Art or eyesore? (5×8 – 8/4/11)

When kids paint, talking cake instead of taxes, the power of the Facebook status update, the circus and the Age of Abundance, and the Somalia famine.



So much irony in Duluth. A hillside mural — a “Unity in Community” mural — is splitting neighbors who say it’s ugly. “It’s the same kind of things that they arrest people for,” property owner Dan Williams tells the Duluth News Tribune.

Here’s the thing: Much of it was painted by children. Check your refrigerator door. Is there great art there, or just heartwarming art? Or is it art at all?

The work has stopped and officials intended to paint over it, but that idea, too, has been delayed pending a meeting with everyone involved.

(Image: Screen grab from WDIO)

In Bloomington, meanwhile, the neighbors of Craig Brown are upset, the Star Tribune reports. He feeds the birds but it’s brought other wildlife. Bloomington doesn’t do wildlife. The city law prohibits feeding of wild animals on the ground or at a height of less than 5 feet above ground.


A Minnesota Without Poverty has produced this video, starring the Minnesota Church Ladies, said to be the second in its Enough for All Series. The group obviously has a political view here, but what would happen if we didn’t discuss that issue by talking about that issue and instead talked about cake at a wedding?

I’ll start: The solution involved someone voluntarily providing extra cake.

(h/t: Eric Ringham)

Meanwhile, filmmaker David Lynch has put together this commentary on the debt ceiling issue. Your interpretation is good as any.

HOW THINGS HAVE BEEN GOING from David Lynch on Vimeo.


Wait! What? Kids are breaking up with each other via Facebook, by changing their status? Whatever happened to just slipping them a note while classes were changing in school? Or just not returning phone calls? Or telling a best friend to relay that it’s over? Kids today, eh?

Anyway, the New York Times is on this phenomenon, reporting on a conference for kids on Facebook etiquette.

To help the youngsters envision what a healthy split might look like, pictures and videos of several celebrity couples who managed amicable breakups were projected onto a big screen. Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz, for example, were heralded as healthy because “they’re still friends and were able to co-star in a movie together.” Their parting was juxtaposed with those of Kanye West and Amber Rose (West wrote a mean song about her) and Sammi and Ronnie from “Jersey Shore” (Sammi supposedly defriended Ronnie’s friends on her Facebook page), who each exhibited the kind of “unhealthy” breakup behavior that the Boston Health Commission hopes Massachusetts young people will rise above.

In that pursuit, organizers encouraged the crowd to eschew parting ways over text message or Facebook, the most common teen breakup methods. (A bisexual 15-year-old confessed in a morning session that she learned that her girlfriend of two years had dumped her only when she changed her relationship status to single.) Attendees were advised — with mixed results — to bravely confront the awkwardness of face-to-face breakups. When the facilitator in a session titled “Breakups 101” suggested that teenagers meet with “and come to an agreement or mutual understanding” with a soon-to-be ex, a skeptical 19-year-old nearly leapt out of her chair in protest. “So, you’re telling me that you’re crying at night, you’re not sleeping, you’re eating all this food to make you feel better, and you’re supposed to just come to an agreement?”

Sure, kid. “We can still be friends” is a sincere expression during breakups. Maybe you’ll make a movie together.


An honest-to-goodness circus came to Clinton, Minnesota yesterday. It’s the first time anyone can remember a circus setting up a big top in the town, blogger Kathryn Draeger (Resettling Big Stone County) observes. But her post today isn’t about the circus per se. It’s about the “Age of Abundance…”

One should savor every moment of the waning Age of Abundance. As I drove home from UM Morris the orange sliver of a new moon pierced the red and purple horizon and around me were pelicans, geese, fox, a turtle, and frogs to dodge on the road.

But do not despair at the end of this Age– because it brings things to us that we might not otherwise have, like elephants in Big Stone County. Proof in point: On one single day in very rural America, a woman can go from her rustic farm to seeing elephants to being enobled and inspired at a public university.

Give it a read, and consider whether the big top is half up or half down.


Someone pointed out in a post yesterday that there were almost no comments attached to a post I made about the front page of the New York Times picture of a dying child in Somalia. But there were dozens attached to the stealing of letters on the I-35W memorial.

The Associated Press has an unbelievable statistic today, however, that’s hard to ignore: 29,000 children under 5 have died in the famine.

This BBC video details the struggle aid workers are having. Note the ad for Porsche at the beginning.

A Washington Post commentary, printed in the Star Tribune, says this is what happens when the Marines leave a country like Somalia.

Bonus: This is being billed as the world’s largest stop-action animated film…

Gulp. The world’s largest stop-motion animation shot on a Nokia N8. from Nokia HD on Vimeo.

And this is how they did it… on cellphones.

Gulp. The making of. from Nokia HD on Vimeo.


A CNN/Opinion Research Poll this week gives the U.S. Congress an approval rating of just 14 percent. About three in four respondents thought officials acted like spoiled children during the debt crisis. Today’s Question: Is Congress getting a fair shake?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Joby Warrick, Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter at The Washington Post. His latest book is “The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA.”

Second hour: Why would anyone want to become a doctor?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Economist Louis Johnston on the condition of the U.S. economy.

Second hour: Best-selling author Lisa See, speaking at the “Talk of the Stacks” series about her new book about China during the “Great Leap Forward.” It’s called “Dreams of Joy.” Her best-selling book, “Snowflower and the Secret Fan” is now a Hollywood movie.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: What’s next in Syria?

Second hour: Linguist John McWhorter,

  • John O.

    #1) I wonder if property owners (like the one quoted) would rather see a retaining wall coated with artwork from gangbangers and taggers, instead of artwork from kids in the neighborhood?

  • Bob Collins

    They probably will soon enough anyway, no matter what the disposition of this is. (g)

  • lucy

    I think if the children’s artwork was a bit more organized and thought about, (on the leading adults part), before it was put onto the fence might have helped in keeping it from looking like 5 year old’s attempt of christmas tree decorating.

    I love children’s expression and I think that they have alot to say in thier artwork.

    About that tagging. Some of it is quite good. Not all tagging but some of it, can be thought provoking and add lots of unspoken context to certain places that have been marked.

  • BenCh


    I once got a big talking to from an ex’s friend after I broke up with her over the phone, saying that it was a low blow and I should have done it in person (blah blah blah). I had been “dating” the person for a week and a half. Do people really need a personal interaction to tell if someone is over you? It’s over means it’s over- even if that text message cost YOU $0.25.

    I would much rather have someone break up with me unannounced via Facebook than have them say cheat on me until I found out.

    (And aren’t there more pressing issues we should be talking to our teenagers about???)

  • Duluth property owner Dan Williams also says the mural looks like “inner-city crap.” Perhaps a fact-finding mission to the south-side of Chicago is in order because I seriously doubt if Mr. Williams knows what “inner-city crap” really looks like.

    He also thinks this mural will decrease his property value. If he thinks “inner-city crap” will decrease his property value, does he think a professional artist’s work will increase his property value? If so, then perhaps Duluth should hire a professional artist and send Mr. Williams the bill.

  • Kassie

    You just reminded me that I need to call the city today. Someone spray painted “Black Sabbath” on the retaining wall across the street from me.

  • @ Kassie – but how much did your property’s value depreciate?

  • Kassie

    @Drae with that particular graffiti tag, nothing.

    But, my neighborhood has a lot of graffiti. In fact, my neighborhood association hires part time graffiti busters for the summer. They go around cleaning up graffiti all summer long. We received a grant a couple years ago to paint murals on buildings to reduce the graffiti and just this year we got another grant to wrap utility boxes in plastic (with art designs) to deter graffiti. We take graffiti very seriously because not only does it lower property values, it is used in gang conflicts.

  • Joe Busch


    I do believe that the point here is to introduce teenagers to the concept of handling adult relationships in an adult way. In youth, we are apt to treat relationships with the same carefree attitude that we treat the rest of our lives, often taking the whole thing for granted.

    This has always been the case, of course, and things like text messages and Facebook have not suddenly introduced this. They do make it easier to trivialize ending a relationship, though, and this can have long term consequences. Facing the end of a relationship is a challenging and often traumatic experience. It’s one we grow from, though, and it helps us to better understand who we are, who we want, and what we want moving forward. It’s part of maturing.

    Of course this represents my own worldview, and there are certainly others that could be just as valid.

  • @ Kassie – I was trying to be a bit tongue-in-cheek there, but I appreciate your response all the same. What you describe is a real problem, while I think Mr. Williams is attempting to morph his situation into something that resembles yours/your neighborhood’s. I don’t think they’re the same. In fact, what your neighborhood has done by adding murals is part of the solution to “inner-city crap” but Mr Williams thinks it’s the same thing.

  • lucy

    Once upon a time I was in a sandwich shop. I went to use the restroom. The Koala Station, (for those without children, a Koala Station is a diaper changing station) was tagged.

    How I understand it, is that when gangs tag something it means it is their turf or property. At least this was the way it used to be. This leaves me curious as to what kind of person deems the Koala Station as “their turf”

  • Emily N

    As an artist, one who teaches co-eds but has also taught many children, sorry to say, this is an eye sore.

    Its one idea to have awesome, freedom of kid expression; painting with toes, sticks and brushes on paper. But quite another idea to have kids create a semi-permanent project that involves an aesthetic free for all. High expectations can be given to kids within art. Let’s not lower those.

    A little prepping for a project like this would help in so many ways:

    1. Kids who work together to create an idea and a final art work will be more conscious of their achievement as a whole, rather than just their small contribution. Also, kids are pretty self aware. They know when their friend draws really well and they don’t. Having a sense that they contributed in a meaningful way, just as much as their buddy, is a good thing for self esteem.

    2. I think the goal of having children involved in community projects is to bring together a sense of, well, community pride. These kids will be older and their pride in the community should be nurtured, just like when they experienced painting a mural together (and a mural that’s still around is an even greater sense of pride). A great community project can be a prevention to a crumbling neighborhood later.

    3. Praise doesn’t need to be given with every creative output that children do. I think parents with full refrigerators doors would agree. Over praising children cheapens their experience with art. Not everything they make is worth gold, they know that, parent’s know that, let’s stop pretending. But positive comments for real achievement can uplift a child and engage them further in their endeavors.

    Please don’t mistake my criticism for a desire to have coloring book type murals everywhere; where an adult creates the subject and the children just fill in with pretty colors. I think that kids can do wonderful things with art within the community, but give them some goals to reach. Give children the opportunity to paint something they’ll be proud of next week, next month, next year.

  • Christin

    #1 A couple of things regarding the mural. 1st, I agree with Emily that better planning would improve this project. Community murals can be great, but they need to be organized. Artists leading community efforts deserve to be well compensated and treated respectfully as professionals. I have noticed that graffiti prevention dollars are often used for community murals but that many of the projects are disorganized and the community groups often spend months in debate about the art being created. I have seen the money go unused because agreements could not be made. Is there a way to improve this process?

    Rarely are community orgs simply hiring an artist to paint a mural. Are graffiti prevention dollars required to be used to fund community murals or can we simply chose to hire local artists? I ask this out of curiosity; I am thinking of how we can better respect artists and preserve the vitality of our art community in the Twin Cities. Would you expect the kids to get to help with the accounting in the park building office? Should they get to plan the sports and activity calendar at every park? I am not saying we cannot have community murals, but I think we often forget that the artists behind them are professionals trying to feed their families. A bit more regard for the work they do would likely improve the results of community mural projects.

    #5 In regard to Somalia: Bob, your post impacted me. My friends and I are meeting tonight to research and brainstorm ways we can help and hopefully inspire our community to take action.