From Chef Celebrities to Regular Foodies- Peeling Away the Food Craze of Today.

IMG_1554It’s hard to know what secret ingredient attracted such a large crowd to the Samsung Cooking challenge, at Vancouver’s Home and Design Show this Saturday. Maybe it was the anticipated appearances from celebrity chefs like Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, or Top Chef Canada contender Geoff Rogers. Maybe it was the chance to see one of the three regular foodies competing alongside three of the best chefs in the city. Maybe a good dose of healthy competition is all it takes, and if it happens to be in an NHL arena, then up go the stakes!

IMG_1607One thing’s for sure, the crowd did not heard like cattle for the anticipation of a daily feed. In fact, the fad of cooking as entertainment is rarely about audiences actually tasting any dish. When was the last time you watched The Food Network, and had the chance to sample a soup that Chef Ramsay described as “bone dry” or a steak “so undercooked Old McDonald is still trying to milk it”? If the cooking entertainment craze is rarely about audiences actually eating the food, then what are people really biting into? After experiencing the Tag Team Cooking Challenge, and later interviewing host of the event, Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, I may have discovered its recipe for success.

Chef Corbin first fell in love with cooking as a kid, upon discovering “When you cook, people just show up. Food was above and beyond feeding, but was a way of connecting and bringing people together. Food was all about community”.

IMG_1581Looking around the room, from its stage with the animated competitors, to the buzzing audience members, all I could smell was community. At the judges’ table sat community leaders, Keri Adams of CTV Vancouver, Neal McLennan of Western Living, and Erin Ireland of It’s To Die For. The audience not only was seasoned with diverse vendors from the Design show itself, but with regular Vancouverites, including the three tag team competitors; average foodies from the city. As for the three celebrity chefs, they graciously gave back to the community in more ways then one. For the event, they sacrificed the little precious free-time they had, to whisk away from their renowned restaurants; Maenam (Chef Angus An), Blacktail Florist (Chef Geoff Rogers), and West Oak (Chef Tim Cuff). Not only that, but they each graciously donated $100 vouchers from their restaurants for the lucky audience members, who also had the chance to engage in some healthy competition.

Even with the $5,000 worth of Samsung appliances at stake, this competition was as rare as they come. Let’s call it Chicago IMG_1565 2blue. It’s uncommon to see competitors going out of their way to encourage one another, while cracking jokes along the way. For Chef Corbin this type of competition is about “Bringing back the fun factor in food”. True to his word he kept things fun and audiences on their toes, quite literally. At one point three of them were dancing in front of the stage while eating entire jalapeño peppers. As it turns out, playing in the kitchen, goes beyond playing with your taste buds and testing their limits. It’s about testing your own limits in the kitchen despite the unanticipated setbacks along the way. Perhaps in this competition that meant the challenge of creating a tasty dessert that combined the unlikely combo of apple, jalapeño pepper, and honey. But it’s all about enjoying the process, and as Corbin says, “If you’re cooking and it doesn’t work out and you burn it- big deal. Like riding a bike, you’ll fall off a few times and get hurt along the way but eventually you’re going to get it-and it’s not that difficult.”

And even while playing, the chefs and tag team members did manage to create some magic on their plate, and based on the IMG_1573judges’ reactions, clearly on their palates. Paired with Chef Geoff Rogers, Elaine Vuong ended up claiming the prize. And since this whole event comes down to the success of the dish, I was curious to know how Chef Corbin defined success as a chef. By now, I had a feeling that his definition would cut much deeper then fame and fortune. I hit a soft spot.

“Success for me is that feeling I get when somebody speaks to a memory, or some sort of sensory trigger that they’ve had happen because of a result of my food.”

With thoughts of the interview marinating in my head, I was just about to leave when an organizer stopped to tell me that Elaine, who won the contest, was giving the entire $5,000 Samsung kitchen prize to her mother. Corbin’s view of a meal triggering nostalgia, drifted back to me. It must have been felt for Elaine, who seemed compelled to give to her mother a prize that represents so much more then making tasty food. It all boils down to the saying, you are what you eat. If what you eat is prepared with family and friends, seasoned with love, well then there you go. You’re forever left with the best kind of aftertaste.

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Who’s to blame, in the technology game?

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Now that you’ve started reading this, I’ve got your attention. But how many windows on your computer am I competing with? How many minutes since you last checked your phone, sitting there next to you? Are you even still here, or have you already strayed?

Technology distracts, so they say. But is it technology, or you surrendering to its allure when it knocks on your door and says come out and play? As kids for play, we always had to ask our parents for permission. When it comes to the Internet, Smartphones, or other devices, do you ask your higher reasoning for submission?

You have probably heard one or all of the arguments that modern day technology creates forgetfulness, encourages social isolation, and triggers mental illness.

A historian of science and technology, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, explores the concept in his novel “The Distraction Addiction”.

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsThe most inspiring outlook Pang discovered regarding our current state of technological overload came from Buddhist monks. These monks were social media entrepeurners living above tea plantations in Sri Lanka, studying in India, and various other remote places around the world. When asked how they maintain their rigorous practices while blogging, tweeting, or youtubing, they responded with the question,

Why is it that you think technology is the problem? Distraction is tech_buddha-620x412something that humans have had to deal with for thousands of years.”

You may think as I did, when exploring the perils of modern day technology diving into history would be a step backwards, in more ways then one. As it turns out, the fear of technology distracting and weakening our intelligence is hardly a new phenomenon…

1- When books were the newest technology of the time, the great philosopher Socrates argued that they “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls”.

2- In the 17th century the printing press was invented. French statesman Malesharbes, among many others, argued that getting news from the printed page socially isolated readers and steered them away from the collaborative efforts of getting news from the pulp.

3- The speed of new technology later became the main issue, as many physicians described the “pelting telegrams” as triggering an outbreak of mental illness.

Sound familiar? Or did your last tweet, text, or e-mail distract you from remembering earlier arguments in this post? If the claim was once made of technologies like books, newspapers, and telegrams being dangerous, maybe it’s time we finally take the technologies ‘off the hook’. Maybe there’s something else at fault.

21743113-medical-records-technology-with-a-vitruvian-man-over-a-background-of-digital-binary-code-as-a-healthSimply being aware of our autonomy in the matter sounds simple, but is a necessary first step. We start to unplug the chords that wire us to these devices by realizing that we ourselves plugged them in. But it isn’t easy. Our cell phones, with all of its contacts, schedules, pictures, and e-mails are extensions of ourselves. Socially they help “define” us, but the attachment is physiological as well. When we receive a text or an alert, like Pavlov’s dog hearing a bell, we salivate. Dopamine, the pleasure hormone, is actually released in our brain causing a natural feeling of euphoria. Not only that, but a phenomenon known as “e-mail apnea” is also at play, according to Microsoft leader Linda Stone. She discovered that when people pull out their smart phones, or wait for a page to load, around two thirds of them hold their breaths. No doubt, using these technologies alters not only our way of thinking, but also our physiological state. The argument that the brain is changing with these devices, thanks to neuroplasticity is valid, but that’s not the whole picture. In every memory we make, lesson we learn, book we read, our brain changes too. With that said, we are able to consciously re-learn things and change it for the better. If attention has been lost, it can be reclaimed.

20602563-internet-technology-concept-hand-tree-icons-set-vector-illustration-layered-for-easy-manipulation-anTechnology you can blame, or choose to play its game. Like being caged in with a tiger, it has to be tamed in order for us to coexist, which in the twenty first century is inevitable. Like in any game there is a winner and a loser. Never forget that on your team is human kind, its creator. So tweet, text, tag, snapchat, hashtag, and engage in this ever-evolving madness of a supernatural world we live in. But do so mindfully, so you can still fill your mind with its phenomenal potential.

To fetch or not to fetch? A pail of water…

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What do you know about ALS? Maybe you know it is as the disease that the famous professor Stephen Hawking has. Maybe you know that it occurs when motor neurons in the brain and spinal chord stop working, so that mundane tasks such as breathing and even swallowing become increasingly difficult. Or maybe you know it as the quickest spreading charity phenomenon on social media.

The question is, whether or not you knew a few things about ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, you would have been living in a hole had you not heard about the ice bucket challenge that spread like wildfire across the Internet this past August. When causes such as ALS, suddenly receive 98.2 million in a month, compared to 2.7 million during the same month last year, it’s hard to ignore. There is no doubt that social media is driving this phenomenon, and ultimately redefining what it means to be contributing members in society today.

The backlash over social media in relation with philanthropy and charities such as ALS are in some ways as cold as the icy water itself. Nevertheless, a controversy only means that there’s all the more reason to dive into the well…

Celebrities’ self-promotion

Celebrities posting videos for the challenge have little altruistic intentions, and instead have leapt on the opportunity for more self-promotion, which exhausts focus from the actual cause. The argument further goes that billionaires like Bill Gates should donate much more then the $100 that the challenge demands; merely fractions of pennies for him. It may be that social media helps promote the greediness for celebrities, both in stealing attention away from a worthy cause and furthermore doing so with feeble donations, although this is where social media creates wealth in itself. Without a doubt, those who are famous, have more attention, more followers in the virtual world, and therefore more influence. If Justin Bieber contributes the same amount that I can, and can shoot a video on the same iPhone that I have, then arguably I being a devoted fan (figuratively speaking thankfully) would be more inclined to do the same. The ALS challenge may have hyped up the already celebrity obsessed world as we know it, but nevertheless it may have given fans reasons to contribute, merely because they were sharing a common goal and achieving it with their so-called heroes. They could live with them for the first time in their unattainable world, that is, in the social media world.

Spreading philanthropy, or narcissism?

I recently read the ALS ice bucket challenge referred to as a narcissistic wet t-shirt contest. Narcissism yes, but we need to ask is if this is the result of a viral charity stunt, or just the nature of our culture. Just as we ultimately don’t know where the ALS challenge originated from, we don’t know exactly where our narcissistic culture comes from. Is it because more so then in any other era, we have made the greatest shift away from worshipping a divine being, and instead have turned the focus inwards to worship ourselves? Maybe, but without the bit of narcissism essential for the survival of social media, a huge support for a charitable foundation would have never come about. There’s something to be said about people putting themselves out there, whether or not with selfish intentions, but none the less behind a cause greater then themselves.

Too much focus on ALS, deters from other charities

In the science saturated twenty-first century, we are made to believe that the only disease that science cannot potentially find a cure for is death itself. Prolonging it is another story, and the story goes that scientific research requires money. There is no doubt that the 95.5 million increase towards the ALS foundation compared to the previous month, had a little something to do with this social media stunt. The argument goes that if the bucket overflows for one cause, it drains funds for others. Fair enough, but the controversy, (and social media loves controversy!) may have aided to other causes. Viral arguments online encouraged heated disputes. How did people defend their position? By donating. The virus spread, and for once it wasn’t a nasty bug, but instead an epidemic of philanthropy. Water aid in the UK for example, saw an increase of 50% in donations compared to any other day on record. Matt Damon made his argument by dumping a bucket of toilet water on his head, speaking to the fact that our sewage water is cleaner then what millions have to drink. Variations of the “No Water Challenge” also started pouring in online, with people replacing buckets of water with buckets of sand.

The variations of the challenge only speaks to the power of social media in its creative potential, which may compel non-profits and charities to think outside the box (and bucket) when reaching out. Still, those opposed may be justified in their position that the phenomenon likely diluted aid for other needy organizations, and instead replenished those thirsty for a little self-indulgence.

The question remains that despite the narcissism that social media can evidently cultivate, in the case of the ALS challenge, do you see the bucket half-empty or half-full?

The Regal Housewives of Vancouver

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Pleasantly fierce. Ferociously sweet. I greeted a table of middle-aged, older-then-they-think-they-look, regal housewives of Vancouver. Right away I was advised to brush the golden strand of hair that rested on the back of miss Blondie’s chair, suspiciously resembling her own bleached platinum locks. And now for the game. As I bustled around the restaurant busier then usual, the tigresses toyed with their prey.

“Is your Halibut and Chips breaded, by any chance?”

“Yes in beer batter”.

“What kind of beer would that be?”

“The local Granville Island Lager. But if you prefer we can steam and season it”.

“Oh I don’t drink beer, or eat fish for that matter”.

And so the game continues. More questions about the menu and more Greygoose waters straight-up with a wedge of organic lime on the side.In the midst of the bustle of the busy restaurant, I ask if Barbie would care for another soda, and she pounces on the opportunity to kindly correct me on my folly.

“You mean Perrier?”

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And because the three regal housewives are having such a splendid lunch, boozing, and catching up on all of the latest gossip, they insist on a photograph, perhaps to remember a memory otherwise drowned in cocktails. With a tray full of glasses in one hand, I felt the sharp claws of florescent pink nails grab my arm by the other.

“Picture dearie?”

An iphone is thrust into my available hand. A trap really, meaning move and you lose.And the scene before me hints that the usual quick snap might turn into a full-blown photo shoot. Compacts are taken out, lipstick is smeared on, pearly white fangs are double checked for food and my mind flashes to an image of the discovery channel with tigresses engaging in social grooming. Given the option of which dangerous scene to be shooting I would have happily chosen the African outback.

After a few hours of this fun, out comes four stainless steel black visa cards, practically denting the table as they snap down to catch my attention. I rush to their side, machine in hand, perhaps a little too eager to seal the deal. After Dame number one pays, I can’t help but notice the tip amount of one cent.

Now, honestly, I usually overlook these details (you win some you lose some). In this case I really can’t help myself. These women were practically blowing their noses with twenty-dollar bills.

“Oh was this what you meant to do?” I ask coyly, I myself for the first time playing the game.

“I’m sorry dear; I meant to tip you ten dollars. Gracie here will make up for that”.

Gracie laughs. “That happened to me the other day, I meant to tip the girl thirty and only gave her three”.

They all break out into a piercing laugh and I’m amazed of the intensity of roar that can project from such expressionless faces.

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And despite being put into position of prey the entire lunch, being poked and prodded and toyed with, and being tipped only that penny on a one hundred and eighty dollar bill, it’s really the last comment that strikes me the hardest. Not as a personal blow, but strikes me nonetheless. “The girl”. That’s really how these women see me. As a lesser member of society. As someone in a different world. And honestly, I can’t really deny seeing them in a different world too, not one that I dream to be apart of. Money is not just a commodity. It’s prestige, power, freedom, entitlement, and burrows deeper into the mines of our minds then we often realize. It’s all encompassing, and rarely there’s a strong enough resilient person to shake off its golden chains. I too would likely treat people differently if I had a mound of money to use freely but needed to ferociously protect.

But it is all about perspectives. The lens they see through is different from mine, and the lens the poor man sees through is still all the different. How might the homeless see us when we throw spare change their way, maybe out of pity, kindness, or maybe to fill that void of moral satisfaction? Whether you believe it or not, you’re rich to them. Don’t stop the generosity, but take the time to be human because we may walk in different shoes, but ultimately have the same ol’ souls.

 

 

Top 4 lessons we could re-learn from our kid selves

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1) Band-aids need to be ripped off quick

This rule for all kids, always seemed counterintuitive. Surely a slow gentle pull on that band-aid couldn’t hurt more then a violent and ear-splitting “rip”. But after a few trials on your own you realized that the least pain was felt if surgery was done quick, and administered by a parent. If parent was absent then an extremely trustworthy friend. Sibling might be risky depending on your current status of best friend or mortal enemy.

Lesson learned? Not so much.

How often if we are hurt, either physically or emotionally, do we draw out the pain by putting off healthy healing. Think of that secret you should have revealed months ago, which is only becoming more and more painful with every individual pull of your arm hair. Or that relationship you both know should have ended once and for all, but just can’t seem to let go of. Listen to the wise words of your childhood self. Short and sweet and quick. And if given the choice during healing, the colourful Disney band-aid is best. Trying to hide or blend in your wound doesn’t do anyone a favour. Think of all those toes accidentally stepped on thanks to a blended peach skin colour band-aid? Surely it is more likely to be squashed then Mickie Mouse? In this case with healing the pain, transparency is the answer.

2) Don’t run with scissors

I’m not sure why this always seemed to come up in class. The idea that we had to rush anywhere with scissors seems sort of strange. Gotta beat Billy to cut the pinkest cardboard paper out of the pink pack.

Nevertheless, the lesson was learned and we followed it diligently like our lives depended on it. Take care when carrying sharp objects. Although perhaps taking your time with something potentially painful seems somewhat counterintuitive to the band-aid lesson from above, there is in fact a sharp contrast. It’s found in the scissors. Those colourful plastic friendly looking toys we learned could “pock an eye out”, so as kids we always knew to carry them closed tightly with the sharp bit facing down. Rule of thumb so as not to lose any thumbs. As adults, colourful yet deadly scholastic scissors can come in the form of cars, bikes, scooters, and even handguns. We continuously recklessly run with these scissors, and they’re doing much more damage then poking eyes out and cutting off thumbs. Need I say more? 

3) Eating too much candy will upset your tummy

This one always took a few trial and errors. It’s just a terrible gut-wrenching uncomfortable feeling you truly have to experience to get. Not convinced? Try describing the feeling of a soar stomach to a friend let alone a child. It’s impossible. So as kids, after a few too many binges into the Halloween candy bag, we realized it just wasn’t worth it. No amount of tears could fix that crummy tummy. My parents definitely allowed me to learn that the hard way, and perhaps after cleaning out the car on a rather disastrous car trip, they had a hard lesson to learn as well.

Have we learned to eat only as much sweets as we can handle? Or that, after aches and blisters from scavenging the streets late into the Halloween night, we must work for our treats? Let’s face it, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer for men and women in North America. One too many chocolate bars and lazy days on the couch contributes to 17.3 million people dying from the disease annually. And the fix? Liposuction, Tummy Tucks, diet pills, anything to undo the harm done from the all that binge fun.

4) Pee before long car trips

Easier said then done as a kid. What if you just don’t have to go? But as kids we learned very quickly that simply trying first was enough. It confirmed that once you did get buckled into that straightjacket of a car seat you could be rest assured that you did everything in your power to prepare yourself.

Anticipating expected setbacks, whether it be a full bladder or a job loss, is something that we all think of preparing for, but somehow love to procrastinate initiating. It looms closer and closer and yet we put it off. Somehow that dry-spell, much related to one we might expect to feel on a road trip, of no work is visible and it keeps looming closer and closer. And kids got it right by asking the famous “are we there yet?” even as promptly after the minivan pulls out of the driveway. They’re preparing. They’re really just assessing the situation of progress. Of course they know they couldn’t possibly be there yet, but they’re merely reminding everyone of the end goal. They’re inciting a clear visualization of the finale outcome, something we should all focus on doing more in life.

The Trajectory of Traditions

“This song starts off with-get your bounce on, get your bounce on yo- in a slightly more soulful way”.

If you were to guess where I heard this, you probably wouldn’t assume it was sitting in a church. You might also be surprised to hear that it came from the Musical Director of a Gospel Choir, Lonnie Delisle. That’s just a sound bite from a concert that kept me on the edge of my seat, or pew in this case, from the Universal Gospel Choir’s Higher Love sold out show.

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Traditionally, gospel is an account that tells the story of life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus. But as times change, so does the very nature of the traditional customs that define our era, and the tools we use to express them. I’m not just talking about the new technologies that virtually coloured-in this particular gospel show, like the amplified sound and the striking lighting design. I’m not talking about that, but I certainly was tweeting about it, which speaks to the very nature of how the concept of time has changed in itself. I was simultaneously sharing a moment with people physically absent in that moment, stretching the boundaries that limit the experience of time for each individual. Lost yet?

Over time, the spiritual understanding of Gospel music has been stretched as well- to the point that the church’s original message is hanging from a thin thread. This was reiterated from a personal story of Director Lonnie Delisle, who has made it a mission to explore gospel beyond a traditional divinity. Besides Delisle’s natural comedic flare as you heard earlier, he opened up to vulnerably share with audiences a chapter of his much darker past. He described his experience in a cult-like religious group as a child, which suppressed him to the point of depression. Gospel music, although embodying the very stories and practices that imprisoned him during these times, actually set him free. The key was found in just that- a musical key.

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The Universal Gospel Choir

So, at this Higher Love concert, The Universal Gospel Choir did sing about God, but in a spiritual all-encompassing sense: the sense that your savior lies in whatever He or She means to you in your heart. I’m likely not revealing a groundbreaking notion of appreciating God in all of its forms, that you haven’t heard before. The novelty of this lies in the fact that God isn’t buried in the conversation, but instead has Himself been converted, redirected, and then highlighted in a different light.

The most influential person in the church today, Pope Francis, is himself encouraging a religious revolution as he says:

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  ”Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent”


 
And this speaks to me because I too, although always a deeply spiritual person, have never felt that there was a place for me in the church. But as I became absorbed in Delisle’s personal story, I got lost in the stories of Gospel sung by the choir, weaving in and out of one another in harmony, until I found myself listening to an unexpected voice from the church that resonated within me. The sense that all cultures, races, sexual orientations and people are being sung to, and furthermore encouraged to join in the dialogue makes all the difference. The key is to listen to every voice, although unable to decipher all languages, so that the universal tune of acceptance can echo.

 

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logoWhen I mentioned to friends that I was going to an open house art show at Bird on a Wire Creations, I was honestly surprised that they knew of this little artsy shop in Mount Pleasant.“That shop on Main? I love that store!” I was less surprised of their enthusiastic response, given the choice of inspiring clients I have been fortunate enough to work with during my practicum at a Cue Creative Consulting.

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So what makes people love a store?

Especially in this day and age when consumers are more attuned to the symphony of phony selling. What clever trick has Kate Nagel, owner of Bird on a Wire Creations, performed to captivate their hearts? No trick, just a genuine passion for art and a mission to evoke a visceral reaction for her clientele. According to Kate, “our soul dies when we don’t honour the art we’re meant to express”.

So express she does by hosting these “First Thursday Events” which invites showcased artists to express their own voice beyond what their art already evokes. For this particular visit, I felt privileged with the opportunity to chat over wine and cheese with three talented BC artists, Kirstin French, Abbie Finestone, and Suzanne Goodwin. These events have gone viral across North America, and truly bridge the barrier between artist and audience thanks to the open house, or open home-like setting.

For Kate, promoting the artists is only the tip of the iceberg. She strives to nurture the roots of artistic expression so it naturally becomes an integral part of society. Her dream, according to her, is for every person who as she says “is called to do art” has the resources and support to follow that vocation from the beginning. She sees so many artists who have the dream, but turn to other professions for stability. Only later do they come to terms with that primal urge to creatively express their voice in their careers. “I want them supported from the beginning” she says.

Kate’s mission? To see Bird on a Wire Creations in every city across Canada, so that more artists have the support to pursue their passion.

But for every industry to thrive, even in the arts community, there is a demand for some form of competition. Kate’s mandate is healthy competition, because in supporting one another we support the whole movement. This sounded familiar, given that it’s the same ideology as Kaare Long, my mentor at aCueCreative, who shares this incredibly authentic heart for art.  Of course like any business owner, Kate would love to see Bird on a Wire boom successfully, but that is hardly the point. Kate will often send shoppers to other stores on Main if she thinks the gift they’re destined to find is on the shelf of a neighbouring store.  She recently sent an art client to another gallery because she didn’t think her work would deliver its full potential in the store. “Now, her work has truly set off” she says beaming proudly, “and I get to practice the craft too by solving the obstacles creatively with them”.

It hits me, and I ask if she believes appreciating art means a paradigm of seeing the world in general. An artistic lens that sets off when we play with art. And she says, “That’s just it. I love how you phrased that”. And, like a true leader she makes me feel as if I created the idea that she has been describing the whole conversation and living her life by. I had been sharpening my artistic lens the entire evening. No doubt, those who love Bird on a Wire Creations so much, had also tapped into that lens without even realizing it.

 

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Artists (left to right) Kirstin French, Suzanne Goodwin, Kate Nagel, Abbie Finestone.