Elinor Slomba: The Grove’s Curatorial Eye

Now here’s a challenge for you: Find the peephole at The Grove. Yes, for all you Grovers who harbor a secret fascination with peepholes but are too proper to indulge your fantasies, you now have dispensation. Go find the peephole and indulge yourself. Telling you exactly where it is would take away the thrill of discovery- and that’s the whole idea behind peepholes, right? It’s a secret. But I will tell you it’s on the second floor.

And just how did The Grove come to have a peephole? Enter: Elinor Slomba.B&W headshot She’s also the person responsible for having Marilyn watch over you as you work and the vines that add such a fun touch of nature outside the Big Bang office and in the downstairs entryway. While Elinor is not the artist who produced these works, she is the person who curated each piece for The Grove’s permanent collection. She is also the founder of Arts Interstices http://artsinterstices.com/, which just celebrated its fourth year of business, and is dedicated to bridging the spaces (interstices) between organizations and the arts and more traditional businesses by providing a way for them to communicate and use each other’s models to their own advantage.
When Elinor was finishing her B.A. in fine art and cultural anthropology at William and Mary, a career advisor at the college suggested she consider a career in the Foreign Service, an idea that seems to amuse Elinor. It’s easy to see that she would have been well-suited to such a career. Today, instead of helping foreign countries navigate their cultural differences, she helps disparate domains recognize they each have something to offer the other. She’s expert in navigating the ‘between spaces’ and in making associations that may not be obvious at first, but once identified opens a vast array of possibilities.

It’s this associative thinking, a process Elinor describes as “definitely nonlinear,” that Elinor sees as a key tool in curating and that she helps people develop in her series of classes on curation.

“We live in a visual age. People can be energized by nontraditional gallery spaces,” she explains, when asked about curating art for business locations. In her work with The Grove, she realized that the concept of collaboration is a key element of The Grove’s culture.Marilyn9 In keeping with that value, all of the shows she has curated at The Grove have featured more than one artist. Marilyn, the piece above the elevator doors on the second floor, was part of the show Re:Generate – Art Based on Code (co-curated with another Grove member, Brian Monahan). In this piece, a collaborative effort by Dan Gries, Dannielle Kefford and Dan Bernier, the digital eye resolves the oversized pixels (made from pool noodles) to reveal the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe. The high-tech reference of the work, along with the collaborative nature of its inception, makes it uniquely appropriate for The Grove.

The two other permanent pieces, Peephole by Mark Williams, a New Haven-based artist and Climbing Ivy by Giada Crispiels, an Italian artist who completed a year-long residency at Artspace New Haven in 2012, were part of the show Navigate Complexity. Mark's wall piecePeephole is an example of artwork intended to be viewed “an eyeball at a time.” Climbing Ivy was the first piece acquired for The Grove’s permanent collection. Crispiels installed this work specifically for The Grove, constructing the vines and leaves from local newspapers and magazines.WP_000865

In addition to curating art, Elinor offers a 3-part course Open Your Curatorial Eye  for those interested in learning about how curating art and mounting an art exhibition. She is offering her next one at The Grove on January 22 http://Curatortraining.bpt.me.

Along with art curation, Elinor is the organizer of the meetup Artful Agilists which holds virtual meetings the first of every month at sococo.com. Through Artful Interstices she offers a range of services including coaching, a variety of training workshops including The Agile Gym™, writes guest blogs and hosts and produces virtual events. Agile is a project management method that differs from the traditional approach in that it stresses collaboration, individual participation and flexible response to dynamic situations. This method was originally designed for software projects but has gained popularity in wider settings. Elinor has adapted this method for her work with her clients.

Arts Interstices clients cross  many time zones in the U.S. and Europe.   Elinor has done projects for the New Haven Museum, Project Storefronts and Citywide Open Studios. Several Grovers participated in the public programs she produced for the New Haven Museum with the theme Connecticut at Work.
Originally from Tidewater, Virginia, Elinor has been in the New Haven area for 14 years and particularly enjoys the sense of civic space she finds in New England. “It just made me feel like I’d won the lottery to be moving up here,” she said. Elinor discovered the Grove through Meetups. “I like the day-to-day practice of being agile,” she says of working at The Grove. “If a client needs something I can’t provide, there’s usually someone in the [Grove] community who can.”

The Happiness Lab: Measuring out Happiness One Cup at a Time

Happy life cafeThey say you can’t buy happiness, but Onyeka (Ony) Obiocha and Vishal Patel are out to prove that old adage wrong. Ony and Vishal are co-founders of The Happiness Lab, well known to Grovers as ‘the place downstairs’, and billed as ‘the first coffee house in the world dedicated to happiness.’ I admit, the warm, rich sensuousness of a deep, strong latte in the morning is enough to convince me that true happiness can be found in a coffee cup, but that’s a small part of what this duo means by happiness.

Happiness here is a larger concept, where the good you do in the world comes back to nourish you. It has to do with ideas of ethical business practices; a relationship to the world that is echoed in the natural furnishings; the commitment to individual expression, evidenced in their commitment to using their space for local artists to show their work; a non-exploitive relationship with their suppliers who are all Fair Trade growers; and a 1:5 business model where they have committed themselves to an equation where the highest paid employee is limited to no more than 5 times what the lowest paid employee is paid. The business is also registered as a Benefit Corporation. Benefit corporations are for-profit corporate entities whose purpose includes creating general public benefit, which, according to Wikipedia, “includes positive impact on society and the environment, in addition, to profit as its legally defined goals.”
It means a lack of exploitation all the way along the line from the farmer to the distributor to the server. Coffee served at The Happiness Lab is roasted by Happy Life coffee roasters and are exclusively part of a sustainable harvest and workers are paid reasonable wages.
Ony was proving his business acumen as early as the fifth grade when his teacher appointed him manager of the school store for the coming year. When Ony announced this to his parents, they explained that his business career needed to be put on hold as he and his siblings would be going to Nigeria for a year. “Being appointed store manager was really a big thing,” Ony explained, but this was only a pause in his business career.Ony
Ony went on to study economics at the University of Connecticut. After graduation, he went on to work with a start-up company in Hartford, where he was responsible for building out their corporate social responsibility (CSR) work as their Program Development Officer. Both Ony and Vishal were part of reSET’s Accelerator Program in Hartford.

“I met Vishal, co-founder of A Happy Life, in the program and he told me an idea of a startup coffee roasting company with 100% of net profits going to coffee farmers in developing countries. I said, ‘You’re an idiot.’ He said ‘No, hear me out,’ and we’ve been working together ever since.”

Vishal 2(1)Vishal’s path to The Happiness Lab also started early. I couldn’t restrain myself from asking him what made him so devoted to promoting happiness. “Hmmm. Good question, I don’t know. My own happiness means so much to me,” was his initial response. But as he thought about it, he realized that back in high school he had started thinking about happiness and what it means in people’s lives. He delved into Buddhism and other religious traditions and as he put it, came to the conclusion that “life’s too short not to be happy and everyone should have a chance to experience that.”
Several years later, Vishal had a disastrous experience in Nigeria trying to get retailers to sell coffee beans grown locally. He realized that while there might not be a home market for local entrepreneurs’ products in Nigeria, there could be a market in the U.S. The challenge became one of making his brand unique. To distinguish his brand, he unabashedly promoted the idea that treating the farmers fairly would be echoed the happiness enjoyed in a flavorful cup of coffee. He also named all the roasts using words for happiness in various languages. The idea of a coffee shop wouldn’t come till later. All profits would go towards fighting poverty in farming communities. The first community that will profit from this arrangement is Kiema, Tanzania, where Vishal spent many months volunteering as a student and forged a relationship with the local coffee growers.

After The Grove expanded, Slate Ballard, one of the founders of The Grove approached Happy Life Coffee about opening up a café downstairs in the expanded portion of The Grove building. In May 2015, The Happiness Lab had its official opening.
Aside from the ethical business model that brings happiness to their suppliers and employees, The Happiness Lab offers a grab at happiness to its customers through great coffee and other quality of life improvement resources including yoga, meditation classes, and even crayons and drawing supplies!

The Grove at Startup Weekend New Haven 2015

collageThe new face you see at The Grove over the next few weeks may be one of the winners of the Startup Weekend New Haven competition that The Grove and Yale University organized and hosted on November 13 – 15. Opening welcoming presentations, initial pitches and formation of competing teams, and final pitches and awards presentations were held at Yale’s School of Management, Evans Hall, but the hard work was accomplished here at The Grove. Christina Kane and Tambira Armmand led the Grove’s organizing effort and Oneyka Obiocha cofounder of the Happiness Lab, and Grover Elinor Slomba of Arts Interstices served as coaches to the various teams. The Happiness Lab also stayed open for the complete 54 hour cycle to provide caffeine to those in need.

global eventStartup Weekend New Haven was one of a global network of Startup Weekends happening that weekend.  https://startupweekend.org/  http://www.up.co/communities/usa/conecticut

 

As attendees filed into Rm 2100 at Evans hall to kick off the 54 hour marathon session, the Eurthymics Sweet Dreams (“Sweet Dreams are made of this. Who am I to disagree?”) played overhead. Krishna Sampath, who many of you may know from The Grove as the Program Director of Apprentice100, Independent Software, gave the Welcome address. The energy in the room was palpable as he laid out the format for the weekend, introduced the criteria

Krishna Sampath delivers sage advice

Krishna Sampath delivers sage advice

competitors would need to meet, and doled out sage advice. Although individuals would be pitching their unique ideas for a service or product, every idea that was chosen to go forward had to be represented by a team created from attendees Sampath stressed the importance of teams in developing an idea and as a way to inspire other people and grow communities and advised participants to create their teams with diverse skills and to be agile in their decision process when they ran into problems. “Generally, if you can’t solve something in 15 minutes, it’s better to make a decision and move on,” he counseled. Among the criteria the teams were required to meet was getting out and talking to potential customers. “You’re not here just to pitch an idea but to take action,” Sampath reminded them.

Seventeen hopefuls line up to pitch

Seventeen hopefuls line up to pitch

Sampath’s address was followed by seventeen potential entrepreneurs, a number from out of state and all with dreams and varying states of jitters, giving 60-second pitches to the assembled crowd. Once all the pitches were given, the first cut was made as attendees voted on their favorite pitches. time to pitchEight of the pitches survived the cut and teams were created. Although there must have been some very disappointed individuals, the mood remained festive and many of those eliminated in the first round lent their support by joining teams.

Potential team members discuss the project

Potential team members discuss the project

Sampath stressed that because an idea was not chosen to proceed, it did not mean the idea was a bad one; only that it was a good match for this particular audience.
Once teams were chosen and the energy settled down a bit, Kyle Jensen, associate Dean Yale and Shanna and Eric Bass ’05 Director of Entrepreneurship & Lecturer in Entrepreneurship gave a presentation on the Lean Startup http://theleanstartup.com, an approach Jensen defined as “evidence-based entrepreneurship.” This approach, discussed in The Lean Startup: The Movement that is Transforming How New Products are Built and Launched, by Eric Ries, runs contrary to the traditional business school model  //www.inc.com/magazine/201110/eric-ries-usability-testing-product-development.html and is the one competitors would be following throughout the weekend. Teams started working together right after Jensen’s presentation.

Saturday morning the teams met at The Grove for breakfast and to resume work.

Team members discuss a point

Team members discuss a point

Team members crowded into conference rooms, papered the walls with large post-its, wrote on white boards, typed on laptops, spoke on cell phones and gorged on the incredible amount of food and beverages available till mandatory check-in in the Clubhouse where each team reported on their progress and sought out whatever help they needed.
The high spirits of the previous evening before were being replaced by an intense focus evident in a muted noise level and the occasional solitary figure hold up with a laptop. The optional happy hour at the Trinity Bar and Restaurant was well attended but ended early as people went back to The Grove for another long night of work.
Sunday was wrap-up day with all team members assembling at Evans Hall for tech checks in late afternoon. As each group came forward to give their presentation it was obvious that the nervousness of the original pitches had been replaced by confidence (and maybe a bit of exhaustion?) not only in the project, but in the team’s ability to manifest the original idea into an actual entity.
Winners were selected by a panel of judges, all with impressive entrepreneurial, academic and publishing backgrounds in business. The audience was also invited to choose one team as their favorite.

The winning teams

The winning teams

The winners were:
• First prize: Consensus an app to increase efficiency in project management and avoid projects running over budget
• Second Prize: Looper: an app to match caddies with golfers
• Third Prize: Green Fuel: a method convert dry trash into fuel pellets with less pollution than any existing methods
• Audience choice: Green Fuel
As part of their prize each winning company received a membership to the Grove for varying lengths of time, so you can expect to see some new entrepreneurs here. When you do, be sure to say hello.

Christina Kane: Director of Culture

Christina provides a warm welcome to The Grove Photo by Rachel Liu Ballard

When Christina Kane was eight years old, she became fascinated with wallpapering. She asked her mother to show her how to do it, and her mother showed her on a small section of wall. Within a week, Christina had single-handedly wallpapered the entire living room, matching the pattern up and smoothing out the bubbles.

“I think I’ve always enjoyed finding out how to do something and do it well,” Christina Kane, Director of Culture at The Grove, told me recently. Finding out how to do something and mastering it has been a consistent theme in Christina’s life. She was hired on the spot by Arthur Murry Dance Studios when she was spotted by studio instructors at a party. “I actually never got to be a student,” she laughed. At The Grove Christina’s mastery of details is evident in a variety of ways, from the meticulously handwritten notices to the choice of wines and her vibrant hosting at the weekly Wine Down sessions.

Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Christina started honing her appreciation of various aspects of what constitutes a culture at an early age. “I had very brave parents,” Christina said. “They let me travel overseas at fourteen.” Her first adventure abroad was with a group that went to Mumbai, India. The experience was so positive that she decided to register for home schooling and take courses at a community college, allowing her to complete her high school accreditation early and free up time for more travel overseas. She returned to India a number of times, as well as travelling to Norway, Columbia, and South Africa on mission trips and doing humanitarian efforts.

Asked what she wanted had to be when she grew up, she replied, “I wanted to be an adult and have my own apartment and my own bills. Because, what do adults talk about? They talk about their place and they talk about paying their bills.” A successful career in healthcare provided Christina with the ability to have her own bills, as well as a large two-family house where she was able to develop a dynamic creative culture with the young artists and professionals who lived there with her. Unfortunately, the economy took a downturn, forcing Christina into a different direction. “[I] had a house full of brilliant people as I slowly and painstakingly remodeled it, only to have my career change at 27-28.” It was a disillusioning experience. “You’re in a system where it’s not designed for freelancers, freethinkers and problem solvers,” she said, ruminating on the effect of the crash on the housing market. “To overcome injustice like that, I think was really hard. Hard on my identity and I think it’s hard on society. Not the job, but the home – that’s a big part of how I expressed my creativity and my offering. . . To have that loss. I think, was harder than switching jobs and being creative with finances.”

Typically, Christina rebounded. She enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University, where she majored in psychology and fine arts and ultimately found her way to The Grove. Christina is often the first person new members or visitors to The Grove encounter. Along with providing a welcoming presence, Christina shapes the daily culture by, as

she puts it, “providing definitions for people to get immersed in our Grove Collaborative culture; to really celebrate the milestones that can go unnoticed as you build a business; as you build a dream. The happiest part, I think, is the privilege of knowing so many passionate people who are filled with purpose and are pursuing it every single day. I love discovering those ah-ha moments that make people come alive and if at all possible, to facilitate that.”

Proof: She doesn’t always smile! Photo by Rachel Liu Ballard

View From the Desk

Diana in conversation edit (3)

Grovers who have been here for a while may recall that in the past this site included a regularly updated blog. Starting with this entry, that featured blog is being revived. Current plans are for entries twice a month.

At the moment, plans are to spotlight a member in one entry and provide information on happenings at The Grove, co-working, the greater New Haven community and other information that may be of interest to the Grove community on the other blog post.  Our first spotlighted member is  none other than  . . . Ms Christina Kane!

While you may already know what type of business a particular member is engaged in, you may not know much about that member as a person. Spotlight pieces will provide a glimpse into the less obvious side of that person sharing a power strip across the table with you.

I’ve chosen to call this blog View From the Desk because, as the current (sometimes not very animated) Thursday Animator I enjoy a unique overview of daily life at The Grove. One of my fantasies has been to bring in my academic gown, snazz it up with a lace collar a la Judge Judy and wear it while officiating over room reservations and issuing notices of Big Mail. Maybe even use the stapler as a gavel . . .

Which brings us to a few points: Please remember when reserving rooms for meetings or conference calls, not all the rooms have walls that reach the ceiling. Therefore, what you say may be heard outside that room. If you and your clients will be discussing delicate business matters it would be better to book a room with complete walls. Along with the Murtha Cullina Room in the Happiness Lab, there are also two smaller rooms that may provide more privacy. Similarly, if scheduling a meeting that you anticipate being somewhat raucous but where confidentiality won’t be an issue, consider meeting in the Clubhouse where others won’t be disturbed.

I hope you all have had a wonderful summer and am looking forward to throwing the spotlight on each of you and bringing you lots of interesting news in the months to come.