The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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    How skateboarders and jazz musicians make the same moves

    Feb. 9, 2016, 8 a.m., Posted by Fernando Gonzalez

    Skateboarders perform in a half-pipe on the National YoungArts Foundation campus in Miami as jazz pianist Jason Moran and his band perform. Photo: Michael D. Bolden on Flickr.  


    Jazz is an art form informed by paradoxes: Improvisation is shaped by meticulous planning; freedom is built off respect from an ever-present canon; individuality, encouraged and celebrated, only truly succeeds when balanced against the needs of the music and the group. And then, to yield its rewards, jazz demands from players and listeners a willingness to take chances, to embrace uncertainty, enjoy the fleeting, unrepeatable moment. Much on this list, obviously, is not unique to jazz. Consider basketball — the team as a quintet executing a mix of set and improvised plays in one-of-a-kind performances — or, more to the point, skateboarding.

    That was the subject of a conversation between jazz pianist, composer and educator Jason Moran and skateboarder Mark Gonzales at a YoungArts Salon at the National YoungArts Foundation headquarters in Miami on Saturday. The event, sponsored by Knight Foundation and moderated by musician and producer Garth Ross, attracted a fascinatingly diverse audience that included much-decorated jazz bassist and composer Dave Holland as well as young skaters carrying their boards.

    Jazz pianist Jason Moran, skateboard legend Mark Gonzales and moderator Garth Ross discuss improvisation and how the two disciplines relate at the YoungArts Salon. Photo: Michael D. Bolden on Flickr.

    “In skating, you attempt something and might not make it. You pause for a sec. You try something you know you can make; you make that and then you go back and try to do what you couldn’t make after trying 10 times — and all of a sudden you made it,” explained Gonzales, named by TransWorld Skateboarding magazine the “Most Influential Skateboarder of All Time.”  “I’m not a musician so I don’t know for sure, but I can hear the music and how [jazz musicians] are figuring it out until they get it. ‘Oh yes, that’s it. Right there.’ In street skating you’re constantly trying, seeing what’s going to fit.”

    After watching a YoungArts video featuring powerhouse mentors such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Reneé Fleming and Frank Gehry, as well as testimonies by students, a self-deprecating Gonzales, with a what-am-I-doing-here? shrug deadpanned, “I hope I can help someone.” But Moran, a former skater who in a Q&A with the YoungArts Foundation blog called Gonzales “the Charlie Parker of skating,” responded by noting the decisive influence Gonzales had in his life choices.

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    Conducted by James Gaffigan, the New World Symphony delivers a memorable performance

    Feb. 8, 2016, 2:16 p.m., Posted by Sebastian Spreng

    Above: The New World Symphony.

    There are a number of reasons to suggest that the New World Symphony’s Jan. 30 concert in Miami, with James Gaffigan conducting and Jeffrey Kahane on the piano, was perhaps the best of the season. Though it wasn’t perfect, the hits far outnumbered the misses. Of the latter, there were so few that they are not worth mentioning. But what does need to be mentioned is, first, that pure music was made–music in capital letters, almost palpable in an electric atmosphere. Secondly, the program offered an excellent mix: a piece by the great César Franck, nowadays an almost forgotten composer; one of Mozart’s sublime piano concertos, a perfect tribute to his 260th birthday; and a magnificent Richard Strauss tone poem that is also one of the Bavarian composer’s most popular, thanks to its use in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

    When the New World Symphony is in top shape, it proves that the vigor of youth is a composer’s best ally, capable of instilling new life into centuries-old work. It also showed Gaffigan’s skill, as he was clearly the driving force behind an outstanding concert.

    The evening commenced with a brief, seldom-performed tone poem that served as an apt appetizer for the spectacular one that would follow in the second half of the concert. In barely 15 minutes, Franck’s “The Accursed Huntsman” (based on a ballad by German poet Gottfried August Bürger) sketched the phantasmagoric world of Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” with nods to Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Säens. The work also foreshadows the interlude of Giacomo Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi,” which he premiered the following year. The risky, brass-dominated beginning was executed with exemplary clarity and splendid support from the strings. Gaffigan’s vehemence added a welcome romantic touch to the powerful crescendo that describes the hunter’s mad ride and encounter with supernatural forces. It is a work that makes great demands on an orchestra, and the New World Symphony passed the test with flying colors, displaying the virtues of every instrument section, along with an impressive degree of self-assurance in expressing a dark romanticism that sounded more German than French.

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    Media Innovation

    Maker kit program turns libraries into places for content creation, not just consumption

    Feb. 8, 2016, 11:13 a.m., Posted by Victoria Rakowski

    Above: Maker kits being delivered to Illinois State Library.

    Victoria Rakowski is a public librarian and co-founder of Make it @ Your Library.

    Librarianship is a funny profession–the day is often a mixture of hokey jokes from people who haven’t been in a library in years, and strategizing ways to implement robotics and computer coding into programs for everybody from preschoolers to seniors. When people see what libraries actually get up to these days, they’re almost always surprised. So many people in America depend on their libraries to help them forward when it comes to technology, and lots of libraries have answered that call with aplomb, learning as they go.

    Make it @ Your Library was founded in 2012 as part of an Institute for Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant, and our original intent was to help get all libraries up to speed on the concept of makerspaces in the library–or, rather, DIY culture and content creation in the library, versus content consumption. While libraries bring a great deal of technology to their communities, there was no denying the gap in access that exists all over our home state of Illinois: Many rural libraries just aren’t on the same financial playing field as suburban Chicago libraries. We originally began with the simple intention of helping libraries, no matter their budget and ability, bring makerspaces and DIY concepts into their communities. Our mission morphed a bit when we were awarded a Knight Prototype Fund grant in January 2015.

    With Knight’s backing, Make it @ Your Library has created Maker Kits that are largely technology-based, and partnered with the Illinois State Library to circulate those kits throughout the state. The kits include everything from engineering toys to 3-D printers, and have been in constant circulation throughout Illinois since November 2015. While more detailed analysis is in the works, “the kits are very popular and fly out the door to another library as soon as they are returned,” according to Kathleen Bloomberg, associate director library operations. This project has been an amazing way to put technology into the hands of librarians who have less to work with, and enabled them to take those possibilities to their patrons through programming and open access.

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