Roots in the Key of Life

Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand…

And you can tell right away at letter A….

Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke,” album “Songs in the Key of Life”

  (bryan farley)

Where do we begin?

Last week I photographed the three day Inventing Our Future Integrated Summer Learning Institute at The Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, California. The Alameda County Office of Education’s Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership organizes the ILSI so that area educators will be better prepared to integrate art into their curriculum. After I photographed last year’s conference, I wondered if educators would love connecting with each other as well as the content. This year I will remember how students inspired me to wonder about a different question.

How does one distinguish between Courage and Good Art?

 (bryan farley)

The institute is one place where everyone accepts that art education is important. I can relax and learn from others without feeling that I must continually justify arts integration. Let’s face it, America is just not that into integration.

The three days of the institute were divided into the following goals. I have included photos from each day if any viewers want to see evidence of learning.

Day 1 “How are we preparing youth to take care of themselves?”  (70)

Day 2 “How are we preparing youth to take care of each other?”  (70)

Day 3 “How are we preparing youth to take care of the planet?”  (74)

 (bryan farley)

On the first day, participants selected metaphors that described their learning style.

I did not participate, but I recalled my personal metaphors. I love bamboo. persistent. below the surface. I dig into crevices and extend my networks. Bamboo roots can grow under concrete and break through planters and sidewalks. Gardeners try to isolate bamboo. Bamboo irritates and integrates. Slowly. Suddenly.

Most observers do not see the bamboo’s underground activity, and while that has often served me well, sometimes I feel ignored. I fear that I have become…

all roots, no shoots.

 (bryan farley)

Because humans are already connected, we desire connection. As Sarah Crowell of Destiny Arts Center reminded us, we create false dichotomies when we discuss life/work balance. We even disconnect from ourselves. When we work, we might be unbalanced, but we are still alive. If we are going to teach youth to take care of themselves, we must take care of ourselves. We must connect to our needs.

Just as humans are already connected, we are also integrated. The institute’s timing illustrates how life integrates historically, globally and personally. The institute began on the one year anniversary of Robin Williams suicide and ended the day before the 70th anniversary of VJ Day. Later this month, New Orleans will remember the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Sunday was the eleven year anniversary of my father’s suicide. Many of us need art to explain this upside down world. We need teachers and artists who can provide context when the levies break and the roots break through … and the roots always break through, even if we do not see them approaching.

I need art. I need artists. I need teachers who have the capacity to connect to themselves and others.

The 2015 Integrated Learning Summer Institute is a three day education conference sponsored by the Alameda County Office of Education from August 11 - 13 at Chabot Space and Science Center. The second day's theme is "preparing youth to take care of each other." (bryan farley)

In my previous blog post about musician Nina Diaz, I referenced musician Nina Simone. Simone argued that it is an artist’s duty to reflect the times. This leads me to another question,

What is a teaching artist’s duty?

Somehow this label of “teaching artist” minimizes the responsibilities of the teacher and the artist. I wonder how an art teacher inspires students without having been an artist. How does an art teacher help students struggle with risk taking? How can a teacher help a student find their voice?

Perhaps Oakland Technical High School student artists presented an example during their performance. The students were courageous and technically skilled. During the discussion afterwards, the students explained the importance of integrating the arts into the rest of the curriculum. Students also expressed the need for integrating play into science, math and other subject.

To become a master teaching artist, the teacher must perform courageously and skillfully under pressure. The master teaching artist much have courage and skill and a willingness to grow. I would imagine any good teacher would need courage, skill and desire.

 (bryan farley)

This next part is important to emphasize. Integrated curriculum improves learning by increasing participation. When students can participate more fully, students are more likely to learn and retain information. We are encouraged to access our multiple intelligences to find multiple solutions. We are not limited by little boxes.

I started mixing my words and letters more than usual last week. For example, I thought a “Writing Back” poster was about the classical composer J.S. Bach (as in Johan Sebastian). I allowed myself to feel the automatic shame with missing something so simple. Then I reimagined my learning style as a variations on a theme. I felt much better when I photographed a session incorporating variations and when I sat in a pew on Sunday and Bach’s Variation IX was played during Quiet and Prayer Time. I may have missed the Writing Back message, but Writing Bach would be an awesome lesson for someone… oh, and by the way, Nina Simone loved Bach.

The 2015 Integrated Learning Summer Institute is a three day education conference sponsored by the Alameda County Office of Education from August 11 - 13 at Chabot Space and Science Center. The second day's theme is "preparing youth to take care of each other." (bryan farley)

My variations on a theme thinking can also lead to unintended satire. Last week I started singing (very quietly) the Whitney Houston classic The Greatest Love of All?

I sang, “I believe that children are the furniture.”

While many educators seem to treat students as moveable chairs, I wondered how many neighbors in the education community I have ignored. Who do I not see? Who do I not hear? Who am I ignoring?

The 2015 Integrated Learning Summer Institute is a three day education conference sponsored by the Alameda County Office of Education from August 11 - 13 at Chabot Space and Science Center. The second day's theme is "preparing youth to take care of each other." (bryan farley)

Educators must keep asking ourselves tough questions. Who are we missing? Where do we send our own children to school? How can we take care of ourselves and others? How can we model courage, compassion and excellence? Too often educators rush to create new systems and new schools when our students need something basic. Too often, when educators think “our students,” we create false dichotomies. Let’s really face it, Americans are just not that into integration.

 (bryan farley)

My father taught me that if I wanted to change the system, I needed to work within the system. For what it is worth, he gave me this advice when I was a long haired Women’s Studies major at UCSB and he was a retired California Highway Patrol Officer. My father also shot himself eleven years ago. He did not know how to take care of himself. Eventually, he could not care for others.

As public school educators, we must learn to trust a system that has never worked. We must learn how to trust dreamers who also choose to work in a dysfunctional system. We must believe that the system will see us, even if administrators do not know how to use internet search engines. If we are artists, we must believe that our work will change hearts.

How do we find the strength to continue? How do you find the strength to quit?

 (bryan farley)

We have access to more imagery, but we see less.

We can access more knowledge, but we have yet to solve big problems. Do we know more? Do we have authentic answers to life questions? Do we have the answers to the key of life? I don’t. I do not even know if I have access to my authentic root key or if someone else accesses my computer, but as I continue dancing across the curriculum, I will remember what the prophet sang.

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

 (bryan farley)

Inspired by master photographer Erich Salomon (more background info included in notes)

My friend, and former newspaper editor, Shelia D’Amico moved to Colorado last week. Before leaving, she gave me a few photography books, including one by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson is arguably the world’s most influential photographer. (He is like Babe Ruth, Elvis or Madonna.) Arthur Miller wrote the forward to Cartier-Bresson’s 1991 “America in Passing,” and I will conclude with his last few sentences. You might appreciate the thoughtful metaphor.

“What is our next chapter? Where do we go from here? And can the new impulse, whatever its mode, come forth with such rooted beauty?”



A New Dawn for Nina Diaz

On Wednesday, I drove into San Francisco to see Nina Diaz perform at the DNA Lounge. I photographed Nina Diaz and her band Girl in a Coma two years ago in Oakland. (You can revisit my earlier review and photos.) When I saw her in Oakland, I wondered if Nina might become a superstar. Now I am wondering if it matters. Nina seems focused on bigger things… Nina seems happy.

 (bryan farley)

I still question why Nina is not more popular. Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she is a woman of color? Is it because she had an addiction problem? None of these issues disqualify some artists. When she takes the stage, Nina becomes electric. She impressed me off-stage too. I brought my eleven year old daughter to the all-ages show; Nina visited with us. Nina was self deprecating. At one point, Nina said that she was part of “the lazy generation.” (Nina was sweating before the first song ended and on the road to El Paso after the concert for her next show.) I also watched Nina interact with other guests, musicians and friends. Now that she is sober, she communicates genuinely. Her friends surround her on tour. I could see it and feel it. Isn’t that the role of an artist? To make us feel?

 (bryan farley)

In the days since I saw Nina, one of my photography mentors sent me a note about another Nina (Nina Simone). A documentary about Nina Simone “What Happened, Miss Simone?” was released last year. On Thursday, Miss Lauryn Hill sang the Nina Simone song “Feeling Good” on The Tonight Show. Simone influenced many artists, perhaps because her path was often blocked. She continually discovered new dawns and new days. Perhaps Nina Diaz will too.

 (bryan farley)

Here is my photo gallery. About half way through the gallery, I converted photos to black and white. I almost always leave my photos in color, but I wanted to acknowledge Nina Simone and the other artists from an earlier time, so I changed the color. I would have loved to stay for the whole set, but I am glad that I brought my daughter. Nina and some of the other musicians were gracious. The staff who served my daughter Shirley Temples were also very kind. My daughter has had the luxury of attending some large concerts and smaller shows and she has learned that nearly every musician must work hard. There are no lazy generations of musicians.









Derby, Dads, Dodgers and Demons

This post might turn out like my dinner tonight. I grilled a cheese sandwich with turkey, garden tomatoes and avocado. The sprouted bread fell apart, the crust became hard and the inside became mushy and cheesy. It tasted good, but I would not serve it to friends. While I rushed my dinner, I have spent several days trying to write this blog post.

I have yet to digest my emotions from last Saturday.

 (bryan farley)

Before I attended Saturday’s bout between the Santa Cruz Derby Girls Bombshells and the Bay Area Derby Girls Team Gold, I planned a simple post that included galleries from two previous bouts. I would discuss the community based organizations that the roller derby teams supported at recent events and I would mention how my children love attending roller derby too.

Then I met Bryan Stow.

 (bryan farley)

I am a Dodger fan. I have loved the Dodgers since I was a little kid and moved to Fresno from the San Fernando Valley. When I was a child, I would sit on the floor and listen to the radio at night. I studied baseball history. I knew what it meant to be a Dodger fan. The Dodgers were a family business built on principle. The Dodgers were Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. We were Kofaux on Yom Kippur. We were Vin Scully AND Jaime Jarrin. We are Hall of Fame in two languages. We were not superficial. We were not silicon. Dodger fans are the original losers who played for something greater. God, community, politics, family, team….

 (bryan farley)

In 2010, when the Giants finally won a World Series in San Francisco, the Dodgers were a family business that was falling apart. It was a different family. I wonder if Giants’ fans realize that their championship was not the worst part of 2010 for many Dodger fans.

And then it got worse.

 (bryan farley)

I have talked about Bryan Stow many times since he was attacked on Opening Day 2011. I have imagined talking to him. I have probably talked out loud while alone many times hoping that I would have the chance to share my feelings with him. When I saw him, I became nervous. If I had not prepared, I do not know if I would have been able to talk to him. I did not know how to start. I waited until I told him. “I am a Dodger fan.”

 (bryan farley)

Eventually, I found my voice and I told him that I wish I had the authority to talk for all Dodger fans and apologize for what I think is “the darkest day in Dodger history.” I mean it. It still saddens me. We did not protect him. He was blamed for the attack. The franchise and fans denied responsibility. I heard all kinds of arguments. I did not hear the organization argue that we were the franchise of Robinson and Koufax. We became the organization that broke hearts and deflected responsibility.

And the Dodgers are an organization that celebrates atonement. Before I knew that Yom Kippur meant Day of Atonement, I knew what it meant to be a Dodger fan. We are not a franchise and fan base that celebrates excuses. We would rather lose than cheat. In 2011, we seemed to be losing at cheating.

 (bryan farley)

The more that I consider the events, the more that I become frustrated. Look, I only lost my baseball team. I can just pretend that the Dodgers moved to St. Louis and start watching more hockey, but I miss baseball. I may never take my kids to watch a Major League Baseball game again. It hurts. Something is unresolved… and it will always be unresolved until the Dodgers fix it.

 (bryan farley)

I take my kids to roller derby. At roller derby, my children watch strong women hit each other. After the teams compete, both sides often take a picture together. They make sure that everyone gets to their car safely. They take care of each other. On Saturday, Bryan Stow joined the two teams for the post-game photo. When will the Dodgers invite Stow to Chavez Ravine? When will he appear in the photo? When will the Giants and Dodgers create an organization that promotes fan safety? When will Major League Baseball hire Bryan Stow?

When will the Dodgers celebrate the 50th anniversary of Game 1 of the 1965 World Series?


See notes below next photo

 (bryan farley)


So, when I mentioned that I had been writing for days on this post, I meant it. I have several other versions that may appear elsewhere. Some of the photos remain so that viewers can easily access photo galleries, but otherwise I have archived my different versions. I may create another post on my other blog at If so, I will add a note here and recirculate the link.

After the next photo, I have included some of the other relevant links.


 (bryan farley)

Santa Cruz Home Team Championship

 World Brain Day

BAD Bout 2 Richmond v Berkeley 

BAD Bout 2 Oakland v San Francisco

CASS of Santa Cruz County

Oakland Cat Town

SCDG Bombshells v Team Gold

Digital Nest

 (bryan farley)