Brand marks and symbols are invested with symbolism; meaning derived from perceived value, ambition and aspiration too. On this 4th of July I thought it would be interesting to start with a consideration of Uncle Sam; a representation of the U.S. Government. The creation and evolution of Uncle Sam is an interesting story about which much has been written. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction but one thing is certain, the illustration created by artist Montgomery Flagg is a hit. This rendering was used to promote the idea of being ready and prepared for war. World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, there is never really an end to war and persecution and the excuses used to justify it all. Right or wrong, the symbol of Uncle Sam became a call-to-arms which found its inspiration in the 1914 Alfred Leete illustration from England used in a WW I recruitment poster.

openness, compassion

Columbia, symbol of the people of the America

Uncle Sam’s better half, known as Columbia, famously depicted by Paul Stahr ca. 1917-18, named to honor the legacy of Columbus, went on to inspire the naming of countless organization, including Columbia University as well as Columbia pictures, which later took the lovely lady as a symbol of its own. You’ll notice a strong resemblance to Lady Liberty, the grand statue itself a gift to the people of the U.S. from the people of France. The Statue was designed by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel and dedicated on October 28, 1886.

In the painting of Columbia, we are quite literally taken in by her open arms and compassionate and sincere expression. Columbia was said to represent the people of the Americas. The Statue of Liberty holds a tablet with the Roman inscription of July 4, 1776; testament to our declaration of independence. Broken chains lay at her feet, a beacon for all the world to see, a symbol of independence and freedom at the entrance to NY Harbor. Her torch held high, welcoming immigrants from all over the world. The statue was also inspired by the Roman Goddess, Libertas.

The fabric of America

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
— Emma Lazarus

It should not be surprising that women are used to represent openness, liberty and freedom while men are depicted as aggressive, directive and controlling. We are ourselves symbols. Of course, not all women and men possess these qualities as distinct characteristics. Check out the early illustration by Thomas Nast from Harpers Weekly of Uncle Sam having Thanksgiving dinner with immigrants from all over the world, this tells the story of America at its best. The world at its best.

At a time when the U.S. and perhaps much of the rest of the world seem on a path of isolationism, it would do us good to remember the power of symbols and icons as representations of our beliefs.

The U.S. welcomes immigrants from all over the world

Uncle Sam, having dinner with immigrants

America’s most important and invaluable export is our culture. For centuries, America and the promise of America has inspired countless millions to risk it all in pursuit of freedom, openness and inclusiveness. We seem to be forgetting, the meaning of America, of liberte’.

What will you export today? Perhaps you can start with a welcoming smile.

Start your day smiley

The originally smiley face, created by graphic artist Harvey Ball made legend by millions of buttons and now emoji too

This compilation video offers a nice snapshot into the connectivity we discovered between the creative pursuits of these artists and the work they do 9-5, in short, creativity in the workplace. If you have not seen the show at the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs you should stop in to the gallery. The show will be up a few more weeks, catch it if you can. The video linked here is a compilation of videos about the show, you might enjoy watching it. It’s too short for popcorn but important enough to leave you with something stuck in your head, if not your teeth.

Ar+Work, September 26, 4-7 PM Spring Street Gallery

It would be great to see more people expressing themselves through the arts, to put away fear and self-doubt and to create for the simple act of creating itself. It is powerfully liberating. The journey of any passionate artist is one of both refinement of skill and changing conceptions. This is another point that needs to be made and remain top-of-mind when seeing the show, skill and creativity do not necessarily travel hand-in-hand. Some of the artists are much more advanced in their skill level than others but this by no means diminishes the power of their self-expression.

I’d like to personally thank the following people and organizations for their help and support in bringing this show together; Charles Wait, Chairman and CEO of Adirondack Trust Company, Mayor Joanne Yepsen of The City of Saratoga Springs and Angelo Calbone, President and CEO of Saratoga Hospital, their employees and in particular their internal communications, HR and marketing people who’ve been instrumental in getting the word out. Lori Goodale was not only one of the catalysts in the creation of the show, she has also been integral to the successful of implementation, execution and coordination all communications with the participating organizations as well as external media relations. Thank you Lori, for wearing so many hats, including the time coding of the video edits.

I also have to give thanks to Augie’s Restaurant for agreeing to supply their great food so we can all sup while we enjoy the show.  Thank you to Gabby Delattibodier Wright for her art promotion and event planning support in bringing needed resources to the show. To Benj Gleeksman for picking up the ball and running with the design of the promotional materials to bring further awareness to the show — go Benj! Thanks also to Belinda Colon, for her excellent sense of story and translating that to the mounting and exhibition of the show. This is no easy task with a mix media show such as this. I hope you take the time to appreciate not just the work but the presentation as well.

Thanks as well to Ed Murphy, Executive Director of Workforce Development Institute for the enthusiastic support of his team as well as their financial assistance to offset some of cost of the show.

Thanks to these members of the extended Brandforming team,  Erica O’Rourke and her team at Social Radiant for taking on the task of sharing the idea and promotion of the show through social media channels. Thank you to John Wager and his team at Galileo Media Arts for lending their talents to film the leadership interviews and other certain aspects of the show. Thanks in this regard must also go to Hudson Payer a very talented senior at Saratoga Springs High School, who jumped in last minute and agreed to film some of the individual artist interviews.

In many ways this is a show about community, about the people and organizations that make Saratoga Springs the wonderful place that it is. Spring Street Gallery is a unique space in that it is entirely not-for-profit. This makes it at once very liberating but also challenging for Maureen Sager to achieve the kinds of results that she does, which is to say, the shows that she has brought to this community are wonderful examples of art, artists and the relationship of art to our lives. Shows that wake you up to the power of the arts, that challenge thinking and that inspire you to walk out a bit differently then when you walked in. This is one of the great purposes of art curation, if not of art itself. I, for one, walked into Spring Street Gallery a different person than I am today and for this I can not thank Maureen enough for her trust and her steady hand as she continues to guide, challenge and inspire me in all aspects of this show.

Last and most certainly not least — but in fact most of all  — thank you to the brave and creative artists who put their heart and soul into everything they do — they truly Head For The Heart.

We all know the story about how creative we are as kids and by the time we’re adults most of us lose it all. The arts in our schools are often the first thing to go when budgets are tight and the emphasis has always been in favor of the other core disciplines. But now it seems we’ve taken it all a bit too seriously and downgraded the arts in school, maybe a blind spot on the national agenda. Time will tell.

The effort in our schools is to really ground our children in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, STEM for short. This is a great curriculum with a noble goal, to make sure our future leaders are at the top of their game to help keep our country and our economy a vital global resource. There is only one thing missing from this concept and that is the arts. STEM to STEAM is the mantra many have adopted to overcome this direction. But are the arts and creativity really missing altogether, or just under appreciated?

To put the Arts back on the table as a priority for our children we need to recognize the arts as essential in driving creativity across all disciplines. I hope when you see the show and read about these artists that you will see for yourself the important connection between the arts and these other forms of knowledge that are represented by STEM. By leaving out the Arts we are in fact doing a great disservice to our children and our future. It is for this reason that the show will benefit our local schools through a matching donation to the Saratoga Foundation for Innovative Learning.

The program is the spearheaded by Michael Piccirillo, Superintendent of Saratoga Springs City School District, and it was borne out of the need he and his team identified to push the envelop and constantly look for ways to innovate in the education of our children.  I had the chance to spend some time speaking with Mr. Piccirillo and I can say we are very fortunate to have him at the helm of our schools. Mr. Picirrillo is full STEAM ahead. You can see the discussion here. I hope you’ll come to the show and drop a few dollars in the bin so the foundation can keep doing great things for our kids.

In addition to seeing Mr. P’s video, check into our social media and keep an eye out for a series videotaped discussions with a few of the artists in the show. These video discussions will become available during the lead-up up to the show, follow the story here.

We solicited participation of artists from three large employers here in Saratoga, The Adirondack Trust Company, The City of Saratoga and Saratoga Hospital and we started with the leaders of the organizations. Through a series of one-on-one conversations with the executive leadership it was immediately apparent that not only did they enthusiastically support the idea and the participation of their employees in the show, but that they were highly attuned to the benefits of the arts and creativity in the lives of their teams and their organizations as a whole. You can see the conversation here.

To date we have work from more 50 artists enrolled in the show with a healthy mix of creativity from original music to painting, photography, poetry, quilting — a tour-de-force of artistic and personal expression.

To be continued…

artWrkCrWPV2

Earlier this year I was asked to curate an art show. I’ve never done this before, and leapt at the opportunity to get involved.

Over lunch with Maureen Sager of the Spring Street Gallery and Lori Goodale of PALIO we talked about creativity.

In all my years of work in creative fields, people who don’t work in traditionally defined creative roles are quick to point out how little creativity they have, in a very self diminishing sort of way. This became the inspiration for our show.

We are all inherently creative and even those of us who work in jobs and careers that are not defined as creative, use creativity every day. To be human… is to be creative…

Many people go through their day-to-day lives without noticing just how creative they are and how their creativity helps them with everything from washing dishes, to driving the car, to helping their children with their homework. Creativity, in one very big sense of the phrase, is problem solving and how we innovate. Certainly this is how it is thought of in commercial terms. But in a purely artistic sense, as a mode of expression, it gives us so much more and not enough of us engage our senses in the sort of self-expression that makes the arts such an incredibly rich part of world culture.

Some people are much more tapped into the energy of their creativity and express themselves in all the ways that society enjoys so much through the arts.  Most of us though sit on the sidelines because it takes a great deal of courage to express ourselves in this way. Perhaps by drawing out the connection between the arts and creativity and the jobs and careers so many of us have, we may gain deeper insight into who we are and inspire more people to express themselves through the arts.

The creative works in the show is the product of individuals who are inspired by their own need to create.  These are individuals that have overcome the self-doubt and the insecurities that hold so many people back, especially when we’ve been taught from a very young age that perhaps we are not very creative (more about this in a minute). The show is going to explore that their creative work is not only connected to who they are as individuals but also to the work they do 9-5.  I’d like people to think about this when they see the work because the show is going to feature the creativity of people who are not normally considered creative, especially in their day-to-day roles. We’re going to explore how the creative works they produce informs their day jobs, be they bankers, surgeons, nurses, tellers, engineers…whatever they do during the day…they are artists through and through.

To be continued….