Tag Archives: culture

George Michael dies at age 53

British singer George Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in England on Sunday. He was 53.

In the mid-1980s, Wham! was one of the most successful pop duos ever, with singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper”, “Last Christmas” and “The Edge of Heaven.”

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist said in a statement.

“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage,” the statement said.

British police said Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious.”

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou June 25, 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London laundrette, Michael once played music on the London underground train system before finding fame with Wham!.

With a school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, he formed Wham! in 1981, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.

“I am in deep shock,” said Elton John. “I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans. @GeorgeMichael #RIP.”

‘I WANT YOUR SEX’

The duo had their first hit with their second release “147;Young Guns (Go For It)” (1982) before their debut release “Wham Rap” became a hit the following year. The 1984 album “Make It Big” was a huge success in the United States.

“No way could I have done it without Andrew,” Michael once said. “I can’t think of anybody who would have been so perfect in allowing something which started out as a very naive, joint ambition, to become what was still a huge double act but what was really … mine.”

But Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!’s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres. Wham! announced their split in 1986.

A pilot solo single “I Want Your Sex” was banned by daytime radio stations but was one of his biggest hits.

“I want your sex, I want you, I want your sex,” he sang. “So why don’t you just let me go, I’d really like to try, Oh I’d really love to know, When you tell me you’re gonna regret it, Then I tell you that I love you but you still say no!”

In the space of the next five years, Michael had six U.S. No. One hit singles including “Faith”, “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Praying For Time” and a duet with Aretha Franklin “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me.”

Questions about his sexuality were raised when he was arrested in 1998 for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California.

“I feel stupid and reckless and weak for letting my sexuality be exposed that way,” Michael told CNN at the time. “But I do not feel shame )about my sexual orientation”, neither do I think I should.”

“I can try to fathom why I did what I did,” he continued, “but at the end of the day, I have to admit that maybe part of the kick was that I might get found out,” he told CNN.

Though he had relationships with women and once told family members that he was bisexual, Michael, then 34, said he was gay.

“Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael,” said Star Trek actor and LGBT rights activist George Takei. “You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.”

While Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power, Michael voted for Britain’s opposition Labour Party but criticized Tony Blair’s support for George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Sad to hear that George Michael has died,” said current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “He was an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights.”

Michael’s death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several music superstars, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68.

Spain’s top court overturns local ban on bullfighting

Spain’s top court overruled a local ban against bullfighting in the powerful northeastern region of Catalonia, saying it violated a national law protecting the much-disputed spectacle.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Catalan authorities generally could regulate such public spectacles, and even outlaw them, but in this case the national parliament’s ruling that bullfighting is part of Spain’s heritage must prevail.

Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010. The decision was part of the growing movement against bullfighting but it was also seen as another step in the Catalan government’s push to break away from Spain.

The ban had little practical effect as Catalonia had only one functioning bullring — in its capital, Barcelona — but neither is the court decision likely to greatly change things.

“There’ll be no bullfights in Catalonia regardless of what the Constitutional Court says,” Catalan Land Minister Josep Rulls said.

The World Animal Protection group described the decision as “outrageous,” adding that “cultural heritage does not justify an activity that relies on animal torture and indefensible levels of suffering.”

But the Fighting Bull Foundation of breeders, matadors, ring workers, aficionados and event organizers welcomed the news, warning that attempts to prevent bullfights in Catalonia would now be illegal.

Catalonia’s last bullfight was in 2011 before the region’s ban took effect.

The court ruling followed a challenge to the ban by the conservative Popular Party headed by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Catalonia said it banned bullfighting to protect the animals but it continues to allow popular events featuring the chasing and taunting of bulls with flaming balls of wax or fireworks affixed to their horns.

Bullfighting and bull-related events in summer festivals remain immensely popular throughout Spain although animal rights groups have gained some ground in their campaigns.

Catalonia, with a population of 7.5 million, is a wealthy region with its own language and a large degree of self-rule. Its current government is pushing to hold an independence referendum and secede from Spain in 2017. Spain has said it will not allow either.

Coffee culture: Cuppings, glitzy grinders and ‘no cream’ please

Get ready for the next wave of coffee culture. Consumers are learning more about coffee — how it’s grown, roasted and prepared.

They’re attending tastings called cuppings and they’re being asked to drink fine coffee black to experience its true flavors.

They’re also spending more for gourmet beans and fancy grinders.

“Coffee in many ways is now being treated as a very fine ingredient that requires a tremendous amount of care and stewardship from seed to cup,” said Nick Brown, editor of Roast magazine’s Daily Coffee News, noting “tremendous growth in the high-end, upscale, specialty coffee segment.”

While some say the trend is part of the farm-to-table movement, others compare the shift in coffee to wine and beer consumption. Wine tastings were once mocked as the province of snobbish elites, while beer brewery tours were a novelty.

But now wine bars, trails and tasting rooms are ubiquitous, as are brew pubs, microbreweries and craft beer.

“The more varieties consumers become aware of, the more they want,” said National Coffee Association spokesman Joe DeRupo. “People are eager for anything and everything new. They are accumulating the knowledge and sophisticated tastes that come with that knowledge.”

While coffee consumption overall has declined slightly in the U.S. in recent years, 31 percent of Americans say they drink specialty coffee daily, and 45 percent drink it each week, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

 

CREAM IN YOUR COFFEE? NOT SO FAST!

Semilla is an 18-seat restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, known for its adventurous, “vegetable-forward” $85 tasting menu. As each dish is served, the staff provides information about ingredients and preparation. What they don’t provide is milk and sugar for coffee, unless guests ask.

“If somebody of their own volition asks, ‘Could I get milk and sugar?’ of course we provide it,” said Gabriela Acero, Semilla’s maetre d’. “That’s their personal preference. But generally the way I phrase it is, ‘If you’re willing, I’d ask you to try the coffee without that and let me know what you think.’ I would say 90 to 95 percent find they don’t need milk and sugar.”

Milk and sugar, she added, are used to “mask coffee that’s bitter or over-extracted.” Semilla’s coffee is “sweeter, more delicate, more floral” than ordinary coffee. “It’s about the purity of the product,” she said.

Semilla’s coffee comes from a small Brooklyn roaster called Parlor Coffee. Parlor’s business is mostly wholesale, but the company also hosts cuppings for the public: twice-weekly free tastings featuring a half-dozen coffees, served black with spoons for slurping and spit cups for those worried about caffeine. At a recent cupping, tasting room manager Peter Higgins pointed out hints of “candied peaches and raspberries” in Kenyan coffee; “floral, like black tea or bergamot” flavors in an Ethiopian brew; and “dense, chocolatey” notes in a Guatemalan blend.

Parlor’s founder, Dillon Edwards, says the “niche world of micro roasters” to which Parlor belongs is viable thanks to what came before: the Starbucks boom in the 1990s followed by artisanal retailers like Blue Bottle, now a small chain, “supporting and celebrating the coffee producers.” Those waves paved the way for a marketplace where some consumers are “willing to spend $5 on a cup of coffee or $20 on a bag of coffee.”

 

GRINDER GLITZ AND THE COFFEE JOURNEY

Are you proud of grinding beans fresh each morning at home? If you’re using a $10 or $20 electric grinder, experts say you’re better off using a bag of coffee ground at the store. That’s because inexpensive blade grinders don’t grind beans evenly. You end up with different size particles, resulting in an uneven extraction that damages subtle flavors.

Industry mavens recommend burr grinders instead. Burrs are rough metal parts that crush beans uniformly. But even gourmet coffee lovers may be taken aback by the price tag. Popular burr grinders include the Capresso Infinity Die-Cast, $150, and the Baratza Encore, $130, while Baratza’s vaunted Virtuoso model runs $220.

“People are upping their game,” said Baratza co-founder Kyra Kennedy. “They want to taste the flavors and learn about that. Our growth really matches with what I would call the manual brew craze — the pour-overs, the AeroPresses, the press pots. People need a grinder if they’re going to do that stuff at home and get the same flavor they’re getting from a really good independent store.”

Baratza has been growing about 30 percent a year for the past five years and sold 80,000 grinders last year. But the challenge for Baratza and others riding this latest wave of coffee culture is to make sure the focus on quality _ whether it’s eschewing milk and sugar or recommending a $200 machine _ doesn’t come off as effete or snobby.

“Coffee is a journey,” said Kennedy. “The baristas and the specialty coffee world have been made fun of for being elitists. So we are very sensitive.”

The rise and demise of a West Virginia coal mine

On the day Victor Clark retired after 26 years at the Hobet coal mine in West Virginia, the bosses called him to the office for a surprise.

His wife, daughter, and sons Rocky and Tony, both miners, turned out for ice-cream, pop and a farewell toast for a man who had been at the West Virginia strip mine since the beginning. “You felt appreciated,” Clark, 87, remembered of that day in January 1990.

When son Tony left the same mine in 2012, there was no fuss. “They had my job posted before I was out the door,” Tony said.

In a generation, the Hobet mine transformed from a small, founder-run operation to a company cheered in three different incarnations by Wall Street and twice bankrupt — a twisting path mirroring the fortunes of a U.S. coal industry whose output is at its lowest level in decades. Operating 25 miles south of Charleston in the belly of West Virginia, Hobet is a case study of a once-rich industry in decline.

Coal supporters blame competition from natural gas, weak demand from China and government pollution controls they call a “war on coal.” All those forces hampered an industry where the largest investor-owned companies are mired in bankruptcy.

Yet there’s something more to the coal story and the fall of industry behemoths. Like the onetime family-run Hobet mine, the coal sector transformed from a blue collar bastion known for dirty, dangerous work to one noted for its dizzying mode of buy and sell.

Some coal insiders believe the industry’s quest for fast profits through corporate maneuvers brought peril, not promise. As companies sought new investments, they shed union mines and left worker benefits in jeopardy. Those same companies piled up debt as they acquired rivals.

Bob Murray, an outspoken coal baron who founded Murray Energy, believes a drive for short-term profits pushed publicly-traded companies to the brink.

“I watched it go on and shook my head,” Murray said. “Everyone was shoving liabilities to someone else.”

As a privately held company, Murray Energy did not face the same investor pressure for quick returns. Still, the industry’s larger challenges are testing the Ohio miner. Murray Energy said last month it may be forced to lay off thousands of miners.

Those cutbacks have some asking whether any coal company can survive this industry-rattling decline.

Since last year, Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Patriot Coal have all gone bankrupt. Each was tethered, at one point or another, to the Hobet mine – a site with a history shaped by mining advances, near disasters, striking workers and market swings.

Investors applauded for years before those industry leaders reached the edge. Patriot Coal shares soared in the first years after it took hold of union mines once controlled by Arch and Peabody. Wall Street helped leading companies acquire rivals in a 2011 buyout binge that crashed a few years later.

Arch Coal and Peabody Energy declined to discuss past business deals for this story. The companies have previously said critics are misguided in second-guessing deals in hindsight. When Arch sold the Hobet mine to a private equity firm in 2005, the buyer was “a strong, well-capitalized” entity, the company said.

Today, Hobet is owned by a conservation group and no longer producing coal. The mine is a scene of rubble and retaining ponds where sycamore, pine and cedar forests once stood. Toxic runoff must be steered clear of tributaries that feed the Ohio River. A decades-long cleanup awaits.

There’s uncertainty, too, for miners.

For Andrew Adkins it’s a matter of leukemia medicine costing $1,200 a month. He could die without his pills, yet the health care plan for Adkins and about 800 other retired Hobet miners and their families expires at year’s end. Miners who went on strike in the 1990s to protect their health plan said they never expected this.

“They’re doing away with everything we were promised,” said Adkins, a Vietnam veteran who relies on the low cost and open access of his health plan. Adkins, 71, is eligible for Medicare, but that carries its own costs and limitations.

For mining families in West Virginia and beyond, a blur of Wall Street deals altered the industry’s decades-old pledge to mining communities.

DAWN OF A COAL MINE

The Hobet mine was born in 1974 under a man named Fil Nutter – part of a West Virginia prospecting family that controlled a construction company, limestone pit and small-time coal mines.

Nutter was a “typical coal operator” of the era with the charm and hustle needed to thrive in the mountains, said Homer Toler, an early employee. “He liked to party, get drunk and worked his ass off,” Toler said.

When a land speculator named Granville Lee “Jimmy” Linville acquired the right to a forested plot 25 miles south of Charleston, Nutter brought the financing and connections. They went into business together.

Underground mines were joined by strip mines: workers blasting, or ‘shooting,’ the surface until they reached coal and then pushed everything else down the mountainside.

“Shoot and shove,” in common parlance. The method left behind poisoned streams and peaks sheared in half.

Nutter, who died in 2009, knew the brutality of coal mining. One brother was killed in a bulldozer accident at a strip mine, and the Hobet workforce was shaped by defiance.

Just a few summits from the Hobet mine stands Blair Mountain, site of a bloody scene in 1921, where at least 10,000 miners stood down strikebreakers, sheriffs and coal bosses.

“If you owned a mine in this area, it was going to be union,” said Wayne Chambers, founding member of the United Mine Workers of America local at Hobet.

Hobet grew from a hill and valley called Dog Hollow. Soon one shift became two. Streetlights were installed so laborers could work around the clock to fulfill a contract with a power plant in the state capital, Charleston.

The less than 90,000 tons of coal produced in 1975 ballooned to nearly a half-million tons by 1978. Some miners say they dared believe Jimmy Linville’s prophecy: “Men, you’ll retire from this job.”

A NEW EARTH MOVER

In the coal patch that stretches from southern West Virginia to central Pennsylvania, miners must pull countless loads of worthless rubble out of the ground before reaching the precious black rock. Hauling that waste, or “spoil,” is a costly concern.

Nutter had a method that satisfied West Virginia officials, but then Congress set national standards with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Mining companies were to take more care with spoil and restore vanished mountains to their “approximate original contour.”

New rules meant higher costs. The year the law was passed, Nutter sold out to Ashland Oil of Kentucky. The new operator attacked the problem of spoil with an audacious piece of equipment.

It was a dragline: a towering crane-and-bucket that could carry in one scoop what several dump trucks might haul.

The dragline came in pieces and took 18 months to assemble. The contraption grew to a 20-story tower and slung a giant bucket from a half-mile of steel cable.

At first sight, miners feared the dragline might end their jobs. But the mammoth machine is probably what kept Hobet running through market ups and downs over the years, those same workers say.

In 1984, the first full year of operating the dragline, Hobet produced 1.8 million tons of coal. That was more than double previous output, according to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Jobs were abundant, with over 200 miners, and spirits were high. Workers and bosses fraternized at the Hobet cookout each summer, the families fishing and tossing horseshoes.

In these flush times, miners were unafraid to strike.

From May until nearly Christmas in 1993, workers were off the job to protect their health plan. “We won that one. We won them all,” recalled former miner Adkins.

In the end, though, the health and pension plans at Hobet were difficult to sustain. Pensions had defined benefits, which relied on a share of miner wages going to pay retirees. Layoffs and cutbacks to the workforce could upend that model.

The Hobet health plan had uncommonly low deductibles.

“We took smaller pensions, smaller hourly wages to protect our health insurance,” said Ronald ‘Yogi’ Pauley, a United Mine Workers leader at the Hobet mine for 30 years.

Former managers agree the health plans were exceptional.

“These would have been called ‘Cadillac’ health plans,” said Ken Woodring, who started as a Hobet mine manager in the 1970s and retired as an Arch executive in 2004. “They were manageable when health costs were low in the 1960s and 1970s. But those costs kept rising.”

DEBT AND PROMISES

The fate of miners was closely tied to a changeable coal market known for long winning and losing streaks.

In September 1995, as Hurricane Opal crashed through the Gulf of Mexico, fear of a natural gas shortage drove coal prices higher.

Within months, utilities burned through coal inventories until they reached lows not seen since Fil Nutter put his claim on Dog Hollow.

Steady, reliable coal was proving itself again. Investors liked the turnaround story and Ashland helped conceive Arch Coal as a shareholder-owned company in July 1997. Hobet was now under Arch Coal’s corporate umbrella.

In the era of answering to Wall Street, Woodring said, mining knowledge could take a backseat to marketing. It was important that executives be comfortable with investors, analysts and stock pickers.

Steven Leer, 45 at the time, had helped market Valvoline motor oil for Ashland before leading the coal division. When Arch Coal was formed, Leer was tapped as chief executive and paid in Wall Street fashion, with bonuses, country club memberships and other perks. Much of his compensation was tied to the company’s performance. If the share price climbed, Leer could redeem stock options for cash.

Leer did not respond to interview requests.

Deals were one way to get investors’ attention, and Leer’s first big acquisition in 1998 was emblematic of a borrow-and-buy growth strategy.

Arch used more than a billion dollars in debt to take hold of new leases and rival operations in the West. Further deals would anchor the company in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. There, union power was weak and mines had vast reserves of low-sulfur coal in demand under new pollution controls.

Still, Arch Coal had promises to keep at Hobet and other eastern mines where current and former workers were owed hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits. These were “onerous” liabilities, credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s reported.

Arch Coal could not shift its miner liabilities, so it tried to control them. With bigger machinery and longer hours, the Hobet mine could boost output without hiring more miners.

After five years under Arch, Hobet was producing a record 5 million tons of coal, according to government data. That was 1.5 million tons more than Ashland produced in its last year of management.

Production was up but the culture became more focused on the bottom line, some former miners say.

Hobet managers summoned to Arch’s St. Louis headquarters came back describing cost-savings and “the Arch Way” of management that kept a steady eye on spending, said Ronnie Vance, a Hobet manager.

In Novembers past, Ashland had tolerated deer season when more than 15 percent of the workforce sought an absence. No more.

COAL CRUSH

Coal fever spread through the 2000s. Asian demand rose with the economy and natural gas output was flat, keeping up demand for coal.

Amid record revenue, one cost remained a blot on the Arch Coal balance sheet: more than $400 million in miner health and pension costs.

By 2005, investor hunger for coal had spread beyond Wall Street. ArcLight Capital Partners, a Boston private equity group, wanted a toehold in the coal business and Arch Coal found a way out of some stubborn costs.

ArcLight bought Hobet and three other West Virginia mines and named the new enterprise Magnum Coal. The deal included the miner health and pension plans.

The welfare of thousands of miner families was no longer tied to the deep-pocketed Arch Coal. Miners fretted about their private equity bosses and the sector’s reputation for flipping companies for investors.

Could Magnum shoulder miner health and welfare plans? Miners had to wait and see. “The union leadership told us there was nothing we could do,” said labor leader Pauley.

The Magnum transaction “clears the decks” for more growth, Leer told analysts on a conference call in January 2006. Arch shares climbed 3.6 percent.

In 2007, Leer took a $10 million payout – his biggest in a career with Arch Coal that earned him more than $40 million, a Reuters review of securities filings found.

WALL STREET AND COAL

Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal company, conceived Patriot Coal in 2007 to house its union mines and about $750 million in worker liabilities. Eventually, Patriot Coal bought Magnum Coal.

By 2011, rising coal prices ignited a new spree of deals. This time coal companies borrowed big for industry-shaping buyouts.

Alpha Natural Resources acquired Massey Energy for $7.1 billion in 2011. In December, Peabody Energy acquired MacArthur Coal of Australia for $5.1 billion. Arch Coal bought rival International Coal Group in May for $3.4 billion, with Leer envisioning a “coal franchise poised for growth.”

In the end, the deals were poorly timed. Asian coal demand was tapering, and the new drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, pushed natural gas prices to 10-year lows.

Alpha Natural Resources declined to comment on the 2011 deals.

Mike Quillen, who founded Alpha in 2002, believes coal executives erred by trying to keep up with the steady rhythms of Wall Street.

“Debt will kill you in the coal business,” said Quillen, who stepped down as Alpha’s chairman in 2012. “And it’s cyclical. But everybody just got caught up in the idea that high coal prices would go on forever.”

The industry paid for that misjudgment.

Alpha Natural Resources filed for bankruptcy in August 2015; a federal judge in July approved its plan to exit bankruptcy. Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy in April 2016. Arch Coal, which filed for bankruptcy in January 2016, suffered cost overruns at its Leer Mine of West Virginia, named after its executive.

“If it weren’t for those deals, these companies would be solvent,” said John Hanou, an independent coal industry analyst who helped lead market research at Wood Mackenzie and Hill & Associates in Annapolis, Maryland.

Quillen said that’s not so clear-cut. “Everything is negative for the industry right now. There’s no way of knowing how long any company might have survived,” he said.

The coal industry will come through this downturn smaller and with fewer publicly-owned companies, he said. “But I don’t think the major acquisitions were the single catalyst.”

TOXIC LEGACY

Today the remnants of decline are visible at the Hobet mine.

The weathered piles of spoil and valley fills are leaching selenium, a healthful nutrient in trace amounts but a toxin in larger doses. A 2008 study, presented in federal court, found deformed fish and warned of catastrophe, requiring a cleanup.

Patriot Coal, the last major operator at the Hobet mine, outlined more than $400 million in pollution liabilities after its first bankruptcy in 2012. At the same time, miners learned their health benefits would vanish.

The company-sponsored policy relied on cash from coal operators that are now bankrupt and so those contributions are due to end.

When Patriot went bankrupt again last year, the company was sold in pieces.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said he hopes the Hobet site will be fit for commercial development. But there are no concrete plans yet.

On the land where the dragline first trod, there’s a slurry impoundment rather than the wildlife habitat promised by executives in the original permit. This summer, the dragline will be idled.

Watershed campaign: Milwaukeeans unite behind water initiative

For some Milwaukeeans, summer begins with a dance in the Summerfest water fountain during PrideFest.

For others, it begins with a starry night paddle on the Milwaukee River or the first beach day.

Water puts the sparkle in Milwaukee’s summers and helps define the city’s identity.

“I live to be on the water,” says Bobby Lagerstrom, an avid kayaker and competitive swimmer. “That’s what brought me here. Milwaukee is a great water town.”

In mid-May, Milwaukee Water Commons, a project of the Milwaukee Environmental Consortium, brought several hundred people together at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery for the Confluence Gathering. The event was the culmination of a two-year process involving 1,300 people and more than 30 groups interested in shaping a vision to make Milwaukee a model water city.

“It was a very robust conversation,” said Milwaukee Water Commons executive director Ann Brummitt. “We talked to people about water — what matters, what are the issues, what are the concerns. And then we really asked people about a vision going forward.”

Milwaukee Water Commons’ slogan is “Together, we’re shaping Milwaukee’s water future.” The nonprofit abides by these principles: Water is an essential element for all life on Earth. Water belongs to no one and cannot be owned. People have a responsibility to protect and preserve clean fresh water. Decisions about the care and use of water must involve everyone. And the Great Lakes are a gift, having “nurtured our ancestors and shaped us as a people and as a community. They continue to sustain us.”

The group operates a water school that collaborates with other organizations on specific programs and cultivating neighborhood leadership. MWC also conducts town hall-style meetings and workshops and works with local artists.

The Confluence Gathering provided the opportunity to launch six water initiatives under the “Water City Agenda.” The vision is for Milwaukee to:

• Be a national leader in “blue-green” jobs. Work is underway to promote the blue-green economy in the city, but the scale needs to grow, according to Brummitt, who previously directed the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition and worked as a school teacher.

• Make safe, clean and affordable tap water available to every Milwaukeean. A chief concern in Milwaukee, as it is nationally, is aging pipes. “While our tap water that comes out of Milwaukee Water Works is very good, by the time it gets to your kitchen faucet there’s a chance of lead,” Brummitt said.

• Advance green infrastructure practices across the city. “There’s a lot of really good energy going into this goal already,” according to Brummitt, who said elements in new developments might include rain gardens and green roofs, bioswales and curb cuts.

• Make Milwaukee’s three rivers and Lake Michigan swimmable and fishable.

• Offer every Milwaukeean meaningful water experiences. Brummitt made this observation: For all the sailing, kayaking, swimming, fishing and strolling that takes place in Milwaukee, there are children in the city who’ve never been to one of the rivers.

• Celebrate local waters in arts and culture.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Brummitt. “As strong as our water culture is, we’re still losing ground. We can’t keep pace with the environmental degradation. So that’s where we felt there was room to bring in more people and more perspective. Everybody has something to say about the future of water in Milwaukee.”

In the coming months, think tanks will be established to tackle each initiative and, Aug. 7, an annual H20 happening — We Are Water — will be held at Bradford Beach on the Lake Michigan shore.

Institutional partners in carrying out the Water City Agenda include the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District.

“The science is there, the tools are available and our water policy researchers are ready to help turn these transformative ideas into reality,” Jenny Kehl, director of the Center for Water Policy at UW-M, said in a news statement.

Nonprofit partners in the campaign include leading environmental groups, as well as community and neighborhood organizations such as Alice’s Garden, a nonprofit in the Johnsons Park neighborhood.

“The work Milwaukee Water Commons has taken on is some of the most important work this city will do,” said Venice Williams, director of Alice’s Garden. “It is about preserving the dignity of the ancestral waters of Lake Michigan. It is also about helping every human being who quenches their thirst, bathes their body, rinses their clothes, mops their floors, enjoys their cup of tea to understand one cannot exist without water.”

A sister project, with a regional focus, is the Great Lakes Commons, and organizers in other Great Lakes cities, specifically Toronto and Cleveland, are at work employing the “commons” concept.

“When we started this work, we started to look and see if there was a model for this kind of thing,” said Brummitt. “But there just isn’t a well established framework for a water city. This is our foray into creating that. It will be developed. That’s coming. We’re shaping the agenda in Milwaukee.”

Become a commoner

For more information or to get involved with Milwaukee Water Commons, visit milwaukeewatercommons.org.

Save the date

On Aug. 7, Milwaukee Water Commons will present We Are Water 2016, a communitywide celebration at the north end of Bradford Beach. The event will feature song and dance, artwork and spoken word, and the creation of a large, illuminated image of the Great Lakes in the sand.

In related news …

Carpenter raises concerns for pipeline spills

Wisconsin Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, asked U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson to join with U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan to make sure the Department of Transportation classifies underwater pipelines in and around the Great Lakes as “offshore” facilities.

Why? Carpenter said under federal law cleanup for “onshore” facilities is capped at $634 million but “offshore” facilities must have resources to cover all costs.

If there were a spill in the water from the pipeline that’s transporting 23 million gallons of crude oil and liquid gas daily, the cleanup could be $1 billion. The pipeline crosses the Straits of Mackinac, connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

“Our incentives should be to protect the waters and avoid economic catastrophe of spills,” Carpenter said.

WiG

Great Lakes group moves Waukesha water request forward

Representatives of Great Lakes states and provinces have given preliminary approval to a precedent-setting request by Waukesha to draw water from Lake Michigan.

The regional group agreed the water diversion application by Waukesha complies with a Great Lakes protection compact if certain conditions are met, including an average limit of 8.2 million gallons a day — 20 percent less than the original request.

The group includes eight states and two Canadian provinces. Minnesota abstained from voting during a conference call earlier this spring.

Governors of the eight states, or their representatives, will meet in Chicago later this month to consider the conditional approval and vote on Waukesha’s request, which has drawn substantial opposition from environmental groups.

AP

 

 

Great-grandson of ‘Over the Rainbow’ writer launches United Performing Arts Fund’s 2016 campaign

Throughout history, music and storytelling have brought people together in difficult times — comforting them through hardships and inspiring them during wars. 

The French national anthem “La Marseillaise,” composed overnight during the revolution, heartened its dissident fighters. Members of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps marched into battle during World War I fortified by anthems such as “Over There.”

During the 20th century, music became the heart and soul of protest movements. Songs such as “We Shall Overcome” proclaimed the rightness of their cause for those marching for black civil rights. “Give Peace a Chance” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” are among the songs that served as a musical score for anti-war protesters during the conflicts in Vietnam.

Music was especially important to society during the Great Depression. Some songs unified the suffering masses in their crippling financial struggles; others sought to lift them out of their misery by offering hope.

At the forefront of socially conscious songwriters is a man you’ve probably never heard of: Yip Harburg (1896–1981). His songs are anthemic to generations of Americans. One of those songs — “Over the Rainbow” — is archetypal, continuing to move listeners as if written yesterday.

Lyricist Harburg and composer Harold Arlen wrote “Rainbow” for Judy Garland, whose superstardom was launched by her plaintive rendition of the song in the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz

Harburg is fondly remembered as “Broadway’s social conscience,” and so deserves the attention he will receive at the launch event of this year’s United Performing Arts Fund campaign, which focuses on performing arts that raise social consciousness. 

“My great-grandfather changed popular culture,” says Aaron Harburg, 29, who will represent his great-grandfather at the March 2 kick-off of UPAF’s 2016 campaign.

“I’m very proud to help keep my family culture alive,” Aaron says.

A digital media artist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Aaron enjoys traveling to represent his famous forebear at events like the UPAF launch. He relishes sharing his family history and watching people celebrate the songs he grew up singing and listening to at family events, he says.

His father, Yip’s grandson Ernie Harburg, heads The Yip Harburg Foundation — a nonprofit organization “whose purpose is to spread Yip Harburg’s artistic legacy, aimed at creating a world of ‘free and equal people,’” according to its mission statement. (For more information, go to yipharburg.com.)

“Yip’s lyrics are like fine poetry and are rich in aspirational meaning,” says Deanna Tillisch, UPAF’s president and CEO. “By bringing in his great-grandson Aaron Harburg, we have a direct link and a storyteller who will inform and educate people on the work of his great-grandfather.”

During the event, Aaron will introduce four of Yip’s songs with personal anecdotes surrounding the creation of each. Artists affiliated with stage companies supported by UPAF will perform the music.

Social justice through song

Yip Harburg wrote the lyrics to more than 600 songs, many of them considered part of the Great American Songbook. His musical collaborators included, in addition to Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Jule Styne and Billy Rose. His songs ranged in style from the wistful “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe” (from the show and movie Cabin in the Sky, starring Ethel Waters) to the raucous “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” (for Groucho Marx in the 1939 film At the Circus).

Still, no matter what the style, a common thread runs through most of Harburg’s music: a cry for social justice. Sometimes that theme is hidden and other times it’s overt, as in his Depression-era anthem “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.” That song captured the sorrow and social injustice of the Depression years with such gut-wrenching effect that attempts were made to ban it, Aaron says.

“It was one of the few songs at the time that told the truth about what was going on,” he explains.

Harburg’s song “Paper Moon,” which he co-wrote with Billy Rose to music by Arlen, came from the Broadway play The Great Magoo. A seemingly feel-good song to lift people out of the Depression doldrums, it’s full of cute metaphors about the transcendent benefits of love, which has the spiritual alchemy to turn a paper moon into a real one, “if you believe in me.”

But a deeper message lies just beneath the surface of “Paper Moon,” one that seems to question the value of the material world.

Harburg was particularly outraged over racism. The song “Free and Equal Blues” created a stir with its then-revolutionary message that human blood is the same, regardless of race. “A molecule is a molecule, son, and the damn thing don’t have no race,” the lyrics say. 

Harburg wrote the book and lyrics for Finian’s Rainbow, the first play that featured a black and a white performer on stage together. The 1947 hit musical skewered racism and put forth a scathing critique of capitalism, according to Aaron. A song titled, “When the Idle Rich Become the Idle Poor,” demonstrates the hypocrisy of the legal system, which has one set of laws for the rich and another for the rest. That theme, of course, continues to sound in today’s headlines. 

The show had several subsequent revivals and a movie version was released in 1968. A production during the 2009 season of New York City Center’s Encores! series  was particularly timely, coinciding with the economic collapse that caused the Great Recession.

Harburg’s song titled “Leave the Atom Alone,” from his 1957 musical Jamaica, was a clear diatribe against war. The song was sung by Lena Horne, in her first Broadway performance. 

Backlash

Inevitably, the themes of Harburg’s work caught the attention of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which conducted a witch-hunt during the 1940s and ’50s to root out communist sympathizers, particularly in show business. Its hearings resulted in several contempt-of-Congress convictions — screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was one of them — and the blacklisting of many who refused to answer its questions. Harburg, who was an avowed socialist, was high on the committee’s radar.

Apparently McCarthy didn’t draw distinctions between socialism and communism, since when Harburg was dragged before the committee, he was battered to reveal the names of other “communists” working in Hollywood.

“His response to them was, ‘I’m not going to tell you anything,’” Aaron says.

Harburg was blacklisted for 10 years, meaning that no one in Hollywood would hire him. 

“He did a fair amount of work during those years, it just wasn’t very successful and it was much more difficult to get anything of his produced,” Aaron says. “His career was absolutely ruined by McCarthy.”

The rainbow

Of all the many plays, movies and songs that Harburg wrote, it was possibly “Over the Rainbow” that secured his — and Garland’s — immortality. As a symbol of the gay rights movement, rainbows also have special meaning for Aaron, who is both an out gay man and a practicing Roman Catholic. Although Yip Harburg’s parents were Jewish, he was an agnostic, and subsequent generations of his family adopted Catholicism as their faith. 

For now, Aaron overlooks the church’s teachings on homosexuality.

“I could see in the future pursuing changing the church, but I’d rather preserve my relationship with God for the time being,” he says.

What would his famous great-grandfather have thought of his sexual orientation?

“Yip was very progressive and probably would have been vocal in support of gay rights, or at least preventing discrimination against gays. Equality was very important to him across the board.”

The power of Harburg’s words are captured in a tale that Aaron heard about “Over the Rainbow.” According to someone who was there, Garland was performing one of her last concerts, and her voice was giving out. She typically closed her act with “Rainbow,” but she was unable to sing it. So she sat on the edge of the stage and spoke the lyrics, “which in many ways were a reflection of her own life,” Aaron says.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and Aaron says he gets emotional envisioning the scene.

Harburg and Arlen won an Oscar for the song, which was named by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the best recording of the 20th century.

Performing arts create jobs, lift economy 

In Milwaukee, the performing arts generate nearly $80 million in spending on restaurants, hotel rooms and other amenities used by event-goers, according to statistics compiled by the United Performing Arts Fund. The performing arts also play a critical role in Milwaukee employment, creating jobs for almost 6,000 individuals, who generate nearly $100 million in annual wages, according to UPAF president and CEO Deanna Tillisch. Having a vibrant, engaging cultural scene also attracts new employees — and new corporate headquarters, she adds.

— Louis Weisberg

Reach Louis Weisberg at lweisberg@www.wisconsingazette.com.

The Electroliner makes one last stop at the Grohmann Museum

On Jan. 20, 1963, an era ended with the last run of the Electroliner trains between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Postwar car culture and highway expansion helped to spell the demise of the route, which delivered travelers at speeds nearing 90 mph in an atmosphere of comfortable luxury.

The current exhibition at MSOE’s Grohmann Museum takes us back through the 40-year history of the rail line — and the inventive posters that helped make its reputation. 

In the 1920s, Chicago was a rising rival to New York City, full of cultural treasures and civic landmarks. Milwaukee also was on the map as a desirable Midwestern destination and the corridor between southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois was noted as a charming place for sports and scenic beauty. 

English-born industrialist and utilities magnate Samuel Insull became the manager of this railroad route and his business savvy built its popularity through creative images and advertising. 

Art of the North Shore Line brings together posters, original paintings, photographs, and ephemera such as tickets, brochures and dining car menus. It revives the noteworthy accomplishments of the artists, designers and even staff of the train system. The works are drawn from private collections as well as public repositories, organized through the efforts of two curators, John Gruber and J. J. Sedelmaier. 

Gruber is an important figure in this field as a founder of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, and recognized for his portraits of railroad workers. He is joined by Sedelmaier, who is better known for his work as an artist for Saturday Night Live’s “T.V. Funhouse” segments but has a personal connection to the material. In addition to being a collector, Sedelmaier traveled the train frequently in his childhood between Evanston and Chicago. He recalls a fascination with seeing the trains of the North Shore Line, brilliantly painted with red and turquoise palettes and decorated by silver lightning bolts. 

Not only was the North Shore Line lauded for its speed and frequency — often making five round trips daily — but the advertising for the route was something that stood apart. Overseeing the line, Insull was inspired by advertising for London’s Underground system. Viewers of the exhibition may also detect a lineage that draws from the traditions of the French advertising posters of the 19th century and then-current styles such as Art Deco. 

As Gruber and Sedelmaier write in an article for Railroad History magazine, “These posters represent the best campaign of the 20th century that focused on a single urban area, and its regional character appeared about a decade in advance of the regional movement in American art. Nothing on either coast topped Insull’s campaign, not even those of the national long-distance main lines.” 

Even today, the images retain a fresh, bold sensibility that asserts a sort of Midwestern leisureliness with sophistication and panache. 

A 1923 lithograph by Ervine Metzl, simply titled “By the North Shore Line,” features an angular black-and-orange fish in turquoise water, hungrily swimming to a fishing hook with tackle that takes on swirling Art Nouveau notes. At the top of the composition, a brightly decorated bobber is suspended among ripples of water, while in the lower right quadrant, the title of the piece floats in clean white lettering. 

It is clean and sparse, and includes no direct images of trains, travel or anything except this small vignette suggesting relaxation to be found in the lakes and waterways of the region. Of course, the implication is this is all there for you via the North Shore Line.

Other posters follow suit, with images of riders on polo ponies, and a view of the Milwaukee skyline framed by two sailboats skimming serenely through the harbor. 

History and urban pursuits also abound, with a picturesque representation of the university campus at Lake Forest and a view of Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue (now Wisconsin Avenue) that looks south from the main branch of the public library. Though the latter is an image that dates from 1925, the architecture and sculpture are still recognizable today. 

More abstract concepts such as the pleasures of travel are featured as well. An original gouache painting by Oscar Rabe Hanson, with the tagline “Comfort on the North Shore Line,” shows a fashionable lady of 1924 sitting in an armchair onboard the train. She delicately fingers her reading material and crosses her ankles, elegantly composed in the sophisticated atmosphere of the train. It is a far cry from the purely utilitarian travel of today. 

The posters retain their power to convey a civilized allure. The photographs that are also part of the exhibition conversely deal with a documentary sense. 

Most poignant are the series of pictures taken during the last runs of the Electroliner route in 1963. Riders converse in the train’s tavern car or wait patiently in the station to board. In one of these black-and-white photographs, a woman named Arleen Warzinik stands in a ticket booth, attentively assisting passengers on the last night of operations. It is the preservation of a memory and a note on changing times and modes of travel. 

ON DISPLAY 

Art of the North Shore Line continues at the Grohmann Museum, 1000 N. Broadway, through April 24. Admission is $5, $3 for students/seniors. Visit msoe.edu/about-msoe/grohmann-museum for details.

Current Exhibitions & Openings 

‘Katie Musolff and Andy Fletcher: Old Souls’

Tory Folliard Gallery 

233 N. Milwaukee St. 

Through March 12 

Two noted figurative painters come together in this exhibition. Fletcher’s paintings dwell on the rural landscape with far horizons and seem to meditate on distant memories. Musolff’s images of nature focus on the close distance, with images of birds, insects, plants and vegetables that are colorful and poetic investigations. 

‘Cutting Edges: Aimée Beaubien and Fred H. C. Liang’

The Pitch Project 

706 S. Fifth St. 

Through May 6 

The cavernous gallery space at The Pitch Project has been transformed into a playground of fancy by the embellishments of these two Chicago-based artists. Working from photographs as well as various types of paper, they meticulously cut, trim, braid, fold and otherwise train paper into wild expanses of sculpture, some draping from the floor, some attached to walls like extraordinary brocade and others like excitingly complex topiaries. 

‘Nature and the American Vision’

Milwaukee Art Museum 

700 N. Art Museum Drive. 

Through May 8

There is a long tradition of landscape painting in America where the representation of place also dives into a sense of mythology and symbolism. This exhibition explores American cultural and national identity through images of the land, and will also features Thomas Cole’s monumental, five-canvas visual commentary on the rise and fall of civilization, The Course of Empire. 

Try San Fran’s Tenderloin — it doesn’t bite

Sometimes sunny and always beautiful, San Francisco is one of the world’s most popular destinations. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the former Alcatraz Prison, there is no end to its famous attractions. Guides will recommend Fisherman’s Wharf (home to a Ben and Jerry’s shop), Chinatown, a walk through Golden Gate Park, a visit to Haight-Ashbury and a ride on a streetcar. 

But so many of the books exclude one essential endeavor: a visit to the Tenderloin. 

There certainly are valid reasons to warn visitors away from the neighborhood. The Tenderloin has a high crime rate and is a notorious hub of prostitution and drugs. But for a cautious traveler who is well-educated about the neighborhood’s problems and who wants more than a walk through the capital of gentrification and overpriced real estate, the Tenderloin should not be missed.

The neighborhood has a fascinating history. In 1966, transgender people initiated one of the first LGBT rights riots in the country — predating Stonewall by three years — at Compton’s Cafeteria. Just down the street, the Black Hawk nightclub hosted many famous jazz musicians, including Miles Davis and David Brubeck, before it was demolished in the early 1970s. 

The neighborhood also was home to the film industry before the business moved south to Los Angeles and the ornate art deco buildings that housed film studios still stand. 

Residents of the Tenderloin have fought to preserve its integrity by adding many buildings to the National Register of HIstoric Places, seeking to prevent the gentrification that has plagued the rest of the city. To walk through the Tenderloin is to feel, smell and breathe history at every turn.

The local government also has worked to improve the lives of the poor or homeless residents of the Tenderloin. A small church near the neighborhood center, smelling strongly of incense, offers homeless people a free place to sleep. Even at midday the pews are usually full of peaceful nappers.

Boeddeker Park, a small green space once riddled with drugs, is now a safe haven for children and elders, with school groups frequently reserving time for classes to play there. Other green things can be seen in the form of potted plants outside apartment buildings, adding pops of color to the streets. 

A “pit stop” carrying Port-A-Johns, sinks and needle disposals parks at a new location every day, alleviating what was once a large problem of public urination and defecation. And a truck comes around daily to remove garbage from the streets, making it one of the cleaner neighborhoods in San Francisco.

All that makes the Tenderloin a unique, safer-than-ever setting for several cultural stops. One is a small gallery called the Luggage Store Gallery, which frequently hosts the work of minority, local and student artists. 

The gallery is located on Market Street and attracts a hustle and bustle of visitors who have just made it off the BART/Bay Area Rapid Transit shuttle. It is marked by a small, barely visible sign on its façade and almost dwarfed by a large camera store, yet it is usually packed to the brim on monthly gallery nights. It offers a grassroots art scene that is a contrast to the commercial art of the downtown galleries just around the corner.

The current show, in fact, is called Gentrified, featuring mixed media works, paintings and installations by a variety of artists reflecting on “life in the inner city, struggles of earning and getting by, keeping pace and staying focused; street life, encountered objects and environments they have interacted with, (and) the daily stop and grind of bodegas/marketplaces.”

A tourist’s next stop might be the newly opened Tenderloin Museum. Take the local-guided tour to learn intriguing details about the neighborhood — the best places to view drag shows or hidden murals like Mona Caron’s Windows Into the Tenderloin. 

The walking tour perfectly complements the museum’s permanent collection, a one-room show of photographs, videos, newspaper clippings and text panels explaining the Tenderloin’s history. The museum also sells art by local artists on a rotating schedule, making it an atypical museum gift shop. 

The Tenderloin will feel most like the Harambee and Riverwest neighborhoods to Milwaukeeans, similarly filled with a mix of historic buildings, a comparatively diverse population and art galleries. In fact, most Milwaukeeans have probably been told to stay away from these neighborhoods for the same reasons guidebooks recommend avoiding the Tenderloin. 

There is nothing wrong with sticking to safe choices when exploring a new city, but it’s important to consider whether we’re limiting our experiences of cities by not stepping off the beaten path from time to time. It’s off that path where you truly learn about a city, and the Tenderloin is key to understanding San Francisco.

Sure, Fisherman’s Wharf is nice. But one can only eat so much Ben and Jerry’s.

Wisconsin is a leader in creating a culture of values around food

Twenty-one years ago, David Kozlowski and his wife Sandra Raduenz were working in dependable corporate jobs with retirement benefits. But the couple — Raduenz in particular — longed for a more meaningful life.

“She went to a conference where they talked about community supported agriculture and she came back and said, ‘I know what I want to be,’” Kozlowski said.

The two purchased a 21-acre farm in Oak Creek, about 20 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. They continued to work at their regular jobs for several years as they gradually built Pinehold Gardens into an organic food enterprise that brought in enough so they could get by on income from  the land alone.

“It sounds kind of hokey but I really did want to make the world a better place, and this seemed like the way to do it … even though we gave up a lot to do it,” Kozlowski said.

At the time they began farming, the swerve in their career paths was considered odd — more like a premise for a TV sitcom than something responsible adults actually do. But the two were on the cutting edge of a cultural phenomenon that is beginning to change the relationship between Americans and their food. 

While organic farms — many of them are small local farms — represent only about 1 percent of all food sales, the industry is growing so rapidly that Big Ag, in collusion with corporatists such as the Koch brothers, has launched a propaganda war against them. Big Ag is right to be worried: Organic food sales are growing at double-digit rates, compared with 4–5 percent growth for traditional and industrial farms.

Pinehold Gardens has been successful for mostly a two-person operation. Recently Kozlowski, 60, hired two part-timer workers. The farm also benefits from its 180 member families — people who join the farm each year either for a fee or by providing labor. In return, they receive a box of vegetables weekly for 18 to 24 weeks, depending on the length and success of the growing season.

Such arrangements are known as community supported agriculture. 

“We think there’s a lot of benefits to both farmers and consumers vis-a-vis CSAs,” said Anne Alonzo, who leads the United States Department of Agriculture’s  Agricultural Marketing Service. “Farmers can distribute their products during the hours that work for them and they receive payment for the products early in the season, which helps the farms’ economic planning. And this gives consumers access to … a wide variety of fresh, local food.”

Food and values

“People sign up because they want to get their food locally and find out who’s growing it,” Kozlowski said. “They want their food grown organically and they want the sense of belonging to a community. It’s almost like being part of a religious community.”

Kozlowski’s allusion to religious overtones is not an exaggeration. At a recent meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago, Ion Vasi, an associate professor at the University of Iowa’s Department of Sociology, presented a report that came to essentially the same conclusion.

Vasi and his researchers found that more Americans than ever are shopping at farmers markets, and they’re also joining food co-ops in record numbers. These shoppers want fresh food untainted with GMOs, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

They also want something much more profound, Vasi found: to feel a part of something greater than themselves, part of a community that shares their passion for a healthy lifestyle and a sustainable environment.

“It’s about valuing the relationship with the farmers and people who produce the food and believing that how they produce the food aligns with your personal values,” Vasi said in a news statement.

Locavores — people who support the local, largely organic food movement — also believe they’re performing a civic duty, an act to preserve their local economy against the threats of globalization and big-box stores, Vasi said.

“It’s not just about the economical exchange; it’s a relational and ideological exchange as well,” he said.

The UI study concluded that the local food market is what sociologists call a “moralized market” — a market in which people combine economic activities with their social values.

Locavores bond with farmers at weekend open-air markets and, increasingly, visits to local farms. “All the farms we know open their gates to the community either all the time or at certain times of the year,” Kozlowski said.

Pinehold Gardens has a market stand where people can buy produce on the farm. Business at the stand has doubled in the past two years, Kozlowski said.

He and other farmers also serve dinners on their farms. Local chiefs are invited to prepare the meals, using only ingredients raised on the farm or at farms nearby. Kozlowski is doing two dinners this year, each for 100 people. The first, a fundraiser for Milwaukee Public Television, sold out in one day — the second in three days.

“You have to wonder why people would want to eat food outside when they could go to a nice restaurant,” Kozlowski said, “but it’s a very popular concept. They must want a connection with the farm, otherwise it defies reason.” 

Wisconsin at forefront

Like Kozlowski and Radeunz, the state of Wisconsin was a so-called “early adopter” of the local organic food movement. The state has the largest organic dairy co-op in the world, Organic Valley, as well as the nation’s largest producer-only (no resale) farmers market — Dane County Farmers Market in Madison.

The state has the eighth largest number of farmers markets in the nation, which says something heartening about Wisconsin: Among their findings, UI researchers discovered that local food markets are more likely to develop in areas where residents have a strong commitment to civic participation, health and the environment.

Nationwide, the number of farmers markets registered with the USDA grew from about 3,700 in 2004 to 8,268 in 2014. In Wisconsin, the number of markets grew from 170 to 295 during that time.

Wisconsin also hosts North America’s largest organic farming conference in La Crosse every year. The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, better known as MOSES, puts on the conference. When Kozlowski first attended, it was only a few years old and attracted about 200 people, most of whom he described as “back-to-lander hippies.” This year, more than 3,500 people attended, representing all generations, races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, sexual orientations and gender identities, said MOSES communication director Audrey Alwell.

“The movement has support from such a broad base because people are fed up with what they’re being fed,” Alwell said.

Kozlowski said it’s uplifting to see so many young people at recent conferences. He wants the movement he’s been part of developing to take root here and all over the world.

“It’s a mind-blower to go to the conference that used to be full of old hippie wannabes and see all the young folks using their smartphones and texting each other — even when they’re sitting at the same table,” he said. “I’m tickled pink.”

Alwell said it made her day when she read a Facebook post by a young farmer who won a scholarship to attend the conference: “I’m going to the mother ship,” he bragged.

Like Kozlowski, she wants more and more farmers to continue adopting the high standards required for USDA certification as an organic farm. Those include waiting for three years before planting to get toxins out of the soil — an expensive proposition. The government provides assistance to organic farmers, but the first phase inevitably involves financial sacrifice.

Farming without pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, which are made partly from fossil fuels, also is more costly. So is buying seeds that don’t contain GMOs and leaving natural buffers around the farms to support local wildlife while preventing contamination from nearby farms.

Although expensive to achieve, the environmental sustainability of organically grown foods is the primary draw for young people. Organic farmers feel so strongly about the rightness of their industry that there’s an emerging trend of farmers putting aside a portion of their earnings for research and promotion, Alwell said.

Small farmers in the state are assisted in marketing their products by the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, which is working to establish a unique brand identity for the state’s organic industry.

Co-ops

The market for organic food now outstrips demand, according to several industry sources. Despite that and despite the greater expense of farming organically, consumer prices actually are coming down, due to growing competition and ever-improving farming techniques. 

“About two or three years ago there was a bubble, where the prices started to change,” said Shelly McClone, inventory coordinator for Milwaukee’s Riverwest Co-op Grocery and Café. Better pricing and all the buzz about the health benefits of eating organic have compelled mainstream supermarkets to add organic aisles that are growing in popularity with conventional shoppers.

Even though supermarkets are trying to cash in on the trend, co-ops remain a primary avenue connecting consumers with local food producers. Because co-ops are nearly synonymous with the organic food scene, customers get a sense of connection with the movement by shopping at them. For some people with back-to-the-land longings, co-ops and farmers markets are the closest they can get to interacting with the land, Kozlowski said.

McClone purchases from many urban farms and tries to remain within a 100-mile radius in sourcing products. When she does have to go outside the area to buy items such as avocados and bananas, she only does business with organic farmers.

Whenever possible, she also purchases food from nonprofits such as Milwaukee’s Walnut Way.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension in Waukesha offers a master gardener program that is helping to turn out new local farmers all the time, McClone added.

Pushback

Despite its 99-percent market advantage over organic farmers, Big Ag is showing signs of feeling threatened.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting published an article last summer documenting a growing anti-organic food narrative that’s appearing in the media. But the article also reported its discovery that “the anti-organic narrative did not arise organically.” The authors connected the dots between the naysayers quoted in the articles and front groups for  Big Ag as well as researchers who’ve received funding directly from industrial farm and chemical interests.

The writers of the articles either ignored or didn’t know about meta studies and peer-reviewed research that conclusively contradict their criticisms.

The anti-organic writers also go out of their way to ridicule the local organic food movement. An article in the New York Post quoted a source who talked about the growing phenomenon of the “organic mommy mafia” — crazy mothers who buy organic food for their children and shame moms who don’t. The source was the director of the Culture of Alarmism Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. It turned out that’s a right-wing foundation funded by corporatists such as the Koch brothers, who own Koch Ag & Energy Solutions. Biotechnology and chemical companies have a lot to lose from the ascension of organic foods.

Although the anti-organic spin machine is likely to ramp up, it doesn’t appear to be affecting people in Wisconsin. Kozlowski said he’s seeing new faces at his farm stand that are unlike the ones he saw in the past.

“They’re not the urban, progressive, Birkenstock-wearing people,” he said. “They’re the people who usually shop at the big grocery stores. They’re coming out here, and they’re coming out again. That’s a good sign.”

‘Print Tsunami’ illustrates Japanese influences on European art movements

Life imitates art, as Oscar Wilde so famously said.

But Andrew Stevens, print curator for the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW-Madison campus, knows art also imitates itself. An upcoming exhibition at the Chazen clearly illustrates how the expressive forms of one culture permeated the cultural consciousness of another.

Print Tsunami: Japonisme and Paris, which opens July 3 in the Chazen’s Leslie and Johanna Garfield Galleries, chronicles the profound influence of Japanese prints on European art, especially printmakers, of the late 19th century.

The exhibition, which Stevens curated, compares prints of both Japanese and European origin. The goal of the exhibit is to suggest the influence of Japanese art by comparing it to its often better-known European counterparts, he explains.

The influence of Japanese prints was felt throughout Europe but Paris was its epicenter. Artists of all nationalities working in the French capital were touched by the artistic aesthetic of Japanese prints, Stevens says.

“Like many artists who borrow elements, they aren’t very true to their source material,” says Stevens, who has curated the Chazen’s large collection for 27 years. “But they are interested in the shapes and colors and want to take them in new directions.”

One of the reasons Paris was ground zero for Japanese prints had to do with art dealer Siegfried Bing, at the time Europe’s largest importer of the prints. Bing’s gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau — the name of which was appropriated for the French “Art Nouveau” movement — was one of several the entrepreneur owned that flooded the Parisian market with Japanese prints.

Unusual subject matter and colors both vibrant and subtle characterized Japanese prints of the time, Stevens says. Despite the fact that their texts were impenetrable and their stories unfamiliar, the prints hinted at a rich culture of artists who had approached the same problems of composition, color and material as artists in Europe, but had come up with altogether different solutions, according to the Chazen’s website.

Some also postulate that the Japanese influence helped give rise to the European Impressionist movement, a claim that Stevens does not fully embrace.

“I have certainly heard that argument and it may have had some impact, but I have a very difficult time with that because they use color very differently,” Stevens says. “But while artists were experimenting with the various effects of Impressionism, people started looking at the Japanese prints, which were very different from European art.”

Print Tsunami draws its material from the Chazen’s vast collection of some 4,000 Japanese prints and 8,000 European prints, barely scratching the collection’s surface, Stevens says. What’s on display has been carefully chosen to compare content and technique.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s well-known print of can-can dancer Jane Avril appears to draw some of its detail from an obscure and tiny Japanese print of a boatman crossing a river, Stevens says. In the foreground of Toulouse-Lautrec’s print, a hairy hand clutches the neck of a bass violin, whose delicate curve draws the viewers’ eyes up into the central subject matter. In a compared Japanese print by Utagawa Hiroshige, a pastoral scene of water, boats and shoreline, a boatman’s similarly hairy arm and leg curve to the left, a counterpoint to the right-curving bass violin.

“I am very interested in the work of the two artists, and this is an almost perfect mirror-image representation by one of the other,” Stevens said.

The Chazen’s extensive collection of Japanese prints comes with its own interesting backstory that involves another famous, albeit homegrown, artist in his own medium. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright also was bitten by the Japanese print bug and amassed a large collection of his own. 

But the world-renowned architect also was famous locally for not paying his bills. When Wright defaulted on a loan to First Bank of Wisconsin, he was forced to surrender his collection of 4,000 prints, which he had put up as collateral, and they became the property of the bank.

The prints were purchased by mathematician Edward Burr Van Vleck, a major collector who once taught at UW-Madison. His son John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, a Madison professor in physics and mathematics who won the 1977 Nobel Prize in physics, donated the prints to the Chazen upon his father’s death in 1943.

Although considered a fad by many at the time of their arrival in Europe, Japanese prints continue to influence to this day, Stevens maintains.

“My wife and I were walking to campus earlier this week and we found ourselves behind a young woman wearing a skirt which had elements of Katsushika Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ printed on it,” Stevens says. “That’s arguably the world’s best-known Japanese print, and I think it shows that the style is here to stay.”

ON DISPLAY

Print Tsunami: Japonisme and Paris runs July 3 to Aug. 23 at the Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave., on the UW-Madison campus. For more information, visit chazen.wisc.edu.