Category Archives: Book Review

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

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Minding The Big Pivot

Last week opened with my attending a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony held on the Monmouth University campus on Monday and wrapping up with a Friday morning program at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute of Sustainable Enterprise.  There I heard author Andrew Winston (Green to Gold), internationally recognized economist, present to a gathering of ecologically-minded individuals on his latest book The Big Pivot with the sober warning that we have passed the economic tipping point of the earth’s available resources. As incongruent as these two events might appear at first by being paired in the same blog, they are also inextricably linked in a very deep way.

Andrew Winston began by showing images as evidence of climate change: a polar bear hanging on for dear life with its two front paws to a small ice floe. He contrasted this ‘free range’ bear with images of the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Sandy in 2013 and Irene two years prior that those of us who live on the eastern seaboard know only too well. To drive home China’s burgeoning development, Winston used an  image of the skyscrapers of Manhattan that was duplicated 30 times on a single slide. As if anticipating the government report on climate change today, Winston told the audience we are past the time of debating about climate change—it is here (last week’s images on national television of Florida should convince anyone just looking at what a foot rainfall fraught— swelling waterways, entire roads uplifted and bridges washed away). All is not doom and gloom, however, for Winston offers a ten step plan that comes under the three buckets: Vision, Collaboration, Policy. Although there needs to be a sea change, Winston is confident it can be done with a change in perception.  He reminded his audience that the main forms used in accounting—Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet –have come down to us from the Middle Ages. A radical change to these forms could cause a major shift in perception that would alter exactly what gets analyzed and what gets measured.

Getting back to our Tibetan Buddhist ceremony on Monday: seven monks performed the Empowerment Prayers to both Bodhisattva Manjushri worshiped for his Wisdom, and Medicine Buddha who is dedicated to healing through removing all obstacles. On this particular day it was concentrated on removing obstacles on the Monmouth University campus and by extension, all campuses in New Jersey and the rest of the world. The obstacles are not in the form of physical things, but are the mental afflictions that keep human beings mired in the cycle of suffering of samsara through their ignorance, hatred and greed.  Reining in the mental afflictions begins with a shift in perception that can have a big ripple effect hopefully as far as the Arctic in time for a polar bear that is helplessly adrift.

The Big Pivot at http://amzn.to/1j0kqP1

Also, check out Jeana Wirtenberg’s Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy with a forward by Winston: http://amzn.to/1fRt4oMImage

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Book Review: Eric Kandel’s Age of Insight

In his The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, Eric Kandel takes the reader along on a personal quest to his birthplace, Vienna, to a time in its history when it was an intellectual and artistic hub of Austria. Although the book’s focus is on the late nineteenth century and the turn of the century, its trajectory extends to the present day. Kandel also includes an overview of extraordinary advances made in the field of neuroscience, an impossible undertaking for anyone other than this Nobel laureate scientist who has been recognized for his groundbreaking findings in neuropsychiatry and memory.

Kandel begins the book by “curating” an exhibit of the portraits by key Viennese Modernists and guides the reader on a virtual gallery walk of selected drawings and paintings. He does this to demonstrate the way in which painters of that period penetrated the depths of the mind and subjective feelings, ahead of their counterparts in the medical field. The “exhibit” features painters Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele, with Kandel interpreting the expressionistic approach they used to render the psychological qualities of their sitters on the canvas and in the process examine themselves.

The centerpiece of the exhibit and the book’s frontispiece is Klimt’s 1907 dazzling portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer the 25-year-old wife of an Austrian industrialist who embodies the spirit and allure of salon life during this time. These distinguished gatherings brought together in one place the intellectual and artistic geniuses from the fields of art, literature, and medicine. This is the idealized setting for Kandel’s own fascination with the intellectual history of Vienna 1890 to 1918, Austrian modernist art, psychoanalysis, art history and, of course, the brain science that is his life’s work. The reader-viewer is led through an art historical analysis of the selected works that provide signposts of pre-war Vienna, marked by explorations of the seamier underside of daily life that is a precursor of Sigmund Freud’s groundbreaking psychoanalytical research and publications and the avant-garde novels by doctor-turned -novelist Arthur Schnitzler. In Part II, the contribution of the Vienna School of Art History.
Link to Klimt’s painting of Adele:

Adele Bloch-Bauer I

by Gustav Klimt

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