culture

Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

February 25, 2013

When my grandmother set sail for America with her family in the early 20th century, she was a young girl who spoke only Italian. When they landed at Ellis Island, they would have clearly seen the Statue on neighboring Liberty Island. Even if she could have read the famous words inscribed on a plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” she wouldn’t have known anything about the woman who wrote them. Today, most of us are familiar with “The New Colossus,” but we still do not know much about its author. If you are curious about the life and times of the woman who wrote one of the most famous sonnets in history, a visit to the Museum of Jewish Heritage to see their exhibit “Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles” is in order.

I took the ferry from Jersey City to see the exhibit a couple of weeks ago. The Museum of Jewish Heritage is located in Battery Park City, a little oasis on Lower Manhattan’s west side with lovely views of the Hudson River. The Statue of Liberty figures prominently anywhere you look. As I walked along the promenade, the winter afternoon’s silvery sunlight lent a mystical feel to my excursion. I think my grandmother would have enjoyed going with me if she were still with us.

The exhibit has a well-lit and colorful, modern feel. Several panels in the beginning chronicle three generations of Emily’s ancestors in America. While she didn’t attend a formal school, Emma was very well read and educated, having access to her father’s extensive library. Several artifacts on display document Emma’s relationships, including letters to and from one of her mentors, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The middle of the exhibit includes a salon area to illustrate Emma’s friendship with Richard and Helena de Kay Gilder. Emma’s vibrant social life and the Gilder’s salon brought her in contact with writers, artists and actors.

Partitioned off to the right, a looping documentary is shown on a movie screen and shares “man-on-the-street” type interviews about the Statue of Liberty and immigration. The documentary also includes sections with historians and biographer Esther Shor. 

Emma was a successful literary author and poet in her day. Her writings span several genres, including drama, translation, novels, short stories, essays and poetry of course. She wrote regularly for American Hebrew and other periodicals.

When Emma learned about the Russian pogroms in the 1880s she began to write about the plight of Russian immigrants, speaking out vehemently against anti-Semitism. Despite derision from many corners, she was a staunch advocate for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Emma succumbed to cancer in 1887 while her famous sonnet was not yet a part of the Statue. Her friends had her words installed in the statue’s pedestal in 1903, sixteen years after her death.

I once interviewed my grandmother about her experience as a first generation immigrant to the U.S. I would have enjoyed telling her what I learned about Emma and her work, and I think she would have been fascinated by Esther Schor's annotated and interactive version of Emma's famous sonnet. 

Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles is on display until March 10th. A walking tour of Emma Lazarus’ New York is also available on a free iPhone and Android app. The walking tour is narrated by Juliana Margulies and includes Meryl Streep’s stirring reading of “The New Colossus.”

 

Further reading and resources

Emma Lazarus’ New York walking tour app for iPhone and Android 

The poems of Emma Lazarus ebook 

Emma’s childhood and background 

Ralph Waldo Emerson as Mentor

Biography of Emma Lazarus by Esther Shor 

All Things Considered NPR interview with Esther Shor

Museum of Jewish Heritage 

 

 

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Giuliana Lonigro
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Lucy Lippard's "Materializing Six Years" at the Brooklyn Museum

January 14, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I set off on an excursion to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Lucy Lippard “Materializing Six Years” exhibit. Lucy has enjoyed a long career as an art critic, curator and writer with several published titles. Lucy’s 1973 reference book Six Years is a catalogue of her exhibits of conceptual artists’ work from 1966-1972. To this day, it is considered the definitive resource on conceptual art of the period. The front cover of the book includes a lengthy description of the exhibit, which is a collection of text, films, photographs and catalogs of the ideas behind the conceptual art movement. (See image below)

"Materializing Six Years" is not a primarily visual exhibit, but is rather designed to present artists’ ideas in the context of the anti-establishment sentiment prevalent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In an essay in Brooklyn Museum's 2012 catalogue, co-curator Catherine Morris writes: “The artists…wanted to…upset the status quo of the art world, and what could be more radical than asserting that the most significant component of the visual arts is not a thing you see, but an idea that makes you see differently?”

Questioning authority was the backbone of feminism, civil rights, antiwar protests, student activism, environmentalism and gay rights. Conceptual art took form as an expression of this rebellion against the establishment. 

In the preface to the Brooklyn Museum’s 2012 catalogue, Lucy writes: “Conceptual strategies were designed to bypass the paternalistic mainstream, which infantilizes artists, making them dependent on dealers, critics and curators, sapping their energies with the effort to enter and hang on to the status quo.”

Conceptual art has been described as a historical precursor to graphic design, but it also has its detractors. It has been criticized as not accessible, pretentious even. "Materializing Six Years" requires some work on the part of the museum visitor. Lucy is not inviting us to view and appreciate aesthetic works of art, but rather to think and reflect on the ideas the artists wanted to communicate. My overall impression was that of witnessing very vivid, specific moments in time of wildly disparate thoughts and ideas. The wit and intelligence behind some of the pieces was amusing, while others evoked  a more visceral response. 

Some of the most memorable pieces in the exhibit include:

—On Kawara’s “I Got Up,” a collection of postcards recording the times he got up every day. On sent the postcards to Lucy’s Soho address daily for four months.

—Vito Acconci’s “Following,” a series of photographs documenting random people that Vito followed on the street until they entered a building. 

—Eleanor Antin’s “100 Boots,” photographed to portray hardship, antiwar sentiment and in other various settings. Eleanor printed the photos on postcards and mailed them to several people over two years and four months. All fifty-one postcards were eventually displayed at the Museum of Modern Art.

—Lee Lozano’s “No Title (Grass Piece),” a performance work documenting her attempts to stay on marijuana for a 30-day period. (Seeing her handwritten notebook pages made me think of typography and hand lettering.)

—Art for Change’s anti-Vietnam-war poster titled, “Q: And Babies? A: And Babies,” created in response to the My Lai massacre. This is perhaps the most accessible piece in the exhibit and provoked a strong feeling of outrage and sadness in me, as it was meant to.

 

The “Materializing Six Years” exhibit is on display in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum until February 17, 2013.

Note: If you haven’t been to the Brooklyn Museum, it is easily accessible on the 2 or 3 subway line, with a stop right outside the museum’s front door. The Center for Feminist Art is also home to Judy Chicago’s complex, brilliant “The Dinner Party.” This permanent installation is large-scale triangular banquet table with thirty nine place settings for archetypal, historical and mythological women. Each place setting reflects the unique legacy of the achievements of the woman being honored. Internationally acclaimed, this exhibit was created to address the paucity of feminist art in the 1970s.

 

Further reading and resources

Brooklyn Museum 

Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art 

NY Times exhibit review

Brooklyn Rail art book review

Artists and the My Lai massacre 

Conceptual art 

 

Posted by: 
Giuliana Lonigro
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Is Lance Armstrong Taking Our Temperature?

January 10, 2013

It was announced Tuesday that Lance Armstrong will be appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Network on January 17 to address the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency reports accusing him of doping. This fall, the agencies stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from competing in all Olympic sports and athletic events. In recent days, Armstrong and his PR team may have been taking a temperature check on how an admission would pan out for him.

According to The New York Times, a source claims Armstrong may admit to doping for professional gain in order to lift his ban and to compete in sports again. The World Anti-Doping Code states an athlete might be eligible for a reduced punishment if he fully confesses and details how he doped, who helped him dope and how he got away with doping. According to the Times:

Lance Armstrong, who this fall was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping and barred for life from competing in all Olympic sports, has told associates and antidoping officials that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career, according to several people with direct knowledge of the situation. He would do this, the people said, because he wants to persuade antidoping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career.

Armstrong has been under pressure from various fronts to confess. Wealthy supporters of Livestrong, the charity he founded after surviving testicular cancer, have been trying to persuade him to come forward so he could clear his conscience and save the organization from further damage, one person with knowledge of the situation said.

Reactions have been across the board, but from a public relations standpoint, here lies a potential crisis strategy plan in the making. Most PR professionals will tell you that a long-overdue apology is not the usual way to handle a PR crisis. However, an intentional leak through an anonymous source in a major publication could begin the conversation, to gauge not only what the public reaction might be, but also to give Armstrong's team an advanced look into how to build their strategies from a public relations and private sector perspective.

But does PR matter if he admits lying under oath? Perhaps there is an explanation for a delayed admission. "I would count back the years to make sure he is past the statute of limitations for perjury," said New York trial attorney Stuart Slotnick. The Times also suggests a public mea culpa may be in exchange for an agreement for the Justice Department to not prosecute him for perjury.

We ask our Hot Sheet Panel:

  • Do you think Armstrong will admit to doping in the upcoming Oprah interview?
  • From a public relations perspective, does it matter if Armstrong apologizes?
  • Has Armstrong's window of opportunity to apologize closed, or at this point is any apology better than nothing?
  • Lastly, do you think The New York Times piece was a public temperature check designed by Armstrong's camp?

 

 

I think Oprah would refuse to do the interview unless she stipulated in the ground rules that Lance Armstrong fully confess and she likely laid out the points on which he must acknowledge his wrongdoing. Otherwise, why waste her time?     

I believe that to have lied to EVERYONE for so long, to have included his teammates in the doping and the lies, he's proved he's no more than a drug addict and a pimp.     

The ONLY reason to go on Oprah is to begin to restore his reputation. I don't think he cares a hoot anymore about competing. But the irrational person who drugged for decades still thinks he can restore those wins. It's what therapists would call magical thinking. Sadly, the charity may likely not survive. These are the consequences of lies. Someone who was a hero to so many was anything but. Terribly, terribly sad. But this is the human condition. We have to accept the truth, just as he does. No more delusions anywhere. He must face them. Acknowledge them. Then, possibly, something new and valuable can replace all the old which must be washed away. Think of Nixon. Think of Clinton.  
Ginny Pulos
Owner, Ginny Pulos Communications, Inc.
NYWICI Integrated Marketing Communications Committee Member

 

 

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Ginny Pulos

Taryn Simon at MoMA: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters

August 11, 2012

A few weeks ago, fellow NYWICI member Michelle Lodge recommended the Taryn Simon photography exhibit at MoMA. I hadn’t heard of Taryn and was curious about the exhibit and her work.

Taryn is a New York based photographer who is known for incorporating text with photographs. Taryn’s previous work includes “The Innocents” from 2003, about people wrongfully sentenced to life or death who were released thanks to DNA evidence. In a current digital project entitled Image Atlas, Taryn examines cultural differences in various countries. A collaboration with programmer Aaron Swartz, Image Atlas allows users to enter a search word and to retrieve photos and images organized by country.

“A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters” is the culmination of Taryn’s world travels and research from 2008–2011. The exhibit is organized into eighteen chapters, each divided into three panels. At first glance, the panels reminded me of medieval triptych paintings I remember seeing in art museums. Upon closer viewing, it became apparent that this exhibit has little in common with the typical medieval paintings of large center panels and two smaller side panels that clearly relate to each other visually. Taryn’s triptychs, which she calls chapters, require scrutiny and study. This exhibit is not an artistic, aesthetic rendering but rather a historical archive in three parts of eighteen separate subjects. There is documentary feel to Taryn’s work and an objective, journalistic tone.

The left panel contains ordered photographs of a bloodline, the middle contains narrative text and the right panel includes what Taryn calls footnotes: fragments, beginnings of other stories and photographic evidence. The photographic portraits alone do not tell the complete story; it is only with the added two panels that the viewer gets a sense of story and historical events.

The chapters are presented scientifically, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions. Taryn’s portrait subjects all have a serious expression and the same pose, hands folded in their lap. Unavailable ascendants or descendents are represented by an empty backdrop with various explanations ranging from “declined participation” to “Location unknown: abducted.”

It is difficult not to feel outrage at the situations that Taryn portrays in her chapters. This exhibit gets at what’s under the surface of everyday life. The impassive expressions in the portraits belie the shocking events many of these various families and bloodlines have lived through. There is also an archetypal element to the work as a whole.

While the nine chapters presented at MoMA are thought-provoking and some are heartbreaking, Chapter III about Joseph Jura made an impression on me as it relates to women’s rights in Africa. Located in Kenya, Jura treated people for infertility, AIDs, “evil spirits” and asthma and has been paid in goats and cash; sometimes the families of women give them to him in exchange for medical treatment. Jura has nine wives, 32 children and 63 grandchildren. In Kenya, polygamy is seen as an alternative to infidelity.

Chapter XV also resonated with me in terms of freedom of expression and communication. Taryn calls this chapter a performance piece; she photographed a Beijing family — carefully selected by the Chinese State Council Information office responsible for China’s external publicity operations. Everyone showed up for the photo shoot. For the footnote panel, Taryn was instructed to photograph a television station; she also photographed a gift bag she was given. In a recent interview, Taryn told The New Yorker she is “…interested in the invisible space between people in communication; the space guided by translation and misinterpretation. This space highlights the inevitability of solitude and the impossibility of true understanding.”

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters was previously shown at Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the Tate Modern in London and the Galerie Almine Rech in Paris.

Curious about the other chapters not on view at MoMA, I found out that they include the effects of thalidomide on children born under its influence; reincarnation; feuding families in Brazil; Filipinos made to eat dogs at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair; albinos in Tanzania; Latif Yahia, Saddam Hussein’s son Uday’s body double who now lives in Ireland; and the abduction of South Korean citizens by North Korea as part of the Cold War conflict.

In the TED video below, Taryn asks “Is fate determined by blood, chance or circumstance? Are we evolving, or are we on repeat?”

This exhibit is worth seeing; it will make you think and will probably elicit strong feelings about the plight of the disadvantaged people it documents. But don’t just take my word for it. As fellow NYWICI member Michelle Lodge puts it: "With so much going on at MoMA, it may be easy to overlook this exhibit, tucked in on the third floor. That would be a mistake. Taryn's work uses her own portraits, artifacts and text to tell stories of both major world events and tiny pockets of society that left me better informed, moved and inspired. See it before it closes."

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII is on view in The Robert and Joyce Menschel Photography Gallery at MoMA until September 3, 2012.

 

Photo credit
MoMA image
 

Further reading and exploration

Exhibition catalogue, including all eighteen chapters
Beyond Photography 
Revenant 
New Museum First Look New Art Online exhibition: Image Atlas digital project

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Giuliana Lonigro
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Edith Wharton's New York City: A Backward Glance

July 22, 2012

A couple of months ago I downloaded The New Yorker’s app "Goings On." Naturally, the “Above and Beyond” listing caught my eye, which includes an exhibit at The New York Society Library (NYSL) titled “Edith Wharton's New York City: A Backward Glance.” The exhibit opened in March 2012 to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of Edith’s birth.

It’s no secret that Edith is my favorite author, and although I haven’t made my way through her entire oeuvre, over the years I have found myself rereading some of her most celebrated novels, including The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. (I’ve also seen Martin Scorcese’s film version of “Innocence” and Terrence Davies’ version of “Mirth” more than once.)

I also enjoy reading short stories, and Edith’s collections have always captivated me, especially the “Old New York” collection, and the highly amusing “Xingu.”

In other words, I’m a fan of all things Edith Wharton.

I also have a thing for libraries, especially well preserved athenaeum types that recall genteel eras gone by. My first work/study assignment as a freshman in college was at the Michigan State University library, and I liked it so much I returned to a job there my senior year, albeit in a different department.

As you can well imagine, it wasn’t tough to extricate myself from my daily routine and schedule a field trip to the Upper East Side to learn more about Edith, and to visit what sounded like a lovely historical building housing a library.

While I was walking up to NYSL, who should walk out but an elderly man in a seersucker suit and straw hat with a grosgrain ribbon, looking like he just stepped out of an Edith Wharton novel! This was clearly an auspicious beginning for my field trip. I mean, people just don’t dress like that in the sixth borough (Jersey City) where I live.

I walked in and talked to one of the receptionists, letting her know I was writing a blog piece about the exhibit and asking if pictures were allowed. (They aren’t, because the items in the exhibit are on loan.) I walked up an elegant staircase to the second floor, catching a glimpse of a well-appointed members' reading room to the left. The exhibit consists of a few glass vitrines containing photographs, letters, books and other memorabilia. Some of the items are on loan from Edith’s extended family, including Jonathan LeRoy King, whose father was Edith’s cousin Frederic Rhinelander King; from The Mount, Edith’s estate in the Berkshires; and beautiful first editions of The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, recently donated to the Library.

Head of Exhibitions Curator Harriet Shapiro stopped by to provide some helpful background on the exhibit. From Harriet, I learned that many items in the exhibit had never been seen before. Examples include a portrait of Edith as a child and several letters on loan from Rhinelander King. Edith’s sister-in-law, Mary (Minnie) Cadwallader Jones, also figures prominently in the exhibit. Minnie served as Edith’s close friend, researcher and literary agent.

The exhibit includes copies of the charging ledgers of the time periods when Edith’s father George Frederic Jones borrowed books. The logs reveal that Jones borrowed several novels, many in French, and that he enjoyed poetry.

Founded in 1754, the Library is the oldest cultural institution in New York City. It also functioned as the Library of Congress when New York was the capital of the United States. President George Washington, Vice President John Adams, Chief Justice John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and several members of Congress all borrowed books.

As its collections grew, the NYSL moved several times over the years. In 1937, it moved from 109 University Place, not far from Edith’s childhood home on West 23rd Street, to its current location in a 1917 Italianate Townhouse on 79th Street, between Park & Madison Avenues.

While compact, the NYSL’s exhibit provides a chance to delve deeper into Edith Wharton as a person, beyond her extraordinary talent as a writer. An exhibit catalogue with additional information is available for purchase. If you haven’t been to NYSL, the New York Times describes it best: "If old bookstores intoxicate you, you’ll need smelling salts when you walk down aisles of biography, history, fiction, art and other topics, average age measured not in years but decades. It is a temple to the hands-on book lover."

This exhibit will be on view until Dec. 31, 2012.

 

Further Reading

NYSL first charging ledger
Xingu
Edith Wharton’s obituary in The New York Times
Edith Wharton’s Autobiography: A Backward Glance
Where Fusty Is Fabulous, The New York Times

 

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Giuliana Lonigro
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Arts & Culture - Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations

May 28, 2012

This post marks the launch of the new Aloud. Three co-editors – Giuliana Lonigro, Rodeena Stephens and Deanna Utroske – will fill Aloud with topical posts on communications, careers and other issues women care about. We kick things off with Giuliana's first post. Giuliana is a social media strategist and writer with a background in design and a passion for organic skin care. She also conducts interviews and writes for The Melody Book, an educational music app startup.

Fashion has been described as a type of visual communication. It is the topic of Malcolm Barnard’s Fashion as Communication and Alison Lurie’s The Language of Clothes. Malcolm’s book is scholarly in nature, focusing on fashion theory, while Alison’s book describes fashion as a language with its own distinctive grammar, syntax and vocabulary. In a 1999 lecture at Cornell, Alison said fashion is “The oldest and most universal language.” Some might argue with this assertion, claiming that the languages of music and love are quintessentially universal, but fashion has a place as a means of communication. We communicate who we are by the clothes we wear and the fashions we choose to buy.

A different type of communication is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations.” The exhibition, organized into seven categories, explores communications that might have happened (but didn’t) between two Italian fashion designers from different eras: Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada. Imaginary conversations between the designers are captured on film by director Baz Lurhmann, with actress Judy Davis playing the part of Elsa.

Both Elsa and Miuccia created revolutionary, modern fashion in their times, yet much of Elsa’s fashion looks classic and timeless today, with an exquisite focus on sculptural and architectural elements, while Miuccia’s work looks unabashedly modern. It’s important to take a step back and acknowledge that Elsa was a trailblazer in her own right in the early part of the 20th century.

Throughout history, the fashion industry has provided a way for ambitious, driven and creative women to achieve a life of means on their own terms. Surprisingly, neither Elsa nor Miuccia studied fashion design nor trained to be a seamstress as a young woman. Elsa studied philosophy at the University of Rome, while Miuccia has a PhD in political science from the University of Milan. Both women were well into their thirties by the time they decided to pursue a career in fashion. Coco Chanel is not mentioned in this exhibition, but it’s interesting to note that Elsa and Coco were great rivals in early part of the 20th century. Elsa closed her fashion house in 1954, around the same time as Coco resurfaced, ready to take up the mantle.

The Waist Up/Waist Down category in the exhibition compares and contrasts Elsa’s elaborately structured jackets (designed for the mostly seated Café Society) with Miuccia’s feminine and embellished skirts.

The Classical body category features draping and pleats evocative of Greek sculpture.

While it’s easy to see how Miuccia might have been influenced by Elsa’s earlier work, the two designers differ on whether fashion is art. Elsa, who collaborated with filmmaker Jean Cocteau and artist Salvador Dalí, firmly believed that fashion is art, while Miuccia most emphatically does not agree.

The 1930s era series “Impossible Interviews” in Vanity Fair, illustrated by Mexican caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias, served as inspiration for the Met’s “Impossible Conversations.” The people juxtaposed in the Vanity Fair series might have been able to interact physically, but would have been unlikely to do so since they moved in completely different circles. Capitalist John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is paired with Communist Leader Josef Stalin while Sigmund Freud is coupled with Jean Harlow. Interestingly, a 1936 “Impossible Interview” between Elsa and Josef Stalin is also included in the Met’s exhibit.

 

Have you seen, or are you planning to see “Impossible Conversations” at the Met? Chime in below and let us know what you thought of the exhibit if you’ve seen it.
 

Posted by: 
Giuliana Lonigro

Lessons Learned from Mad Men

March 23, 2012

We've remained patient these past 17 months for a new episode of "Mad Men" and this Sunday, the wait is over. Millions will tune to see what will happen at the office of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.

In many ways, the world of "Mad Men" is a far cry from the advertising industry we know today. A three martini lunch is no longer standard practice (we hope!) and because of women like Peggy Olsen, the male-female imbalance has improved since the '60s. 

But in other ways, the characters do things that might seem very familiar to today's ad men (and women). Working all-nighters, schmoozing clients and managing big personalities (clients like Lee Garner, Jr. of Lucky Strike and creatives like Don Draper) are still common behaviors. Even today, agencies can suffer big losses when they lose a major client, just like SCDP did. And as new industries emerge, advertisers need to work to innovate, like Harry did when he fought to set up his television department. 

What other behaviors seem especially familiar to you? Have you learned any lessons over the past four years that you've applied to your work? Have characters like Joan, Pete and Duck maybe taught you what NOT to do?

 

This weekend, Don Draper will be back, along with the divisive office politics and drama that defined the so-called "Golden Age" of advertising. The industry has clearly evolved since then, but it really wasn't so long ago that corporate culture still glorified a dog-eat-dog mentality. In fact, I came up in the industry when most people believed the conventional wisdom that "nice guys finish last." I've always felt differently, though. Over the years, I've found that being nice is an incredibly sound business strategy. That's why when I started the Kaplan Thaler Group with Robin Koval, we set out to create a "nice" agency, where ideas and input matter much more than rank and title. Today, NICE is still at the heart of who we are, how we treat each other, and how we work with our clients. That guiding principle has helped us take the Kaplan Thaler Group from a start-up in a brownstone to a top U.S. ad agency. 

That said, it's still fun to go back in time and escape into all that primetime drama. SCDP might not be where I'd like to work, but it sure is a fun place to spend a Sunday night.
Linda Kaplan Thaler
CEO, Chief Creative Officer, The Kaplan Thaler Group
Immediate Past President, New York Women in Communications

 

Advertising is still a business of big egos and people who want to hire the "name brand", so they can say (if the campaign bombs), "Don't blame me; we hired BBDO because they're the best in the business." 

Lessons learned over the past four years: vet your clients as carefully as they vet you, because you'd better be sure they will pay their bills and not be (too) psycho. And even though change is a constant, the core of what clients still need are agency partners who can create the emotional connection the brand will have with the consumer and sell it with conviction, confidence and success. 

 

Francine Ryan
President/CMO, The Ryan Group 
New York Women in Communications Foundation Board Member 

 

New York Women in Communications Foundation Board member Dorothy Crenshaw published a blog post with her "Top Five Agency Lessons from 'Mad Men'" in November 2009. Check out her lessons learned from season 3.

Women's History Month: Lily Renee Wilhelm - From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer

March 8, 2012

March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. We can think of no better way to commemorate both than with Linda Levi's profile of an international woman who succeeded in a field dominated by men: Lily Renee Wilhelm.

Comic books are often overlooked as both an art genre and a form of communications.  But in reality for many, and young readers in particular, comic books are the first type of consistent reading.  Frequently it’s a genre readers fall in love with, creating life-long reading habits. One lesser known, but groundbreaking comic book creator and artist is Lily Renee Wilhelm.

Lily was born in 1925 in Vienna, Austria, into a well-off Jewish family.  She grew up surrounded by art and culture and even had her own art exhibited at age six in the first grade.  A real beauty, her photo won Lily a film contract, but her father forbid pursuing show business.

In 1937, when Lily was 13, Austria was occupied by the Nazis. Like other Jews, Lily could no longer attend school and life grew increasingly harsh for Austrian and German Jews.  Lily’s parents began what turned out to be a two-year effort for their family to flee Austria. Luckily Lily, who had been studying English, had a British pen pal, Molly Kealy, from whom she was able to secure a visitors permit.  She then secured a coveted spot on a kindertransport in late 1939, eventually landing in Leeds, England, and settling in nearby Horseforth. Sadly, however, the Kealys took advantage of Lily, treating her like an unpaid servant.  Terribly unhappy, Lily applied for work through an unemployment agency, quickly landing a mother’s helper position. She also found work as a caretaker, hospital candy striper and even took care of newborns in shelters during Blitz bombing episodes.

Eighteen months after Lily left Austria, her parents made their way to the U.S., settling in NYC. Lily eventually reunited with her parents in New York after a few false attempts to exit England. Still, they were lucky — two uncles and an aunt were killed by the Nazis. Not unlike other WWII German refugees, Lily and her family settled on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and lived together in one room, working whatever jobs they could find. For Lily that meant painting boxes with Tyrolean designs, posing as a fashion model for fashion illustrator Jane Turner and illustrating Woolworth’s catalogs for 50 cents an hour. She also took night classes at the Art Students League and the School of Visual Arts. One day her mother showed Lily an ad looking for comic artists. Lily scoffed at first but got the job.

Her first assignment at Fiction House Publishers was erasing the pencil lines of male artists. She hated the job and often cried herself to sleep, but her desire to improve herself and the good pay ($18 a week) trumped her urge to quit. Soon she started penciling her own work. Her first charter was Jane Martin, a female pilot working in the all-male aviation industry. Later she was assigned “The Werewolf Hunter,” a strip no one else wanted. Lily infused it with great story ideas and German expressionistic and Viennese art nouveau imagery.

Later she took over “Senorita Rio” and became the artist most identified with that character. In fact, she received lots of fan mail from soldiers overseas addressed to “Mr. Renee.” But so appreciative of the soldiers’ efforts to fight the Nazis, Lily often wrote back and sent sketches she drew.

In 1947, Lily married Eric Peters, a fellow Viennese refugee 22 years her senior who had been a political cartoonist who fled Austria on skis over the Alps. He and Lily worked for St. John Publications after Fiction House relocated out of NY, working on Abbott & Costello comics and romance stories. That marriage ended quickly however, and in 1949 Lily married American Randolph Phillips, with whom she had two children.

Lily left comics for nearly 50 years until she was recently rediscovered by cartoonist/historian Trina Robbins. Even Lily’s children and grandchildren didn’t know about her career history, which also included writing two children’s books — Red is the Heart and Magic Next Door — as well as illustrating Battle of the Bees. Lily’s husband died in 1982, and it was then that she began taking college classes in philosophy and English literature at Hunter College. She next undertook playwriting, completing five plays, one of which was produced and performed at Hunter.

Lily once said she was embarrassed to be working in comics, but so many admire her work as well as her leadership in a field dominated by men. She appeared at Comic Con International in 2007 and today is in the Friends of Lulu Hall of Fame.

To learn more about Lily Renee Wilhelm, read Lily Renee: Escape Artist.

Linda Levi writes:

Lily’s story really resonated with this reporter. My mother, Greta, was born in 1924 to wealthy Jews in Frankfurt, Germany. While my grandfather, Leo, was a highly decorated WWI German war hero, he was still a Jew and had to hide out in Switzerland in the late 1930s to escape being arrested or worse. The night SS troops did come to their apartment, his wife, also named Lily, pretended she was already a widow. Lily continued to petition for exit papers, which after numerous bribes she thankfully secured. The three landed in NY’s harbor on St. Patrick’s Day, 1939. Sadly, several older relatives who chose to stay behind died in Auschwitz. While my mom spoke several languages, she only finished high school once in the U.S., leaving her few career options. But like Lily Renee, she too modeled — in Klein’s Department Store in Union Square — before marrying another German refugee 10 years her senior in 1946. And where was the wedding? In Washington Heights, of course — home to many WWII German refugees including Dr. Ruth and Henry Kissinger, among others. 

 

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Celebrating Black History Month: Rosa Parks

February 13, 2012

February is Black History Month, and Aloud joins the celebration with profiles of African-American women who’ve made history. Today: Civil rights activist Rosa Parks.

“I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

We all know the name Rosa Parks, the unflinchingly brave civil rights activist whose 1955 refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, AL, bus sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, outraged like-minded people across the U.S. and galvanized the civil rights movement. But Rosa Parks wasn’t born on that bus and she lived a long life after her historic ride.

Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, AL, on February 4, 1913. Her father, James McCauley, was a carpenter; her mother, Leona Edwards, was a teacher. After her parents separated, Rosa spent her childhood on her grandparents’ farm outside Montgomery, where she was homeschooled by her mother until she was 11. She attended high school, but left before graduating when her mother and grandmother both became seriously ill.

In 1932, when she was 19, Rosa met and married Raymond Parks, a barber and NAACP activist. Wikipedia says: “At her husband's urging, she finished her high school studies in 1933, at a time when less than 7% of African-Americans had a high school diploma.”

Separate but Not Equal
In the South of Rosa’s childhood, Jim Crow laws reigned supreme. Public restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, education and transportation, including school buses, were all segregated by race under the fiction of “separate but equal” accommodations. Rosa told an interviewer that in her childhood, white children took the school bus and black children walked. "The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.”

Rosa had her first taste of equality when she worked briefly on Maxwell Air Force Base, where racial segregation was not allowed, and rode on an integrated trolley.

From the Back of the Bus to the Supreme Court
Rosa had been active in the civil rights movement since the 1940s, when she joined the NAACP and was elected secretary to the Montgomery chapter. By the 1950s resistance to segregation was exacting a heavy toll in lives as the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups waged war to maintain the racist status quo. On November 27, 1955, Rosa attended a mass meeting inspired by the recent murders of activists Emmett Till, George Lee and Lamar Smith. By December 1, 1955, as she rode the bus home from her job as a seamstress, she’d had her fill. When the driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white passenger, she refused and was arrested.

She later wrote, “I had given up my seat before, but this day, I was especially tired. Tired from my work as a seamstress, and tired from the ache in my heart.”

That same day, E.D. Nixon, president of the NAACP’s Montgomery chapter, began to organize a boycott of the city’s buses. On December 5, most of Montgomery’s 40,000 African-American commuters either walked to school or work or stayed home. That night local African-American community leaders met and formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to push for broader change. They appointed a new face on the Montgomery scene, the young minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to lead the effort. The boycott continued for 382 days.

According to Biography.com, “Dozens of the Montgomery public buses sat idle for months, severely crippling the transit company's finances. But the boycott faced strong resistance, with some segregationists retaliating with violence. Black churches were burned and both Martin Luther King, Jr., and E.D. Nixon's homes were attacked.”

For a brief, well done history of Rosa Parks, watch this Biography.com video.

In June 1956, a federal court declared Alabama’s segregated transportation laws unconstitutional, a decision the Supreme Court later upheld in November.

Later Years
Rosa and Ray moved to Detroit in the late 1950s. She worked as a seamstress and then, from 1965 through 1988, was the secretary and receptionist for the Detroit offices of African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers.

Rosa was awarded the  Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 1996 and, one year later, the Rosa Parks Congressional Gold Medal honored her as “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement”.

When she died in 2005 at age 92, the U.S. Senate and House approved a resolution to honor Rosa by allowing her body to lie in the Capitol. According to Wikipedia, she was “the 31st person, the first American who had not been a U.S. government official, and the second non-government official (after Frenchman Pierre L'Enfant) to be paid this tribute. She was also the first woman and the second black person to lie in honor.” An estimated 50,000 people viewed the casket.

For more information about Rosa Parks, see:


To learn more about Black History Month, see:

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Michele Hush
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Un-Happy Valley

November 17, 2011

Amid the Penn State child abuse scandal, PR professionals everywhere are quick to jump on this as a PR catastrophe. This is a human catastrophe. Though with plenty of baffling communications missteps from the start (the Grand Jury began their investigation in 2008 – there was time for a better crisis plan), public relations could not have prevented this disaster to Penn State’s reputation, nor is PR responsible for fixing the moral and legal faults of the organization. Is it public relations to do the right thing; to fire all those involved, instead of waiting until the sh*t hit the fan or to protect the children before the brand?

Now is not the time for press conferences, sending press releases or arranging interviews with heavily scrutinized talk points. It would be cold, insensitive and text book. Now is the time for doing. As Arthur W. Page said, “public relations is 90 percent what you do, and only 10 percent what you say.”

Public relations certainly didn’t get them into this mess, but what role can PR take to help move the university out?

I don't think any amount of PR talent can constitute a "quick fix" for the reputation damage to Penn State and the individuals involved, but I do think poor communications made a terrible situation worse. First, the university has been aware of the investigation since 2008, if not before. Yet, it appeared utterly unprepared for the news of the indictments. I also thought that former President Graham Spanier's statement was inadequate, insular, and tone-deaf in that it focused on defending the university officials and placed very little focus on the alleged victims and their families. The subsequent statement by the Trustees was much more appropriate, but here, I fear it's a case of too little, too late.


Dorothy Crenshaw
CEO/Creative Director
Crenshaw Communications
New York Women in Communications Foundation Board of Directors

 

There are many "lessons learned" from the Penn State crisis. First and foremost, all organizations must have a detailed crisis communications plan in place. In today's world, it is not a question of "will a crisis" occur, but "when". Executives who do not believe this should take a look at the news headlines. Everything from natural disasters, to corporate shake ups, online privacy mishaps and other scandals are happening every day, affecting organizations of every size and scope. Having a crisis communications plan in place will not help to turn a negative story into a positive one. Rather, it is to contain and control any collateral damage by quickly, accurately and assertively presenting information that places the event in context, while demonstrating that appropriate action has been taken to address and alleviate public concern. The response of an organization to a crisis, particularly from a communications perspective, may positively affect the depth and impact of the event, help restore industry reputation, provide useful solutions and secure organization's leadership position.
 
Since crises are often unexpected (although this was not the case with Penn State, where a pending crisis was ignored), it is critical to have a sound, logical process in place, to include a "communications cascade"-a series of potential solutions to common crises which allow for some flexibility.  When a situation does occur, it results in intense pressure and extreme time compression; the need to respond professionally and pragmatically is immediate. A well-prepared crisis communications response is an indispensable tool for organizations to have at the ready. The time put into customizing a crisis communications process today will help preserve organization's bottom line and ultimately, its credibility, reputation and leadership.
Julie Livingston
Director, Business Development & Accounts
Child's Play Communications
New York Women in Communications Board Member

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