Monday, January 26, 2015

The Local Look: Sankalpa Yoga Community's Elyse & Joshua Nickell

In June 2014, with the help of local yoga teachers and a successful Kickstarter campaign, avid yoga practitioners Joshua and Elyse Nickell (a yogi herself) created Sankalpa Yoga Community, taking the support of independent yoga teachers as their mission.  Sankalpa relies on local artists for their products, which include yoga mats, iPhone cases and shirts, and the profits go, in part, to Sankalpa's yoga teachers.

We talked to Joshua and Elyse about Sankalpa's start, their love of yoga and what they've learned so far in their roles as CEO and Chief Yogi, respectively.

Elyse and Joshua Nickell turned their passion for yoga into
their own yoga community, Sankalpa Yoga. Photo Credit: Kristie Kahns
Why did you choose Chicago?
Chicago is our home, so starting Sankalpa Yoga here was natural.  We met in a yoga teacher training program at Moksha Yoga Center, a local Chicago studio. Once completing the program, we quickly realized the financial struggle of supporting ourselves as two burgeoning yoga teachers.  Yet yoga teachers have wisdom that is extremely important to share, now more than ever.  We started Sankalpa Yoga to provide a platform for yoga teachers to share their philosophy with the rest of the world through physical product, while also supporting themselves financially.  The local support we have received from yoga teachers, studio owners and artists from Chicago has been invaluable. 

If you could go back in time before you started this project and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?
It's important to put the pencil to paper and get started immediately, rather than concerning myself with having everything perfect.  We’ve had this idea for a couple of years now.  We’ve done great and seen amazing success since we started working on it six months ago, but we likely could’ve made a lot more progress had we started earlier.  

What is your next step?
Grow the business! We wrapped up a successful Kickstarter campaign last month, reaching over 250 percent of our goal.  Our mats are now available for preorder at a discounted rate on the website, and will be in stock and available for sale via our website early March.  We’re also scoping out offline channels to offer our product, including yoga studios, hotel chains, and other health/athletic outlets.  And we’re always scouting for the new yoga teachers and artists to feature, so if you’re interested in becoming the next featured Sankalpa yoga artist or yoga teacher, apply now through our online portals!

Ganesha street art, like the mural pictured here,
can be found in the city of Chicago. Photo Credit: Kristie Kahns.
We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
This piece of Ganesha street art (pictured here) is probably the coolest piece of street art we’ve ever seen! Since we own a company with yoga inspired artwork, it’s about the coolest thing we could imagine.  It’s a little off the beaten track, but it can be found right here in Chicago!  

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chicago Ideas Consumables: This Week on the Internet

Here at Chicago Ideas, we’re constantly reading, researching and consuming—all as we work to put together a stellar lineup of programming.  In Consumables, we share a few of our favorite places on the Internet each week. 

Think we’ve left something out? Share the news, think pieces and trivia that most interested you this week in the comments!

The Wisdom Deficit
High school students today are learning plenty about how to ace an SAT test, but who is teaching them wisdom? Exploring themes complemented by Christian Madsbjerg's CIW 2014 talk, English teacher Michael Godsey explores his role in a system that values technical skills over meaning and values.    
Christian Madsjberg discusses the importance of
philosophy and wisdom in his 2014 CIW Talk.

American Sniper, In Full
As the debate over American Sniper continues, TIME revisited its 2011 interview with Chris Kyle. The transcript—published here in full for the first time—is a tough, but important read.

Water Cooler Conversation Just Got More Complicated
In 1999, there were 23 scripted cable shows. Today? 180. So, yes, it may be official: There’s too much TV.

"Some of them cried."
Scott Cacciola of The New York Times is busy making lemonade out of lemons with his “Not the Knicks” series, “chronicling Scott Cacciola’s sabbatical from covering the woeful Knicks as he checks out some of the good basketball around the country.”  Up this week, an Illinois fifth-grade girls’ basketball team who is cleaning up in their all-boys’ league.  

Community Coffee
Earlier this week, we talked to Englewood’s Kusanya Cafe about how they blend coffee with neighborliness and social action.

Bjork Is Back
As she makes the rounds for her latest album, Vulnicura, Bjork is using her platform to highlight the media’s bias against women in music, noting that “it’s an ongoing battle” for women to get credit for their work.  From Joni Mitchell to Taylor Swift, press has a long history of brushing the work done by female songwriters and producers under the rug.  Elsewhere in pop culture, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis digs into what it means to be a woman in Hollywood.

This list was compiled by Brooke Scheyer, Director of Programming, and Erin Robertson, Managing Editor.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Local Look: Kusanya Cafe

Today at Chicago Ideas, we're celebrating Kusanya Cafe, the Englewood cafe whose goal is bigger than coffee.  Opened in 2012, the cafe believes that "by decreasing isolation and providing the setting for the sharing of resources, we can begin to change the face of our neighborhood."  

In an e-mail interview, Executive Director Phillip Sipka shared the cafe's Englewood roots, counseled us all to look for the "doers" amongst us and let us in what he thinks is one of the city's best kept secrets. And make sure to follow Kusanya Cafe's Instagram takeover on @chicagoideas for a day in the life of the cafe.

Kusanya Cafe, located in Englewood, serves as a community meeting space.
Why did you choose Chicago?
We chose Chicago, and Englewood specifically, because as residents, we wanted to create solutions to the problems we face.  We have been overwhelmed at the support we have received.  Chicago appreciates great food and ideas, and as a small social entrepreneurial venture we have found that people across the city have gone out of their way to patronize, financially give and volunteer time so that our vision can thrive.  

The Kusanya Cafe is only a small piece of the reconstruction of our community, but we believe that having a social gathering space that is open to all is essential for a healthy neighborhood.  By providing, we believe that we are contributing to the betterment of our neighborhood and our city.

If you could go back in time before you started this project and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?
At every turn, look for the "doers".  Everyone is prepared to offer advice; not everyone is willing to pitch in and lend a hand, especially when and where it’s needed!  Keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll find them.

What are your next steps?
The Kusanya Cafe is excited about growing our current cafe in Englewood, while also moving into other related creative endeavors.  Our next project is to rehab the vacant commercial space next to the cafe and build a larger commercial kitchen and roastery for roasting our own coffee.  We are excited about the possibility of designing and producing products in Englewood that can be sold outside of the neighborhood, as a way of contributing to our neighborhood’s economy.  We also hire local apprentices and are excited to provide opportunities for entrepreneurship within our apprenticeship program.

We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
IGrow Chicago has been a great local partner for us.  They provide yoga classes for youth in neighborhood schools, as well as at their soon-to-be-opened Peace House in Englewood.  They have also worked to promote health in many forms.  They are the type of organization that we love to have in our neighborhood because they are passionate about what they do, but they are also willing and generous partners for the type of collaborations that benefit other organizations and the greater community. 

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CIW YOU(th) Examine Flying Squirrels, Koala Skulls & More at Field Museum

Elephant teeth.  Preserved flying squirrels.  Flesh-eating beetles.  On Monday, January 19, Field Museum scientist Bill Stanley introduced eight CIW YOU(th) students from One Goal and Solorio High School to what Stanley jokingly referred to as the “Home Depot” of natural science materials: the Museum’s Collection Center.

Museum scientists rely on the specimens to “figure out what makes our planet tick,” Stanley, the Collections Center director, explained, noting that 99 percent of the specimens and collections owned by the museum are housed in the Center—and not on display.

“Every specimen has the potential to be the pivotal specimen in someone’s study,” he explained of the vast collection.
CIW YOU(th) toured the Field Museum's Stanley
Hall following the behind-the-scenes tour of the Collections

In the Ellen Thorne Smith Bird and Mammal Study Center, students examined a koala skull, learned how flesh-eating beetles clean specimens’ bones and read field notes from Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Kermit. 

Behind-the-scenes tours like Monday’s fit into the Museum’s broader goal of increasing accessibility to its collections and the research its staff conducts.  Chief Curiosity Correspondent Emily Graslie leverages her popular YouTube channel to spotlight museum research. The Museum’s Meet a Scientist, held every Friday, provides opportunities for the public to hear from Museum scientists first-hand. And both Stanley in Monday’s tour and Field Museum President Richard Lariviere, in a phone interview earlier this fall, underlined the importance of this research to the general public, noting that these studies of the museum collections provide a window to both “the past and present.”

“The collection is so valuable because, as technology changes, more and more evidence can be extracted,” Lariviere, a Chicago Ideas Co-op Member, said. “We know with absolute certainty that we’re sitting here preserving the answer to questions that we haven’t even thought of yet.”
CIW speaker Bill Stanley described how Museum scientists
prepare specimens for research.

The behind-the-scenes tour capped off the students’ Chicago Ideas experience, which also included attendance at CIW 2014 Talks, small-group meetings with 2014 speakers and participation in CIW YOU(th) Labs. Through these types of activities, “students are able to get a better understanding of learning and why it’s joyous to learn,” Rachel Bennett, Director of Teacher Support at One Goal, said.

And what did CIW YOU(th) most enjoy learning on their tour of the museum? Lindsay Brady was fascinated by the flying squirrels, Eva Pena was thrilled to have the opportunity to handle an elephant cranium and all students were excited to see the Field Museum’s iconic Stanley Hall displays.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How a 50-Year-Old Organization Is Shaking Up Philanthropy

Chicago is fast becoming a part of a philanthropic revolution, one that its proponents hopes will change the way we all approach giving.  And at the epicenter the Donors Forum, a nearly 50-year-old organization, that is doing something no other philanthropic organization has done before: putting grant makers and nonprofits at the table together.

“We want to create an environment that attracts investment, it develops top talent, it lowers costs, and it allows social organizations to do their best work and to maximize their impact,” Donors Forum President and CEO Eric Weinheimer explained.
President and CEO Eric Weinheimer,
who formerly led The Cara Program, is helping the Donors Forum
rethink philanthropy in Chicago, and beyond.

Convening funders, nonprofits, corporations and others is a new direction for the Forum, one that builds on its long tradition of work with foundations.  It’s a program that was put into place as Weinheimer—who previously led the nonprofit Cara Program—stepped in as President last July, and it’s the only of its kind.

Weinheimer’s 18-year tenure as president and CEO of The Cara Program provided him a unique window into the nonprofit and other resources available in the city of Chicago and beyond—resources he acknowledges many other regions have at their fingertips. “The question is,” he stressed, “who is going to be not only the convener, but the project manager?”

In its work to fulfill the role of project manager, Donors Forum has organized a series of events geared to leaders on both sides of the philanthropic table.  The recent December 2 Giving Tuesday initiative, #ILGiveBig, had approximately 600 nonprofit collaborators, including Chicago Ideas.  And the Forum has been pivotal in starting conversations on topics such as social innovation, inviting a diverse group of organizations to share their expertise.

Weinheimer sees opportunities not just for organizations, but for individuals to increase philanthropic efforts in Chicago and beyond. “If [philanthropy is] an issue that resonates with you, that you have experience with, we want you around the table,” he concluded.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chicago Ideas Consumables: This Week on the Internet

Here at Chicago Ideas, we’re constantly reading, researching and consuming—all as we work to put together a stellar lineup of programming.  In Consumables, we share a few of our favorite places on the Internet each week. 

Think we’ve left something out? Share the news, think pieces and trivia that most interested you this week in the comments!

Je Suis Charlie
We can’t link to all of the heartbreaking, inspiring, thought-provoking, complicated pieces written in light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  Instead, we’ll let the satirical newspaper’s editors share their thoughts on the most recent issue.

Tina and Amy Forever
It wasn’t long before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wrested back control of the film and cultural conversation from Sunday’s Golden Globes—a new conversation that is, of course, not without its fair share of controversy.  But even with Oscar season now fully in swing, there are a few jokes from Sunday's monologue that we’re not sure we’ll ever forget, from that 72nd (and final) Globes.  

Now we know what movie we'll be watching this weekend.
36 Questions to Our Heart
This week’s "Modern Love” finally solved the problem of modern love, once and for all.

When Your Quarterback's Your D&D Master
The Packers are as competitive off the field as on, thanks to a little game called Settlers of Catan.

There's No Crying in Community College
President Obama’s plan for free community college receives backing from an unlikely source: Tom Hanks.

The Most Important Map You’ll Ever Read

This list was compiled by Brooke Scheyer, Director of Programming, and Erin Robertson, Managing Editor.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Wabash Corridor, Illuminated

The Wabash corridor—the stretch of Wabash between State Street and Millennium Park—is a section of the Loop tourists pass by on their way from the Bean to the historic Marshall Field’s.  It’s where nine-to-fivers wait for the Brown Line home.  It is an area that’s infrequently, if ever, seen as a destination itself.
The "highly customizable" Wabash Lights will run the length
of the El tracks along the Wabash corridor.
But filmmaker Jack C. Newell and designer Seth Unger aim to change that.  The collaborators are behind the proposed Wabash Lights, a public art project that will transform the El tracks into a light display.  Using the LED technology that lights up Atlantic City casinos, Unger and Newell see the project as an embodiment of Wabash as the “people’s corridor.”  Or, as Unger puts it later: “Wabash is there.  It’s been there.  We’re just—no pun intended—shining a light on it.”

From start to finish, the installation will be a collaborative project, one that invites Chicagoans to participate.  A Kickstarter, to be launched in early 2015, will fund the project, and the lights themselves will be controlled through an interactive website that allows users to log in and customize the lights’ colors and patterns.

Wabash Lights also builds on a rich Chicago tradition of public architecture and design.  Both artists cite seeing Daley Plaza’s Chicago Picasso as children as a formative experience, and they further recognize the importance of sculptures like Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain in Chicago “district making.”

In many ways, the Wabash Lights take placemaking through public art one step further.  As Newell notes of the installation’s interactive component, “We’re going to be giving Chicagoans the opportunity to put themselves in the role of artist.”