Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Morningside Lights - A Fun Night in New York

Let's start with the pun: The event is called "Morningside Lights," and it truly is a festival of lights.

Why a pun? Because the event was organized at Columbia University, which is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in New York City.

With that out of the way (for our non-New York readers), let me tell you about this delightful evening last Saturday, September 29. The program was put together by the Arts Initiative at Columbia University and the University's Miller Theatre ("the leading presenter of new music in New York City"), working in collaboration with the Friends of Morningside Park.

Designed as a procession, the "happening" (I guess you might call it - if anyone uses that old-fashioned term today!) was inspired by the theme "The Imagined City." The idea was to explore concepts of urban planning and development in one of New York's most diverse neighborhoods, at the intersection of Harlem, Morningside Heights, and the Upper West Side. Obviously a great idea, especially when we think about how the neighborhood is now far different than that which Olmsted and Vaux (the designers of New York's Central Park) must have had in mind when they designed Morningside Park in 1873.

With leadership from artists from Professional Arts Workshop (PAW) - a New York-based partnership whose creations lead the city's annual Halloween Parade - participants were able to build large-scale illuminated structures during the week before the event.

We had a beautiful night for the procession, and although there were a few clouds, they did not dampen anyone's enthusiasm (as you can see from Andrew Berner's photos - go here to see them). The procession started at a little after 8.00 pm, allowing enough time for darkness to fall, and wound its way through Morningside Park and then up to the main part of the campus. I think the creativity of all the people involved is pretty evident from the different styles and types of lights they designed. It was great fun to join in the procession and walk along, sometimes beside the lights, sometimes behind them. Of course as the procession passed between Butler Library and Low Library, those of us with library connections couldn't resist taking photos of those buildings in the night light.

Quite an evening in New York's Upper West Side.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Visiting the Vanderbilts

All the pleasures of the New York summer are not necessarily in the city. A celebration for a recent Sunday birthday provided the opportunity for a drive up the Hudson River. So off we went, heading up to Hyde Park, about 90 miles north of the city.

Although the name "Hyde Park" is connected in most people's minds with the site of Franklin D. Roosevelt's home ("Springwood") and the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, the actual property with that name was the land on which Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856-1938) built his beautiful home in the late 1890s. Married since 1878 to Louise Anthony Torrance, Frederick built the new house when the Greek Revival house on the grounds needed to be replaced (it was apparently "structurally unsound").

Commissioning Charles Follin McKim of McKim, Mead, and White to plan a 50-room home that would match anything the European aristocracy might be inhabiting across the Atlantic, the house when it was finished turned out to be one of the most modern - and stunningly beautiful - houses of its day. The interior decoration and the purchase of the furnishings was turned over to McKim's partner Stanford White, who traveled to London, Paris, Florence, Rome and Venice in 1897 to acquire what Frederick and Louise needed for their Hyde Park home. It is said - possibly apocryphal - that the furnishings costs more than twice as much as the building itself.

The mansion is situated on some 200-plus acres (originally more than 600 acres when Frederic and Louise bought the land). The mansion and the grounds were primarily used as a vacation home for Frederick and Louise and their many guests. A staff of 60 or so kept up the house and gardens and Louise - a lady who loved flowers - would sometimes have, it was said, more that 100 bouquets in vases throughout the house when she and Frederick and their guests were in residence.

Louise died in 1926, and after her death, Frederick lived out his life in the mansion. When he died in 1938, the estate went to Louise's niece Margaret Van Alen. She told President Roosevelt the next year that she wanted to "keep my place as it is - a memorial to Uncle Fred and a national monument." The 211-acre site has been open to the public since 1940. It is a National Historic Site, with well-trained park ranges conducting informative tours for visitors. The interior of the house, except for some personal belongings, is arranged as it was when Frederic and Louise lived there.

For our family excursion, accompanied by our friend Nerisa Kamar visiting from Kenya, we had the full experience of the grounds and the very satisfying tour of the history of the interior of the mansion from the knowledgeable park ranger. Not surprisingly, flash photography isn't allowed inside the house, but the lighting conditions were good for one artifact I particularly wanted to photograph, one of a pair of ruby glass lamps (at one point in my life I collected ruby glass). So the photographs (you can see them at Vanderbilt House) are mostly outdoor photographs with the emphasis on the scenery, the splendid Beaux-Arts architecture (considered by many to be one of McKim, Mead, and White's finest residential projects), and photographic memories of our family's splendid day out. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Calling Back the 1920s and the 1930s

One of the great New York pleasures in the summertime is how much fun people seem to be having! Sure, there are the swells who go off to their country houses, or a week or two at the beach or in the mountains, but it seems to me that most people (at least the people I know) stay around town.

And why not? There's always something interesting - and often very unusual - going on.

Here's a pretty typical example of New York summertime fun: The recent Jazz Age Lawn Party put on at Governors Island back in August (there was also one back in June, but we didn't get to that one). I don't know the history of this event, but I sure plan to attend any more I hear about.

I gather the driving "spirit" - so to speak - is a bandleader named Michael Arenella. He and his Dreamland Orchestra love to evoke the spirit of the 1920s and the 1930s, and it's all pretty well covered in the local press (in fact I first learned about all this from an article about Arenella in the New York Times last spring - "Living in the Past is a Full-Time Gig," published in the Times June 14, 2012). Some friends and I got to talking about Arenella (and, truth to tell, probably fantasizing a little about how much fun it must be to live that kind of life) and we learned from another friend about the Governors Island party.

And the party's been around a while. This was the Seventh Annual Lawn Party, and where had we been? Once we got on board with the idea (we quickly found the advert online), we wasted no time planning to go. It was as much fun as we thought it would be and since that week-end, we've been amazed at the amount of coverage we've seen on Google and other search engines. You can see my photos here.

Why so much fun? Just take a look at how the people dress (we were a little square, but we'll make up for that next time!), how delighted everyone is with the dancing and the socializing, the pleasures of being out-of-doors in the open lawn, lots of food - both picnics brought by party-goers and stands with food for sale - and altogether, a rousing good time.

Much of the attention was focused - naturally enough - on Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra, playing for the dancing. But even before the "real" dancing started, a dancing instructor and his beautiful partner led everyone in learning some of the dances of the era, particularly the Peabody, a great popular favorite of the time. Then Arenella and his musicians came on, and what a sound! He's a fantastic musician, super singing voice, plays all kinds of instruments, and he had Governors Island sounding (and perhaps looking) like it must have been eighty years ago!

Needless to say, all of the dancers weren't just amateur dancers out for a summer Sunday afternoon's fun. We all had our favorite couples (and, yes, here's a photo of mine) and there's no question that some of these folks were - or had been - professional dancers at some point or another in their lives. So many people moved just so gracefully that I began to wonder if the Broadway gypsies hadn't decided to use their Sunday off to come to Governors Island. But no. As I looked closer and concentrated on the wide range of ages and body types and energy levels - all pulled together by the enthusiasm that everyone shared - I began to realize that these people where just there to have fun, and no one was interested in proving that he or she was a better dancer than anyone else. It was just good, happy fun for a crowd of fun-loving New Yorkers.

Kind of makes you wish you had been around in the 1920s and 1930s, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Bronx Zoo - A Treat for One New York Family

We had an overcast Saturday in July, and we didn't want to travel too far afield, as our friend Nerisa Kamar was with us for a last day.

We asked how she would like to spend her day, since she was ending her three-week stay in America that very day (flying back to Nairobi that evening). Nerisa specifically requested a day with Phyllis (Andrew's mom) and with Andrew and Guy. As with all our family excursions, Gloria - Phyllis's caregiver - liked the idea of coming with us so off we went.

So Andrew and Guy finally got to have our long-postponed visit to the Wildlife Conservation Society (we New Yorkers just call it "The Bronx Zoo"). We love to go there, and hadn't been to the zoo for years, so why not?

Go to Berner-St. Clair Day at the Zoo to see the pictures.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Palm Beach in Early Spring

Had occasion to visit Palm Beach and enjoy a little change from New York's winter (although - as I've commented here before - this year's winter has been pretty easy for us, so perhaps a "change" was not so necessary, but it was fun).

A visit to Palm Beach is always special, not only because of the good friends I visit, but just to see such a beautiful little city so well kept and well managed. And the people strolling along the streets are pretty easy on the eye, too.

Since my last visit, Worth Avenue- the city's main shopping street, has had a major makeover. Beautiful new walkways, with crushed shells used in the mortar, producing a nice, soft beige coloring beneath the feet. New palm trees have been installed all up and down the street, and a handsome new clock tower - overlooking the Atlantic - marks the end of the street.

The covered arcades make for a very pleasant walking experience, and off Worth Avenue each of the little streets (which the locals refer to as "vias") provide elegant diversion if you're not necessarily planning on spending time in the major shops. And of these, all the usual grand names are still in place, and many of them have been done over as well, giving the entire street a unified and sparkling, "brand-new" look.

Having fun with the iPad 2, I decided to take advantage of the good camera built in (I don't see how the camera in the iPad 3 can be that much better, as is claimed, but I'm strictly an amateur photographer so perhaps I wouldn't know the difference anyway!). The photos can be seen at 2012.03 Palm Beach.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Peter Woytuk's Sculptures in Lakeville CT

For those folks who think winter is a desolate time in New England, back off.

Yes, there's been little snow this year, and (although I'm not a snow-sports person myself), I do feel a surge of sympathy for the athletes who are not getting their "run in the snow" this winter.

But New England is anything but desolate. Had the good fortune to visit friends in Lakeville, Connecticut recently, and what a sparkling, beautiful week-end it was! No snow, but beautiful (cold) sunshiny days, and we had the special good fortune to head over to the Hotchkiss School. Famous as one of America's best schools, Hotchkiss has a student population of nearly 600 young people, coming from all over the United States and from 28 other countries. The arts are well supported at Hotchkiss, and one of my great pleasures was to discover the sculpture of Peter Woytuk, a beautiful trio of bulls "at rest" on the campus of the school. I couldn't resist, so here's one photo (more are at Peter Woytuk Lakeville 2012.02.18).

And watch this space. The Morrison Galley (which represents Woytuk) in Kent CT has build a large installation of Woytuk's works, running up Broadway in New York City. The exhibition can be seen at a number of the malls along the way, all the way from his elephants at Columbus Circle and ending with more bulls at 168th Street. You can read about the exhibition here, but as I say, watch for Mr. Guy's description. I intend to visit Woytuk's sculptures and share more impressions with you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nerisa Kamar: Knowledge Sharing in Africa

Visitors to this site have often read about Nerisa Kamar, my great friend in Kenya. 

Now there's more.

The latest issue of Information Outlook, the publication of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), includes a profile of Nerisa Kamar, who is with UN-HABITAT, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. She works with UN-HABITAT's Knowledge Management Unit as Assistant Librarian for the Sergio Vieira de Mello United Nations Library at Nairobi.

In his introduction to the interview, author Stuart Hales writes:

"Books, journals, and other media are the lifeblood of libraries and information centers, and many librarians have their hands full organizing their collections of these resources and making them available to clients when and where they are needed. But for some librarians, simply procuring resources is a daunting task. These librarians may face a variety of obstacles - political restrictions, financial constraints, and institutional neglect, to name just a few.

"Librarians in much of Africa are familiar with these barriers, but SLA is helping raise their level of professionalism by connecting them with colleagues and providing them with leadership opportunities. One such librarian is Nerisa Kamar, who recently became president of SLA's Sub-Saharan Chapter. ... Information Outlook interviewed Nerisa late last year and asked her about the challenges that librarians in Africa face, how SLA can help them, and what she hopes to learn during the next few years to move her career forward."

Later in the interview, Hales asks Kamar about KM, and the KM concepts she applies in her work. Kamar responds:

"My personal interest in knowledge management is very strong, because it is my belief that KM and knowledge services make up the foundation and substance of modern librarianship. ... [They have been] useful for me in a number of ways. One is personal knowledge management, which occurs through information needs assessments and information alerts; another is knowledge sharing, by developing a rapport with information seekers to understand their actual information needs and meet them. Then there's knowledge services - creating an awareness of e-resources to which UN-HABITAT subscribes and sharing basic access skills to use with these resources. As an example of this activity, I developed a 15-minute presentation, 'E-Resource Awareness and Basic Search and Navigation Skills Training,' targeting all UN-HABITAT projects. Our presentations so far have been very successful, and satisfying to me as an information and knowledge professional."

Congratulations to Nerisa Kamar, Stuart Hales, and SLA for providing this fine example of how specialized librarianship, knowledge management, and knowledge sharing come together. It is a remarkable synergy.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

New York Music - Gerre Hancock

This is being written on Saturday morning, February 4, as I listen to the Solemn Requiem for Gerre Hancock, Organist and Choirmaster as St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, a musical establishment that played a long and important role in my avocational life. Slightly indisposed, I cannot attend the service, so I am extremely grateful to be able to listen from my home via a webcast.

It's hard to underestimate the influence of such powerful (and very kind) intellectual leaders in the musical world, and I believe all of us are greatly saddened that Gerry Hancock is gone. He was brought to St. Thomas (and to its highly esteemed choir school) in 1971 and worked diligently to build upon and make even greater the splendid music program that was already in place. There is hardly anyone in New York who does not recognize the important music that is presented through St. Thomas, bringing beauty to the lives of many, whether church-goers or not.

For years, New Yorkers have been drawn to St. Thomas Church, not just for the excellence of the music and the high place that the church's service music holds in the larger Anglican/Episcopalian community but for splendid concerts and records that bring much pleasure to all music lovers in this part of the country. The concerts presented by the St. Thomas Choir regularly fill the church to its maximum capacity, and many New York-area music lovers mark their calendars when the concerts are first announced. And while I have no first-hand indication of the numbers relating to the choir's success with its recordings, I certainly hear and read much about them, so I must conclude that they are popular.

So today we are honoring the memory of one of the church's great musical leaders, following in a great line of musical leaders. St. Thomas Church is famous for the excellence of its organists and choirmasters, and Gerre Hancock's great work at the church will always be remembered. Today's service ends with one of the church's most beloved hymns, "Ora Labora" ("Come Labor On"), composed by T. Tertius Noble, another of the Anglican Church's great musicians and organist at St. Thomas for thirty years, from 1913-1943. And, yes, it's one of Mr. Guy's favorite hymns (I'm very happy it will end the service and I just might sing along!). There can be no finer climax in honoring Gerre, whom many of us came to know and respect and love during our many interactions with him. By the time I came to St. Thomas, my chorister years  - most notably at St. Stephen's in Richmond and at St. Bart's, a few blocks away here in Manhattan - had come to an end, so in that respect I was not a direct participant of Gerre's leadership as a choral leader. As a member of the parish, though, and as a sometime lay-reader, it was often my great thrill to be a "listening" member of the results (and, yes, as again a singer when we all joined the choir with our full-throated and wide-open-voice hymn singing, a tradition for which St. Thomas is famous).

So today's service is a very special opportunity to remember one of the great influences in New York's musical heritage, and it makes me very happy to share these thoughts and memories with my friends and colleagues. The service leaflet can be read here and you can listen to the service by going to the bottom of the St. Thomas calendar and selecting your choice for the transmission Windows Media Player or Quick Time).

Guy's Journey Continues - More "Reinventing"?

Happy to be back. And I can't think of a more appropriate subject to begin with than how we think about our work and how we organize our lives so we have satisfying work. It's a challenge to make it all come together.

In our quest, we make much of Mr. Drucker's recommendation to "reinvent yourself." One colleague has even suggested that the idea itself has become something of a cliche.

Not from where I sit.

The whole topic of moving forward, of bringing one's self into an energizing and rewarding career - even if it means rearranging what one has previously been doing - is talked about a great deal among people I know, and recently that idea, long attributed to Peter F. Drucker, fell a little more neatly in place.

Reading The Daily Drucker on a regular basis is something of a tonic for many folks, and I'm among that group. And, as I say, since several of us have been speaking about the whole idea of reinventing one's self, I was delighted to discover that the Drucker reading for January 25 is, yes, the one about his recommendation that we go in this direction.

Captured for that date is this (from Drucker on Asia, published by Butterworth Heinemann in 1995):

"People change over such a long span. They become different persons with different needs, different abilities, different perspectives, and, therefore, with a need to 'reinvent themselves.' I quite intentionally use a stronger word than 'revitalize.' If you talk of fifty years of working life - and this, I think, is going to be increasingly the norm - you have to reinvent yourself. You have to make something different out of yourself, rather than just find a new supply of energy."

So since I've been away from these posts, has Mr. Guy been reinventing himself?

As usual, it depends on your perspective but I will mention that my professional life has broadened and now includes an important commitment to academic work. After tipping my toe into that (not totally unfamiliar) community as we developed the curriculum and began delivering courses to students for Columbia University's M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program, I find myself very happy about what we are doing. I now have three roles in this work: I teach, I serve on the program's advisory committee, and I'm an adviser to the program. Just delighting in this new experience.

The company where I've been employed for nearly 30 years - SMR - continues to satisfy (there's more about SMR here). In addition to my contribution to the delivery of our company's products (management consulting and strategic learning), I'm lucky to be able to continue occasional blog posts for our clients and colleagues (and apparently for many others who pick up on what I'm writing via numerous LinkedIn knowledge management groups). It's our intention to have the posts appearing on a weekly basis, written either by me or guest bloggers, so watch for and respond to what we have to say. Our posts appear here.

We're also continuing our occasional SMR Special Reports (the latest are here and here). And if you're not reading Guy St. Clair's Knowledge Services Newsletter, let me invite you to do so. It's my free monthly newsletter, just started. I hope to provide a couple of comments or thoughts each month, together with a reference to another site or two. Sign up here. Just insert your e-mail address at the space in the upper right-hand section of the screen. You'll be automatically subscribed, and you can opt out at any time.

So we're probably going to see some mixing of Mr. Guy's professional interests with his personal life, since they're so closely connected anyway. This blog will continue with comments and references to just about anything that interests me, including my professional activities. A lot of attention will focus on my life in New York (as with the following, about one of our great musical leaders in the city) and on what I'm reading, how I'm entertaining myself, the people I'm interacting with, and just about anything else I want to write about.

I look forward to again sharing comments and thoughts with you, and to your comments about what I have to say.