Catalogue displayed in McQueen store

I was in New York recently visiting my friend Richard. It’s always a joy to get together every couple of years and renew the longstanding connection we’ve kept since our days at university in Montreal. We went to see Savage Beauty, the mind-bending retrospective of Alexander McQueen’s (1969-2010) work at the Costume Institute.

Watch this video to see his brilliant work and hear the informative commentary.

The next day, I was walking along 14th Street  in the meat-packing district, on my way to explore the High Line and happened upon the McQueen store. I went in and  had a look around at the latest collection and decided to buy the retrospective catalogue I had passed over at the museum.

On the way out of the store I came across this leggy NY model getting prepared for a shoot in front of old meatpacking building turned into boutiques. After taking the photo I decided to take a photo of her headless mannequin cousins in the McQueen store window.

The High Line, now open as a public park, was originally constructed in the 1930s to service factories along the lower west side of Manhattan, lifting dangerous freight trains off Manhattan’s streets.

HIGH LINE (Web Photo)

When all sections are complete, the High Line will be a mile-and-a-half-long elevated park, running through the West Side neighborhoods of the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen.

From the HL vantage point I captured a shot of IAC headquarters building in Chelsea, designed by Frank Gehry. He is the Toronto-born architect who revitalized the AGO building a couple of years ago.

Also from the High Line, looking a bit further east, I  saw these other new buildings, nicely juxtaposed to traditional Manhattan architecture.

Manhattan old and new

On Sunday I went to the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum to see Set-in-style, an exhibit of hundreds of VanCleef and Arpels beautifully crafted jewelry.

I was particularly impressed with the “mystery setting” in some of the pieces.

mystery setting

The prongs holding the gems are concealed so the gems themselves take centre stage and fit together seamlessly.

Van Cleef and Arpel's Dancer

The only stage production I saw was Billy Elliott and of course everyone knows how impressive the young dancers are who play the boy and what positive reviews the show gets.  What remains imprinted solidly in my memory is the number where Billy flies through the air, held by his future grown-up dancer self. It is a breath-taking, inspiring, pas-de-deux between two parts of a self, present and future, soaring into a whole.

I can’t leave this blog without sharing my photo manipulation of Times Square, on my way to the theatre.

Times Square 2011


COULD A PLANET DOMINATED BY ARTISTS AND THEIR OUTPUT instead of Big Corporate be a healthier, happier place for all? Recent scientific research suggests that “Art could be used to increase the welfare and mental health of the general public and should be protected from budget cutbacks,” according to London’s Telegraph.

Art as a drug?

Perhaps the arts should consider applying for funding from the Ministry of Health, as well as the various arts councils, if you weigh in the number  of articles I’ve read recently about research studies proving the power of art to help in the healing process, to reduce suffering in hospital and to speed up recoveries from illness. And it  appears that looking at art can even result in feelings of pleasure like falling in love.

I don’t think anyone would argue against the power of music to move us. In The Mourning Bride (1697) ,William Congreve wrote:

      “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

 I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.”

A new study of  music and its positive impact on the dying demonstrates that it also has the ability to ease pain, reduce anxiety and lift moods. Sandi Curtis, a Concordia University music therapy professor whose study is featured in the journal Music and Medicine says, “The wonderful thing about music is that it’s so powerful.”   (More…)

And it’s not only the experience of music, but art as well, that affects the pleasure parts of the brain. “Looking at things we consider to be beautiful, there is increased activity in the pleasure reward centres of the brain,” according to Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London.

Britain’s Telegraph reported (May 17/11) on a series of pioneering brain-mapping experiments by Prof. Zeki who scanned the brains of volunteers looking at 28 works of art, including The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, Bathing at La Grenouillere by Claude Monet and Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral.

It appears that “Viewing art gives same pleasure as being in love…The same part of the brain that is excited when you fall for someone romantically is stimulated when you stare at great works of beauty…triggers a surge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.” (More…)

Music inspires action.

Music also has the ability to inspire people into action. It has become an important part of David Suzuki’s consciousness raising work regarding the health of the environment.

Suzuki’s Playlist for the Planet  hopes to inspire the action necessary to fight environmental problems which affects all of the planet’s inhabitants. (More…)


What’s involved in making changes in our lives so that we continue to live   creatively and productively.

If you were going to renovate your house where would you start?

1.    Some type of design and planning comes first – a list of changes you want to make; resources you might need, like various people to help you.

2.    Prioritize and schedule a sequence of things to be done and time-line for them.

3.    Get going. Hire the contractors and do what you have to do.

It’s not so different in regards to making change in your life.

You may have heard the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Ask yourself if you really believe it.

People often say this with great conviction, believing that when we get older we can’t change. It may be a somewhat cynical outlook on life, but on the other hand unless a person is prepared to change something about themselves, a bad habit for example, they are unlikely to change.

A willing old dog can learn new tricks.

So we could alter that expression to “You can’t teach an unwilling dog new tricks.”

I’m going to talk later about a model of change by two researchers named Prochaska and DiClemente. They break change down into six different stages. We’ve already touched on the first one called pre-contemplation – the unwilling dog, not currently considering or will to change: “Ignorance is bliss.

Before I go into the other stages of change let’s consider who we are, each one of us reading this blog.

Most of us believe that we have a “self’ that makes us who we are. And many people resist change because they believe this self is a fixed or unchangeable identity.

You may have heard that the brain is “plas­tic.”  No, I’m not saying the brain is just another consumer product to be displayed at a Tupperware party – although some brains I’ve encountered were like storage containers with contents long past their shelf life.

The reality according to current research into the brain is that the self is actually “plastic” in the sense of being changeable, malleable, flexible. The brain has the amaz­ing abil­ity to reor­ga­nize itself by form­ing new con­nec­tions between brain cells (neurons).  The fact is that neurons that fire together wire together.  Remember that one. Keep it in mind as I talk further about renovating any part of your life …think welding, joining one piece of metal to another permanently.

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity or brain plas­tic­ity refers to the brain’s abil­ity to CHANGE through­out life. This article talks about how meditation can change your brain.

Norman Doidge, a native of Toronto, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author and faculty member of both Columbia University and the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry has written a groundbreaking book some of you may have heard about, The Brain That Changes Itself: Sto­ries of Per­sonal Tri­umph from the Fron­tiers of Brain Sci­ence.

The New York Times wrote of his book “The power of positive thinking finally gains scientific credibility”.

The discovery that our thoughts can actually change the structure and function of our brains, even into old age, is the most important breakthrough in our understanding of the brain in four hundred years.

The message of hope in this knowledge is that we can make positive changes in our lives by taking action, by doing something actively, rather than just letting the aging process do all the changing for you. We can slow down the aging process and even reverse it.

Let’s go back to the subject of who we are. That funny little thing called “self”.

The implications of brain plasticity tell us that who we are is a combination of biology/ genetics, our environment/ experience, and the actions/decisions we  make in life.

The age-old question of nature versus nurture has been turned on it’s head and recognized for what it is – a limited either/or question. What we’re talking about here is nature via nurture, the idea that biology affects experience and experience also affects biology. For example, we may have a gene that could cause cancer in us but that gene may have to be switched on by some non-genetic factor such as the ingredients of tobacco smoke, causing our genes to behave (or “express themselves”) differently.

So, in addi­tion to genetic fac­tors, the envi­ron­ment in which a per­son lives, as well as the actions or decisions of that per­son, play a role in plasticity.

Plas­tic­ity, learn­ing and memory

For a long time, it was believed that as we aged, the con­nec­tions in the brain became fixed. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops chang­ing through learn­ing. Plas­tic­ity IS the capac­ity of the brain to change with learn­ing. Changes asso­ci­ated with learn­ing occur mostly at the level of the con­nec­tions between neu­rons. New con­nec­tions can form and the inter­nal struc­ture of the exist­ing synapses can change.

I hope I’ve made my case that our brains can change and in the process we are creating a new self.

This is what I am calling “the art of renovating your life: creating your future.”

Now, returning to the model of the various stages of change, we started with pre-contemplation where a person is not considering making change. Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model has four steps towards actually implementing:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Preparation
  3. Action
  4. Maintenance

Stage of Change


Pre-contemplation Not currently considering change: “Ignorance is bliss”
Contemplation Ambivalent about change: “Sitting on the fence.”
Preparation Some experience with change and are trying to change: “Testing the waters.” Gathering information,  Planning to act within 1 month
Action Practicing new behavior for 3-6 months
Maintenance Continued commitment to sustaining new behavior  -6 months to 5 years
Relapse Resumption of old behaviors: “Fall from grace”


There is something about human nature that resists change. Why would this be? Because, generally speaking, we have a desire for permanence, stability, predictability, security and control.

There are two major kinds of change we experience. The first is outside or imposed change where we have no choice. Changes in government legislation for example or organizational change, or personal  illness ; the second is self imposed where we do have choice.

Which of the two is easiest to live with? Our own choice for change, naturally. They are easier because we’ve prepared out brains for them.We move to another part of the city, we go back to school, we change jobs or careers, we buy a new house. But still we feel a sense of loss, of displacement, of identity.

We need to differentiate between change and transition to fully understand the challenges of change. Change itself is an event, the moving, the new job, etc. But transition is a process, a psychological process of adaptation.
Every change brings with it a feeling of loss, a grieving for what was, a clinging or attachment to what we are leaving behind. And this is the area that makes change the most difficult – adapting to the new identity, situation or status before adopting it fully.

It’s not the change itself that is problematic, it’s the stress of adapting to change, it’s the transitioning that can cause us to retreat and want to go back to our previous position or ways of behaving. We don’t necessarily proceed in a  straight line as we’re making change. Sometimes it’s one step forward and two back. We need to  understand that there may be a learning curve involved – the number of times we practice or rehearse something before we become adept at it. How do we get to Carnegie Hall, as the old joke goes. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Making change and undergoing the transition process is stressful. Learning something new involves the brain adapting itself to the new learning and incorporating it into its systems.

Stress, as defined by the Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye, refers to the adaptation process when demands are made on an organism. Change is stressful because it makes physical and emotional demands on our bodies. And depending on what other stresses we have in our lives, we can become overwhelmed even to the point of distress.

That’s why it’s important not to try to make too many changes at once. Too much stress can interfere with learning. We can become tired, irritable, anxious, have sleep disturbances, overuse alcohol and drugs and become discouraged.

SMART goal setting is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-oriented.

Specific: The goal should be described as specifically as possible. A goal of losing weight is not specific. A goal of losing twenty pounds from a current weight of one-ninety is specific. Even better is to set a specific target weight of one-seventy pounds.

Measurable: To be effective, the goal must be measurable. Obviously, weight is measurable, whereas being more generous, being a better friend, and working harder at your volunteer job are not measurable as stated. If your goal is in an area like the latter, such as being a better friend or partner to someone, identify some aspects of better relating that are measurable. Perhaps spending a couple of hours each week in an activity that your friend or partner selects would be appropriate.

Achievable: There’s an art to goal setting that revolves around the goal’s difficulty. A goal too easy is not energizing. A goal too difficult seems hopeless. Both too easy and too difficult are goal setting no-no’s. Set the level of challenge somewhere in between. A good way to decide that a goal is achievable but challenging is to visualize yourself reaching the goal. Can you see yourself there? Are you energized by seeing the vision? If both of these are not present, revisit your goal. If your goal involves weight loss, do you know all you should know about nutrition, calorie content, and metabolism to achieve your goal? If not, perhaps your first goal should be to gather this information.

Relevant: Does it fit with your purpose and what you want to achieve in your life? Do you have the knowledge, skill set, and competency to reach your goal?

Time oriented: Setting a deadline provides necessary positive tension to give you the energy to get on with it. The time frame you select should be realistic. Losing twenty pounds in twenty weeks is realistic, whereas losing it in five weeks is not only unrealistic but unhealthy.

Let’s stop here for a moment and summarize what I’ve talked about so far.

1.  You can teach an old dog new tricks if he or she is willing. The brain, even the aging brain is plastic and can change.

2.  There are distinct stages of preparation and readiness for change.

3.   Change is an event; transition is a psychological process of adaptation and is the stressful part of change.

4.    Setting SMART goals is the key to making successful change.

“Just like physical exercise is a part of every well organized life in the contemporary period…(so will) a

Mentally and physically active people experience less cognitive decline.

consideration of how to nurture yourself. Now you know, science is telling us that you are in charge, that it’s under your control, that your happiness, your well-being, your abilities, your capacities, are capable of continuous modification, continuous improvement, and you’re the responsible agent and party.” – Michael Merzenich

Although cognitive decline is a normal part of aging, a number of studies have shown that people who remain mentally and physically active seem to experience less cognitive decline.

The more we become engaged and challenged by the surrounding world, the more our brain continues to generate new brain cells and reassign how existing cells communicate. New learning accelerates this process.

Every time our brain has to tackle a new challenge, it allows the new cells to mature and fuse themselves into the brain’s on-going processes. If our brains are not continually challenged, those new cells essentially starve and wither and die. That old adage, “Use it or Lose it” is true.

What scientists have clearly shown is that varieties of new and challenging activities, at any age, are good for the development of the brain. New hobbies, new experiences, new explorations all nourish and enrich the brain cells that continue to be generated.

The key is that the activities must be rigorous and repeated over time. A good trainer at a gym does not help us get stronger by doing normal daily activities on a routine basis. To get stronger, our muscles have to be increasingly challenged. In some ways, our brains function similar to a muscle. Enhancing brain plasticity amounts to exercising new brain cells so they get stronger and stronger.

I encourage you to keep learning, growing and exploring the world. It will enrich your brains and your life.

Happy renovating!

Not to be reprinted without permission. Copyright 2011 Jack Cunningham


TED’s Chris Anderson says the rise of web video is driving a worldwide phenomenon he calls  “ a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print.” He is the curator of the TED Conference.


To quote Chris Anderson, “For the first time in history, we can sit in front of the greatest teachers in the world, responding both as learners and as educators, interacting. The future is many to many, each contributing to the overall pool in which we can all participate in learning through global education.

Sharing talents and knowledge

Turning trash into vegetables
Innovation and creativity abound

TURNING TRASH INTO MANURE – Crowd Accelerated innovation.

The African town of Kibera has become a hotbed of innovation. With basic technology and the web, they have created their own TV station and a film school. And they are feeding 30 families by turning their trash into manure for their gardens.

Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for artists? Try this 5-minute Arts Practice MBA. Copyright 2011

If you’re an artist in any discipline you have an identity, how you’re perceived  by other people – business calls it a brand. And even if you don’t consciously try to create an identity, you can’t avoid having one. It’s like communication – you can’t not communicate. Saying nothing, having a poker face still communicates something. So you might as well pay attention to the identity you’re creating by your actions and behaviours, in other words, managing your identity. It could be something as simple as being known for reliability.

However much and however hard you practice your art, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be able to make enough money to pay the bills – or even some of the bills.   That requires finding people willing to part with their (or their organization’s) money. Those people may be called your audience, buyers, collectors. sponsors, patrons, arts councils, friends or family – but they are all, in one way or another,  your  “clients”  or in business terms – your customers or market.

If you have customers, you’ll want to keep them – that’s customer relationship maintenance. If you don’t have any or enough, you’ll need look for some, do some prospecting –  market research in business terms.You might even start to ask some questions about who those people are who are currently supporting your art  and developing a profile of  them. Then you can look for more just like them. that’s called demographics.

Armed with an identity, some customers, and a profile of prospects, you will want put some steps in place to get your message out there, to keep up interest, to convince, persuade and attract people to what you’re doing. That’s goal setting.

If you’re planning to get some money coming in – that’s a marketing plan.

Once you have some money coming in, you’ll have some money going out, so you’ll have to keep track of your financials. You’ll need to budget  and control  things like cash flow, revenue and expenses – and at the end of the year taxes.

Keeping up with your assets and the day-to-day activities of your arts practice – inventory, supplies, paying bills, keeping track of things, office hardware and software, professional memberships etc. is about managing your business.

Now that you’re successful at carrying out all of the above (according to how you define success) – you’ve found a rainbow and a pot of gold. You’ve done your Arts Practice MBA.

Maybe it’s not a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there definitely will be a pot of some size if you put your mind to it. there’s no guarantee how big the pot will be, but there will be something to reward your effort.  As with anything worthwhile in life, having a successful arts practice requires intention, attention and follow-through.


Some artists who have taken The Business of Art course from Work In Culture (CCCO) have said:

“I highly recommend this course. My business jumped 30% after I finished it. I left inspired and with a more defined vision for my career.”–  Kyra Millan, vocalist, arts educator and coach

“Taking The Business of Art course in 2009 was one of the most valuable things I have done….  It gave me insight into my practice and helped me define where I really want to go with it. It was a lot of work, but also great fun…. By the time I completed the course I had a 12-page five-year business plan and by the end of 2010 I had accomplished or attempted all the 14 goals I set for myself. I would highly recommend this course to any artist interested in taking the mystery out of the business end of being an artist. “ – Camilla Geary-Martin, sculptor

“Every artist deserves to be fairly compensated for their creation. If you take yourself seriously as an artist, and wish to take your art-as-business to the next level, The Business of Art Course is an invaluable introduction.”– Bruce Dow, Actor, Broadway/Toronto, and  the Stratford Shakespeare Festival


Organic EducationI like to play with words – MUSTake is one of them (although this neologism has also been coined for a mustache that someone shouldn’t wear). So I thought I’d brand it with some caps at the beginning of the word. That’s what I would call “innovation”, differentiating it from “creativity”.

Here’s some excellent tips for designers that would apply to most of us for keeping up our creativity.


Some years ago a woman who promoted workshops to business and industry knew about my varied experience in the arts and worked with me to developed a full-day program on Developing Creativity and Innovation. We tested it out with a group of 15 training and development practitioners who were enthusiastic about the outcomes they experienced and I began tweaking it. But the woman who was going to act as my agent to promote it left her business to take a full-time job and I put it aside for other work and income.

I benefited tremendously from my research .  It made me conscious of and renewed my own creativity. I learned then that there are a diversity of abilities and talents, not just one concept of abilities –  Multiple Intelligences – referred to in Ken Robinson’s talks and interviews.



“Are you wearing a wristwatch?” ,asks Ken Robinson? “most kids don’t. They live in a world which is digitized and the time for them is everywhere ,not linear…like the things we’re enthralled with in education. Life is not linear, it’s organic. We create our lives as we explore our talents in relation to the circumstances they help create for us.”PPPPPPPLAY

MAKE A MUSTake a day!



– Jack Cunningham, 2011



Matthew Teitelbaum, Director & CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario, standing in front of Flying Rope, one of Ewen’s works I particularly loved, explains in the video why the AGO collects Paterson Ewen.

The rope actually had a smell of the inside of a gutted tank on display in Camp Borden where I was raised as a child. The only smell I’ve ever associated with a painting is linseed oil. The addition of smell to a work of art extends its associations. Anyone remember Smellorama at the movies?

At one point in his career, Ewen  experimented with  using plywood to create Japanese style woodcuts but instead of printing them, he discovered he preferred to use the wood as a “canvas.”  He started creating works of a much larger scale than previously, using a router to gouge out images of planetary and celestial energies like comets, the sun and clouds. These works are powerful and almost sculptural.

In the same way that brushstrokes on canvas can create a feeling of movement and force, the gouging out of the wood  on which he paints his images fills the space with  energy and dark/light planes of colour.

I also enjoyed this particular piece, Northern Lights.

After seeing the exhibition I started down to the next level. On the way I snapped some photos of the stairs and a few shots outside of the North wall , then later of the south wall with reflections of OCAD which I retouched.

What a way to start my day.

It gave me goosebumps to see what can be accomplished by creative collaboration on our planet.

My friend Kristina told me about this virtual choir created by Eric Whitacre

And here’s a link to Eric explaining how it all came about.