During my spring break trip to Nashville, I found out just how hard it can often be hard to blend into the background, as a stranger in a strange land. When originally moving from Kansas City to Chicago, I didn’t find too many cultural differences between the two places. I had noticed a significant change in how many people of color I was surrounded by, but even then, I had intentionally rejected the communities in my hometown that weren’t inclusive to these groups.
Nashville had striking similarities to my hometown in Kansas, but there was such an intense disconnect from Chicago. My own group of predominately white but queer people were immediately met with judgmental looks from white, wealthy, heterosexual couples wearing designer clothing, driving fast cars, and moving though the city without a care in the world.
An area known as “The Gulch” was where we had planned our first brunch of the trip but immediately changed plans to a park picnic once it was clear that we weren’t necessarily welcome. It was almost as if it was an entire city made up of the Gold Coast, but more outwardly aristocratic.
“I’ve never felt so judged in my entire life” my friend quivered as the seemingly paper thin buildings no more than two years old loomed overhead, blocking out the sun.
It reminded me of certain areas of Kansas City (Areas like Leewood, or anywhere close to the speedway, for those who are familiar) where it seemed like buildings had sprouted up in a flat open field of the prairie it had no business being in.
Areas like Broadway where historic buildings and bars that had a presence of old timey saloons overlooking the river felt much more comfortable than any overpriced biscuit spot. These bars were never short on white patrons eager to drink themselves incoherent until staff would help them stagger to the nearest curb.
While on the main strip, police sat quietly in their cruisers, hoping that nothing bad enough to warrant movement or any kind of action would happen before finishing their next doughnut. However, when attending a Redbull SoundSelect showcase of “BJ the Chicago Kid” that provided a big act with cheap drinks and a $3 cover, the presence of security was entirely different.
This show was the one place we were not surrounded by whiteness. Suddenly police officers were at each of the 4 checkpoints before being allowed into the stage area and throughout the venue. Their silver badges shined upon their bullet proof vests, even in the pouring rain.
The place that truly felt comfortable were places that were cheap, free, or historic to the city. The beautiful Nashville Public Library had an incredible children’s section, photography exhibit, and didn’t give second thought to the presence of the homeless, queers, travelers, and intellectuals alike.
My point here isn’t that Nashville is inherently bad, Chicago is no stranger to institutional racism but these feelings towards the non-white hetero-patriarchal structure are far more widely and outwardly expressed by the culture and it became clear that assimilation was the key to safety, a new concept for myself but certainly not for others.
Generosity and ruthlessness are two dichotomous strategies that are used in the music industry. Chicago artist Chance the Rapper made headlines this week after donating over $1 million to Chicago Public Schools(CPS) after already making all his music free and accessible to anyone who wants to hear it. Streaming services, iTunes, and even free download links are all ways that Chance’s music can be heard. This is a stark divergence from the aggressive and restrictive approaches taken by artist such as Taylor Swift.
The issue at hand is not that Spotify is not paying artists. The issue is that Spotify is transparent with what artists are being paid for. When artists get a song played on the radio, they are paid a lump sum for the performance license required to play the song over the radio. The same thing happens whenever a song is played on Spotify, but artists get confused on how many “plays” on Spotify equate a “play” on terrestrial radio. Any song with a million Spotify plays is essentially equal to one terrestrial radio play.
“How can this be?” you might ask. Well when terrestrial radio makes one play of a song, it is broadcast to an unknown number or people sitting in their cars, homes, and workplaces that happen to have the radio on. Songwriters are paid for a performance license for an estimation of how many people heard the song. On Spotify, the service can accurately and precisely track how many people have listened to any song for how long, unlike terrestrial radio.
When artists then see how many “plays” they’ve gotten on Spotify, and think they should be paid better for these millions of people that have essentially rented their song for one play. The tragic irony of this is that artists have only been paid this poorly but now that a company is being honest and transparent, they are unhappy.
The music industry can be tough, endless competition makes it hard for more than the top few to achieve success. Battle of the bands are a staple of the live entertainment realm, with many incredible performers all fighting for the title of “best,” there is little room for mistakes or setbacks and artists often crack under the pressure. I saw this first hand at the first show that I ever presented at an off-campus venue, Biggest Mouth at the Metro (one of Chicago’s premiere venues).
Even during the audition process, artists faced extreme pressure to perform at their best. Auditions only last 120 seconds and each performer must make an impression on the student judges that shows an eclectic performance highlighting musicality, stage presence, originality, and audience appeal.
As a producer of the event, I was stuck by how artists only ever wanted to focus on the performance aspects of the show but would often ignore any requirements of marketing or promotion of the event. Furthermore, artists would even try and sidestep rules set in place to keep the competition a fair and even playing field for each performer.
Some artists pulled any stunt they could think up to try and gain an edge. One band emailed a dean, talking him into changing a rule to accommodate special equipment for the band. Another act wasted their eight-minute performance time trying to troubleshoot faulty keyboard but were shocked that they couldn’t get their time made up afterwards. The venue was only rented for a certain amount of time and if the show didn’t move on, every other would’ve been shorted on time.
Another artist claimed to have a click track going through their performance that caused their performance to suffer, even though no other tech or event staff heard this phantom noise. The artist refused to leave the stage and attempted to incite a riot unless they were given more time to perform. After a yelling match on stage, the artist came backstage and was removed by security.
Eventually the show was won by two performers who had incredible performances and were friendly and courteous to the entire staff. It just goes to show how an audition or performance doesn’t end or begin on the stage. The interaction artists have with those running the event is just as important as any note, rhythm, or harmony.
In this week’s reading, Lambert demonstrates how our culture communicates ideas and information about what the human experience is through stories. Whether it be a create epic detailing the trials and tribulations of Odysseus, or a man who was hungry and went to the grocery store, the tale can be framed to a structure that makes the story give is a glimpse or overall idea of what the world is like through the goals and outcomes of the characters.
Beginning in a state of ordinary and harmony in an atmosphere t gives an added power to the initial incident or call to action that the character’s face because it shows how in our lives things may seem to be normal, happy, and will never be bad but suddenly one thing could turn that whole life upside down and into chaos.
The hero then sets out to solve the problem but meets resistance that must be overcome along the way. Life is full of resistance that must be overcome and it is comforting to hear stories about the protagonist and central character that the audience has to relate with overcoming those struggles, even in stores that end as tragedy, we want to know that the protagonist solves the problem even at a cost.
What was interesting to me was the comparison of the Hero’s Journey and the Feminine Alternative and how rooted in gender roles the two are. Lambert describes the Feminine Alternative as “a more realistic world where the journey from the ordinary world is not simply a “call” but an unexpected ‘rupture.’” This may be inherently true and still make for good story telling, but the problem lies not in the structure but our gender association with it. The “Feminine Alternative” in the name alone is listed as secondary to the standard.
This is recognized in the subconscious of our reading the story and how we recognize the struggle. Classics like “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” paint the heroine in this light and readers scoff at how foolish and dramatic the woman is being, certainly not mistakes that King Arthur would have made while facing the antagonist during the climax. As we create our own stories, a fresh perspective in a culture of sequels could be a male face painted on this Feminine Alternative
The most important insight that I wanted to convey just how many various skills and prepped materials are involved in the planning and execution process of presenting an event. A variety of students come together to invent a creative atmosphere in which not only performers but every person involved feels like they can be a part of their own art form, whether it’s photography, sound engineering, decoration, or marketing the event to students.
The most important idea I wanted to convey was just how hard the Student Programming Board works to present any event to the student body. Office hours are required, materials need to be purchased, volunteers need to be staffed, building services and security must be hired. What is often seen as “just an open mic” involves much more than putting a microphone on a stage.
What was most difficult about my sequence was seeing the photos not necessarily in chronological order to how they occurred. I wanted to show the different aspects of the event in different groupings. Starting with the office/prep work that is done, showcasing all the food and decorations, moving towards the stage and technical crew, our photography crew, our tabling crew, performers, and ending with a gathering of the whole team that is happy to have completed their event while showing that support staff will be staying even later to completely shut down the space.
I started with Madeline at the kissing booth because I felt that is was a very nice hook shot that would draw people in with questions that need answering. I ended with the shot of the support staff to show the relationship that our planning process has with them, often distanced and appearing toward the end of the night to facilitate the exit and cleanup. I used to many detail shots because there were quite a few details added to the space to decorate it and I didn’t want that hard work to go unnoticed. Being in a professional environment, nothing seemed too private for the photo essay.
The purpose of the event is to bring people together, not a particularly private atmosphere. The most difficult shots to capture were the ones that weren’t candid. Often when people know they are being photographed, they will pose or present themselves in a certain way. I don’t want a picture of how they want to be seen but of how they are. I included captions for my own benefit, helping organize my work by the type of shot and could help the slides flow in a way that wasn’t overcrowded with detail shots or portrait shots, but still told the story of the evening. I’m not sure how I feel about the title, there may be a better one out there but I can’t think of one.
This week I was invited to a Student Leader’s Dinner with my College President, the Dean of Student Life, the Dean of Student Success, and five other student leaders and it became clear to me that as a part of networking and business interaction, I’ll need to be able to discuss Politics. The trouble is, do I bite the hand that feeds or do I question authority and stick to my morals?
Dry Campus Cocktails
We arrive at the President’s house that evening, our coats are taken, we’re signed into the guest book by our name tags, and we gather around the coffee table for the President to immediately ask “did you hear about (Insert latest Trump related catastrophe here)?”
At a college that is at a 20 year low in enrollment and tuition jumping $1,000 per year, the leadership has found a way to steer the conversation in a light that will shine favorably on them but that isn’t the issue of the evening. The President being an Asian American himself, remarked upon how he had been worried about random stops and searches, carrying a passport in preparation to prove his citizenship.
Quickly we begin to discuss the concept of targeting and dismissing the “other” in society for all these Middle aged, well off, mixed race and gender to renounce this xenophobia that they found awful; a man carrying a tray of Lemonade and Ice Tea offers me a drink, and as a true Kansan I took my tea.
The President tells the Story of how he met a Botswanan cab driver/world traveler who predicted that Donald Trump would win the presidency.
“Oh Please!” The president laughed.
“No, this will happen. I know this, because of all the countries I have visited there is no Misogyny quite like there is in America. This is why Hillary Clinton will never win.”
The living room listening to this story “ooh” and “ah” at the grand observation that the United States is a Misogynist place as all good Liberals, like our administration want to be, know.
Hors d’oeuvres and Salad
Eventually we’re called into the dining room where the four courses of our meal will be served and the chief of staff suggested our conversation drift away from politics. Place cards set at strategic places around the table, the president and deans sat across from each-other while the government and athletic representatives sat on either side of the President, while Residence Life and Programming were pushed to the corners.
Fortunately, our adviser had warned us that throughout the meal we were to use the 7 pieces of cutlery from the outside in otherwise us lowly students might not have known which fork would be proper to eat or vinaigrette and pumpkin seed salad with goat cheese flan.
Salmon Tartar with roasted Brussel Sprouts
Though light efforts were made to shift the conversation to topics related to the school, again the group returned to how they were waiting for Trump to “Decide he’s had enough of this and just quit,” where the country would realize that the true danger of this Country is his cabinet picks who would be left to run the country after what they see as his inevitable departure from office.
(Odd how we were so certain that Trump would never be elected and are now so certain he won’t last all four years.)
As educators, the primary fear that they dwell upon is the consequences of having a laughably under-qualified Secretary of Education for our country. After marveling over how little respect is given to Teachers in the United States, I ask the table how they think being on first name basis with most professors at our school impacts our respect and therefore education?
I’m not sure if anyone answered this question, but what was clear is most of the table disapproved of this familiarity between college students and professors as there needed to be that level of separation and hierarchy so that a professor could at their liking say
“No. This is the way it is. You are wrong.”
The President reiterated how important it was to refer to him using the Doctoral Prefix (a subtle justification of his hefty salary).
The alarm bells were firing in my head as my stomach turns at this advocating for blind acceptance of authority. “Should we not expect these Professors to be able to prove and explain why is something is true? Is it simply their age that qualifies these people?”
In so many words I was told, “yes.”
Now I don’t think that many of the teachers at our College agree with this, hence why so many students are on first-name basis, but these administrators and paid a good deal more than the average professor and rely on this hierarchy to justify being paid up to $577,000/year when the average graduate of our college will make under $29,000/year. Another student chimes in that he often uses first name out of an attempt to not mis-gender a person, an excellent point.
The president snatches the opportunity to remind the room how wonderful our school is for being inclusive of non-binary students and how every other college president is baffled as to why that’s important. Soon, a dean dismissed the identity of non-binary students by asking “do you really think preferred pronouns will ever really be used in a professional setting?” “Well why should they not?”
I, a non-gender conforming queer, retort. “Our generation is already so eager and willing to change our language to suit our needs, furthermore why would you need to professionally classify someone as either a Mr. or a Mrs. or Ms. For any reason, other than to evaluate their worth as either a man or a woman?”
The Chef interrupts to introduce our main course, roasted Brussel sprouts, smoked salmon, and other array finely garnished platters. A waiter arrives to refill my Ice Tea and comically large goblet of Ice Water that I have been nervously chugging. It was frightening to see how these people could begin with such harsh criticism of those who are blindly following Trump’s leadership and the establishment of an “other” in Muslims, but so quickly denounce the questioning of their own authority and have a clear understanding of who doesn’t fit their still sexist mold. The conversation finally turns back to the College and how great it is at preparing students for these challenging questions that lie ahead (because no one cares what we think about them now).
Columbia College Chicago offers a wide variety of majors that once fell under the “Arts, Entertainment, Media Management” degree that is now “Music Business.” Events are a large portion of this industry within the city of the Chicago and school organizations like the Student Programming Board(SPB) plan, produce, and present a certain number of events every semester. This photo essay seeks to highlight the faces, personalities, and talents that collide to present events on campus at Columbia College Chicago. All work, ideas, and management of the event is done by Columbia Students made up of the SPB Elected Board who hold office hours and General Board members who are apart of planning during board meetings each Monday evening. SPB holds a monthly open mic series called “Big Mouth” and to celebrate those who despise Valentine’s Day were invited to perform, eat, and have fun with friends at “Bitter Mouth” on February 9th, 2017.
I often wonder about what events at normal schools are like. Aside from the typical frat party that I have seen represented in films like “Neighbors” (DIY spaces may be Columbia College’s frat equivalent) what do school sponsored functions look like and what is their measure of success? At Columbia College Chicago, there is no shortage of organization that is ready, willing, and wanting to produce an event on campus in one of the many wonderful spaces that the school provides (Conaway Center, HAUS, Stage 2) yet student participation and attendance has noticeably decreased over the past several years.
Open Mic events like Big Mouth once had hundreds of people coming to see who would be selected to perform with dozens of artists bending over backward, often even skipping class for a chance to perform. Now there is barely enough artists to fill the schedule and attendance plummets despite increased activities, amenities, and volunteer staff. As an event producer, even with in the bubble of the College, I must ask myself the big question-
If the quality of my events is increasing, why isn’t attendance following suit?
Fall semester, 2016 the Columbia Chronicle reported that enrollment for Columbia College Chicago was at a 20 year low, dropping from nearly 11,000 in ‘12 students to just over 8,000 in ’16. The Chronicle then reported on how tuition at Columbia College Chicago has increased nearly $1000 each year for the past 7 years. In the spring semester of ’17 undergrad enrollment again dropped another 500 students from the previous semester. It is frustrating for Columbia’s event planners to be expected to increase student attendance when enrollment at the school is taking a nose dive from semester to semester.
As Columbia brandishes a higher and higher price tag and little promise of upward mobility, the student body is becoming disillusioned with all things on campus. With a mountain of debt accumulating, students will often take on part time jobs to pay bills, rent, and buy food between a full time class schedule leaving very little free time to attend an open mic.