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New Blog: Familiar Elements, Some New Directions

Readers accustomed to coming to this site and finding my “Sense and Nonsense” blog may be confused by the new blog title and appearance. After leaving the previous blog dormant for many months, I’ve decided to rebrand.

“Blue State Views” will be familiar to readers of “Sense and Nonsense” — a similar mix of political views, humor, and snark. But there’ll be differences, too, including a greater use of maps to explain what’s going on in the United States.

New posts coming soon.

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On the Anniversary of D-Day: Making World War II Personal

lead-5This Friday, June 6, marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landings at Normandy, involving the largest invasion force ever amassed. The overall contours of the Normandy invasion are pretty well-known at this point: the 150,000-plus Allied forces involved, the thousands killed or injured in an enormous assault that led to the eventual liberation of Western Europe and the collapse of the Third Reich. This was the epic military event of the century.

What’s harder for most of us to keep sight of is this: Every single one of those numbers—each of the Allied forces, each of the German soldiers, and each of the French civilians who were killed or liberated in the subsequent days—represents an individual person’s story of war experience—and, by extension, the experience of family members.


Thomas M. Tierney

I got to thinking about this recently when, clearing things from my attic, I came across a box of items belonging to my late father, Thomas M. Tierney, who, in his twenties, was a fighter pilot in World War II. He served in the European theater, in a fighter squadron that was active in the lead-up to D-Day, during the invasion itself, and in the months following.

Among the items in the dust-covered box of his effects were his leather flight helmet and goggles and his “Pilot Flight Record,” a small 4.5″x7.5” log book containing his flying notes from his earliest days in flight training in 1942 through the end of his service in 1945. (More on this below.)

I hauled the box down to the dining room and disgorged its contents onto the table there. While I was vaguely familiar with some of the material in it, I had never studied it closely. When I did so, it was a revelation—and provided, for me, a much more personal, even intimate, portrait of the war and those who lived it.

Dad’s “Flight Record And Log Book” tells stories he never divulged to us. It contains the day-by-day record of his combat missions and sorties. The details in the book—and the additional research they’ve prompted from me—have fleshed out his war experience and cast new light on the intersection of that experience with his marriage and thus, on our family history. I find some of it quite moving.

My dad was 22 and finishing law school at the University of Denver when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S entered the war. He immediately applied for air-cadet training and, by February of 1942, he was at an Army Air Corps flight school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Then on to Enid, Oklahoma and San Antonio, Texas. By September, he had completed his cadet training and was commissioned as an officer stationed at Key Field in Meridian, Mississippi, where he started instructing other pilots on, by my count, at least five different kinds of planes. He was there until the end of 1943, when his fighter squadron prepared to head to England for combat duty.

My parents were married in late April, 1943, when my dad managed to get a brief leave to return to Denver, where my mother, Betty Fairall, was living, and where they both had grown up. From their wedding until the end of that year, my mother lived with my dad in officers’ barracks at Key Field.

She then returned to her family’s home in Denver, because in early 1944, my dad’s squadron—the 492nd Fighter Squadron (part of the 48th Fighter-Bomber Group)—ended its two years of intensive flight training, left Key Field, and went to the East Coast. The group spent three months in South Carolina, conducting coastal patrol missions, and training in the fearsome P-47 Thunderbolt, the plane that they would use in combat.

When my dad learned that his fighter squadron would be sent to England for combat duty in March of 1944, my mother traveled from Denver to the East Coast to bid him farewell.


Herbert C. Fairall

My three older brothers and I have long known the basics of what happened next, but I, at least, was unaware of the timing, the juxtaposition of dates, and what it all must have been like for my parents.

On her return trip to Denver, my mother took a train to Omaha, Nebraska. Her father, Herbert C. Fairall (in photo, at left), a prominent newspaper publisher and businessman in Denver, drove to Omaha to pick her up and take her the rest of the way home, thinking the drive would give them quality time to spend together.

In Ogallala, Nebraska, driving in the midst of a snowstorm, my mother and her dad had a horrific automobile accident on state route 30 (now I-80), colliding with a bus. He was killed instantly. My mother (photo below, right) suffered severe leg injuries (multiple compound fractures of her right leg) and was hospitalized for more than a week in Nebraska before she could return home to Denver for more care.


Betty R. Tierney

What I had not known, until I pieced together all the details I gleaned from the materials in the dusty box, was that this trip of my mother’s was to see my father before he embarked to Europe. (I had thought it was just a visit to see him at his training base in Mississippi.) The automobile accident was on March 21, 1944. By that date, my dad’s squadron was halfway to England aboard the RMS Queen Mary, having left New York on March 13, not to arrive until the 28th in Gourock, Scotland.

So, as Mom lay in a hospital bed in Ogallala, she was dealing with her father’s tragic death and the knowledge that her husband would soon see combat. And as Dad arrived in Europe to prepare for combat, he was finding out that his bride of 11 months was in a rural Nebraska hospital, suffering from severe injuries, and that his father-in-law had been killed as part of the effort to bring the two of them together before my dad’s departure for Europe.

My father didn’t have time to indulge his anguish. Immediately upon arrival in Scotland, his squadron and fighter-bomber group boarded a train that for two days would carry them south to their first overseas base, RAF Ibsley in southern England, where they were assigned to the Ninth Air Force. The Wikipedia page about the 492nd Fighter Squadron describes their activity when they arrived there:

Almost immediately after their arrival, the squadron began a rigorous training program, flying dive-bombing, glide bombing, night flying, low-level navigation, smoke laying, reconnaissance, and patrol convoy sorties. Over the next two months, the number of sorties steadily increased and the squadron flew its first combat mission on 20 April 1944—an uneventful fighter sweep of the occupied French coast.

Assisted the Normandy invasion by dropping bombs on bridges and gun positions, attacking rail lines and trains, and providing visual reconnaissance reports. Moved to France in mid-June 1944, supporting ground operations of Allied forces moving east across northern France throughout the war: primarily providing support for the United States First Army. Eventually was stationed in Occupied Germany on V-E Day.

That summary syncs with my dad’s own flight record. Here are a few pages from it, with his notes about heavy flak, dive-bombing, strafing trains, etc. The time notations to the right of the dates refer not to time of day but to the duration of each flight.

 

 

 

The marginalia at the top of several pages are hard to read. They note the deaths or mishaps of his comrades. Here’s a transcript:

5-20-44    Litch bailed out PW [prisoner of war?]
5-25-44    Ball killed
6-15-44    Johnson lost
7-02-44    Jarratt & Lamb knocked down—both OK
7-09-44    Johnson knocked down—landed OK
7-11-44    Allen knocked down
7-16-44    Forbes knocked off my wing—landed OK
Harrison killed
Beisner killed

As someone unfamiliar with combat, I find it difficult to imagine what it must be like to end a day by cataloging the horrors that have befallen one’s mates. But having seen this detailed record of his experiences in combat flight, it’s now easier for me to understand why our dad didn’t want to discuss the war. Some veterans talk a lot about their war experiences; some don’t. Dad didn’t. At most, he told stories about flying over Key Field in Mississippi and, like the other pilots, tipping the wings of his plane in salute to his new wife on the ground below.

About combat itself, he spoke hardly at all. But occasionally, with a self-deprecating laugh, he would refer to a time he clipped the wing of his plane on a tree and had to fly back to England, wondering if he would make it. In the box of his belongings, I found a yellowed news clipping from the Denver newspapers, referring to that incident. Apparently, my dad was one of the American pilots who discovered the Nazis were using railroad box cars to camouflage big guns. The story he told when he got back to England from a May 21 mission to attack German trains showed how low-t0-the-ground some American fighter pilots got during strafing expeditions. From the news article:

“I made my run at a train , avoiding flak from disguised boxcars,” Captain Tierney said after the raid. “The engine disintegrated in smoke and steam as I came in at about 10 feet above the ground.

“I was so intent on that engine that a big tree loomed up right in front of me. I pulled up fast, but went through the top of it and tore off my wing tips, smashed one wing and part of the cowling and bent my propeller.”

The entry in his flight book for that day read merely: “Strafing trains in France. Blew up one engine.”

Another news article reported on a mission he flew on July 8:

About 100 fighter-bombers poured shells and bombs into Nazi trenches just a few hundred yards ahead of the advancing Yanks. Officials said it was the greatest close air support mission ever aimed at a single target.

Capt. Tierney led the first squadron of planes in a dive from 6,500 feet to skim over the Nazi troops and drop lethal charges into their midst, opening the way for the ground fighters to advance. Ultraprecise bombing was necessary to prevent casualties to the Americans, separated from the Nazis by only a narrow no-man’s-land.

Again, his flight book entry that day was succinct: “Dive bombed at St. Eny [Sainteny, France]. UP story.”  (War reporters for the Associated Press and United Press regularly sent dispatches back to cities and towns around America about homeboys’ exploits.)

My dad apparently was a very good fighter pilot and was highly decorated for his service, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 13 oak-leaf clusters, and the French Croix-de-Guerre. He also was awarded a Purple Heart (I think, for that clipped-wing incident). He held the rank of major when he was discharged from the service in December 1945.

Dad came through the war years relatively unscathed (though we can never know what he regularly relived in his mind). Most people who knew him would surely have described him as a happy man. My mother wasn’t as fortunate. The automobile accident that killed her father was followed in swift order by the combat death of her beloved cousin in Italy and then the near-fatal injury of her only brother during the Battle of Saipan. For the rest of her life, she suffered from serious depression and severe anxiety. No wonder.

Yes, I’m aware that this story is not unusual. Hundreds of thousands experienced horrors during World War II. All wars have significant effects on combatants and their families. And many of those stories are, unfortunately, much more harrowing than the one I’ve told here.

I write this merely to provide some individual faces and texture to the coverage of the D-Day anniversary—and to honor my dad’s contributions in the war and those of all the other brave and heroic people who served, especially those who lost their lives or suffered life-changing injuries. This is what anniversaries are good for. They’re occasions to remember and reflect.

______________

This piece originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com

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What’s In a Name? Understanding Craft Breweries and Their Beers

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For those who appreciate craft beers, life has never been so good. The world of American artisanal brews is one of astonishing variety. The vat of adjectives needed for even the most basic characterizations brims: nutty, hoppy, fruity, spicy, earthy, floral, balanced, sour, chocolate, bready, caramel, and malty. Never mind exploring other dimensions of color, bitterness, or ABV (alcohol by volume). But you can do all that here, courtesy of the Brewers Association.

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Animation by Beerlabelsinmotion.com
Even more plentiful and diverse are the names of the craft breweries—2,768 of them(!) in 2013—and the monikers of their many, many individual beers.I got to thinking about all this when I read an amusing essay recently in theWSJ by Geoff Dyer, a British writer now living in L.A. After rhapsodizing about the contents of American craft beers, Dyer went on to examine the bottles themselves:

We are living through a golden age of beer-bottle and label design.  . . .  In such a richly diverse field it’s risky to generalize, but craft breweries seem to understand that it’s not a bad idea to impart a suggestion of Grateful Dead-era psychedelia to their labels. Or, at the very least, a nod to the aesthetics of marijuana cultivation.

Dyer then deconstructed the label on a bottle of Blue House Citra Pale ale (left) from El Segundo Brewing Company, located in Los Angeles County. Noting that “the label is impossible to decode,” Dyer continued:

It’s blue, featuring, in the midst of a hoppy wreath, some kind of clapboard house drawn in a style that is both cartoony and ominously expressionist. Over this, in rather creepy green letters, is stamped CITRA. I guess in El Segundo it’s so infernally hot that it’s smart to have colors that evoke three words: Numb With Cold.

I laughed to myself when I read that—and then smiled again the next morning when I opened my laptop and saw the latest brew-related post by The Atlantic’s resident beer maven, Jim Fallows, accompanied as it was by this lush photo of the craft beers he carted home from a recent reporting trip to Mississippi.

This photo intrigued me. Reason #1: Jim used up part of the precious weight allowance in his small plane to fly these brews and their brethren back to DC for consumption. (I know:  “Judge not, lest ye . . . “) Reason #2 (and the one that really struck me): Look at the names of those breweries and brews, and look at the labels. You should actually read Jim’s accompanying text to get a clearer sense of it all, but here’s a handy table in the meantime, listing the names of those breweries and the individual beers (left to right in the photo):
The piece by Fallows—and the photo of his latest stash—along with Dyer’s funny parsing of the El Segundo label reminded me of an academic study I came across last fall entitled “Microbreweries as Tools of Local Identity.” This persuasive analysis by Joseph F. Reese and Steven M. Schnell appeared in a 2003 issue of the Journal of Cultural Geography. Their insight: There’s a lot more going on with the making and marketing of craft beers in America than just an effort to produce and sell a better beer.

Reese and Schnell see the multiplication of microbreweries and brewpubs as a response to a disillusionment, within at least some segments of the general public, with “the homogenous sea of WalMarts and McDonalds that have rendered one American town virtually indistinguishable from another.” In making and buying craft beers, brewers and customers don’t merely want better beer than the bland lagers produced by Budweiser, MillerCoors, and other mega-breweries, they’re also expressing a desire for a sense of place and of connection with a locale. Microbreweries, the authors argue, foster “attachment and devotion to the proudly, idiosyncratically local.”

How do brewers accomplish this? In part, “through targeted marketing strategies that emphasize local identity and distinctiveness.” The names of craft beers and the images on the labels “tend to reflect the places where they are brewed.” We’ll look at specific themes and images below, but here, Reese and Schnell identify some very general patterns.

Tellingly, even in the most urban settings, modern city images are rarely emphasized. And modern lifestyles are almost always slighted in favor of historical, or at least blue-collar lifeways such as blacksmiths, or miners, or steamboat captains. Nowhere did we find a Stockbroker Stout or Systems Analyst Pilsner or C.P.A. I.P.A. Instead, Mine Shaft Stout (from Only the Best Brewing Company in Divide, Colorado) [now defunct] and Lumberjack Amber Ale (from Lighthouse Brewing Company in Manistee, Michigan) are much more typical. People who work with their hands, whose very livelihood is entwined with the geography of where they live, are those used to represent the “true” place.

. . .

There is also no shortage of nostalgic images of yesteryear: trains, for example, or horses and buggies or steamships. Again, these are rarely modern in nature. There is no Amtrak Ale or I-35 Dopplebock,** [see update at bottom] but rather steam trains, the Old Post Road, and the Pony Express. . . . Such images are clearly meant to contrast with the mass production of the million-plus barrel brewers like Anheuser-Busch. . . . All of these nostalgic images serve as windows on the type of community and the type of society that is widely perceived to have vanished in our modern, harried existence.

The names for craft breweries and for their beers, as well as the labels they design, have a wide array of typical inspirations that Reese and Schnell identify, most of them evocative of something distinctive about the locale. (There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, as I’ll note again below.) Here are some of the specific themes and tropes that crop up regularly, along with just a few examples of each, some from Reese and Schnell, some from me. (The links attached to the names of individual beers take you to images of the beer label.) These categories are not mutually exclusive, and there’s a fair amount of overlap. You no doubt can think of many more categories and examples, and I hope you’ll share them in the comments section.

Nature: Images of nature (“animals, landforms, mountains, valleys, or rivers”) are common on labels for craft beers. They are predominant from the Rockies to the West Coast, with images evoking unspoiled landscapes and wilderness splendor.

Buildings or other human structures:  In the East, outdoor images on labels are far more likely than in the West to feature rustic human structures such as farmhouses, covered bridges, wagons, oak barrels, etc.

  • Saison Gee, a farmhouse-style ale (Old Hickory Brewery, Hickory, NC) Old water mill.
  • Mayflower Golden Ale (Mayflower Brewing Company, Plymouth, MA) Old barn.
  • Lost Nation Rustic Ale (Lost Nation Brewing, Morrisville, VT) Old barn.
  • Southampton Imperial Porter (Southampton Publick House, Southampton, NY). All of this brewery’s beers feature a sketch of the old publick house itself, now a restaurant/bar/brewery.
  • Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale (Smuttynose Brewing Co., Portsmouth, NH). Label features a cottage on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast from Portsmouth.

Rural and agricultural images:

  • Lilja’s Heifer Weizen (Sand Creek Brewing Company, Black River Falls, WI – “Brewed behind the Cheddar Curtain”) Image is of cows.
  • Local Fields Essence (Hangar 24 Brewery, Redlands, CA), a double IPA brewed with locally grown oranges and grapefruits. See at right: image is of citrus and orange groves.
  • Summer Basil Farmhouse Ale (Fullsteam Brewing Company, Durham, NC), a sweet potato beer. Image is an engraving of a basil leaf.

References to outdoor sports or other physical activities that are popular in a particular locale:

Local problems with nature or climate:

  • Stormchaser IPA (Free State Beer, Lawrence, KS) In “tornado alley.”
  • Avalanche Ale (Breckenridge Brewery, Denver, CO) Avalanches are such a constant threat in the Breckenridge area, home to many ski slopes, that the Ski Patrol there has to engage in regular avalanche control.

Other local idiosyncrasies:

  • Slow Elk Oatmeal Stout (Big Sky Brewing Co., Missoula, Montana) So named “because in Montana, cows are often referred to as ‘Slow Elk,’ both because they often share the same pastures and because every year some myopic hunter shoots a cow during elk season.”
  • Huckle Weizen (Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company, Billings, MT) Made with huckleberries, which can be found in Montana, where it is one of thelocals’ favorite foods.

Local characters or legends:

  • Brinkley’s Maibock(Free State Beer, Lawrence, KS). Reese and Schnell write that this beer “plays on the traditional association of goats with the bock style of beer. Dr. John Brinkley was known in the 1920s as the ‘goat gland doctor,’ who tried to cure fertility [sic] by surgically implanting goat glands in the affected individuals.” [That might ‘cure’ fertility, too, so maybe my “sic” is inappropriate.]

Historical images or figures to be proud of:

  • Samuel  Adams  (Boston Beer Company). No further explanation needed.

Local people, things, or events that don’t necessarily evoke ‘pride’ but are special or unique to the area: 

  • Elliot Ness, a Vienna-style lager (Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland, OH). This nugget comes from an appealing new book by Anna Blessing, Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland: “After Elliot Ness put Al Capone in jail in Chicago, he went to Cleveland and ran the police and fire departments. Ness used to frequent the original bar where the Great Lakes [brewery] bar is now, and Pat [co-owner of the brewery] attributes the few bullet holes they’ve found to his one-time presence there.”
  • DC Brau The Corruption Pale Ale (DC Brau Brewing Company, Washington, DC). “The Corruption” is printed across a stylized silhouette of the U.S. Capitol’s dome. The brewer claims the name refers to the infamous “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824, but I’m guessing that’s to avoid offending the thousands of potential consumers currently employed by the U.S. Congress.
  • Burning River Pale Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland, OH): This is “an insider’s joke on one of the city’s more appalling episodes,” when in 1969 the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught on fire.
  • Phoenix Rising (Free State Brewing Co., Lawrence, KS): — a beer the brewerycreated in August, 2013, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 1863 raid on the town by William Clark Quantrill, an infamous, bloodthirsty Confederate guerrilla leader who sacked and destroyed the town of Lawrence.
  • Polygamy Porter (Wasatch Beer Pub, Park City, Utah), a name “that has raised eyebrows and earned the brewery some national press.” But if there’s a powerful part of the local identity like this, why not play on it? That’s clearly the attitude of Wasatch Beers founder, Greg Schirf, who clearly understands the role that humor can play in marketing, as demonstrated both by the slogan for this beer—”Why Have Just One!”—and by this commercial:

Some people may argue that Reese and Schnell are being too deterministic—that, as cultural geographers, they are overly eager to find craft breweries making “an overt statement of pride in the distinctiveness of place, an expression of neolocalism.” Obviously, we can agree that not all of them are doing that. And, for the record, Reese and Schnell don’t claim they are. We all know there are plenty of trippy names for breweries and beers that have nothing to do with “place”—and no shortage of labels with psychedelic or demonic motifs. For examples, think of these brewing companies and their labels for their various beers: Magic Hat (South Burlington, VT), Flying Dog (Frederick, MD), and Three Floyds (Munster, IN).

Still, Reese and Schnell make a very compelling case that microbreweries represent “a desire on the part of an increasing number of Americans, brewers and consumers alike, to reconnect with the cities or the towns in which they live, to resurrect a feeling of community tied to a specific landscape.” It may well be a “geographic manifestation of anti-globalization sentiment.” If so, I say bravo.


**UPDATE: An old friend, now living in Georgia, writes to tell me about SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta, which makes, among other brews, a 420 Extra Pale Ale. It’s a clever double-entendre. I-420 is a never-completed interstate highwayin Georgia; “420” is a code-term for the consumption of marijuana.

__________________

This piece originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com


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How to Win Millenials: Equality, Climate Change, and Gay Marriage

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Two months ago, Derek Thompson walked readers through the results of a huge new survey by the Pew Research Center on Millennials and their attitudes and opinions. As he noted, this generation, roughly defined as people between the ages of 18 and 33, is the object of almost obsessive levels of scrutiny and observation.

Now, another new survey—this one from Harstad Strategic Research, Inc.—adds to what we’re learning about Millennials, especially their views on political issues. That’s important, because this generational cohort now accounts for about one-fourth of the voting age population—a voting bloc even larger than senior citizens.

Harstad, a firm that mostly conducts surveys for Democrats (including Barack Obama), conducted the poll in March and April for the Youth Engagement Fund and Project New America. You can see the survey instrument itself, along with results and an explanation of the methodologyhere. The results are presented in graphic form here.

One big takeaway is that Millennials are strongly supportive of governmental intervention in society on a wide array of issues:


Harstad Strategic Research, Inc.

A different question produced similarly strong opinions about their preferred role for government:

The survey also suggests Millennials place a high value on equality. Respondents were given a list of values and asked, “Which TWO are most important given the challenges we face as a country?” This bar chart shows the percentage citing each value in response, with equality and economic opportunity mentioned by the largest percentage of respondents. Perhaps unsurprisingly, respondents who identified themselves as Democrats prioritized equality and opportunity while self-identified Republicans ranked personal responsibility and accountability higher:

The poll results show Millennials to be overwhelmingly supportive of progressive policies that promote opportunity and economic security:

According to this poll, members of Generation Y are overwhelmingly progressive on key issues like gun safety, climate change and renewable energy, and access to abortion:

 

Although Millennials are lopsidedly progressive in their views, there is still a fair amount of variety in their views, based partly on their demographic and life-situation characteristics. The pollsters used the results to develop seven different attitudinal clusters or segments among Millennials:

The analysts explain those attitudinal clusters this way:

The poll also tried to measure what kinds of issue-related messages especially resonate with Millennials. The survey instrument presented respondents with paragraph-length position statements that potential congressional candidates might take. Respondents were asked to say how persuasive they found such a position. (The statements below are much-abbreviated summaries of those position statements.) The results show that if Democrats are looking to maximize their support among Millennials, issues of economic opportunity and pocketbook security are the ones to emphasize:

But Republican candidates won’t have much to fear from this portion of the electorate if Democratic campaigns cannot get these voters to register and turn out to vote. Twenty-six percent of Millennial respondents report that they have not registered to vote:

And while a slim majority of Millennial voters claim they are certain to vote in the 2016 election, they report that the likelihood of their turning out to vote in the midterm elections is much, much lower:

As noted at the outset, interest in the political attitudes of Millennials is nearly obsessive. In addition to the mammoth Pew Research poll mentioned above, yet another survey of Millennials and their political attitudes was released this spring by Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Although it is not easy to make direct comparisons across polls (most obviously, because of differently worded questions and other methodological issues), it’s worth noting some general points of similarity, as well as some differences, emerging from each of these big surveys:

  • Although all three polls see Millennials as more aligned with Democrats on political issues, the Pew survey found that 50 percent describe themselves as political independents, compared with 38 percent in the IOP poll.
  • All three polls found high levels of support for same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana.
  • High levels of student debt emerged as a prominent concern in all three polls.
  • Despite facing economic hardships (like high student debt and a tough economy), respondents in all three polls report high levels of optimism about their economic futures.

In general, both the Pew poll and the IOP survey were much more ambitious and more comprehensive than the Harstad poll—and, at least in my view, used preferable polling methods.

But the Harstad survey, commissioned by organizations that have overt political agendas, offers something interesting the other two polls lack. Because the researchers were tasked, in part, with finding out how particular political messages resonate with Millennials, their results give us an especially illuminating window into the strategies that progressive Democratic organizations and candidates may use this fall to win support from this important electoral bloc.

____________

This piece originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com


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Do You Trust Your State Government?

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When people around the country are asked whether they trust their state government to handle the state’s problems, how do you think they answer? Where would you guess they might be most distrustful and where least?

It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that people in Illinois are least trusting. Only 28 percent of residents in the Land of Lincoln trust their state government “a great deal” or “a fair amount.” Government fares better in Rhode Island and Maine, but not by much. In each of those two states, only two out of five residents trust the government.

What about the other end of the spectrum—people who really trust their state government? Where do they live? They’re Westerners, one and all. In North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, and Alaska, more than 70 percent of residents trust their state government “a great deal” or “a fair amount.”

These data come from a poll released recently by Gallup. In the second half of 2013, Gallup interviewed a random sample of at least 600 residents in every state about their trust in their state’s government. This map groups the states into three broad categories, making it easy to see at a glance where the more trustful populations are:

What accounts for the differences? Gallup focuses on population as a factor:

In general, trust is lower in more populous states than in less populous states. The 10 most populous states and 10 least populous states differ by 11 percentage points in state government trust, with the middle population states in between. Larger states have larger economies and more citizens needing services, and often more diverse populations, so they may be more challenging to govern than smaller states.

But the analysts aren’t so naive as to suggest that it’s only the large economy and diverse population of Illinois that explain its outlier status as the state with, by far, the lowest percentage of trusting residents:

Illinois’ position at the bottom of the list in residents’ trust in state government is not surprising, given that its last two governors, Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, were sentenced to jail for crimes committed while in office. Two prior Illinois governors from the 1960s and 1970s also went to jail.

Yes, it isn’t hard to discern why Illinoisans might cast a suspicious eye on their state government. For expedience, let’s call that case closed.

What about Rhode Island and Maine, next lowest on the trust index? Each only gets two-fifths of their residents to report much trust in state government. Is this also a matter of out-of-control corruption? People may think so, especially in the case of Rhode Island. (Think Buddy Cianci or the recent but still unexplained abrupt resignation of the speaker of the state’s house.) But as Katharine Seelye noted in Sunday’s New York Times, the perception of high levels of political corruption in Rhode Island is belied by studies showing that, at least as measured by convictions of public officials, it is actually among the least corrupt states.

A more likely factor influencing the trustful feelings of Ocean State residents is a high unemployment rate. As Gallup states: “Healthy economies are generally associated with higher levels of trust in state government.” In 2013, Rhode Island still had, on average for the year, the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, at 9.5 percent. Only Nevada’s was worse.

Extremely low levels of job growth in Maine may also be the reason for that state’s low ranking on the trust index. The Maine Center for Economic Policy reportsthat “Maine ranks 49th among the 50 states and District of Columbia in total job growth since January 2011.” And some analysts point to actions by Maine Governor Paul LePage and the state legislature as being responsible for the stagnant economy there—and for the resultant low levels of trust.

What’s up with the Westerners at the other end of the trust spectrum? The five states with the highest rates of trust in state government did, in fact, have impressively low rates of unemployment in the last quarter of 2013—North Dakota (2.6 percent), Wyoming (4.5 percent), Utah (4.3 percent), South Dakota (3.6 percent), and Nebraska (3.7 percent). So a healthy economy seems to be an important factor. And people in western, less-populated states generally seem to be more happy with their states, more inclined to think their states are among the best places to live. The effects of these feelings may cross over to attitudes toward state government.

But absent sophisticated quantitative analyses involving much more data, any efforts to parse the differences among states on this subject are likely to hit dead ends. Let’s focus instead on the nationwide average of Americans’ attitudes about state government.

Until this poll, Gallup has only measured Americans’ trust in their state governments on a national basis. (In other words, the questions were asked in nationwide polls, so the data on that question could not be disaggregated and reported for individual states.) The last time Gallup reported on that nationwide result (September 2013), 62 percent of Americans trusted their state government—down three percentage points from the year before. This graph shows what those national-basis figures looked like over the past 40 years:

According to the new Gallup poll, the nationwide average has ticked down another four percentage points to 58 percent. That’s still much, much higher than the percentage of people who say they trust the federal government most of the time—now at 19 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. (I should note that Gallup finds trust in the federal government to be higher than Pew does. The difference probably stems from how the questions are worded: Pew’s question is more vague and general, Gallup’s more specific about trust in the government’s handling of policy problems, international and domestic.)

Still, we’re left to ask: Why is Americans’ trust in their state governments eroding now, in the same way that their trust in the federal government has been decliningfor most of the last half-century? While one can offer explanations for such attitudes in individual states, it’s much harder to figure out what accounts for the nationwide declines depicted in the line graph above.

Why the sudden uptick from 1997 to 1999? Why the precipitous decline from 1999 to 2004? (The decline around 2009 is likely related to the distressed economy.) What accounts for all this relatively sudden fluctuation? Please share your views in the comment section.

Distrust of government is a leitmotif in American history. Wariness and suspicion of governmental authority are certainly not alien to the national experience. But another theme in Americans’ collective attitude toward government has been that we are more trustful of governments and politicians who are close to the people, while distrusting far-off elites. That may be changing, as attitudes toward state governments seem now in flux.

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This piece originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com


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The Future of Retail Checkout: No Checkout at All?

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“People have said when checkout is working really well, it will feel like stealing. You grab a pair of shoes and you just walk out.” That’s how Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, describes the retail-checkout experience in your not-too-distant future.

This coming transformation in the way you pay for items in bricks-and-mortar stores will occur through a network of sensors placed strategically around stores, which will enable retailers to recognize you (through your smartphone or other devices) when you walk through the door. Inexpensive sensors also will be attached to (or embedded in) items available for purchase. And the stores will already have your preferred payment information on file, so when you exit the store with your chosen merchandise, you’ll simply be billed automatically, totally skipping any traditional checkout experience.

Many restaurants are already in the vanguard of transforming the checkout experience. As Alexis Madrigal explained two years ago here, a growing number of restaurants are using iPads or other tablets to have diners place their own orders and then check themselves out at the end of the meal. If such a change becomes widespread, as Madrigal pointed out, the implications for waitstaff employment will be profound.

Retail stores are heading in that direction too. According to M.V. Greene, writing inStores, a trade magazine for retailers:

The “Internet of Things,” where objects in the physical world are connected to electronic virtual networks, is poised to turn retail on its head. Not since the introduction of online shopping – and before that credit and debit cards for purchasing – has something in retail had the potential to be so transformative.

Usually, when we think of “transformative” changes, we’re talking about things most people didn’t even anticipate coming at the time: examples include the radio, the atomic bomb, the Internet. But this coming change in our retail experience is, I would guess, something that many people wouldn’t find all that surprising. After all, the history of retail shopping is one of task-shifting.

In the last century, the big change in retail checkout came by having the customer do more of the work. In the original model of, say, the grocery store, a person went into a general store, where the owner or clerk stood behind a counter and retrieved items the customer wanted from behind-counter shelves, then packaged those items and billed the customer or accepted payment. But that retail model was gradually replaced by the “supermarket” model, which put products out on customer-accessible shelves. Now, the customer did the work of selecting items he or she wanted and taking them to a cashier for payment. Efficiencies galore.

More recently, efficiencies have built on that model of having the customer do more of the work, now augmented by technology. For example, a growing number of grocery chains have “intelligent” carts that can total up items as a customer moves through the store, tracking movement and making recommendations. And in many stores, especially grocery and drug-store chains, customers can use self-checkout kiosks. In Apple stores, for a couple of years already, you’ve been able to buy off-the-shelf items using an app on your smartphone and walk out of the store with your merchandise, having never interacted with a salesperson.

But just because the coming changes in retail checkout aren’t beyond our imagining doesn’t mean that they’re unimportant. For one thing, they’re likely to have profound effects on retail employment. In fact, according to data from The Economist, retail workers are among those whose jobs are most likely to be displaced by digital or computer-related technologies in the next 20 years. (I should note that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics holds a different view, projecting that growth in the number of retail-sales jobs is likely to hold steady—at about 10 percent—over the next decade. Your guess as to who is right may be better than mine, but I’m putting my money with the folks at The Economist.)

Apart from employment concerns, the vision of a digitally-automated retail future provokes unease about privacy issues. As M.V. Greene notes, “a major hurdle for brands and retailers is to gain the trust of consumers when their personal data is flying back and forth in real-time across networks.” Greene quotes David Dorf, a Senior Director of Technology Strategy at Oracle Retail, who says retailers have to be worried about a “creepiness factor” related to the privacy of consumer data.

Dorf advises merchants to avoid a “stalker” configuration as they deploy these new technologies and adopt a “butler” configuration instead. “The stalker wants something from you and typically is trying to get as much information as possible and wanting to directly impact you.” By contrast, “The butler is kind of always in the background, always helping you, pointing things out that might be of interest, trying to make your life easier.”

“If retailers can focus on this butler mentality,” Dorf predicts, “the Internet of Things has a lot of potential to make the customer experience more rich and engaging, and loyalty will ensue.”

It’s oddly reminiscent of another Internet-enabled butler, the early search engineAsk Jeeves. It could take a few years, but we may soon see how a Jeeves-like digital figure fares in the brick-and-mortar world.

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This post originally appeared on TheAtlantic.com

 



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Which States are Givers? Which are Takers?

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Maps showing regional differences among Americans are all the rage these days, such as this depiction of the contours of baseball fandom, or this one of the beers we’re alleged to favor, or this showing the places in America where none of us lives, or this creative video/map showing where Americans use different words for common things such as soda.

For my money, one of the more interesting maps appearing recently came from the personal-finance website Wallet Hub. Analysts there set out to determine how states compare in terms of their reliance on federal funding. The states deemed “most dependent” by the analysis are bright red on the map, those “least dependent” are bright green. You can move your cursor around on the map to see how each state ranks. (There were some ties.)

WalletHub

The Wallet Hub analysts essentially asked how much each state receives back as a return on its federal income-tax investment.  They compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia on three metrics: 1) federal spending per capita compared with every dollar paid in federal income taxes; 2) the percentage of a state’s annual revenue that comes from federal funding; and 3) the number of federal employees per capita.  The third measure received only half the weight of each of the others in the calculation.

What the resulting map shows is that the most “dependent states,” as measured by the composite score, are Mississippi and New Mexico, each of which gets back about $3 in federal spending for every dollar they send to the federal treasury in taxes. Alabama and Louisiana are close behind.

If you look only at the first measure—how much the federal government spends per person in each state compared with the amount its citizens pay in federal income taxes—other states stand out, particularly South Carolina: The Palmetto State receives $7.87 back from Washington for every $1 its citizens pay in federal tax. This bar chart, made from Wallet Hub’s data, reveals the sharp discrepancies among states on that measure.

On the other side of this group, folks in 14 states, including Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio, get back less than $1 for each $1 they spend in taxes.

It’s not just that some states are getting way more in return for their federal tax dollars, but the disproportionate amount of federal aid that some states receive allows them to keep their own taxes artificially low. That’s the argument Wallet Hub analysts make in their 2014 Report on Best & Worst States to be a Taxpayer.

Part of the explanation for why southern states dominate the “most dependent” category is historical. During the many decades in the 20th century when the South was solidly Democratic, its congressional representatives in both the House and the Senate, enjoying great seniority, came to hold leadership positions on powerful committees, which they used to send federal dollars back to their home states in the form of contracts, projects, installations.

Another part of the explanation is easier to discern. The reddest states on that map at the top—Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, New Mexico, Maine—have exceptionally high poverty rates and thus receive disproportionately large shares of federal dollars. Through a variety of social programs, the federal government disburses hundreds of billions of dollars each year to maintain a “safety net” intended to help the neediest among us. Consider, for example, the percentage of each state’s residents who get “food stamps” through the federal government’s SNAP program. This chart tells the story.

Another way of getting at the same point is to map the percentage of families in 2012 with incomes below the federal poverty level (according to the Census Bureau’s ACS five-year estimate). This map, made through Social Explorer, shows the data at the county level: the darker the shading, the higher the percentage of impoverished residents.


You can go here to see an interactive version of this map that enables you to scroll your cursor over counties and get pop-up information showing the percentages for any specific county. You can also change the map view, showing the data at different levels, ranging from states all the way down to individual census block groups. (To see the mapped data at sub-county levels, you have to zoom way in to particular areas.)

There are various ways of thinking about what Wallet Hub’s “state dependency” map tells us. One approach is to shine light on the red-states-as takers paradox: Dominated by Republican voters who profess their distaste for the federal government and its social programs, these are the very states that rank highest on the dependency index.  That, for example, is how Business Insider handled the story:

[W]ho really benefits from government spending? If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, you might think it was those blue states, packed with damn hippie socialist liberals, sipping their lattes and providing free abortions for bored, horny teenagers. . . .

As it turns out, it is red states that are overwhelmingly the Welfare Queen States. Yes, that’s right. Red States — the ones governed by folks who think government is too big and spending needs to be cut — are a net drain on the economy, taking in more federal spending than they pay out in federal taxes. They talk a good game, but stick Blue States with the bill.

Fair enough. That’s a catchy perspective. And there are few things more fun than exposing hypocrisy.

Alternatively, we could use the “state dependency” map as an opportunity to reflect on a different paradox—the longstanding  role of the far-away federal government as an agent of community. Because of federal programs, people in places like South Carolina and Mississippi are getting a helping hand not from their neighbors a few blocks away or in the next county over, but from residents of Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska. Whether you like that idea depends, in part, on how you personally reconcile the tension between two long-cherished, core American values—our passion for individualism and our regard for community—and whether you see “community” as encompassing the whole country.

That’s a far more interesting thing to think about (though perhaps less viscerally satisfying) than which states are moochers or freeloaders and which are getting fleeced.

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This post originally appeared on TheAtlantic.com


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What’s Going on in Beer World?

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What’s going on in Beer World? Beer lovers of America might be forgiven if their grasp of the current brew-scape feels iffy. Alice herself would be at home in this Wonderland. It’s a world in which up is down, little is big, and there’s no Blue Moon on the horizon.

It’s a world in which old standbys are faltering (case sales of Miller High Life were down almost 10 percent in 2013 from the prior year). Mexican labels are dominant (Corona, Modelo, and Dos Equis, account for three of the top four imported beers). And a craft-beer company founded only 20 years ago is coming on strong (“Bartender, pour me a Lagunitas”).

The March 2014 issue of Beverage Industry offers us a through-the-looking-glass portrait of Beer World in the United States today. The magazine unleashed its writers on data gathered by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) of Chicago from supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchandisers, gas and convenience stores, military commissaries, and select club and dollar retail chains for the 52 weeks ending December 29, 2014. I made graphs and charts from their tabular data.

Before we delve into the particulars, let’s remember the big picture: over the past twenty years, per-capita consumption of beer in the U.S. has been declining. Derek Thompson wrote about that here last August, citing this report. But twenty years is a long lens. Let’s take a look at the state of Beer World in the last year.

Domestic Beer

If you were to hazard a guess as to which domestic beers are the top sellers by volume, you’d probably manage to guess at least half of the top ten. These are the familiar, less-expensive brands, regular as well as light, that you see everywhere—Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc. The table below tells the story about the top ten domestic beers in 2013.

 

This pie chart makes it easier to visualize the relative size of these various domestic brews, as measured by annual case sales. Bud Light accounts for nearly as much market share as all the other non-top-10 domestic beers combined. Lumped together, the beers ranked six through 10 also account for a smaller market share than Bud Light.

Stephanie Cernivec’s report in Beverage Industry reveals a far more interesting picture emerging when we look at what kind of year each of these top 10 domestic beers had in 2013. The following chart shows the percent change in case sales that each of the top ten brands experienced from 2012 to 2013.

Michelob Ultra Light was the big winner among the top ten, with its case sales rising 6.5 percent. But seven of the top ten domestic beers suffered sales declines for the year. In the case of  Natural Light and Miller High Life, the declines were steep—7.5 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively.

Imported Beer

While the domestic-beer category is hurting, the imported-beer category is thriving, according to Jennifer Haderspeck’s report in Beverage Industry. Imported beers grew in volume by 4.5 percent in 2013. The following table contains the particulars on the top ten imported beers:

 

The pie chart to the left shows each of the top ten imports’ relative share of this market segment, a category in which much of the growth is being propelled by Mexican beers. The Mexican brews grew in 2013 twice as fast as total imports (11.1 percent vs 5.3 percent). By comparison, Canadian imports as a group were down 6.5 percent last year, and European imports declined 2.1 percent. Experts attribute growth in the Mexican-beer segment to the growing Hispanic population in the United States, and aggressive marketing by these brands (think of the “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials from Dos Equis, or the “Find Your Beach” campaign by Corona). The relative fortunes experienced in 2013 by the top ten imports are evident here:

Craft Beer

Although craft beers are popular, and this segment of the market is the one in which the most exciting things are happening, craft beers generally remain way behind the main domestic brews and imports in both case sales and revenue. Part of the explanation for this has to do with distribution. Reporting for Beverage Industry, Jessica Jacobsen cited one industry expert who noted that while craft beers have good distribution in grocery stores and liquor stores, they’re less available in convenience stores and gas stations, which lack the space to accommodate a large variety. But that’s changing as distribution through those latter outlets grows. And, overall, the growth rates for craft beers is much greater than for major domestics or imports. In a future post, I’ll have more to say about the craft-brew industry. For now, here’s the basic rundown on the top 10 brands in the craft-beer segment:

 

 

 

This pie chart offers a better visualization of the relative share held by each of the top ten craft beers. And the bar graph below shows how each brand fared over 2013. Can you say “Lagunitas”?

 

What about Blue Moon? Whether or not you consider the MillerCoors brand a craft beer (other producers in that segment certainly don’t), you may wonder why it doesn’t show up on any list. If so, your curiosity may stem from a map that was ubiquitous on the Web back in October. The map came from Blowfish (the makers of “the hangover cure”), which conducted a survey of 5,000 drinking-age adults around the United States. The map purported to show each state’s top beer choice and also made the claim that Blue Moon is America’s favorite beer, with Sam Adams coming in second.

Writing at the time about this map and its claims, The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann offered his opinion about Blue Moon (“that bland excuse for a Belgian white ale brewed by MillerCoors”), and questioned the validity of the claims (“Something about these results smells a bit off.”). On the basis of all the data examined above, I’d say there’s plenty of reason to share Weissmann’s skepticism.

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This piece originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com


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Building a Museum in Small-town Maine

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If you’ve been following the reports at TheAtlantic.com by Deborah and Jim Fallows in their American Futures series, you know that the small city of Eastport, Maine, a town that has faced hard times in the past, is a place with lots of good things going on. Most recently, we’ve learned from Deb about the positive, “yes-we-can” attitudethat has become widespread there, reaching into (and being reinforced by) the language people use. And from Jim, we’ve heard about efforts to build harbor traffic for the deep-water port there and an ambitious, large-scale project to harness the hydro-kinetic power of ocean tides and river currents.

Now let’s look in on another bold venture in Eastport, this one of much smaller scale and different orientation, but no less important in the way it’s helping to revitalize this coastal community. This is the story of how an art museum — The Tides Institute & Museum of Art — got started there in the past decade, and what it’s come to mean in the life of this small community of 1,300 people.

Hugh French, an Eastport native, and his wife, Kristin McKinlay, were living in Portland, Maine, in 2002 when they decided — in the great American spirit of mobility — to move. Where, they weren’t exactly sure.


The former Eastport Savings Bank building before renovation.

But on a visit back to Hugh’s hometown, they saw an old, dilapidated building for sale, the former home of the Eastport Savings Bank, and decided, virtually on the spot, to buy it and create an art museum there.

Laughing at the memory, McKinlay told me: “We went through the building. It was in dire shape, and yet we came out saying to each other, ‘We have to do this.’” Laughing harder, she said, “It was somewhat a matter of putting the cart before the horse.” What she meant was that they hadn’t previously made a conscious decision to move back to Eastport, much less looked for or purchased a home there, but they bought the building anyway, planning to create a museum. Their thinking, I realized as McKinlay explained to me the origin of the Tides Institute, was akin to Ray Kinsella’s inspiration in the 1989 film Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”


Workers removing bank vault from building.

They saw something in that run-down building: hope — and a future. “We realized there was a need here for the kind of cultural institution that could help revitalize the town,” French said. “We knew that Eastport needed a cultural anchor; that was the genesis of the concept. Of course, we knew it would be hard: the town has a small population, there’s little money here, and there’s no big urban center nearby.” But they went ahead anyway, believing in the project — and in the town. “We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t feel Eastport was already moving in a positive direction,” McKinlay said.

They started out, McKinlay told me, by “putting up a website first. We did that even before we moved from Portland to Eastport. We wanted to elicit responses from people up here about what was needed. So, having a website made it useful to gather ideas about collections, research resources, and so on. Also, potential funders were able to look at it.”

They chose the name with deliberation: rejecting Eastport or Passamaquoddy in favor of Tides, thinking it to be less limiting geographically, but still suggestive of the area and the community’s aspirations for connection to the world beyond. (“Tides connect everywhere,” French noted.) And they chose Institute because they felt it implied the kind of innovative institution they were hoping to create, with an educational mission and “an open-ended institutional capacity.” French explained, “We didn’t want to needlessly box ourselves in.”


Painting by Arthur Cadieux, in collection of Tides Institute.

Thanks to family heritage, French already had a collection of objects on which to build — paintings, historical photos, oral histories, and the like — much of this, cultural material about the sardine canneries that once dominated the economic life of Eastport. But they knew that building a museum meant they’d have to add substantially to their collection.

Helping to make that happen was the French family name, well known in town. McKinlay explained: “It’s been crucial to our success to have a known quantity in town doing this. Previously, there wasn’t an institution here that people knew and trusted, so people who had artwork, documents, or other valuable things to donate sent their items elsewhere – to other museums around the state or beyond, to the archives of their alma maters, etc. But because people knew Hugh,knew the Frenches, they were willing to give us their items of value. So, things started coming in.”


Main Room in the Tides Institute and Museum of Art

The museum’s collections cover different time periods and places, but are regional in many respects. Included among the kinds of items in the permanent collection are Native-American basketry, hand-painted ceramics, boat models, portraits of ships, and photographs from the sardine canneries. The total museum space is allocated roughly evenly between the permanent collection and special exhibits.


Native-American basket in collection.

Once their extensive reconstruction of the building was completed, French and McKinlay started doing exhibits right away. That helped to build the collection, too. “People would come in to see exhibits and say ‘Oh, I have something you might want to add to your collection.’”

One of their recent exhibits showed the work of Andrea Dezso, a well-known artist who happened to come through Eastport, saw the museum, and approached French and McKinlay, saying, “I’d love to work with you.” So, she put together an exhibit based on her research on the area. Some of her work was her take on the imagination of a child working in the sardine canneries, one piece of which is shown below.


Eastport school children viewing TIMA exhibit of work by Andrea Dezso 

Another exhibit, this past summer, featured the installation of a separate structure on the plaza in front of the museum, containing a large camera obscura. McKinlay said that the exhibit, called Vorti-Scope, was “terrifically engaging to people of all ages.” (This video shows Vorti-Scope when it was installed in Fredericton, New Brunswick.)

When the Tides Institute first opened, it was one of the few places in Eastport open on Sundays. Sometimes the fledgling museum had only one or two people come in over the course of a Sunday – or nobody at all. Now, on Sundays in the summer, it’s not uncommon for as many as 150 people to come through.


Pottery by Tom Smith 

Apart from building their collection and attracting an audience, another constant worry for French and McKinlay has been financing. But they’ve had some encouraging success on that score, too. For example, they applied for funding from ArtPlace, which is a collaboration of national foundations, banks, and the National Endowment for the Arts, aiming to promote public interest in the arts, encourage “creative place-making,” and support efforts to transform communities that are making strategic investments in the arts.

When French and McKinlay applied for an ArtPlace grant a couple years ago, theirs was one of approximately 2,200 initial applications, out of which 200 were invited to make final applications. Only 47 grants ultimately were awarded – one of those (for $250,000) to the Tides Institute. “We’re the only institution in Maine ever to get money from them,” French told me, attributing that success to the attractiveness of the idea behind one of the Tides Institute’s missions, “to build connectedness and engage people in the community, including across the border in Canada.”


New StudioWorks building, under reconstruction.

The ArtPlace grant helped subsidize the restoration of another old (1887), rundown building nearby that French and McKinlay acquired. This second space, now renovated, houses their StudioWorks facility, providing studio space, with print-making equipment, a letterpress, and assorted digital resources. The building also serves as home to an artist-in-residence program that has grown rapidly in popularity, receiving 70 to 80 applications for the four sequential residencies available this past summer. The program is attracting the attention of artists, in part because it provides recipients with a stipend, along with free housing in an attractive space a block away.


Artist Christine Wong Yap, at work in new StudioWorks space.

The artist-in-residency program is dear to McKinlay and French because it helps meet their purpose of engaging the community. They want people to see artists at work in a studio, and they ask the artists to do work that people can participate in. Similarly, they run an educational program that, in addition to bringing school kids into the museum on field trips, also sends artists into the local schools to talk to kids about what artists do and to show some work. “We want kids to know that becoming an artist is one potential path ahead,” said McKinlay.

In the spirit of trying to strengthen the bonds of community, another important venture of the Tides Institute is its New Year’s Eve Celebration, which started about six years ago. French told me, “We commissioned an artist to create an 8-foot sardine that gets lowered from the roof of the museum at midnight, like the crystal ball at Times Square. It’s a very popular event. Hundreds of people come out for it.”


New Year’s Eve celebration, 2012, in square in front of TIMA’s main building in Eastport

Looking back on what they’ve accomplished, French and McKinlay are proud of seeing their two buildings restored and happy to see how their efforts are contributing to the growing vitality of this small city. They’re gratified, too, French said, at how the Tides Institute & Art Museum has “encouraged cooperation and exchange among communities here on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.”


Brochure created by TIMA and community partners. 

Not only would they do it all again, despite the formidable challenges they’ve faced, but they’d offer encouragement to others considering starting new ventures in the arts. As McKinlay put it. “I’d say to them, Youcan do it. You can be creative. Youcan be innovativeYes, it’s true: you have to be a little crazy. And you have to be willing to make some sacrifices and take some risks. But there’s a great opportunity to make a difference, especially in small towns.”

French and McKinlay are the first to say that they didn’t do all this on their own. “This is a tight community. People here work together,” McKinlay told me. “But I think it’s true everywhere that people will try to be helpful when they see something coming along that promises to be beneficial to the whole community. That’s certainly what we’ve found. So, my message to people would be: Take that gamble.”

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This piece originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com

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