Sunday, 9 October 2011

A visit from Dan D'Oca and the MFA Curatorial Practice students

It's always exciting when we have visitors in our space and that's why most of us were really looking forward to Professor Dan D'Oca's lecture at MICA Place and a happy hour with the students from the MFA Curatorial Practice programme. Luckily, our new ping pong table arrived and it was installed in the studio!

What's interesting about meeting the Curatorial crew is we're both brand new programmes at MICA and MFA Curatorial Practice is the first of its kind in the country, initiated by founder and director of the The Contemporary Museum in Baltimore George Ciscle. Furthermore, the Curatorial crew is based in Station North, Baltimore's arts district, off campus and attempting to engage a community in their work just like us, which means we're sharing similar experiences.
Dan is challenged to a game of ping pong
 Dan discussed the work his firm Interboro Partners has done, the book they are releasing soon about 101 weapons that either open or close a city, his exhibit at MOMA PS1 and the Baltimore Open City exhibit. Overall, very interesting stuff. My favourite quote? "White people come in with their farmer's markets and think they'll change everything."

Friday, 30 September 2011

A visit from the Commissioner of Health

In week 4, the commissioner of health, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, paid us a visit to discuss the city's latest initiative, and our next project, "Healthy Baltimore 2015." Healthy Baltimore 2015 (HB2015) distills and targets health priorities in Baltimore and focuses on 10 priority areas that account for the greatest possible preventable disease, disability and death:
  1. Promote Access to Quality Health Care for All 
  2. Be Tobacco Free 
  3. Redesign Communities to Prevent Obesity
  4. Promote Heart Health 
  5. Stop the Spread of HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections 
  6. Recognise and Treat Mental Health Needs
  7. Reduce Drug Use and Alcohol Abuse
  8. Encourage Early Detection of Cancer 
  9. Promote Healthy Children and Adolescents 
  10. Create Health Promoting Neighbourhoods 
Dr. Oxiris outlined the challenges and opportunities of the programme and how we can contribute to the success of the project including communication, facilitation and integrations.The goal of HB2015 is to address these areas from three perspectives: policy development (health in all policies) to improve environmental, social and economic conditions affecting the health of Baltimore, promote prevention, and access to quality healthcare and maximise community engagement - informing, educating and engaging Baltimore residents to improve their health and the health of their communities.

Since we were already working on Bike Box, we decided to focus on #3: Redesign Communities to Prevent Obesity. Obesity is a huge issue in Baltimore and is linked to serious health conditions. For HB2015, redesigning communities means increasing physical activity levels and improving dietary patterns (including the consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetables) and providing more readily available access to fresh foods. With Bike Box, we want to hire the youth of the community to be the delivery people which will also increase physical activity, and since Bike Box is a grocery delivery system and produce cart, we're touching on access to healthy foods and bringing fresh fruits and vegetables closer - hoping to encourage grocers to open a store and serve the community.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Confessions of a Canadian studying in the US

The transition to the US must be the easiest, after all, Canada is America's little sister right? So what's been different in this place? Well for one, people are amused by my fascination with how 12-16oz coffee cups are considered "small", how the tax at the end of the bill never really surpasses $2.00 and why I am bitching about paying for medical insurance when "back home, this is free."

The US is ghetto - this is something I knew before, however, now that I am actually living in the ghetto, I can tell you, Canada really has no ghettos. The "ghettoest" place in Canada is sometimes considered a middle-class neighbourhood here. There is no balance between the rich and the poor here, it feels like Central and South America. Take a turn on the wrong block and grab your vest. Take another turn and make sure you don't get hit by one of those giant yuppie strollers.

Other observations? Here are a few from my short time here:
  • The word "caramel" is said strangely here. It's like "curmel", or maybe because I studied in French me pronouncing it "ca-ra-mel" is bizarre.
  • Pronouncing letters like "T" is forbidden and straight up weird. Baltimore becomes "Ballymore"
  • Flyer is written "flier"
  • Just like the Arab countries, spelling here is inconsistent, example: "Centre Street" and once or twice I saw "theatre" as opposed to "theater".
  • If you thought Service Canada was a mess, wait until you go to the social security office.
  • Accents are difficult to decode, example: "d'you stull wan' a sureal?" (do you still want the cereal).
  • I am collecting too many discount cards - it's like every chain has one. And the savings are legit. I saved a lot of money at Safeway and bought more than six things at a big chain pharmacy (Rite Aid) that added up to $25 (unlike Shoppers, where, if you buy two items, you've spent $23, no matter what you bought).
  • The term "going up to the cottage" or even just the word "cottage" is not used here. I was asked what I meant by several people.
  • I have to attend the orientation sessions with international students, yet every international student is curious to know why I sound like an American but am considered an international student.
  • You know that ring engineers wear on their pinky once they graduate in Canada? They should start implementing that here, there's been some very questionable engineers dealing with massive demolition projects (i.e can't answer basic questions or begin to comprehend the meaning of decontaminating soil).
  • Appetizers are totally meals here.
  • Everyday I feel like I'm living a Spike Lee movie. Or just an American movie.
  • Here, people aren't passive aggressive. Except maybe some. Students, mostly.
  • Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Prime...I can't keep up with all these things that aren't available, or have limited availability, in Canada!
  • The word "curated" is too loosely used here. It bothers me. Maybe it's just an art school thing.

48-hour blitz

John Bielenberg
Ideas, ideas, ideas.
In Week 3 of the Fall 2011 semester, John Bielenberg from Project M spent a week with us - working and living in our space. John engaged us in a "48-hour Blitz". The goal of the Blitz was to create something memorable that benefits the East Baltimore community, then document it in a 48-second video. We were assigned the same group as for the 10x10x10 assignment the week before and quickly sat in the studio and brainstormed ideas. Mobile library? Library-café in the community garden of the church? Ideas, ideas, ideas.

I quickly looked through many articles that I had written for a few old clients and found several great ideas hidden in those blog posts that influenced my proposed idea. The day after we were assigned the blitz, the neighbourhood had a meeting in our space regarding the proposed demolition of the 8-acres of row homes directly near us, in order to make way for a new school. There were several serious issues discussed during this meeting, including potential health hazards such as dust, rodents and lead. We regrouped that night with John and thought maybe we could do something to raise awareness about what is happening in the area. We agreed this should be a group assignment as opposed to taking it on in teams of two. Then we discussed our ideas with our professors during our studio time in the morning. We realised we weren't thinking about this the right way and went back to brainstorming. We all proposed other ideas. Many of the ideas being thrown around, like a circus for example, were, in my opinion, elitist ideas that don't benefit the community but are what students want to see for themselves. I felt strongly about mine and teamed up with my colleague Julie who also thought the idea was viable.

Discussing the prototype with Mike and John B.
The idea:

By this point we had about 12 hours and went straight to work. I decided I should target the following problems facing the neighbourhood:
  • Lack of transportation in the area
  • The unemployment rate amongst males 16-40
  • Food desert
Julie's professor worked on a project offered by the health department called Baltimarket, an online and in-person grocery ordering system that delivers your groceries to the local library. Customers had a one hour window to pick them up and take them home. But what if you're still more than 2km away from the library? That's a long walk. Although I think Baltimarket is necessary and brilliant, it still didn't deliver groceries to people's homes. Furthermore, it didn't make fresh produce directly available to the immediate Middle-East Baltimore area (yep that's what the area is called!).

So, basing my idea on the Fruixi concept and the drug dealers who deliver on bicycles in Montreal, I came up with what is now called "Bike Box". Bike Box is a bicycle grocery delivery system that is available in-store (there is still a digital divide in this area) and online and delivers your groceries directly to your front door. It also functions as a cart that rides around the neighbourhood selling fresh produce to the residents from the nearby farmer's markets at reasonable prices. We sat down and wrote a proposal and decided that we would use recycled bike parts, hire the youth to ride the bicycles and teach them how to repair them to increase their skill set. We began working on a prototype. Luckily, we didn't have to have the finalised product, just a prototype that functions properly and document it (we already have an idea what we want the box to look like and the materials to use). Julie worked on this while I focused on creating a website, documenting the process, editing the video and the branding component.

Here's what we came up with:

Stenciling ain't a thing.
The logo. Adjustments likely to be made...eventually.
Thankfully, Bike Box is a necessary concept that works and something we can expand on further as we will be working on it with the Health Departments "Healthy Baltimore 2015" initiative where we are attempting to redesign communities to prevent obesity.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Storefront churches

East Baltimore has a lot of churches and numerous storefront churches, most of which are now closed and boarded up. One of the first assignments during grad school was called the 10x10x10. In groups of two, we had to go to 10 places, meet 10 people and collect 10 artifacts. My team targeted churches and what we noticed was an abundance of storefront churches. These churches had some of the best mottos and taglines ever and some great painted signs.

Friday, 12 August 2011

You Lose

He used to wear a baseball cap and when he would remove it, his locks would fall all over his face. He was 17, he wore Police sunglasses and little did he know that a few years later, he'd start balding. He was so concentrated on the game but once in awhile, he'd look over at me, just to make sure I was there, looking over his shoulder, watching him play Street Fighter at the arcade at the mall near the house. If he lost, he would reach into his light coloured jeans and grab another quarter, slip it into the machine and play again. I was eight, and two years later, the arcade closed and became a dental office.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

New illustration work

I recently did some illustration work (poster and a business card), one for a DJ duo named LOOT and the other for producer and sound designer Karim Sultan. Check it out, there's more on my website.

Front of the business card for Karim Sultan

Poster for LOOT - Geoff and Jamie

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Mind the Gap

My apologies dear readers for being a little less bloggy in 2011. I have been busy with stuff (including putting together Issue 02 of Kalimat which I hope you'll check out), preparations and a visit to London.

Five days is not enough to see swinging London, even if those days are jam packed from 7am until 3am. Regardless, I tried to make the most out of it. I was impressed by a lot of different organisations and people including the Arab arts and cultural scene and the activism scene. There's always something going on here so if you're bored, that's strange. Aside from my jam packed days, London was also the first place where I spent close to 1 hour waiting for a table at a restaurant (Tayyab's). It was well worth it.

I also spent a lot of time comparing the London underground tube system to the TTC, because I enjoy comparing transportation systems. The TTC can learn a thing or two or five from London, and so can New York for that matter. Although the Tube is crammed, terribly hot and expensive, it works and for someone who is using it for the first time, it's simple (despite the intimidating map). Maybe I'll save those for another post.

Despite the warnings that London is expensive, when I think about it, if 1 pound sterling is relative to 1 dollar, then it isn't that much different (food, clothing, etc). Other London observations:
  • the beef tastes really weird
  • for a chain that's on (almost) every street corner, Pret a Manger chocolate croissants are delicious,
  • if you're at Russell Square station, consider taking the lift up
  • I have never encountered so many American tourists in my life,
  • every curry house on Brick Lane claims to be the best one in town, some even include the direct link to the BBC article on their sign
  • I have never seen so many Kuwaiti tourists in my life....

  • British internet is slower than North American internet but it's faster than European internet
  • ask for tap water, otherwise, you'll pay 3 pounds for a glass bottle
  • this place is super multicultural
  • when the sun comes out, everyone's out
  • you must really "mind the gap" on the Tube
  • galleries are free...

  • If you cross the street when there is no "walk" sign, you are fair game, like the Arab world, Londoners do not stop. It's more dangerous in London because they drive on the left and most people are not accustomed to this so it adds to their confusion. The city has painted "Look Right" and "Look Left" on the streets at the crossings to make it easier, I think it was due to the tourist death toll from crossing the street related incidents.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Fundraiser Loft Party - June 24

I'm hosting a fundraiser loft party for my magazine, Kalimat. The goal is to raise funds in order to print the magazine and make it available worldwide. J
oin us for hors d'oeuvres, Arab specialty drinks, dancing and surprises at a special fundraiser loft party where we'll be releasing our Summer issue. Sounds by DJ Karim Sultan. I hope to see you there!

Date: Friday, June 24, 7pm

Location: 52 St. Lawrence Street (St. Lawrence and King Street East), Unit 315, Buzzer 0217

Tickets: $10 in advance/$15 at the door, available at

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Some cool stuff from around the interwebs

Lacoste Legends

Lacoste Legends brings together 12 legendary collaborators from various fields like music, media, design and retail, to create an exclusive collection comprising of 12 shoes. For the launch in Argentina, they recreated a newspaper with 12 headlines presenting the shoes and a newspaper dispenser containing the newspaper. [Via: Behance]


A social network for people who like to make lists of things, Listgeeks helps you create, share and compare lists of things.
The world's most inspiring bookstores

Places of note that will make you rethink those e-readers (which I'm not a fan of as you know from this post)

Herman Dune X April77

One of my favourite brands April77 has teamed up with Herman Dune for their latest collaboration to create the DAD chino. Details are awesome as always and the collection is available exclusively at Colette [Via: Modissimo]

Bowties: a user's guide

There's a guide for the now ubiquitous bowtie. [Via: Materialiste]

Gil Scott Heron X Jamie XX

Unfortunately, the legendary Gil Scott-Heron passed away on Friday. His last LP I'm New Here released in 2010), was recently remixed by Jamie XX from the XX. We're new here was released in Feb 2011).
[Via: Hype Means Everything]