New Life for One Brooklyn Church

Rainwater, snow and wind swept through the broken stained glass windows at Rugged Cross Baptist Church for years. Plaster on the walls crumbled, exposing some of the wooden beams that held up the nearly 100-year-old structure.

Rugged Cross Church Interior

Church interior being restored

“When we moved here it was beautiful, but as the years went by, it deteriorated,” explains parishioner Maggie Daughtry, who joined the congregation in 1982.

But now, the church, which sits just off the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Patchen Avenue in Brooklyn, is undergoing some major changes.

With public funding and help from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the religious institution is being restored as part of the conservancy’s Sacred Sites program, which aims to restore houses of worship across New York State.

Rugged Cross Church

Birds nests previously occupied this area.

The non-profit group learned of the crumbling church when, six years ago, the church’s pastor, Rev. Emma Knox called for help.

“They called our preservation hotline because they had an altar window with a crucifix and the upper half of Jesus was literally failing out of the building,” recalls Ann Friedman, director of the Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program.

Leaks in the church’s ceiling were damaging its original gas light fixtures and a bronze lectern, Friedman explains.

After visiting the site, the Landmarks Conservancy awarded the church a $70,000 grant for its restoration.

Altar area still undergoing restoration

The exterior has now been restored, but Mohamed Patwary, the contractor in charge of the restoration, says he and his 11 workers have a month of work left to do on the interior, including plastering and painting the ceiling.

“But Jesus is back in the building,” Friedman says.

By July, services now held in a carpeted room with metal chairs in the basement, will return to their rightful, light-filled space.

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Hamilton’s New York Home Wins Preservation Award

Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, made a home in Harlem in 1802. And just this past year, his residence was relocated and restored as a national memorial known as Hamilton Grange.

Photo Courtesy NPS.gov

“It serves as a fitting tribute to the architect of our national government,” says Shirley McKinney, superintendent of Hamilton Grange.

And it’s a tribute deemed fit enough for the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy as well. The site received the award at the conservancy’s annual awards ceremony held last month at the New York Historical Society.

“The home is a beloved part of the community and we have heard from many of our neighbors and visitors how impressed they are with the quality of the restoration,” McKinney says.

Photo Courtesy NPS.gov

Before its restoration began, the home was actually moved from 287 Convent Avenue at 141st Street in Manhattan two blocks overto the northwest corner of St. Nicholas Park at 141st Street. In June of 2008, restoration began, but while it was opened to the public again last fall, the grange is still being improved.

Just recently, the home added replicas of the dining room chairs that Alexander Hamilton actually owned, according to McKinney.

Later this year, Hamilton Grange will add an audio tour and interactive exhibit as well.

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Landmarks Conservancy President Aims to Restore Ellis Island

A descendent of Irish citizens who suffered through famine, Peg Breen, a New Yorker, understands how Ellis Island offered hope to new immigrants and opened a door to health, wealth and opportunity. She still gets teary-eyed when she visits, she says.

Peg Breen (right) with engineer Robert Silman. Courtesy: nylandmarks.org

Breen is the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, but also serves on the board of Save Ellis Island, a nonprofit group devoted to restoring structures and celebrating the historical value of the island. About one in ten Americans has a family member who passed through Ellis Island, Breen notes.

And the Landmarks Conservancy, under Breen’s advisement, has been doing its part to give the island landmark its proper respect.

The group has funded building stabilization projects on the island and is working to turn an abandoned hospital there into a place of reflection, where visitors can stand in the place where a sick immigrant once stood, hoping to be healthy enough to gain entry to America, Breen explains.

“I think we were instrumental in telling the story and getting those buildings to where they are now,” Breen says.

Save Ellis Island has been in talks with the National Parks Service to get more funding to restore structures on the Island.

Courtesy: Ellis Island National Monument

“It’s been admittedly somewhat frustrating with this group to work out an agreement with the National Park Service,” says Breen. Red tape from concerns about public-private partnerships funding the Ellis Island restoration are preventing full parks service support, and therefore adequate government funding.

“I think it’s an island we should be proud of and it deserves respect,” Breen says.

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Is Traditional Film Criticism On The Verge Of Extinction?

There was a time in which film criticism really mattered. On the 1950′s, It mattered to the point that a bunch of French critics were capable of changing the future of cinema forever. Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Chabrol… they all started reviewing films for Cahiers du Cinéma before directing movies. Their theories about the role of the director and the importance of the mise en scène in a movie contributed to change people’s perception towards the medium: cinema was no longer just an entertainment, it was an art form.

Nowadays, movie critics don’t seem so relevant. Or at least they seem to have lost their touch with the general public. A film like The Hangover Part II scored 44 percent on Metacritic and 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and still made $85 million on the box office in its first week. Those two sites compile the reviews of the most prominent critics from all over the country. On the other hand, a site which only compiles fan votes like imdb.com, rewards the same movie with a 7 out of 10.

From a professional point of view, critics are not living through their best period either. On 2006, Sean P. Means, movie critic for The Salt Lake Tribune, began compiling on his blog a list of colleagues that have lost their jobs in print outlets all over the country. By the time of his last entry, on May 2009, just a month before the official end of the recession, he had on record 55 American film critics that ceased holding their positions in between that three year period for various reasons.

Since then, more film critics have been losing their jobs. The most notable probably is Todd McCarthy, who was fired last year from Variety after 31 years working for it as chief movie critic. The magazine, which has the honor of publishing the first movie review in history in 1907, decided to cut costs and move on to freelance reviews instead.

All these arguments point towards one question: Is there a future for traditional film criticism? I decided to give a voice to three movie critics from three different print outlets and let them try and answer it.

Lisa Kennedy (Denver Post)

Amy Biancolli (Houston Chronicle, member of the Houston Film Critic Society)

James Verniere (Boston Herald, member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics)

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Think You Know How To Dance? You’re Probably Wrong (Update)

I changed the design of the quiz to make it a little more animated. I also reworded some of the questions to make them a little more understandable. I also added two more sources to the blog post so it talks a little more about copyright in dance.

Photo courtesy of purpleslog

Go to any Sweet Sixteen, Bar Mitzvah or wedding this summer and you’ll undoubtedly get a chance to do the Electric Slide or the Hokey Pokey or The Chicken Dance. But be careful you don’t miss any steps or Richard Silver will be after you.

In 2007,  Silver, the creator of the Electric Slide, cracked down on those doing the dance wrong. He said there were thousands of videos online of people doing the wrong version of the Electric Slide. He owned the copyright to the dance and had been writing web sites, threatening to sue if the missteps were not removed.

Though it seems a little farfetched that you could sue someone for doing a dance wrong, according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act rights-holders can complain to services like YouTube that content uploaded by users infringes their copyrights.

Most people are aware that they are doing something illegal when they upload a pirated movie, but have no idea they could be forced to take down a video of their family. But maybe even more importantly, a lot of these people don’t realize they’re doing these dances wrong.

“Ballet is very specific, but something like the Electric Slide doesn’t seem like it should be,” Desiree Duarte, a former Broadway dancer, said. “When you’re dancing at a party you shouldn’t be worried about counting your steps.”

Duarte, who now teaches dance at Art House Astoria in Queens, admits as a choreographer it can be frustrating, especially when choreographers get little credit for the dances they create.

Just like a work of art, a work of dance performed by a dance company can be copyrighted, but dances performed by a single person such as The Robot, which Silver also claims to have created, as of now cannot be copyrighted.

In an article by Julie Van Camp, she explains that the definition of a “choreographic work” has never clearly been defined by the Federal Copyright Law of 1976 making it hard for choreographers to know whether their works qualify. Currently the definition the courts uphold excludes purely social and recreational dances like those you perform at a family gathering. Silver’s Electric Slide is an exception since it was originally performed by a company of dancers for a nightclub opening.

On February 16, 2011, the Electric Slide was legally claimed by Ric Silver under the seal of Copyright Office. Though he is now receiving compensation for anyone wanting to use his dance, he still spends his time correcting those doing his dance wrong.  Tina Williams, owner and director of Precise Dance Studio in Woodside Queens stands behind what he is trying to do. As a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company she took pride in the works that were created and how they were created.

“These works didn’t come from thin air, someone worked to make them just right,” she says.

Though Williams admits she doesn’t actually know how many steps are in the Electric Slide (there are 22 total) she thinks it is important to stress the purity of these dances. “Someone worked hard to make these dances we know and love,” she says. “Now we just have to make sure they’re doing them right.”

 

How well do you really know your favorite party dances? Take the quiz and find out!

 

 

 

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In the High- Low Debate, Graffiti Art Once Again in the Spotlight

When the exhibit “Art in the Streets” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles last month, it rekindled the age old debate of graffiti-as-art versus graffiti-as-vandalism.  Billed as the “first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art,” by MOCA’s newly appointed director Jeffery Deitch, the exhibit traces the development of graffiti and street art from the 1970’s through today.  The exhibit itself has been subject to various controversies,  to concern from the LAPD that the show sanctions the illegal destruction of property; to backlash from within the art community for commodifying the subculture.

Since the MOCA show is receiving so much attention, I decided that for this post I would gather a handful of articles that either give an overview of, or cover interesting recent developments in the realm of graffiti and street art.

‘The History of American Graffiti’: From Subway Car to Gallery Looking for an overview of the history I came across this short video on PBS Newshour,  in which the authors of  the book “The History of American Graffiti” provide a brief intro and historical context for graffiti and street art. They also and reflect briefly on the relocation of the art form, from the street into the gallery. This is a quick and easy intro for those unfamiliar with the story of how street art came to be one of the hippest global movements of our time.

Graffiti in its Own Words by Dimitri Ehrlich and Gregor Ehrlich, New York Magazine. This article is fantastic because of its many primary sources. Page one gives a brief introduction of the history of the artform. The following pages are a partial transcript of  graffiti ‘writers,’ and writers, filmmakers and historians in conversation as they present a timeline of the movement ranging from 1969 through 2006.

‘Taki 183′ Spawns Pen Pals There was no byline for this July 21, 1971 article cited as the first profile written on a graffiti artist. In 1971, Taki 183 was a seventeen year old from Washington Heights who gained notoriety for scrawling his name and street number in bold marker just about everywhere he went. The article names a handful of imitators, who only increased in number after this article’s publication. New York Times online subscribers can download the original article in pdf form here.

Subway-style Graffiti’s Shift to Canvas This 2006 review  the Brooklyn Museum’s show “Graffiti” by Ken Johnoson of the New York Times also manages to give a concise overview of graffiti’s shift from low to high- or street to gallery.

High-Tech Graffiti: Spray Paint Is So 20th Century Geeta Dayal, New York Times Like every other branch of art and culture, graffiti too has been changed by technology.  At the most basic level, the internet has provided a forum for graffiti artists to showcase their work and exchange techniques. However, this article profiles Evan Roth and James Powderly creators of the Graffiti Research Lab, who began using digital technology not just only to document street art, but to create it. Using techniques that include launching magnetized battery powered L.E.D. lights or “throwies” up on city walls, to writing software used to project digital murals onto city walls, this article explains how artists are bringing graffiti art into the 21st century.

Street Art Way Below the Street by Jasper Rees, New York Times When a subculture becomes part of the mainstream, or worse, is picked up by consumer culture and commidified, those who remain true to the form’s underground roots try reclaim them by further pushing the genre’s original boundaries. In 2010, a group of graffiti artists attempted to reclaim the lost days of risk and adventure through the Underbelly Project- a secret ‘exhibition’ of graffiti art in an undisclosed location, somewhere within the tunnels of the MTA.

Bonus: Broken Windows By George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson                               This 1982 Atlantic article by criminologists Wilson and Kelling became the basis for the Broken Window Theory—which suggests that actions like painting over graffiti, maintaining well groomed buildings (i.e. fixing broken windows and the like) and clean streets and parks and cracking down on petty street crime such as panhandling—as a means of lowering the crime rate. It is often cited in articles and debates about graffiti and street art, and is useful background knowledge for those engaged in the debate about the virtues or detriments of graffiti and street art.

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Music and Technology: The Legitimacy of Sampling

For centuries, artists have been stealing from other artists in order to create “new,” “original” works. The sampler began to enter American music in serious way in the 1960s and 1970s (at the time it was big and giant and scary: now it is sleek and cool). The machine allowed artists to record pieces of music from other musicians’’ works and then play them back and manipulate them as an sort of instrumental part of their own works.

Initially, artists who used sampling cruised under the radar because they weren’t making copious amounts of money off of the works, but soon, some of these musicians starting seeing some serious financial returns. That’s when industry people started getting angry and the lawsuits began to role in (think Danger Mouse).

I’ve complied a list of documentaries, articles, and websites that address this tangle of technology, music, artistic license, and law. Scroll through the links and try to make up your own decision. Is sampling a 21st century version of the “stealing” that musicians have been doing for centuries, or is it more complicated, less creatively legitimate, and more ethically dangerous.

  • Good Copy Bad Copy: Here is a link to a full documentary that explores issues surrounding copyright and sampling. It’s a natural sound piece (there is no narration), and so the interviewed musicians tell the story. Girl Talk (Greg Gillis) plays a large roll in the piece. I was particularly interested in his arguments regarding the legality of his own music. Danger Mouse, creator of The Gray Album, is also interviewed about his EMI lawsuit.
  • Zero G Limited: Zero G Limited is a UK company that offers hundreds of “original” sample CDs filled with breakbeats that artists can incorporate into their own music. You can experiment with the box in the upper left hand corner of the website to find specific types of breakbeats. I found it fascinating that Zero G is able to stay in business by mass-producing only a few measures of music at a time. The situation begs for a dialogue regarding whether this is art or an electronic assembly line of manufactured music.
  • The History of the Amen Break: This mini documentary created in 2004 by artist and writer Nate Harrison, gave me the basis for my technology & music presentation. The video breaks down the importance of this 6 second break on American popular culture, beginning with the release of The Winstons‘ Single Amen Brother, all the way up to NWA’s hit Straight Out of Compton. Harrison is a bit pessimistic in his view of how sampling will ultimately fit into American culture (I’m see the chance for a more positive outcome), but the video is detailed and clever. It’s a great history lesson on the evolution of breakbeat.
  • Amen Break Database: I highlighted this website it my class presentation. It alphabetically lists many 20th and 21st century songs that incorporate the Amen Break. It’s illuminating to scroll through the site and to see just how prevalent this one sample has become in American popular music.

  • From Mozart to Hip-Hop: The Impact of Bridgeport v Dimension Films: Lauren Fontein Brandes’ wrote this thesis on digital sampling as a thesis while she was a law student at UCLA. The text is available on LexisNexis. The piece centers on the 2005 lawsuit of Bridgeport v Dimension Films—a case that ominously ruled that no samples (no matter how short) could be used in new productions. Also, the introduction is particularly interesting because she addresses the fact that musicians have been “borrowing” (or stealing) from one another for centuries and discusses whether or not modern day sampling is really all that different.

  • A New History of Jazz: In preparing for my presentation, I also checked out this book by Alyn Shipton. Shipton traces jazz music back to its roots in West Africa. It was really cool to see how one genre of music can grow into another. Again, like Brandes’ piece, it encourages thought regarding how different this “natural” process of musical influence is from the electronic process of digital sampling. 

 

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Food Writing To Chew On

Cakes in Cuba

Food writing has been getting a lot of action this spring. Between the James Beard award’s recognition of food journalism and the Future of Food conference held by the Washington Post, it’s pretty clear that writing about food culture has finally arrived to popular discourse.  But food is still a really touchy subject for many Americans, and we all know that we don’t like to be told what to eat, even if it’s good for us.  This list is by no means exhaustive, especially since the body of food writing has gotten quite robust over the past few years.  These are pieces that have helped me think about food writing, food culture and how the conversation is ebbing and flowing everyday:

  • This article about Julia Childs by Micheal Pollan, seriously blew my mind when I read it a few summers ago.  I don’t think I thought about food like this before I read this piece.  It really caused me to think critically about the connections between pop culture and food and how the two interlace with politics.
  • All hail the almighty lobster!  I came across this piece in researching my high and low presentation found it a really great breakdown of the crustaceans rise to the top. Unfortunately because of the paywall you can’t access this but here is the title should you want to search it: “How lobster went up in the world” by Henderson, Mark (October 24, 2005). London: The Times.
  • I used “Dining through the Decades” for a lot of my research on the history of food in the US in the 20th century.  This piece does an exhaustive job going through the greatest hits in food and it’s evolution over the decades.
  • What Food Says about Class in America:” was also a piece I looked at not because I didn’t already know what this piece was going to say, but because I wanted to know what people have been reading in mainstream media.  It’s not all that nuanced in the way it very simply breaks the conversation but there are a lot of people that feel this way about the current food talk.  Likewise the “10 things that changed the way we eat” kind of obvious if you know anything about food, but a good way to look at as a food writer.
  • This piece: “Why being a foodie isn’t elitist” came out the day after I did my high and low presentation. It always makes me pleased to find things in print that back up my theories, but it also made me realize that again, the conversation about food isn’t just about what’s for dinner.  Food for Americans are a central part of identity, nourishment and for many a source of income.
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The Long Lasting Battle Against Online Movie Piracy

Two months ago, Chris Dodd, the newly appointed CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), dedicated his first speech since he took his seat to the dangers of online movie piracy, according to Jennifer Martinez of politico.com. Dodd called it the “single greatest threat” to the film industry and he added that the major part of his job will be “to passionately fight back, not only for an industry, but more importantly for the people who make their living in this industry.”

Coincidentally or not, just a few weeks ago, an independent film company called Nu Image, backed by the U.S. Copyright Group, announced the biggest file-sharing lawsuit ever in the history of this country. More than 23,000 IP addresses have been cited for illegally downloading by bit-torrent the Sylvester Stallone’s movie “The Expendables”. According to the Hollywood Reporter, a federal judge is allowing the plaintiff to subpoena Internet Service Providers to identify the customers behind each IP address.

Once identified, these customers will face legal action. In case you are worried you may be involved in this lawsuit, you can check if your Ip is being targeted using this tool provided by Wired. If you find out that you are, check this faq provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to know what to do next.

What this would mean to the future of online movie piracy is not yet clear. As Ted Johnson from Variety points out in his article “Peeving individual pirates has its price,” initiatives like the one taken by Nu Image “has largely been abandoned by the major studios because of the legal morass involved and because of the public-relations peril.”

The big battle against online piracy needs to be fought from Washington, politicians seem to think. Democratic and Republican Senate Judiciary Committee leaders introduced last week a bill that aims to prosecute websites dedicated to the sale of counterfeit products, including movies and television shows, Los Angeles Times reports. “This legislation will protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and creating content and will protect the jobs associated with those investments,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), who introduced the bill.

This bill, of course, has found friends and foes on the Internet. Andrew Keen from the ArtLab blog pinpoints his views right on his headline “There’s no excuse for digital piracy, thanks to online services like Netflix.” Keener describes Leahy’s bill as a “good first step”. “Rather than going after little old ladies “guilty” of shoplifting the odd song with ridiculously excessive fines, the act seeks to shutter businesses designed exclusively around the illegal distribution of intellectual content,” he writes. Keener added that the $7,99 a month deals for streaming movies offered by both Netflix and Hulu should be enough argument to put an end to movie piracy once and for all.

Larry Downes from CNET wrote a story representing the other side with a headline that again says it all: “Leahy’s Protect IP bill even worse than COICA.” In it, Downes basically compiles all the criticism the new bill has generated and also explains in detail its most controversial clauses. “Preemptively shuttering a Web site is certainly one way to curb illegal distribution of copyrighted materials and black market goods, but many see it as a blunt instrument that could ban other, legal content on the site,” writes Downes.

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The New Celebrity

Bryan Boy's recently signed with Hollywood "heavy weight" talent agency, CAA

It is no surprise that fashion bloggers have increased their trend prediction power, compared to their traditional magazine counterpart,  mostly due to the rapid dissemination of information that is organic to reporting on line.

Power players like Scott Schuman, aka, The Sartorialist, and Susie Bubble, founder of StyleBubble.com, or even the internet’s newest fashion-ista star, Bryan Boy, receive several thousands of hits per day, catapulting their fashion blogs to celebrity status.

In an effort to harbor some celebrity status for their names, not just their URLs, fashion bloggers are now turning to talent agencies to promote the writer behind the words.

MOD TV’s recent report on Bryan Boy’s signing with CAA Talent Agency showcases the powerful synergy between blogger and brand ambassador like CAA, an agency that represents mainstream celebrities like Oprah, Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise.

Forbes’ 2010 story about the Rise of the Fashion Blogger details the new found fame and power online fashion trend writers have, including the ability to influence fashion designers.

Taking to the web, traditional magazine fashion editor Jane Pratt makes her move to the web. The New York Times Article shows how traditional fashion editors re-invent themselves in the digital age.

The Independent Fashion Bloggers website posted a video discussion about the rise of the fashion blogger. The panel was divided on their views but one consensus is that the future of the celebrity blogger is a growing trend.

MYFDBlog posted the pressure for famous fashion bloggers to stay famous. They must blog, blog blog, all day long to stay on top.

 

 

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