Museum Planner Gail Lord and Soft Power

Gail Lord is sparking a revolution with her sights set on museums and cities. In her recent webinar “Museums, Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy in a Changing World,” while acknowledging that some museums began as displays of the spoils of war and conquest, today’s museums have evolved to preserve and care for artifacts of artistic, cultural, historical or scientific importance (1). And because of their high level of professionalism, museums also play an important educational role in interpreting and exhibiting collections for their publics—which may account for the fact that museums are looked to by the general public as one of the few institutions of trustworthiness.

With an eye to the creative economy, Lord notes the trend of an urban uptick, with 54% of the population now in cities. Despite not being nation states, cities produce 80% of the world’s GDP and can exert substantial influence of soft power through shared persuasion and agenda setting.

Gail Lord sees museums, particularly small and mid-size museums, ideally positioned as “cultural diplomats of soft power”’ in their communities, as agents of “power diffusion” in a “shared economy” that thrives on collaborating and listening.

Lord’s call for soft power is echoed in the late Malcolm McIntosh’s 2015 book Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for a new Political Economy, a concept derived from the 2012 UN report that recognizes that “one individual is merely a part of a greater whole, part human, part Earthly, part cosmic” [pg.18] (2). For McIntosh an essential strand is to realize that a political economy of human flourishing will necessitate the “rise of feminization of decision-making and governance that fundamentally hinges on empathy, sociability, sharing and group work as much it does on competition, aggression and masculinity” [20] (3).

Contrary to current news headlines and the occasional authoritarian chest thumping, McIntosh is reassuring in pointing to evidence that the world has been getting more peaceful since 1945. What McIntosh identifies as one of the greatest practical and political challenges for immediate attention is the development of global citizenship allied to local living and changing the social systems and institutions that run our lives (ibid). Gail Lord can provide just the right resource.

In Cities, Museums, and Soft Power, Lord and co-editor Ngaire Blankenberg, both respected museum planners, have brought together fourteen of the world’s leading museum and cultural experts. These experts explore examples from six continents of the many facets of soft power in museums: how they amplify civic discourse, accelerate cultural change, and contribute to contextual intelligence among the great diversity of city dwellers, visitors and policy makers. The authors appeal to city governments to embrace museums, which so often are the signifiers of their cities, increasing real estate values while attracting investment, tourists and creative workers. The book also includes a tool for museums and cities, outlining 32 ways to institute and embrace soft power (2).

Gail Lord is a force to be reckoned with—as the saying goes, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

(1) July 25, 2018. ICOM International Committee for exhibit exchange (ICEE) Webinar Series is made possible in part by a grant from the International Council of Museum (ICOM)

(2) Lord Cultural Resources: Soft Power: https://www.lord.ca/resources/tools/topic/soft-power/1/14

(3) McIntosh, Malcolm. 2015. Thinking the Twenty­First Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy. Greenleaf Publishing.

https://www.lord.ca/cities-museums-and-soft-power-contributors

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, imaginement, sustainability

Homage to Henry Rosemont, Jr. Confucian scholar, mentor and friend

 

Anyone who knew Henry Rosemont, Jr., who passed away July 2, 2017, saw in him a standard bearer for Confucian Role Ethics as husband, father, grandfather as well as China scholar, teacher, mentor and friend. Henry placed a particular emphasis on the interactions of the role-bearers, not on their individual qualities. There are those said to be kind; role-bearing benefactors perform kindly acts towards and with beneficiaries: individuals are said to be brave, role-bearers perform brave acts and so on. (Rosemont, 2105, p. 96). I was such a beneficiary from the very first occasion I met Henry and JoAnn a decade ago in NYC (China House Institute) where he gave a talk on Confucius. I asked him for a resource and he gave me his card and from that point on we corresponded regularly.

Reacting to the rise of nativism and an ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” Henry published Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion in 2015. With a presidential election hanging in the balance, I wrote in my review that Against Individualism could not be more timely reading for addressing the Herculean economic, social, political, and environmental challenges ahead (pg.116). Just as the unchecked free market has spawned “too big to fail–too big to jail” corporate behemoths that brought about the global financial crisis, the “invisible hand” myth is seeing also to the unraveling of social justice. Despite US corporate revenues at their highest point in 40 years, increased profit margins have only translated to greater income inequality.

To help us think in new ways about these challenges, philosopher and China scholar Rosemont holds up an old model for re-ordering our society: the Confucian “Way of Humankind” (pg. 93). In contrast to the free market’s emphasis on the rational autonomous individual, the Confucian Way foregrounds the family.

Granted Confucius (Latinized honorific name ”’ K’ng F’z’, literally “Master Kong”) could not have conceived of a concept such as “democracy” in the China of 2500 years ago, but his enduring vision of wise governance guided by sage administrators rested solidly upon the foundation of the people—all the people. Confucius did not believe that government should control the people by meting out punishments: people should and could control themselves. But he understood that such self-regulation takes effort. If human beings did not attend to their own personal cultivation with diligence, then constraints were necessary to rein in greed and other passions.

For Rosemont, the essence of Confucian self-cultivation comes through grounding our feelings and deepening our intuitions within the social milieu of rituals, customs, traditions, and manners (pg. 113, n# 19). Personal cultivation involves constant re-defining of what is means to be fully human. That is best measured through our interactions with others, dynamically relating as “role-bearers” to members of one’s family, community, city, state, nation and world. Such an undertaking is a continuously evolving process of life-long learning and growing and manifesting all that goes into being human. It is an “art” that is marked by respectful deference to those above, engaging harmoniously with peers and serving as an upstanding exemplar to youth.

Respectful deference, however, does not imply walking in lockstep with a leader who discharges his duties without regard for others, either locally or globally. On this, Confucius is unequivocally clear in The Analects: “To see what is appropriate to do, and not to do it, is cowardice” (2:24). Using the Confucian compass, Rosemont concluded, “in the contemporary world free and rational autonomous individuals hinder the achievement of social justice, even in purportedly democratic societies” (pg.80). Could we not then as a nation a mere 200 years old do any better than to sit at the feet of the “Master” for the wise counsel that has guided Chinese civilization for more than two millennia and “has probably seen to the feeding and housing of more human beings than any other in human history.” (pg.121)

Purchasing information: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/against-individualism-henry-rosemont-jr/1120878497?ean=9780739199824

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

MOMA Itemizes Fashion

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” ~Bill Cunningham, late longtime NY Times fashion photographer .

IMG_4940

I think Bill would have enthusiastically embraced “ITEMS: Is Fashion Modern?” the Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition that examines selected iconic “armor” items as stand-alone objects to demonstrate their evolution such as the power icon of the 20th century—the proverbial three-piece suit. Once the mainstay of the executive boardroom it later morphed into the ‘zoot suit’ worn by blacks and Hispanics during the Jazz Age’s heyday. As the numbers of women advanced in the corporate world, the transgendered suit became both her fashion staple and pièce de résistance of power especially in the hands of designers such as Donna Karan’s soft-power Seven Easy Pieces. If you didn’t know initially Apple’s mastermind Steve Jobs, you could have been forgiven of overlooking the most powerful executive in the world who more resembled a Beat Generation holdover famously wearing  the same black mock turtleneck, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers every day. What signals power today? …the winner is none other than the ubiquitous white T-shirt—paired with a hoodie and jeans even in the boardroom—that had a former life of humbler beginnings being worn by early 20th century laborers and later the defining garb of defiant teens rebelling against conformist 1950s (think “Rebel without a Cause”).

What was eye-opening for this viewer that in taking the long view, MOMA’s exhibit in an even way gives the uneven history of the ubiquitous T-shirt—its cotton harvested by black slaves, its cutting and sewing and assemblage by low-paid laborers, at home and abroad, and its environmental footprint throughout its lifecycle.

IMG_4941The People’s Studio

The brilliance of MOMA is the direction of current education director, Wendy Woon, in re-creating its People’s Studio, an all out hands-on studio, the brainchild of MOMA’s first educator, Vincent D’Amico.  It is on a separate floor from the actual exhibit but is not to be missed for its sense of inventive and creative community. However, don’t overlook another community forming at the exhibit terminus–a  congregative space to view colorful wall graphs as a score card of sorts for the fashion industry related to The UN ‘s Sustainable Development Goals. Yes, folks are looking at their devices. Yet there is also an element as a space once-removed from live theater, at least to me, what Ayad Akhtar, Pakistani-American playwright defines as an ‘antidote’ to digital dehumanization. Akhtar challenges American individualism by pointing out that “we herding animals are programmed at some very profound level to think and feel as one.” In the mix with my fellow viewers  I did have a sense of oneness with a museum audience. Perhaps a stretch of live theater oneness that Akhtar describes but still….

NYTimes, Sunday December 31, 2017. Arts, page 5.

https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1638

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Primer on Nobility and Civility

Summer 2017 saw the passing of two Asian scholars–giants in their field–Wm. Theordore de Bary and Henry Rosemont, Jr. Below is an excerpt from the preface of de Bary’s 2014 book Nobility and Civility : Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good that should be required reading for those in leadership and those conservatives who recently back-pedaled on once staunchly held moral values that they are required of a religious leader and not a world leader.

Any serious education should prepare one to understand the ultimate claims made not only by Muslim suicide bombers but also by their Hindu and Buddhist counterparts, as well as the Japanese samurai warriors or the suicide pilots Mishima Yukio wrote about. It is a lot to do, but this book tries to make a start at sorting out some of the key civilizational issues. From this learning process we may hope to understand the appeal of different concepts of nobility as shared human ideals, the special attractiveness and lurking dangers these can hold for extreme forms of communalism and nationalism, and the civilities that in the longer run have helped to contain these dangers. On this basis we may also realize that there need be no inevitable clash of civilizations from irreducible cultural antagonisms but that from these diverse cultural and social traditions resources can be drawn on to cope with the challenges of environmental degradation, unrestrained economic competition, vicious political chauvinisms, and, more fundamentally, the deeper moral collapse and cultural despair that threaten world civilization in the twenty-first century…these features of society cannot be controlled simply by the charismatic force of noble individuals alone. But in early times the example of the truly noble leader was recognized as crucial to the restraint and containment of violence, insofar as that example spoke to the conscience of all, not just to the ruling elite. If I use the word “conscience” here, regardless of how human consciousnesses may have differed from age to age and place to place, it is because in the midst of cultural differences these concerns are recognized also as constants in human life, and are in some sense shared— as indeed common “human” concerns. Confucius spoke of this selfawareness as a sense of shame or as its corollary, a sense of self-respect, to which the ruler, if he be truly a leader, must appeal if he is not to rely on coercive means that eventually undo themselves. For Confucius this concept of true nobility and genuine leadership was a high calling. He did not underestimate the demands it laid on the educated person or man of learning who also bore the burden of leadership in society. In the Analects, he calls on the class of well-bred aristocrats known as shi in ancient China (somewhat like the knights or gentlemen of the medieval West) to put on the shining armor of moral virtue and public learning. It is said: “The shi must be stout-hearted and enduring, for his burden is heavy and his Way is long.

Humaneness is the burden he takes upon himself. Is it not heavy? Only in death does his Way come to an end. Is it not long?” (Analects 8:7). If today the concept of the public intellectual is upheld in contrast to the academician isolated in an ivory tower, we may draw some lessons, and possibly some inspiration, from the Asian ideals that survive, not as abstract ivory- tower ideals, but as having endured something of the long, conflicted struggle Confucius foresaw for the scholar “stout of heart” and “enduring” in the Way. Although one may well question whether such ideals can be taken as universals or eternal verities, one may still recognize the cases cited here as inspired attempts to grapple with perennial issues or persistent human dilemmas, worthy of our consideration even now in their very conflicted contexts. The “globalization” much talked about today is a case in point. Most often it refers to the persistent trend toward the unification of the world economy and the homogenization of culture in response to a spreading technology. But the universalization of values and standards of culture has been a feature of expanding civilizations since the dawn of history, and the problems attendant upon it (as well as the response to these) offer a perspective on the dilemmas of our own era.

If modernization is not simply to mean the extension to other peoples, in an unquestioned and uncritical way, of current trends in the West, then the globalization of knowledge must take into account the values and experiences of other major civilizations. Today, unfortunately, these values are poorly understood even in their original settings or homelands, because of the long disruption of native traditions and the radical reorientation of the educated leadership to other immediate goals or European ideologies. Generally speaking, such classic values have been known in modern times, if at all, through the revered classics and scriptures of major traditions, but their relevance and adaptability to modern circumstances remains unclear if these values are conceived simply in the abstract, without any understanding of the difficulties experienced historically in applying or practicing them. In other words, traditional values need to be understood as historically evolving, and in that process as marked by much ambiguity and contestation— contestation that has arisen especially in multicultural encounters, wherein ideals are almost always compromised by messy human complications.

The Asian ideals discussed here are thus seen as conflicted human values, conflicted in the same sense as in my earlier book, The Trouble with Confucianism. This book, which ranges widely over several civilizations and historical eras, can only be suggestive of how evolving concepts of leadership (“nobility”) and public morality (“civility”) in several Asian traditions may contribute to the humanizing of the current globalization process. It does not propose exact prescriptions for present problems, but may serve the purpose of general education in the face of the modern rush to find technical solutions, ready at hand but often oversimplified, to our current dilemmas. Without an awareness of people’s past experience in the implementation of their own ideal values, it will be difficult to see how anyone could be expected to recognize and cope with similar problems in the present. And unless some such awareness becomes part of the education of all, one can expect that the globalizing process may well be degrading, dehumanizing, and destructive of the earth, beyond anything seen in the past. My treatment of this theme includes reflections on the views expressed in classic texts of the major Asian traditions in India, China, and Japan. (Preface x-xi)

De Bary, Wm. Theodore. Nobility and Civility : Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press, 2004. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 14 October 2014.Copyright © 2004. Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Intergenerational Museum: Towards a Century of Dialogue

Museums are many things to many people, yet at their best museums offer up quiet spaces for looking and pondering. It should come as no surprise then that museum professionals, too, occasionally take a step back to look and assess their museum’s inner workings related to diversity, inclusion and equity. Last month, Greg Stevens, Director of Professional Development for the American Alliance of Museums, hosted “Getting Started With Working Across Generations,” a webinar on the intergenerational workplace covering five generations with the acknowledgement that the most recent, barely out of middle school, is “on deck”.

Museum colleagues Marsha Semmel, a Baby Boomer, and Millennial Sam Moore also joined Stevens, a self-described Baby Boomer/Gen X Cusper. The webinar’s guiding questions asked how to align the intergenerational workforce with the museum’s mission and at the same time acknowledge employee assets that sustain a flourishing workplace. The three skillfully modeled a collaboration marked by multi-directional cooperation, that of back and forth, as well as bottom up. For example, Millennial Sam Moore, in putting forth the concept of “reversed mentorship” expanded the conversation to imagine a workplace with individuals attuned to not one, but multi-directional flows of knowledge. The presenters deftly wove the strands of information from the latest research with those colored by personal experience—or as Moore summarily noted, relationships.

In the lead up to the museum webinar, I happened on a podcast of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s talk titled “Embracing the Beauty of Diversity in our World.” In it His Holiness said that although we cannot change past, we can learn from it in order to change the future. He pointed out that in the past century obstacles were often met with force. Now we are seeing a resurgence of the same in this century, which His Holiness attributes to past mistakes and negligence. Despite differences and conflicts that will always exist His Holiness insists that the 21st century can be the Century of Dialogue, one in which people come together in love as brothers and sisters. Only by working together will we find the means to reduce differences through dialogue stewarded by actions of mutual respect.

Museums lend themselves naturally to a stewardship model given their mission to collect, preserve and display the guiding “ideas” of the past for both the present and future generations for re-seeing, re-creating* their world. The webinar mirrored what His Holiness described as “genuine respect, genuine love” that goes into building trusting friendships. What then would the intergenerational workplace look like? It would be one that welcomes the “fresh eyes” brought to it by its youngest members with the more experienced members committed to guiding the younger generation as “elders” who support the younger generation emotionally.** In this way our young adults can take their rightful place in the workplace and globally in fulfilling what His Holiness envisions as the Century of Peace.

https://www.dalailama.com/videos/embracing-the-beauty-of-diversity-in-our-world
*Malcolm McIntosh notes this in his Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, pg.33.
** Doors drummer, Boomer, John Densmore. On “the 50th Anniversary of the greatest band, The Doors!” http://wapo.st/2y2UWEg

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

China’s Selfie Emperor

A recent New York Times article bemoaned the number of MOMA visitors taking selfies in front of Van Gogh’s masterpiece “Starry Night.” Although cameras have only been around a few hundred years, Chinese collectors have been embedding themselves in masterpieces of art through affixing their personal signature seals–literally on the art itself–for over two millennia. For example, in the  detail below of the 13th century masterpiece “Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains” by the polymath bureaucrat, Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), there are a variety of collector seals including several  super-sized ones belonging to the “Selfie Emperor of all Selfies”, the Qing Dynasty Qianlong Emperor who reigned from 1735-1796. Qianlong considered himself quite the aesthete when it came to calligraphy and  painting. In

eWE3q

light of his fondness for his own artistic ‘eye’ he wrote no less than 13 declarations on the painting opining on how brilliantly the artist painted the masterpiece. Emperor Qianlong also called the painter out for misaligning the two mountains in the painting that are actually located in Shandong Province. (I wrote a white paper analyzing this but that is another topic.) If photo-snapping at MOMA eclipsed a deeper kind of looking, it may be because of the human need to associate with an exceptional work of art and be one with the artist, if not in talent at least in mind. After all, selfie snappers are collectors, too, driven by a need to impress their friends of their good taste and show that they are true trendsetters up to speed on what is in vogue, up to the very moment. But it is the painting that has the last word and rewards the viewer–only the viewer that  really understands it with the eye. And that reward is what 20th century painter Charles Demuth called the “n’th whoopee of sight!”

“A Starry Night Crowded With Selfies” The New York Times. Sunday Review, Editorial Notebook. September 24, 2017. A version of this editorial appears in print on September 24, 2017, on Page SR8 of the New York edition with the headline: A Starry Night Crowded With Selfies

Leave a comment

Filed under the designer's eye

Lessons Learned from Millennials

Perhaps you attended a session on millennials at the annual conference of New Jersey Organization Development professionals held May 4 in Newark, NJ. The workshop “Lessons Learned from millennials—Deep Seeing, Inspired Thinking” was based on my college student essays that I collected over the past 25 years. It also grew out of my professional teacher development using imaginement®, a tool for assessing attentional seeing and the thinking process it engenders at the museum. What fascinated me is that millennials demonstrated the capacity for higher-order thinking when it came to looking at artifacts particularly from Asian cultures.

Reading student essays about their encounter with an Asian art object over the past 25 years has introduced me to the field of attentional science and the research of Neuroscientist Adele Diamond, Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science.[1]

In her research, the neuroscientist Adele Diamond has identified specific complex cognitive Executive Functions (EFs) in the emerging field of attentional science. The student essays can be assessed against neurological studies that specifically map the brain areas of complex cognitive abilities that rely on the brain’s prefrontal cortex when a viewer stops to give full attention to a museum art object. These essays provide the evidence that art educators have always championed from their observations in the classroom. Diamond’s research shows demonstrative evidence of  focusing the attention such as looking at an art object increases inhibitory control, working memory with the interdisciplinary outcome of flexible cognition.What does this mean? The actual brain area that lights up when we truly focus our attention is not the primal part of the brain–the brain stem–that we tap for automatic information but instead bounces up to the prefrontal cortex whereby we slow down to think for a more thoughtful, cogent response. This is a state of mental “experiments:” disassembling and reassembling content information in creative and new ways through the alternation of content data and the imagination, and, generating often what are playfully remixed conclusions, replete with new possibilities.[2]  Once having had a complete, integrated cognitive and creative experience expanded by the imagination only then do we build flexible cognition that operates in all areas of our professional and personal lives.

What is key here is the role of the imagination: only then is our thinking expanded with a long reach capable of taking into account history as well as the inestimable future; only after we have made a beginning on having the “inner dialogue” are we capable of the outer dialogue to enter into cooperative collaborations at the workplace. Looking at art is not just waking up our consciousness, but aligning with the consciousness of a past master and together–creator and viewer–forming a third consciousness.

[1]Adele Diamond’s research on the science of attention identifies three Executive Functions, (EFs): inhibitory control, working memory and flexible cognition.

[2] Diamond’s Executive Function working memory aligns with John Dewey’s description of the process of the alternation of factual content with imagination that result in new interpretations and insightful judgments in How We Think, (1939)

Leave a comment

Filed under imaginement, sustainability