Mission Murals:  San Francisco's Exuberant Wall Art

The Mission District of San Francisco is a neighborhood in transition, once the first stop for immigrants from Central and South America, now increasingly a hangout for high-tech hipsters. Despite the changes, the neighborhood remains stubbornly resistant to chain stores and the commercial advertising that defaces so much of the urban landscape. Among the sometimes seedy side streets, exuberant murals adorn walls with vivid colors and shapes representing everyone from Aztec gods to guardians of the women's movement. It almost seems like the Mission's mission as a neighborhood is to refuse to be entirely gentrified but to remain grittily real, passionately committed to its under-represented poor yet altogether unruly and eccentric.  The Mission's murals, like its residents, reflect a refreshing authenticity, a collective love of life amid the everyday struggle to survive.

Quite Early Morning:

The Life, Times and Legacy of Pete Seeger      

An in-depth conversation with Pete Seeger, the legendary folksinger and social activist, at age 88, featuring songs both recorded and sung in-studio. Pete is finally receiving long-overdue appreciation for his immense contributions to American music and culture. An often controversial figure for his uncompromising stands on social and political issues, he was censured in the Fifties by the House Un-American Activities Committee, blacklisted from appearing in mainstream media, and consigned to singing in summer camps till the 1960's. He then helped father the Sixties folk revival that served as the soundtrack for the social movements that shook the conscience of the nation. In the Seventies he turned his attention to cleaning up the Hudson River that ran by his Beacon, New York homestead, campaigning from the deck of the sloop Clearwater. In this intimate conversation, Pete recalls it all through the prism of mellowed memory, his personal reflections on his life, times and his country's future laced with the sounds of his now-quavering but still strong voice and his eternally tuneful banjo. This conversation is a classic affirmation of human possibilities from the stubbornly hopeful spirit of an American folk icon.

Beauty in Broken Places

The Healing Arts of Lily Yeh  

Chinese-born Lily Yeh came to the United States decades ago to study classical Chinese landscape painting but found herself painting very different landscapes in the burnt-out abandoned lots of North Philadelphia. Together with community residents she took broken shards of glass and dinner plates, blasted bricks, and other debris and made them into brilliant mosaics. In the process, she catalyzed the emergence of a remarkable community art project on a grand scale, now called the Village of Arts and Humanities. She has gone on to take her social art to genocide survivors in Rwanda, trash scavengers in Nairobi, and migrant workers' children in Beijing. In this stirring conversation, Lily describes the evolution of her art and heart.


Studs Terkel:  A Heart As Big As The World

Author, actor and oral historian Studs Terkel was a legendary storyteller with a passion for ordinary people with extraordinary gifts. In this video, adapted from an award-winning radio program, Studs describes his life and times from the perspective of nine decades listening to people of every background and belief. A progressive populist with a love of the quirky particularity of humanity, he was an unapologetic liberal intellectual. In this program, drawn from a nonstop three-hour conversation, Studs celebrates the battered but unbowed spirit of extraordinary ordinary Americans.

I made a pilgrimage to Chicago to meet Studs in person after four decades of admiring his work from afar. Uncharacteristically, I prepared three pages of questions in advance, concerned that otherwise I would forget important points. But to no avail:  half an hour into his response to my first question I had to interrupt just to staunch the flow of Studs's stories. He was 94 at the time and had survived the loss of his beloved wife and quintuple heart bypass surgery. But you wouldn't have known it for the brimming vitality of his presence. He arrived carrying half a dozen books of poetry from which he quoted at length during our three hours in studio. At the end of our conversation we sat together for a photo (which is featured at the end of the video). I stood behind him and he gestured back at me with his thumb, mumbling something I chose to take as "He's the man." In any case, for me it was a kind of dharma transmission, a gifting of the story-gathering mantle to a new generation

On our way to lunch, Studs churned down the antiseptic corridors of the spanking new high tech studios of WFMT glancing quizzically left and right. "Jesus Christ!" he growled in his gravelly voice. "Looks like a German Expressionist film, 'cept there's no Marlene Dietrich at the far end!" With that we sat down to lunch, where he ate salmon, sushi, and saki with amiable abandon, talking all the while. As his long-time colleague Steve Robinson drove him back home near Chicago's Loop, I asked Studs the secret of his unconquerable optimism in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. He turned back from his front passenger seat. "Never give up on people," he told me. "Just when you're about to, someone will surprise you." 

Just Keep Goin' On! 

The Temescal Street Fair

Each July for the past ten years, the neighborhood of Temescal in North Oakland has hosted a street fair. In a city known to outsiders as a pale shadow of urbane San Francisco and the urban area with the highest crime rate in the country, Oakland is often found wanting. Maybe it's still living down Gertrude Stein's throwaway comment. "There's no there there," about the hometown she abandoned for Paris. But as this street fair demonstrates, a heart still beats in this other city by the bay, just to a different drummer and perhaps a little faster for having to disprove its reputation. Here, in an hour's stroll on a Sunday afternoon, I found a scrappy resilience and unpretentious ease among its residents. Diverse to a degree few other cities are today, Oakland demonstrates the viability of a truly multicultural society. It's far from utopia but near enough to be real.

Bhutan:  Gross National Happiness

From Private Wealth to Public Well-Being

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This most famous phrase from the U.S. Declaration of Independence places happiness at at the front and center of the role of government. But the economic system that today dominates both the United States and the world is based not on the pursuit of happiness but the pursuit of money and power, almost always at the expense of individual fulfillment or our shared well-being. Several decades ago the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan adopted a very different path of development. Bhutan is sparsely populated and impoverished by Western material standards, but the then sixteen-year-old monarch chose to replace the gauge of Gross National Product (GNP) with Gross National Happiness. More than just a slogan, GNH has been translated, promoted and pursued as a measurable set of societal goals grounded in human values like environmental sustainability and social harmony. In this hour-long program, we hear from Karma Tshiteem, Bhutan's Minister of Happiness, and Richard Conlin, former president of the City Council in Seattle, a city that has given serious consideration to adopting aspects of Bhutan's development plan for its own program of Gross Municipal Happiness.

Life in Slow Mo 

Living Better by Rushing Less

In a global culture dominated by the impatience of youth, counted in nanoseconds and fueled by “just-in-time” supply chains, everything needs to be done “yesterday” since today is no longer soon enough. In this video we’ll hear from two individuals who’ve slowed their pace even as they’ve quickened their creativity and deepened their appreciation for those things that speeding causes us to miss.

John de Graaf, National Coordinator, Take Back your Time; Carl Honoré, author, "In Praise of Slowness"