Dr. Hank Hine, The Dali Museum
Dr. Hank Hine talks diving in with Dali - how art spurs innovation, dialogue and well-being
On this episode of SPx, Ashley and Joe are joined by Dr. Hank Hine, Executive Director of the Dali Museum. Since Dr. Hine's tenure began in 2002, he has overseen the museum's move to its magnificent home at the anchor of Beach Drive and its many special exhibits highlighting Dali's connection and influence on the art community. Dr. Hine talks his role in reframing the Dali Museum's relationship with the business community via the Innovation Labs and highlights Dali's role as "nexus" for a multitude of artists, mediums and subjects throughout the years.
- Dr. Hank Hine has been running the Dali Museum - one of St. Petersburg's most impressive collections - since 2002.
- After 16 years, one might think that working with a museum so focused on the work of one artist might get tiring. Not so, according to Dr. Hine, "Dali is this nexus through which so much stuff passes...we’re able to actually reach through him like into a magic bag and just pull out almost anything that would be of substance and use to people."
- Dr. Hine's greatest lesson so far? "Art is a way of people learning about themselves and about the world, their response to the world."
- The Dali formalizes its role as an educational institution through its work in the Innovation Labs. The Innovation Labs offer multiple lab environments that break businesses out of their corporate setting and use Dali's art to bend imaginations and encourage creativity.
- The Innovation Labs are a natural use for Dali's work, says Dr. Hine, Dali and his wife Gala invented the first subscription program, the Zodiac Group, "Dali loved business or at least he allowed his wife to push him into business."
- What happens in the Innovation Labs? "It creates a context in which you loosen up your assumptions and can devise new relationships."
- The Dali Museum has managed to flip the script of the usual philanthropic ask for art museums - with the Innovation Labs - they can provide value - "what we found is that we have something of value and we’re willing to share that with you and here it is. We can help you with the things you’re interested in, we can help you in your own line of interest, we can help you solve business problems through our art."
- The Innovation Labs recently added a Women Empowerment Lab that works with non-profits, "We’re doing work for CASA and for Dress for Success. In that organization, women are expected to rally in a way that they just haven’t had the advantages to know how to do, so they really need the boost of trying to reimagine their lives."
- "If there’s one lifelong struggle I’ve had in my profession, it’s to take art out of its compartment that separates it from other aspects of culture and living. It’s not anything different, it’s a way of experiencing the world, it’s like travel, it’s travel of the eye and the mind and the heart in a contemplative isolated situation, but it’s not of a kind other than other experiences."
- The Innovation Labs are meeting businesses where they are most focused - the need for innovation. "the statistics we have show that a desire for capabilities in innovative thinking have come up as the top priority for the largest 500 businesses year after year."
- As for Dr. Hine's self-expression: "I’m a writer and I enjoy that… and the experience of trying to be really aware of my family, my kids, their growth."
- When Dr. Hine and his wife decided to renovate their house, they painted poignant words on it, contributed from each of their lists. As their renovations came to completion, they left just one word, shared jointly on their lists - "aspire."
- Legislators continue to push STEM education, but Dr. Hine sees this as the wrong approach, "What’s the 21st century skill? How to talk to one another without being ferocious and angry and disappointed; dialogue."
- The Junior Decent at The Dali program aids in the development of dialogue, "kids would come in during the summer and they would choose a work of art, they’d learn about it from high school teachers that we’d help them attach a vocabulary to how they felt."
- Dr. Hine and his wife are also heavily involved in Friends of Northshore Elementary, "We’re really interested in trying to do what we can to raise the public schools to get away from that horrific term "failure factories" and think that our schools are as good as we make them."
- Virtual Reality is an up-and-coming tool in museums across the country as well. One such exhibit Dr. Hine recently experienced highlighted crossing the border as an undocumented immigrant. "You have eight minutes of this incredibly intense experience which makes for a marvelous empathy for human beings that are in that situation."
- There are many possibilities surrounding the future of art, one thing Dr. Hine is certain of: "I think that one thing I’m absolutely confident of is that art will be inextricably engaged with our general wellbeing in the future and we will not be healthy, well individuals without art, whatever form art takes in."
- That is increasingly apparent as the Dali Museum continues to create partnerships throughout the community, particularly with institutions like John's Hopkins All Children's Hospital. According to Dr. Hine, their partnership shows how: "medicine and art are inextricably bound and probably will be good for both practices ultimately."
"We’re not an art museum primarily, we’re actually an educational institution that uses art to try to give people a better vision of their lives and a better understanding of their world."
Agile Education: Art teaches dialogue, self-understanding
Part eight in a series
"The American tax code is a terrific thing because it inspires generosity."
Table of Contents
(0:00 – 1:05) Introduction
(1:05 – 2:14) Why Salvador Dali?
(2:14 – 3:09) The Art of Curation
(3:09 – 7:04) The Innovation Lab
(7:04 – 10:36) The Power of Personal Branding
(10:36 – 14:19) Identity Crises
(14:19 – 19:10) The Financial Sustainability of Art
(19:10 – 21:06) Common Business Issues at the Innovation Labs
(21:06 – 24:10) Self-Expression
(24:10 – 32:57) Manufactured Rarity
(32:57 – 34:36) 21st Century Values in Parenting
(34:36 – 37:39) Involvement in Schools
(37:39 – 40:23) Inspiring Artists
(40:23 – 46:39) The Museum of the Future
(46:39 – 52:42) Art and Wellbeing
(52:42 – 53:38) Shout-outs
(53:38 – 54:29) Conclusion
Joe: We are on SPx and we are graced with the company of Dr. Hank Hine, the executive director of the Salvador Dali museum. Welcome!
Hank: Thank you, it’s great to be here.
Ashley: I feel like we’re in the presence of a big mind. There are a lot of directions this podcast could go.
Ashley: Audiences should buckle in.
Hank: Well I can feel my big mind being constrained by headphones so it’s not likely to expand…
Joe: Squeeze in.
Ashley: Right. We like to level the playing field right at the gate and make sure that our guests are on the same pages as the hosts, so…
Joe: I was looking at your history which was quite impressive. And a good question with your great pedigree and your presumed high intelligence, which I feel comfortable saying, how do you feel about spending so many years of your life linked to one artist, to be so inexorably linked to that person and put so much of many, many valuable years to one…?
Hank: It’s a great question. It would seem on the face of it to be constraining but it’s not because Dali is this nexus through which so much stuff passes. There’s his interest in science, the fact that he was a writer, his involvement in the midst of Europe at the time of all this chaos and war, his interest in the structure of living things with the DNA interest, and then his influence on other artists. So we’re able to actually reach through him like into a magic bag and just pull out almost anything that would be of substance and use to people. And that’s been the joy of it for 16 years.
Joe: So you can actually use him as a springboard into pretty much anywhere you want to dive.
Hank: Absolutely, I think so, yeah.
Joe: That’s nice.
Ashley: And what have you learned about the art of curation over the course of your career? What’s changed about how you are orienting guests to works of art?
Hank: I think what I’ve learned personally and what I hope our institution has learned is that art is a form of education, it’s a method of educating people about values. And I think we sometimes put art as a sort of silo, it’s a discipline, it’s art, it’s good, it’s good for you, it may not taste good, but that’s art. Art is a way of people learning about themselves and about the world, their response to the world. And personally I’ve learned that we’re not an art museum primarily, we’re actually an educational institution that uses art to try to give people a better vision of their lives and a better understanding of their world.
Joe: And you formalize that a bit with the Innovation Lab, you’re actually producing learning and even business results through that process. What was the genesis of that and are there any other fine fellows – obviously bating that – that work with you?
Hank: Yeah. Well… the Innovation Labs, it just seems so logical and I have the pleasure of working with this amazingly fluid guy, Nate Schwagler, who is really in tune with modes of thought, modes of speech. I’m a slow speaker, he’s a fast speaker and it’s a really interesting relationship. He knows what’s going on over the technology horizon, he knows what’s new and what’s in people’s minds so he’s a terrific person to work with. Recently we just added Kim McQuarrie too, who came out of USF’s Invention Lab and she’s amazing too, and she has a similar background to my own, she loves literature. But the Innovation Lab – Dali would seem like it wouldn’t have taken that long to discover this idea. Dali loved business or at least he allowed his wife to push him into business, they invented the first subscription program. It’s 1929 and the world has fallen into depression, he’s an unknown artist but she brings all her social connections and she invents this thing called the Zodiac Group, 12 people and she gives them the privilege of having one Dali work for a subscription fee. So in 1929 they’re able to travel to Paris, in a couple of years go to New York and he’s able to devote himself to his work. Well, then what did he devote himself to? This is kind of the origin of the concept – I think – of the Innovation Labs at the Dali, and that is he said, ‘I’m a writer but I can design women’s clothes. I can do dance performances and dress the dancers. I can create sets for films. I can make films. I will make a video.’ He made the first artist video in the ‘50s. But he invented himself as this – essentially a brand. He discovered that the thing that tied everything together was his vision, his vision of the malleability of the world, the elasticity of identity, the way that his gender is not entirely fixed, he’s not conventional, he’s not conventional in any way. But what holds it all together is that vision, the world is in flux and I’m the voice to explain that to you. So first time I was looking at trying to figure out how he could be both a writer and a video maker and a performance artist and a painter was about the time that the iPhone was coming out. And I was thinking, ‘Okay, now they’re making phones, they make computers, they made this mp3 player. It’s about design, it’s about this elegant vision of the hand and our relation to the world.’ And it was their design sense, their brand that united everything, so that seemed clear. But Nate and I met up in 2011 and we talked to each other about what we were interested in doing and this was congruent interest, so we started the idea of the lab. The first lab we held was actually in 2012 so we’ve been kicking it around for a while.
Ashley: What can one expect to occur in the Innovation Lab?
Hank: Well, you’ll learn a vocabulary of framing problems so that they will yield to your own ideas, to your own solutions. That’s essentially it. It creates a context in which you loosen up your assumptions and can devise new relationships.
Joe: It takes a certain gravitas to get people comfortable in that framework. The environment has to be such that it overpowers their reservations to do that, to be creative. And I think you see some of that in Dali himself – being in the branding business – I think for him to be able to do that, to do and be all these wonderful things you just mentioned, I think that how much of that is the right that he earned because of the brand that was created around him? Some of the times you look at people who have this perspective cast upon them and they’re able to say things that if you saw somebody saying it to you on a street corner you would think something pretty differently, right? And so a lot of that is a unique opportunity and so I wonder, how much of that is in – all people obviously have a very extraordinary mind, but it begs the question how – the process that allowed him the freedom to do that and to have that positive feedback for him doing that, how can we replicate that for everyone?
Hank: I’m not sure how you can, it’s a good question, Joe – how you can replicate it. But I also want to add that he had some bad ideas and he mismanaged his persona in a way that we’ve had to untangle because a lot of people right away have a feeling about Dali and it’s usually pretty binary. ‘Oh, he’s great, I love him since I was a kid,’ or, ‘He’s pompous and a showman and his art can’t be good.’ And we don’t want to have to convert people, we want to just receive them. So we’ve had to separate ourselves from that persona. When he was around and always clowning in the media and bulging eyes and the sense of madness… And apparently, he wasn’t like that, apparently, he was a very shy person. And in a group like ours, the three of us, he would be very self-revealing and modest. But as soon as there was a camera then he would start acting. So we had to say okay, that persona has cast a big shadow and that shadow has covered a lot of his work, and we want people to see the work. So we have to – we did away with that, we don’t identify ourselves at the museum as Dali’s personality. So we’re interesting, we try to be profound but we’re not weird.
Joe: And I think that actually supports what I was saying, is that he was enabled by that persona but also then sometimes trapped by it, right? I’m a huge Hunter S. Thompson fan, he suffered from that, right?
Joe: So he found this thing that worked and gave him all the ears and readers and eyeballs that he could handle but then it had forced him to be that to the point of madness essentially.
Ashley: But doesn’t that duality and that dark side also feed into the overall notoriety of the persona? You think you capitalize on that duality and…
Joe: Capitalizing in but being trapped by it at the same time I would say.
Hank: Yeah. I think that fascination that he engendered can be a kind of narcotic.
Ashley: We can’t readily access our madness, right? It’s not socially acceptable for us to access dark within our social constraints, so it’s probably very liberating to tap into those individuals that were able to do it and still be successful and still experience fame and approval and all those things that we’re after.
Hank: Yeah. And perhaps that’s one of his appeals too, is that you see wow, look at the things he was frightened of, oppressed by, unable to cope with. Look how he emerged as an independent free spirit. So if he can do it with those weird obsessions, I can do it.
Ashley: Right. I can tell somebody about my hoarding problem – no, I really don’t have a hoarding problem.
Joe: I’m gonna go trash a hotel room tonight, rock star style, I’m doing it.
Ashley: Right now, let’s do it, we’re gonna – can we wrap early? So I’m curious, you’ve talked about identity, and Joe I think you had this conversation with Nate earlier or maybe last year and the malleability around identity. And sort of a personal question, but over your life have you found yourself in identity crisis at certain points where you’ve made some big decisions, or you’ve gone through something that has changed the trajectory of your life?
Hank: Yeah, I don’t have any stories that would create the most beautiful narrative arc for you that would descend into the darkness and then being retrieved.
Ashley: Because you’re very positive.
Hank: I make those up sometimes about how my wife and I met, how she rescued me, I was being held by terrorists and… But no, it’s…
Ashley: Good wedding toast.
Hank: For me life has – I think I’ve had a very fortunate life, but it’s been a series of trying to take off the veils, the shrouds of understanding and try to always get to a better place – get to a better place of understanding, get to a better place of performance, trying to be better as a manager, better as a thinker, better as a father, better as a husband. I think that that is the goal, and you never can get there. And as I get older I realize… I always thought I’d get into the clear, that finally I’d get through the thicket and there would be the meadow and there would be the deer grazing. But you know what? You’re always in the thicket.
Ashley: I think the disillusionment is just pervasive and it’s non ending, and I think that to your point – I think individuals go through episodes in their life where they’re able to clear away a good amount and achieve a certain amount of clarity that can push them into new realms but I think it’s just only a matter of time before you enter a new realm of disillusionment and I think it’s through artists like Dali that we’re able to connect with our own process, good/bad.
Joe: If you had to articulate what you suspected that clearing will look like as you’re approaching it how would you do that?
Hank: Well it would be probably have the same failing that Dante’s ‘Paradiso’ has. It’s really boring [laughing] once all the peaks and valleys and the high contrast and…
Ashley: …and the coping mechanisms and yeah.
Hank: Yeah. The ‘Inferno’ is more interesting. And of course he has ‘Beatrice’ there too, and ‘Virgil’. But in terms of why we love our work, I think going back to the innovation labs – it’s lovely to have an institution that is easier to mark the progress of than one’s own life, right? Then one of the things at the Innovation Lab that’s really wonderful is that we set this up to be of use, to have a different relationship as a museum to our business community. All our colleagues are always out there saying, ‘We’re worthwhile, you need to support us.’ And we’ve tried that too. And that’s not a pleasant relationship to be in, so what we found is that we have something of value and we’re willing to share that with you and here it is. We can help you with the things you’re interested in, we can help you in your own line of interest, we can help you solve business problems through our art. And although we thought our clients were gonna continue to be businesses and perhaps the occasional institution – actually our first client was USF Children’s Health – it’s turned out that we have some not-for-profits and we’re doing work for CASA and for Dress for Success. In that organization, women are expected to rally in a way that they just haven’t had the advantages to know how to do, so they really need the boost of trying to reimagine their lives. And so the Innovation Labs is doing something really important in that realm and I’m very proud of that.
Joe: Speaking of the business community and all the business of art, it seems that most of the art institutions in St. Pete at least and perhaps everywhere with just some few exceptions, operate more as philanthropically-driven organizations, simply they need to financially, their ticket sales and memberships and whatnot aren’t able to pay the bills and so they often rely on donations. And obviously you see people who are putting other kinds of art, modern art and people putting CDs out that could maybe be looked up to but that aren’t making millions and millions of dollars. And so it’s always an interesting juxtaposition of the kinds of media that are out there profitable or having a profitable existence, and art in this sense always ends up not to be. Do you have any thoughts of why that is? Why does art come to a place in our society where it’s not really financially self-sustaining for the most part as a whole?
Hank: Yeah, I think there are a couple of factors. One is just the basis of patronage. The art of our historical eras starting back in the renaissance, those were not not-for-profits looking for corporate funds. Those were talented individuals who were taken in by a monarch or someone of great influence and forced to serve their interests, partly their interest in representing their family – here is the annunciation, right? And Mary’s gonna be my niece, Helen and Gabriel is gonna be my brother, but when he was much younger. And then I’m gonna show this at the Christmas gathering. So artists were in service of a patron then just as they are in service of a patron now. We try to pretend that we’re completely independent, but we need to serve that patron, which is now for an organization like ours which is visitor driven, it’s the visitors. So we have to serve them in that way.
Joe: Interesting. So yeah, the patronage aspect of it I think works today as it did in the past in your example where you have wealthy individuals who are commissioning artists. And I think that still has the same financial viability to some extent that it did in the past. What’s unique and new now is the private museum and that specifically seems to be the place where the financial viability is the biggest struggle.
Hank: And the museums that are proliferating as private museums are an interesting case. They haven’t been around long enough in our era – although there was this thing called the Getty which is a century old – to really understand what the fallout is. But perhaps the problems of museums and their viability is partly of our making as museum directors, museum boards. If there’s one lifelong struggle I’ve had in my profession, it’s to take art out of its compartment that separates it from other aspects of culture and living. It’s not anything different, it’s a way of experiencing the world, it’s like travel, it’s travel of the eye and the mind and the heart in a contemplative isolated situation, but it’s not of a kind other than other experiences. And I think when we say, ‘Well, that’s – no – we can’t do that, our standards are too high,’ then I think that’s a problem, and this is why I really support the new media and art that’s being produced by people who are on the vanguard who are looking at new ways of doing it. Because that mix is so much better. So there’s a group called OK Go…
Ashley: All their videos are works of art.
Hank: They’re works of art and it’s their mode of expressing their music, through these incredibly well-designed video experiences, environmental.
Ashley: And they don’t stop rolling, so they call ‘action’ and then they run rolling until the end of the videos, I don’t know if you’ve noticed that. I have a five-year old who actually preferred watching OK Go videos instead of Elmo growing up. Essentially those were his lullabies but…
Hank: That’s the audience we want.
Ashley: Yeah, he was fascinated by it, they would line up treadmills and they would do an entire enactment. I think they shot one with zero gravity where they were just basically all floating around some cargo and releasing balloons and confetti and you think to yourself, ‘How many takes have you done?’ but I think they’re one of the only current artists that are actually that really immersive, integrated approach to art and music and videography, it’s great.
Hank: Yeah, they’re terrific. And then there’s another one where they do this, Rube Goldberg, elaborate thing, which is like if that isn’t surrealism, one thing causing an absolutely errant effect and achieving the most minimal thing at the end through all this elaborate paraphernalia that it’s like a terrific metaphor for the aspirations of our lives.
Ashley: And it’s one take too, which I found fascinating. So I had a question and I don’t want to deviate from that, but when we think about… you spoke about the delineation that we essentially impose onto other facets of our lives and you’re really working to blend the two together. And without disclosing any specific clients over the last couple of years with the Innovation Labs, what common paralytic complaint or issue have you seen very common amongst the businesses that you’re working with that just continue to resonate year after year?
Hank: Well, the statistics we have show that a desire for capabilities in innovative thinking have come up as the top priority for the largest 500 businesses year after year.
Ashley: So what does that problem look like? We’re stagnant, we can’t grow… what complaints are you solving for?
Hank: Well we’re in this business mode where if you don’t innovate you either get pushed off out of the market or acquired and so it’s a survival impulse to innovate and that seems to be the predominant value that CEOs are looking for when they hire – which is a little disturbing since in the rankings I’ve seen ethics is well below that, or experience. They want new ideas because they can here the hounds on their tail.
Joe: Yeah, to some extent now experience can, and many opportunities, be a negative. It’s the entrenched… it’s getting harder and harder for 40s, 50s and 60s folks to compete with the malleability of the younger folks.
Ashley: Right because it fosters a hardened bias that’s hard to work through if…
Joe: And change increases at an exponential rate, so the ability to cope with that is…
Ashley: I feel like you and I are talking to one another right now and we’re utterly disappointed in one another, so professional performance…
Joe: I had worked so hard to get my typing speed up to 70 words a minute and now it just doesn’t matter anymore.
Ashley: It’s not good enough.
Joe: So how do you express yourself? You reflect through the museum Salvador Dali’s art. What’s your way of self-expression?
Hank: Well I’m privileged to have to direct a museum and that’s a pretty eloquent tool. For years I’ve made limited editions with artists and writers and you would create your own inks, grind the pigments and varnishes and you have hand made papers and it would take months to print an edition and you do an edition of 30. And then you’d put it somewhere and it would be seen in its lifetime by a few dozen people and if you’re lucky you sold one, there were like 30 presses competing for ten collectors. So to put something out at the museum and have it be seen by 3,000 people in an afternoon is pretty wondrous, it’s very liberating. My other tools besides the museum are personal writing, I’m a writer and I enjoy that… and the experience of trying to be really aware of my family, my kids, their growth. I have two young kids and two mature kids but I’m still a father to them all and watching their development which never ceases is a terrific joy.
Joe: I was trying to set you up for the house story too.
Joe: You had a unique way of painting your house.
Hank: Yes, well I’m a writer and my wife’s a builder and so when we were stripping our house down and renovating the kitchen, which as everybody knows, the kitchen touches every part of the house, you never just renovate a kitchen – I thought well, since we’re in shambles let me propose that we do a kind of poem on the house and we’ll just have words. And my wife as a builder was able to put in really cool construction words, like ‘substantial completion’ and ‘plumb’ and so I just tried to find domestic equivalents. So we had these words that were painted grey on a grey house. And a reporter actually enquired, said, ‘Do you mind if I write about your house?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, okay…’ And the first thing she did was to call the city and see if I was in violation of some code.
Joe: It’s a great story.
Hank: [laughing] It reminds me of a story my dad told me. He ended up as a physician, but he wanted to be a journalist and his uncle said, ‘No, Charles, you don’t want to be a journalist. A journalist will never leave an honest man alone.’ So I was reminded of that when all I was doing was putting words on my house and I was being asked if I was in violation of city codes and whether I would be required to promptly remove them. Apparently, you can paint on your house if you want to. It’s your house.
Joe: Yeah, liberating.
Ashley: And you’ve since covered over some of the lettering with the exception of one word, correct?
Hank: Yeah. We kept the word ‘aspire’ which was a common word on our lists.
Joe: So I have to jump back because one thing that’s of great interest to me, I actually have the first couple of chapters of a book written entitled ‘Manufactured Rarity’ and I feel like you would’ve come through that with a deep understanding of that’s an unlimited edition world, right? So I’ve always been in this space of collectibles, whether it would be sports or music and now with my sons into Pokémon. And there was one piece of cardboard it is worth ten cents and another piece of cardboard is worth $20. And all of that is tied around really created manufactured rarity, right? There’s just a company somewhere, a factory that says, ‘I’ll press the button to print 12 times or I’ll press the button to print 12,000 times.’ And you go through that same process by baking in the quality, which is some of the processes you talked about to create the limited editions, but then you also said that you’re competing for the same ten collectors. So as best as you can, can you explain how much control you felt you had over those ten collectors? And to some extent it’s got to be selling them on why your rarity is better than the other rarity, why it’s a better investment. And some of that can be the tangible things like the quality of the process, but a lot of that is gonna be the intangible properties. So I’m just curious what your experience is on manufactured rarity.
Hank: I loved that term, ‘baked in’ that you used, Joe. That was really cool. Yeah, you try to bake in a certain quality and have the heat of production not alter that vision, keep it alive and intact. But then you go into another phase which is to try to present that to someone else. And I fully believe that things are eloquent in themselves, a table speaks, a room, a house… but sometimes they don’t speak in the right way to make the sale, so you have to learn that sense of persuasion. And this really informs something which is my great interest and that is our education system and how we educate people. We need to learn how to be our best ambassadors about what’s inside us and what we care about and also to discuss things that are controversial in ways that are not inflammatory. So rhetoric I think it’s what’s missing from our educations now. Everyone, particularly legislators who are putting their heavy hand on our school systems are saying, ‘Our kids must learn 21st century skills.’ And in the same breath they will say, ‘21st century skills are writing code and programming.’ I think nothing could be less true. Machines are gonna write code. I’m gonna just call out that I want a double espresso and also, I want a code that will allow my app to do such and such. And it’s gonna be written because it’s just formulaic. What’s the 21st century skill? How to talk to one another without being ferocious and angry and disappointed; dialogue. We’re having a program which came out of a wonderful discussion. There was a guy named Fernandez who was head of the psychology department at USF’s medical school and I was telling him about one of our programs which we’ve already started, it was started by Peter Tush long ago and it’s our junior docent program. And kids would come in during the summer and they would choose a work of art, they’d learn about it from high school teachers that we’d help them attach a vocabulary to how they felt. But it was how they felt – ‘I hate that work,’ or, ‘This work scares me,’ or, ‘Okay, let’s see how you can communicate that to someone else.’ So they learned to attach language to feelings they had. And I explained this to him and he said, ‘You’re solving what’s an epidemic problem in our community.’ And he said, ‘What age are they?’ And I said, ‘Nine to twelve,’ he said, ‘That’s the group, these preteens are most vulnerable, they don’t have a developed sexual identity, they don’t have money,’ – in this time, when we started this, they didn’t have cell phones, they don’t have the power. So they’re really subject to intense personal misgivings and there’s a lot of suicide in that age. So he said, ‘What you’re doing is you’re increasing their self-esteem by being able to talk with confidence about how they feel.’ So that’s a subgroup, right? Nine to twelve. But whatever our ages are that’s what we need to learn, and I think our education system needs to be shifted in that way.
Joe: And they didn’t have the ultimate permanent record either because you make one mistake on social media and it’s there forever and replicable to everyone and shareable instantly. And if you suffer of one of those or even just the fear of that happening can be so dramatizing that it… I think that’s a leap that we took forward in technological capability that developmental twins, I guess that’s what their called, haven’t caught up to that yet.
Hank: So if I could ask what are we doing for kids to give them resiliency against that really perilous kind of vulnerability that technology establishes?
Joe: And I know of a lot of programs, we worked with a program called the Social Blackbelt with Dr. Harold Shinitzky, he’s a Johns Hopkins guy that’s in town. And so the problem is certainly out there and there are people attacking it. The first thing that came into my mind when you said that was that I think we’re going to have a tipping point where the new cycle we’ll call it, whether it would be the national or even what we call the local news cycle which is just a peer group in a school, will move so fast and be so full of content that the intensity of one piece of content will get lost. It’s almost the herd mentality, right? If you look back historically, if you wanted to have a verbal fight with someone before the Internet you actually had to go into a public place and say the words into their face, and so there was a certain sense of gravitas and intensity that went around that action, right? And now we move technologically to a place where you can do that at high speed with terrible ferocity and sometimes also anonymity, but yet the way it can impact someone is still languishing with the power that it would’ve had when it was the big deal. And so I think what I see as a trajectory is it’s becoming just less and less of a big deal to people and I think they’ll get to the point where there’s so many people that have had the embarrassing picture on there that it will just normalize, that embarrassing picture won’t have the sting that it used to. And so I think this is just a natural lag and catch up that the social skills are lagging, and the technologies move so fast that that’s where I see it.
Hank: It’s interesting. So if we get thicker skins or our kids develop thicker skins is that gonna be a problem too in its own way? Less vulnerable?
Joe: Yeah, I love… I would prefer to frame it as instead of thicker skins, greater objectivity, the ability to see it for what it is… Thicker skins implies that it’s hurting you but you’re just being tougher, but if you can see it for what it is, and you have the confidence and the personal fortitude that you can put it in context and still move on then it loses its power, I guess it’s just the way I’d prefer to attack it. So whenever my kids, if they have a situation they want to recount, or they were in a fight or something like that, other than telling them how to just knock them down really quick, we talked about, ‘Literally, what are the reasons they might have said that to you? What are their inputs and what are their moods and what are their personal issues and what is their situation with their environment?’ And you start to understand human nature and human action from the inputs from that person, which in and of itself takes it away from you so you make the hurtful thing they’re doing through that analysis about them and not about you and that solves half the problem.
Hank: So you’re talking about empathy, building empathy, sure. And that is definitely a 21st century skill that we need to acquire. I like that.
Joe: And always Trump is such a… obviously a controversial figure. And one of the things I find the most interesting about his rise is that he was able to say anything essentially and be okay and still get elected, right? And putting his – everything he did and said and was aside, I would love to see – I thought we were coming to a place where politicians… it became what I would call Gotcha politics, right? Where you spend your whole campaign trying to avoid the 47% thing that Romney said or the deplorable thing that Clinton said. And I hope that along those lines that we get to a place where people will speak more freely, be more authentic and ideally with positive things or… But yeah, I think that helps to break some of the hold that the paralyzing fear of… well, having what you say, recorded for history has on people.
Hank: I love that kind of optimism, I’m gonna cling on to that and hope that something good will come out of this presidency.
Ashley: Can I ask you if you found your parenting style with some of those notions about malleability of identity and empathy and vulnerability – do you find the way that you’re looking at your younger two children, the way that you’re fostering their growth to be different than your older two because of those values rising to our collective consciousness?
Hank: Hearing you state it that way makes me feel like I should, but… I think that parenting always takes everything you have, it’s always… well it actually pushes you beyond what you’re capable of because some of your responses against your most measured self are what you hear your parents, what you remember your parents having said to you and there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t as deliberate as it should be in parenting. Although I think the savoring of our children increases with our years with them. So I have a 29-year-old and a 36-year-old and a seven-year-old and a three-year-old, and they have remarkably same needs.
Joe: Allowance, is it?
Hank: If you have the capability to provide for your kids it’s always satisfying, you never resent that. But just listening and really enjoying listening and getting something from them and their wisdom. And their wisdom, there’s wisdom at seven, it’s rampant – and that at 36 too, and 29. Maybe not so much at three, the three is not yet wise. We like to say that our seven-year-old was born with the light and with great help our three-year-old will seek the light.
Ashley: And forgive me if my information is dated, but your wife is actively involved with Northshore, am I correct? Friends of Northshore?
Hank: Yes, yeah.
Ashley: Are you as well?
Hank: I am as well. We’re really interested in trying to do what we can to raise the public schools to get away from that horrific term “failure factories” and think that our schools are as good as we make them. And Northshore has been our focus and we’ll try to figure out how to broaden that, but I’m actively engaged with my wife. I have to say though that she has been the fire in this and hearing her talk about education is like attending the Continental Congress or something… she’ll say something like, ‘If you don’t believe in supporting the public schools you don’t believe in democracy.’
Hank: Burn! It’s strong! And so she’s given me the fire too. My fire is a bit more theoretical, I think that we need to have longer days. When we look at Academy Prep and why that’s a success, the kids are there all day, they feed them… I think we have to change what we understand the school’s function to be and the experience that the children have from it. Because I think food is important in every transaction. If there’s not food involved it’s like recess, it’s away from the substance of our lives – we eat, we drink, we breath, we play. That all has to happen in the school and you can’t do it in six hours, you can’t.
Ashley: I think the point though, Academy Prep in the contract that the parent has with the school, I think that’s really fundamental and I’m wondering if you’re able to extract from that intrinsic value that maybe is missing from some of the families that attend public school in terms of commitment to their child’s education and active savoring or presence in the process.
Hank: Right. Well I think it’s probably a case of lacking a sense of power, the same sense that keeps people from doing a lot of wonderful things, like ‘That’s not for me,’ or, ‘I can’t make a difference,’ or, ‘I wasn’t that good in school, so I don’t have anything to say.’ I think those are the limiting factors, limiting ideas and we try to – like the PTA and Laura created a not-for-profit that would provide funds to each classroom. I think the key is to empower the teachers, I don’t think our legislators are qualified to tell us what students should be learning, at least from what they’ve told us so far what they should be learning. I think that the teachers have their hearts and soul in it and they need to set their curricula.
Joe: Can you share the name of the nonprofit?
Hank: Yeah, it was called Friends of Northshore Elementary.
Joe: Okay, yeah. I’m friends with the Kile’s who are I think are involved in it and Amber Brinkley from Kippen Communications.
Hank: Absolutely, yeah.
Joe: Good folks.
Hank: Yeah, those are great folks, yeah. They’ve been very strong in this too, when Laura started it they immediately were involved. And Brian and Molly Auld are involved in it too, of course they are great help to it, really believe in public education.
Joe: So, random question. If today you picked up the paper and saw the ‘want’ ad for the Dali museum or if you had spilled coffee on that paper and threw it away and not seen that ‘want’ ad, which other artist would be your second choice to do this with?
Hank: That’s great, yeah. Because that’s a lovely story, how our board secretary had opened up his trial subscription to the Wall Street Journal and he’s seen the article titled ‘The Art World Dilly-dallies over the Dali’s’ and how this couple couldn’t give away their collection.
Hank: The American tax code is a terrific thing because it inspires generosity. Might as well give it to an institution rather than to the government is the idea. So the Morrisses in Cleveland were faced with huge estate tax that would’ve sold off the work to pay the estate tax. So they considered giving it to a museum. And so it happened that this young lawyer in St. Pete read the story of how they were trying to give it to the Met and the Cleveland Museum and the museum said, ‘Only if you give us a building to house it, otherwise you can just give us these two or three, we like these.’ They said, ‘No, no, this has been our life work, we’ve put together this collection, it has to stay together.’ So he read about it and went to the mayor at the time and the publisher of the St. Pete Times at the time and his accountant and they put together a crew and they invited the Morrisses down and they decided, ‘Hey, this just looks like Spain, right on the water.’ It doesn’t look much like Spain to me, but it certainly appealed to them. And so that was history. Now getting back to your question, if it wasn’t Dali – Dali as I mentioned is very useful because he’s connected to so many things and gives us a lot of range in what we can do, but I think there are other artists historically that could’ve been of interest in a couple of contemporary artists that I love. I love Cy Twombly, I love Ed Ruscha. We’re gonna be doing a show of Magritte and his use of language in painting really appeals to me. He has that famous painting that, ‘This is not a pipe,’ it’s a painting of a pipe and… his whole challenging of experiencing reality. I would love to run some other kind of not-for-profit too, I don’t think it has to just be about art.
Joe: What genre?
Hank: Works about cities, how to make better cities, works about institutions, about creativity. How to fuse language and image is a really interesting thing for me because I think that they’re essentially one impulse. So there are a lot of things to do, I was just fortunate enough to have the opportunity to engaging here in St. Petersburg.
Joe: That’s great. And I guess a variation on that question and bringing time into the equation. Let’s say you’re picking up the ‘want’ ads 100 years from now. If art reflects the human condition what is the museum you want to run look like 100 years from now?
Hank: Well I think art is gonna be much more diffused in the society than it is now. So that raises the question for museums as enclosures. On the digital side there are terrific opportunities for art. Virtual reality is an amazing new terrain and it’s not only amazing for art, it’s amazing for medicine and there’s evidence now that being put in an immersive virtual reality situation can really help chronic pain, can help us out of pain that we can’t remove ourselves from because we’re put into this completely immersive environment. On the art front we had a terrific experience with this with the help of one of our trustees, Jeff Goodby who runs the Goodby Silverstein ad agency in San Francisco, created for us based on one of our paintings this lovely trip through Dali’s archaeologic reminiscence. And it’s a self-navigating trip, you can hear Alice Cooper playing his music and the sound of these space elephants honking and treading on the sand. And you can move through these rock structures on your own. So it created just amazingly new dimensions for the experience of something for which those dimensions may have been latent in the original image, which opened them up to an incredible imaginative expanse. So that’s just the start. Also in Los Angeles I just saw a lovely thing by Iñárritu, the director at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s a single VR experience, there’s one person, you’re in a room about 60x60x60 covered with dirt, the floor is covered with dirt and you’re barefoot, they make you take your shoes off. And as soon as you hook into the VR you’re in the desert and you hear Spanish voices whispering and this group almost walks through you, they’re trying to cross the Texas border and then there’s a helicopter with a search light, and then there’s SUVs with guys jumping out with guns and shouting, ‘Get down, get down.’ You have eight minutes of this incredibly intense experience which makes for a marvelous empathy for human beings that are in that situation. And then you leave through a salon of individual 30-second cameos of these people telling their story, the same people who are acting. They all had had this experience telling why they tried to cross. Regardless of what your political views are you will have an increase in empathy from this. So it’s a brave new frontier and I think that when we look at art in the future it’s gonna be so expanded with these possibilities. Now the only thing about that is that what happens to the museum experience? That is the positive side of it because we’ve seen that so many social experiences have gone the way of the efficiencies of life. People eat in their cars, they watch movies on their phone, they shop by computer, so all those gathering places, all those market locations are gone. You’re not rubbing shoulders with anybody. But in a museum, you would, but once you put that VR thing on you’re all alone. And so what happens to that great sense of, ‘I’m here, I may be in contemplation but I’m in contemplation amidst other like myself who are having an experience like mine.’ And that’s something we need to figure out how to retain while we go forward in a brave new way.
Ashley: I have a thought about that, but I don’t know if I can properly articulate it right now [laughing].
Joe: That’s really interesting.
Ashley: Is it super interesting so I’m thinking about the way that you experience visual art, there’s some element of sensory deprivation, right? So then all of your energy goes to the optics. And then you can think the same thing about… listening to Ok Go on the radio and… so the apps and the visual. And so with the arts almost sensory overload.
Joe: Also I would mention the dirt on the feet.
Ashley: Dirt on the – well yeah, well I’m thinking, I wonder, when you’re experiencing art in certain senses in isolation of others if that allows a different type of experience. And somewhat your example earlier about how with social media it’s gonna start to become… there’s gonna be a deadening quality, a numbing quality, it’s not gonna be as a vulnerable experience anymore. I wonder if VR could take us to the world where we also numb out to a certain degree because there is almost sensory overload. Does that make sense?
Hank: Well I think about Joe’s comment about how the more we’re bombarded by things like social media and kids and their vulnerability the more we learn to distance ourselves from it and…
Ashley: Can we make the parallel to art though and VR and what that robs us of essentially with maybe a simpler experience where you are only taking in something with your eyes, no sound, no contacts, no story, it allows your mind to create its own impression?
Joe: Well first I thought that you juxtaposed VR as the opposite of simple, right? But to some extent controlling all of your senses can be simple. It’s simple in the singularity that there are no senses that you’re using outside of it, whereas if you’re looking at it, a painting, there’s hearing, there’s random feeling every shoes on the floor and there’s whatever and then… So it’s actually more complex.
Ashley: Maybe simple and complex isn’t the right way to think about it. I think through the deprivation of some senses it allows interpretative engagement to occur where you are lacking sensory input, right? That’s how I think about it, so maybe you can call it simple or complex.
Joe: The immersion aspect of it?
Ashley: Maybe, or just your own feelings or reactions or because it’s not occupying all facets, it’s not giving inputs across all facets of your ability to engage with it.
Joe: Maybe with technology we’re just getting better at conveying what an artist is trying to convey because we can control more senses.
Hank: Back to your question about the future of art though, I think that one thing I’m absolutely confident of is that art will be inextricably engaged with our general wellbeing in the future and we will not be healthy, well individuals without art, whatever form art takes in. We are thinking on that, identify this thing, this apocryphal element in St. Petersburg, the fountain of youth which has been of course located in various places. But there was one here and we relocated it to the cornerstone of the Dali Museum where you can get waters from the Earth and drink in the fountain of youth. But recently we joined with Johns Hopkins and with the Straz Center and John Ellen, Judy Lease and I put together a program where we’re looking at how art and health sciences, art and medicine work together, in what ways they have a kinship. And we were joined by Gary Sasso who had really profound ideas about the history of art and healing having the same origin. And so we did a conference this year and we’re gonna do this each year and I think it’s gonna enrich people’s understanding of how medicine and art are inextricably bound and probably will be good for both practices ultimately.
Joe: Yeah, I think a lot of that is because there have been some incredible advances along understanding humans. And there’s a book by Steve Kotler who has a book called ‘The Rise of Superman’ and he studied extreme sports. And so say… I’m making this up, but I don’t remember the exact one, but snowboarding to do a 780 or whatever it is so many times around that one person was able to do that until 1985. But between 1985 and 1990 500 people were able to do it. And it’s all because they’ve understood what used to be the freakish human who could do it now has become a science and a lot of those called is being in the flow or whatever, but they’ve been able to use science to induce that, right? And I think you see some similar understanding of humans in the marketing space obviously, we know everything from which color to which tone to which whatever will make people do what we want them to do, right? And so medicine is now bringing art in and so they understand medically, scientifically what experiencing art does for people, and so it’s given it a lovely legitimacy because it’s come from the medical end of things. And they think that now that we’ve crossed over that hump, you’re right, that that will be inextricably linked. And it will be wonderful to see what the science of art unlocks going forward.
Hank: Yeah, absolutely.
Ashley: And so physiologically art has been proven to reduce blood pressure, to help regulate heartbeat, to increase all the good hormones or the good – and decrease pain. Can you share with our listeners why physiologically there’s such a distinct bridge between how we feel and what we’re observing?
Hank: Yeah, well I’m really interested in the science of that and it’s rather involved. But I think that it can be stated at the simplest highest level just reflecting on what we learned from this neurologist from Hopkins who was talking about PTSD. And when you’re hit by the shock wave of an IED your brain hemorrhages on the side opposite to the force and you start a scaring process, and that scaring process absolutely interrupts the executive functions of the brain and the executive functions are the ones that allow you to connect what is essentially inexpressible to speech and so you just have all this inexpressible emotion. And it also is that function that lets you know that things can get better, there will be a tomorrow. And so he pointed out a particular Dali work in which there was this explosive sense, but it was all going on inside the Pantheon. And so even though it was chaos there was this overriding structure. And he said art can provide that sense that there is coherence in the world. So it’s an intellectual explanation for what is also, as you’ve mentioned, is biochemical. But I love thinking it over that way, that you can see that there’s a tomorrow, that there’s a structure, that life has meaning and that’s the hopeful addition of art to so many of our predicaments.
Joe: One of the interesting aspects of PTSD is – and this goes back to almost what we were talking about with parenting and what not, is that there’s a profound difference between experiencing something that you choose to do and something that happens to you passively. And so if someone could go into a firefight and be in a war situation versus having the IED happen to them and the likelihood of PTSD goes way down when you choose the action. So even if it’s the same violent situation, but the fact that you chose to go there transforms how your brain…
Hank: It’s so interesting.
Joe: …yeah, experiences it. And I think a lot of that can be true with the ownership, which goes back to, to some extent, empathy, but also that objectivity where if you experience a bullying situation, if you can handle it in a way that you’re choosing to address it instead of reacting to it happening to you it completely changes the way your brain handles it too and it can be a lot less impactful. And I think art can represent that control and that intention because you’re taking something that is very abstract and putting it into a form and so I think that’s maybe a piece of why that works.
Hank: And that’s what language can do as well. So art and language and you’ve come back to my central interest.
Joe: Lovely. Well I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.
Joe: It’s been good that you…
Hank: Yeah, it’s fun. How do you get people out of there?
Joe: Well we don’t.
Hank: If they could bring something from the brewery over there we could stay here all day.
Ashley: I know, right?
Joe: I know. One little tradition we have is we end our shows with a shout-out, it’s a chance for you to just… somebody that’s doing something great that deserves some extra attention. And it doesn’t mean no favorites played at or anything like that, it’s just someone who comes to mind that you want to give a little extra praise and attention to.
Ashley: It could be your favorite PTA president if you’re…
Hank: Yeah, I’ll shout-out to Laura, she’s my favorite PTA president.
Joe: Alright, tell us a little more.
Hank: Another person just immediately came into my mind. So yes, Laura is always on my mind but my niece Sadie is going through exactly what you and I talked about and being a teenager in the world of media is so tough, you just don’t have your power yet, so you have to have faith, so I would like to say Sadie, have faith, it’s gonna be fine.
Joe: Gonna be fine, Sadie.
Ashley: I like that. Thank you for that.
Joe: Alright, wonderful. And Salvador Dali, everything we talked about including all the weird videos and what not will be in the show notes, so you can check it all out. And a really fulfilling conversation, thank you so much.
Ashley: Thank you.
Hank: Immensely fulfilling for me. Thank you.
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About the host
Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.
Ashley Ryneska is the Vice President of Marketing for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Ashley believes meaningful conversations can serve as the gateway to resolution, freedom, and advancement for our city. Her passion for storytelling has been internationally recognized with multiple media accolades.