Creativity and Web Design (The Creativity Series: Guest Blog)

Eleanor Kleiner is a one of those people you are just glad comes into your life. We worked together for a short while and became friends. I got to know her as a very creative spirit in both her music and her art. She left for London, met her (now) husband, formed a new band…and is just someone YOU should know.

So…Musician, Web Designer, Artist…Creative Spirit…

The Creativity Series Guest Post:

Creativity and Web Design: Eleanor Kleiner

About a year ago I mentioned to Stu that I was learning web design.  What that really meant was haphazardly playing around on Photoshop at a VERY leisurely pace.  So, when Stu asked me to design him a website I hesitantly agreed to try, actually having no idea if this was something I could pull off.

Luckily, I did pull it off and it turned out to be a far more creative process than I had previously imagined (of course, building a site for a creative person who used phrases like “flight of fancy” and adjectives like “swirly” to describe want he wants, definitely helps).  I also found that having a real world project to complete made learning a lot faster.

Being a musician and creative person, before I began this undertaking I had found the idea of web design to be, at most, a palatable way to make money, but still pretty dull…and Photoshop was a completely daunting obstacle.  But as soon as I started speaking with Stu about what he envisioned for his website, ideas started flowing to me.  It was a really exciting experience, to be inspired about something which had previously been a complete unknown.

I started seeing people’s websites as extensions of themselves in the virtual landscape of the internet.  It’s like a whole new(ish) dimension in which people can present themselves in any way they wish, and my job is to listen and really get a feel for what they want, and then translate that into a site which reflects their vision and is also easy to navigate.

Finding ways to meld the client’s desires and the constraints of the medium into an aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly site is a creative challenge, and it allows me to be creative in a completely different way than songwriting does.  With songwriting, I’ve always taken a relatively passive approach, waiting for inspiration to hit and then following it until it runs out.

With web design, I’m finding that having specific projects with various deadlines is allowing me to take a more proactive approach, and I find that the inspiration comes eventually – it just takes some coaxing.  When writing a song, I tend to become emotionally invested in the result, which hugely hinders my creativity.  The idea that I’m helping someone else create a website, rather than creating something from scratch, takes my ego out of the equation and seems to make being creative a whole lot easier.

So far, the experience has made me aware that trying new creative endeavors is vital for me as an artist.  I think that the more creative avenues we explore, the more we grow.

It’s also served as proof for me that no matter how daunting something may seem, if you just jump in and put one foot in front of the other, you’ll get where you’ve wanted to go!

Over the past six years, classically trained vocalist Eleanor Kleiner and French bassist Elie Brangbour have traveled the world on an adventure that began when the two met at music school in London. With a shared passion for music and travel, they took their unique brand of folk/rock across continents, logging enough frequent flier miles to make any avid traveler jealous.

Full of imagery and stories of the human condition, The Whispering Tree‘s songwriting is the backbone of their sound and has been heavily influenced by their travels abroad, which have taken them from South America to China.

Following a seven month gig in Macau and the release of their self-titled EP, The Whispering Tree returned to New York City, where they released their full-length album, Go Call The Captain, in 2010. The Big Takeover calls their latest release “one of the year’s most luminous albums” and Deli Magazine named them “one of the most talented duos to take stage in NYC.”

Save The ARTist (Creativity Plus)

There is a great deal of concern and hand wringing over saving the arts. Recently, the Westchester County Arts Council sent out a plea for us to write to our congressmen about major cuts to the arts. I did is they asked, knowing that in even the smallest way our voices have to be heard.

I got an answer back not from the congressmen but from his assistant. there was a lot of blame and finger-pointing in this letter, it still talking how great Westchester County is in comparison to other locations. I will copy and post her letter, but before I do: I have something to say. Yes, big surprise.

With all the talk about saving the parts one very important component seems to be forgotten:


I am a performing and teaching ARTIST. I make my primary living from working in the Arts. My discipline is Theater/Drama, Storytelling and Creative Writing. I do not create “lasting” art in Fine Arts, but I DO perform a service in the Performing Arts.

When you cut the funding for the arts, you are not just cutting out a sculpture or a painting, or a dance or theater piece, or a choral work, you are taking money out of reach of PEOPLE who are trying to pay their bills and survive. by making these budget cuts to save organizations, you are also then putting more people on unemployment. This fall, I have been unable to find a job, mainly because in my field there’s much less work. There are also more people out looking for any work, so even jobs that I could fit into are inundated by other people looking for work.

Where would we be without ones like Van Gogh?

Is it just me, or does this just not make any sense? A good friend of mine has put it  very simply: at this point in time, if everyone across the board and that means the big boys in the middle management boys played fairly, more people to keep their jobs. It’s part of what I’ve been saying in that we need creative solutions and problem solving in place of the reactionaries.

I do not want to be on unemployment. I want to work. I feel there are ways that more people can work and keep their jobs. Today on the news from NPR I heard that more than 28,000 postal workers will be laid off soon. What jobs will they be able to get to support their families?

It’s very easy to cast blame and point fingers. As a country, we seem to excel at that.

Wouldn’t we be better off if we were creative problem solvers?

As stated above, here is the letter I got today:

Thank you for writing to County Executive Robert P. Astorino regarding funding for the arts.

Please be assured that Mr. Astorino has read your message and he has asked me to respond to you on his behalf.

The county executive understands and appreciates your concern for the arts.  While developing the proposed 2012 county budget, Mr. Astorino and his administration have given the arts the same consideration accorded to every program, service, agency and facility supported by county government.

As you know all too well, this is a very challenging economy.  There is a critical need to balance a $114 million county budget deficit with a responsibility to provide essential services and property tax relief, protect Westchester’s neediest residents, promote structural financial reform and reduce government spending at all levels.  One of the major roadblocks to maintaining the funding level for Arts Westchester and many other worthwhile programs and services, is the failure of the public employee unions to agree to make a reasonable contribution to their healthcare premiums.  Westchester County’s union employees are one of the few groups left in the nation that contribute nothing to their healthcare costs.  This ever-increasing financial burden necessitates reductions in other portions of the county budget.  The county executive, since taking office two years ago, has attempted to get county workers to agree to the same level of healthcare contributions state workers make.  While there is a reduction in the allocation to arts programs, the County Executive’s proposed budget includes funding for the arts at $750,000.  This action is in no way a reflection on the outstanding quality of exhibits and performances presented by the arts community nor the talents and efforts of all who labor to bring these offerings to fruition.  It is instead, a part of many across-the-board measures which must be taken during these difficult times.

Your views and those of all who live and work in Westchester are very important to the county executive.  Your input is both welcome and valued.

Again, thank you for writing.


Janet Lokay
Assistant to the County Executive
148 Martine Avenue
White Plains, New York 10601
(914) 995-2127

Here was my response to Ms. Lokay:

it’s not just the exhibits and performances.

You forget a very essential part: the artist has to live, pay bills, and be part of the economic structure. By cutting the arts, it’s not just the end product but the people who live through the process. Two very different things.

I am a Teaching Artist and a performing artist. My entire life is creative and my livelihood depends on schools, libraries, community centers and more have funds to hire me and others like me. I live for the educational process that is part of the learning process…and it does not seem politicians realize this.

Schools may not hire a full time Theater Teacher anymore (I have my NYS Certification in Theater), but they SHOULD hire me as a consultant, which is what a TA (teaching artist) really is. I integrate my work into the school core curricula, and it enhances, not wastes, the teachers’ lessons.

I would love to have a conversation  about this. Yes, many of us produce art that is seen; there are many more of us who produce art that is part of the educational process, for ALL ages, and we’re hurting, trying to make a living.

My thing: instead of telling me why something isn’t working, why are we not doing problem solving around the negatives out there. I’d rather know what has been attempted, or will be, instead of what is not working. I  work a lot with my students, when I get them, on problem solving.

I’m serious about talking with Mr. Astorino.

She gave me her phone number. If I don’t hear from them, and if you know me at all, they will hear from me. I will let you know what happens next. I’m tired of the excuses. Let’s get off of  unemployment

Losing Our Precision: Arts In Education Cuts

“You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life” – Winston Churchill

The world is a dangerous place to live – not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.

– Albert Einstein

The Day The Music Died

What Happens When The Band Stops Playing?

Normally I talk about Theater Arts, as it is the discipline I am most involved in.  Theater is one of the first things to go in schools when budget cuts happen. Then the other arts slowly follow suit. Art is probably the last to go usually. Why? Because it can be displayed every day. It lines the hallways and shows off the student’s work, alongside their poems and essays and graphs and charts. It looks good, it is visually accessible. Theater, Music, Dance…not so much.

Sure, photos and montages of work can be exhibited. Static imagery of arts that are performed. It’s not the same as experiencing the students live, seeing and hearing their work, their efforts, their process put into a final product.

What about Sports? Well, it also is shown off in the school, but behind glass cases usually, with trophy’s, medals, the actual ball (signed), photos, more photos, and yet more photos. Maybe a retired player’s shirt. It’s static, but it’s given it’s place of honor. Theater, Music, Dance…not so much. Yes, they might win an award or two, but the arts overall are not (or shouldn’t be, in my opinion) competitive.

Why are the Arts Given So Little Respect?

In schools, one of the basic things I’ve heard is this: many parents, educators and policy makers do not feel that the arts can be assessed (which normally means Testing, in our test driving society. No, sorry…I will not get off that soapbox!). The idea that the arts lend nothing to education runs through most of the sectors that are involved in schools, and if you don’t think many school administration, fellow teachers and Those Higher Up feel the same way, you are sadly mistaken. It’s easily dismissed, and that’s a crime.

In recent conversations with others through social media, I have heard stories that echo what I heard from others and what I experienced. I am leaving all their names anonymous as I do not wish to cause them any repercussions. While some of you many feel that this is chickening out, here is the truth: if you open your mouth, right or wrong,  (especially right), you’re job is in danger in the school. If you have tenure, believe me, it won’t be pretty when you have a vengeful admin. Don’t rock the boat. Keep everything inside the walls of the school. Administrative and peer bullying is alive through many schools. That, in itself, is another blog.

From a Visual Arts Teacher:

“As an art teacher it amazes me how the Visual Arts are not taken seriously. If the students were tested about the knowledge they learned only then, it seems, the art would have merit. As a Visual Arts teacher for the past 16 years and counting I can say with confidence that my students grow leaps and bounds in my class in the understanding of how art reflects our emotional, social, psychological, philosophical, physical, political, and intellectual experiences and encompasses all the core subjects.”

From a Theater Arts Teacher:

I teach drama, to seven rotations of classes at my (now former) elementary school. I practically had to pay the other teachers and my principal to allow me the privilege of taking 45 minutes each Friday to deprive the  kids of their “instructional minutes.” I’m hoping and expecting that there is less ignorance with regards to the importance of the fine arts in schools out there in New York. How bittersweet it was to send in my letter of resignation from public school employment after a short but successful nine year career.

I realize that New York has just suffered a great blow in arts funding- I was taken aback when I read about this. I had assumed that the strong theater presence certainly must drive the performing arts into the hearts of New York citizens… does it not? I do also realize that legislators tend to not be true representatives of the public voice when they personally don’t agree with that voice. I’m so sorry for … the NY schools at this time. Perhaps, just as the massive cuts to the NEA were reversed a couple of months back, NY will follow this course. Although, NEA cuts and threats seem to be behaving much like a ping pong ball standing in for a tennis ball at Wimbledon… such is the vitality of the fine arts- the disgracefully unrecognized catalyst of cultural enrichment and innovative entrepreneurs- in times of financial instability.

Unfortunately, it’ll be an uphill battle for arts education for the foreseeable future. This country has become chaotically, illogically and ignorantly managed, (and) woefully divided.

A last voice, speaking on Music Arts Education:

What budget pundits and public policymakers want to ignore is the simple and compelling human need for the arts and the human endeavor of making art and that art adds immeasurably to individual and communal life on this planet. As with any human endeavor, we need to have hands on, first-person experiences as well as the best of our best to demonstrate what is possible and to inspire us to new heights.

Yes, we need to find common ground and a great chorus of many voices for promoting the arts as relevant to public life and therefore public education.

After our annual, free Arts in Education concerts, I received a letter from a 5th/6th grade split classroom teacher in a school where 73% of students qualify for the free / reduced lunch program. The school district like many is slowly hacking away at the roots of its once stellar K-12 music program. I think the closing statement of her letter will resonate and give us courage as we collectively reorient ourselves to new realities, new economies.

“If the cuts in the music program were to happen, I would continue to expose my students to music. Perhaps with your performances, students will be more likely to enjoy music, to want to make music, and will pester their parents to stand up for music in our schools. I want you to know that the Symphony’s school concert is wanted, loved, and needed by my students.”

It is really time for all of us to stand together and hold to our principles. I know we will not get anywhere if we remain reactive instead of proactive. We get hot under the collars when a Wisconsin debacle happens, but we soon go back to the shrug of the shoulders, our own daily lives, and then…something else happens.

Activism, which is what I feel is called for, is 24/7, every single day of the year. Right now, with so many teachers on vacations, what else is brewing behind the closed doors while school doors are closed (well, not summer school, but…)?

What Are You Going To Do?

Artists Supporting the Arts in Public Schools

Here’s ONE step. A small one, but a step. Do something.

What You CAN Do: Save The Arts & Arts-in-Education

I called for a Fight For Education: Do Something! on this blog a few days ago. In the past two days, I have gotten a lot of support from people who read BornStoryteller and, out of “the blue,” I have gotten a number of emails with links to organizations calling for our help.

I will keep this short on my part because I really want you to click on the links, read, and hopefully not only take up the call for action but that you will also pass it on. That is as important: PASS IT ON. Let others in your network(s) know you care, and you are bringing this to their attention because you care about the state of Education and The Arts, in and out of schools.

Below, you will find some links to sites, and two postings. There are more places to check out. Look for that in future postings.

Let’s Save The Arts

Contacting the Congress

Contact the White House: Education

US Senators: Write to Them!

Americans for the Arts Action Fund

Here is the letter I got from them:

Last month, a piece of federal legislation named “Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act” (HR 1891) was introduced for the purpose of terminating 43 existing federal education programs, including Arts in Education. The Arts in Education program currently funds 57 active education projects around the country, and to date has supported more than 210 competitive grants serving students in high-need schools, as well as the affiliates of the Kennedy Center and VSA arts education programs.

The Arts in Education program also provides critical federal leadership in supporting a well-rounded curriculum throughout our nation’s public schools.

On May 25, the House Education & Workforce Committee approved HR 1891 by a party-line vote of 23 Republicans to 16 Democrats. Americans for the Arts worked with Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and other members of that committee who offered an amendment that sought to restore some of these education programs, including arts education, but that amendment failed to pass.

The full House of Representatives may vote on HR 1891 prior to their August Congressional Recess.  The Senate education committee, however, is not expected to consider HR 1891 as Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) plans on offering a separate, more comprehensive bill to reauthorize the Elementary & Secondary Education Act.

We call on arts advocates to contact their House Representative through our customizable e-alert and request that they oppose HR 1891 because it seeks to terminate the critical federal support directed to arts education. Don’t let this bill narrow the curriculum of our students.

Another email that piggy backed the one above:

Did you call your PA State Senator to ask for support for state arts funding?

Posted by Jenny L. Hershour at 10:45am

Have you contacted your PA State Senator about restoring funds to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts at the levels that Gov. Corbett set in March? He proposed $8.262 million for grants to the arts and $895,000 for administration of the PCA.

If you have contacted your senator, please send me a message at to tell me about your conversation. Did your senator respond to your call? If so, what did he/she say? If not, will you call the office again to ask for a response?

If you haven’t contacted your senators and representatives, the time to do so is now. The budget bill came out of the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday and is being considered by the full Senate today. Time is running out…if you care about state arts funding, call your legislators today. Contact information can be found at by typing your zipcode in the box at the top right hand corner of the page.

Either way, email me ( and let me know how your calls went.

Jenny Hershour
Citizens for the Arts in PA

And now, for something completely different:

How Not to Save the Arts

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