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posted by Kevin Archie Aug 05,2015 @ 12:37PM

On starting.

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As I sit here staring at a blank page—typing, deleting, typing again, deleting again, (updating my Instagram), typing, deleting, staring—I consider the seemingly monumental task at hand: writing one single blog post.

The forest of trees on my desktop background mirrors the muddled state of my mind: vast and lush, yet directionless. Branches intertwine, the longest of them extending and disappearing into the backlit white space of the sun, fading to nothing.

Ideas form and mingle in my mind, but the great white page stands unadorned until one of them can take root and grow. A multitude of voices nag and prod my brain, stunting any progress.

Where ever will you begin? Which idea is strongest? What about that other one? What’s the big picture? Who really cares?

If I'm honest with myself, this is what nearly every creative project feels like.

Whether small and simple like writing a blog post, or large and daunting like rebranding a statewide initiative, the act of creation often begins in agony.

But if we can narrow our focus from that vast forest of possibilities to a single seed of an idea, things can truly begin to flourish and grow.

posted by Alexandra Frazier Jul 29,2015 @ 04:09PM

notes from a wordmonger

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Note: these are not my hands.

Yesterday, I took a dip into the ether of my web browser history. It's a curious thing, to be curious about what you've been curious about. It's a more curious thing when you can evaluate the shape of your workday interests through the lens of Google search.

In addition to a daily perusal of news articles (I take my morning coffee with a side of current events) and a hundred client-related research queries, there's no shortage of fodder up for interpretation.

Highlights from the past week include atmospheric refraction, fiduciary responsibility, love and ketchup, Mr. Wonderful and the definition of nyctitropism. Predicate adjectives and the merits of "more proud" versus "prouder" make the list, as do balding medieval babies and an exploration into how hot chicken really happened.

Scroll a little farther down the page, and there, sandwiched between the oddities, you'll find no small number of visits to this idiom dictionary. Of all the revealing 500+ word procrastinations in my web history, the dictionary stands out and apart.

As we move into a more human era of branding, it feels only natural to seek out and take inspiration from everyday language's most suggestive turns of phrase. Just witness the longevity of Allstate's "You're in good hands," and you can begin to fathom why idiomatic expression might help bridge the messaging gap between what a brand wants to say and what an audience is willing to hear. And yet, leave it to Virginia Woolf—a woman who surely existed in that easier place before brands—to articulate the potential dangers of this approach.

In Woolf's superb 1937 essay, "Craftsmanship," she espouses that the moment we cherry-pick words from their natural habitats is the moment they lose their human realness and nuance. Worse, she writes, is that when the words become unreal, "we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers."

Phrase finders, not readers. Ouch. But what a perfect reminder that, long after we've tested the weight of a pen in our hands, someone else will have the choice to read or refuse what we've put to paper. All it takes is a trip through our own data-clouded wires to see Woolf's maxim reflected in our histories.

We are readers first.

posted by Alexandra Frazier May 13,2015 @ 08:59AM

i carry your heart

"Keep going." A pause. "Keep going."

            My mother, sighing, "Surely this is enough?"

"Don't stop until I say so. Turn it white."

We may be standing in my mother's kitchen, but sauce is Bigi's domain. As he keenly watches over her shoulder, my mama shakes more garlic powder into a Dutch oven gurgling with tomatoes, onions and spice. Good sauce never truly simmers—it galurps and bursts and plops unevenly as sunglow-colored grease bubbles cluster along its edges—and today's pot is no different from the countless others two of my favorite people in the whole wide world have prepared together.

Bigi looks behind her, winks at me, and then nods his satisfaction when the garlic snowcaps are finally to his liking. He hip bumps her to the side of the gas range, gives the sauce a stir, then slurps the slender wooden spoon against his lips. His gnarled hands cupped under the bowl-back so as not to cause a spill, he holds what's left out to my mother. She swallows, smiles, and rolls her eyes.

"Bean, you want a taste?"

He wiggles an eyebrow at me, and I practically skip to the stove. He's right about the garlic powder—he always is.

This was my grandfather. Always right. Stubborn to a fault. Never a minute late. Fiercely independent. And yet, exacting as he may have been, ingredients were never measured nor recipes written down. Food was my grandfather's means of creative expression, and in his world, all spoons were communal. Dinners were leisurely. And love abundant.   

My stubborn, willful, utterly perfect grandfather passed away last year. After a week in the hospital—the result of a bad fall and broken pelvis—his kidneys failed and his too-big heart just plain broke. He died the morning of October 22nd, the day before Riggs Partners' CreateAthon XVII. It was my first CreateAthon, an event I'd been looking forward to ever since I joined the agency that January. But, after my world had been tipped on its axis, I wasn't sure I would have the mental capacity to string sentences together, never mind good sentences on behalf of The Arts Empowerment Project, a nonprofit that connects at-risk children with transformative, life-changing arts experiences. I briefly thought about not coming.

But my grandfather, the man who wouldn't miss Christmas with family come hell or double hip replacement, the WWII veteran whose photo must be printed alongside Webster's definition of pluck, would have pushed me forward. He had always taught me to honor my commitments, and he did so until the day he died. Tempted to stay home, I could still hear him:  Keep going. Don't stop until I say so.  

When I arrived to the WECO that cloudy October morning, a few people—those who knew—said kind things I didn't really hear. I stammered a thank you or two, and then I got to work. Selfishly, I craved the distraction of a challenge apart from that inconvenient thing we call grieving. 

That said, distractions are temporary by design, and they never completely divert our attention from the tasks we hope to escape. As the hours ticked past and night blanketed the WECO, the memories came unbidden:

My grandfather's slight form hunched over the stove as he taught me to whisk together polenta. The great delight with which he accepted my applesauce Bundt cakes, even when over or under baked. Quote, depending on circumstance, "I like a crispy outside," or "It will stay moist longer this way."
Books, newspapers, and large-print copies of Reader's Digest arranged in neat piles throughout my grandparents' house, all of which I was welcome to read whenever I visited.
His strong voice gliding over the crests and valleys of a hymn (for much of his life, he sang in both a barbershop quartet and the church choir), and a stronger shoulder to lean against when I inevitably got sleepy at midnight mass.
Countless car rides to ballet lessons across town, after which he'd help tame my unruly locks into a sleek bun, twisting and pinning according to my 7-year-old self's most authoritative instructions.

How lucky I was to have shared with him so many of my creative interests. How empty life would have been without his guidance, encouragement, and example these past 23 years. And in that, a kernel of understanding.

Perhaps because my heart was bruised, my grandfather gone and my headspace in vulnerable territory, I finally grasped what the gift of arts exposure could do for a child achingly familiar with life's harsh realities. For a productive spell between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., I too was just a little girl in need of the therapeutic power of words and writing to heal her broken places.

I had been told CreateAthon was an experience like no other. I was prepared for so many things—client tears, impossible deadlines, the sad truth that my hair would look like it had been combed with a porkchop—but I wasn't expecting the bear hug to the soul that came with working for a nonprofit whose very purpose helped put in perspective not what I had lost, but how much I had to be thankful for.

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He was my granddaddy, but he was everyone's Bigi, and I'd like to think he watched over all of us intrepid creative spirits that night. As Riggs and co. begin to accept the next batch of CreateAthon applications, I can only hope he'll be there too, helping us push through the night with grace, grit, and a little extra determination.         
         
                                                                                                                                                                       In loving memory of Elio Joseph "Bigi" Bigiarelli                                                                       

Riggs Partners 2015 CreateAthon applications are now available. Apply here.

 

                                                                     

posted by Kevin Smith Apr 22,2015 @ 10:39AM

Trying to Keep Up

Riggs_suitEarlier this month, Media Post published an interesting article about how as we age, the brain moves to the right. Specifically, the brain perceives reality in sensory images and like metaphors. I was excited to be informed that: “Stories generally do a better job of emotionally engaging Baby Boomer minds. In fact, Baby Boomers are more likely than younger consumers to ignore a message that simply describes a product with little or no affect.”

Shortly thereafter, I read in Marketing News: “Digital Disruption and the Death of Storytelling.” Douglas Rushkoff’s views are profound. He reminds us that digital devices leave us living in a reactionary mode, failing to plan for the future or live fully in the present. The multitude of communication channels has rendered even the most centered among us compulsive and compromised.

These two interesting and compelling viewpoints remind me of how confusing the deluge of information we receive can be. In this new age of information, we want absolutes, new rules and decrees we can employ.

It’s simply not that simple. The only thing we can truly be expert at is asking questions of our customers. The modern marketing tumult has made listening the most important art of all. Marketing has no templates because consumers are custom made. Informing an audience to make wise decisions requires an expert tailor with a penchant for hearing others’ truths.

posted by Marcus Williamson Apr 15,2015 @ 01:08PM

Raising the Bar

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Columbia is changing and only for the better.

New buildings are going up at a seemingly rapid pace while old ones that have sat vacant for decades are being repurposed for new and exciting things. Notable examples include the former Bull Street Asylum, the Adluh Flour building, and the Palmetto Compress building.

But what of the creative scene? Well that's booming as well. With Indie Grits, ConvergeSE, and POSSCON (The Palmetto Open Source Software Conference) all happening in the same week, Columbia's future certainly looks bright. These three events, along with many others not mentioned here, are uniquely tied to our city and represent a new community of creatives willing to raise the bar for a better Columbia. If this trend continues to grow, we could be looking at the new SXSW within several years.

We look forward to seeing what new creative possibilities arise in our city as it continues to grow taller and wider every day.

What other exciting things are happening around Columbia that we missed?

-Marcus

 

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