Still listening

Lisa Barnard Kelley and Ione with Pauline Oliveros’ conch shell. (Photo by Gloria Waslyn)

“This is a wonderful event on a sad occasion,” said Ward Mintz, head of the Kingston Arts Commission, to a gathering of about 50 people late last Friday afternoon on a tented lot in midtown Kingston on the south side of Broadway near the corner of Henry Street. “Pauline was a hero to many people. I adored Pauline.”

“She ventured into areas of the arts where no one had been before,” said Kingston mayor Steve Noble. “Pauline pushed into the community. There’s always the energy here.”


The group gathered around a plaque at Deep Listening Plaza with Pauline Oliveros’ picture and a few words about the composer and performer, a major figure during her lifetime in the development of world music. A longtime resident who died in November 2016, Oliveros headed the Kingston-based Deep Listening Institute. 

Pauline was a professor of sound and its complement, silence. She wanted people to listen. “Still listening,” say the words at the top of the plaque. Listening will never die as long as the human race exists.

“She’s smiling and with us, and listening, included in all the universes but particularly here,” said Ione, high priestess and artistic director of the Deep Listening Institute and life partner of Pauline Oliveros. “Listening.”

Face to the east, Ione instructed. The group faced across Broadway and partially toward Cornell Street. Lisa Kelley blew some notes from Pauline’s conch shell.

Face south. The ritual continued. Listening together, the hearers noted how traffic fluctuated as the Broadway traffic lights changed. They chuckled at an impatient car horn, and heard other ambient sounds. Kelley played another series of sounds.

Face west. More conch sounds. Face north. Another message from Pauline’s conch shell.

Now face the center. The assembly turned inward, looking at each other as part of the shared experience. “We offer and receive blessing at the center,” intoned Ione. People looked and listened.

After the ceremony, there was a walk down Cornell Street to Bruyn Avenue for a three-hour blast of community energy at the fourth annual Celebration of the Arts presented by the Midtown Arts District (MAD) and curated by Peter Wetzler. The city was committed to the arts, said mayor Noble, both as an economic engine and to bring people together.

It was as diverse a crowd as one could find in Ulster County. The music of POOK and the vigorous dancing and choreography of the youthful Energy Dance Company set a standard for vitality. Standing at the microphone with the physical energy still crackling from the dance performance, organizer Anne Bailey spoke for MAD with pride in her voice, “Welcome to the neighborhood. This is Midtown.”        

“Life and art are one,” Andrew Lyght told a back-room audience of about 40 artists gathered at the Beverly Lounge on Foxhall Avenue in midtown Kingston early last Thursday evening. Lyght  and Stephen Blauweiss, who is doing a book centered on the history of the demolition of the main Kingston post office in 1969, were the speakers at this first-Thursday session sponsored by the Midtown Arts District (MAD) and Mid-Hudson Arts, the regional service organization for local artists.

The articulate Lyght, a maker of abstract compositions in many materials and owner of a Ponckhockie converted barn, told his audience at the Beverly that he works very slowly. “You wait for the material to show you what to do,” he said. It seems that the materials communicate with him regularly. He’s created a lot of art. “I have enough work in my studio to put on 15 shows,” the 69-year-old artist confided. His 2016 exhibition at the Samuel Dorsky Museum in New Paltz was widely praised.

By what has become a standard definition these days of “neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something,” the Beverly Lounge event could be considered a meetup. But it was a meetup quite different in character from the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup sessions taking place Wednesday evenings this summer at the Senate Garage. This Wednesday’s talk in that series was scheduled to be Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare, a widely used search-and-discovery service mobile app, and chairman of the Kingston Stockade Football Club.

Creatives and techies inhabit overlapping neighborhoods in the same universe. Though the cultures have much in common, you won’t see much exchanging of business cards at the arts meetup, and you won’t see too many full hugs at the tech meetup.

The all-volunteer MAD leaders devote an enormous time to their community organizing. Why? “We really like each other,” explained Anne Bailey at a recent meeting at a new coffee house on Railroad Avenue. “We are committed.” Pause. “We should be committed.” 

Taken together, the creatives and the techies account for at least one in every seven jobs in New York City. Since both at the time of last measurement were growing rapidly in terms of employment, this estimate is likely on the conservative side. 

In 2013, the Center for an Urban Future found 295,755 people employed in the New York City creative sector (advertising, publishing, architecture, design, music, film and television, visual arts, performing arts, and independent artists), up 35,000 from a decade before. Executive director Jonathan Bowles told me that the study, Creative New York, hasn’t been refreshed since. 

State comptroller Tom DiNapoli reported in September 2017 that New York State’s tech sector had added 57,000 jobs since the last recession, 80 percent of which were in New York City. In 2016 New York City had 128,600 jobs in the tech sector, he said, plus another 111,500 tech jobs in non-tech sectors (such as Wall Street), making a total of 240,100 jobs in the larger tech community.

With 536,000 and possibly more people working as creative and techies in New York City and the Big Apple close to a’burstin’, communities in the periphery of the New York metropolitan area cannot spend enough time contemplating the role of these two sectors in their own futures. 

Here’s an idea. Why don’t the two meetups meet up? Neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something. Perhaps Kelley can play Pauline’s conch shell: Still listening.

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