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Assignment: Radio: Community Events (Oct 17, 2012)
After a long day at work or school, it can be tempting to just collapse into the couch, watch some TV and go to bed. It’s simple, it’s easy and cheap.... but it’s also a little boring. This week on Assignment: Radio, we want to present a few events happening in the community where you can learn about art, history, technology, and each other.

Listen to the full episode here.

“Urban Wasteland” Jessica Wilder
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Millions of tourists visit ancient ruins in Europe and South America each year, snapping photos and trying to imagine what life was like in that long-past era. The modern ruins in our own backyards are visited by few tourists; there are no gift shops with miniature dilapidated gas stations and abandoned spray painted housing.In our first story, Assignment: Radio reporter Jessica Wilder speaks with one photographer who is chronicling these neglected spaces.


Inside an empty dance studio cluttered with mirrors and instruments, where ballet bars line the walls and the only sounds you hear are your own footsteps, framed photos lining the perimeter evoke the surroundings, utterly abandoned. These pictures are the work of Marty Landers, a photographer captivated by unexpected beauty.

“I think unfortunately these are places that have been wasted by society.” says Landers. “They’re places that we no longer deem necessary to the function of furthering our lives or what we’re trying to accomplish. I think that’s very unfortunate and I think I just want to bring things to mind with the title urban wasteland, to confront people and make them think about that”

Lauren Sonder owns the studio (located along Gray Street in Norman) that’s showcasing the exhibit. She says seeing those pictures every day gives her a stronger appreciation for what the art represents.

“I think people in this day and age respond to the theme urban wasteland because its kind of evocative of our modern era and the throw away stage that we live in.” says Sonder.

These places aren’t a complete waste; Marty preserves the memory of these spaces, like one building in her hometown of Inola, shown surrounded by rubble but with green ivy growing up the walls.

“Two weeks ago the city actually tore this building down because they considered it to be an eyesore.” recalls Sonder. “I call this one ‘Needle in the Hay’.  It’s very catastrophic but at the same time it’s very calming, like the calm after the storm. Like everything’s been thrown about and now is resting peacefully but you still have this life here; its not completely done. You know, there’s still hope.”

Lauren Sonder points out one photo from the exhibit that shows three bathroom sinks in varying states of decay, with teal paint peeling from the walls, and bronze rust overtaking white porcelain.

“It’s called ‘That Sinking Feeling’. Her titles are very clever. I really like it because you kind of see a progression from one sink to another sink, to ones that’s completely deteriorated, so you have a sense, of over time, things getting worse and disintegrating.” says Sonder.

Each of Landers pictures shows a moment of beauty surrounded by a scene of destruction, leaving a feeling of sadness with a tinge of hope.

“I would really like to evoke feeling and emotion… especially in our society we’re taught the only safe feeling is anger.” explains Landers. “We’re not taught its good to feel lonely or sad… but there’s a lot to learn. This helps people feel those feelings and identify with the picture”

Landers follows what she calls the urban explorer’s rule of thumb, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

Pablo Picasso (Spain 1881-1973)
Woman in the Studio, 1956
Oil on Canvas, 130 x 162 cm.
St. Louis Art Museum;
Funds Given by Mr. and Mrs. Rickard K. Weil
196:1957

 

“Picasso Exhibit” Cosimo Vestito
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Françoise Gilot, one of Pablo Picasso’s many romantic partners, has quoted him saying, “I paint the way some people write their autobiography. The paintings, finished or not, are the pages of my journal, and as such they are valid. The future will choose the pages it prefers.”

In our next segment, Assignment: Radio reporter Cosimo Vestito takes a look at one of the autobiographical paintings Picasso left behind, currently on display at the University of Oklahoma.

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is hosting an exhibit of the famous Spanish artist featuring the portrait “Woman in the studio” borrowed from the St. Louis Art Museum. Chief Curator Mark White says this is an important event, because there are no major Picasso works residing in the state at this time. White says the exhibit will be at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art for one year, giving Oklahomans a rare opportunity to see work by the Spanish artist without leaving the state.


“The exhibit really does capture what Picasso was really interested in at mid-century, the subject matter, the styles, and it really demonstrates that Picasso was very capable of multiple identities as an. He worked freely with different styles, he worked with different subjects, and I think that's one of the reasons he's so important.” explains White.


Picasso is one of the most important and influential artists of the last century. His art is well known worldwide as one of the highest achievements of western figurative art. Yet, his artistic and personal character is still a mystery both for admirers of his work and professionals in the art field. Dr. White explains Picasso’s double identity.


“Picasso was clearly an artist of great importance to not only Europe, but also the world. He's probably one the most influential artist of the twentieth century.” White says. “One can debate that, but certainly Picasso is a name against which artists have to respond at some level. As a man, he was an individual who had great confidence and great insecurity. I think you see the results of that not only in the acclaim that he achieved for his paintings but also his numerous relationships, which were often fraught with a lot of controversy and difficulty.”

The works on display cover different styles and periods of Picasso’s artistic life. While Picasso’s art may be hard to interpret, Dr. White says the works show great charm and will be of interest for any kind of audience. A woman on a trip from Missouri describes her experience visiting the exhibit.


“Yeah, that's what I have always thought of as Picasso's work. I never really understood it. It was almost too abstract, too out there for me.” she says. “I appreciated a little bit more now after reading the display about him, especially about the thirties on the one over there (I don't remember what it's called) where his rage, his anger about the Civil War in Spain is coming out a lot, it's obvious in that. But yeah, it's very good, very good. Very Nice.”


Dr. White explains that the portrait “Woman in the studio” is immediately recognizable as a cubist work, but its relevance requires a more accurate analysis that includes the story, the artistic features and the background of the portrait.

“By this time Picasso had gone through the various phases of cubism,” White describes, “he had flirted with styles that one might associate to surrealism, expressionism, and ultimately in the 1950’s his is still continuing to experiment, still stylistically difficult to pin down, and this work is in some way kind of a summation the various styles he had explored throughout his career.”

White continues, “There are elements of cubism, going all the way back to 1906-1907 that one can find in the painting. There are aspects of almost pure abstraction, just geometry. There are elements that are slightly more representational, and so what it does is really kind of sums up many of the styles Picasso had worked in over the decades of his career. It also is a great representation of his continued fascination with women. It is a portrait of his mistress, then wife, Jacqueline Roque. So, it is an image of her in the studio sitting adjacent to a painting. It is very much about the artist's life, the life in the studio which of course included, in this case, Jacqueline.”

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art will display Picasso’s “Woman in the studio” till next august.  Dr. White says this portrait and the displayed works by the Spanish artist will continue to attract and seduce the audience. White says it may be impossible to understand Pablo Picasso, but falling in love with him and his art, is extremely easy.




“Dancers and Deities”
Michael Rymer
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As shown with Picasso’s work, a lot can be learned about someone from the art they leave behind. The art a group of people leave behind can offer deep insights into their cultural heritage. In our next segment, Assignment: Radio reporter Michael Rymer visits the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, to explore a massive collection of artworks chronicling a way of life lost to time.

Arizona attorney James T. Bialac collected over 4,000 pieces from the Hopi and Zuni Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest over nearly half a century. Among this vast collection of rare pieces are more than 250 Kachina Dolls on display at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, as part of an exhibit called Dancers and Deities. Associate Curator of Ethnology Dan Swan says the dolls’ significance is quite different from traditional children’s toys.

“Originally these were deities.” says Swan. “These were part of the cosmology and the religion of the Zuni and Hopi people. The original use of these is that men, after they reached a certain age, would join a Kachina society and in order to emulate and to invoke the power and the spirits of these deities they would impersonate them by wearing masks and elaborate costumes and regalia as you see represented in the figures in this gallery.”

Men of the Hopi and Zuni communities would give the miniature figures to younger female relatives, usually nieces and daughters, so that they could also share in the spiritual blessings that the men gained through religious ceremony.

Swan explains, “It was a way to spread that power and the beneficial aspects of impersonating these deities and doing the dances and the ceremonies in the appropriate way to spread those blessings out into a broader segment of the community.”

During the opening reception for the exhibition, James Bialac described each doll as a unique piece of art, from the materials used, to the craftsmanship by the artists themselves. These tribes had no written language, and almost none of these Native artists used models, so all the detail came from memory.

“Their memories were fantastic.” says Bialac. “If you take a look at the Kachinas in the paintings as well as in the dolls and see the work and the colors and everything else and the accoutrements with them, everything is exactly the same, and just from those things that they were taught orally, they were able to put it on paper and canvas and express their feelings in what they had learned from their parents, grandparents, and the rest and that’s really wonderful.”

One particular Kachina stands above the others in its glass case in the display. The white figurine has its angelic wings open as if the doll were ready to take flight. The black and red war paint across its face would make any aggressor shudder. Even the detail in the clothing of this doll shows how much effort the artist put into the creation of the Kachina doll. Dan Swan says he can’t call any of them his favorite.

“Each particular piece is so engaging, and in each and every one you get this sense of what the artist was trying to express, and with each of these pieces they’re putting a bit of their own spirit and a bit of their own ingenuity into them. So I can appreciate each and every one of them in their own rite.” he says.

According to Swan, the dolls became a supernatural symbol upon completion, since they represented the deities of the Hopi and Zuni cultures.

“In the most traditional sense there is somewhat of a hierarchy among these spiritual forces,” explains Swan. “but you have to realize too that they all interact in concert, so that it’s more of a holistic approach to things. No one individual spirit, no one individual deity can do the work that’s necessary to provide for the rains that are critically necessary to sustain the people, physically to provide the spiritual guidance that they need to move them through their lives. To help them find meaningful existence on this earth, and to live prosperous and happy lives. That they all work together. So that it’s a very complex system of spiritual forces that are working in concert with human desires.”

The Dancers and Deities exhibit runs through January 6th of next year. James Bialac says a broader exhibit of his collection is on display across the University of Oklahoma. Bialac has an agreement with the University that promises to display the dolls around the campus, instead of keeping them in storage, giving students and faculty many chances to see these vibrant artifacts.

“Life Lessons in the Ballroom” Megan Gay
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In the Hopi and Zuni cultures, dance played a vital role in religious activities. In our next story, Assignment: Radio reporter Megan Gay discovers how ballroom dancing plays a different role in the lives of those who enjoy it.


It's a tuesday night in the OU Memorial Union and about 30 people are trying to follow instructions. Sooner Ballroom Dance Club members say this can take your breath away; that is, a night of passion, power and frankly, a small amount of pain. From sweat, tears and stepping on toes, to suave,  smooth turns across the floor, this dance club wants to move.

The ballroom dance classes start with beginners from seven to eight thirty on tuesday nights, and then intermediate classes from 8:30-9:30 p.m. and it costs $15 for students and $25 for adults. There are three sessions each semester with a total of nine different dances to learn.

Former Sooner Ballroom Dance Club president Kaitlyn Stevenson says, "We teach a lot of different types of dances. This month we've been doing Rumba, Foxtrot and East Coast Swing in our Beginner lesson, and Argentinian tango and Cha-Cha in our Intermediate lesson. Then afterwards, there are quite a few students who like to dance West Coast Swing, so they stay around, put on some music and dance. It's really a large variety of ballroom and latin."

The club encourages anyone who is interested in learning how to ballroom dance to join the classes, even if they don't have any previous experience. Volunteer dance instructor Kelsey Farewell says hit tv shows like "Dancing with The Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance?" are popular to watch, but learning the steps yourself is even better than watching it on tv.

"Going to do your own dancing is sometimes a little more rewarding than watching other people doing it on TV. Anyone can get up and dance. You should come to the club and find out.” suggests Farewell.

Other than just learning the steps, the club teaches students about proper space and placement on the dance floor, a technique that Farewell says she learned while she was teaching her pregnancy with her first son.

"It can be a little interesting in closed holds, because there's so much more of you in the middle and guys are a little like, 'Uh, am I supposed to touch you?' Farewell explains. “That's what's great about this club. It does teach appropriate contact for men and women, and a lot of times people just don't grow up learning these things."

After teaching the class for more than seven years, Farewell claims the Foxtrot is her favorite.
“It's very graceful and it has a great combination of lots of different steps you can do, and great music to dance it to." says Farewell.

The Ballroom Dance Club also hosts other dance events at OU to get people interested and involved with the club, including bi-annual ball.  Former president, Caitlin Stevenson says "This year it will be Nov. 2 in the ballroom and there will be a live band. It's an opportunity for both club members and anyone else to come out and practice their dance skills."

All in all, Farewell says the club is about entertainment and the fun of learning something different within a big group.She says as long as you walk away tapping along with your dancing shoes, the staff will know they did something right.

“If you're not having fun, you're not going to keep coming back and you're not going to learn these steps. So, if you're having fun, that's the most important thing." says Farewell.

“Norman Meetups” Michael Fox
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While some connect to the local community through things like ballroom dancing, sports or church groups, others might have some difficulty meeting people with the same interests. Websites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to find friends around the world, but on Meetup.com the focus is taking the flexibility of the internet and getting people together at a local level. Assignment: Radio reporter Michael Fox investigates.

We have all seen these ads on TV. According to Match.com one in every five relationships are started using a dating website. And nearly everyone uses social networks like Facebook and Twitter to keep us posted on what our friends are doing.

Meetup.com is different than Facebook and Twitter. While those sites allow people to connect with others from all across the globe, Meetup.com puts the emphasis on meeting locals with similar interests. Unlike other social media, Meetup reaches its full potential when its users meet in person.

Founder of Meetup group book club Renaissance Readers Hillary Rose explains what she likes about it.

“I like how public it is and how you can look specifically for a location Norman, Oklahoma and find every Meetup group there and get a great idea of it.” she explains. “I mean, I know some groups meet on Facebook, but it’s a lot harder to find a group on Facebook for your area than it is on Meetup. Meetup is made to specifically to search what you want, where you want and so it makes it very user friendly and accessible.”

The website has many different types of groups. Some of the local groups include Moms and Margaritas, a mom’s day out club, The Oklahoma Red Dirt Paddlers, an outdoor kayaking group, and even the OKC Tall Club, where group members have a minimum height requirement. Since the site is geared toward finding what your likes, people with similar interests can be found.

Courtney Crites, a Norman Naturalist member, explains why she uses the site.

“Meetup itself is really cool,” she says. “it’s safer than just going up to a random person and saying ‘lets be friends’. You have a group of people that you kind of assume have certain things in common with you”

If users can’t find a group that they want to join, they can create an entirely new group based on their interest. Hillary Rose did just this.

“I think that Norman needs more opportunities for that, more opportunities for people to get together people who haven’t met each other, people who are trying to branch out.” Rose says. “So I encourage everyone to start a Meetup group and perhaps it will take a couple of weeks, but you will find members”

Meetup.com isn’t the only website where users can form groups to meet with locals. Both Reddit and Craigslist have a similar group feature.

Founder of the Norman Naturalists David Wheelock explains it.

“It’s about getting people together face to face, who are local to each other.” says Wheelock. “I think that that’s a good thing. Getting out of the house.”

Meetup.com claims to now be the largest social site for people to find local groups, it boasts 11 million members and hosts some 340,000 monthly meetups in 45,000 cities. However, there are some requirements for the service. Hillary Rose says she doesn’t like that she has to pay a monthly fee to maintain a group on the site.

Those interested in meeting face to face and using social media as a tool to achieve that, may find Meetup.com and similar sites useful in that search.

“Mousercize” Paige Willett
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With billions of people on Facebook each month, and the constant connectivity many Americans have with smartphones, it’s easy to forget that not everyone can be reached through the internet. Assignment: Radio reporter Paige Willett sits in on a class where the language of computer technology is being taught to those who never learned the basics.

Jean Taylor teaches the “Building Mouse Skills” class at the Norman Public Library Computer Training Center. Every month she begins the class by picking a mouse up by the chord and holding it in the air, explaining its parts and function. How do you begin teaching someone how to use a mouse? The first lesson is how to hold it.

“It’s usually sitting flat on the table and you just touch your palm on it. Your thumb is going to touch the left side, and your ring finger will hold the right side. So, you can kind of hold it in that grip. And the other two fingers are just resting lightly on top.” Taylor tells the class.

As the class continues, Taylor’s assistant Jim Belcher walks around the rows of the computers and helps the students as they complete a tutorial program called “Mousersize”. The program covers basic computer and mouse functions like select, click and drag, and double click. In the second lesson, students learn how to move the mouse. One student bends her arm at the elbow with her hand on top of the mouse and moves her shoulder as if to steer it. Jim teaches her to control it with slight movements of her wrist.
“It’s not a car.” he tells her. “Look. Watch. If I do this, look at the screen. See how nothing happens?”

This may seem like second nature even to someone who uses a computer only occasionally, but some people enrolled in “Building Mouse Skills” have never touched a computer before, including one student named Ann Ray. She arrives to class 15-minutes early and sits in the front row of computers looking over the syllabus on her desk carefully.

“Well, I’m probably one of your oldest ones here. I’m 82. Be 83 in two months.” says Ray, “I bought a laptop about three months ago, but I haven’t done anything with it because I don’t know how.”

For Ray, the class isn’t just about learning a new skill. It’s about communicating in the modern world.
“I wanted to learn to use the computer. I think I can, I think I will enjoy it.” she says. “I’m pretty well alone. It gives me something to do. I have my daughter and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have two brand new grandchildren in Florida. So, I can talk back and forth to them.”

Class assistant Jim Belcher looks very professional in a bright blue button up and black slacks. He explains the rules of Solitaire to students so they can use their newly acquired skills to play the game on the computer. He recognizes a gap in computer literacy and sees his job as a way to bridge it.

“There is a gap.” explains Belcher. “There is a digital divide between the older generation and the younger generation. We talk to a lot of younger people and they think, ‘Well, why do you have a class on how to use a mouse?’ People need that.”

Learning how to use a computer is a lot like learning a second language. The earlier you start in life, the more intuitive and easier it is. For students like Kent Crucet, the class is a matter of re-learning.

“I bought a laptop a couple of years ago, and it was just a source of aggravation for me. I went about it all wrong, and then I got the laptop stolen. So I decided, I got another one and then started these classes. I’m going to start from the bottom, because if I try to do it myself, I’m just going to mess myself up, but I have a tendency to look at the forest instead of the tree.” says Crucet.

That’s exactly why Jean Taylor says teaching mouse skills is rewarding; she wants to help people see the forest instead of the tree. Taylor began teaching “Building Mouse Skills” three years ago as an employee in the Computer Training Center. Since then, she has become a librarian at the information desk, but continues to teach the class. In fact, It’s the only one she teaches on a regular basis.

I think that’s why I like mouse because you get people who, sometimes senior citizens, sometimes you know, maybe, they’re new to America or whatever, and they’re just not familiar with the computer. I like it because I like to make them feel comfortable and not feel overwhelmed or silly or anything. I just want them to go away feeling like they learned something and they achieved something, and that it’s not so scary after all.” says Taylor.

As the final task of the tutorial, each student creates a mousing diploma with his or her name on it. Ann Ray types her name into the certificate on the computer and clicks “Print.”
“Oh it feels great!” Ray says. “Except I’ll probably forget part of it.”

If she does, she can always retake the class. The Computer Training Center offers its classes in a monthly cycle. Each month starts with basic computer skills courses like mousing and keyboarding, then gets progressively more difficult and involved. By the end of the month, students tackle more complex computer programs like Excel. There are also new classes for those interested in learning how to navigate social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest.



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