Saturday, September 20, 2014

Still The Vision Lingers On


Last week I saw Billy Bragg in concert.  It might have been the fifth or sixth time I've seen him -- I can't remember for sure.  It was a memorable show since it happened to coincide with the referendum on Scottish independence, an issue that Bragg seemed to predict back in 2002 with "Take Down the Union Jack." The truth of the matter is that I've seen Billy Bragg perform in a variety of different political contexts -- on the eve of Obama's election, during John Major's reign as prime minister, etc. -- and he's always got something interesting to say.

From my perspective, there is much to admire about Billy Bragg's perseverance over the years.  Somehow, he has managed to simultaneously evolve while staying resolutely true to himself.

As is often the case with me, my thoughts about pop culture bleed into thoughts about work.

This week I also spent some time at the Midtown Community Court, now in its 21st year of operation.  The Midtown team seems nearly perfectly balanced to me -- a combination of old heads and new blood. The facility is undergoing a seemingly never-ending renovation at the moment.  While this poses all sorts of challenges for the staff, the quality of the work continues to impress.  Like Billy Bragg, Midtown is managing to stay true to its founding ideals while also continuing to innovate.

One example of this is the UPNEXT program which provides parenting skills and job training to non-custodial fathers, many of them with court involvement.  (One source of referrals for UPNEXT is our parent support program in Brooklyn.)  It is fair to say that the founders of the Midtown Community Court never dreamed of anything quite like UPNEXT.  But the program is entirely consistent with the  spirit of creative problem-solving that has animated Midtown since 1993.

Artwork created by UPNEXT participants is currently being featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.  (For more on Midtown's partnership with MoMA, click here.)  Here are a few quick photos from the opening of the exhibit on Friday:


With a major assist from artist/educator Shellyne Rodriguez, UPNEXT participants created silhouettes inspired by the art of Kara Walker.


Jeff Hobbs, one of the original Midtown Community Court staffers, and me.


Bo Twiggs spoke eloquently about the partnership between Midtown and MoMA.


Wall text explaining the artwork.


More than a dozen staffers from the Midtown Community Court and the Center for Court Innovation came to the exhibit, including three of the seven people who have served as Midtown project director.