Tuesday, February 24, 2009

February 24, 2009 — How do you get to be a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum? Ask Joanna Marsh

When Joanna Marsh was a child, the James Dicke curator of contemporary art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum dreamt of becoming a doctor. She reconsidered after one year as a biology major at Cornell. "It became very obvious, very quickly, that I was not cut out for a career in the sciences," admits the 32-year-old.

Several women on the Cornell faculty, however, inspired her to double major in English and art history — and once she found her passion success came quickly. Following graduation she spent a year and a half at the Sotheby's Institute of Art in London, where she received a master’s degree in post-war and contemporary art. "The Institute was minutes away from the British Museum and within walking distance of the National Gallery and Sotheby's auction house, as well as the University of London. It was an incredible place to learn and grow as student of art history."

She ventured back to her hometown of Washington, DC in 2000 and after a short stint as a volunteer at the museum, Joanna was hired to be the assistant curator for contemporary art by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT. "My boss left not two years after I got there, and at 26 I became the curator," she says. "I was young and somewhat terrified at first, but it was a tremendous opportunity, terrifying, and an invaluable terrific learning experience. Because I had so much autonomy, I was able to take my time and figure things out on my own."

By 2006, Joanna was ready for a new challenge. A new head curator — the Yale-educated art historian Dr. Eleanor Harvey — had taken over at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and was looking for a curator to help raise the profile of the contemporary art department. Soon after, Joanna landed the job.

"What I appreciate most about Joanna is her insight and energy,” shares Eleanor, seated next to Joanna on a warm February day under the elegant glass canopy of the newly renovated Kogod Courtyard at the Museum. “She has a keen appreciation for contemporary art and has made terrific contributions to the collection." One of Joanna’s first assignments was to create a five-year plan for her vision, Eleanor notes, which included bringing in new and emerging artists, and filling in the collection with artists whose work should have been part of the collection years before.

Plus, Eleanor believes, Joanna has helped breathe new life to the historical museum that some considered stogy. "Because contemporary artists are obviously still alive, we are able to bring them here for talks — and I'm always amazed that we fill up the auditorium with up to 350 art aficionados who are eager to listen to their perspectives and insights about how, and why, they created a certain piece. I credit Joanna with adding a new kind of energy and excitement to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and I am eager to see what else she'll discover next for our collection."

Joanna says: “What I love about working at the American Art Museum is the ability to show contemporary art within the context of an encyclopedic collection that is rich in history and tradition. There are so many contemporary artists whose work engages with other genres and periods, and it’s invigorating to make connections between their art and that of the past. People are fascinated by this sort of dialogue. The other exciting part of being a contemporary curator is the opportunity to work directly with artists. "I think people are simply fascinated by the process of making art. People want to know what artists such as Deborah Butterfield, Jenny Holzer, and James Rosenquist were thinking, and not only do we have the privilege of showing their work here, but we can actually talk to them about it."

What are some of Joanna's favorite pieces at the Smithsonian? Find out in an upcoming entry. In the coming weeks, we'll also profile Eleanor about how she came to become the head honcho at one of the nation’s most prestigious museums.

Don’t just read about these Truly Amazing Women. Meet Joanna and Eleanor in person when they host the Thursday, Feb. 26 annual fundraiser ARTrageous. You’ll savor a buffet dinner and wine & spirits while dancing to live music by Blues Alley Jazz and mingling with American artists in the museum's stunning Kogod Courtyard. The evening will also present the chance to preview the exhibition, "1934: A New Deal for Artists," which opens to the public Friday, Feb. 27.

This year's ARTrageous celebrates Dorothy Lichtenstein, Jeffrey and Julie Loria, and Sam Rose and Julie Walters, whose generous contributions made possible the museum's recent acquisition of Roy Lichtenstein's "Modern Head," an outdoor sculpture currently on view at the corner of Ninth and F streets N.W. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and First Lady Michelle Fenty of Washington, D.C., are the evening's honorary patrons.

Click here to buy tickets for ARTrageous!

By Hope Katz Gibbs, www.hopegibbs.com and a www.inkandescentpr.com.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

February 11, 2009 — Dr. Helen Fisher to speak about her new book, "Why Him? Why Her?" at National Press Club, 6pm, Feb. 11

What is love? Why do we choose the people we choose? How do men and women vary in their romantic feelings? Is there really love at first sight? How did love evolve? For decades, Rutgers University anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher has been working to answer these eternal questions. The 62-year old has traveled from the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa to Tokyo, Moscow, and back to her home in New York City to determine if one culture perceives love differently than another. “My research has proven to me that everywhere, people fail into romantic love,” she explains in her current book, Why We Love. “And I have come to see this passion as a fundamental human drive. Like the craving for food and water and the maternal instinct, it is a psychological need, a profound urge, an instinct to court and win a particular mating partner.” Although Fisher admits that the magic of love cannot be underestimated, she is convinced that the species’ need to procreate is the primary motivator behind all of these mating drives. “If you have four children, and I have no children, your genes are going to live on and mine are going to die off,” she says. “ So we all know deep down inside that our sexual behavior is going to have important consequences.”

Fisher says there are three basic mating drives, which inhabit different parts of our brains:
• Lust: The craving for sexual gratification, which emerged to motivate our ancestors to seek sexual union with almost any partner.
• Romantic Love: The elation and obsession of being in love with a mate, which enabled the ancients to focus their attention on a single individual at a time, and conserve time and energy.
• Attachment: The sense of peace and security one feels toward a long-time mate, which motivated our ancestors to stay together long enough to rear their young.

THE SCIENCE OF MATING But what, exactly, is going on in the brain when we experience those feelings of lust, romantic love, and attachment? To find out, Fisher used fMRI technology to actually look inside the brains of 40 men and women who said they were madly in love. Her most important finding was that as lovers gazed at photos of their sweethearts, the fMRI showed activity in the caudate nucleus—the large shrimp-shaped region that sits deep near the center of the brain. “It is a very primitive part of the brain, called the reptilian brain or R-complex because it evolved long before mammals proliferated some 65 million years ago,” Fisher explains, noting that this part of the brain is an enormous engine and part of the brain’s reward system. The researchers also found that lovers have heightened activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA)—another central part of the reward circuitry of the brain. “This result was what I was looking for,” says Fisher, who had hypothesized that romantic love is associated with elevated levels of dopamine and/ or norepinephrine, two key neurotransmitters. “The VTA is a mother lode of dopamine-making cells. With their tentacle-like axons, these nerve cells distribute dopamine to many brain regions, including the caudate nucleus. And as this sprinkler system sends dopamine to many brain parts, it produces focused attention, as well as fierce energy, concentrated motivation to attain a reward, and feelings of elation, even mania—the core feelings of romantic love.” In other words, Fisher was able to actually observe chemical changes in the brain as her subjects looked at the photos of their loved ones, giving her an insider’s view of some of the chemical underpinnings of love.

BETTER DATING THROUGH CHEMISTRY? In 2006, Fisher was asked by Match.com to become the scientific advisor to a new sister site, Chemistry.com. Based on her fMRI research, she crafted Chemistry Profile, a personality assessment and matching system, which includes dozens of questions ranging from “is your sock drawer ready for public inspection?” to “Are your friends the social crowd, intellectuals, adventurers, or activists?” Other questions ask the user to identify a mate’s ideal body type, fitness regime, favorite Friday night date, and religious preferences. The questions seem straightforward, but Fisher says she actually uses the answers to identify which chemicals are most dominant in the brain: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and/ or estrogen.

• Dopamine-driven Explorers: People with naturally high levels of dopamine tend to be risk-takers, novelty-seekers, artistic, creative, and curious. Fisher found that 26% of the 40,000 men and women she potted fell into this category.
• Serotonin-driven Builders: Those with a lot of serotonin tend to gravitate toward the traditional. They are calm, social, popular, loyal, conscientious, and tend to be organized and enjoy rules. Often, they are pillars of society and good in business. About 29% of the population polled fell into this category.
• Testosterone-driven Directors: This group is direct, and skilled at understanding rule-based systems. They tend to be highly analytical, logical, and emotionally contained. They are also bold and ambitious, and account for about 16% of Fisher’s polled population.
• Estrogen-driven Negotiators: Those with high amounts of estrogen have good people skills, an active imagination, are altruistic, idealistic, and nurturing. They tend to see the “big picture,” but are not very detail-oriented. Approximately 25% of the people polled fit into this category.

“Everyone has a combination of chemicals, but one or two tend to dominate,” Fisher explains. “I have found that time and again, dopamine-driven Explorers go for each other, serotonin-driven Builders are also attracted to each other. But, testosterone-driven Directors and estrogen-driven Negotiators are happiest when they mate.” The reason, Fisher says, goes back to our basic drive to survive and propagate the species. “If you are good at seeing the big picture, as Negotiators are, you need someone who is analytical and detail-oriented to help you survive so you look for a Director,” she says. “Similarly, if you are a traditionalist who is calm and really like rules—as the serotonin-driven Builders are—you’ll want to mate with someone who looks at the world in the same logical, rule-based way you do.”

THE FUTURE Fisher’s research leads her to a few forecasts about the future of love and relationships. “Since women started returning to the workforce a few decades ago, the balance of power between the sexes has shifted,” she notes, explaining that for centuries in hunting and gathering societies, women were on equal footing with men, going out to gather the evening meal and being equally responsible for the survival of the family and community. “But with the invention of farming tools that required physical strength, women were relegated to seemingly secondary chores of keeping house and having children. Arranged marriages dominated, and mating became more of an economic and sometimes political agreement between families.” Fisher expects this shift in male-female roles to gain strength. As more women graduate from college—not to mention earn almost as many PhDs as men—their economic and political power will only continue to grow, and Fisher expects women to “return to the place of power they held before the plow was invented.”

HOW WILL THIS SHIFT PLAY OUT? “Men are now being pressured to please a woman—or she won’t have them back,” Fisher insists. “Going forward, men are definitely going to have to work a little harder to get and keep a mate.” Fisher also believes that the pursuit of romantic love tater in life will increase. As more baby boomers hit 50—and realize they could live another 40-50 years—many will be looking around for someone new to “light their fire,” she forecasts. “Romantic love is deeply threaded into our human spirit. If we don’t have that in our lives, we feel like we are missing something. And we are.”

MEET HELEN FISHER Helen Fisher will address when she speaks about her new book “WHY HIM? WHY HER?” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 11 at 6pm. RSVP: opus@press.org.

ABOUT DR. FISHER: A world-renowned anthropologist and an expert in the science of human attraction, Dr. Helen Fisher has authored four books: “The Sex Contract,” “Anatomy of Love,” “The First Sex,” and her most recent “Why We Love.” She is currently working on a fifth book about why we choose one partner over another. Dr. Fisher is also a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. Her perspectives on love, sexuality, women, and gender differences have been featured in Time magazine, National Public Radio, NBC, the BBC, and CNN. To find out which chemicals dominate your brain, take Helen Fisher’s quiz on www.chemistry.com. For more information about the author and her books, visit: www.hetenfisher.com. Her lectures include speeches at: The World Economic Forum (Davos), TED, LeWEB, National Press Club, Harvard Medical School, and The United Nations. She was the host of a four-part radio series, “What Is Love?” for the BBC World Service in 2004; host of a four-part TV series, “Anatomy of Love,” for Turner Broadcasting Systems in 1995; and commentator on a 10-part series for The Today Show (NBC). Her book, “WHY HIM? WHY HER?” will be featured on an ABC 20/20 special January 30. For more information, visit www.helenfisher.com.

Monday, February 2, 2009

February 4, 2009 — Hooks Book Events: Infusing new ideas into government organizations

Photo by Keith Barraclough, www.keithbarraclough.com

About a decade ago, Perry Pidgeon Hooks had a brainstorm. An avid reader, whose love affair with books started when she was 4 and her mom took her to the public library in her hometown of Memphis, TN, decided that she could change the way policy was being made by bringing bestselling authors and their ideas into government organizations. It took her a while to get things up and running, but in 2007, with her partner Loretta Yenson, she launched HooksBookEvents, a minority women-owned business specializes in providing low-cost book and author events for U.S. government agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations, trade associations, and corporations of all sizes.

"We know that by bringing the most important authors of our age into your organization, employees and constituents will be stimulated and inspired to develop new insights on important topics," says Hooks, a self-proclaimed southern belle. Already she has about three dozen events scheduled for the first quarter of 2009 — and the list keeps growing. View their list of Upcoming Events at www.hooksbookevents.com.

ABOUT PERRY PIDGEON HOOKS, president, Hooks Book Events Through her years at the University of Virginia to her post-college adventures in England then New York City, she always found time to check out the local book stores. Perry decided early on that everyone should share her passion, so she founded book clubs wherever she went. In the mid-1990s, she began working with independent book stores as a marketing director to promote authors and bring them to non-traditional book venues. She’s also spent time working in the financial services and advertising industries, and with trade associations. Each experience has helped her hone her skills in designing programs and author series that fit her clients’ needs. She founded HooksBookEvents in 2000 and since has focused her energies on taking world-renown authors into some of the most well-known organizations in the country. “My goal is to spread ideas and get people thinking,” Perry says. “If I can do that, I believe we will be helping to create solutions to problems.. big and small.” Email Perry / Phone: 301-229-1128.

ABOUT LORETTA YENSON, Co-founder and Chief Financial Officer Loretta Yenson (pictured left) grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa where books provided a window to the outside world. Her Chinese parents encouraged reading, mostly British authors, and stressed education. When it came time for Loretta to attend college, they jumped at the opportunity to send her to school in the U.S. Loretta easily landed a spot at Wellesley College for her BA in Political Science and at Columbia University where she received a master’s degree in International Relations. She chose banking and work in the not-for-profit world for a career, and in the last three decades has developed programs for new board members — including a speaker and author series that fit the needs of the board, the organization and the donors. She is HooksBooksEvents chief financial officer. Email Loretta.

DON'T MISS THIS EVENT: Wednesday, Feb. 4, 7pm — Hooks Book Events is bringing microfinance expert Dr. Muhammad Yunus to Lisner Auditorium, GWU — Anyone who understands the importance of micro-lending as a means to end global poverty will want to join Hooks Book Events when it hosts a special event with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. on at the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Grameen Foundation founder and managing director will be speaking about his latest book, “Creating a World Without Poverty,” which outlines his vision for a new business model that combines the power of free markets with the quest for a more humane world. He’ll share the inspiring stories of companies that are doing this work today. This event is open to the public. Portions of the proceeds of book sales will benefit the Grameen Foundation. Tickets to event are $25, and include the book, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster.