arts & culture


Following is a post from Fish Wrap correspondent Black Molly. – P.F.A.P.

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The Spring 2008 issue of Initiative Quarterly, a magazine produced by the Initiative Foundation, has recently been released. The Initiative Foundation, for those of you who don’t know, attempts to assist the fourteen counties it serves in central Minnesota with economic development, leadership training, natural resources projects, and children, youth, and family issues. The Initiative Foundation meets a portion of its mission through loans and grants and works to grow the funds it manages in order to expand upon its programs. The Initiative Foundation is one of six Minnesota Initiative Foundations in the state, all of which were started by The McKnight Foundation in the 1980s. In fact, the Initiative Foundation used to be called the Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

For each quarterly magazine, the Initiative Foundation picks a topic of focus. This quarter’s topic is stated on the cover: “Ready or Not? Minnesota’s Future Workforce.” While the magazine does indeed focus on the up and coming Generation Y or Millennials who will soon be entering the workforce, what’s curious about one story, “Workforce Interrupted” by Dawn Zimmerman, is how it spotlights the entry of the Millennials into the workforce as a replacement for aging Baby Boomers, who will soon be leaving the workforce in droves. As I read the article, I sensed there was something missing within the Boomer-Millennial polarity that was being presented. What was missing was Generation X. It was almost as though Millennials were expected to take over for the departing Boomers with nary an Xer in sight.

I have a particular bias toward Gen X because I can be counted among this cohort. I also tend to be sensitive about generational discussions because I typically see that Gen X gets the short end of the stick when it comes to coverage.

The Boomers are huge because, well, they’re huge in numbers. They seem to have been the first named generation and they got the name because of the massive population boom after World War II. The boom lasted from 1946 until 1964 and, thus, those born within these years are considered to be Boomers. Sometimes the Boomers are split into two groups, the Baby Boom Generation (1942-1953) and Generation Jones (1954-1965). (Generational dating is obviously not an exact science because you’ll see some overlap in dates between the generations.)

Gen Xers, who are generally considered to be those born between 1965 and c. 1982, were first called the “baby bust” generation because of the drop in births in 1965. This was five years after the introduction of the birth control pill, which, according to the FDA, was being used by about 5 million women in 1965.

The years associated with the Millennials haven’t been precisely pinned down, with dates ranging from 1978 to 1984, c. 1980 to 1994, or perhaps 1988 to 2008. There’s another named generation, only it was named after the fact, by Tom Brokaw, no less. It’s the Greatest Generation and is supposed to include those who came of age during the Depression and World War II.

That last point is key. While generational discussions can be irritating because they pigeonhole us and don’t describe the individual very well, part of what defines a generational cohort for sociologists and marketers, other than population numbers, is the kaleidoscope of cultural events occurring during our formative years. The thought is that those of us who grow up through the same critical moments together develop a particular view of the world. For the Boomers, it was the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Feminist Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement. You can also count the Summer of Love and Woodstock among the Boomers’ cultural influences.

I’ve said before that what seems to have defined Gen X is the ill-defined threat. We had the Cold War, with its constant threat of nuclear holocaust. (Remember the movie “The Day After”?) We had the Shuttle Disaster, the start of the AIDS epidemic, and a president who was almost assassinated. We lived through a ton of divorces and moms entering the workforce. We became latch-key kids. We had reduce, reuse, recycle and the first major energy crisis. (Gas lines, anyone?)

Gen X women grew up knowing we’d have to work. Staying home wasn’t the option it had been for older generations. We were told that we had to put our careers ahead of having children, and many of us did. We watched as major companies threw responsibility out the window when it came to their employees and laid them off right before they were due to retire, thus avoiding having to pay pensions. We were promised good jobs if we went to college, but when we graduated, no good jobs were to be found. Due to these economic forces, we lost the concept of loyalty to a corporation. We became free agents, changing jobs that didn’t suit our lifestyles, retraining when necessary for completely different careers than we’d first been educated for. We were called slackers and cynical, yet we became independent and entrepreneurial out of necessity. (It’s pretty hard to be entrepreneurial if you are a slacker.)

Call me irritable, but when I see a magazine article that seems to hint that Millennials are a direct replacement for the Boomers (i.e. they get to jump right into the high-level jobs being vacated by the Boomers), the cynic in me makes an appearance and starts thinking that the Gen Xers are getting kicked in the teeth again. If employment attrition works as it traditionally has in the past, the ones who should be directly replacing the Boomers are the Gen Xers, who hopefully have been in the workforce long enough by now to have acquired useful experience and some of those soft skills this issue of Initiative Quarterly is encouraging the Millennials to learn.

I don’t think the article’s author really intended to slight Gen Xers. Her focus, after all, was elsewhere. But, when we’re looking at “a workforce exodus about the size of Minneapolis” as the Boomers retire, I don’t think we can afford to discount an entire group of people when we look for solutions. Rather than ignore the Xers, why not take advantage of their continual training and wide range of employment experiences? As the Boomers retire, some Xers may be ready for another career change, maybe into one of the areas for which employee shortages are predicted. How about having Xers and Boomers collaborate on giving Millennials some pointers on the employment experience?

While it may be easy to put us into generational boxes with cute names, we have to be careful about the judgments we make about each of those generations, especially in relation to the economy and our livelihoods. No matter what our age, we all want to be taken seriously in the workforce and know that our labor matters.

Your Fish Wrap Correspondent,

Black Molly

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I’m connecting the dots with a couple of stories that have appeared in recent issues of the Morrison County Record.  In this week’s issue (February 24, 2008), there was an article in the Education section on a Swanville student who had to be out of school for surgery.  (I’d link to the story, but it doesn’t appear to have been put online.)  So that he wouldn’t miss much during his recovery, school district staff Cheryl Johnson and Neal Weisz rigged up a webcam in the student’s home that was connected to his classroom.

What a brilliant idea.  And, according to Johnson, one that hasn’t been done in this area before.  Now that the Swanville district has taken the lead and shown the possibilities for home education through technology, perhaps other districts will get on board.  This would have been a simple solution to implementing the 504 plan for Olive Rockfish’s daughter in the Little Falls district.  (See here and here.)

Aside from innovative uses of technology in the classroom, where else might technology transform our usual way of life?  How about that library folks in Pierz would like to see built?

Technology has already seriously affected how libraries operate and you have to look no further than the Carnegie Library in Little Falls to see that it is so.  When I was a kid, you could check books out of the library, or look at magazines in the library, and that was pretty much it.  Now, you have your choice of not only books and magazines, but books on tape or CD, music CDs, movies, and on-site access to the internet.  The Carnegie is a part of the Great River Regional Library system, which has implemented an online book catalog and check-out system.   This means that if you have internet access at home, you can peruse the library catalog at your leisure outside of regular library hours and place holds on items for check-out at your convenience.

The entire production and distribution of all kinds of media has turned topsy-turvy with the internet, which will naturally cause changes in how libraries operate.  As downloadable audio books and e-books become standard, could it be that the space we devote to books in our public libraries will shrink?  That would seem to be an obvious outcome.

I am not privy to the specifics of Pierz’s library plan, but I do hope the building’s planners are taking all of these factors into consideration.  Building a ‘traditional’ library at this point in time doesn’t seem to be the wisest course of action.  Envisioning a futuristic library, one that would meet needs we can only imagine at this point, is what Pierz should be shooting for.  Think what can be done with webcams nowadays.

Fish is brain food, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t look at me in that light,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

If you’d like a weighty read on book circulation in libraries over time, check out this study done by Douglas A. Galbi.

There were a couple of articles in this week’s Morrison County Record (December 9, 2007) about the Boys and Girls Club of America setting up a chapter here in Morrison County.  The local chapter is looking at purchasing the old Central Office Building from the Little Falls School District for its home.

Tina Snell included a little history of the Boys and Girls Club in her article, writing that it was founded during the Civil War and was originally called the Dashaway Club.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer the old name of the club.  It’s more intriguing and romantic than the Boys and Girls Club of America.  If I was still a kid, I would definitely be more inclined to join the Dashaway Club.

Darting, darting, and dashing away,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I just got home from the Little Falls Flyer Band Indoor Marching Concert and if you weren’t there, you really missed a fabulous show.  The band rocketed through scads of songs in about two hours.  It was a high-energy performance, starting with band members lining up in the aisles of the Charles Martin Auditorium, marching to the drums on stage and periodically yelling HUP!  There were dancers, lighting effects, dry ice smoke, a cast of Star Wars characters (including Darth Vader), and an Elvis impersonator.  The line-up of songs makes me feel old, being as how so many of them are songs from my childhood.  Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever,” AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” Elvis’s “Viva Las Vegas” (I was thankful they weren’t doing the Viva Viagra version), Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop,” and “What I Like About You,” which was performed by The Romantics in the 1980s.  The band’s percussion section performed the finale.  The percussionists are a fun bunch and the wrapped up the show with a performance that used some unusual instruments.

If you missed tonight’s performance, you still have a chance to catch the show.  The band will be repeating the performance on Monday, November 19, 2007, at 7:30 p.m. at The Charles Martin Auditorium in the Little Falls High School.  Tickets are only $5 for adults and $3 for children, a steal considering the quality of the show.

Clapping my fins in delight,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

P.S.  The audience must have taken Nancy Kapsner’s instruction on proper behavior to heart as it was impeccably well behaved.

Little Falls has a losing high school football team.  It’s gotten so bad that representatives of the Little Falls Community Schools are making a move to have Little Falls removed from the Central Lakes Conference, where the team is consistently outmatched by larger schools.

In the Morrison County Record’s report on the situation, comments by School Board member Karen Idstrom piqued my interest.  She said, “The program needs a strong commitment from the kids to succeed.   . . . Some of the interested kids attended summer football clinics for a few days, then would quit.  Those clinics were set up to teach players, among other things, how to prevent injuries.  It’s not just the kids who need to commit, but the parents and the community, too.”

Let me commit a little heresy here, but, if we are having trouble getting commitment out of the players, parents, and community, why don’t we just drop football as an activity?  Oh, sure, I know, it’s the All-American game and what self-respecting school would be caught dead without a football team?  But think of how few people benefit from playing football, from being the ones out on the field participating.   When it comes to the handful of actual participants, you can figure that most of them won’t play the sport for much more than a few years after high school, if that.

Now, let’s compare football to the arts in terms of numbers of participants and the potential for life-long learning.  The arts encompass everything from music to the visual arts to dance to theater to literature.  Taken together, far more students are able to directly participate in these areas than in football.  (I’m not counting participation through viewership in either case, but direct, hands-on experience.)  Further, most of these fields see participation long past high school and college.

With the exception of literature, which tends to be a part of the core English curriculum, think about how quickly the arts get dropped from the basic school curriculum, let alone as extra-curricular activities, when there is a budget shortfall.  It doesn’t make sense when, on the basis of reaching the greatest number of students, we favor football over the arts.

So, I shall stand by my heresy in suggesting we should do away with football if the interest is not forthcoming.

Waiting to be tackled,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

For more on the impact of the arts in Minnesota, there are several studies posted on the Minnesota State Arts Board’s website.

There was quite a missive from Nancy Kapsner in this week’s guest editorial section of the Morrison County Record. Ms. Kapsner was bemoaning the poor etiquette displayed at a recent live performance of “The Secret Garden” in Little Falls. She went on to explain proper etiquette at live performances, including turning off cell phones, corralling young children, keeping talking to a minimum, remaining in your seats through the performance, and not booing or clapping inappropriately. She wrapped up her letter by saying, “And if, after reading this, you still refuse to behave appropriately, do the rest of us a favor: stay home.”

Bravo! [Picture this fish standing and clapping in agreement.]

Ms. Kapsner surmises in her letter that people may not be following proper etiquette at performances because “it is quite possible no one has ever told our community members about arts etiquette and what is expected of patrons at live performances.” I don’t think ignorance is the reason for poor behavior at live performances. Allow me to illustrate with an example from my life.

A couple of years ago, I attended a concert at the Target Center in Minneapolis. A very popular band was playing. While sitting . . . well, no, I was forced to stand the whole time in order to see . . . I watched people around me coming and going at will, calling each other in the arena on their cell phones, taking pictures with their cell phones, standing so that those behind could not see, and yelling inappropriately. As this was a rock concert, I fully expected screaming and yelling between the songs. What I did not expect was to have a young woman standing two rows behind screaming through every song. Literally. She screamed so that no one could hear the music – quite a feat in a stadium with massive speakers. A family consisting of Mom, Dad, and three young boys got up and left because of this behavior. The mother had asked the woman to stop and the woman retorted, “It’s a concert. What do you expect?” and kept screaming. She was asked to stop by Target Center security – to no avail. Her racket finally quit when she lost her voice.

The point of the story is that young people expect to be able to engage in the behaviors Ms. Kapsner advises against in her editorial. They don’t think a live performance is successful unless they are actively taking part and disrupting things. Bands in giant arenas encourage this sort of behavior because they feed off the energy.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve spent $60+ on a ticket, I actually want to hear the band I came to hear, not some screaming idiot. Multiply that $60 by all the other ticket holders who had the concert ruined, and you can see that poor etiquette is not only an issue of respect, it is one that has financial implications.

Frankly, if I were in a band, I would be hoping for rapt silence at my performances – people so entranced by what I was doing that they would be afraid to sneeze or cough for fear of missing something. I’ve had the pleasure of attending concerts like this, so I know it can happen.

Until we can convince people that concerts are not supposed to be as wildly interactive as the internet, I’m afraid we’re in for quite a few disrupted performances. I just wish the screamers would take Ms. Kapsner’s advice and stay home. They can scream at their television sets all they want and I’ll be none the wiser.

Still a steamed fish after all this time,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Bear with me while I revisit the recent past again.  Soon I’ll catch up.

The Morrison County Record has a relatively new General Manager/Editor, Tom West, who joined the newspaper in January 2007.  His last place of residence was Duluth, Minnesota.  When you read his column, it’s obvious that Tom thinks Duluth is the bomb.  One of his recent columns (July 20, 2007) had Tom all breathless about the culture he has found in Morrison County.  (Apparently he figured Morrison County would be the bomb crater after all of that big city Duluth culture.)   He related how he had attended a Sister City event (Little Falls, MN, and LeBourget, France, are Sister Cities) and was simply amazed at the talented people he encountered.  Here’s a portion of his piece:

“For me, however, the highlight was the performance of the Sforzando String Orchestra, about 30 musicians who range in age from 10 to 85, but of which the majority are in their teens. I may have a tin ear, but I think I still know when a group has its act together and when it doesn’t. The sounds produced by that orchestra were exquisite. The group, which was organized at the St. Francis Music Center, started and stopped as one.

“And that led to the next surprise. The director of the orchestra is Celo V’ec, a graduate of Yale University.”

Yes, Tom, we have Yale graduates  and other creative, smart, cultured people moving among us here in Morrison County.  Did you know we also have indoor plumbing?  – P.F.A.Pickerel