Monthly Archives: September 2015

Right to know meets the right to ask

Within an eye’s blink of my posting the piece about International Right to Know Day I received a note from my ever-inquisitive son Stephen asking about my celebration of Ask a Stupid Question Day which is most appropriately observed on the same day. Though I doubt the two events are organizationally related, the harmonic convergence of their intersection offers countless creative and complex possibilities.

Exercising my Right to Know privileges I turned to google, an occasionally useful, if sketchy, resource. There I learned that Ask a Stupid Question Day is a holiday created by teachers in the 1980’s to encourage students to be more boldly inquisitive. The implication is that young learners thought their questions were stupid, inappropriately posed to teachers and librarians who are no doubt chomping at the bit to grapple with tough inquiries.

What’s evolved since the 1980’s are the tools – and the challenge — to understand the potential and the dark side of those tools. The challenge is to young people, to teachers and librarians, to parents, and to the public writ large to build a quiver of tools not just to find (that’s easy), but to assess, to place in context, to interpret, to weigh, to understand that information is today’s tool of power, and ultimately to put good information to work to cope with not only the financial but the societal challenges of the day.

This is a mighty challenge for all of society.   We are on the cusp of the Information Age. Now that we have begun to create the tools, what will we do with them?  The task for now is to establish the framework – the technology, the communications systems, the institutions, the tools, to remove the barriers to accessibility.  Tending to the future is in our hands; fulfillment of the possibilities remains to those who come next.

This leads me to wonder about the ways in which we are preparing forthcoming generations to grapple, not so much to increase bandwidth or how to code or to search or even to get rich,  but how to understand the human context in which they will be creators and decision-makers.

It seems to me totally appropriate that Ask a Stupid Question and International Right to Know Day converge on the calendar.

My stupid question is: How do we create a more intelligent, functional, global framework in which valid, truthful, balanced and accessible information becomes not a weapon but a right and tool for thoughtful people who are empowered by knowledge to make good choices.

Some of the answers may come from heeding, and acting on, stupid questions, and by encouraging young people whose stupid questions reflect concern with societal, global and environmental concerns that transcend today’s market.

International Right to Know Day 2015 – Rights & Responsibilities

International Right to Know Day, September 28, is globally observed as a day to recognize the ways in which nations are addressing the challenge of transparent government in an age when technology is revolutionizing the tools and politics are transforming political institutions.   In truth, new nations and emerging governments are talking the talk of openness – time will tell the tale of how they walk the walk.

As Americans whose democracy rests on the premise of the people’s right to know, we are both leaders and learners

The right to know rests on an understanding of – and attention to – the information chain – everything from what questions are raised to what and how information is gathered to how that information is packaged, distributed and turned know knowledge. It is time to re-think the chain.

One challenge is to think about who sets, pays for and promotes the information agenda. Do we as information consumers make the effort to question the financial underpinnings of studies, including studies that are theoretically government-sponsored?   We need to realize the implications when interest groups lobby for the funding that sponsors studies of the environment, of health hazards, of genetic engineering, of pharmaceuticals, of campaign finances. This involves a deep dive into the politics of K Street and the Capitol

As information consumers we need to “put a face” on our collective and individual right to know. This is the only way that the information needs of real people will get on the political agendas of the agencies and organizations that represent us in the halls of Congress and the investigative journalists and editorialists who shape the message. We need information that we trust and that pertains to the questions that real life present; just as important, we need to make that message clear, focused and woven into the fabric of public understanding and discourse (preferably in that order.)

We must also be deeply concerned about the ways in which the information gets to us. It’s not limited to understanding who owns and thus controls the media in a general sense. We have long appreciated that ownership of the media is a good investment for those who have an agenda to promote on the editorial page. The very issue of a free press is threatened now by dwindling investment in investigative journalism and fact-checking and by the growing influence if corporate interests. What’s more reliable investigative reporting has been largely replaced by social media and other ubiquitous sources of information and interpretation.

The gathering of world leaders at the UN (is RTK on the agenda?) and the visit of Pope Francis should move global information sources and coverage to the front burner.  As Americans we have a right and a need to know and understand from a global perspective the history, the stories, the politics, the people, the reality of the world around us.

Finally, Right to Know Day reminds us to think of our legacy. How are young learners today instilled with the spirit of inquiry, the passion to dig into the sources, the facts, the complexities of what is presented as “fact”.   This is perhaps the greatest challenge. Though exploration and interpretation of the facts may reveal unpleasant truths that we are disinclined to acknowledge, awareness of the facts of history, of political processes, or the media gives us an opportunity – and challenge – to remedy, put in context, and learn from bad decisions and misdeeds, even as we celebrate the contributions of our forbearers.

Right to Know Day could be subtitled Responsibility to Know Day.

Pope knows public transit – Go-To Pass to environmental imperative

Though it’s not clear if Pope Francis has to stand at the bus stop and wait for the #25 bus, it is evident that the pontiff is familiar with the challenges of riding – not to mention managing – public transit. He even brought it up in his recent encyclical ( in which he urged cities to give priority to public transportation. He wasn’t just thinking of the overarching challenge of saving the environment but actually addressed the need to relieve the “undignified conditions” endured by public transit-dependent riders.

Only a veteran bus rider could speak to the reality of those “undignified conditions.”   It is legendary now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a straphanger when he lived and worked in Buenos Aires.   In fact, when Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, the Rome transportation agency, ATAC, issued him a lifetime “pope pass”, appropriately packaged in a tasteful white leather pouch. ATAC also heralded his election by issuing 200,000 transit tickets bearing the Vatican coat of arms rather than the usual corporate logo.

There is even an unofficial Facebook page called “Riding the Bus with Pope Francis” that follows the words and walks of the Pope with a focus on his acts of humility and commitment to social justice.

Most important, Pope Francis gave specific attention to public transit as a priority in his encyclical on global warming in which he observed that “many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.” More specifically, he wrote that “the quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas, which spoil the urban landscape.”

The pontiff’s words rang true for John Olivieri, the Transportation National Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) who wrote that “the Pope’s decision to elevate the importance of public transportation and the need to limit the growth of driving comes not a second too soon. A 21st century transportation system that reduces carbon emissions and urban sprawl is something we all should work for.”

Welcome aboard, Pope Francis!




Employ Older Workers Week – Thoughts of an Older Worker

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.  Theodore Roosevelt.

National Employ Older Workers Week (September 20-26, 2015) will conjure a broad mix of images. On the one hand, there are older workers who just can’t stop working – they love the camaraderie, the feeling of accomplishment, the structure it gives their day. They work at jobs, often self-generated, that they love. They start the day full of ideas and gusto – end the day with a feeling of accomplishment. They find time for dining out, travel, and golf – and spare cash for domestic assistance.

For many older workers, necessity drives their daily work lives. Often they have always lived on one – or no or low – income. The costs of daily living left no stretch to save, far less invest. Financial consultants and investment advisers are as remote as Wall Street and invitation-only fundraisers for millionaire politicos.   Though work may not be an option, these older workers continue to bring experience, skill and commitment to the workplace.

In recent weeks I have had the experience of observing older workers who exemplify the possibilities. My observations were of older women, in this case women religious, who are making significant, creative and forward-looking contributions to the institutions and communities – including global communities — they serve. These women are not working for income, but for self-fulfillment and for the common good. In a word, they offer a holistic sense of older workers. As these older women are providing essential, often innovative, services the offer models of the mental and physical benefits of work. In this era of working to get ahead, working to buy stuff, working to aggregate power, we are in danger of losing sight of “the best prize” – the reward that these women religious experience, the rewards that come from “the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Admittedly these encounters influence my thoughts on National Employ Older Workers Week. I’m thinking now that the tone of the week is largely pragmatic, at times dismissive, at some points indicative of a sort of do-good attitude that misses the point so eloquently made by President Roosevelt.

Clearly, attitudes differ about the employment of older Americans. They are also evolving, if slowly. For some the benefits will show up on a spreadsheet. The Department of Labor comforts us that “helping older adults remain in the workforce provides a boost to our national economy: These workers pay taxes and cover more of their own expenses during their later years.” In fact, a growing number of federal bureaucrats acknowledge that “scientific studies…demonstrate that, contrary to ageist stereotypes, older workers are a good investment, rating high on characteristics such as judgment, commitment to quality, attendance, and punctuality.”

A growing number of opinion and policy makers are taking small steps to a more inclusive position, acknowledging the expanding – and necessary – role of older workers. The Department of Labor acknowledges that older workers “are the group most likely to be serving as family caregivers for a spouse, elderly parent or other relative – and they report that they receive less accommodation than younger employees who are caring for children.”   In fact, AARP asserts that “workplace discrimination against family caregivers is growing more commonplace and more problematic as baby boomers age and combine work in the paid labor force and unpaid work as caregivers for their parents. It may take the form of limited flexibility, denied leave or even a pink slip.”

This at least gets to the point that there is societal benefit to welcoming and supporting older workers. Though it falls short of celebrating Roosevelt’s “best prize” it is a step in the right direction.

Still, I find that my view of Older Worker Week, influenced now by my recent time with the women religious, is through a different prism. For starts, I will reflect on the brilliant words of Marge Piercy who wrote:

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

And I will ponder the wisdom of Maya Angelou who reminded workers that “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Clearly, there are many ways and many reasons for workers, employers and Americans of all ages to celebrate National Employ Older Workers Week. My hope is that our celebration will focus on the many ways in which, even as the women religious,  everyone, regardless of age, enjoys the “best prize that life has to offer — the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”  It seems to me that would focus Employ Older Workers Week in a different light.



American Craft Council Library issues open invitation to Salon Series

Because words alone cannot convey the immense and varied resources of the American Craft Council Library ( this post is not so much about the incredible treasures as it is an irresistible “excuse” for readers to visit the Library and thus learn first-hand the riches of this unique resource.

The ACC Library maintains the nation’s most comprehensive collection of print and visual material on American Studio Craft. The collection includes books, catalogues, periodicals and files on individual artists as well as the archives of the American Craft Council, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and the American Craft Museum Archive and the World Craft Council archive. Much of the collection has been digitized and is available online. (

Still, you really want the experience of visiting this exquisitely beautiful Library.

Beginning in mid-October the ACC Library will host a series of Salons, not so much about the library collection per se but an opportunity for attendees to capture just a glimpse of the collections that grace the shelves, fill the file cabinets and infuse the essence of American crafts. It will take countless return visits to appreciate or tap the potential the collection.

This autumn’s Salon Series offers a robust mix of topics, all implicitly, at times remotely, related to the essence of the work of the American Craft Council:

October 14 – The Salon Series begins with a program on “Making Music with Hoffman Guitars”, led by Charlie Hoffman, co-founder and owner of Hoffman Guitars in Minneapolis. For over 40 years Hoffman has been hand-building steel string acoustic guitars, played and coveted by outstanding local and national musicians. Hoffman will share his experience with guitar-making, including the business as well as the craftsmanship experience he has gleaned over the decades.

November 11 – “Meet & Meat” is billed as an opportunity to “Talk Charcuterie with Mike Phillips of Red Table Meat Co.” Building on a life-long appreciation of good food and hard work gained from his experiences growing up in a rural community, Mike Phillips has long dreamed and worked toward opening Red Table Meat Co. in Northeast Minneapolis; there Phillips caters to individuals who “harbor a passion for crafted charcuterie.”

December 9 – Explore the Legacy of Jack Lenor Larsen, a prominent figure in the history of craft. The Salon presenter is Dr. Stephanie Zollinger who has organized the Jack Lenor Larsen Oral History project through the Goldstein Museum and College of Design at the University of Minnesota. Larsen is one of the most influential textile designers in the world. “His hand-made pieces incorporated innovative techniques based on traditional practices and methods learned through his many travels.” Larsen’s business, travel and craft history are archived at the U of M and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

The Salon Series – and the ACC Library — are free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the conversation beginning at 7:00 p.m. The American Craft Council Library is in the former Grain Belt Brewery, 1224 Marshall, just North of Broadway, in Northeast Minneapolis. Street and lot parking are convenient and public transit is readily accessible during evening hours.

For more information about the Salon Series or about the Library contact the ACC Library at 612 206 3100 or  For an extended Voices of Northeast interview with Library Director Jessica Shaykett, click here:

Voices of Northeast Minneapolis, 2014-16

Polanie Club archives tell stories of Polish women in Minnesota

A few years ago I was introduced to, intrigued by – and soon wrote about – the Polanie Club, a Northeast Minneapolis organization founded in 1927 by twelve women of Polish descent. ( I enjoyed learning about the ongoing work of the organization and have followed the organization ever since.

The stated mission of the Polanie Club was to preserve and broaden knowledge of Polish culture while encouraging local Polish residents to pursue higher education. The work of the women of the Polonai Club has been bold and enduring. Members of the Polanie Club have sponsored scholarships, published books of fiction and nonfiction and a cookbook of Polish recipes which turned out to be a successful fundraiser for the organization.

Thus I was concerned to learn recently that the Polanie Club will soon dissolve. The membership – and thus the energy of the organization – is waning.

The really good news is that the archives of the Polanie Club, an incredible treasure trove of local, ethnic and women’s history, will remain an accessible and curated resource for scholars and anyone who has an interest in the history and stories of Polish immigrants. The Polanie Club archives will become part of the Immigration History Research Center collection at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

As a complement to the IHRC archives, the Minneapolis History Collection will continue to curate the files of the Polanie Club. That collection includes information about programs from the 1930’s through the 1960’s as well as various clippings about activities, publications and news of the Club. These files supplement, or may on occasion duplicate, the U of M archival collection.

The official archives at the Immigration History Center, supplemented by the materials at the Minneapolis History Collection, will provide a robust history of this unique organization. Appreciation is due to the members and leaders of the Polanie Club who have preserved the record and who will now share their history for posterity.

A tradition at 15, Twin Cities Book Festival set for October 17

Rain Taxi Review of Books and the Twin Cities Book Festival just keep growing and getting better, introducing readers of every age and literary persuasion, collectors, booksellers and thousands of other visitors to an expanding diversity of writers and publishers. The Fifteenth Annual Twin Cities Book Festival extravaganza will ignite the Minnesota State Fairgrounds all day Saturday, October 17 – with an opening night celebration on Friday evenin

As the programs and exhibits continue to evolve, event planners are sharing the basics, including the rosters of author events, panels, book signings, workshops, storytelling and more.

At present the following adult programming includes these local and globally renowned writers: Jabari Asim, Christian Bok, Susan Cheever, Brian Henry, Leila Lalami, Joe Meno, Nina Revoyr, Craig Thompson, Rupert Thomson and Joy Williams.

Authors scheduled for the Children’s Pavilion include John Coy, Mike Curato, Donale Lemke & Bob Lentz, Tran Thi Minh Phuoc, Stephanie Watson and Mike Wohnoutka.

Writers appearing in the Middle Grade Headquarters include Cecil Castellucci, John Flanagan, Lynne Jonell, D.J. MacHale, Carrie Ryan, Daniel Wallace and Jacqueline West.

Appearing in the Teen Tent are Rebecca Hahn, Tom Isbell, E.K. Johnston, Julie Kagawa, Derek E. Sullivan and Nicola Yoon.

Bios of each of these authors are included on the TCBF website (

TCBF regulars also know to look for hundreds of exhibitors and once-in-a-lifetime deals on thousands of used and rare books and records.

To stay in tune with developing plans, connect with social media including @RainTaxiReview, and/or

TCBF15 is made possible by grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council supported by Legacy funds. The children’s pavilion at TCBF is supported by MELSA. Middle Grade Headquarters and Teen Tent programs are co-sponsored by Red Balloon Bookshop.



Open Book celebrates designation as International Peace Site

Open Book, best known as a gathering place for writers and literary events, will soon boast a new designation. On Sunday, September 20, Open Book will be dedicated as an International Peace Site. Sunday’s ceremony set for 2:00 p.m., is held in conjunction with worldwide observance of International Day of Peace on Monday, September 21.( (

The designation has been organized by the Social Justice Writers Group and other Open Book member organizations including the Loft Literary Center, Minnesota Center for Book Arts and Milkweed Editions. The goal of the designation is to “celebrate and link the forces of peace and literature.”

As one of 700 International Peace Sites Open Book enjoys unique status while the designation pays tribute to the writers, book artists and publishers that are active in the community globally. Sponsored by World Citizen ( the designation “provides online and onsite resources for peace education as a basis for classroom discussions around cultural understanding, human rights, conflict, peace and social justice.”

The dedication ceremony will also include an open house beginning at 1:00 p.m. The writing groups Equilibrium, TGI Frybread Native American Group, and the Peace and Social Justice Writers Group will conduct readings. There will be multimedia works and musical guest Larry Long. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts will offer family-friendly activities.

The free and open eventwill be held in the Performance Hall at Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South. For more information contact Philip Lund, 612 819 1890 or


Arts Access Chautauqua draws broad constituency, invites public participation

The Cowles Center for Dance & Performing Arts, always overflowing with energy, will be more than ever bursting with artistic spirit on Friday and Saturday, September 25-26, when the state’s vast community of artists with disabilities, arts administrators and arts participants will gather for the Minnesota Arts Access Chautauqua.

The Arts Access Chautauqua marks the first time since 1992 that all the players will come together to identify challenges, explore opportunities and, most of all, to “recognize and show artistically the emergence of people with disabilities as active members of the Minnesota arts community.

Sponsoring organization is VSA Minnesota which now makes its home in the Hennepin Center for the Arts, the Education Wing of the Cowles Center.**

The Chautauqua agenda features a huge array of forums, presentations, showcases for participants and occasions for exchange of ideas and hopes. There are presentations on arts access in Greater Minnesota, on theatrical interpreting, and a host of others including one on “Making your website accessible” that should certainly have appeal to a broad audience. All are listed and annotated, with background information on presenters, on the Chautauqua website. Learn more by clicking on

There will also be a public performance involving Minnesotans with and without disabilities who will speak, perform, exhibit and discuss as musicians, actors, storytellers, dancers, writers, visual artists, arts administrators and audiences. Tickets for the public not attending the Chautauqua are just $15, students/seniors $8. There is also a visual art exhibit and sale with artwork by more than 30 Minnesota artists with disabilities.

Registration costs are minimal. A day’s registration includes breakfast and lunch. Friday’s registration includes the 7:30 p.m. performance and reception. Registration for both days is $60 after September 16, $70 at the door. Friday only $40, Saturday only $30. Questions about registration? Contact or or call 612 332 3999 or 800 801 3883.

Funding for the Arts Access Chautauqua is made possible by a grant from the State Arts Board with funds from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

** Note for out of touch readers like me, VSA Minnesota is now the official name of the organization once known as Very Special Arts Minnesota. The name change reflects the fact that “words such as special, very special and handicapped do not reflect language trends in the United States and many other countries”.)

Rural writing and culture celebrated at Morris and Marshall festivals

If you have a yen to rub elbows with local or national writers this October you would be well advised to head to Greater Minnesota, specifically to the Morris and Marshall areas. October will draw scores of writers – and their faithful reader fans – to both communities – to the fifth annual Prairie Gate Literary Festival October 23-24 at the U of M Morris ( and the following week, October 28-31, to the tenth annual Marshall Festival at Southwest Minnesota State University (

The Prairie Gate Literary Festival features a mix of readings and workshops on Friday evening and Saturday. Guest artists include Emma Bull, Ebba Segerberg, Eric Smith, John Hildebrand and Vandana Khanna. Bios of all of the invited writers are on the University of Minnesota-Morris website.

Featured performers at the Marshall Festival include Susan Power and Gordon Henry, Philip Dacey and David Alan Evans, Barton and Ross Sutter. The roster of writers who plan to participate in the Marshall Festival is too long to post, but all can be found on the website (  Of special note is the fact that Saturday is designated Children’s Day featuring a morning session on “Writing Poetry” with Florence Chard Dacey and folk music and dancing with Ross Sutter.

Much more about both festivals can be found on the festivals’ websites.

As you enjoy the autumn drive through the highways and byways, consider the beauty of the countryside and of the ways in which writers and artists enrich the arts and culture of all Minnesotans’ lives.