Sunday, October 7, 2012

Global Citizen's GLOBAL FESTIVAL - Part II

A jumbo-screen at New York City's
Global Citizen Festival
Last Saturday was phenomenal in a lot of ways. 

It was one of those events for which words can't really do it justice.  How does one describe the electricity in the air when Neil Young invites all the younger bands to join him back on stage to sing "Rockin' in the Free World" for the finale of a four-hour concert?  

Neil Young, right, with members of Crazy Horse, as seen on
one of the concert's jumbo screens.
Moreover, how do you describe the weight of that moment, after learning that Young is a polio survivor and hearing the NGO leader who introduces him ask that, after we eradicate polio, would "Neil come back and sing again, this time changing the words to one of his songs for just one night to, "Rockin' in the Polio-Free World' "?

You can't really describe it.  
You had to be there.

Yet, given that this concert was streamed online to countries all over the globe, the truth is, a lot of the people watching weren't there.  This begs a question: If someone is watching this through a computer screen, millions of miles away, does the event have the same effect?  

One would certainly hope so.  The technology used to broadcast this sort of concert has gotten extremely sophisticated (just consider the Oscars.  When Meryl Streep accepts an award, you almost feel as though you're sitting in the Kodak Theater with the celebrities in the audience - no?).  But did viewers of this sit at their computers for the full, four-hour event -- all the way till the last moments of the concert?  Did they last to hear Young join forces with the other musicians?  I have to wonder...

I also had to wonder if other people in the live audience felt the same way I did.  Did they notice the gravity of what we were witnessing?  The two friends who had joined me for the concert were getting fidgety by the time Young came on, three hours in.  And after he began playing and they realized they didn't recognize any of his music (unlike me, their parents were not classic rock fans), they decided to head out "to beat the crowds."  In the day-and age of the 75-minute movie, perhaps 180 minutes is about the time when anyone who isn't a die-hard music fan begins to tap out.

One of the reasons the concert lasted so long was that in the change-over between each act, various celebrities came on stage to present humanitarian awards to individuals from a round the world who were making a difference to fight the effects of poverty in their own communities.  Interspersed among these presentations were videos about massive challenges that communities face in various countries around the world.  These were often followed by a video about the person from that community being presented with an award that night.

Dave Grohl performing with the
Foo Fighters.  / Photo courtesy of VH1
I found these moments moving.  I think my friends did too, even if they got bored after three hours.  On the other end of the spectrum, were the twenty-somethings sharing our patch of grass, who seemed to be there just for the free concert.  About half-way in, after the Black Keys had performed and during one of the award presentations, someone from behind us yelled, "put the Foo Fighters on already!"

I suppose there will always be twenty-somethings that just want to hear good music.  But I also like to believe that there were thousands of concert goers last Saturday who recognize what the festival producers wanted us to recognize - both how far we've come in finding solutions to the world's most pressing social problems, and the opportunity we have we have now to finalize such solutions.  And some day, maybe everyone will get to rock in the free world.
Dave Grohl, Neil Young, and Dan Auerbach at the end of the concert.
/ Kevin Mazur-Wire Images

Monday, September 10, 2012

Global Citizen's GLOBAL FESTIVAL - Part I

Neil Young, Foo Fighers, The Black Keys...those are some pretty big names.  Seems like quite the feat. The "Global Festival" - a free ticketed music festival to help end extreme poverty.  Right. Up. My. Alley.  And free tickets!  Yes, that's right, free (if you want to go, learn how to snag some of your own here).

But, you may ask, if the tickets are free, they're clearly not raising any money.  How are they actually going to help end global poverty without any resources?  As  you might imagine, I am fascinated with this project.  So of course I dug in.

From what I can tell so far, it seems this is more of an awareness campaign than anything else - a drive to create "global citizens."  Would-be-concert goers are invited to register on the Website, then they get points for doing "learning" activities, such as watching YouTube videos about various nonprofits.  And they get more points if they comment, tweet or post links or videos to Facebook.  The more points you have, the more chances you get in the lottery for tickets.  

So will it work?  Does clicking "like" on Facebook make someone a true global citizen?  The event is likely attracting a lot of people like myself - who do indeed care about the issue and do want to make a difference.  But it is also likely attracting a lot of regular old music fans.  Who wouldn't click through a bunch of videos online in order to win free tickets to an amazing concert?  It's a small price to pay.

Perhaps the question is: what will happen at the concert itself?  Can one night change thousands of peoples' perspective? Can one event motivate everyone who attends to pitch in for change?

I hope so.  Concerts like this aren't free.  Even if the musicians are donating their time, if you calculate the number of people and number of hours, and the amount of labor (not all of which will be donated, let me tell you), that goes into an endeavor like this, it's a quite a lot.  Between the months and months of planning, the hours spent on marketing, the cost to erect a huge stage and a enormous sound system, the collective amount of time (even if pro-bono) between all of the performers and their crews, there are a HUGE amount of resources being poured into this.  Let's hope it has huge impact too.

Will it?  It's an interesting experiment.  I'll be there 9/29.  And I'm looking forward to reporting back!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Student Inspirations

I am particularly proud of the events our students at NYU Wagner are putting on this semester.  Is it fair for me to brag about them for a moment?  To name a few, they have held a week worth of events on ending human trafficking, hosted the CEO of Whole Foods to talk about creating a sustainable food chain from farm to fork, and screened documentaries for Black History Month and beyond.  In the next month they will hold a Fair Trade Fashion Show, launch a "meatless Mondays" campaign, present a forum on the State of the Digital City, and hold a conference on youth and revolutions.

I am constantly inspired by the energy and enthusiasm they exhibit, as well as the passion for which they explore and pursue their chosen fields and relevant causes.  Particularly invigorating, was helping the Wagner Policy Alliance produce an event on the upcoming Presidential elections.  Campaign Watch 2012 was held this past month with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Democratic campaign strategist Robert Shrum, and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt.

Informative, engaging, and lively, the three discussed the whirlwind of the current primaries and forecasted the months ahead.  Anyone interested in politics or curious as to where our country might be headed would be intrigued.  The WPA's fantastic panel can be viewed via the live Webcast we filmed.  Check it out, and perhaps you'll be inspired yourself!

To see what else our amazing students are presenting - as well as events by our research centers, faculty, and staff - visit the NYU Wagner event listings.  (And thanks for indulging me on something quite close to home).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's Eve and New Ideas (in road safety)

(Note: an unexpected turn of my own life-altering events this summer kept me away for awhile.  But there's nothing like the new year for a new start.  I did scribble lots of notes at various happenings I was able to attend over the past several months, so keep an eye out for reflections on those shortly).

New Year's Eve.  It's a holiday that's easy for everyone to love.  Embraced world-wide, it makes for a period of time when there are likely more events and celebrations in 24 hours across the globe than on any other day of the year.  The coming of the New Year offers endless reasons to celebrate and there are countless ways to do so.  As we all know, cities around the world get in on the action by offering fireworks, public concerts, and of course, in New York City, the iconic "Ball Drop" in Times Square.

The 2008 Centennial Ball

What you may not know, is that cities around the world have also embraced an additional initiative, called "International Free Transit Day," which coincides with New Year's Eve.  In an effort to reduce traffic accidents and related deaths caused by drunk drivers, cities such as Chicago, Austin, Vancouver, and London offered free rides to passengers on a wide range of transportation alternatives this past New Year's Eve.  While New York City's MTA service wasn't free for all passengers, the agency did pass out free subway cards at various stations around the city.  Perhaps next year New York will take after Toronto, and make the whole transit system free for a certain period.  After all, less drivers on the road on a night of pure celebration (and often debauchery) means a safer evening for us all. What a great way to ring in the New Year.

[Special thanks to The Atlantic Cities' staff writer Nate Berg, who covered the subject in more detail here.]

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hot Town Summer in the City - Free Events Across NYC

Photo by Laura Hanifan, courtesy of  
City Parks Foundation Summer Stage 
Last Tuesday marked the first official day of summer and one of the best things about summer in New York City is the plethora of free events that abound.  The hardest thing, however, is figuring out how to track them all.  I've yet to find one comprehensive, easy-to-search  place online that lists absolutely everything, but I recently learned of of two great resources that list quite a lot.

The first is from a colleague of mine from grad school.  Check out her blog here and while there, subscribe to her Google Group for a weekly email (appropriately titled, "Hot Town Summer in the City"), which provides a long list of free art events across New York.  

The second is the calendar at One Percent for Culture's website.  If you're not familiar with them, One Percent for Culture is a fantastic organization that works to "demonstrate the value of culture to New York City" and is campaigning to get the city to designate at 1% of it's budget for nonprofit cultural organizations.  (Despite having an arts budget larger than those of some state governments, NYC currently only designates less than .25%)  If you're reading this blog, you likely already appreciate all that cultural organizations do for the city, so I don't mean to preach to the choir...but take advantage of this great resource, and if you haven't already signed their petition, do it - and help keep free arts events alive!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Engaging Your Guests: Creating Inspiration

Well, my goal was to publish once a week.  I'm already off track as I became entirely consumed with producing my own most recent event, NYU Wagner's 2011 Convocation Ceremony.  It was more work than I anticipated (isn't it always?) but lucky for me, our Keynote Speaker was entirely engaging and did something quite inspiring (more on that soon), which made the hard work worth it.  In the last two weeks of preparation for that event, I also attended an inspiring dinner party, as well as a not-so-inspiring fundraiser-slash-launch party for a new dance company.

And I got to thinking: what's the difference?

Why was I touched and moved by two of these events and not so moved by the other?

Don't get me wrong, the launch party was cool.  It was held on a rooftop in lower Manhattan.  They had: a DJ;  fantastic performance by two great dancers; interesting use of technology (video art of the dancers' movements projected on the wall); open bar; cool decor; a silent auction...  but I left feeling somewhat unfulfilled.  My friends claimed they had fun, and I suppose I was entertained.  But I didn't feel particularly connected to the dancers, the art, or their future.  So I left shrugging my shoulders.  Not a bad night.  Just not amazing.

What was amazing was connecting with old and new friends at a 30th birthday party (no surprise) and listening to a Convocation Keynote address that deeply inspired me (quite a nice surprise).

Having worked and watched five  consecutive Convocation ceremonies, it's easy to tune out during speeches. The Dean and Provost's remarks don't change that much.  The speaker always says something interesting, but anyone who does events would agree: one's attention span is variable after one works so hard to make the whole thing happen.  This year, however, our Keynote had my full attention.

Wagner's Keynote was actually more of a dialogue than an address, and it came about almost accidentally.  We had been holding out for a high profile speaker that turned us down at the last minute, and after scrambling to ask several more people who turned out to be unavailable, we turned to one of our Visiting Scholars, Irshad Manji.  Irshad did not want to prepare a speech - she's about to launch a book tour and had no time.  But she did agree to do it if there could be a little bit of back and forth with a handful of students.  Why not invite students to submit statements about what "moral courage" means and have them share during the ceremony? (NYU Wagner is a School of Public Service, and houses Irshad's Moral Courage Project).  Irshad could then do a riff on each student's statement (she's has an art when it comes to speaking on the fly).  That way, she doesn't have to prepare anything, and the back and forth creates a sense of energy in the auditorium.

Well, logistically, it was a nightmare.  We were one week out, and finding students, rehearsing them, adding technical elements (the students stayed in the audience and we projected video of them on a screen so everyone in the balconies could see their faces), meant extra long hours at work.  But as the moments played out during the ceremony, the crowd was enraptured.  Here was but something new and innovative.  Here was individuals opening up and speaking about something very personal.  Here was something the graduates could truly relate to - statements from their peers.  Here was a way to share with family and friends why these students pursue degrees at Wagner.  It was meaningful.  It was something you could talk about over lunch afterwards - and hopefully the conversations continue.  I can't take credit for the idea.  It was all Irshad's.  But I will say that I will definitely use this approach again in the future.

So what IS the difference?  What made this ceremony more inspiring than the launch party?

Engagement.  Finding ways to make everyone in attendance feel connected to what's going on.  Spectators are inspired when there is action that makes them excited (think of a home run at a baseball game).  Allow people to be a part of that action (the crowd leaping to their feet in cheers as the ball passes the stadium wall).  If you're going to speak, invite us to speak with  you.  If you're going to perform on a roof top, dance and then invite us to dance too.  If you're doing something cool, we want in.

Monday, May 2, 2011

New York City Festival Season & "Ideas for the New City"

April and May mark the beginning of the summer arts and cultural festival season in NYC.  From casual street fairs, to grand events such as River to River and the Lincoln Center Festival, there's never a dull weekend from May through September.  The Tribeca Film Festival kicked things off last week and this weekend, the New Museum and several organizing partners are presenting the inaugural Festival of Ideas for the New City.  New as it may be, as festivals go, this one is pretty comprehensive.   Comprised of a StreetFest, a Conference, and a myriad of "Projects," it features five days of panels, keynote speakers, exhibits, art installations, and other relevant endeavors exploring how to make a city more livable.  The event is described on the festival's website as "a major new collaborative initiative in New York involving scores of Downtown organizations, from universities to arts institutions and community groups, working together to affect change."  If you're an innovative thinker, an early adopter, or just want to explore some of the organizations that make downtown New York thrive, this is one not to be missed.  And as an early adopter, if you prefer your bike over taxis, you won't catch the teaser video that's playing this week in all yellow cabs - take a look:

Maybe I'll see you there!