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The Arresting Rise of the Social Media Police

You type a few sentences, add a link or post a picture and hit SEND. Then the sirens start. WARNING! WARNING! The social media police are stalking you, ready to take you down.

Watch Out!

It was a pretty simple joke. I updated my status on Facebook with what was meant to be a humorous comment, referencing a current event. Tainted, of course, with a little sarcasm. I thought it was harmless and was surprised when a dear old friend took offense to it.

Is there anything at all that isn’t offensive to someone these days?

Social Media is a way for us to connect. We share our thoughts, what we’re doing, our hopes and dreams– we may reach out for support, ask opinions or look for some healthy debate. It’s called sharing. It’s called communication. We use it to keep touch and stay informed — maybe even learn a thing or two.

I’ve found that most posts in social media fall into three categories: I felt this, I did this, and I saw this (and I want to share it).

How is that a bad thing?

Even if you post something that might not be a popular opinion– it’s nothing more than an expression of who you are at that given moment. Doesn’t freedom of speech give you that right?

Is there such a thing as inappropriate content? Of course there is….. BUT Politics, religion, entertainment, current events, family– your life– is completely within your rights to share.

My Opinion

I seriously think there are a lot of people that should not be connected to social media. They aren’t capable of accepting what they find there– or allowing others to exercise their right to free speech. They don’t want to discuss or debate an issue they may disagree with– but they will judge you for posting it.

Do I read, like or comment on everything posted on social media? No, of course not. I do, however, respect the right of people to post it. If I want to engage with people about it, then I will. Most of the time though, people just want to get something off their chest, share a story or state their point of view. They aren’t really looking to have a conversation. That’s okay, too.

On topics I’m not interested in or disagree with — I just scroll on by. If it’s ‘fake news’ or something I feel strongly about, I’ll try to use it as a ‘teaching moment’ and comment. What I will not do, is criticize or state an opposing view that I am not prepared to back up. What would be the point?

That is where the social media police come in.

So exactly who are they?

They are the people that troll online, criticizing people and trying to regulate what they want to see. Don’t even try to please them because they will always find something wrong with your posts.

They are the people that don’t like a specific thing– sports, politics, religion, even cuteness– and issue ultimatums. Usually, that will include the threat that they will delete you or stop following you, if you don’t submit to their demands. They think it is their right to control you.

It becomes difficult when the attacks come from someone you respect, love, work with, or from family. The bottom line is: maybe you (and they) need to stick to other ways to connect. Avoid the rush and get off social media if you can’t handle it.

I’m a political person. Even so, after the above mentioned friend threatened to delete me for my politics, I did a quick look back. Of my past 50+ posts on Facebook, only 10 (20%) had anything to do with current events (not counting entertainment industry posts) and not all of those were even political. For the ‘average’ person– is that too much if that’s what interests them?

Would you tell a mother not to post pictures or stories about their child? Would you tell an actor or musician not to share their work? How about someone fighting cancer or a sports enthusiast? Should they stop posting specific things because you say so? It’s ridiculous.

Sure, I’ve unfollowed some people and even deleted a couple. I’ve never bullied them. At the same time, some of my most favorite people (on social media) are those with whom I have diametrically opposing views on certain issues. Because — we can talk about it, maybe debate it and also even sometimes joke about it. We show respect for one another. I think we enrich each other’s lives because we are open-minded enough to want to learn and understand each other. We’re better people because of it.

Advice to the Would Be Social Media Police

Get off social media!

It’s that simple.

No one has the right to try and control another person. Stop being a bully. You are not the center of the universe. If you don’t like what you see on Facebook or Twitter? Close your account. Shut down your computer. Take a walk. Breathe.

I think if you’re the type of person that just wants to see pictures or cute posts of puppies and food– there are still probably email lists you can sign up for to get your daily dose.

Don’t like what you’re seeing? Your misery and controlling nature doesn’t need to be forced on the rest of us who might actually appreciate the diversity of the world.

Knowledge is power. Acceptance is the key.

If you really don’t like what your friends are posting, maybe you’re just too afraid of learning something new. Or maybe, you really just don’t like your friends.

You decide.

Relearning How to Read in the Internet Age

There’s the old joke: “I know it’s true because I read it on the interweb.” Now– it’s not even funny. For most of us, the Internet has become our main source for news and information.

How can you know if what you are reading is true?

Fact, Fake or Spin?

One thing I learned how to do over the past year was how to tell the difference between fact based news, ‘spin’ or biased news… and of course, fake news.

We used to be able to depend on news sources to report the facts of a story without adding ‘color’, their opinions, spinning it a specific direction… or reporting ‘gossip’ as truth. Sure, the news has always been used as a propaganda machine to some extent. For the most part though, we were allowed to come to our own conclusions based on the facts we read. That’s all changed. Today, we are most often told exactly what we are supposed to think, believe or feel about a story. True or not.

You can’t believe everything you read. Can you believe anything?

The first things I look for in any article are quotes and source links. This doesn’t make it completely reliable but it lends some support for accuracy. If the subject is of true interest or importance to me, I will click on at least one link (for sources) while I’m reading. If the article is suspect, don’t be surprised if the link takes you to advertising or some totally unrelated website. I found, on more than one occasion, linked sources that were cited in an article were not what they claimed to be. Some were dead links or “page not found”. This should make you doubt any validity in what you are reading.

May, Could, Might…

Whether you’re reading or watching a news story on television, you can be sure you’ll see or hear words that should immediately send up red flags.

When a reporter asks someone what they think— they are asking for an opinion or an assessment. Neither of these constitutes fact, even if it supports what you want to believe.

When you read, “The Constitution is the framework of the United States Government.” This is a statement of fact. If you read, “The Constitution may have inspired the governing documents of Latin American countries.” This statement is conjecture. It might be true but would require further research to find whether or not it is a fact.

On the other hand, you could also read, “John Doe is a racist.” (A statement of “fact”.) If this is true, where are the documented sources that back this up? If there are none, or the supporting information is a conclusion based on interpretation– don’t accept it as truth. Look for other sources that will either support or disprove that accusation.

Here’s another example: It seems that every day there’s a new article about some food or diet supplement that may cause cancer. These are all highly suspect. The word may is the key. What other information is provided to back this up?

We should never be afraid to question the validity of what we read. More important, never accept something as fact just because you read it somewhere.

Studies, Polls and Findings…

For every topic, you can find studies, polls and findings in the search of answers to important questions. You have to look at a) who sponsored it, b) how many people participated in it and c) under what condition was the data collected.

Can you trust them?

One of the more famous ‘false claims’ (findings) in recent years is that diet soda causes obesity. You can find many articles that will provide studies and polls to back up that claim. Sort of. What they don’t tell you is that the respondents also may consume a half gallon of ice cream, two bags of chips and a candy bar in between their meals. Diet soda, itself, doesn’t cause obesity. If a person drinking it assumes they can eat more of everything else because they are reducing their sugar intake by not drinking regular soda… guess what? They aren’t going to lose weight or can just as easily gain weight. This should be common sense.  So what those articles are really inferring is that obese people who drink diet soda, are often likely to justify replacing those missing sugars with something else… furthering their high sugar intake.

Polls. Many polls aren’t very reliable. Often the sampling of people surveyed might not be large enough or broad enough. Polls are also highly susceptible to emotion. An individual’s feelings (opinion) can change based on many factors; changing the result of what the poll was supposed to measure.  Because of this, they aren’t always an adequate predictor of future behavior or actions– even when every effort is made to interview a broad cross-section of respondents. The 2016 election is a perfect example of how inaccurate polling can be.

Breaking News…

News as it happens.  Breaking News is now a daily event. We can’t always know the who, what, when, where and how as it is unfolding. Jumping to conclusions is the worst thing we can do. The fact that the media, and often our leaders do it — is just irresponsible.

Three recent acts of violence– Las Vegas, Cincinnati and London were all immediately speculated as ISIS attacks. Terrorism. Those accusations in all three cases were later proved to be unfounded.

We have to be careful of the narrative we’re fed as news is happening. Things aren’t always what they initially seem.

Misleading Headlines…

It’s hard to go online, especially on social media and not see shocking or sensationalized headlines. Some you can immediately identify as fake news. Others, you can’t be sure. The art of writing the headline is what sells advertising and makes readers click and read.

A quick way I’ve found to test the reliability of a headline, can be found in the first paragraph. Real news will usually state facts about the subject at the top of the article. (This isn’t always the case with an expose or human interest story, though.) If the first paragraph launches into something totally unrelated to the headline, you’re best bet is to find a different source.

Ridiculous? Yes.

Many headlines for articles posted online are geared towards getting you to click– then be subjected to tons of advertising and pop up spam. I’ve found some articles that amount to nothing more than a couple of meaningless paragraphs surrounded by dozens of advertisements. There are many ‘news sources’ that do this and many that are just plain fake news sites. As you identify these, you’re better off avoiding them in the future. The headline may be enticing– but why waste your time?

Whatever you do : Don’t accept a headline as truth, or a statement of fact without reading the article. Most definitely, don’t share the link to something you haven’t read. This is how fake news became so prominent.

Memes…

True or false? Did he say it? This meme is FALSE.

They can be funny or cute, provide an inspiring quote of the day, or a list of fast facts to make you think. Are they true? A meme is just a picture (usually) with some words, meant to grab your attention. What harm can they cause? The answers are: they aren’t always true and just like fake news– they can cause damage.

I’m sharing a pretty harmless one here: Winston Churchill and the Arts. It doesn’t hurt anyone– but the fact is: there’s no evidence that he said it. It has, and continues to be shared frequently because it supports a narrative that favors the arts.

Search for the Truth…

So how can we know if what we are reading is true? The answer isn’t a very satisfactory one. The only way you can be fairly confident something is true– is to research it. Are there multiple unbiased sources that report the same facts? If it involves a person, are there actual quotes (preferably video) backing up the claims?

People have busy lives. Researching everything you read (to find if it’s true) is not something most people can, or want to do.

I will regularly use sites like snopes.com and factcheck.org to see if a trending story has already been researched.

Wikipedia can be a great launching point for finding quick information but it should never be your final source. Anyone can update, post or change the information on Wikipedia. Fact or fiction. Check the sources.

As a rule, if I can’t find documentation to back up a claim, I won’t accept it as truth. Through the Internet, we have immediate access to so much information. The real challenge is deciding whether we can really believe it of not.

We have to be vigilant in our search for the truth and not be afraid to question everything. It’s always better to be safe now than to be sorry later.

The Disturbing Truth About Social Media

header-bad-reviewsThe ugly truth is that social media is becoming less about engaging and connecting- enriching our lives; and more about attacking and spreading untruths.

Do you think before you post? We’ve all been guilty at one time or another of sharing a post or link without investigating it first: Like the reoccurring Facebook privacy-protection posts. Hopefully, we can all learn that its better to check it out first before we spread false alarm to our friends.

There’s a lot of anger and hate online. Lately, I’ve witnessed a lot of business owners using their personal accounts to attack and smear their competition. They post negative and misleading comments and reviews– even though they’ve never used their competition’s services.

Can you defend your posts on hot button topics? Are you willing to?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… what do they mean to you? Do you primarily rely on them to keep in touch with others? Make new connections? Do you believe everything you read?

What is social media?

Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

Social Networking: the creation and maintenance of personal and business relationships especially online

GEJs-aide-Mrs-Sarah-Pane-cautions-on-use-of-social-mediaDo you use social media the same way today as you did, say, two years ago? I keep asking myself how long social media will remain the phenomenon it has been or whether its popularity is starting to die off. Many of my friends barely even post anymore. A number of them have begun deleting their accounts. With all the negativity, it’s no wonder why.

Bullying Online. There is a frightening trend of hateful and often unfactual content online. More and more people attacking others for their personal opinions, calling names and even harassing individuals and businesses without cause.

I find myself getting more and more worked up over the insensitive and hateful nature of so much that is being posted through social media– particularly Facebook. Anonymity of online identities versus face to face confrontations is allowing brazen cowards to spew hate and bully other people for having opinions.

People that attack others online– and there are a lot of them– aren’t doing anything more than showing their ignorance.

Agree to Disagree? What happened to free speech and open debate? I just had someone delete my (polite) comments after they posted some derogatory comments about a political figure. They didn’t represent all the facts. My comments were not disrespectful or aimed at the poster– I just wanted to clarify and perhaps shed some light and encourage them to look at the situation in a different way. They really couldn’t disagree with my comments because I was stating fact- not merely taking a position. Instead of challenging, discussing or debating the issue; they just deleted my comments and added even more hateful (unsupported) comments of their own.

In another recent exchange, I had what I thought was a wonderful debate with this same individual over an entirely different issue. See the mixed signals here?

If social media ceases to be an open platform for the exchange of thoughts and ideas- what is the point? If you post something, do you really expect everyone to agree with you? If everyone does agree with you, what was the point of posting it to begin with?

Fact is Fact. This is true. BUT anyone can spin a situation to make the actual facts support their position. You also have to remember- everything that is stated as fact– isn’t. I have a general rule that if something doesn’t make sense, or I want to back up a position; I try to find a minimum of 5 agreeing sources before I’ll accept it as probable truth. This often means I have to search beyond the media-bias reporting from agenda-based websites that will regurgitate the same thing from another similar site, without researching its authenticity. Is it a fact, is it a commentary, or is it a lie?

Social Connection. Life isn’t always exciting. Sharing what some may consider ‘mundane’ things is perfectly fine with me. The idea is staying connected.

You want to get your opinion across– that’s understandable. Do you know when enough is enough or when your simply beating a dead horse?

In my world of social media, I’ve started unfollowing people that post the same negative content over and over. I don’t do it just because I may disagree with them. If that’s all they post and they never share anything of personal interest to me or about their own lives; then they are just clogging up my news feed. If unfollowing them doesn’t do the trick, then I delete them all together. I won’t tolerate unfounded hate and ignorance as anyone’s only form of communication.

The positive influences of social media are being overshadowed. The potential for good is being diminished.

In terms of longevity, social media is still quite new. It’s still evolving. Unfortunately, that evolution is taking a dark turn where hate can be expected and ‘fact’ cannot be relied on.

deleteIt’s time we bring back accountability and respect to all of our interactions. Especially online. If we want to stay connected to one another through social media we need to practice kindness and tolerance. The alternative is only a click away.

The Post I Wasn’t Going To Write

IMG_0290I wasn’t going to write a September 11th blog post today. I’ve written several already, along with posts on the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. No, today, after changing my Facebook cover photo, posting my favorite Memorial picture on Instagram and watching  the coverage in New York and Washington; I had intended to remember privately.

I also wasn’t going to write about something else (directly connected) that has really bothered me for quite some time.

Such is life– things changed. So here I sit and write.

In the past, most of my posts have been structured with a specific point. This one is going to be a little more free-thought.

A few hours ago I was scrolling through Facebook and saw I was tagged in a post from a former student, then a post from another student and one from a teacher-friend. Plans changed.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 12.35.45 PMWhen I was working at Bartlett High School, I wrote a play called, September’s Heroes; an ensemble, multimedia production; performed in honor of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I’ve been stalling getting it published because I felt it still needed some work. In any case, had things gone the way I planned, September’s Heroes should have been on stage tonight. (I’ll get back to that later.)

Three Posts On Facebook. Natalie is an incredibly gifted young actress currently studying theatre at the University of Miami. I had the privilege of working with her and she was one of the key ensemble members in the cast of September’s Heroes. This morning, Natalie posted this:

“On September 11th, 2011, I walked off the Bartlett High School stage with tears in my eyes because I was so moved by the story of “September’s Heroes” that I had just shared with the audience. This was the first time I had reacted so viscerally to a piece of theatre. Each year I grieve for the souls we lost in 9/11 — each soul that didn’t get to finish their story. I am proud to be a theatre maker. And proud to be an American.”

Then I found a post by another student in that production that moved me for similar reasons. Ken wrote:

“It’s necessary to remember 9/11 as an important part of our history. To readily mourn the innocent lives lost that day and the graphic images captured of the tower collapsing.

However, its just as important to acknowledge the level of Islamaphobia that followed 9/11 that continues to haunt muslim folks, south asian folks, and everyone ‘mistaken’ as such still today .

Both the pain of those that lost loved ones on 9/11 as well as the families that continue to feel endangered today matter.

Acknowledging the former without recognizing the latter is being downright selective of the kind “American” history you want to remember.”

Ken- September's HeroesIn September’s Heroes, Ken had a monologue we referred to as “Hate” calling attention to the rise in fear and open racism that was a by-product of the 9/11 attacks. Now, Ken is becoming a voice– an activist; speaking out for minority rights. He current studies African & African American Studies at the University of Minnesota.

The third Facebook post by Charlie, a teacher-friend that I know from past theatrical productions wrote:

“9-11 isn’t even a memory to those I now teach. It is something they (may) have heard about…wow. As Ferris said, life moves pretty fast.”

Three different people. Three different posts. All three, unknowingly giving me a kick in the butt to do something I’ve put off for too long. Publishing September’s Heroes.

How Today Was Supposed To Happen. In June 2014, I started the process of securing space from the City of Elgin to produce a season of five shows, two weeks each at the Elgin Art Showcase. September’s Heroes was to be one of those shows. It should have– it would have been on stage tonight if it hadn’t been for the irresponsible actions of a city employee.

From the time I began the process, I dealt with three different people responsible for booking the space. The first left (who kept putting me off, delaying the process), the second was filling in (and tried valiantly to be accommodating with my requests) and then there was the third: the newly hired coordinator for the space. She flat out told me I couldn’t have the dates because she wanted them, even though they had already been promised to me.

I need to back up and say that I had also applied for this coordinator position. I had more than enough qualifications and experience, I’m an Elgin resident but I didn’t even get an interview. I was later told (by an insider) that the person they hired had already been tapped for the job, before the opening had even been posted. On top if that, she doesn’t live in Elgin (city officials claim to favor residents first) and she already holds a conflicting position, managing another space downtown. Strangely, her space is constantly active, while the Art Space sits empty.

Of the ten weeks I wanted, there has only been one, two-hour event in the space during the entire list of dates I had requested. It was nearly the end of last October before I was given contractual dates. At this point, it was already too late to successfully publicize the first two shows. I planned to release all but the last two bookings but when I discussed this (through email) with the new coordinator, she told me I couldn’t have the September dates, she was using them for her event. So I cancelled them all.

It turns out, IF they are using the space, it’s not on the city calendar AND the event (which is happening) isn’t until next week. My production of September’s Heroes could have gone on. At no point was I ever contacted and told that I could, in fact, have those original dates I had requested.

Yes, I’m bitter about this. I’m bitter about not being given consideration for the job and more so for having dates I had been given– in writing, taken away from me and then not used. The city pays a lot of money to subsidize this space and due to poor management– it sits empty. Yet another example of Elgin’s waste of taxpayer’s money.

Moving On and Being Inspired. So September’s Heroes is not on stage tonight but that’s not the end of it. Thanks to the inspiration of friends, I’m working on a new edit of my script to publish. Hopefully it will see productions for next year’s fifteenth anniversary.

Theatre moves, educates and inspires people. There is a whole new generation of children in school that weren’t even born when the terrorists attacked. They need to know the story. They need to hear about the heroes and the innocent people that lost their lives that day.

One Last Story. I want to end with this. I may have shared it before but if I have, it bares repeating. One of the people that ‘liked’ one of the Facebook posts this morning, is the mother of another one of the young actors that was in September’s Heroes in 2011. I didn’t really know him very well (at the time) besides the fact that he was talented and very polite. During the rehearsals, I got the feeling he was having a little trouble connecting to the material.

In January 2013, I chaperoned a student trip to New York and he was also on the trip. Besides seeing Broadway shows, we toured a little bit of the city and visited the National September 11th Memorial. We stood at the two pools that form the footprint of where the World Trade Center once towered over lower Manhattan. It was there that I saw this strong young man, emotional, as it all became real for him. It was a touching moment. An important moment that I’ll never forget.

It reminds me constantly of the power of theatre… the importance of history… and the necessity of telling and retelling the story.

It’s our duty to share, remember and #neverforget.

736813_10200218208595651_1111456643_o

Love Is Love

My profile picture with the FB celebratepride filter.

My profile picture with the FB celebratepride filter.

I have to say I didn’t get too emotional yesterday with the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision in support of gay marriage. Maybe because I knew it was still only a small step– a very historic step—  but still just a small step towards acceptance and equality in the United States. Perhaps it’s because I’m a little numb from a lifetime of exposure to hate and bigotry. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I never thought I’d see this day.

The court’s decision isn’t going to instantly change people’s opinions. Only time will accomplish that.

But then this morning, as I scrolled through my Facebook Newsfeed, something happened. Not only were there a myriad of posts celebrating the landmark decision– friend after friend had also changed their profile pictures, using the celebratepride filter, overlaying the rainbow pride flag over their image. I found myself incredibly moved.

It suddenly became real to me.

Love equals Love. Equality gives way to the very Freedoms we are supposedly all guaranteed in the Constitution. Maybe there is Hope. Maybe Amerika can become America again– or maybe even, for the first time.

Every step we take in this country to remove Hate, opens the door to love and acceptance.

Gay marriage can now just be called marriage. Eventually, Gay pride may become an unnecessary celebration and can give way to American pride. It’s all about Equality. Each and everyone of us equal.

Some of the love being shared on Facebook.

Some of the love being shared on Facebook.

I think it’s important to be consciously aware that the Supreme Court’s decision was not a strike against Christianity. Many people are choosing to take it that way; and I find it extremely sad and nearly pathetic. The fight was never about changing anyone’s religious beliefs; it was the always about equal rights under the law. In ancient times, marriage may have only been strictly viewed as a religious contract– not anymore. There are too many rights under the law regarding married people to maintain that defense.

Love is Love. It transcends gender and race. It is more powerful than contracts, vows or religion.

All we need is time.

Where’s the Art in Elgin?

Art-ShowI’ve lived in Elgin for over 15 years and have a working history with Elgin arts organizations that goes back over 23 years. I can attest that not much has changed in a quarter of a century. Groups and artists come and go, leaving what has always been a small, typical community arts base. Pretty much what you’d expect to find in most communities this size, anywhere in America.

Imagine my amusement while watching a broadcast of a city council meeting, as a speaker made a statement to the council that went something like this:

Elgin has the best, vibrant, world-class arts community outside of Chicago and possible New York. Everyone knows our reputation.

I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.

I laughed out loud.

I don’t want to belittle the talent and creativity or the blood, sweat and tears of Elgin artists. I just want to draw attention to some of the misperceptions of what the arts community really is, in relation to other communities. It’s wonderful to be proud of your community– and it’s a totally different thing to be completely unrealistic.

I’d say Naperville has an up and coming arts scene… Oak Park’s art scene is pretty impressive…. but Elgin?

Maybe there’s just something I’m missing here.

Where is the ART in Elgin?

If I live here and I don’t know about it– That’s a problem. If I look for it and still can’t find it– That’s a bigger problem.

Visibility I looked at the city calendar. If I go by what’s listed, there isn’t much happening in Elgin for the next six months.

Calendar Check:

Elgin Art Showcase Calendar & Special Events– Lists no art related events for at least the first six months of 2015. This calendar is an offshoot of the main city calendar. There is a link on the Art Showcase main page to upcoming performances which only includes a prayer breakfast in January.

City of Elgin Calendar– Includes Holidays, Board and Committee Meetings and ‘all’ city- wide events; Aside from the Winter Blues Bash at Hemmens this weekend, the calendar only lists Elgin Symphony Orchestra performances on it’s calendar. Coincidentally, the ESO owes the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans on top of ongoing city backed financial support.

The Hemmens calendar and Art Showcase calendar are (perhaps unfortunately), a subset of the city calendar.

Downtown Neighborhood Association – No events are listed on the DNA calendar for the first six months of 2015 except : (pre-populated) First Friday Improv at Hemmens (listed every month). Their website shows past events but is not promoting any upcoming events in 2015.

With no luck finding art on the city sponsored sites and as someone that doesn’t subscribe to a printed newspaper any more (Does anyone?) –I turned to the only other place I knew to look…

Art-is-Life-Life-is-Art-Philosophy-Photography-Art-by-PLATUXGoogle Anyone? Google searches aren’t terribly revealing either. I searched live entertainment in Elgin and live entertainment in Elgin, IL and only a few bar bands popped up. I did learn that several Elgin eating establishments offer occasional musical entertainment. Art in Elgin, IL brings up a couple links to gallery/performance spaces but mostly martial arts studio links. Top searches for Fine arts in elgin il bring up Westminster Christian School first, the Art Center at Elgin Community College (ECC), Larkin High School, and lots of links to groups in St. Charles and Naperville.

A search for music in Elgin IL lists mostly repeated bar links, music lessons and finally, halfway down the second page the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. Searching for theatre in Elgin IL ( and theater) is a little more successful: Elgin Theatre Company, Children’s Theatre of ElginJanus Theatre (site not updated since June 2014), ECC, Side Street Studio Arts, and the Marcus Cinema movie theater come up before many links to other communities outside of Elgin.

Now here’s probably the most important: I searched art in Chicago suburbs, art in Chicago Northwest suburbs, theatre (theater) in Chicago suburbs, music in Chicago suburbs, dance in Chicago suburbs, things to do in Chicago northwest suburbs…. going 5 pages deep on each search, only one Elgin-related link came up and only in one of the searches.

This is distressing because Elgin needs to bring in people from other communities for economical success.

Facebook or Twitter? I follow a number of organizations, city pages and Twitter feeds and the use of social media by Elgin arts groups is pretty unsuccessful. Of those that use it, none seem to be aggressively targeting audiences, if at all.

Appearance is Everything. I searched for and checked out the websites of a number of Elgin groups and most of the websites are pretty unappealing.Some aren’t even up to date. Many look like no effort was put into them and do a poor job of marketing their art.

The best looking website belongs to Side Street Studio Arts. It’s visual, informative and features an up to date listing of events.

There are a ton of events listed on the Art Center at Elgin Community College link– but it still takes some navigating to find, the pages are not visually appealing. The descriptions of the events are minimal and not very enticing as well.

Snail Mail? We get a periodic newsletter, from the City of Elgin, sent to all residents. They do a good job of publicizing their seasonal festivals in it– but not other arts events. We also get a postcard publicizing upcoming events from one group. That’s about it for snail mail.

City Representation? The Elgin Cultural Arts Commission exists primarily as an advisory committee. They accept applications for artist and organizational grants and make their recommendations.

One of their purposes states:

Provide a vehicle for publicizing all arts related events of various organizations as well as community, state or national events related to the arts, and provide a strong public relations program for communicating the commission’s goals and their impact on community life.

In my research, I cannot find any evidence that they are having any success in this very important area. I can’t even find a list of arts organizations in Elgin. Shouldn’t that be a priority?

According to their last publicly available meeting minutes, from last November (2014); they are looking at creating a stand alone website, separate from the city’s where they could provide more information and links. This would definitely be beneficial. Especially if it gave them control over content.

Art.So WHAT’S the SOLUTION? First, I don’t mean to sound like I’m solely blaming the city for the lack of visibility. BUT– This is a symptom of a major problem in Elgin. The downtown area is dead. Yes, new businesses have opened… and many have also quickly closed. Not enough is being done to revitalize the downtown area. Token efforts are made like the River Walk redevelopment and the huge financial investment the city made in the Elgin Artspace Lofts — but without any big picture, comprehensive plan– stand alone efforts are not going to bring back a prosperous downtown.

One park, business, or space is not a community. The city should really look at building a niche market and focus on nurturing businesses and spaces with open public access. Investing in one thing without a comprehensive plan for the community is not going to make a difference.

I state this, because the arts community, if visible, can have a huge economic impact on the city. There are a few restaurants in the downtown area but all don’t keep regular hours. At five o’clock, most of downtown– shuts down. It leaves a dark, seemingly unsafe neighborhood.

If someone comes to an event downtown, they might also eat in a restaurant. They might shop in a store. These places have to exist, first. Second, people need to know they exist. Third, patrons need to feel safe in the neighborhood. Without all three of these conditions, the downtown will continue to flounder.

I don’t mean to limit the focus on downtown. It’s just that it’s supposed to be the hub of activity. There are arts opportunities all over the city– at least so I’m told. I might know for sure if I could find them.

I just looked at a Courier News article, online titled, Five Things To Do Around Elgin Jan. 16-22 and not one them listed, is in Elgin.

So tell me–

WHERE IS THE ART?

 

Is ‘Black Lives Matter’ Hurting More Than Helping?

BlackLivesMatterIt’s trending and blowing up on Twitter and Facebook– #BlackLivesMatter. I get it. I understand the intent. Is it really helping though?

I personally find it a little offense and I need to explain.

Don’t #AllLivesMatter?

Here’s the thing: Singling out a particular race, as a call to action; in an effort to end racism, protest inequality and police brutality– Isn’t it just broadening or solidifying the divide instead uniting us?

I can completely identify with the expressions of sorrow, anger, and disappointment. Then when I see the hashtag– I feel like I’m being alienated. I understand this is intended to draw attention to one issue but I still feel it creates an us against them mentality.

We need unification in this country, not a divide. We’re already divided. People pick sides. We need to come together in order to make real progress.

Throughout my life, when discussing the race issue, I’ve been told, “you don’t understand– you can’t understand”…. but I do understand. As a gay man I’ve experienced many of the same issues. If I say that, then the response is usually, “but people don’t immediately judge you because of the color of your skin.” This is true. Still, I’ve experienced hate. I’ve experienced prejudice. I’ve been angry and afraid. Not the exactly the same, maybe, but at the gut level, it is.

When you say “you don’t understand” to anyone, regardless of the issue– you alienate them. How does this help the cause?

If you say #BlackLivesMatter is to draw attention, show anger or disapproval– then I’d say the campaign is successful. If you tell me #BlackLivesMatter is to bring about change, then I’d suggest there might be a better way.

Yes, Black Lives Matter. Gay Lives Matter. So do Hispanic, White, Poor, Rich, Disabled…. need I go on?

UnificaAllLivesMatter2tion.

Attack the problem.

Prejudice, Stereotypes, Assumptions, Racism, Sexism, Unlawful Judgement, Inequality, Police Brutality of any kind… those are the problems.

Preaching to the choir is pretty pointless.

If #BlackLivesMatter is building solidarity that’s great– but why not include everyone?

Make a difference. Talk about it. Unify everyone.

#AllLivesMatter.