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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Cats and Monarchs at Art Museum

Video Environments by Diana Thater

By Silvia Uribe

When my editor suggested that I should write about an art exhibit I wondered if he had made a mistake. I'm not an art critic, nor an art connoisseur. However, it is also true that when I see either a piece of art or an exhibition, I know what I like and what I don't. I know if it makes me feel something or if it goes completely over my head. So, shooing my insecurities away, I drove myself to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) to see the exhibition Diana Thater: Butterflies and Other People on its opening day.

The exhibition occupies two of the museum galleries, galleries 10 and 11, using the existing architectural space as a landscape within which to create color-and-light-saturated environments and projections.

The first work in the exhibition is titled "Videowall (Butterflies)" (2008). It is Thater's response to an invitation by three curators in Mexico City to create artwork drawing attention to the threats to the monarch butterflies' winter home in Michoac¡n, Mexico. This multi-monitor piece shows footage of the migratory resting place on six flat-screen monitors that rest on the floor. The placement of the monitors reflect the position of the butterflies upon Thater's arrival-thriving on the forest floor due in part to the increasing lack of forest foliage (where they normally take refuge).

Standing at the entrance of the videowall exhibition, it took me a while to figure out how to best appreciate it. Little by little I walked in. As I approached the video monitors (with certain reservations, I have to admit) I was suddenly sucked into the scene, and into the reddish color that permeated everything, including me. By the time I was amidst those monitors, I became completely oblivious of my surroundings, while I had the most incredible worm-like view of a butterfly posed on a little branch. Its colors and its movements around me were captivating. At times, the view was so up-close that it lacked focus, but that didn't bother me. It felt very natural to be there. I kept looking downwards and around me for several minutes. It liked it there. Somehow, it was a calming experience.

"Perfect Devotion Two" (2005) is the second work in the exhibition, featuring rescued tigers from the Shambala Preserve, a big-cat rescue ranch in Southern California. The subjects of this exhibition are Simba, Mona, and Zo», who were discovered together as cubs. Like most of the cats that live at the ranch, they were rescued from the black market trade of exotic animals, though some are rescued from zoos.

Maybe because I'm more used to watching videos or movies of tigers, I related to this exhibition more easily and quickly. The all around green-lit environment was very inviting. This was the first time I watched a tiger appearing rather confused, not knowing how to react to the stimuli around it. This made the exhibition interesting and fun to watch.

I was curious about such an original artist, and after some research I learned that Thater was born in San Francisco, received her B.A. in Art History at NYU and her M.F.A. at Art Center College of Design, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Her work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Vienna, Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and many others. Recent exhibitions include Diana Thater: gorillagorillagorilla, at the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria (a collaborative project with the Natural History Museum, London, England).

Once again, I was able to confirm how lucky it is for us that we can count on the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a privately funded, not-for-profit institution, to bring to us internationally recognized collections and exhibitions and a broad array of cultural and educational activities, as well as travel opportunities around the world. For more information on these or other exhibits call 805-963-4364 or visit

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Communication Pains

By Silvia Uribe

My Palm phone broke down, leaving me with only a very few of the 400-plus contact numbers I used to have. My virtual Rolodex was thick -- much as the old fashioned ones that you could hardly turn due to the very many cards attached to them -- remember? As you can imagine, I'm mad. Really mad. Although I recognize that this might not be the best time for me to sit down and write a column, I'm still writing it. My frustration needs an escape valve before my family unjustly suffers the consequences.

Yes, I know, it was really dumb of me to trust that a cell phone should last past its 1-year manufacturer's warranty. One year and 3 months. That's how long mine lasted. I also know I should have backed all that information up somewhere else, and I didn't do it. Please, never neglect such an important step. I didn't do it because, believe it or not, as much as I depend on technology, I've never had a phone that wasn't reliable until now. I was kind to it. During the time that I had my Palm phone, I didn't drop it, and I was careful in the way I handled it. Well, this didn't do the trick. For the first time in my life, my phone died in front of my eyes, and I - or anyone else - wasn't able to bring it back to life. Complete drama!

Having to replace my phone, I went yesterday to the AT&T phone store located behind La Cumbre Plaza. I asked as many questions as I was able to come up with. My visit to the store lasted longer than it usually takes me to buy clothes. However, I never asked about compatibility. That was my mistake. I cannot attribute any wrongdoing to Alex, the sales representative who helped me. He offered great customer service, and answered every single question I had. The "Samsung Impression" looked good to me and I got it.

Earlier today, I showed the new phone to my daughter. With that built-in technological ability that the new generation has, she was able to figure it out completely in no time - programs, compatibility and all features, allowing me to immediately realize that this, maybe, was not the phone for me. The problem is that the phone can communicate (or synchronize) with most email providers except for Google, and guess what? I run my life on Gmail, Google Calendar, Google spread sheets, you name it. I need to get my emails, to transfer data, and do all sorts of things. Impossible!

She also identified another problem. The computer software that syncs to this phone recognizes multimedia (pic, videos and music) but not data files stored in computers.

Now, I have to go back to AT&T, return the "Impression" (according to Alex I have a 30-day grace period) and search for a new telephone. This is driving me totally crazy, as you can imagine. I'm not exaggerating. Here's the thing. Buying a phone is, to me, like buying shoes. The damn thing needs to be comfortable to handle, and not too small or too big. I also need for the numbers, letters, and whatever appears on the screen to be in a readable size (for me). And, I want a slick and slim phone, with a decent keyboard, or at the very least, with a virtual keyboard. Ah, and as I just explained: a phone that is able to "sync" with Google. If you are aware of such a phone - other than the iPhone - please let me know. I'm in a cheap state of mind, due to the recession, and paying thirty bucks a month for the Internet service seems a little excessive when I can get it in any other phone for ten.

Well, after my rant, I hope my bad experience serves you well. Learn from what happened to me, or be reminded, and always back your data up. The next time you shop for a cell phone, make sure that it is compatible with whatever service providers or programs that you use the most. Communication and compatibility are as important for humans as they are for machines. For humans, to live a happier, better life around those with whom we come in contact, and for technology so it can make us more efficient.

Wish me luck!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Old Town Frown

Neglected Strip Has Potential to Be the Heart of Our City

By Silvia Uribe

Since its inception in 2002, the Goleta City government has worked tirelessly so that we Goletanos can have the quality of life that we enjoy. We've seen them spend endless meeting hours and staff time throughout the years to get our General Plan approved. Our city is more efficient and better organized. As the city Web site states: "Goleta remains a beautiful and safe small town community, with family-friendly neighborhoods, that values the environment, agriculture, and open space while providing housing, recreation and business opportunities."

The City of Goleta has considered not only our present needs, but also the future. It hosted a series of workshops, in which many committed members of our community got together to talk about what Goletanos want. Thanks to that concerted effort, in 2007 the city adopted the Strategic Plan, which provides direction about what our values are, where we are going, and how we intend to get there. This is it, stripped down to its principles:

1. Advocate Goleta's interest at the local, state, and federal level

2. Sustain sound fiscal and budgetary policy

3. Promote a healthy business climate.

4. Build, retain, and support highly qualified staff.

5. Enhance communication and services to the community.

6. Protect and preserve agriculture, environment, and open space.

7. Implement general plan measures.

8. Promote comprehensive housing programs.

9. Protect and promote character, quality, and diversity of neighborhoods.

10. Emphasize Old Town revitalization.

11. Create parks and recreation opportunities.

12. Enhance public safety and emergency preparedness.

13. Improve and maintain city infrastructure.

It was clear to those who participated that this was not a "to do" list in which our government would check things off and move to the next item. This is the criteria that the city government needs to work on constantly to ensure that we're going in the right direction according to our core mission and values.

Of all these 13 points, number 10 is the one with which I have an issue. I don't know about you, but I, like many of my friends, have a serious case of Old Town "frownitis," and it hurts badly. Every time I drive by the area, that wrinkle between my eyes gets deeper. I've heard for years now that this part of our city is going to be rejuvenated, beautified; that trees and plants are going to ornament both sides of Hollister, that the community will look forward to hanging out there, and that by having more foot traffic, opportunities for businesses will be increased. The question is-when? No remedy for my condition at sight yet. And, if they take much longer, not even Botox will help.

I frown because Old Town has the potential to be the heart of our city, as opposed to the plain, unattractive, almost neglected looking strip that it is now. I understand there are infrastructure problems that need to be solved first. Well then, let's start working on those.

There is another potential benefit of paying immediate attention to Old Town. The more lively and people-friendly it is, the less crime the area will have. Gangs will not be able to claim it as part of their turf, and, with more lighting and curbs, residents won't fear for their safety at night.

Of all the points in the Strategic Plan, the beautification of Old Town seems to be the only one that our government has ignored. Yet this one project, when completed, could be a point of pride for our city, and the legacy of our city leaders. Future generations will know the names of those who make this miracle happen. Will our current city government and its leaders take on this project? Will the community be proactive in writing letters or calling City Council to let their voice be heard on this issue?

Change doesn't happen in one day. But it won't happen at all unless we take the first steps to make it happen. I don't want to wait any longer for a community-welcoming Old Town. Do you?

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Heroes Among Us

By Silvia Uribe

It seems that most of us mid-lifers have a past life, or maybe more than one. Most of us have had more than one career, more than one love, more than one hobby, and many things of which we are proud. We have also, no doubt, had our share of mistakes, mishaps, confusions and (some more so than others) disappointments. I'm talking about general experiences that gave birth to the "persona" we are today. However, we keep many of those experiences as best kept secrets, known only to a few, even within our family.

I recently attended two memorial services for my friends Lloyd Saatjian and Metta Thomsen, both at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara. During each eulogy it was obvious how rich their lives were, how accomplished they were, and how many lives they touched. They weren't celebrities, and they weren't particularly rich either. In fact, most would consider them individuals who lived under very normal circumstances. Nevertheless, once the details were revealed, it was clear that their lives were uniquely fruitful -- and particularly surprising -- to the many who gathered to honor them.

Whether it was working to benefit the field workers alongside Cesar Chavez (like Lloyd), or at the school kitchens offering salad bars years ago when these were unheard of (like Metta), my friends were recognized more for their service to others --

and for the impact they had in others' lives -- than for their family name, their wealth, or their business interests.

Time and again when I hear personal stories, I notice that compassion is one characteristic that makes us remember people, and be remembered. As a side note, this is very much in contrast with what the media tells our children to admire: power, money, position, fame.

It's too bad that we must wait until people are no longer with us to hear those stories. I wish we could hear them while people are alive so we could follow the example of those, for the most part, unknown heroes who live among us.

It doesn't take much effort. For example, during my trainings on diversity, I ask participants to share with the group about something in their life that would generally take others a long time, maybe years, to find out. That's the moment when the juicy stuff comes out. Usually, in a shy way, people share about their accomplishments, their proud moments in life, or about some hard lesson that changed their life forever, and made them who they are today. The real persons start emerging, and individuals start developing certain admiration for each other.

No matter the setting, whether it is during training or during a casual conversation with friends or acquaintances, it usually takes only one question to start people on sharing who they really are. Contrary to popular believe, if we are authentically interested, people generally don't find questions to be intrusive. Most are happy to talk about themselves, and reveal their stories. They are happy to let us be the recipients and the beneficiaries of their wisdom.

We shouldn't wait so long to learn from others or to share our experience. We all have a life to live and a story to tell. Sometimes we listen, and sometimes we share.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at