Wednesday, September 30, 2009

O Overture, my Overture

I have been known to make less than complimentary statements about the Overture Center. I have been taken to task over that fact several times. But I will admit that my opinion of the place has softened quite a bit over the years, moving from the frustration and annoyance I felt when several great local businesses were ousted to make room for the Jello-mould-and-white-walls structure, to a somewhat grudging appreciation for the efforts being made to better reach out to the community and bring in a wider variety of events.

I still don't like the aesthetic design of the exterior, but that's neither here nor there when it comes to the long-term financial stability of what has the potential to either be a strong centerpiece of the downtown, or a sucking black hole of city dollars.

According to an article posted today on Channel3000, in a bid to restructure and give the OC a brighter future, a consultant has been hired to explore various public/private models of operation. That's a good move, and it's bolstered by the fact that "Overture publicist Rob Chappell said that the private 201 State Foundation, the Overture's fundraising arm, paid for the study -- not taxpayer dollars." Right now, the OC needs to do its damnedest to project fiscal responsibility to a public weary of taxpayer funded bailouts.

AMS Planning and Research, the consultant doing the study, said private-public or totally private arts centers have the greatest fundraising opportunities. The consultant also said Overture was about average when compared to six other similar arts facilities in the U.S. However, the consultant said the facility fell below average in a number of areas including marketing, fundraising and ticket prices and higher than average in cleaning/maintenance costs.
So there are areas that they're doing all right in, and several others that need work. Having the latter called out publicly is a good first step toward making sure that real, meaningful changes are made to create a more stable environment at the center.

There have been several major missteps made in the past with regards to how things are run over there, but I've been encouraged by the changes I've seen recently. There appears to be a greater effort at community outreach and publicity. Several local theatre and music groups enjoy the OC as their base of operations. The presentation of the headlining act of this year's Forward Music Fest at Overture Hall was an encouraging sign, too. I know there are people working for the center that really care about the community and about making the center an important part of it, so I'm willing to concede that I have perhaps been a little too prone to harsh generalizations in the past. That's not to say that certain criticisms weren't extremely warranted, but I will also do my best to give credit where credit is due.

But they will still need to work hard at finding ways to attract more people in these tough times, which means offering more events with lower ticket prices. And they'll need to do some serious cost cutting, all without negatively impacting the quality and quantity of events offered. It'll be a tricky balance, to be sure, but one that won't be struck without first coming to terms with some hard truths. I'm hopeful that the consultant's reports will help them go down that path.

(photo by MandaRose on Flickr)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Brunch: Oren Lavie

I haven't remembered to do a Sunday Brunch post in awhile, but as I'm sitting here getting ready to head north for the Warrens Cranberry Festival (!), I thought I'd take a moment to share a really lovely music video I stumbled across the other day. It's a good song, but the video takes thing to a whole other level of awesome. Please to enjoy, and have a great Sunday!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The good news for Sept. 24, 2009

I haven't done one of these in awhile, but there's a lot going on and I have little time to dedicate to a proper post today. Plus, I can't let Craver have all the fun, can I? Also, I've got some interesting news to break to you all in the near future regarding this blog. Stay tuned!

  • [Channel3000] - It looks like the Wisconsin legislature might finally be getting around to imposing actual regulations on dog breeders. Unfortunately, our state has become something of a haven for puppy mills and other nefarious breeding outfits. I have no idea why it took this long for concrete laws to be enacted. Who were the puppy haters causing the delay?
  • [Liebmann] Cory had the unenviable task of actually sitting through Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's big 2010 budget proposal speech today, and makes some fine points about the rampant hypocrisy inherent within. I would be laughing at Walker more if I didn't know that some people actually respect the guy. It's a mad, mad world.
  • [77 Square] Katjusa Cisar does a nice post-game piece on last weekend's second annual Forward Music Fest. I was involved via two bands that played, and since I'd expressed some crankiness over how things were handled by organizers, I'm even quoted. All that's lacking is a visual representation of me angrily shaking my fist at a passing cloud.
  • [Dane101] Shameless plug! As a co-editor for this site, I feel it's my duty to let you know that we've just undergone a massive--and, I think, pretty awesome--redesign. To celebrate, we're giving away some pretty awesome prizes every day this week. Hey, this is how it's done! No broken links or anything!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new

Madison has lately been taken of a need to tear down and build up, slowly altering its picturesque skyline so that it's gone a little less sleek and low and a little more big and tall. I'm not of a mind that all change and development is bad. Sometimes, to really revitalize a neighborhood and/or a city, fresh ideas and modern amenities are needed. But I believe in balance, including when it comes to development. Progress, after all, shouldn't be measured only by our ability to tear down old things and replace them with something entirely new and different.

Yet our city's historic neighborhoods face this exact mentality. The most recent example can be found in the area surrounding James Madison Park, where Apex Enterprises is working to construct new apartment/condo buildings. At a meeting with the neighborhood last weekend, their architect unveiled several different proposals for what might be done. One has a giant glass behemoth seemingly enveloping the historic Lamp House. Another splits the building in two, on either side of the house. A third proposes that the home be moved all together to make room for a narrower tower.

As Brenda Konkel laid out in her blog, these proposals also call for the demolition of several (eight at last count) other historic homes in the neighborhood.

I recognize that not every old home in the city can be saved once it reaches a certain level of disrepair. It's a shame, but it happens. But I also recognize that, here in the US, we are often far too quick to decide that, simply because a structure is over 50 years old, it should be razed to make way for something new. New isn't always better, though, especially when it fails to take into account the very attributes that make a particular neighborhood unique.

The James Madison Park area is what it is because of the large grouping of older houses it contains, access to and views of the lake, and its residential feel. Plunking a giant apartment or condo building into the middle of that would be like wedging an oversize foot into a tiny glass slipper.

Plus, do we really need more condo towers right now when so many of the recently built ones are still somewhat, if not mostly, vacant? And can Apex truly afford another private development when they're already working on several other large projects? These are honest questions that deserve serious consideration, I think.

I have to believe there are developers and architects out there with a better idea of how to integrate new ideas/buildings into older neighborhoods and landscapes. The notion of infill is important if we want to keep outlying land available for farming and plain old greenspace and avoid sprawl. But infill at the cost of the destruction of our city's history, aesthetic, and soul? Count me out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A weekend of music

Boy oh boy is there a lot of great music to catch in Madison this weekend. It's almost as though the audio gods are conspiring to get us to rent ourselves in twain - I know I'm tempted to find some way to split myself into about five different people in order to catch all the goodness.

Until modern science allows for such a thing to happen without, y'know, death, I'll just have to stick to my schedule. I'm in two--count 'em, two--bands that are playing at the Forward Music Fest.

TONIGHT, come on down to the cozy lil' Project Lodge (817 E. Johnson in Madison) at 9:00p.m. for a show featuring The Shabelles, for whom I hit things with sticks and sometimes sing. We're a fun, surf-garage-pop outfit and to further entice you, we'll be bringing a whole bevvy of beers to share with the faithful who show up. Get in with a FMF day or weekend pass, or just buy a single ticket at the door.

TOMORROW, la pièce de résistance will be my band, Little Red Wolf, whoopin' it up proper like at the Frequency (121 W. Main in Madison). We kick things off at the early hour of 4:00p.m., and will be followed by Crane Your Swan Neck, Filligar, Pomegranates, and Pronto (featuring a member of Wilco). Same deal for tickets as above.

I can garauntee good times (if not great oldies)!

And don't forget, there's also the always lovely Willy St. Fair this weekend, as well as the (totally free) Madison World Music Fest down at the UW Terrace!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A great mess at state treasurer's office

So far, no one's coming out of this story looking particularly good.

Serious questions have been raised about goings on in the state treasurer's office since at least last year, when the Wisconsin State Journal reported on possible politically motivating hiring going on there. Positions in the office are supposed to be nonpartisan, civil service, merit-based jobs.

More recently, many have been calling into question State Treasurer Dawn Marie Sass's ability to properly run the office. The allegations involve improper staffing levels, grossly mismanaging unclaimed property requests, hiring her 20-year-old niece, and not bothering to detail travel expenses on her ethics reports.

Today, the WSJ again lays out yet more drama at the office, wherein Sass has fired her deputy because, as she now says, he did in fact politicize the hiring process at the office. This reverses the claims she'd made initially when the issue was raised. So why the change of heart? Why the sudden willingness to stand up for what's right and good and non-partisan in this world?

Well, something tells me the motives aren't entirely altruistic. I mean, Sass has been under serious pressure to whip her department into shape lest she be removed from office. Major problems have been outlined with how she's handled her job. Suddenly deciding to grow a conscience and throw a few people under the bus to save one's own skin isn't exactly a new phenomenon.

Why else would she wait until everyone who she claims was hired for political reasons had already left those jobs? And why defend the hires so rigorously in the first place, only to wait a year (until you yourself had come under fire) to speak up?

The whole thing smacks of self-serving politics, and not just on the part of Sass. After all, there's a good chance her claims of politicization and meddling on the part of governor's office have merit despite her potentially less-than-noble reasons for spilling the beans.

What it all comes down to is that we clearly need a serious investigation into Sass, her office, and the Doyle administration. If anyone has been trying to influence hires and/or hiring based on political affiliations, then they need to be reprimanded and held responsible. This kind of shit shouldn't fly at any level of government - federal, state, or otherwise.

Monday, September 14, 2009

You stay classy, WPRI

Who knows who actually runs the Wisconsin Policy Reach Institute's Twitter feed, but they might seriously consider a quick refresher on standards of common decency. It's a small, snarky thing, this comment, but it did serve to remind me that WPRI continues to allege that it's a "non-partisan" think tank even as it continues to post nonsense like that. And of course there was this gem from Sept. 11: "Today's wondrous irony of the day: Socialists upset that heavy-handed government violates their First Amendment rights." The clever, it hurts.

But behold, the latest classy move:

Har de har har. And this is the group that has officially partnered with the UW-Madison to conduct statewide polls of public opinion. Oddly enough, the group's history and jokes like the one above don't exactly fill me with confidence in their ability to keep their polls very free of bias.

P.S. Totally unrelated, but since I've been blathering on about payday loan legislation on this blog for a little while now, I thought it worth while to point out my op-ed piece on the subject published in last week's issue of Isthmus. The loving emails have already begun pouring in in response (and by "loving" I mean "irate," and by "pouring" I mean "two").

Friday, September 11, 2009

Always for the people

Today we mark a terrible anniversary in our nation's history. Eight years ago, thousands were killed when a handful of individuals twisted by ideology made the decision to hijack and fly planes into the Twin Towers.

We all know what happened. We all have the images forever seared into our minds. Forgetting what happened that day - the innocent lives lost, the bravery of the first responders - will hardly be an issue.

The things done by ambitious, crass officials allegedly in those people's names, however, have all too often gone ignored, swept under the proverbial rug, or just lied about. Repressive legislation passed in the name of "national security," needless wars based on false pretense, a tidal wave of censorship and abuse disguised as faux patriotism--all of that justified under the banner of 9/11.

It's a disgrace, a sick tragedy.

Today and every day I remember those who fell victim to extremist views, and those who lost loved ones and for whom this anniversary is an intensely personal one. I give thanks for the people who dedicate their lives to serving their communities, whether through the local fire company, police station, hospital, school, etc.

It's not about a flag. It's not about artificial boundaries of country, race or class. It's about people: Families and friends just trying to live a life with meaning.

So I strengthen my resolve to see that the memory of those who've served and even died is not further marred by egotistical, greedy souls who feel compelled to use terrible events to bolster their ridiculous, violent causes. Whoever they are, wherever they are.

We owe the dead that much at least.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Serenity (then)

I'm still getting my head back on straight after a long weekend in the serene, loon-filled Northwoods of my fair state. In the meantime, enjoy this photo, which I took early yesterday morning on Little Martha Lake, near Mercer, WI. I was joined in the pre-dawn paddling by two loons, who are apparently residents and also made quite the spectacle of themselves by hooting back and forth every time they caught sight of one another.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The BurlesQuepade is coming!

What are you doing tomorrow (Friday) night? That's right, you're heading down to the Majestic Theatre for the big show! Get ready for a shameless plug:

Last year, I got it into my head to throw a burlesque and drag extravaganza all by my lonesome, and, through some great and terrible miracle, actually managed to pull it off. "Hot Mess," as it was called, ended up being wildly successful beyond all my expectations, and a blast to boot. It went over so well, in fact, that I was approached earlier this year by the local group organizing the ASANA National Women's Softball World Series to throw another such event as the final shindig to cap off their series. I pretty much couldn't say no.

So here we are, ready to rock again. Only instead of calling the show "Hot Mess 2: Electric Boogaloo," we decided to go with "BurlesQuepade" - but it'll be just as fabulous, if not more so, than last year!

I am pleased as punch to announce that we've brought back last year's emcee, Miss Tamale, who brought the house (and probably several pairs of panties) down with her between acts humor and her grand finale act. I haven't looked at a bottle of chocolate syrup the same way since.

Also performing will be troupes from as close as right here in Madison, and as far away as Atlanta! Check it out:
I'll be behind the scenes working my magic and would love to see your smiling faces out there in the audience! You can snag tickets online, at the Majestic box office, or at one of their outlets (Willy St. Co-op, Context, Pipefitter). Tickets will likely also be available at the door the night of the show.

$10 cover, all ages, 8:30 doors and 9:00pm show
Dance party to follow with DJ Tee Scientess

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Government and media responsibility in the digital age

Once in a while, even in the age of print media decline, a piece of cold, hard reporting can still jump out and grab your attention.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been running investigative pieces since January about a woman in Wisconsin who has allegedly been scamming the state out of millions of dollars in child care subsidies for the past several years. The work has been so comprehensive, and so damning of how the state has handled the case, that once the paper said it was about to publish this comprehensive article, the woman in question appeared to confess her crimes and the state finally took serious action against her.

It's a frustrating read, but not because of the reporting. Happily, that's proved to be a pretty rock solid example of what good journalism can and should be: in-depth, hard-hitting, dogged, and informative. It's much raking at its finest.

What's frustrating is twofold. First, you have the state appearing to massively bungle what should have been a pretty easy-to-spot and punish case of serious fraud. We're talking about millions of dollars in funding meant to go toward supporting low-income families trying to support their children. Instead, it appears to have ended up funding a 6-bedroom mansion with an indoor swimming pool and basketball court.

Secondly, there's the bad name this woman--Latasha Jackson--is giving to honest child care providers and those in real need of public assistance in Wisconsin. It's this type of case that only lends fuel to the fires of those people who adamantly oppose any kinds of aid programs for the less well heeled among us. They scowl and point and say "See! Welfare Queens sponging off the system!" But there are plenty--too many, frankly--of people who actually need assistance in getting back on their feet.

I want to give great big kudos to the MJS and the reporters who've been working on this story so diligently. They should get much of the credit for finally kicking the state in the pants and getting them to follow up on the matter, hopefully retrieving the money that's been defrauded of tax payers and making sure this woman never gets another dime from the state.

Now we need to make sure the people funding our media realize what a great resource they have in experienced, on-the-ground local reporters, and start finding other ways to save money that don't involve sacking them all.

(h/t The Sconz)
The Lost Albatross