Mike Scullen's blog

Thoughts from Mongolia - Local Culture as Compared to Others

The following are the words of locally based musician John Hyde, kindly submitted via our comments system.  We are interested to hear your thoughts on this. Comments are open so please take a moment to respond or share similar experiences.

From Oct. 1 to 10 I was lucky enough to be part of the Northern Lights Quartet tour of Mongolia as participants in the second “Giant Steppes Jazz Festival. Members Debra Rasmussen, Keith Smith, Robin Tufts, Bruce Petherick and I performed in a wide variety of venues including a grand performance at the State Opera House in Ulaanbaatar.
Nothing is better for examining one’s own culture as is perspective gained from a distance. The country has a similar climate and population as Southern Alberta but the similarities end there. Mongolia has a GDP of less than 2 billion while Alberta has one of  215 billion plus.
Roads are in bad shape and not keeping pace with an explosion in automobile ownership. The soviet system of central heating for the entire city is breaking down. Yet the Country has an opera orchestra, a symphony orchestra and a professional national folk orchestra all comprised of local residents. The music school is full of happy students and is thriving. Every child born in Mongolia is given a Morin Khuur, the national folk instrument of the country.
 The Mongolian state is emerging from the shadow of the former USSR at a very fast pace. Infrastructure is being built and repaired but Mongolia’s priorities are much different than ours. Rather than first build the buildings and roadways to facilitate daily life they have concentrated energies on the spirit and minds of the people. Literacy is high and the health of cultural programs is high. Ballet and Opera performances far outstrip the number of productions we have in Calgary each year.
State support of music programs is extremely positive. I was impressed daily by the quality of artistry and respect for the arts. Ulaanbaatar has a large conservatory as well as an Opera orchestra, symphony orchestra and many small touring cultural ensembles. I’m sure I saw only the surface. All this in a city with the same population as Calgary and nowhere near the standard of living we enjoy.
The tireless efforts of the city’s arts council are in evidence everywhere and the energy of the performers is inspiring. I performed on a variety of stages not up to the standards we impose or expect in our country. This did not affect the performance of any of the artists I stood with. Each individual seems to carry a passion and spirit wholly devoted to the music. I visited many cultural institutions where there may not have been good infrastructure but it had no consequence to the artists involved. Never again will I complain about a dressing room, green room, loading dock or lack of green smarties in the party tray.
My great grandfather’s house, built in 1885 still stands near Pincher Creek. It is an anomaly in Alberta where we tear down and renovate with the zeal of a crazed warrior. Is it important to build concert halls, new buildings and roads or is it more important to balance infrastructure growth with sustainable culture?
The other difference in Mongolia which I witnessed was the level of responsibility the artists assume. The mister of culture was a former member of Canada’s Cirque du Soleil. We can complain about the state of affairs in our environment or we can take the responsibility for the state of affairs we find ourselves in. If we complain but do not take political action by involving ourselves in public service or writing to our representatives in government we will not see any change in our situation. Mongolian culture has survived and grown through poverty and massive changes in the political system. Surely our democratic system allows us to build something even stronger.



Junior Boys and Ensemble played Broken City last night. Ensemble, based out of Montreal and presumably their first time to our city, used their between song banter to comment about Calgary: "Calgary is a multi-cultural stampede of shock". The following wall of noise (certainly the best of the set) was dedicated to Calgary's cowpoke festival.

Perhaps this shows how visitors bring their preconceived notions to Calgary, but how easily these conceptions are built on by the obvious diversity here.  We need more people to roll through and have similar experiences.

Conference: Technology and the Arts

The goal of Technology in the Arts is to be a resource for the arts community, sparking dialogue around the role of technology in our planning and programming, discussing best practices as well as lessons learned, and providing hands-on, practical skills where possible.

Technology in the Arts will bring together the full spectrum of organizations within the arts, from the local to national levels, to examine the commonalities that exist in useful technologies as well as the opportunities for partnership.


via unmediated 

Roadsworth - delightful or disruptive?

The street artist (in the most literal sense) Roadsworth has been busy with some new projects on the streets of Montreal.

Roadsworth Zipper

The story goes that when Roadsworth (Peter Gibson) was going to be prosecuted for his illicit asphalt graffiti, the public showed their support and the artist got off the hook with some community service (read more on S P A C I N G). Roadsworth now seems to be getting more legitimate commissions. He has recently installed sunflowers at cirque du soleil and lego at the Montreal Palais des Congres. Read more »

Statistics Canada - Daily News RSS

I noticed today that Statistics Canada has a nice RSS notification service so you can keep track of their daily releases.

A list of available feeds can be found at: http://www.statcan.ca/english/dai-quo/rss.htm

Arts and culture is specifically at: http://www.statcan.ca/english/rss/dai-quo/3955.rss

If you don't have a RSS feed aggregator set up, it's a great way to retrieve information from all your favorite sites.  Learn more about RSS here.  Around our office Bloglines is the online aggregation software of choice.

Just look for the handy  , which is the universal icon that denotes the availability of an RSS feed.

Our blog RSS feed is here: http://www.calgaryartsdevelopment.com/?q=blog/feed 

San Jose Semaphore

The Adobe software company has commissioned this interesting public art piece by Ben Rubin. The work combines LEDs, secret codes, and a radio soundtrack.

The work is interactive in that the public is challenged to decode the secret message transmitted by the configuration of the spinning discs.

I think that Calgary could benefit from more public art projects that take advantage of illumination. I was a huge fan of the lights installed under the ice at the Olympic Plaza rink. Our city streets can only benefit from more colourful illumination (take matters into your own hands)

The interactive component to this project is also interesting, although it is not overly engaging unless you're a cryptologist. Urban Screens explores the potential of cultural content exhibited on public displays. I'd love to see the Calgary night illuminated by the projection of images submitted and / or vetted by its citizens.

link Read more »

Viral 2.0: Delivering a Successful Socially Based Events Platform

Previously I had mentioned that Calgary Arts Development is figuring out the best way to deliver a feature rich on-line events listing service to Calgary. The fundamental ideas we're currently basing this project on are strongly influenced by Web 2.0 and the social networking and community building aspects that make up this concept (you can read more about Web 2.0 on the O'Reilly site).

Last year Seth Godin, marketing and Web guru extraordinaire, proposed what makes an idea viral. Guy Kawasaki suggests that this is a good test for ideas based on the Web 2.0 framework where the viral nature of a site will make or break it:

For an idea to be spread, it needs to be sent and received.

No one sends an idea unless:

  1. They understand it.

  2. They want it to spread.

  3. They believe that spreading it will enhance their power (reputation, income, friendships) or their peace of mind.

  4. The effort to send the idea is less than the benefits.

No one “gets” an idea unless:

  1. The first impression demands further investigation.

  2. They already understand the foundation ideas necessary to get the new idea.

  3. They trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time.

Notice that ideas never spread because they are important to the originator.

Notice, too, that a key element in the spreading of the idea is the capsule that contains it. If it’s easy to swallow, tempting, and complete, it’s far more likely to get a good start.

I spent a moment trying to apply this test to the social events portal concept and how well this idea may spread within Calgary: 

I have faith that Calgarians are keen to know about the cultural and arts related happenings in their city and I know that there is currently a void for Calgary event listings on-line.  A simple idea like publishing events listings makes it through this test without any problems, but there is an additional consideration when considering the 'Web 2.0' features in the site. 

I'm worried that adoption rates will be much lower with the participation aspects that go along with socially driven application.   Our stakeholders do not all share their digital assets on the latest Web 2.0 mashup sites (even I really only really participate on flickr).  Can we expect enough buy in; enough people that understand the foundation ideas necessary to want to pass along  the new ideas?

Then again, these kinds of social Internet applications are becoming the norm and you hear people on the bus talking about their Myspace accounts. Not everyone who visits a site needs to contribute information for a Web 2.0 site to be successful.  It is difficult to appeal to everyone but I think that a solid application with user participation will give all our stakeholders a better product and a useful, inclusive system is what is going to make this project go viral.


(Jason Kottke is also talking about this in the context of blogging)

Engage, Innovate, Recycle: Kubik Berlin

Here's an interesting project: A temporary open air music venue in Berlin is constructed from repurposed plastic water tanks. Each tank is lit from within and is on an individual controller to allow for impressive visuals.

Imagine something like this next to the Mattress Factory in Calgary perhaps.


Via We Make Money Not Art 

Events Based Online Social Networks

There has been a proliferation of these services popping up recently:





Calgary is certainly at a point where a service like these, specially tuned to our geography and scene, could be a very useful tool.  Calgary Arts Development is currently exploring the possibilities.  What features do you think are more useful in an event based on-line social network?

Greatness in the Social Sector: Better than Business

Andrew Taylor (The Artful Manager) has written an insightful article in response to Jim Collin's monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors.  He gives a six point alternative to 'running like a business' that raises the bar for arts organizations:

"1. Arts organizations must strive to be better than a business.
Being responsible, accountable, transparent and responsive is the lowest standard we should set for ourselves. Let's be exceptional."

read the rest here: 


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