Artist Instigators


A series of surreal panels by Luke Matjas portray raccoons, crows, cougars, and wildlife among a jumble of cell towers, plastic bottles and urban refuse. Audubon illustrations replicated by Penelope Gottlieb twist it up with birds tangled by invasive plants that endanger flora and fauna. Aerial views reveal green blotches stretching from Palm Springs to Rancho Mirage in Kim Stringfellow’s Every Golf Course in the Coachella Valley.

Kim’s image shows 136 golf courses at posh resorts that suck up one million gallons of water per day – all the more relevant in California’s current drought. Only 25 resorts use reclaimed water though the Valley’s water district provides it free.  These artists and more are part of Ignite! The Art of Sustainability, a dynamic exhibition currently at the Longmont Museum in Colorado through May. Part of the Green Museum Initiative, these dramatic paintings, photography, sculpture and installations covering a wide swath of environmental issues, explore the impact of modern culture on the natural world with emotions.

What inspires artists to be activists about climate change? Here’s my story about the show when it was staged at the Pasadena Museum of California. 

Currently PMCA is showing another fascinating show, “Homestead” by Flora Kao, about shacks scattered across the parched landscape of the town of Wonderland near Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert. These small structures were part of the Small Tract Act of 1938, when homesteaders could claim five acres of expendable public land with a tiny shack – then abandoned them when the weather proved too harsh. 


Posted in Media | Leave a comment

What LA Could Have Looked Like


Multiuse Apartment Building Plan Over 405 Freeway

Last chance!  This weekend is the last time to see the fascinating exhibition Never Built: Los Angeles at the A+D Museum. An imaginative look at 100 ideas, renderings, blueprints, and models of buildings and parks proposed by visionary architects, designers and companies that would have altered the sprawl of the metropolis. The show is based on Sam Lubell’s book of the same name. 

Some are wild ideas and some are exquisite. Many plans would have made LA standout with its architecture and gardens. Some addressed housing issues or suggested multi-use structures years ago and others offered green spaces such as the Olmstead Brother’s proposal for preserved landscapes–which they managed in Palos Verdes where shorelines are undeveloped.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s soaring model for a church in the shape of a cross may have seemed like an egotistical monument but he also offered a comprehensive design for downtown office towers with a pedestrian plaza which also got nixed.

Conservative city fathers and cranky neighbors with limited views prevented some of these ideas from coming to fruition. Also conflicting business interests put the kibosh on a domed airport terminal with access to all the airlines, a bike freeway as well as an efficient monorail system that would have been erected for free decades ago.

Monorail planned from the Valley to downtown and beyond stops at May & Co. building, the future home of the Academy of Motion Pictures Museum

Some sensible minds prevailed, too, in some cases. Would we really want artificial islands off the coast of Santa Monica obstructing the view of the sunset on the ocean from the shoreline? Unusual?

Santa Monica’s version of The Palm Islands of Dubai

The curators at the Architecture and Design Museum create big shows in a small space that are both intriguing and thought-provoking, such as the exhibit I wrote about on the Eames’ Appreciation of Common Objects.  These innovative concepts for Los Angeles were inspired–and it’s disappointing that some of these dreams never happened. See what it might have been.

Posted in Art and Design | Leave a comment

Squirrels Use Napkins

Squirrels polished off a bunch of figs from the tree in my yard this season. It was a bumper crop so I didn’t mind sharing. I’d watch as the critters held the fruit in their little paws and quickly chomped away, usually tossing about half away when full. I swear they even peeled away the skin, dining on the rich sweet fleshy part.

Then, they amazed me – they would wipe both sides of their mouth on a limb of the tree before scurrying off!  I might have thought this gesture was a fluke but it happened every time. Who knew they practiced such manners?

Now the squirrels are feasting on the Hachiya persimmons. Not as tasty as the Fuyu variety but just as juicy, so my furry neighborhood friends are still using the branches as napkins. Wild decorum.



Posted in Green ways | Leave a comment

Motor City Nails It

It’s the last day of the New York Auto Show and lots of new vehicles rolled out – including plenty of hybrids and electrics, and the zippy Ford Fiesta. I’m reminded of my report on test drives of green vehicles at the LA Auto Show last year. As a former Detroiter, I’m glad the Big 3 rebounded. I smile when I see Chevy Volts on the road as well as Nissan Leafs and the smaller Prius. The Ford EcoBoost ads are all over TV but where’s its campaign for its 2013 Fusion Green Car of the Year?

I recall an amazing trip to Detroit for the “Forward with Ford” future trends conference almost two years ago—and how the automaker was ahead of the game. The author of The Tipping Point and Outliers Malcolm Gladwell gave an inspiring keynote about the late Marvin Miller, the union leader who not only changed baseball players’ salaries – but reflected a significant shift in the 1970s about everyone’s self-worth. His next book due out in October 2013 is David and Goliath, addressing how underdogs win.

At dinner, I was lucky to sit next to him and asked what he saw currently as the biggest social change. He spoke of Millennials’ demands that companies be transparent and provide value added. I tilted my head, somewhat skeptical. As it turns out, he was right.

Now I’m not so sure he had in mind Mustang’s Revved Up & Red-y or Ford Fiesta’s Candy Blue and Molten Orange nail lacquers by OPI. Though they’re fun, the cross-promotional nails for the movie Oz the Great and Powerful (directed by another former Detroiter Sam Raimi) dazzle with sparkles and names like “When Monkeys Fly.”

What Ford did promote during that summer was its autos’ sustainable interiors made of renewable materials, innovative lightweight plastics and wireless equipped cars that will prevent accidents by warning drivers of cars coming out of nowhere. On the test track, I experienced it first hand—as a car ran a red light ahead, I braced in the back seat of the Focus, but the driver was able to stop within a couple feet.

I suspect auto fleets of the future will include hybrids, electrics and plug-ins to respond to drivers’ habits (commuter, second vehicle, etc.) not just their taste. Wonder what Ford is working on next? Bill Ford’s TED talk on Global Gridlock? Maybe look for the roll out its electric bike?   


Posted in Green ways | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dragonflies, Bugs and Finding Found Art

On the way to the Audubon Center at Debs Park in LA, a big blue bug looms at the entrance to Avenue 52 off the 110 Freeway.  Standing about 20+ feet high in the grass of a front yard, the wing span stretches across its metallic shiny body. Its bulging mirror eyeballs stare, its mouth—made of a truck’s grill—looks ready for a bite.

Next to this artful insect is a gigantic dragonfly in a garden of enormous metal flowers and a huge spider web with bicycle wheel spokes incorporated into the artwork. The artist LT Mustardseed uses found objects, welded metal and automotive paints to create her sculptures, installed as public art in Santa Clarita, the Autry Museum and now residing in Highland Park.  A little hand-painted sign says to reach her at

Speaking of animal art, today I also visited Gold Bug in Pasadena with my friend, artist Greta Grigorian. It’s one of my favorite stores. It’s like an eccentric Cabinet of Curiosity filled with fascinating art, intriguing gifts and eerie stuff, from Steampunk clothing to butterflies, bugs and bats, as well as gorgeous jewelry, botanical items, graphite sculptured pencils, and much more. Agelio Batle of Batle Studios creates these “pencils” in the shape of hands, feathers, sticks of bamboo, angel wings, and bird beaks.

“Would you write with them?” asked Greta, imagining the sculpture vanishing with every word.

Posted in Art and Design | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Spring Shopping on PBS

It’s easy to miss great programs on PBS with so many specials and so much umbrella programming, like POV’s documentaries and the American Masters’ profiles. If I don’t stay on stop of the schedule, I invariably regret missing something excellent. Luckily, I happened to catch the Sister Rosetta Tharpe documentary  (I’m convinced the Godmother of Rock’n'Roll inspired Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes). But I sadly missed the Hullaballoo retrospective.

This weekend features authors Philip Roth and Graham Greene, the return of the Call the Midwife, and the premiere of Mr. Selfridge. As I said in my ‘Watch It!’ column in, Jeremy Piven isn’t really a replacement for Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey, but he’s perfectly cast in this role.

All of Sunday evening’s fare gives a good hit of period dramas—from 1909 to mid-century. The title of my piece is “Ari Gold’s newest ‘entourage:’ sex & shopping on ‘Mr. Selfridge’ with Jeremy Piven.” Check out how today’s department store got started a century ago. All of Sunday evening’s fare gives a good hit of period dramas—from 1909 to mid-century.

Also recently on PBS, I managed to record Makers: Women Who Made America, the must-see documentary about the last 50 years of the women’s movement. A superb chronicle full of informative details that reminded me of the changes that have occurred—and still haven’t.  If you missed it, watch on the Makers website along with stories from 175 other women—and counting.

At the risk of sounding too ponderous, it’s important – as well as entertaining. A 30-something friend, who was turned off in college by feminism, asked if life was really like Mad Men for women in the day. So I let her know that the first woman who ran in the Boston Marathon in 1967 snuck in and was kicked out. It wasn’t until 1972 that Roberta Gibb could officially participate and led the way us. That surprised and convinced her.

And did I mention PBS’s online film festival of fantastic shorts? I’ve finally signed up on the network’s home page for the newsletter to keep up. I’d like to know when the Nova episode on how plants talk to each other will air. The DVR is getting full.

Posted in Pop AnThrop | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

He Got a Line on Me

While watching the “In Memoriam” part of this year’s Grammy Awards, among the many faces and names of musical talents lost last year, I saw Ed Cassidy flash past—he was the remarkable drummer of the band Spirit, which had a hit with “I Got a Line on You” in 1968. They toured with Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page’s guitar riff in “Stairway to Heaven” claims to be lifted from Spirit’s track “Taurus.”

My memory of Cassidy comes from a hot night in 1969 at the Hideout, a Detroit suburban club owned by Bob Seger’s manager Punch Andrews. While hanging backstage after the band’s show, I noticed the handsome bald drummer make an entrance into the green room. (Picture Peter Garrett, the imposing lead singer of Midnight Oil.) He glanced around and approached me with a warm smile. I was just 17 and felt a bit timid. I booked local bands’ shows around Michigan for a management agency, so dreaded being considered a groupie.

“Bridget?” he asked, stepping back to look me over.

“I’m Robbie,” I said, tentatively extending my hand. “Nice to meet you.”

““Whoa! I thought you were this stewardess I met on Aer Lingus,” he emphasized the airline name. His really large, strong hands squeezed mine.

“Really?” I wondered aloud, not believing his line. Still, I was impressed. Though close to my dad’s age, he looked cool in a tight t-shirt and leather jeans and had serious command of the drums.

Cassidy leaned into my eyes, perhaps seeking a glint. “So you’re not Bridget?” When I shook my head with a grin, he threw his head back with a laugh.

“I loved your show,” I said sincerely before my date swept me out and onto the floor to see Rod Stewart play with the Small Faces. Over the years, I wondered what might have happened if I didn’t have a date.

What’s amazing is Cassidy’s story in his New York Times obit:  An accomplished jazz drummer who’d played with some greats before joining Spirit, his stepson’s band. Hard to believe, he died at 89. His spirit lingers as I hear a refrain from the band’s song “Fresh Garbage:” See those things you didn’t quite consume.

Check out Spirit’s early music video. Does the flight attendant look like me?


Posted in Media, Pop AnThrop | Leave a comment

Getting “Square” at Buster’s


“Latte tree” by Mary Wholey

A ginger scone and organic coffee would taste delicious, I thought, rushing to meet a friend at 8 am a couple weeks ago at Busters in South Pasadena, a favorite local cafe for Fosselman’s handmade ice cream. But I’d forgotten that they didn’t take debit cards and I didn’t have enough cash on hand. Then they pulled out an iPad and rang me up.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing at the screen.

“Square,” the barista said. “You’ll get an email receipt.

Square’s logo

I didn’t inquire further about this newfangled service since a long line of customers awaited their coffee. It must be part of Foursquare, I assumed. Impressed, but a bit overwhelmed with yet another in an endless spate of apps, start-ups and seamless purchasing. The receipt arrived in my email with an image of my signature:  Re: Receipt from Busters Ice Cream and Coffee Shop for $9.18. I wondered.

At the bottom of the email it asked if I wanted to “start accepting credit cards today.” I thought of a few friends who could use this reader gizmo on their smartphone for their business and filed away a mental note. It returned to my radar tonight.

A story on 60 Minutes featured an interview with Square’s creator Jack Dorsey, the guy who co-founded Twitter. That got my attention. It’s got low fees and could transform payments for customers and vendors. I read a comment about complaints and flashed on Groupon. A further search revealed it can hold funds up to 30 days for large transactions and there’s a robo response in lieu of customer support. But it’s fast-growing and should leap overnight after this story: Jack Dorsey of Square on “60 Minutes”.

Would you use it?  Sign up as a customer and the favorite shops will know who you are: and/or register for your free credit card reader:


Posted in Media | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking Brian’s Photo at the 9/11 Memorial

“Would you take my photo here?” an Irish voice asked as I stood looking into the black abyss in the footprint of the South Tower, quietly paying my respects to those who’d perished. I gladly snapped the redheaded man’s image with the serene waterfall behind him. The simple black fountain impressive, the expanse across the footprint of the towers powerful. The new buildings climbed above, offering a new life to the World Trade Center plaza.

He took a look at the photo and handed me back his camera. “Would you please include the name of Brian in the picture?” he asked, placing his hand near the engraved name on the brass plaque.

My heart sank. ”I’m sorry. Is he someone you knew?” I tentatively asked.

“Oh, no. It’s my name!” he explained with a smile. “There are a lot of Irish names here.”

We spoke of all the Irish immigrants who became policeman and fireman. I mentioned my grandparents and my mother’s father who helped build New York City’s subways. Soon we were discussing politics and the situation in Northern Ireland where he hailed from. “If you can resolve your conflict, there’s hope for anyone,” I suggested. He spoke of the finer points to the clashing Catholics and Protestants, the history and the current situation. As the waters flowed next to us, I thought what better discussion to have on this hallowed ground.

“You got this right,” said Brian, gesturing to the 9/11 Memorial site.

I was moved. Choked up, we both paused looking over the solemn and beautiful memorial and the visitors touching the names in reverence. Brian left to return to a nearby hotel, where he’d left his wife and children, who hadn’t care to come with him. I recalled all the times I visited the World Trade Towers–trips to the observation deck with my brother and his kids during a wild storm, on the rooftop with a Port Authority engineer, dinner at the Windows on the World, a reception for MTV’s gold record for Adam Ant. The bicentennial, the Tall Ships, and the quiet floating feeling at the top of more than 100 floors, where the Twin Towers managed to dwarf Manhattan.

The Survivor Tree shows new branches.

Overwhelmed, I touched The Survivor Tree, marveling at its new growth, limbs full of bright green leaves.  I agree with Brian–they got it right. When the surrounding construction ends and the new shiny towers and museum opens, these two black holes filling with cascading water will remain as a fitting reminder.


Posted in Art and Design, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Real Video Babes of Music Video

Grace Jones, Drury Lane Theatre, London October 1981, from the “Who Shot Rock’n'Roll” exhibit. Photo by David Corio.

A panel of women, starting with Penelope Spheeris, regaled a packed house on lecture night at the “Who Shot Rock’n'Roll” exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A. The film director showed excerpts of her Decline of Western Civilization films, from punk to metal, with terrific tales, and admitted the scene with Ozzy Osbourne and the orange juice was staged, and that being on the road with him would cure anyone of shooting rock’n'roll.  Really?

Next up was my former partner-in-wild’n'crazy-times at MTV, Gale Sparrow, who described how those tentative early days turned into the media and cultural phenomenon — seemingly overnight.

The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star” – MTV, August 1, 1981

Sparrow spotlighted The Stray Cats and how their music video created a sensation, selling albums and selling out shows in “Podunk” towns where MTV aired, putting the band on the map and grabbing the attention of EMI Records. Then the “I Want My MTV” ad ran in markets where cable television companies refused to add the channel. David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper and The Police told kids to demand their MTV, forcing the hand of the cable biz. Resistant record labels started forking over music videos, advertisers started investing in the much-coveted 14-25 year-old viewers, films, fashion and television imitators joined the bandwagon. The rest is history!

Tom Petty “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” video by Jeff Stein

Then Liz Heller, my former colleague from MTV days and MCA Records, offered another angle. She took the audience on a trip through the burgeoning music video days through the boom as she and “The Girls” of record label publicity departments figured out what to do with all the “promo clips” (as they were called in 1981). Amusing anecdotes and escapades told of the slick Bobby Brown videos and lovely Lyle Lovett to the extraordinary Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by directors like Jeff Stein and Wayne Isham — the other stars of music video.

The reunion: Liz, KT Valk de Belize, Gale, and Janie Hoffman who wrangled “The Girls” together.

Good fun to revisit 30 years ago (eesch!), when shooting from the hip made music videos hip. Now you’ll have to see it all on YouTube.



Posted in Media, Pop AnThrop | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment