SA Councilman Krier Decries Public Artworks

Art is arguable. That’s a statement with which we can all agree.

San Antonio City Councilman Joe Krier added proof last week when he announced plans to request the council reconsider city funding of public art. He will also request that any future funds used for public art only go to artists hailing from San Antonio or Texas. All this because he doesn’t like a few sculptures.

Krier especially dislikes the sculptures Liquid Crystal by Jason Bruges and Sotol Duet by Jon Isherwood located at the convention center and a city park, respectively.

What’s his beef with them?

“I just don’t get it,” Krier explained to his council colleagues, as reported by The Rivard Report

Well, there are likely a lot of things he doesn’t “get.” Many of us experience his bewilderment when confronting certain pieces of art. One of the most common questions posed of art is, “What does it mean?” As a teenager, I asked a writer to explain the point of his story to me. I thought he was going to punch me.

We shouldn’t just reject art we don’t “get.”

Donald Lipski, the artist behind F.I.S.H on the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk, has heard all the arguments around public art. He also knows the value of public art — even those artworks some dislike.

“[A]rt that is provocative has the chance of becoming landmarks and touchstones to their communities,” he said.

“When I was growing up in Chicago, Picasso’s fox-like sculpture Cassandra was installed. It was denounced, derided and scorned. Since it is a challenging image, many people thought it was for the elite rather than for the public. But fast forward a few decades: it is loved and admired. Out-of-towners are taken by to see it. In the summer, there are concerts and farmers’ markets around its base. It is celebrated.”

Lipski created 25 seven-foot-long fiberglass replicas of native long-eared sunfish for the residents of San Antonio. Lipski’s fish, which are lit from within at night, dangle over the Riverwalk from the I-35 underpass. While Krier might question the point of having art hanging beneath a bridge, I’m looking forward to going to view the work.

When asked to explain the work for the benefit of Krier and others, Lipski responded,

“My thoughts on F.I.S.H. started with the dark, forbidding space under I-35. The planners were afraid that people would walk that far and turn around. I wanted to create something unexpected, light-hearted and seductive. Floating this school of fish was an idea that came to me in a flash. I scuba dive, and the site reminded me of being underwater near a pier, the fish hanging around, maybe nibbling at the seaweed that grows there.”

He also involved the community in his creation.

“I had envisioned goldfish. Input from the public, which I always find interesting, suggested a local fish. The long-eared sunfish I ended up with live in the river — in fact, in rivers and streams all around the area. When kids learn to fish with a pole and a worm, it’s an odds-on bet that that’ll be their first catch. So, this change localized the artwork, personalized it. Helped to make it endearing.”

The result?

“I’ve seen crowds of people there in the evening. They watch as the bats fly out from their hidey-holes, then the fish light up, everyone applauds and heads to the cantina. This is what public art can do.”

There are fundamental problems with Krier’s proposed changes to city art funding. First, the majority (78 percent since 2007) of public art money already goes to local artists. That may explain why no local artist responded to my requests for responses to Krier’s plans.

More important, though, is that we’ll never “get” art by limiting it. Understanding is not achieved by reviewing appropriations and limiting the states and nations in which artists seeking funding may reside. While it’s important we support local artists, it’s equally important we don’t negate the culture of our city by making it unwelcoming. We are a multicultural city filled with many people who resided elsewhere at some point. Our art should reflect that.

In fact, maybe the artworks Krier questions have already achieved their goals. The best public art, Lipski said, should “inspire and intrigue, motivate and provoke. And delight.”

Councilman Krier, let’s go have a look at those F.I.S.H. I suspect we’ll be delighted (or provoked or motivated) and agree that more public art is what truly needs consideration.


Will life get ahead of me?

All these times will change
I can’t turn away
Planes are heading home
When old friends are gone

I thought that after I left Austin I’d be able to write about it. The Ruta Maya years. Before Austin began becoming San Francisco in industry and (relative to the local cost-of-living) rent prices.

I followed the rule that one can’t write about a city without leaving it.* That writing hasn’t occurred yet. Partly because I haven’t focused on it the way I need to if I plan to actually produce something someday. The other part being I haven’t pushed it. And I’m too old to believe inspiration will strike – can wait until death for that to happen. It would be nice, though.

Dane, my old Air Force brat friend from Keesler AFB in Biloxi, messaged me on Facebook last night to note how negative I seem to be and check on me. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t planning to “off” myself.

I’m not, for the record. Continue reading

Not a Southern Storyteller

I suppose I should finally give in and identify myself as a Southerner. I don’t consider myself a Mississippian or Alabaman , even though I lived in those states and others. But most of my memories start at Eglin AFB in Ft. Walton Beach on the Florida Panhandle — where Alabama meets the sea, if you will.

Growing up on Air Force bases, it was hard to feel a part of the local civilian community as one might if he or she lived there on a long-term basis. That’s not something I intend to go into in any depth here. There’s plenty to be written about the civil-military divide. Suffice to say, it wasn’t until I moved out of the Deep South (I mean, “the South”) to Texas that I ever felt the need to defend it; to embrace its part in my past.

I may not have a thick Southern accent (courtesy of the diversity of U.S. military personnel), but I’m obviously a Southerner, merely by the relative amount of time I lived in the Deep South and Texas. Texas isn’t a real part of the South. It’s Texas. The South starts when you hit the western border of Louisiana. That is, where the poorly maintained highways begin. Continue reading

Tech, Gov’t and Daesh

Re: Technology, Government and NoUI

I wrote a rather senseless piece on the time we lose waiting for machines to do our jobs and how that time builds up until we’ve spent, cumulatively, days of our lives watching a spinning circle or hourglass. But remember: I can only approach the subject of design as a naive, and view it through the lenses of my experiences.

As I started in the world of public policy and politics, whenever I hear that a technology or app is going to change the world, I can’t help but ask, “How?”

As someone who has an exaggerated response to injustice, I advocated for SideCar and its CEO Sunil Paul to negotiate with the city of Austin. (Uber has now become the main villain in this globally disruptive fiasco.)I want competition. There are far too few cabs in Austin. But the same rules must apply to cabbies, limo drivers and Uber/Lyft/whomever comes next. Fast food workers have to get a certification. Having your fingerprints taken — as some cities are demanding is upsetting Uber right now — isn’t very invasive or time-consuming.

See? I can’t help but view technology through the lens of good public policy, transparency, fairness and, well, political and community reality.

But I’ve read enough to have a rather dystopian view of Big Data, nudges, technological solutionism, algorithmic regulation and their ilk to be happy to read the word “ethical” in Golden Krishna’s new book when it came to the possible benefits of a world with fewer user interfaces but the collection of large amounts of data to personalize one’s experience of the world. While in this book, The Best Interface is No Interface, he, unfortunately, does not take a deeper dive into the possible moral, political, socioeconomic and other aspects of the data needed to fuel NoUI (and UIs).

Oh, and for those of you who don’t know the difference between an user interface (UI) designer and an user experience designer (UX), Golden gives a good, quick overview. Continue reading

Time Lost to User Interfaces — #NoUI

I didn’t know much of anything about design until I met Misty. I didn’t even know “interaction design” existed. I knew there were people who decided where knobs went on car dashboards, but beyond that, I had no idea there were people who actually designed the “user experience” rather than the “user interface” I was using. Now, I’ve read some books, learned to say, “Bad design!” when I can’t figure something out easily (like when the pull handle is on the wrong side of the door), listened and questioned Misty — all of which has led to my absolute expertise in this field.To Do Your Work You Sit At Your Desk And You Stare At This Tiny Little Rectangle. That frustrates me. --Bret Victor

A little over fifteen years ago, I remember reading someone saying that the time we spent waiting on computers to complete tasks used to be spent actually doing the task. Continue reading

Outsourcing Design & Content

I’ve been pretty out of it this week. The days have started off slow and groggy. Of course, it’s beautiful out right now, but it’s been pretty crappy outside the last few days. Plus, I spend a lot of time sitting in this recliner working. It’s a wonder I don’t run out of breath going downstairs.

Fortunately, while I have a list of work to do, I knock things out fairly quickly. As with most things, it’s the getting started that’s hardest. Even if it’s only sending an email to bother someone about the content item he or she is supposed to be writing for me.

So far, I’ve been able to outsource some design and writing work to friends.

One nice thing about my position is identifying areas across the company needing improvement and improving them. Not long after I started, I noticed we needed a real brochure. Continue reading

The Motor City, Motown, D-town, Rock City, The D, The Arsenal of Democracy

Detroit! Could it really be Detroit?

There lies the possibility (the most likely for now, anyway). At the end of the month, Misty will begin a project lasting through at least mid-January with the design firm in Detroit. She’s up for their director of UX position. In fact, they called her back six months after they’d stopped talking because they weren’t ready to hire yet. Apparently, they’re still not. They’ll likely hire her the first of the year. No one wants to hire in Q4. That’s all assuming she likes them, we like Detroit enough, they like her (I’m not worried about that — she’ll wow! them the first day) and she doesn’t get a better offer from another firm or the Digital Service elsewhere. She’s still interviewing. 

In the meantime, she’s been writing some really great pieces over at her new blog. Her pieces certainly get more traffic and attention (especially on LinkedIn) than any of my business-related posts have. I’ve always encouraged her to write and get her voice out there. I hope she continues. She has a lot to add to design discourse.

Of course, I’m told the same thing by people, but what am I supposed to write about? Continue reading

Misty on Design, The French Revolution and Tangents

Misty comes home Thursday, that making her gone almost three weeks. It sounds like she’s had a wonderful time visiting her parents – one of the best (ever?). I’m happy for her. She needed this. It will be nice to have her home again. After her shock at seeing how little housework I’ve done, that is. There’s still time for me to clean! My intentions are good (usually)!

Speaking of Misty, she’s been writing some great stuff ranging from design to linguistics on her new blog, which seems to be quickly achieving some popularity. I always told her she should write. About anything, but, especially, about design. She’s an expert in the field of user experience (UX) design. She was an interaction designer (IXD) before there was such a thing. She’s been highly influential in the design of highly influential (in attracting customers to buy) well-designed products. She has numerous patents, for Mataman’s sake! Continue reading

Me and My Kindle

I never thought I’d be one to gush over a Kindle — or any digital reading device prior to foldable digital paper. But ever since I started using my newest one (I had a pre-Fire version that I stopped using fairly quickly), the Kindle has become my most-used digital device.

I could honestly see myself buying far fewer books. In fact, I could see the Kindle replacing many of the future books I’d otherwise buy in print. Now, I would only buy them if I absolutely wanted them on-hand or wanted to mark them up or something. There’s still value in having a print copy of some things. But there’s also value in not breaking your back moving every book you’ve ever read (or purchased but not yet read).

For many things, the Kindle version is perfect. Take my subscriptions to periodicals published in Britain, for example. The Spectator and the London Review of Books would probably make it to my house a week or more after hitting newsstands if I relied on print editions to be mailed to me. Instead, with my Kindle subscription, I get them as soon as they hit newsstands. And, to be honest, that has helped my writing.

If anything, beyond writing for work already being a spur to writing outside of work, reading these British magazines have sincerely been drivers of my writing. For whatever reason (likely the heightened quality of the writing over that in American magazines), reading them makes me want to write. Half the time I have nothing to write about, but it makes me want to write. My fingers itch with desire. If only I wrote fiction, I think to myself, I’d have more to write. That isn’t necessarily true, of course, but yet I tell myself it. (In fact, I’d probably procrastinate just as much if I wrote fiction as I do writing these posts and essays.)

The Kindle has spoilt me. The ability to access a dictionary by merely tapping a word — excellent. Access to thousands of works through Project Gutenberg and similar stores of classical works downloadable for free — exquisite. I also find myself watching the videos embedded in news stories and listening to podcasts more often with the Kindle. Each morning, I read The New York Times and The Washington Post on it. Multimedia versions of news articles actually make sense now.

All in all, it makes it hard to go back to print. Now, if only Amazon could recreate the feel and smell of books with the Kindle. (I’ve never sniffed my Kindle. Hmmm.)

(I’m just hoping .mobi files don’t end up like iTunes files — never to be used on another device again. If five years from now, I can’t read any of the books I’ve bought because they’re all locked down to Amazon forever and the Kindle has gone bye-bye, I’ll be a sad, pissed-off bunny.)

It’s still amazing to me: I was such a lover of print.

Been Around a While

Though this journal has taken hiatuses numerous times, I’m still surprised by how long it’s been around (whether at this URL, or some other blog site). It chronicles large portions of my life. And, looking back, one may be able to trace the growths and changes I’ve made during — and in between — those times. They definitely occurred, whether or not they are reflected in these pages.

I haven’t — and have a hard time suggesting others do so — gone through all the old posts I transferred over from the Internet Archive yet. I should, but I haven’t. I’m not going to worry too much about what I said in them. I was young, once. Believe it or not. Any employer upset by something I wrote ten years ago needs to get over it. What I wrote at 24 or 19 has little bearing on who I, ultimately, am today. Certainly it helped shape me, but it didn’t make me.

I’ve changed lots of things since then — I hardly drink, more cynical (impossible!), etc. — and none of us should be judged for the things we were. I could go back and delete it all, but I don’t see the point. I do see the point in keeping it consolidated and where I know it is and am still able to share it — which it was meant to be when written.

Plenty of people have done far worse than anything I may have written here over the past 16 years and been forgiven.

So, if you wanna begin your oppo research on me, start in the archives. If I cared, they wouldn’t be there.

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