Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rethinking Art and Architecture

Vito Acconci is -- at least for the moment -- an architect.  Over time, he's been a writer, a visual artist, a conceptual artist, and a designer, as well.  What I found most interesting about talking with him is the sense that he is always challenging himself and his colleagues to think in new ways about their work.  Part of what has inspired his changing artistic identity is his desire to crate work that engages with audiences and communities.  One example would be the project he described in our interview.  He talked in some depth about  the process and strategy involved in imagining the Mur Island project in Graz, Austria.  You can tour the site in this video and get a sense of how he works with space and structures.  And sort of like talking with him, the video takes you to a new and different landscape.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Human AND Economic Development

I've been reading about Jim Sutman's work for a long time.  As his company, Iron and String Life Enhancement (ISLE)keeps growing, I've been intrigued by the way he is combining a business model with a social services model. After talking with him on Lincoln Avenue, I'm even more impressed -- not just that he's found a way to provide an array of services for adults with disabilities, but also with the way he's based most of his efforts in downtown Youngstown.  Sutman has thought carefully about what people with disabilities need: engaging activities, opportunities for work, support for their families.  He's also found creative ways to provide those things.  How many programs for disables adults include the opportunity to work at a radio station?  Sutman has also rooted his work in what he's learned from the adults served by his programs.  As you can hear in the interview, he sees them as partners in this enterprise, not just clients.

He's also doing much of this work downtown.  You may have seen the recent Vindy piece about his plan to buy the Kress Building.  He already owns one building downtown, which houses the ISLE offices and the Touch the Moon Candy Saloon.  While others define downtown redevelopment in terms of attracting "the creative class," as Richard Florida has termed it, Sutman sees downtown as a place for everyone. 

Perhaps the most impressive thing in all this is the way Sutman puts the focus on the people he works with, not on himself.  He's accomplished so much with ISLE, but somehow, the story never seems to be about him. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Inside and Beyond Autism

Autism can be mysterious to anyone who hasn't experienced it.  In a recent 60 Minutes report about how children with autism were learning to communicate using iPad apps, several parents commented with wonder about how these tools were letting them understand some of what was going on inside the minds and perceptions of their autistic children.  Without such tools for communication, we simply don't know what it's like to experience autism from the inside.

That's part of what makes Sean Barron's unusual work so important.  After experiencing autism as a child and working hard in his early adulthood to train himself to move beyond the disorder's limits, Barron co-authored two books that give us a glimpse inside.  Together with his mother, he wrote There's a Boy in Here: Emerging from the Bonds of Autism, a book that gives readers insight into what autism meant for both Sean and his family.  More recently, he collaborated with Temple Grandin on Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, a guide to 10 key elements of interpersonal communication.   As Barron explains, the rules reflect things he had to learn in order to move beyond his autism to function well in interactions with others.  He puts those lessons to use every day in his work as a journalist, and in the process, he's walking proof that at least some of those with autism can recover. 

While it's subtitled Understanding and Managing Social Challenges for Those with Asperger's or Autism,and while most people probably abide by these unwritten rules without thinking about it, the book would probably be useful to anyone who wants to be mindful and intentional about how they interact with others.  Who wouldn't benefit from being reminded that "everyone makes mistakes" and their errors "don't have to ruin your day"?  And I bet we can all think of people who need to be reminded of the value of being polite or that we are responsible for our own behavior?