Monday, August 31, 2015

Mainstream music embraces LGBT perspective

by Sara Moniuszko
Originally Published: August 30th, 2015

From Bette Midler and Madonna all the way through Lady Gaga's Born This Way, performers courting gay audiences and incorporating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes into their songs is a pop music tradition.
But increasingly, it's more than just big-voiced divas tapping into the LGBT community: Just as Gaga’s 2011 hit was dubbed a LGBT anthem for its messages of self-love, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Same Love made waves in 2012 with strong statements against homophobia and for acceptance.
Although the idea of including these themes into songs isn’t new, the recent and often more explicit interest of mainstream hitmakers is.
This year alone, Jennifer Hudson’s video for I Still Love You features a gay couple seeking acceptance, and the lyrics and video of Demi Lovato’s Cool for the Summer hint at bi-curiosity. Last year, Hozier’s video for Take Me to Church moved audiences with its imagery of homophobic violence.
The most likely reason? Society’s movement toward acceptance.
"It's just the way these issues are progressing," says Billboard senior editor Alex Gale. "Music is just a little ahead of everyone else in some ways.”
It’s true that the trend reflects certain societal shifts on LGBT issues such as gay marriage. A Gallup survey reports that support for same-sex marriage jumped from 27% to 55% from 1996 to 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage also shows the change in public opinion.
And the trend isn't limited to pop. Gale agrees that it's crossing genres, noting that rap, “one of the more homophobic areas in music, (with) very strict gender roles,” has seen a positive shift in tolerance among artists.
Not only are artists such as Kanye West speaking up in support of gay and trans rights, but some are even toying with the boundaries of gender and masculinity, he notes.
“Young Thug is a rapper who will flash a gun on Instagram while wearing a dress, so he’s sort of playing with gender roles,” Gale says. “There’s a little more tolerance, at least in the hip-hop world, for this.”
After receiving backlash from listeners, hip-hop artists such as Common pledged to curb the use of gay slurs in their lyrics.
"People are not going to make comments like that, because they’re going to see their numbers hurt,” Gale says.
But are the mainstream artists who invoke LGBT themes in their music actually committed to bringing about change — especially when the artists themselves are cisgender and straight?
Truly committed artists will make themselves known, says Jason Lamphier, senior editor at Out.
“It's one thing to write a song or to pair your song with a video that tackles LGBT issues, it’s another thing to be a very vocal advocate,” Lamphier says. “But pop musicians don’t necessarily have to do that; it’s not their job to be activists. It’s their job to be pop stars, and they can get their message out that way through their music.”
Even when an artist’s song about same-sex experimentation may be intended to titillate instead of inspire, like Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl, Lamphier says the message can still have merit.
I Kissed A Girl "was kind of polarizing, because ... it’s almost glamorizing girl-on-girl action,” Lamphier says. “On the other hand, has Katy Perry sparked this conversation among youth? And now they’re starting to think, ‘Oh, it’s OK if I’m curious about kissing my girlfriend, and it’s OK if I actually realize after I’ve done it that this may be what I enjoy more."
The next step is giving LGBT-identifying artists the same freedom to sing about their relationships as straight artists, without fear of the consequences, Lamphier says.
Musicians such as Sam Smith, who openly identifies as gay, are faced with a dilemma: risk alienating audiences by singing about LGBT themes and relationships that aren’t just abstract concepts or get accused of “straight-washing,” a label Smith has been slapped with for using gender-neutral pronouns in his lyrics.
But could society be at a point where Smith could make music that is more explicitly in line with his personal experience?
“(Smith) did not see his success curtailed when he came out, so it might be interesting to see if his music becomes a little less neutral,” Gale says. “If Sam Smith were to release a song that was explicitly about his same-sex love, if it was a good song, I think it would succeed.”
Thanks to emerging artists, music is inching closer to this more inclusive reality. The Grammy Award-winning duo Great Big World recently released a love song called Hold Each Other, in which singer Chad King, who identifies as gay, made the decision to use masculine pronouns when talking about someone he loves.
This next frontier in music may be closer than we think.

Read the original article from USA Today here:

For Artists With Developmental Disabilities, Dance Provides An Outlet And Inspiration

by Priscilla Frank
Originally Published: August 31st, 2015

"I like to dance. I want to dance. I have to dance.When you do the stage, you want to dance.It makes me feel good, it makes me feel better. Dancing to have fun.Power of dancing when you do have fun.I want to do a better dance.It makes me feel pretty, it makes me feel good.Wonderful powerful good."-Yolanda Ramirez, Creativity Explored artist 

Every Friday, during the last hour of the work day, Creativity Explored hosts a dance party. For the majority of the week, the space operates as a studio space for artists with developmental disabilities to create, exhibit and sell their work. However, for one hour every week, San Francisco-based Creativity Explored shifts gears entirely, transforming into a carefree, inclusive event revolving around rhythm and movement -- one that would probably benefit most work environments.  
The dance party has been an established aspect of Creativity Explored since before most of the current staff began working there. Not everyone participates; some artists sit on the sidelines or jump in for a song they love; others wait days, weeks or even years before gearing up to join the dance.
First, the party begins with a movement circle, in which every dancer enters the middle and performs a certain move or stretch, with the rest of the circle quickly following suit. Next, there is a freestyle dance-a-thon, where all the true-blue dance aficionados can really break it down. Finally, the group finishes off the week by holding hands, closing their eyes, and dancing together. Each dance party is a temporal event unique unto itself. It's a repetitive ritual that's consistent but never mundane.
And for the artists of Creativity Explored, like many self-taught and visionary artists, repetition is at the core of their artistic practice. 
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Lion Tamer Dance Party by Kate Thompson © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, marker on paper, 22 x 30 inches</span>Lion Tamer Dance Party by Kate Thompson © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, marker on paper, 22 x 30 inches
"It makes me feel carefree," Creativity Explored artist Joseph "JD" Green told The Huffington Post of the weekly tradition. "It makes me think of movement, the body. You can do things with your arms and legs at all these different angles. It's fun to draw, like you can really feel the movement."
Inspired by the uplifting power of getting down, Creativity Explored visual arts instructors Leeza Doreian and Mara Poliak have curated an upcoming exhibition on the subject, aptly titled "Dance Party!" 
Both Doreian and Poliak were independently roused by the energy cultivated through the weekly dance parties, a practice they consider, as Poliak explained to HuffPost, "a central axis upon which Creativity Explored spins ... It affects their identities, how they see themselves as people and as artists."
The central touchstone of a dance party offered a unique opportunity for the diverse roster of artists to riff on a shared theme. This is especially unusual given the undeviating nature of most Creativity Explored artists' work. While many fine artists in the gallery circuit emphasize evolution and experimentation as core aspects of the artistic process, many self-taught and visionary artists find an artistic beat and stick to it, for life. 
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption"><span style="font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22.2222232818604px; background-color: #eeeeee;">Boots Riley in The Guillotine by Joseph 'JD'Green © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, mixed media on wood panel, 13.85 x 15.5 inches</span></span>Boots Riley in The Guillotine by Joseph 'JD'Green © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, mixed media on wood panel, 13.85 x 15.5 inches
As a result, it's difficult to find a unifying concept for a Creativity Explored show, one that appeals to those who create personal, representational drawings and repetition-based, abstract systems alike. "Not everyone works figuratively, not everyone wants to draw people dancing," Doreian explained. "So we started thinking: how do we make the container bigger and expand beyond just our dance party? We started thinking of the ephemera and the lights and the clothes people wear and the pop culture associated with it all."
J.D. Green, for example, who feels best drawing creatures, animals and people, created four mixed media pieces inspired by Oakland-based hip-hop, funk and punk group The Coup. In one work, Green rendered a still from the music video for "The Guillotine," as seen through an old fashioned TV set. The old school television directs attention to the near-extinct art of the made-for-TRL music video in today's YouTube age. 
Kate Thompson opts for a more fantastical approach with her detailed line drawing "Lion Tamer Dance Party," which depicts stone-faced cavemen and emotive lions engaging in a stream of dance duets. The lions' expressions vary between enthralled, terrified and entertained, capturing the range of gut feelings you'd expect to experience in a prehistoric hoedown. 
For those artists, however, who prefer not to work with figuration, Doreian and Poliak suggested taking inspiration from the many patterns, textures and abstract visions that manifest themselves, somewhat sneakily, at dance parties. The overwhelmingly popular example: disco balls. "We have a lot of work that is just different representations of disco balls," Poliak said, "wildly different, some very geometric and deconstructed." 
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption"><span style="font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22.2222232818604px; background-color: #eeeeee;">Left: Untitled (Disco Ball) by Paul Pulizzano, Middle: Untitled (Disco Ball) by Ethel Revita, Right: Disco Ball by Ka Wai Shiu, Right:</span></span>Left: Untitled (Disco Ball) by Paul Pulizzano, Middle: Untitled (Disco Ball) by Ethel Revita, Right: Disco Ball by Ka Wai Shiu, Right:
Of all the artists on view, however, only one diverges from the visual arts into the performative. Her name is Yolanda Ramirez. The artist, who normally works with food-centric drawings and needleworks, doesn't usually participate in Dance Fridays. But when a particular song stirs her, she jumps up from her seat and mounts an impromptu dance that stops others in their tracks.
For many of the Creativity Explored artists, dance provides a social outlet and a safe space for community building. But for a select few, dancing is a form of expression in itself. "When she dances in the studio she really is performing," Poliak said. "She demands attention and she is captivating. Both Leeza and I have seen her dance over the years and thought, if only there was a way to share this with a wider audience. One of the things she is is a performance artist."
"It's really oozing out of her pores, that artistry," Doreian continued. "It's very moving for both of us. We both have concerns about not wanting her to look like a spectacle but like an artist. There were some things that had to be considered before making the decision to feature her work as a performance artist that wouldn't apply to other people."
For her two performances, filmed at San Francisco's Roxy Theater, Ramirez moves to a Tango song by Otros Aires and Nina Simone's "I Put A Spell On You." The videos, featuring Ramirez alone on a jet-black stage, are bewitching and disarming, like the performance that followed "Llorando" in Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" that never made it into the film. Ramirez's improvised gestures flow from her fingers to her face to her knees to her feet. She switches characters, giggles, hides behind her hands, jiggles her watch. She's clearly swept up the moment in a way that, for most of us, is only a cliche. 
The multimedia exhibit offers the chance for visual artists to explore the overlap between dance and art, the body and the imagination, improvisation and careful repetition. Despite their differences, both dance and art offer the artists of Creativity Explored an opportunity to communicate in means outside the standard practice -- language. "They're both forms of creative expression, they both exist out of word-based language," Doreian said. "Human expression can be very verbal, and both art and dance offer a different way of being in the world and creating."
"Dance Party!" runs from Oct. 8 to Nov. 22, 2015 at Creativity Explored in San Francisco. 
  • Dancing by Daniel Green © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, marker and correction fluid on paper, 8 x 8 in
  • Burlington Dancers by Valerie Jenkins © 2015 Creativity Explored, mixed media on cardboard, 8 x 6 inches

  • Untitled (Dancing Figure) by Charles Cruz 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, mixed media on paper, 30 x 22.5 inches 
  • Untitled (Disco Ball) by Ethel Revita © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, mixed media on paper, 18 x 22.5 inches
  • Untitled (Lights) by Ian Adams © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, gouache on paper, 18 x 22 inches
  • Disco Ball by Ka Wai Shiu © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, mixed media on paper, 16 x 22 inches
  • The Dancers by Nita Hicks © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, acrylic and marker on paper, 15 x 15 inches
  • Untitled (Dancers) by Kate Thompson © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, marker on paper, 22.5 x 30 inches

Untitled (Disco Ball) by Paul Pulizzano © 2015 Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC, mixed media on paper, 16.5 x 20.5 inches

Read the original article from The Huffington Post here:

How Two Startups Are Working To Change The Diversity Gap In FinTech

by Lydia Dishman
Originally Published: August 31st, 2015

In the tech business, the focus is usually on disrupting the status quo to create products or services people eventually can’t imagine doing without. The financial industry, not so much.
While heritage banks and traditional wealth managers continue to rely on spreadsheets and crunching numbers to assess risk, startups such as Addepar and ZestFinance are aiming to do what their established counterparts are unwilling or unable to try.
Addepar (named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies this year) is like wealth management 3.0. The company has created a financial dashboard for the advisers, working with the 1% to mitigate risk from investment portfolios. ZestFinance, founded by former Google CIO Douglas Merrill, aims to cut risk from lending by analyzing big data.
But the two companies are working on another "outdated" practice that runs deep in both the tech and financial worlds: diversity.
Research suggests that women make better investors than men and are better portfolio managers. Yet they remain underrepresented. Only 23% of certified financial planners are women, a figure that has been unchanged for a decade, according to CFP, the industry’s professional organization.
While the spotlight shines on such Silicon Valley stars as Apple and Intel
for their efforts to bridge the gap that already exists within their ranks, these startups are attempting to push the needle right from their inception.


Barbara Holzapfel, Addepar's CMO, tells Fast Company that overall, 20% of its employees are female. The management team is made up of 30% women, including the CFO, CMO, and the VP of people. With more than three-quarters of its staff under age 35 (and understanding how views of diversity are changing), Holzapfel says the company is actively working toward inclusion of all ages, genders, skills, and backgrounds.
In addition to making sure there are women in leadership roles, Holzapfel says one particularly effective strategy is to actively recruit them from seemingly disparate industries. "In many cases, as long as a candidate shares your vision and core values, you can likely teach them job-specific skills and processes," she asserts. For entry-level positions, Addepar looks to organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, and events like that organization's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Holzapfel says rather than focusing on top schools, Addepar prioritizes attending job fairs at a variety of schools, including all-women colleges.
More importantly, Holzapfel says there is an emphasis within the company to keep having conversations about gender diversity. "We’ve adopted a practice of regular all-hands meetings where we boldly encourage open conversations about the topic, during which men and women can share articles, posts, and personal experiences," she says.
That means that every Monday there is an "ask me anything" session led by Addepar’s CEO Eric Poirier. "It’s a completely open forum where everyone is encouraged to ask questions," Holzapfel says. Poirier’s willingness to have these chats, as well as to invite staff to a recent unconscious-bias training session, is what Holzapfel says made the difference in getting everyone engaged. "It’s really impactful and encouraging for employees to see the CEO kicking off conversations about diversity," she says.
Not only is Poirier the most senior male in the company, he’s also a brand-new parent with a better understanding of and appreciation for having a balanced life. Holzapfel believes that has an impact on everyone at the company, regardless of their gender. "We want employees to feel like their time is their own," she says. In addition to over three months of 100% paid maternity leave, new parents (both men and women) can get up to six weeks of 100% paid leave to bond with their new child. "We offer flexible work hours and unlimited vacation so parents—men and women—feel empowered to take the time they need to spend with their families," she adds.


At ZestFinance, CEO Douglas Merrill takes the company’s role as a job creator seriously and has baked diversity into its corporate culture. Starting from the ground up requires making the decision that diversity is core to winning, he tells Fast Company. "It will never happen if it’s viewed as a side effort heralded by HR people and a few people on the legal team who think it’s important," he maintains.
Currently, more than 40% of its workforce are women and 50% of its C-suite are women. That happened thanks to a careful hiring process that Merrill says surfaces a variety of diverse candidates.
It starts with hiring for "horsepower," that is, the potential to do a multitude of roles at the company. This is better than hiring for specific skills, Merrill says, because it enables the company to consider a much broader spectrum of job candidates.
There is also no hiring manager at ZestFinance. It’s all done by committee. A designated team also assesses candidates based on culture fit. "This way, many people with diverse perspectives are involved in hiring decisions, and all employees rally around a new Zestian to make them feel comfortable and enable them to succeed," he says.
Job candidates do "homework" preparing a presentation for a hypothetical situation in advance of their interview. "We do this to get to know how they think and give them a chance to showcase their horsepower," Merrill says. But it also shows the company wants them to bring their intellect to the table.
Merrill says he encourages employees to hire people who don’t think like them, who might actually annoy them. "We intentionally and actively work to hire people who are different from each other to create broad thinking and make sure we generate the best ideas," he says.
Once employed, Merrill insists that regardless of whether the employee is female or a minority, everyone just wants to work someplace where they can contribute ideas, feel comfortable doing so, and are valued for their unique, distinct viewpoints and contributions. "If you believe diverse perspectives are the key to winning, then you need to actually hear them," he says, "which means you also need a corporate culture that encourages everyone to speak up."
Merrill explains: "Diversity implies different use of language and different assumptions, which means there will be misunderstandings and conflict." That’s not always easy, he says, but it is something that the culture enables, making people feel safe when it does arise.
Holzapfel believes such a a culture change toward greater diversity and inclusion will take time and active management, but she believes the companies that make this a priority will reap disproportionate benefits. "Diversity is one of the single greatest enablers for establishing a strong workplace culture that attracts and retains top talent," she argues, "which in turn leads to more-innovative solutions and results."

Read the original article from Fast Company here:

8 People Who Showed Mental Health Isn't A Taboo Subject & Made The World A Little More Open-Minded

by Hilary Weaver
Originally Published: August 30th, 2015

The death of neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks has brought with it a celebration of the man of many talents. Sacks, 82, died of cancer, but his work and constant wonder of the human brain will undoubtedly be the legacy that follows him. His 1973 book Awakenings examined the lives of people suffering from encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, and was later adapted into a film featuring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. In May 2007, Sacks spoke in a Fresh Air interview about the relationship between the body and the mind — with a mission to bring awareness to a variety of mental health disorders. But Sacks wasn't the only one speaking on the behalf of mental health upkeep. Many people helped the world learn more about mental health.
Although some on this list have chosen to talk about their mental health through essays and interviews, others have left behind legacies that speak louder than their actions or words. In an April piece published by the New York Review of Books, Sacks spoke directly about the need for constant care of the internal self, opening with the below quote.
Nothing is more crucial to the survival and independence of organisms — be they elephants or protozoa — than the maintenance of a constant internal environment.
Here is a handful of other mental health advocates, like Sacks, who remind us of the necessity of mental healthcare. Self care is real, guys. And though that seems to be a modern phrase thrown around these days, this group of people, both living and deceased, would most likely endorse it.

Lena Dunham

Larry Busacca/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
The Girls creator has made a name for herself in the entertainment world, but the outspoken writer has also become an advocate for mental health awareness. She has written both in her book, Not That Kind of Girl, and in her everyday social media interactions about the stigma of depression. Earlier this year, Dunham sent out a post-workout Instagram photo with the below caption. Thanks of the reminder, Lena. We'll all benefit from this attitude.
Promised myself I would not let exercise be the first thing to go by the wayside when I got busy with Girls Season 5 and here is why: it has helped with my anxiety in ways I never dreamed possible. To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it's mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I'm glad I did. It ain't about the ass, it's about the brain.

Virginia Woolf

The famed English writer wrote openly about her own depression, referring to her struggles in her in her essays and novels. She explored these topics often, notably in the novel Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925. Woolf lived with bipolar disorder, and though she ultimately committed suicide, she left her readers with encouraging words of solace, such as, "One cannot find peace by avoiding life."

Robin Williams

After his death in 2014, Williams left a legacy that has helped stamp out the stigma of mental illness. When family members revealed the comedian struggled with depression in his own life, fans and followers alike tuned in to the real-life statistics surrounding mental health in this country.

Demi Lovato

Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
The actress and pop singer has had a noticeable influence on mental healthcare. After checking herself into rehab and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Lovato started Be Vocal: Stand Up for Mental Health, a joint campaign with five mental health organizations.

Lionel Aldridge

The storied football star, who retired from the NFL after 11 seasons, also openly suffered from several bouts of depression, reported The New York Times upon Aldridge's death in 1998. Before his death, Aldridge spoke at symposium in Huntington, New York, about the stigma of mental health, reported the newspaper.
I like myself. I don't have bad days. I deny there is such a thing as paranoia.

John Nash

China Photos/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Nash, on whom the film A Beautiful Mind is based, was schizophrenic and began hearing voices in 1964. Nash and his wife died in a car accident earlier this year but left behind him the message that those who deal with mental illness should not be judged — but rather appreciated — for the ways their minds work.
I thought of the voices as ... something a little different from aliens. I thought of them more like angels ... It's really my subconscious talking, it was really that ... I know that now.

J.K. Rowling

Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
The woman whose mind created the magical wizarding world of Hogwarts has also spoken out about her struggles with depression and contemplation of suicide. Rowling said thoughts of her young daughter persuaded her to get the help she needed, and she has spoken out about her own struggles to be sure others get the help they need, too.

Jared Padalecki

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
In an interview with Variety this year, Gilmore guy and Supernatural star Jared Padalecki revealed that he has struggled with depression. Padalecki launched a T-shirt campaign through with the message "Always Keep Fighting." His message is one to which he can personally relate and is his motivation for supporting mental health organizations such as "To Write Love on Her Arms."

With Sacks' death comes the reminder that while there is still work to do, mental health advocacy has become the mission of actors, writers, scientists alike. Keep speaking up and living out your truths; the world will be better for it.

Read the original article from Bustle here: