Time Is the Enemy So Slow Down and Take A Look

Most people just run, run, run up and down, down, down the stairs of the Sedgwick station on the CTA’s Brown Line.

Me? I prefer to stop and look as I move up and down these steps to get a closer look at the brilliant Venetian glass of this glorious and exuberant explosion of color and energy here.

Move up a step, and oh yes, you’ll see something new in the gregarious greens and the tangerine tongue that reaches out to the middle of the piece. It’s marvelous and close consideration, close communion is what makes it Truly Unique.

Move down a step, what’s next? You’ll capture another moment and maybe an image of a fellow traveler will appear in the mirrored glass, scurrying away to an appointment with a Master of the Financial Universe in the Loop. Or on the other side, maybe they are running up to meet friends for empanadas and empathy in Albany Park.

The station is full of possibility and this work by Carlos Rolon is what makes it comes alive, bringing the colors and dynamism to this corner of the oh-so-Brown-Line.

Make a stop here soon. Come close to his work, peer at it from different vistas.

Crouch down.

Jump up.

Bring friends.

Dear Riot Fest: How Do You Tweet?


Image credit: Riot Fest Twitter Guy

Riot Fest is, as they say, is kind of a big deal in the world of music festivals. Started in 2005, their home base is beautiful Humboldt Park in Chicago and since that time their musical tentacles have spread out to include shows in Denver, Toronto, and so on.

They have a fun, snarky, informative, and compelling Twitter presence, and their main man (aka Riot Fest Twitter Guy) was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

What’s the goal/mission of your organization’s Twitter feed?

We want to be as interactive as possible with our fans and respond to as many of them as we can. We run a festival but are also fans. We are out at shows at least 3 nights a week and encourage our fans to support the music. We’re real people and not just an anonymous entity. Twitter also gives us the ability to make real connections with our fans. When we tweet about a new band, or a great show we saw, or a new album, we’re not just doing it for some marketing reason, we’re doing it because we’re genuine fans.

What are your other responsibilities at your organization?

I run the social media for Riot Fest. I Interact with our fans and take the feedback we receive to the boss man.

What’s the mix of tweets you like to send out on any given day?

As the festival approaches we like to give as much info as we can about tickets, lineups, and what’s going on at the fest. Random contests, like bring Bill Murray and Rob Ford to Riot Fest. We also like to keep fans updated on what is happening in the punk and rock world whether it’s new albums, Riot Fest presents shows or just local shows that we think our fans would like. Smart ass answers to smart ass questions. Relevant quotes. Sometimes we won’t tweet for a day or two and then go on late night binges.

And sometimes to mourn. Last week, one of our favorite people and lead singer of one of our favorite bands, Dave Brockie of GWAR passed away. We used Twitter and Facebook so people could tell stories and share pictures of seeing him play or meeting him. Got to admit I choked up a few times reading some of the stories.

We’re a community.

How do you interact with other organizations in (or outside) of your field?

We like to interact with as many bands as possible and help support what they are doing.

What’s the most valuable aspect of Twitter for your organization?

Being able to get immediate feedback. We may be smart asses, but we definitely listen to everything our fans say. We wouldn’t be here without them.

What types of social media software do you use to manage the organization’s Twitter account?

It depends where I am. I would say it’s split evenly between my phone and Hootsuite. Part of what makes our Twitter so successful is that we respond all the time. Hootsuite is great to see what our fans are talking about in general and great way to schedule our bigger announcements.

Have you ever had any new and compelling partnerships come together via Twitter?

The Butter John Stamos we had last year in Chicago came about from a random tweet.

How you respond to critics/complainers on Twitter?

If they have a real problem we do everything we can to help. We take feedback from our fans very seriously. The fest and everything about it is for them and we want to make sure they have the best experience possible. If they are just complaining to complain, we have no problem calling them out. We’re not afraid to piss a few people off. If you say something stupid, expect us to respond. HUMBOLDT PARK IS NOT A BAD NEIGHBORHOOD.

Do you ever sponsor any special events (Tweet-chats, etc) to get a bit of buzz going around?

Not on social media, we want everything to be as organic as possible.

So tell us: What are your go-to-Twitter feeds in your field? For fun? For Chicago goings-on?

JohnStamos, TheRealOderus (RIP), AndrewWK, FunFunFunFest, LauraJaneGrace, DonaldTrump, Spin, RollingStone, JustinBeiber, ChicagoVomit, badsandwich.

How does your company cover your feed? 24 hours a day? Weekends? Holidays?

I am on Twitter almost 24-7. I do a lot of tweets from the shitter in the morning.

Any “aha” moments in your Twitter usage? Great revelations? “Uh oh” moments?

The more we use Twitter the better.

If you have more than one person responsible for your Twitter account, how do you keep the voice & tone consistent?

We just have one person running the Twitter. It keeps us consistent.

Who would you like to see interviewed next for this feature?

@badsandwich - Brendan Kelly of Lawrence Arms

How does your organization promote your Twitter feed throughout your industry?

We don’t promote. As long as we have good conversations and content, people will come.

A meditation on Invisible Cities

What is a city that we cannot see but we must describe?

This question haunts me and it also inspired Italo Calvino to write “Invisible Cities”.

The book features conversations of a sort between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Intimate portraits of cities emerge and the reader is challenged to envision and reflect on each one.

Here’s my own meditation on just such an invisible city.

East of Zora, another range of mountains rises and rises, but with an easy slope that makes them feel like hills. As you approach these hummocky hills, you see a series of points of light, even during the sunniest days.

The points are a type of guide for those who are both strangers and intimates of this city. All activity is concentrated around these lights, which hang down from 15- foot high slender appendages that are covered with instructions that are seemingly illegible.

No one has ever known the city’s name, and why does it matter? This small concentration of people does not actively seek out new residents, nor are they suspect of new arrivals. Besides, the appendages have all the information that any single person would ever need to see or understand the city.

As you approach each appendage it will whisper directions to the next point of light, which is but a few hundred feet away. Passing your hand close to a different part of the appendage will reveal the history and culture not only of the appendage but all of those persons who have come close to it. It’s not gossipy information, but the real meditative material of human existence.What did this person honor who passed by last Monday? Where had they been? How was their emotional state at the time of their arrival? All is revealed in a manner that is humble, intimate, and thoughtful.

The appendages and their lights are the collective memory of this lightly populated city. They tell all, but seemingly are quite discrete. But wait: what are these appendages attached to? Merely the ground, the soil, the physical materiality beneath their support structure? Aha, they are connected to other cities that honor these points of light and their all-knowing appendages. Within the ground they connect to other cities and in turn they share these memories, individual and collective.

And yes, at certain times during the day and night, these appendages will change their narrative and stories at any given minute or hour. At that point they will tell those who pass by the stories of others in places far away or closer than you think. Any good city should tell you about what is near and what is far. In a small way, these appendages do just hat.

They tell the stories of here and the stories of there. The visitor’s mind eventually wanders back to another city, one that can be known simply.

Perhaps we all prefer to know the simple city. It is easier for us, less strenuous, and requires less.

Dear Museum of Contemporary Art: How Do You Tweet?


                              Abraham Ritchie (photo: Anna Wolak)

I’ve always been interested in learning more about the person behind any organization’s Twitter feed. In short, I always want to know what intrigues and excites them about this particular type of social media.

Recently, I reached out to Abraham Ritchie, the social media manager at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and he was kind enough to reply in great detail to my questions.

(PS: If you aren’t following the MCA already on Twitter, you should do so, posthaste.)

What’s the goal/mission of your organization’s Twitter feed?

Our goal and mission on Twitter isn’t singular; it can’t be reduced to 140 characters. This is because we don’t have a single, monolithic audience on Twitter. We have artists, scholars, families, students, teachers, teens just starting to get interested in art, tourists making plans, longtime Chicago residents, other museums, and on and on. Our strategy is to serve these diverse audiences while being aware of the danger of trying to be everything to everyone. Our tweets therefore are a mix of news, information, and art-insider content. In a general sense, the mission of our Twitter feed is what I call “turning the museum inside out”—that is making the exhibitions, programs, and scholarship that we do as a museum more digitally accessible and relatable to audiences spread all over the globe and also here in Chicago.
What’s the mix of tweets you like to send out on any given day?

I start with that day’s events, usually with a couple of tweets throughout the day, since not everyone who is on twitter in the morning is there in the afternoon and vice versa. There are also items we need to include each day for a certain time span prior to an event; we tweet about our MCA Stage performances regularly in the weeks leading up to the performance.  This determines the regular and planned content, and from there we try to be spontaneous and timely in starting or joining larger conversations about art or linking our art and resources into related conversations. I try to balance tweeting about the MCA and what’s happening here with larger discussions that are taking place.
How do you interact with other organizations in (or outside) of your field?

There’s actually a Facebook group called “International Social Media Managers” that I’m a part of where we exchange tales of triumph and trial, or as it’s commonly called, best practices. It’s crucial to understand that museums do not “compete” with each other, we’re colleagues, and together we make up a cultural landscape. We’ll plan and cooperate on wider museum campaigns. The most recent was #MuseumSelfies, suggested by UK’s @CultureThemes but carried out in the U.S. by a group of museum professionals, including myself. So museums will tweet back and forth, work together towards a common goal, share information and stories, and, importantly, connect artworks and collections.
What’s the most valuable aspect of Twitter for your organization?

Connections. Connecting to our amazing audience, and the opportunity it presents for them to connect back to us.
What types of social media software do you use to manage the organization’s Twitter account?

I just use Hootsuite for scheduling tweets at times when I’m not here. There are a lot of great programs out there that marketers try to convince us that we need, but at our size these tools work just fine.
Have you ever had any new and compelling partnerships come together via Twitter?

Yes, we’ve had a variety of partnerships come through Twitter. A few examples come to mind immediately. Recently, I presented an overview of our  social media activity and philosophy, plus our initiatives, for Social Media Week Chicago. Before that, I participated in a Chicago Ideas Week chat about public art, and we also participate in a weekly Twitter Chat with Queens Museum about art education topics. In a more #IRL sense, I set up a special group visit with a parents group called Neighborhood Parents Network. They brought in nearly 100 parents and kids when they visited! We’re also continuously strengthening ties to our online ‘influencer’ community whether on Twitter or Instagram.
One of the most compelling things that came out of Twitter was from a Throwback Thursday. I posted some documentation from one of our very first exhibitions and a Twitter follower replied that he had correspondence between the first director of the museum and the artist Marcel Duchamp. I checked with our library and we did not have this letter in our archives! I reached out to the Twitter follower, and working with the library, we were able to get that document into our archive, filling a hole. That’s an ideal (and extremely rare) way Twitter can work.
How you respond to critics/complainers on Twitter?

It’s important to distinguish that these are two very different things. As an art museum we are open to critics of all kinds who will weigh-in on our exhibitions, programs, performances, and beyond. They are doing their work as critics, and as the museum, it’s important to respect their voice and opinion. In fact, we value that feedback, positive or negative. It’s an opportunity for all of us to learn or consider something in a different way in the future. So we let critics do their work and we take their opinions and feedback in stride and with attention.
Complaints, on the other hand, indicate an immediate issue, usually about a visit or experience. Twitter has become another avenue for customer service interactions which I handle closely. To me there’s nothing better than changing someone’s experience, or making sure their feedback is considered and leads to a change. Let’s consider the humble light bulb as an example: I’ve seen a couple tweets about light bulbs burnt out in galleries. We check these in the morning, but over the course of the day lights can burn out; it’s something that just happens and will continue to, but it can really affect a visit if a key light goes out. So several times I’ve had bulbs changed while the person was still in the gallery. That’s an easy, low-level thing we can do to improve a visit immediately and reverse a complaint.

So tell us: What are your go-to-Twitter feeds in your field? For fun? For Chicago goings-on?
As I’ve mentioned, the Social Media Managers in US museums, particularly contemporary art museums, are pretty interactive with each other. I keep my eyes on what @walkerartcenter @artinstitutechi @sfmoma @artsmia @hammer_museum @ybca are up to. Here in Chicago, smaller institutions like @DePaulArtMuseum and @MOCP_Chicago are making use of their ability to be nimble and are closely connecting with their exhibitions. It’s important to follow the news closely during the day, so I follow a number of local, national, and international news media outlets. I also follow a lot of artists (surprise!), especially those interested in social media-centered artwork.
I think it’s also important to note other innovative or daring Twitter feeds beyond your field. I follow @riotfest closely because they tweet in a very distinct and sassy voice—great brand match. I follow a lot of comedians because humor is a powerful tool on social media and it’s frankly tough for a museum to really do that well and consistently.
How does your company cover your feed? 24 hours a day? Weekends? Holidays?

We tweet 365 days a year, but we’re definitely not tweeting 24 hours a day. Tweeting signals you’re available for interaction and at some times of the day we’re not. The museum has distinct operating hours which could broadly apply to Twitter; I don’t think you’d really want to see tweets from us at 11:40 pm on a Friday night. And if you tweeted us, I might not be able to tweet back. I have the museum’s Twitter routed to my personal phone and iPad so I see interactions the entire weekend and holidays—social doesn’t sleep, and connection is part of the job.
Any “aha” moments in your Twitter usage? Great revelations? “Uh oh” moments?

One interesting thing I’d share is that we often live-tweet tours of our exhibitions, sharing insights about the work from the artists and the curators. However, while live-tweeting generates a lot of interactions we always shed a much higher-than-usual number of followers due to rapid-fire tweeting. At first I worried about this, but then I looked back at the museum’s mission one part of which is to educate the public about contemporary art which is exactly what I hope live-tweeting a curator or artist’s tour would do. So I’m not going to give up tweeting tours because we shed followers—perhaps it wasn’t a good match to begin with. They can always re-follow us.
A big aha moment for me has been Amanda Ross-Ho’s MCA Plaza Project. Audience photography is a fundamental part of her project and she and I worked together to track these photos as well as inform people of the right hashtag to use: #ILLUMINATEDTHINGS. I’ve learned a lot about what works in creating effective public signage to let people know about the hashtag and nudging them to use it. There’s also been some unexpected learning experiences too, the project has been extended months past its original end date, which we really didn’t anticipate. Turns out that when all these signs are buried under snow people using the right tag (or any tag at all) slows way down.
If you have more than one person responsible for your Twitter account, how do you keep the voice & tone consistent?

No, I’m the only one, which is important for consistency’s sake, especially on Twitter.
Who would you like to see interviewed next for this feature?


Chicago, a St. Patrick’s Day Gift For You


Friends, it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Time to pick your parade outfit, find your favorite Irish pub, and celebrate with friends and family.

I’ve teamed up with Phil Thompson of Cape Horn Illustration to create a card that celebrates the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. My meditation on the subject (see below) inspired his wonderful illustration and it’s our gift to you.

Please feel free to download the card here and we hope you’ll share the work with friends and family, near and far. If you’re interested, there’s also a high quality image of the card here as well.

St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago Style: A Meditation by Max Grinnell

In the Windy City, the Chicago River is everything and nothing. People pass over it on rusty old bridges without a second thought, and whether on foot, bicycle, or car, it is nothing.

On St. Patrick’s Day, it is everything.

People travel thousands of miles to experience the dyeing of this much maligned body of water. As the green dye (natural, you know) courses through the river’s very being, the crowds gather close, they huddle on the Michigan Avenue Bridge, they amble around down on the Riverwalk, they make merry on the packed all-you-can-drink party buses, and so on.

And this tradition? Is it as old as the Cliffs of Moher? The arrival of the first Irishman to this here Wild Onion gathering? Or the first pint of Guinness poured in these here parts?

No, no, and no: it just stretches back to 1962, when one Stephen M. Bailey first tossed out the idea of turning the river oh-so-kelly green. This first generation Irishman by way of Bridgeport brought together his plumbers and 100 pounds of dye that first year to make it all come true.

Yea, the river ran green for a week and some said if you squinted your eyes you felt as if you were on the River Shannon.

That’s a bit of exaggeration indeed, but no one ever accused an Irishman of understating anything, don’t you know?

This year will be just like every other year, but the participants will change, of course. Some from last year’s celebration will be gone and others will have come to take their place.

But why don’t you come on down? Take a look at the river, see how she flows.