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A Call to Action

CBR_Logo2The Creative Activist
Make the World Better, One Person, One Action at a Time
by Rae Luskin

At a time when much of the national conversation revolves around leaning in, finding some sort of work–life balance, getting it all, and living a life with purpose, people of every generation are finding that activism—getting involved in something meaningful—pays myriad dividends. Not only does activism help fulfill a sense of purpose and, ideally, help others in some way, but some studies suggest that “people with a sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of death, compared with those who said they were more or less aimless.”*

creative activistAuthor Rae Luskin, who calls Chicago home, has benefitted firsthand from activism, noting in her new book The Creative Activist that living a life of service can “ease the pain of isolation and depression,” among other things.

Activism, of course, can take many forms. Luskin urges her readers to consider what she calls “creative activism,” which she believes helps people “use their imagination, creative thinking, and unique expression to make a positive difference in people’s lives, communities, and the world.”

This is no short order, but it seems to be one that is catching on. Among Millennials in particular, activism seems to be on the rise. It’s certainly one that, as a community activist for more than forty years, Luskin strongly believes in. It’s also something she believes anyone can participate in, regardless of whether they believe themselves to be creative or artsy or talented.

Luskin provides inspiration and ideas for readers in The Creative Activist, which includes real-world examples of people who are working to make a difference. Luskin reports having interviewed more than 150 people while preparing the book (several of whom hail from Chicago and the Midwest). A number of the individuals profiled in short vignettes run their own nonprofits, some are activists for victims of abuse or domestic violence, some are leading change in hot spots around the world. Their stories are revealed through short Q&As, much of which focus on their inspiration, their take on leadership, and their vision for a better future.

Divided into six sections covering such topics as cultivating courage to change, connecting and networking with people who can help you fulfill your goals, and tapping into various forms of creativity, Luskin prompts readers to consider creativity and activism—and the marriage of the two—from a variety of viewpoints, not limiting themselves to thinking of either or both as a certain method or formula for achieving success.

Rae Luskin

Author/Activist Rae Luskin

Highly designed, this four-color paperback is full of prompts and questions designed to get the reader thinking and, it is hoped, acting—on whatever cause is important to them. Although this is not a hands-on workbook, Luskin encourages readers to journal about key issues, writing down thoughts and ideas for how they might tackle concerns that are important to them. Poems and quotes are sprinkled throughout in order to provide further inspiration. A few typos and some copy-editing mishaps (e.g., “a key tenant” instead of “a key tenet”) are distracting, but not so much as to spoil Luskin’s message.

The Creative Activist is thought-provoking, encouraging readers to think about the causes that are important to them and to develop a plan for addressing those causes, whether on a small scale or large. Of course, as with any such book, Luskin can only lead a horse to water, as it were—it’s up to the reader to engage. With dozens of “Call to Action” sections, the reader is supplied with no shortage of stimuli to move from wishing to do something to actually accomplishing something that matters.

This is no manifesto for change or a fist-in-the-air call for activism. Rather, The Creative Activist is intended to provide a spark and some encouragement for individuals who feel they want to do something to make their world a little bit better. Luskin believes that those who embrace creative activism will be closer to living a “fabulous life”—an admirable goal that many of us can identify with.

Three-Star Review

July 2015, Wise Ink Creative Publishing
$24.95, paperback, 194 pages
ISBN: 978-1-940014-66-1

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

* See http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/07/28/334447274/people-who-feel-they-have-a-purpose-in-life-live-longer

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Thoroughly ‘Capitol’ Capital Culture

CBR_Logo2Capital Culture:
J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience
by Neil Harris

Dedicated in 1941, the U.S. National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, was the dream of philanthropist banker Andrew Mellon. For nearly a decade, he collected paintings and sculptures, with the intention of glorifying both the nation and its capital. Founded with conservative aims that mirrored the intellectual beliefs of the moneyed elite of its time, the Gallery featured only American and European works, created by artists who had to have been dead for at least twenty years at the time the art was placed.

9780226067704Staid, regal, and rather dull, the National Gallery was respected, but it was neither loved nor particularly successfuluntil the fresh air of the Kennedy Administration opened the museum world across the country to wider inclusions, the cultivation of popular appeal, and an appetite for new ideas. The National Gallery was slow to join this new world, until Carter Brown took over as director. He first changed the Gallery physically, hiring I. M. Pei to design a second building for the museum complex, which would include all the luxuries lacking in older museums, such as a restaurant, an atrium space for receptions, and a retail center for museum merchandise. Shortly after the opening the new building, he then helped change the entire dynamic of museum-going by creating the modern museum super-show with the legendary King Tut exhibit of 1976.

Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor of History and Art History Emeritus at the University of Chicago, has written an intensely researched and affectionate history of Brown’s era at the Gallery and how it changed the world of museum-going forever. It should be difficult to make something as insider baseball-ish as the politics of the museum world seem fascinating and vital, but Harris makes the struggles between Brown and other great museum directors of the time, such as Dillon Ripley, who was making similarly drastic and daring changes at the Smithsonian, and Thomas Hoving, the unrepentantly predatory director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exciting and sometimes funny.

Harris, Neil Credit Teri J. Edelstein

Author Neil Harris (photo credit: Teri J. Edelstein)

Brown, a scion of the Rhode Island Browns, was raised by a gentle, scholarly father and an adventurous, critical mother. He claimed that he had wanted to work at the National Gallery from the first time he saw the building at the age of twelve. A serious student of art history, and a lover of hard work who often felt he could not live up to the privilege he was born into, Brown saw the Gallery as his way to give back to both the art world he loved and to the country that had given his family so much.

His vision of what a museum should be had as much to do with creating a culture that could celebrate as well as venerate the beauties of the past. Brown used the Gallery and its influence to change just about everything that we consider to be part of the museum experience, changing a visit to see the treasures of the past from the aesthetic equivalent of visiting a mausoleum to an exciting and dynamic trip, with history and art being presented much the way a Hollywood blockbuster or new amusement park thrill ride might be. He made going to the museum not an activity just for the elites, but a truly American, populist experience. One that most of our childhoods would have been incomplete without.

In Capital Culture, Harris provides readers with a remarkably researched piece of history that is both interesting and enjoyable.

Three-Star Review

September 2013, University of Chicago Press
$35, hardcover, 608 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-226-06770-4

—Reviewed by Lynda Fitzgerald

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Beautiful Birds and Bees


The Art of Migration:
Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland

Peggy Macnamara
with John Bates and James H. Boone


Art of MigrationAs millions of tiny, iridescent Japanese beetles begin their annual swarming over rose bushes across Chicagoland, the curious among us might wonder where they all come from. Where they go when they leave. Why they keep coming back. Artist Peggy Macnamara might paint them.

In The Art of Migration, Macnamara shares more than fifty gorgeous watercolors of insects and birds, showing the wondrous creatures that live here year-round as well as those that migrate through one of the flyways that transverse the area. Macnamara’s beautiful images are accompanied by engaging text from John Bates and James Boone, both of whom are with the Field Museum, as well as by a thoughtful foreword from John W. Fitzpatrick, Louis Agassiz Fuertes Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

Macnamara is the only artist-in-residence at the Field Museum, and one look at her beautiful paintings explains why. She also serves as adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, associate of the zoology program at the Field Museum, and instructor at the Chicago Public Libraries Nature Connection and Art Institute programs. Not only does she clearly know her stuff, but she loves it, too. Love, wonder, and admiration are evident in her images.

The Art of Migration introduces readers to more than two hundred of the birds and insects that pass through the area. Arranged by season, the book captures images of birds and insects in flight and at rest. Macnamara paints flocks of birds, pupae of insects, and natural habitats. She expertly captures the varying landscapes in which these winged residents dwell and visit. Artist’s Notes are peppered throughout, sharing Macnamara’s thoughts and techniques for painting everything from water to feathers to the tiny hairs on a bumblebee.

Part gift book, part art book, part nature guide, The Art of Migration is a lovely blend of facts and science and art. In addition to detailing many of the birds and insects in the area, Macnamara and her team document the procedures used to organize and record specimens at the Field Museum, and they provide tips for watching birds and insects in Chicagoland. A brief “Further Reading” section entices enthusiasts to explore more.

The Art of Migration should well appeal to a variety of readers. Artists will love Macnamara’s images and artist’s notes. Nature-lovers will find much of interest in the accessible yet authoritative text. Common names of birds and insects are used throughout, although scientific categorizations are used as well, which should appeal to lay readers, amateurs, enthusiasts, and serious birdwatchers alike.

Macnamara’s lovely watercolors are accompanied by a beautifully designed book in a gorgeous trim printed on thick, rich paper. Some of the text, however, is really much too small—nearly microscopic—which makes the act of reading for long stretches a bit tiresome.

Tiny text aside, there is little to distract readers from this lovely book. The Art of Migration is no dry field guide or academic reference. Rather, it is a little treasure, beautiful to look at and enjoyable to read.

Four-Star Review

July 2013, University of Chicago Press
$25, hardcover, 203 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-226-04629-7

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

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