Episode 70: The intersection of art and social justice

For over ten years, Queens College has been partnering with the Queens Museum through a project called Social Practice Queens (SPQ) which supports initiatives combining art linked to such subjects as environmentalism, community histories, urban life, politics, and fair labor standards to name only a few.

Social Practice CUNY (SPCUNY) uses the same philosophy and approach and broadens it across CUNY. Based at the Graduate Center, SPCUNY supports faculty making public-facing work at the intersection of art and social justice. Fellows collaborate with diverse communities across CUNY campuses and throughout the city in projects that complement and inform their scholarly and pedagogic work. Cynthia Tobar is currently an SPCUNY faculty fellow, and in this episode, she talks with SPQ and SPCUNY co-directors Chloë Bass and Gregory Sholette, about the impetus behind this initiative and the value of providing a space to foster socially engaged art making at CUNY. Working effectively and meaningfully within the complicated bureaucracy of a silo-ed institution, their vision and execution of a “shadow CUNY” can serve as a model for other higher ed institutions who want to have a foot in the institution and in the larger world simultaneously. Check out the 2021-22 faculty fellow cohort (note previous Indoor Voices guest and City Tech librarian Nora Almeida among them).

Chloë Bass is a multiform conceptual artist working in performance, situation, conversation, publication, and installation. Chloë is a Future Imagination Collaboratory Fellow at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, a Faculty Fellow for the Seminar in Public Engagement at the CUNY Center for the Humanities, and a Lucas Art Fellow at Montalvo Art Center. She is an Assistant Professor of Art at Queens College, CUNY, where she co-directs Social Practice CUNY with Greg, with whom she co-edited Art as Social Action (Allworth Press, 2018). She currently has work on view at MASS MoCa, Center for Book Arts, Albright-Knox, and upcoming at the Henry.

Gregory Sholette is a NYC-based artist, writer, activist and teacher whose art and research investigate issues of collective cultural labor, socially engaged art, and counter-historical visual representation. He is a co-founder of the collectives Political Art Documentation/Distribution, REPOhistory, and Gulf Labor Coalition, as well as author of the books Dark MatterDelirium and ResistanceArt as Social Action and the forthcoming Art of Activism and Activism of Art. Greg is a Professor of Art at Queens College and co-director of the Mellon Foundation-funded art and social justice program Social Practice CUNY. To learn more about SPCUNY from another angle, read his opinion piece, “Reimagining Higher Education Through Socially Engaged Art,” about CUNY during/after COVID. Check out Greg’s latest work here.

Cynthia Tobar is Assistant Professor and Head of Archives at Bronx Community College and a faculty fellow with SPCUNY. In May 2021, she interviewed Molly Rosner and Summer Walker about their COVID documenting project at La Guardia Community College.

Greg and Chloë mentioned SPCUNY projects/artists Tara Homasi and The Workers Art Coalition and SPQ graduate standouts including Barrie Cline, Setare Arashloo, Erin Turner and Jeff Kasper.

Listen to Episode 70 now!
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Episode 69: Molly Rosner on representations of history for children

My Barbie doll had a townhouse, a camper, a private jet and a wardrobe that would make Carrie Bradshaw envious. Barbie lived very much in the present (circa 1973) and didn’t teach me a thing about her past or mine. If I’d grown up a decade or so later, I’m sure I would have been badgering my parents for an American Girl doll. With one of those, I would have had a doll (who looked much less like a Playboy bunny) to fetishize as well as a stealth U.S. history lesson. In the introduction to her book, Playing with History: American Identities and Children’s Consumer Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2021), Molly Rosner explains how her American Girl doll was indeed instrumental in teaching her about American history, but more to the point, it taught her how to be an American consumer – as my Barbie clearly did for me. (Thanks, Mattel!)

Molly’s book is a series of case studies from five eras of the 20th century. She’s chosen unique yet iconic artifacts or projects – the annual Toy Fair, The Clark Doll Study, the Orange and Landmark Books, Freedomland, USA, and the American Girl doll – to illustrate how commercial industries have, on the whole, presented white, male, heroic, exceptionalistic views of U.S. history and American identity. As she writes, “Most representations of history for children continue to tell a story of America’s essential goodness and its steady march of progress rather than a story that acknowledges oppression and notes the fluctuations between progress and regression.” Playing with History is packed with fascinating supporting material, including book publishing history, the evolution of juvenile criminal justice theories, and the critical impact of dolls on a seminal U.S. Supreme Court case. (As she writes, “American history was forever changed by dolls.”) In our conversation, Molly talks about how her research all started with the idea of nostalgia and how becoming a parent has affected her thinking about cultural artifacts and media.

Molly is Director of Education Programs at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives (a NYC history archive) at LaGuardia Community College. She was a guest on Episode 59 in May 2021, when she and LaGuardia student Summer Walker talked with Bronx Community College archivist Cynthia Tobar about their COVID documenting project.

Listen to Episode 69 now!
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Episode 68: Daniel Vater’s culinary journey

Daniel Vater

Back in the early days on this podcast, in 2017, I interviewed Claire Stewart, Associate Professor at New York City College of Technology’s Hospitality Management Program, and we talked about her book, As Long as We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts (Episode 6). For this latest episode, Claire returns to interview CUNY alumnus, Daniel Vater, who was a student in her Culinary Improvisation class. By the time Daniel was a student in Claire’s class, he’d had a decade and half of experience in the restaurant world as well as his own catering business, but Daniel took advantage of the unique flexibility of the CUNY BA program to fill in some gaps in his knowledge of the business aspects of his culinary career. He currently works as a private chef and is near completion of a Masters of Management in Hospitality at Cornell University. He talks with Claire about what he gained from his time at CUNY and about his multi-faceted, successful career. You’ll also get a glimpse into the private lives of private chefs and some picks and pans in the world of culinary trends!

Listen to Episode 68 now!

Daniel and Claire

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P.S.: In May 2018, I was one of the judges in a just-for-fun, end-of-semester culinary contest in Chef Claire’s class at City Tech. Daniel, Claire and I are next to one another in the second row.

Episode 67: Hannah Kavanagh, uncensored and uncut

Hannah Kavanagh, a Hunter@Macaulay undergrad, is a self-proclaimed nerd – about music, film, fashion, and conversation. She loves talking about anything, she says, and she does so with honesty and enthusiasm. She is curious, thoughtful, and a good listener. These traits make her an ideal person to have a podcast – a topic we never tire of here at Indoor Voices. She had already been producing and hosting Tea for Three from her dorm room when a communications officer at CUNY asked her to help amplify the university’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign (#VaxUpCUNY). That subsequently led to an invitation to produce and host CUNY’s first student-run podcast, CUNY Uncut. The podcast focuses on issues of concern to students – what students really want to address – and has the tagline “uncensored, unedited and uncut.” The first episode features City Tech undergrad and University Student Senate Chairperson Juvanie Piquant who talks with Hannah about an urgent and evergreen subject at the heart of students’ lives: mental health.

We talked briefly about Hannah’s journey to CUNY Uncut, and Baruch’s The Ticker and Brooklyn College’s Vanguard also chronicled how the podcast came to be.

Hannah is interested in a lot, which made it a challenge to choose a major. We agreed that her switching majors a few times during a relatively short college career is a positive symptom of her myriad passions and illustrates the value of listening to one’s inner voice. She’s now a senior and has settled happily and fittingly on a major in film studies. True to her word about being interested in other people and their stories, she turned the interview questions on me a couple of times. I was happy to comply, since I also love to talk about anything.

Mentioned in this episode:

Here’s the On the Media episode about the Dewey Decimal system and a piece of related hot-off-the-press news.

Hannah strongly endorses Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, as well as the work of Charlie Kaufman and Michaela Coel

There is a slew of helpful literature about women, assertiveness, and the power of “No,” which relates to some of what Hannah and I talked about. Here’s a recent example from The Atlantic.

Listen to Episode 67 now!

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Episode 66: Bringing Vietnamese refugee stories to light

In this conversation you’ll hear about three intersecting narratives, that of a dedicated scholar and teacher, the stories of the Vietnamese students she worked with, and the editors who carried on that teacher’s work and realized her students’ stories. Khánh Minh Lê, Julian Costa and Gabriel Da Silva discuss the value of mentorship, authentic self-expression and the woefully inadequate coverage of the experiences of Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. Julian and Gabriel talk with Khánh about their co-edited collection of these stories by Dr. Dean’s students, What They Know: Reflections of Vietnam. The book is described as “a collection of essays written by Vietnamese refugees who vividly depict their memories of fear, danger, hope, and strength as they escaped Vietnam during one of the darkest periods of the twentieth century. Their stories provide a glimpse into this period that is grossly underemphasized by historical curricula, and remind us of the resilience of the human spirit in dangerous situations.” The collection was brought to fruition by Julian and Gabriel – Rebecca Dean passed away in 2021 – and will soon be available via Amazon.

Khánh Minh Lê is a Substitute Instructor in Multilingual Literacies at Queens College and a PhD candidate in Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center. As a child of a refugee family and a product of the Vietnam War, his research is at the intersection of translanguaging, transtrauma, and transmethodology. He is the recipient of the Graduate Center Fellowship, The Dissertation Year Fellowship, The University Provosts Fellowship, the Advanced Research Collaborative Grant, and Fulbright Hays Grant. The article/interview he references early in the conversation can be found here.

Julian Costa is an adjunct professor in the Humanities Department at the New York City College of Technology, where he teaches courses in public speaking. 

Gabriel Da Silva is a junior in the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University.  He is the 2021 recipient of the Morris-Lerner Scholarship for Excellence in Public Speaking, sponsored by the Union of Adjunct Faculty at Pace. He co-authored a chapter in the forthcoming book, Online Instructional Communication, by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Rebecca Dean, 1985

Dr. Rebecca Dean was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh where her focus was cultural studies.  Throughout her career, she taught courses in communication, film analysis, and other humanities subjects.  At the time of her retirement in 2019, she was Professor of Communications/Theatre at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Listen to Episode 66 now.

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Episode 65: Michelle Valladares on CCNY’s creative writing MFA

In Spring 2021, the Creative Writing MFA at City College saw an unprecedented enrollment spike. It’s not exactly clear why it occurred, but Director Michelle Valladares has some ideas about that. She has lots of ideas, in fact, about unique and exciting ways to grow the program even more while still maintaining a manageable cohort size. She is inspired by the program’s location in Harlem and is coming up with all kinds of ways to engage with the community, like the Archives as Muse: A Harlem Storytelling Project. In addition to hearing about Michelle’s innovative ideas, you’ll learn about some of the program’s outstanding alumni and faculty and successful students, a source of pride for Director Valladares. Award-winning crime novelist Walter Mosley is one of those esteemed alumni and the one who described CUNY MFA programs as the “Blue-Collar Harvard.”

Michelle Valladares
Michelle at her City College office.

It was a pleasure to sit down in person with Michelle and learn more about the MFA program which was recently profiled in Inside Higher Ed. Thanks to Angela Harden, adjunct professor and general manager of CCNY’s WHCR 90.3 FM: The Voice of Harlem, we had the perfect place to record.

Michelle is Director of the MFA Program and Lecturer in English, teaching both undergraduates and graduate students. Explore her writing and filmmaking.

Two more notes about the episode:

  • Identification: Brendan Kiely is the Young Adult (YA) author who Michelle mentions.
  • Clarification: Rather than forfeit his fee, poet Paul Muldoon donated his speaker fee back to the program.

Listen to Episode 65 now!

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Episode 64: Smashing Statues

If you’ve been eagerly following the literal ups and downs of statues and monuments and the attending political and moral debates over the last few years, this episode will be right up your alley. Erin Thompson, Associate Professor of Fraud, Forensics, Art Law & Crime at John Jay College, talks with Todd Fine, a PhD candidate in history at the CUNY Graduate Center, about her forthcoming book, Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments. Erin and Todd have been active on social media with regard to these controversies, and they met one another via “public art” or “monument” Twitter. They convened in person for the first time while recording this podcast, and the result is a lively and fascinating conversation.

Learn more about Erin and her work here, and follow her on Twitter.

Learn more about Todd and his work as president of the Washington Street Advocacy Group, which works for historic preservation in the “Little Syria” neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. Follow him on Twitter.

Listen to Episode 64 now

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Episode 63: Living and breathing Puerto Rico

Yarimar Bonilla is Professor in the Department of Africana & Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at Hunter College and in the PhD Program in Anthropology at the Graduate Center. On July 1, she will assume the role of Acting Director of El Centro, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, the research center founded in 1973. In this episode, she talks with Vanessa Valdés, Director of the Black Studies Program and Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at City College and author of Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and Oshun’s Daughters: The Search for Womanhood in the Americas, among others. These two educators have much in common: CVs packed with powerful and passionate scholarship, a great respect for one another, and a strong belief that their work serves students, faculty, and the larger community.

Yarimar describes her journey from a childhood in Puerto Rico to life as a scholar and professor at CUNY. She shares personal stories as well meditations on a variety of connected questions, from the position and treatment of Caribbean studies in the academy and the legacy of Haitian-American anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot to the significance and aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. Yarimar has co-edited a book on Trouillot that will be published by Duke University Press this Fall.

Also mentioned in this episode:

Listen to Episode 63 now!

If you want to think and hear more about Puerto Rican migration, listen to the episode featuring Cristina Pérez Jiménez and Bret Maney.

If you want to think and hear more about the field of anthropology, listen to the episode featuring Alisse Waterston and Charlotte Corden.

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Episode 62: Jeremy Caplan on entrepreneurial media makers

Jeremy Caplan is the Director of Teaching and Learning at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. For the last fifteen months, he’s been busy helping faculty and students navigate the numerous challenges brought on by the pandemic. He also directs the new online intensive Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators 100-day certificate program which welcomed its first cohort in Fall 2020, coinciding with the continuation of COVID-19. The program, with its emphasis on independent, niche entrepreneurs, has so far attracted experienced students with specific interests who have projects in mind that they want to turn into a reality. As Jeremy explains, the timing of the program’s launch strangely benefited from a global online learning mindset. Another bonus: the virtual format allows for a diverse, international group.

Jeremy is in conversation in this episode with Michael Rain, an alumnus of the CUNY J-school program and a former fellow of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Among many concurrent projects, Michael is the founder of ENODI, a media and research company (and accompanying podcast) which highlights the lives, cultural innovations, and entrepreneurial work of first-generation and immigrant people. Listen to our 2019 conversation to learn more.

Jeremy and Michael also discuss the larger picture, including how change in the tech and business sectors have led to a revolution in journalism, giving agency to independent creators. And Michael makes sure to highlight Jeremy’s WonderTools newlestter, a curated collection of useful and time-saving apps and tools for digital creators. These two are ideal representatives of the CUNY journalism program which champions innovation in every aspect of media content creation.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter and at jeremycaplan.com 

Follow Michael on Twitter and at michaelra.in

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Episode 61: The urban optimism of Sunnyside Gardens

Jeffrey Kroessler and Laura Heim, a historian and an architect respectively, have lived in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens, for nearly two decades. They live there “specifically,” as Jeffrey says, having admired the vision of the neighborhood, one that is modeled after the garden city movement that began in late 19th century England. In this episode, Jeffrey and Laura talk with Owen Gutfreund, Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College, about their book, Sunnyside Gardens: Planning and Preservation in a Historic Garden Suburb. Their book is a richly illustrated history of an urban community that encourages the reader to consider the social, cultural, and political functions of city spaces. They discuss the planning, evolution and preservation of this unique neighborhood as well as Levittown(s), Thomas Hobbes, and the question of what is being preserved and for whom. On the face of it preservation seems like an obviously worthwhile pursuit, but controversy comes in when policies conflict with personal property rights, and Jeffrey and Laura were deeply involved in the sometimes bitter fight to get the community designated as a historic district, which it was in 2007.

Listen to Episode 61 now

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