Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Meet the Stars of Chicagoland: CIW Co-op Member and Speaker Imran Khan

CIW Co-op Member and 2013 speaker Imran Khan has been providing unique educational opportunities to Chicago’s low-income students since he started teaching at Englewood’s Harper High School five years ago.  His organization, EMBARC, takes low-income students to communities they may otherwise not have access to, providing students a concrete view of what they can achieve.  Now serving hundreds of students across the city, EMBARC is shown as a positive force for social change in this Thursday’s episode of CNN’s Chicagoland.  Khan talked to us about how he hopes organizations like EMBARC can break Chicago’s cycle of violence and poverty.
Imran Khan took the CIW stage to describe EMBARC's experiential approach to education.
 Chicagoland points to EMBARC as an organization that is helping build bridges across communities in a city that, CNN points out, is plagued by gun violence.  What role do you think EMBARC plays in changing Chicago for the better?   
Part of what Chicagoland was doing was to address some of the serious issues that Chicago faces.  Basically, what’s happening in the city and how is it moving forward.  Who are the major [players] in the city in creating a brighter future for the city?

One of the things [EMBARC brings] is that we are looking at education in a new lens.  So, as we look at our city’s future and we think about all of our city’s issues and problems—especially violence and crime—and we ask ourselves, “What is the root cause of these problems?  Why are they occurring? How do we break the cycle?”  I think EMBARC adds a very important element to that conversation when it says that in order to break that cycle, we need to start with access to opportunity.  We need to start with desegregating the city.  We need to start with giving kids a pathway to connect with different communities and members throughout the city.  What we do is bring an action plan by working directly in the schools and providing students direct access to different partners throughout the city so they can have those experiences that will catapult them to become successful.  But it also allows all members of the city of Chicago to have those very important experiences meeting those students and traveling to those communities so that they can understand what are the real issues facing our students and how they can help.  Primarily, I think one of the most important things that we’ve done out there is prove that the desire to be successful is universal.  The opportunity to be successful is not.  Through the work of bridging communities and creating more interactions, we are not just proving out that experiential education is one of the fastest ways to get low-income kids to become successful, but we’re also proving that experiential, community-driven education is one of the fastest ways to build a stronger, collective social fabric.

So we take that [philosophy] and turn it into an action plan.  We’re doing it while we’re talking about it.

What effect did Chicago Ideas Week have on EMBARC’s ability to put its philosophy of experiential education into action?
Chicago Ideas Week has been an enormous platform and springboard for us.  It’s connected us to the Chicago community.  We’ve gained board members, we’ve gained funding and we’ve met some really important advocates and ambassadors.  They have given our work a platform to reach an audience and for the city to become aware of some of the important work we’re doing in some of these far-off places that are not so far off.

What do you think of Chicagoland’s take on our city?
There’s been a lot of press around [violence in Chicago].  Then you have Chicagoland which has a similar look in presenting the context and the challenges that are being faced and people who are looking to do something about it.  I think oftentimes the conversation is left at, “Hey, look at all these intense challenges that the city faces.  Look at all these intense challenges that these kids are facing and these people are facing.”  I think that is such a really powerful context and allows people to understand the problem, but once you understand the problem, you need to move to the solution phase.  So, I think it’s important to do things like highlighting particular organizations or particular interventions or particular people that are working really hard to make a change.  I think that oftentimes some of that can be overshadowed by the intensity of the disparity [among people in Chicago], and it makes it almost seem impossible.        

Chicagoland depicts many of our city’s problems—gun violence, a lack of access to equal educational opportunities, etc.  Given that, what is your hope for Chicago moving forward?  What would you like to see change?
I think we have seen tremendously powerful things happen when our city comes together.  I think we see amazingly powerful things happen when two individuals from opposite spectrums of the social and economic strata come together, share experiences, share life stories and build and work together.  We’ve seen tremendous things happen from that connection.  One of the things I want to see especially—not just for Chicago but throughout our country—is the breaking down of these barriers and silos that keep us isolated and separated and that divide our communities.  If we are going to call all of our neighborhoods “Chicago,” then all of it should get the attention.  All of us should have the opportunity.  All of us should have the access that every other part might have.  There should not be disparity, and we should be building and working toward that future.  In that essence, we need an action plan, and we need it to be actually executed and measured, proven and then scaled.  So one of the things I want to see is equity.  When I talk about equity, it’s economic, it’s social and it’s everybody have the right to design our future as a city all together.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Meet the Stars of Chicagoland: 2013 CIW Artist in Residence Hebru Brantley

2013 CIW Artist in Residence Hebru Brantley took inspiration from CIW YOU(th) ambassadors to develop the outdoor art installation “The Watch.”  The creation of the 16-figure art installation—which invited passers-by to Pioneer Court Plaza at 401 North Michigan Ave. to consider Chicago’s inner-city youth—is featured heavily in Thursday’s installment of CNN’s Chicagoland.  We sat down with Brantley to learn more about his experience as artist in residence, what it was like to bring the signature characters of his art—the Fly Boy and Fly Girl—to life in downtown Chicago and how he hopes Chicago will change for the better.
Hebru Brantley stands with the Fly Boys and Fly Girls of "The Watch." 
What was your experience working as CIW’s Artist in Residence and collaborating, in essence, with the CIW YOU(th) ambassadors on “The Watch”?
I think that first and foremost just being given the opportunity to create the project that I did was phenomenal and allowed for a challenge.  [I was able] to create this sort of meaningful installation and activation spaced around something that was very personal for me, which is Chicago’s youth.  I think I pulled a lot from the kids, if not anything more than the strength they have and the power that I don’t think a lot of them really realize that they have.  It is just very inspiring for me to be a part of it, to be around them, to get to know them, to hear their stories and to reaffirm my mission to inspire with my work.  Watching the reactions—not only from the kids that were directly involved in the project but other kids and other adults—was a huge payoff for me.  And it helped me grow as an artist and as a storyteller because of the experience.

What it was it like to translate the story of the Fly Boy and Fly Girl—characters you had created well before your participation in CIW—into the art installation “The Watch”?
It makes it more of a real thing.  When you do sculptures or anything three-dimensional, the scale of what you’re saying and what you’re doing changes.  It grows.  It becomes something you can interact with, whether it is up close and personal.

It’s been a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  When the opportunity came with Chicago Ideas Week, I could take my basic premise and concept and attach it to the mission of CIW.  It worked out sort-of seamlessly.  I always wanted to be able to do public activations.  When you do things of that nature, your work is seen more than it would be in a gallery or a museum.  You have thousands upon thousands of people commuting past these locations every day.  Within their travels, they see at least one or two glimpses.  As an artist, it was always something I wanted to do and raise a call and have a response.  I think for the most part [“The Watch”] was perceived very well.  People got it.

Does any part of your CIW experience stand out to you?
The one that stands out to me the most was one of the YOU(th) ambassadors, Joseph [Jones].  Hearing his story [at the Edison Talks] and being young as he is—commanding the entire auditorium the way that he did caught me off guard.  I was very proud and sad; it took you on a roller coaster of emotion when he was telling his story.  It goes to show you the power in application.  From hearing the stories of how he used to be to where he is now is pretty astonishing.  It goes to the point that these kids are not all lost causes; they just lack certain guidance and certain influence and certain experiences, and once they have it, they can pull off phenomenal feats and conquer a lot of things.  But it takes those people like [Imran] Kahn to find those deemed as lost causes and pull them up a little bit and show them another way.

Chicagoland depicts many of our city’s problems—gun violence, a lack of access to equal educational opportunities, etc.  Given that, what is your hope for Chicago moving forward?  What would you like to see change?
My only one true hope for the city is that the people in Springfield can get their act together and do something about this gun violence, first and foremost.  It is ridiculous, especially given what happened this past Easter weekend.  I think it just needs to start with the gun violence.  When you remove that instantaneous problem solver, you create an opening for a different sort of conflict resolution. 

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

CIW Videos: Chicagoland's Stars Take the CIW Stage

CNN's Chicagoland highlighted the positive impact that CIW has had on Chicago.  But it left us wanting to learn more about the work the members of the CIW community are doing for Chicago and beyond.  From Mayor Rahm Emanuel to Fenger High School Principal Elizabeth Dozier, this list represents some of the best of the best on the CIW stage.

Elizabeth Dozier, "Turnaround Is Possible"

Hebru Brantley, "Speaking to the Canvas"

Imran Khan, "Educating with Experience"

Rahm Emanuel, "The Mayor's Perspective"

Joseph Jones, "Become Who You Are"

Brad Keywell (with Beth Comstock), "Innovation Uncensored"

CIW Videos: Earth Day

It's a beautiful spring day to celebrate Earth!  After you've taken your walk and soaked in the sun, sit down to watch one of our favorite CIW Talks on the environment and all nature has to offer.

Jon Rose, "Do What You Love and Help Along the Way"

2013 Environment Panel, "Climate Change Is Here, Now What?"

Vicki Arroyo, "Life in the New Normal"

Heather Tallis, "The Ponzi Scheme for Managing the Planet"

Peter Byck, "Our Carbon Nation and the Power of Soil"

Robert Kennedy, "Our Environmental Destiny" 

Peter Gleick, "Solutions in a World of Peak Water Limits"

Mitchell Joachim, "Ecological Future Cities"

Wendy Pabich, "Taking on Water"

Colin and Karen Archipley, "From Fighting to Farming"

Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman, "Visualize the Possibilities"

Graham Hill, "Life Edited and the Luxury of Less"

Co-op Member Brenna Hardman's Buy Side Design Spreads Ideas in the Financial Industry

CIW Co-op member Brenna Hardman launched Buy Side Design (BSD) in the summer of 2013 with the goal of increasing transparency and information sharing in the financial industry.  The design firm provides companies with the tools to promote the work they do via videos, websites and other means in an industry that traditionally shies away from cameras and press.
Brenna Hardman got her start as a trader and
broadcaster on the CME floor.
“I’m here to make finance fashionable,” Hardman says of her design goals, adding that she believes BSD’s efforts will help break down “The Great Wall”—as she’s nicknamed it—that stands between the public and those who work in the financial industry.

“I’m finding that there are a lot of unhappy people in the financial industry, and there are a lot of people unhappy with the financial industry.  So, my goal is to change that, and I’m doing it with Buy Side Design,” Hardman said.

Hardman’s experience with the “secretive” financial industry comes first-hand.  Her career started on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) floor, where she worked a dual role as a trader and broadcaster.  After five years at the CME, a bank in the Netherlands recruited her to launch their Chicago media hub.

The job was ultimately unsatisfactory—the company was reticent to promote their work via media channels—but Hardman picked up some graphic design skills, and the idea for her own design and media firm, along the way.

Hardman credits Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) with showing her the full potential of sharing ideas and information both within and across industry.  The seven-day ideas festival, which took place in mid-October 2013, occurred when BSD was still a nascent company.   

“I really think it helped me solidify the reasons why I started Buy Side Design,” Hardman said of CIW, where she attended six talks and began sharing ideas via twitter and other social media platforms.  She left eager to participate in CIW events year-round, spurring her on to apply to the CIW Co-op’s 2014 class.

“What a great group of people to be around,” Hardman said of the Co-op’s 85 members.  “It’s been so incredible just participating in the events of the Co-op so far.”

Hardman has taken this philosophy of open ideas to BSD’s first projects also.  The firm recently used social media and other platforms to lead a local company’s hiring campaign.  Starting with just 40 employees, the company has now grown to nearly 85 with help from BSD.   

Friday, April 18, 2014

CIW Consumables: This Week on the Internet

This week on the Internet, The Atlantic is at it again with its series of stories on gender differences, we remember Gabriel Garcia Marquez's legacy of magical realism and Chicago has found the key to boosting tourism: puppets.

The Confidence Gap. A new study shows women are significantly less self-assured than men, but how do we stop it? And is this really new news at all? 

From YouTube to Spotify, streaming music is piloting our listening habits in fascinating new ways that both upend old hierarchies and recall innovations of previous eras. In the most mind-bogglingly gorgeous and artful way possible, Pitchfork's Eric Harvey explores how these developments are affecting ideas of taste, access and ownership in the 21st century.

Could this puppet attract more tourists to Chicago?  We have to
admit; he is pretty cute.
Yes, you read that correctly. No, we can't totally believe it either. But science is once again rocking our world with the creation of a highly absorbent, biodegradable material called "Hydromash," soon to be used in diapers, tampons and more. 

Coming soon to a city near you. Looking to boost tourism, Chicago's DCASE is working on ensuring the summer of 2016 will be the most entertaining one yet, thanks to French street theatre company Royal de Luxe. 

This week, we're appreciating the life and work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982 and died Thursday at the age of 87. Garcia Marquez, the master of magical realism, was and remains Latin America's best-known writer and the author of such classics as Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude

Our good friends at Table XI will have you booked Tuesday through Thursday evenings with The City of Broad Shoulders, a three-night event coinciding with RailsConf to showcase Chicago's entrepreneurial spirit. Come for the community connections, stay for the cleverly themed parties and  local beverages. We'll see you there!

For those of you celebrating Good Friday: Hot Cross Buns
For those of you celebrating Passover: Join the club.
And for those of you celebrating life: This.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CIW 14 in '14: Chicago Comedian Susan Messing on Seth Meyers, Sasheer Zamata & Colbert's Late Night Gig

There’s no denying that comedy has become an integral part of the cultural conversation this year.  Seth Meyers took over Late Night, Sasheer Zamata joined Saturday Night Live, Broad City and Amy Schumer sparked a discussion of women in comedy and now Stephen Colbert will take over for David Letterman in 2015.  We couldn’t think of anyone with more of a pulse on the comedy scene today than our own CIW 2013 speaker Susan Messing, who is busy teaching classes at DePaul University and the Annoyance Theater, just wrapped up a class at the University of Chicago and has merged her comedy with that of Blaine Swen to create “Blessing,” a Tuesday night show at iO Theater.

Messing discussed two of CIW’s 14 in ’14 nominees, Sasheer Zamata and Seth Meyers, offered her opinions on the announcement that Colbert will replace Letterman and suggested it might be time to finally retire the age-old debate—a debate that just doesn’t seem to go away—about whether woman can be funny.

Sasheer Zamata.
Seth Meyers.

A lot of the conversation has centered around diversity in comedy this year.  Why do you think we’ve seen this conversation this year?
They just have to stop this man and woman thing, and start recognizing that the chicks are as funny as men.  It’s an old, tired conversation that really needs to end.  It’s getting old…when they say, why isn’t there a woman?  There’s Craig Ferguson and [Jimmy] Kimmel and now Seth [Meyers] and Colbert is taking over and Letterman…. Why isn’t this happening more with women?  I don’t know.  I don’t know why they haven’t tapped into that.  They’re dumb that way.  Chelsea Handler shouldn’t be the only woman on TV.

I think everybody feels like, “If a woman couldn’t get it, at least it’s Colbert.”  But I really didn’t even think that way.  The women in my life have given it as hard as they’ve taken it, and they’re awesome.  Maybe it’s just that they’re around me all the time, powerful women, so I don’t see the discrepancy and the disparity as much as other people do…. I don’t know if we have to fight so hard.  I think we’re just exhibiting great work and that’s speaking for itself.
Susan Messing invited CIW attendees to improvise at CIW 2013.

So, we know you didn’t think, “At least it’s Colbert,” when CBS announced him as the next Late Show host. But what was your reaction to the news?
I think there are some people who are upset that they are going to miss him on The Colbert Report and that he’s dropping his persona, but I do believe that’s not going to take away anything that is great about him.  He’s actually a really easy-going and personable human being, and I think it will be a delight to see him be himself.  He was in my [graduating] class at Northwestern, and he’s just consistently been an awesome human being.  So I think he will be very welcoming, and if anyone can take over Letterman, I think it is he.  Letterman was my baby growing up…and that he’s leaving for his own personal reasons in order to get a life is a magnanimous gesture—leave before you suck…. If Letterman has to go, I don’t think there’s a better person.

Some people were saying they wished [Letterman] had been replaced by a woman, and although I’m a big fan of affirmative action and diversity, I can’t be upset if it’s Colbert, not in the slightest.

You mention Letterman’s impact on your own comedic views. Do you think Colbert has the potential to be the same kind of influential force on late night and on television as Letterman?
Yes…sometimes it’s just nice to have a great interview with a nice human being.  I think there’s room for all these guys.  It’s a question of taste at this point, but I don’t think he’ll be swallowed up in a bad way.

I think if David is excited about it, too, that’s pretty exciting.  That’s going to be a welcoming force as opposed to something begrudging.  Letterman gets to leave on his own terms, and he gets to support his successor.  You can’t have a better way to go.

Do you watch the other late night programs?  Have you watched Fallon and Meyers this year?
I especially watch Seth [Meyers] because he is also someone I know.  He’s a really awesome guy, and I love seeing him outside the confines of Weekend Update.  It really was just a natural extension.  It has been a really smooth transition as far as I’m concerned.  I’ve really enjoyed him.   

Wait—how do you know Seth Meyers?
I think he was in one of my improv classes.  I think I taught him.

So, we can credit you with some of Meyers’s success?
No, not at all—not in the slightest.  People like he were fully formed when they started.  He doesn’t seem to have changed a bit…. He’s a terrific guy.  There are interviewers who alienate the people that they interview, and he’s just not one of them.  He’s easy to watch—and so is Colbert.  They’re easy to watch.

You mentioned briefly affirmative action and diversity in light of the call for hiring a woman for The Late Show, and you’ve already offered your opinions on women in comedy.  What do you think of SNL’s hiring of Sasheer Zamata after similar push from the public?
SNL has turned into a real institution, and I guess with that comes the kind of scrutiny that social media now gives itself the right to express.  I think sometimes it’s good; it’s an evolutionary thing.  And sometimes…remember how everyone was getting all upset about how Seinfeld only had men in his car [on his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee]?  I [thought], just leave the guy alone.  Let him interview who he wants.  I feel like [Creator and Executive Producer] Lorne [Michaels] is going to cast who he wants.  If he needs a gentle reminder, so be it.  And I do think that there is a voice that needs to be heard. 

So I think [Sasheer Zamata’s] own work will rest on her own work.  Honestly, her success is going to depend more on whether she aligns herself with good writers or that she’s willing to come up with stuff herself, and if she can stomach being in [the writers’ room] every week…. If she puts her nose to the grindstone and doesn’t look to her right or to her left, hopefully she can make her own name and people won’t say, “Well, she had to be brought in because of affirmative action.”  I think [that’s] erroneous.   I don’t care how she gets there as long as she does, and…I hope she has an easy and joyful ride.

What’s it like watching comedy and comedians as a comedian yourself?  Does it just feel like work, or do you laugh along?
Here’s something weird about comedy: I would rather talk to my friends about their kids.  I’m afraid to sometimes watch them on TV because I’m afraid that inadvertently somehow I will steal their shtick.  And it’s also work for me to watch comedy.

It takes a lot for me to really invest [in a TV show].  For me, it really is work.… I was watching a teeny bit of Portlandia, and it was so disturbing in the best sort of way, that I thought, “Oh, something that I could maybe invest [in].” I could not salute comedians more.  I love them so much; I really do.  I get it—it’s not an easy gig to play the moment instead of the joke, so I get that as well.  But it’s not, “Oh, God, I can’t wait for today’s episode of blank ever.  Ever.”

What’s next on the Chicago comedy scene? What do you see going on here?
We’re comfortably stretching the boundaries here, but I’m noticing more of a trend of people getting ready to take their stuff to LA and sell it…. Now I see people thinking, “Oh, if I create this web series, perhaps it will sell.”  And it really is a way to start a brand new way of accessing Hollywood is by creating your own thing and selling it.  That’s a new gig…. I do believe people far more have an agenda than they used to.

It’s rare that people are doing it just purely to do it, and saying, “Whatever [comes] after this is great.”  And it’s not wrong either—it’s just the way right now the needle is pointing…. So, the evolution really seems to be in the place of selling it.

Q&As are edited for clarity and content.