Tag Archives: University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study

Prologue to Possibilities – New Years Eve Post 2015

Poking around can be hazardous for the inquiring mind…At times one falls into the trap of probing the object rather than pursuing the allure of the poking process itself. And thus the story of how I have been waylaid of late by a related, but tangential, project that has captured my imagination, expanded my horizons, and taken a good deal of time…..As we wrap up 2015 I’d like to share the project, in part to explain the pause in the Pokes, but also to tell you what’s up and to invite your ideas.

As many readers know, the resurgence of the arts in Northeast Minneapolis reflects, embraces and expands this vibrant community.   As is their wont, practitioners of the myriad facets of the literary arts have established their unique presence — in the wings. The work of writers flows from their fertile minds and laconic pc’s; their words are transmitted through disparate channels that mediate between the creator and the reader – editors, publishers, printers, booksellers; their ideas inspire individual readers not massive crowds. Thus, the voices and thoughts of those whose creative energies contribute so much to the totality of the arts need a gentle push to step to the main stage.

In an earlier post I described my involvement in an ambitious video project designed to amplify the voices of the Northeast community’s literary artists. The Voices of Northeast collaboration is part of and builds on a long-standing video project initiated by North Side resident and scholar Peter Shea. Shea’s initiative, known by the enigmatic series title “The Bat of Minerva”, explores the lives of thoughtful and creative people so that their unique insights reach a general viewing audience. The “Bat” series is cablecast on Channel 6 (Metro Cable Network) and archived at the University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Studies. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/voices-of-northeast-minneapolis-captured-and-shared-on-video/)

In recent months Peter and I have collaborated to initiate a series of interviews with a range of creative people who, in various and sometimes invisible ways, reflect and support the literary arts as essential and enriching players in a vibrant arts community in Northeast Minneapolis. The videos are accessible on the IAS website (http://ias.umn.edu/2014/07/29/northeast/)

Ours is a low-key project. Each week Peter engages in a wide-ranging discussion – not an interview but a conversation – with one or two individuals who enrich, expand — and share with others — the literary vibrancy of this neighborhood.

My role, that of identifying, contacting and “selling” the concept to those who contribute so much to the literary scene, has enriched my appreciation of this community – and absorbed more than a few hours and days.

At year’s end Peter and I have been looking back to assess the impact and the future of this model.  One thing we have learned is that the possibilities know no limits – each guest introduces us to other resources – a person, an agency, a player – of which we were hitherto unaware. We know that we have barely tapped the mother lode of players in the world of words that thrives in our midst. Another learning is that the means of sharing the ideas and the words is expanding exponentially. We recognize that access to the recorded interviews cries out for attention.

We are also coming to realize that this simple grounds-up approach offers a frequently unpredictable alternative to cookie-cutter interviews with known subjects… We are coming to appreciate that this is technology harnessed and shaped to accomplish the vision that inspired the early proponents of public access television.

For now, our focus is on two priorities we hope to pursue in the months and year to come. One is to replicate the simple process that has created and sustained our efforts to date. At present we are exploring the possibility of expanding our sphere to explore the stories of artists who live or work on the North Side, which quietly embraces a rich, diverse, burgeoning community of creative artists of every stripe. We are eager to explore the many faces of that reality, including individuals and supporting agencies that together shape a rich arts environment in North Minneapolis.

Peter, the inveterate scholar, and I, the unreconstructed librarian, are also concerned with the challenge to harness the potential of technology to enhance access to the videos that are the tangible product of this project. The first and essential step is a fait accompli – the Voices of Northeast tapes are in the public domain and securely archived for download and editing to suit the user’s purpose.

The need now is to take the next step, to apply the tools of access – aka cataloging/coding – that render the videotaped treasures universally and permanently accessible. The goal is to organize the complex collection of video interviews in a standard system that assures that any seeker is able to search, identify, view or download, then learn and share the recorded words of a diverse community of interest.

So, on the one hand, this is an explanation of the temporary absence of Poking Around. On the other hand, it’s a heads up on what this pilot project has accomplished – and what we are thinking about for the future.

Ideas welcome – especially if you have suggestions of people, places, projects and other possibilities into which we should poke in 2016!

 

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Here Comes Peter! The Magnificent Peter Shea

Writing about Peter Shea, his quietly amazing projects and his magnificent mind, is no easy task.  As my then-young son once observed, Peter is just so “Peter-ish.”  Any profile illuminates but a single facet of a multi-faceted man of ideas.

For example, if you have to ask “Why the Bat of Minerva”? then you probably don’t know Peter Shea – yet.   The Bat is Peter’s long-running cable show (15 years plus – Peter’s not so sure of the inaugural date.) is a midnight Saturday and Sunday night regular on Metro Cable Network/Channel 6 in the Twin Cities.  Peter says that the format, in which a disembodied Peter poses questions from off-camera “allows me, a shy person, to have conversations I want to have and to pursue lines of inquiry with real people rather than with books and articles. …and it does some diffuse good for the community, in several dimensions: providing a model of civil, extended conversation, giving people ideas about the lives they could live, getting ideas and ways of working into circulation, helping bright and under-exercised people realize what kinds of challenging work are available to them.”

Over the years the soft-spoken Peter has posed thought-provoking queries to scores of famous scholars, authors, scientists, Americans on the rise, global leaders.  In recent times the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota has archived The Bat so the hour-long interviews are streamed for those who missed the midnight premiere. A sampling of recent interviews suggests the breadth and tone of Peter’s guests:

  • October 6, 2010 – Juliet Schor, a professor of Sociology at Boston College where her research focuses on trends in work and leisure, consumerism, the family, and economic justice. Most recently she is the author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010),
  • September 29, 2010 – Mike Tidwell, author of Bayou Farewell and founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
  • August 30, 2010 – Rob Gilmer, a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at the University of Minnesota. In the fall of 2010, he will be teaching Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010, a course which has garnered national attention.
  • August 20, 2010 – Paul Barclay, a professor of History at Lafayette College where his research interests include Japanese empire, especially in Taiwan, frontier studies, and the use of images as historical documents or instruments of ideology.
  • August 15, 2010 – Ann Waltner, a professor in both the Department of History and the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures and director of the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, talks about Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map of the world, recently acquired by the James Ford Bell Library.
  • August 5-15, 2010 – Minnesota Fringe Festival

Though these are the most recent, the full list of interviews over the years is astounding – Eugene McCarthy, John Davis, Rosalie Wahl are among Peter’s favorites. He also mentions  Maja Cerar (violinist), Carolyn Walker Bynum (medievalist), Morton Subotnik (composer), Andrew Light (environmental ethicist) and Ann Sharp (educator).  The Bat website lists the boundless and boundary-less library of videos Peter has produced since the early days of The Bat when Peter’s two sons (now grown) ran the cameras and, Peter hopes, “got some of the message.” Peter, who allows he’s not much into numbers, produces some impressive ones, e.g. some 82,000 visits  to the IAS website and nearly 10,000 video views since Fall 2008.

True to form, Peter has plans.  One big plan is just unfolding.  In a new series entitled Meet the Neighbors Peter, who also works with Shalom Hill Farm near Windom,  has begun interviewing members of the rural community for cablecast on community cable then archived in a blog.  He’s also been asked by the U of M Department of English to profile all willing faculty – of course he’d like to expand that to other departments.  In general, Peter hopes to produce “rich and coherent archives.”  He cites, for example, “a fine collection of interviews from the Spark Festival of Electronic Music” and a “small but growing collection of interviews done in connection with the Minnesota Fringe Festival.”  One oral history project underway, documentation of the history of the philosophy for children movement.  High on the list of Peter’s current enthusiasms is collaboration on expanding access to  the lectures from “Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010” a U of Minnesota course which IAS is providing online through the Bat.

Peter’s hopes for a bright technology future include great confidence in the future of cable, primarily because “the standard media have messed up fine productions with commercial interruption and commercial packaging to an extent that seems to me suicidal.”  At the same time, equipment is improving and coming down in cost so that “normal people with normal time resources can do interesting niche programming, and the shortcomings will be more than compensated by the lack of commercial distortion and the freshness and immediacy of low to the ground production.”  This offers unique possibilities for rural Minnesotans, Peter expects.  Other dreams include visions of easy archiving and repackaging, Internet 2, and every viewer both a producer of control of his or her own access options.

Learn more about Peter’s background, plans, persona and style by watching an interview archived on the IAS site.

You will never keep up with Peter’s fertile mind and high hopes – to keep abreast of the tangible products, watch the Bat of Minerva website or tune in to Channel 6 at midnight on any Saturday or Sunday.