2010: My Year in the Arts

Several years ago, I was sitting in a bar with a bunch of coworkers. We went out a couple times a week for beer, always to the same place. They were fine people but, good lord, how many times can you hear the same old stories?

While we were rehashing the same old petty little workplace dramas, a group of staffers from the Portrait Gallery came in. They had more interesting things to say than me and my coworkers, for they were talking about art.

It was then that I vowed to get more involved in the creative scene in DC.

In 2010, I was fortunate to not only sample a lot of what the city has to offer, but also participate in it. Continue reading “2010: My Year in the Arts”

Writing and Taking Pictures at the Capital Fringe Festival

I’ve been busy for the past couple weeks as an official photographer for the Capital Fringe Festival. It’s been a great experience, giving me the chance to use my new camera, the Canon Rebel T2i, and the opportunity to take pictures of performers, which I really enjoy.

And I’ve gotten to see a lot of theater in tiny spaces, where you’re inches away from the actors – that’s part of what makes Fringe so special. From women in passionate embrace to remixed Shakespeare, it’s an intimate experience that can be uncomfortable, strange or delightful, depending on the performance. Sometimes you just can’t look away, try as you might.

But Fringe is more than just theater. It aims to create community in DC, striving to be a citywide celebration of the arts. Fringe wants everyone to be involved.

For people interested in creativity, it’s hard not to be drawn into the Fringe orbit. For example, I attended a discussion on Does Art Matter as a photographer but ended up writing about the workshop for the Pink Line Project.

The Capital Fringe Festival runs until July 25 in Washington, DC.

DCWEEK Fires Up Techies

fire dancer at DCWEEK

What do fire dancers have to do with technology?  Attendees at the opening night party of DC Week had a chance to find out.  Digital Capital Week (DCWEEK) is a 10 day festival in Washington, DC focused on technology, innovation and all things digital in our nation’s capital. DCWEEK takes place in venues throughout Washington and runs from June 11th to June 20th, 2010.  The mission of DCWEEK is to strengthen the capital region’s digital economy via a ten day series of events focused on creativity, technology, entrepreneurship, marketing, content creation and innovation.

The week began with a party in Blagden Alley that brought together the worlds of art and technology.  Web developers, social media experts, writers, transparency advocates, government geeks, photographers and venture capitalists were inspired by bands, video displays, free beer and women twirling flaming hula hoops.  Set in a historic downtown alley, the party was a casual and creative affair where you could meet some of the brightest minds in DC.

But that was just the start.  DCWEEK continued over the weekend with CityCamp, an “unconference” that brought together local government officials and technologists, with the aim of building a better District of Columbia.

All week long, this festival of innovation continues with workshops on gaming, accessibility, communications, media relations and much more.  And since it’s not your normal conference, DCWEEK also includes happy hours, tweetups, a “schmooze cruise”, a flash picnic on the Mall and even a social media comedy show.

DCWEEK demonstrates that tech doesn’t have to be boring.  After seeing someone twirl fire, how could you not be inspired to try something new?

DCWEEK Fires Up Techies

There Are No Rock Stars

You do not need to take a class with a “rock star” to be creative. This faith in the magical ability of experts to transform lives is ironic in our secular  society. Gurus, rock stars, life coaches, Oprah – they can make you change. Most people don’t go to a priest for career advice yet believe that taking the workshop of a famous person will cure their creative funk.

I was thinking about this after reading comments by a talented photographer friend of mine, Mary Kate McKenna. She was writing about “rock star” wedding photographers and their high-priced workshops:

REALLY tired of newbie photogs (I still consider myself a newbie in the industry!) doing workshops for other professionals, charging a lot of money, with no real business skills and embellishing the amount of money they make in the industry. Before attending a “rockstar” workshop, do your research. Continue reading “There Are No Rock Stars”

2009 Highlights

steps

It’s the end of the year, and the end of a decade. What were my favorite projects of 2009? What did I have the most fun working on?

Murder in Ocean Hall

I can’t help myself, I like to write fiction. People have asked me how I could leave my job and then spend countless hours alone, in a coffee shop, writing a novel. I’ve offered advice on setting a schedule and being committed, but the truth is that writing a book is a huge sacrifice and something that you must really, really want to do. And something that you must enjoy doing more then anything else. Continue reading “2009 Highlights”

Writing About Creativity for the Pink Line Project

I’m going to be writing for the Pink Line Project.  What’s Pink Line?  Describing itself as “a catalyst for the culturally curious”, the site is a guide to DC’s art and cultural scene.  If you’re looking to attend fun art parties in Washington, and learn more about the arts, it’s a great site to check out.

From watching rollergirls arm-wrestle to dodging skateboarders at a photo exhibit, I’ve enjoyed the Pink Line events immensely.  It’s an unexpected side of stuffy Washington that’s much more interesting than some boring Capitol Hill cocktail party. Continue reading “Writing About Creativity for the Pink Line Project”

The Internet Life of One Photo

A few weeks ago, I received the following email:

Hi Joe,

I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona, to California last summer, and brought an unfinished painting of Papago Buttes along with me.  I looked around for a photograph to help me finish the painting, and I found one that seems to be attributed to you on Wikipedia.  The shot helped me enormously, and I ended up finishing the painting and giving it to a friend.

The more I learn about artwork and photography, the more I realize that asking permission before using a photo, even when referring to it for painting, is the right thing to do.  I just wanted to be in touch to apologize for failing to do this, and to offer to email you a photograph of my finished painting.  I think you’re a good photographer and you helped me by sharing your image online.

Thanks,

Robert Collins Continue reading “The Internet Life of One Photo”

Murder in Ocean Hall – Where'd the Idea Come From?

Since I finished writing Murder in Ocean Hall, I’ve gotten questions from friends and family regarding the book. Creating something from nothing seems enough of a magical act to inspire some questioning. The question I’ve gotten most is:

Where’d you get the idea from?

I originally planned to write a much different book, something much more serious and literary. It’s a manuscript that I’ve worked on for three or four years and exists on my laptop as a mix of disparate scenes and ideas that have never quite come together. The novel that I had in mind was a much grimmer story, about DC during the summer before 9/11. The book is about people chasing success, unaware that their world is about to be undone.

Finishing that big serious book was my plan. It’s why I decided to leave my government contractor job. Continue reading “Murder in Ocean Hall – Where'd the Idea Come From?”

More Thoughts on Transparency Camp 09

Some more random thoughts about Transparency Camp 09. Here are my big take-aways from the conference.

Excitement: There’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm among enlightened advocates of government transparency, fueled by the election of Obama and the mainstreaming of Web 2.0 tools like blogging. There’s a real can-do spirit, which is in marked contrast to continuing bad news about the economy. 

The Importance of Free Beer: How do you get people to hang out after the formal sessions of a conference, for a further exchange of ideas? You offer them free beer, of course (courtesy of Peter Corbett). I saw this at SXSW too. The convivial sharing of booze leads people to make connections they never would’ve made.

Twitter is Useful: This micro-blogging service was a great utility during the conference. Attendees tagged their tweets with #tcamp09, which enabled anyone (even people not at the conference) to see what attendees were saying about the sessions.

Macs are Everywhere: I was pleased to see so many Macs at the conference. The facility at GW had outlets at every table and wifi was available as well, which led to a proliferation of laptops, the majority of which were Macs.

Education is Needed: Advocates of open and accessible government need to learn more about the near infinite complexities of government policies and procedures. A host of rules limit what government can do online. Also, there’s not “one government” as Jeff Levy from EPA repeated over and over. Different government agencies have different IT policies and requirements. Pity the poor developer who wants to create a web application for all of government. 

As someone with a background in government and nonprofit web sites, I got a tremendous amount out of this conference. Attending events like this, you come away with renewed excitement about the possibilities of the web and a host of new ideas to explore.

Transparency Camp 09: Pushing Government Forward

What’s Transparency Camp?  

This un-conference is about convening a trans-partisan tribe of open government advocates from all walks — government representatives, technologists, developers, NGOs, wonks and activists — to share knowledge on how to use new technologies to make our government transparent and meaningfully accessible to the public.

In practice, this meant a very smart and dedicated group of government and non-government techies devoted their weekend to collaborating, brainstorming and scheming new ways to make government more open and accessible to all of us. What was unique about the un-conference was that it was open and collaborative, where the people in the audience were just as smart as the “experts” presenting. It was also made up as it went along, as topics and panels were put together on the fly, in response to the interests and passions of the attendees.

I attended because I used to be a government web site manager and think that government sites can be better. And that they should be better, for they are paid for by taxpayers. In one session I was in, the question was asked, “What can the public do to make .gov sites better?”

My answer is to keep pushing. There are numerous barriers to improving government sites, from IT security to policy, that can only be overcome through public pressure. The public needs to demand sites that are easier to use and more efficiently managed. Why can’t .gov be like Google?

Perhaps more importantly, the creative, risk-taking spirit of events like Transparency Camp needs to be encouraged within government. There are a lot of very talented people within government who want to blog, use Twitter, publish data in open formats, create mashups and experiment with new technology to better serve taxpayers. These people need to be empowered so that they can more effectively communicate the work of government to the public that pays for it.