Save the Date! FCS presents ‘L’Amour Fou’ 2/24

April might be the cruelest month, but February is the love…um…tastic…-est.

Forget that awful preceding sentence and join Full Circle Storytelling for tales of hearts broken and mended, romance gained and lost, and the stupid, beautiful, and just plain wackadoo things we do for l’amour.

WHAT: Full Circle Storytelling presents ‘L’Amour Fou: Tales of Crazy Love’

WHEN: Friday, February 24, 2012, 7 – 9 p.m.

WHERE: Charmington’s, 2601 Howard St., Baltimore.

Note: there will be no advance registration for this event; it’s first-come, first-served, so mark your calendars and get there early!

Full Circle #2 Photos

Photos by Jessica Keyes.

Happy MLK Day

Yesterday would have been Dr. King’s 83rd birthday. There are a few ways to celebrate his life and legacy in and around Baltimore today.

First, there’s the Mayor’s annual MLK Day Parade, which steps off at noon from the corner of MLK, Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Street.

Further downtown, there are family activities happening at Port Discovery, the children’s museum.

There’s also a whole host of activities taking place as part of the national MLK Day of Service. Started in 1994 with the establishment of the MLK Federal Holiday, the Day of Service “calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.”

Last but not least, I’m going to this later today.

MLK Day, Baltimore 2012




Why I’m going to CreateBaltimore #2 and you should, too

Create Baltimore LogoDuring the plenary session for last year’s Create Baltimore unconference, I objected to the organizers’ suggestion that my proposed session topic – “Race and Equity in the Arts” – be folded into the event’s “social justice” track. After the briefest of pauses and the slightest of shrugs, they said, “okay, then,” and that was that. The session was well attended, the discussion was spirited, we had a follow-up conversation, and a few good things happened as a result. (More on that later)

And that’s all great. The point, however, is not to preen about how awesome my session idea was, but to illustrate the benefits of the unconference format. Organizers Andrew Hazlett, Dave Troy, Scott Burkholder, and Buck Jabaily created a space that was organic enough to allow participants to determine what they wanted to talk about, yet structured enough to move quickly from process and iteration to action. That wasn’t just true for the session I facilitated, but for all of the ones I participated in, as well.

Look, I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the last 17 or so years, on topics ranging from Buddhism in America to prison policy. One of the characteristics that united nearly all of those gatherings is that at least 75% of their content was useless. I’m talking about dull lunchtime keynotes, interminable plenaries loaded with vapid introductory remarks, and panel discussions designed to highlight “best practices,” but instead consist of a group of people yammering on about lessons that are so specific to their unique contexts that there’s no way anyone else in the room could possibly apply or replicate them.

Oh yeah, and truly rancid amounts of jargon.

It’s gotten to the point that I tend to avoid going to professional conferences altogether, unless the agenda is narrowly focused on something that is particularly relevant to what I do or am interested in. When I do attend broader-themed conferences, I usually scan the agenda to identify the 15% of stuff that I’ll find meaningful, and spend the balance of my time taking advantage of the hotel wifi to get, you know, real work done.

That’s why I found the Create Baltimore unconference format so refreshing. I admit to being skeptical at first, because I’ve had bad experiences with iterative, process-oriented, consensus-driven decision-making models in the past. (If you ever want the story of why I stopped volunteering for Quaker-led organizations, send me an email.) But I was impressed by the way Hazlett & co. deftly balanced a democratic planning process with the need to keep things moving, and the way that attendees themselves had nearly complete responsibility for creating high-quality sessions.

All of which is an extremely long-winded way of encouraging folks to attend CreateBaltimore 2 on January 21. If you’re at all interested in tech, culture, the arts, and how they intersect in Baltimore, you should definitely check it out. If you’re especially passionate about an issue, suggest it as a session topic. If you just want to hang back and listen, at the very least you’ll be exposed to new ideas, not to mention a bunch of intelligent, interesting people you might not have met before.

Did I mention that it only costs $15? And that it comes with lunch?

Going back to Create Baltimore #1 — as a result of the conversations I participated in on race and equity in the arts, I met several amazing artists and activists I would not otherwise have encountered: folks like Jai Brooks and Natalya Brusilovsky of the Charm City Kitty Club; LOVE the Poet; and Sally Cherry of the Cherry Consulting Network.

More than just meeting cool people, though, the conversations that started at Create Baltimore led to actual changes in my personal and professional life:

  1. Full Circle Storytelling was created to bring Baltimoreans from different backgrounds and perspectives together to share their stories; and
  2. Baltimore Community Foundation secured $100,000 in grant funding to foster vibrant neighborhoods through the arts.

Hmm. Come to think of it, that was just about the best $15 I’ve ever spent.



Food, Memory, and Design

Lomo Wall - Wine Glasses

photo by Laura Appleyard

Jess and I had lunch today at one of our favorite area restaurants, Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia. On the drive home, sated by endive salad and bacon polenta and pink grapefruit sorbet, we talked about everything that makes dining at Iron Bridge — and other destination eateries — so enjoyable.

There’s the food, obviously: excellent dishes comprising simple ingredients, presented with a relative lack of pretentiousness. Another critical element is the service, which at Iron Bridge is courteous, efficient, and crisp, with none of the forced bonhomie of the family feed trough, nor the snootiness that characterizes other “fine dining” establishments.

Those are necessary conditions. But for us, the “special sauce” of dining at Iron Bridge, the component that elevates a visit there from a good meal to a memorable experience, is the interior design. When I think of eating at Iron Bridge, I immediately picture a warm, mauve-colored, womb-like space accented with soft yellow lights and red flowers. Imagine flickering candlelight trapped in the rich depths of a glass of claret; that is the image that springs to my mind at the mention of the restaurant’s name.

Here’s the strange part: that’s not what Iron Bridge looks like, at least not entirely. The space contains more crimson and earth tones than mauve; the interior, while cozy, is more commodious than the pleasantly cramped space my memory conjures.

The same phenomenon holds true for my other favorite local restaurants, like Pazo, which in my mind has the same tones and hues as Maxfield Parrish’s The Garden of Allah. The reality of its appearance is rather different. Or Woodberry Kitchen, which I picture in airy Scandinavian shades of blonde wood, off-white, and lime green; in actuality, its palette is dominated by subdued pink brick and darker wood tones.

As the expanding field of popular neuroscience (exemplified by authors like Jonah Lehrer and Joshua Foer) has made clear, memory is unreliable. The way we remember is inherently impressionistic, rather than photographic. It collects all sorts of sensory input, highlights some of it, discards other data, mixes in some context and random association, and voila: instead of a spacious, crimson-and-chestnut-colored restaurant with black napkins, my memory connects the phrase “Iron Bridge Wine Company” to shades of burgundy and plum.

In the DVD commentary for his 2006 masterpiece, The Lives of Others, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck explains how he carefully selected the film’s set dressing and palette to evoke a visceral sense of place: East Berlin in the 1980’s. In order to achieve this effect, he and his design team employed muted green, beige, and orange tones, while painstakingly omitting any primary colors such as red and blue. They filled the interior spaces with furniture that was lower and broader than one would actually find in most East German apartments. The whole look was rainy, moody, a faded snapshot of the Cold War.

When I first saw The Lives of Others, I experienced a pang of nostalgia so unexpected and sharp it was akin to physical pain. Having spent a considerable portion of my childhood in Vienna and Madrid during the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was stunned by how closely von Donnersmarck’s film resembled the Europe of my memories. This, despite the fact that the real world I lived in back then was neither desaturated nor quite so atmospheric. On clear days, the sun shone brightly in the sky back then, as it does now. Blue was blue, red was red, and not every room was furnished in Bauhaus-knockoff style.

In other words, while the bygone era portrayed so compellingly in the film closely matched my memories of a particular time and place, that’s not actually what that time and place looked like. With fiendish cleverness, von Donnersmarck created a cinematic experience designed to bypass a viewer’s gross senses and connect directly with her hippocampus.

Driving home from Iron Bridge, Jess and I wondered how one might design a restaurant (or any interior space, really) in a way that takes into account the profound variance between experience and the recollection of experience. What if, in addition to focusing on the quality of the food, the plating of dishes, and the competence of the servers, a restaurateur or architect factored in the ways a patron might recall the experience of those elements? How would those considerations alter choices in decor, lighting, color scheme, or branding? What types of smells might one consciously incorporate in order to fix a particular sense-memory in diners’ minds? What sort of sounds?

How would you design a space that not only appeals to the five senses, but which also shapes our memory of it?

SHOW Baltimore written up in Jess Gartner’s “A Blog on Tape”

SHOW Baltimore #1

Kevin Griffin Moreno and Andrew Hazlett interview Christine Celise Johnson

If you missed last week’s debut of SHOW Baltimore (created by Andrew Hazlett and co-hosted by yours truly), read this thoughtful summary of the event by Jess Gartner.

Jess, who was one of the six interviewees Andrew and I hauled up onstage at the Windup Space last Wednesday evening, is a photographer, writer, performer, and educator who teaches middle school at Baltimore’s New Era Academy. She and her colleague, Andrew Coy, who founded EdTech Baltimore, spoke passionately of the need for greater tech resources and access in the classroom as a means of bridging the digital divide and expanding learning and career prospects for students in hard-hit communities.

Other interviewees at the first SHOW Baltimore included tech entrepreneur Christine Celise Johnson, founder of Diversitech; Rodney Foxworth, a keen cultural and political analyst and a contributor to the Baltimore Brew; mezzo-soprano and Federal Hill Parlor Series founder Megan Ihnen; and J. Buck Jabaily, co-founder of Single Carrot Theatre, erstwhile executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, and co-founder of the newly-announced Baltimore Open Theatre.

As Jess points out in her post, SHOW Baltimore’s inaugural run was a kind of seat-of-the-pants affair, with interviewees literally being tapped on the shoulder just minutes before they joined Andrew and me onstage. Down the road, the event will likely include more than just talking head; future shows will feature music, film, performances, etc. But for a beta-run in the middle of the holiday doldrums, our first foray into a live variety show was a blast for Andrew and me and seemed to be well received by those who attended.

Pics coming soon. See you next time at the SHOW!