action for this cause or that cause.

The diversity of approaches to the site is amazing. Finding one's own niche can be very stressful or very enriching and rewarding. We all make our own journey and we all look back with mixed emotions about the path we have traveled, the good we have accomplished, the bad we have committed, and those we have helped and those we have hurt along the way.

Perhaps it is a good metaphor for the 'real world' of our daily lives. Or perhaps it is a snow globe shaken by some unknown being, I and others being nothing more than ". . .an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato." To quote Ebenezer Scrooge.

This weekend I am traveling (with my wife) to Chicago for a formal activity sponsored by the site management, a 'Meet-n-greet' where the powers that be and site members have a chance to interact about the workings of the site, goals to meet, changes needing to be implemented, and just where the heck we (as a site and as individual members) are going over the short- and long-term future.

But beyond that is the chance to finally meet many users, fellow members ...flesh and blood people that I know only through exchanges on the site, through e-mails, through silly user-pics on the site.

To be honest, it is kind of scary. Will the 'flesh and blood' ...tom... meet the expectations of those who have interacted, positively and negatively, with me over the years..?? Will I find this user or that user as 'trustable' in real-life as I do on the site..?? Will they meet my expectations..?? And just how in the hell can I or they even have 'expectations'..??

Anyway, a chance to get away for a day or two with the wifie, perhaps our only road-trip of the summer ( before gas prices put us in the poor house...), a chance to meet a bunch of wonderful people . . ..

Expectations indeed.

I am sure I will share some thoughts later about my experiences there. I am looking forward to the next couple of day..!!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Get the Big Picture

The Big Picture blog has been getting mad crazy pub all over the Internet. So why should I not pimp it also..??

Boston dot com is the website of the The Boston Globe. Among the many blogs they host driven with specific area content is The Big Picture. With its first entry dated May 21, 2008 it is a brand new player in the world of presenting visual images to the world.

Blogger Alan Taylor has been active on the net for over ten years and has been a Web developerfor a diverse collection of websites. His personal blog at kokogiak dot com explores his personal history and the reasons behind the latest project of The Big Picture.

The sizes of the photographs are deliberately large - taking advantage of the majority of web users who have screens capable of displaying 1024x768 or larger. The long-held tradition of keeping images online tiny and lightweight is commendable still - when designing a general purpose site. But one dedicated to quality imagery should take full advantage of the medium, and I hope I've struck a good balance with The Big Picture.

With perhaps a dozen or so sets presented so far, it demonstrates a wide variety of lesser-known events in the news and a series of pictures and interwoven narrative about each event.

I am particularly impressed with the astronomy picture sets presented to date. A view of Cassini Spacecraft images (example here) of Saturn and another set of The Sky, from Above are both breathtaking.

If you want a nearly daily source of quality news-realted web images that use the full capabilities of your web access to display quality images, you have to check this blog site out.

Hat tip to: Photojojo

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mixing up the tunes to share with all...

We all like to play the disc jockey. Arranging our tunes to play in just the right order. Burning them to CDs or, back in the day, making a 'mix tape' to share with our friends. A cassette tape featuring our perfect mix of songs and arrangements of them in one playlist.

Well now comes mixwit dot com, a site that uses that visual metaphor of a cassette tape to let you create your own mix tapes.

Mixwit uses two music search sites to find mp3 files to add to your 'mix tape'. It creates a playlist of songs from all over the web that are sorted and maintained in any order you choose. You can then share that mix tape URL with anyone you like. Or you can simply use it for your own playlists, as I have just began to do.

You can also search for playlists of others that might contain songs, artists, or genre you like. Those mix tapes can then be saved as 'favorites' by you.

Check it out. A new experience for me at least.