Idea Blog

Diebenkorn by Curb Scholar Keith Berquist

Posted on: July 29th, 2013 | 0 Comments

A couple weekends back I went to the De Young museum on a Sunday afternoon, just to check it out. They had a special exhibit on Richard Diebenkorn, who was this abstract impressionist painter from the 1950’s-60’s living in the SF Bay Area. I’d never really been a fan of abstract or modern art up to this point. I always found it undecipherable, inaccessible, unimpressive. But I remember reading something at the very beginning of the exhibit, a caption under the first painting, describing Diebenkorn’s artistic process. It said that he would start by dirtying the canvas because he couldn’t penetrate the white with his art while the surface was still pure; it felt like sacrilege. Once he had dirtied up the canvas, he felt free to work, and then he would just paint. He had no idea what the final product was that he was working towards. If he ever felt hung up or frustrated at a certain point, he would use little tricks, like adding his initials or other symbols into the middle of the painting to use as a new jumping off point. He would paint over things three or four times, making multiple drafts on the same canvas, until finally, it was done.

This exhibit changed the way I think about creating. The creative process is as important, if not more important, than the final product. Diebenkorn’s work evolved on the canvas. For him, creativity involved motion, experience, dynamics. All my previous attempts at songwriting, writing, and essentially any other creative process involved efficiently moving from point A to point B, every word trying to prove one point. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if the final product didn’t have to make sense, there didn’t have to be some definite outcome, so long as you felt the experience along the way? What if the sound and shape of words, the images they generate, could render sentiments and feelings and actions without some overarching message?

I guess what I’m really describing is play; creation for creation’s sake, or maybe creation for the sake of learning, or perhaps even creation for the sake of happiness. We spend so much of our lives driven by objectives, that we rarely get the chance to just play. Sometimes the reward is in the journey, not the outcome.


First Love

Posted on: July 24th, 2013 | 0 Comments

As part of their scholarship, Curb Scholars must intern the summer before their senior year at an organization or agency of their choice to explore the role of art and creativity in our world. Scholar Keith Berquist describes his experience interning at a music venue in San Francisco, this past summer.


Sometimes you have to see someone a few times, to see him or her for the first time. There’s the cliché version: you learn something new about someone and your perception of him or her suddenly changes because you discover that person’s “real” self. That’s not what I’m talking about, although sometimes the two can go hand in hand. No, what I mean is a much more literal, physical version of that, a transformation where something causes you to actually take a look at that person’s face, and all of a sudden you realize the totality of their features. Like a gust of icy fresh air rushing through your lungs; it awakens the senses. And you start to understand that in every prior interaction, that face was a signal, a landmark, a reference point. You memorized it and stored it out of utility. But now, now the face is a human face. The face is the name and the stories and the emotions and the connections. That face has been united with the rest of the person.

I have spent sixteen years of my life living in and around San Francisco. And for those past sixteen years I saw the city the same way I saw those unfamiliar faces. Neighborhoods and streets were only a means to a destination defined by its purpose. The Sunset District was just where I went to school. Nob Hill was just where I lived. Van Ness was just the Guitar Center on the corner of California and the movie theatre on the corner of Geary. And yet this summer… I see the face of San Francisco. I’ve been getting lost in its eyes, in grubby, piss-stained streets of the Mission and the shade of palm trees along the Embarcadero. I’m not living in San Francisco, I’m living in San Francisco. The freedom and the independence to just be here has opened up a second city to me.

The places and faces in our lives are defined by the context in which we discover them, and I will now remember this summer as the touchstone moment where I embraced every detail and every historical particle this city has to offer. San Francisco will be my infinite playground.


I guess it would be improper if I didn’t start with the facts. Just the facts. If you didn’t know, I’m working this summer at a music venue in San Francisco called the Café du Nord. Capacity is 250 people, categorizing it as a small club in the concert world. We average around 27 shows a month. The staff is basically two in the office full time, plus a couple part time people like myself and a couple more full-time who work outside the office. Because the operation is so small, I do a little bit of everything. I’ve run box office, handled contracts, forwarded finals and ticket counts to agents, booked bands, changed lightbulbs, moved kegs, pretty much anything that needs to get done. A renaissance man of the music world.

This was what I really wanted all along. I’ve dreamt the last 4 years or so about owning my own concert venues. My ideas of how it will look and function have gone through innumerable stages, but the bottom-line remains the same: I want to put on concerts. And what better way to learn than to pop the hood on a small venue and look at each little piece of the machine one by one to see how they all interact when placed together.

And although the whole process is integral to understanding how a venue operates, perhaps the one piece that has always grabbed my eye the most was booking. It combines the opportunity for creativity: the ability to design a concert billing, to share undiscovered talent, to express myself through the medium of another artist’s work, with the left brain tasks of finance and negotiation and contract settlement. The real reward, to me, is giving a dedicated audience the gift of exposing the next big thing before they even know who it is. But I’ve quickly begun to learn that this “glamorous” portion of the job is as much a curse as it is a blessing. I spend 5-7 hours a day listening to scatterings of new bands. Submissions, suggestions, blogs, magazines, they come from every corner of the internet. And I’m slowly learning the obvious fact that to become a tastemaker, to learn what’s good, you have to learn what is bad as well.

I chose to pursue a career in music because I have a passion for it. I’ve always experienced a certain wonder and fascination when it came to any and all music, even music I didn’t like; it was like magic to me. But having to not only listen to, but also judge dozens of bands a day (and there are some really bad bands out there) has tuned this precious thing into some rusty faded hue of its former self. I’m beginning to replace some of that marvel with cynicism. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Maybe it’s not worth it to learn the good from the bad. Is this what it takes to have “good ears”? I guess the solution is to look for new ways to recapture that splendor, to judge without being judgmental. I see so many people in this industry who have spent their lives working around music and still share that same spark today. I only hope I can learn to cope with the overwhelming like they did, because I can’t let a job I took because of passion take that passion from me.


I asked Steven J. Tepper to respond to Kyle Thetford’s “Does Art Help the Economy?”

Posted on: July 17th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Happy mid-July! Here at Curb, we’re constantly hearing and reading ideas and wondering what each other thinks of them. Yesterday as I read “Does Art Help the Economy?” by Kyle Thetford, (Atlantic Monthly — find it here), I wondered if Steven J. Tepper had a moment to let me know what he thought. Turns out, he did! His response follows:

We can celebrate that Britain’s cultural budget this year did not suffer dramatic cuts.   There is a deep longing in the arts community to believe such policy decisions reflect an enlightened understanding of the intrinsic benefits of the arts. Related, there remains a deep antipathy toward the marriage of the arts with the economy – for more than 100 years, arts advocates have held fast to the belief in “art-for-arts” sake. But, the argument hashed out in Kyle Thetford’s column in the Atlantic is as old as tea leaves – framed as an either/or proposition when instead it should be a both/and proposition.  The arts are both an important part of the economy AND they bring intrinsic benefits.   In economic terms, the arts may be better investments than other pure economic drivers, like a waste disposal plant, because they have positive externalities for their communities in addition to their direct economic impact. The arts do spur innovation, entrepreneurialism, intellectual property and economic growth.  But they also create pride, connection, understanding, enjoyment, and wellbeing.  But, we would be naïve to think that policy makers will support the arts for these intrinsic benefits. Policy, for better or worse, is almost exclusively debated in economic terms – optimizing growth, productivity, and jobs.

I wish we lived in a world where other values were prominent in policy decisions. But we don’t, and the arts world can yell until they are blue in the face, but if they want public investment they have to walk in the policy door dressed up as Economic Man.  There are only a handful of policy areas where we can talk about intrinsic value – saving historic and natural landmarks is one such area.  But, in these cases, policy makers and the public at large can visibly see what non-intervention looks like – a forest, canyon, park, lake, monument might disappear, be destroyed, and become unavailable or inaccessible. Under such conditions, intrinsic value arguments can win the day. But, people are surrounded by art in their everyday life – music, film, books, fashion, and theater.   If anything, most people feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice they have when considering their cultural options.   Intrinsic arguments under such conditions simply will not fly.  So, whether we like it or not, we are left with arguments about investments, innovation, entrepreneurship, and jobs.

Thetford is wrong to suggest the U.S. needs to look across the pond to learn the value of economic arguments –we have been using these arguments for years.   Our out-going NEA chair, Rocco Landsman, has spent the past four years describing and defending artists as workers who bolster the economy. Americans for the Arts, our largest advocacy organization that promotes public investments in the arts, has been conducting and using economic impact arguments for close to 20 years.  We get it.   Maybe someday, policy leaders can credibly use “quality of life” arguments to defend and promote public investments; but for now, Economic Man stands tall and speaks with the loudest voice.

Thanks, Steven!

Imagining Transformative Justice from the Inside Out

Posted on: May 30th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Just found out that the Innovation Grant supported “Imagining Transformative Justice” elicited enough powerful writing to warrant an anthology! See prisoners’ visual art here: Just found out that the Innovation Grant supported “Imagining Transformative Justice” elicited enough powerful writing to warrant an anthology! See more prisoners’ visual art with descriptions here:

3 Million Stories Conference Summary

Posted on: May 29th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Missed the “3 Million Stories” conference, or want to revisit the presentations & conversations? Steven Tepper has compiled a 21-page summary of the unique conference dedicated to exploring the creative marketplace and its opportunities for arts graduates.

Gif creator settles the great debate

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 | 0 Comments

If you were among the group of people who said a GIF, the popular animated images file, is pronounced like the word “Jif,” then give yourself a pat on the back — you were right.

Now we know! Steve Wilhite finally clarifies the pronunciation of his popular images file format, saying: “Choosy programmers choose GIF”



Posted on: May 21st, 2013 | 0 Comments

All the time, things are happening. It is hard to record them in such a way as sitting by the passenger window in our minds and watching them, the things, flit by.

In Puerto Rico we stopped on the top of a hill in Maricao and it was a green, lush place that we could see, it did not end. From the top of the tower we watched homes and palms dig into the cliff side, their teeth strong and hungry. The still frame, this moment of our watching, did not let us see the many lives and feelings that daily bled their way across the landscape. We said, the air up here is cool and fresh. It was.

Six weeks before I flew in a plane out of New Orleans and thought about my mother.  Bayou spread beneath in watery veins. Green earth sang in small islands there and there. Then clouds moved in, and still could I see through their gentle whiteness. I said, this is what it must be to be in the arms of God.

The day before we boiled crayfish live and broke apart their bodies with our hands. They had soft, cartoon eyes that could not see, amassed and dead as they were.

And then some weeks later we bought a terrarium from an old woman. The woman who sold the terrarium had gray hair and thin hands. She told us this, the making of terrariums, was a thing she did often. A god she had become through hewing worlds.  I pictured her home. Glass walls and piles of stones. A kitchen rife with living things. At night, her refrigerator moans—the resting place of so much on the verge of decay.

But there is likely no God and so I must settle for his name and an aircraft. A feeling and a view.

Driving along the coast in Puerto Rico we see the ocean mawing at the land. It is a most beautiful thing to see. I plug the image into the constellation I am living.

We hop from node to node of importance and in-between we see the view below. Oh world, how green or yellow or brown you have made yourself. Oh feeling, that I might place you upon the world and say, you are the skin of my mother and you now, her bones.

I flew in an airplane into the hands of God and asked of God, what things you have made, tell me. He did not reply because he is not real or because there is no God or because a life is a life either way.

The greenness of the world signifies its continual decline and growth. When we, as humans die our skin becomes blue and mottled. Perhaps we are saying, hello sky. Perhaps it is nothing more than blue, we and our blood returning to the air, the water, the place we have always known as home.

Ocean MawGreen Earth


Dr. Dre, Iovine gives 70 million for new academy

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Excited about this new program — has a clear vision for how work will be done in creative spheres in the future. Neat how it draws expertise from across schools in the development of the program.

William Schreiber on Stadium Stock Exchange

Posted on: April 3rd, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

William Schreiber, a senior graduating from the Vanderbilt Curb Scholar’s Program, took a few minutes to answer some questions about his Senior Legacy Project, the Stadium Stock Exchange.

Interviewer: Give us the 20 second elevator pitch for your company, the Stadium Stock Exchange. 

William: We are building a fantasy stock market for sports. The current fantasy game does not translate to college sports well, despite the fact that college football is the second most popular sport in the country. We fix that problem with Stadium Stock Exchange, opening up fantasy games to the world of college sports.

I: Describe the evolution of both the idea and the formation of the company.

W: I have always wanted to build a stock market centered around something other than companies. I have also always been a college sports addict, growing up in Birmingham. One day, it hit me: sports teams are just like companies, and people can trade stocks in sports team as that team either out-performs or under-performs its expectations. 

I:Where in production are you currently?

W: We are currently designing and building the back-end database as well as designing the front-end user experience. We are also building a content network so that we can generate content centered around the platform itself. 

I: What’s the next step for Stadium Stock Exchange?

W: Raise venture capital, finish building the product, and plan a grassroots launch strategy throughout the Southeast. 

I: How did your experience as a Curb scholar and/or a Vanderbilt student, help you in designing and building this company?

W: I have always loved creating things. I think the Curb program encouraged me to take risks and celebrate creativity and creation. Vanderbilt gave me the relationships and skills necessary to launch such a company. 

I: It states on your company info sheet that one of your partners, McArthur Gill, is a champion–of what may I ask?

W: Fantasy sports. Specifically, NBA fantasy sports. McArthur is also an Auburn fan. I’m an Alabama fan. So it’s funny the two of us are building a college-centered fantasy platform together. 

I: What do you imagine the legacy of this project being?

W: I think it could transform how people think about sports. It can allow people with no financial knowledge to begin to understand what a stock is and what it means when that stock goes up or down in value.

Keep an eye out for Stadium Stock Exchange, and more interviews with graduating Curb Scholars.

Drop and give me 15 haikus!

Posted on: April 1st, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Elizabeth Long Lingo

I had the wonderful opportunity to present my ideas at TedX Furman University last week.  At the end of all the presentations, their local student improv troupe offered mini-improv skits based on each of the talks.

Here’s the one spoofing on my idea of the Creative Practice Booocamp. Love it!

Drop and give me 15 haikus