Winter 2016

Photos: Is the tattoo parlor the new barbershop?

By Grace Austin

Tattoos have become near ubiquitous, with 3 in 10 Americans now having them, according to a 2015 Harris poll. As tattoos become more mainstream, so do the number of tattoo parlors and the kinds of people getting inked.

Chicago’s Deluxe Tattoo has a reputation for easy rapport and detail-oriented artists, similar to a barbershop or a nail salon. Here’s a glimpse into a day at the tattoo parlor in Uptown.

Photo at top: Artist Jason Vaughn works intently on a customer. Tattooing requires intense precision and care. Most artists study for years before striking out on their own. (Grace Austin/Medill)

Video: Poetry café in Old San Juan draws in locals and tourists

By Grace Austin

The Poet’s Passage is an arts and spoken word café in Old San Juan. It brings together local artists and visitors to listen, socialize, work, and buy goods with inspirational poetry emblazed on them. Owner Lady Lee Andrews prides herself on creating an arts space that continues to make money, even after 10 years, disproving the “starving artist” myth. Andrews also says The Poet’s Passage is a place for those who feel misunderstood to express themselves.

Dario Irizarry performs music and describes memories of his time in India. (Grace Austin/MEDILL)

Video: Chicago folk-music school helps memory loss via music

By Grace Austin

In the United States, 5.5 million people suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia. Music therapy for those with memory loss has been touted by medical professionals, studies and journals as a particularly effective way to counter the effects of the debilitating disease.

Studies have shown that music memory is in a part of the brain unaffected by Alzheimer’s and memory loss. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues.”

Thus, a person’s ability to engage in music remains intact late into the disease process because engagement with music does not require cognition.

A new music program in Ravenswood at the Old Town School of Folk Music is helping some people cope with Alzheimer’s and other forms of early memory loss. Called the Memory Singers, the weeks-long pilot program is helping people who have memory loss and their caregivers recall old memories and create new connections.

The Memory Singers grew out of a sing-a-long program at senior centers off-site in Chicago. It was inspired by a MacPhail Center for Music program earlier piloted in Minnesota that also had a dual enrollment for caregivers and those experiencing memory loss.

“It just clicked. This is what Chicago needs; we were inspired by the work they were doing in Minneapolis, and wanted to bring it here to Chicago. So, it took about a year to pull all the resources together to find the right personnel, and to activate the networks of people in service of this population, and it proved to be very successful,” said Scott Lundius, education director at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

And that success comes from a basis in science.
Music is also tied to particular events and memories, which can evoke emotions. Emotions can be important, as those with memory loss lose connections to their loved ones, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

“Music memory center is located just inside the ear, and it’s the last place to be affected by the progressive plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease. And since it’s free of that disease, it can actually allow people to tap into the present moment in a way they have little other opportunities to,” said Lundius.

“Our favourite songs transport us largely by conjuring surrogate emotions: the neural apparatus of emotion, reward, autonomic and motor programmes is hard-wired into our experience of music and this may have been the very point of music, in evolutionary terms,” said Camilla N. Clark and Jason D. Warren in a July 2015 Brain article.

The Memory Singers’ songs capture points in the participants’ life, such as youth and young adulthood, like “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag,” music from the Sound of Music, and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” The class uses only familiar songs, since unfamiliar songs are shown to have little to no effect on those with memory loss, according to a 2005 study about music recognition and Alzheimer’s.

Representatives from the school hope to move forward with more classes and programs around the city.

“I hope that more people come as they hear about it, because as people hear about this program and they find out how truly rewarding it is, that they will come and join us and that the program will keep growing,” said Mary Grimes-Kelley, Memory Singers teacher. “ … It can go to another location and have memory choirs for the caregiver and for the people with early stages of memory loss. My hope it expands because it is so rewarding.”

Photo Caption: The Old Town School of Folk Music is piloting a program for those with memory loss and their caregivers. (Grace Austin/MEDILL)

VR expands the limits of Chicago comedy and improv

By Grace Austin

Virtual reality is arriving on to the Windy City’s sketch scene, as iO Chicago launched pioneering technology designed to bring the outside viewer into the decidedly low-tech, interactive form of comedy.

In a cozy theater in Goose Island last Sunday, amongst a small but warm crowd of about 20, ceiling microphones and a tall, 360-degree camera were set up in the center of the room to capture the often-absurd sketches centered around such topics as witches, dating guys that look like your father, and tabby cats. IO performed their usual style of improv on a small stage with a smattering of chairs in the audience. But this virtual reality technology recorded the performance to be developed later on as a full VR experience.

Engaging an outside and potentially new audience while experimenting with new technology are what iO administrators and techies say excites them about the project.

“We’re in the discovery phase. Right now, we’re doing it to do it. Have fun, see what happens. … Improv doesn’t translate amazingly well with a [normal] camera. But sitting in the room, in VR, it really transports you. It’s an experience; you’re really transported to that space. So, we’re hoping that it’s a way to experience improv if you can’t get to the theater,” said Brett Singer, principal of Bottle Rocket Media, a video production company funding the project.

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Kaitlyn Williams sparks Loyola’s offense with 3-point shot

By Allie Burger

Kaitlyn Williams wanted McDonald’s.

At 8 years old, she was afraid to shoot the ball and made a deal with her parents that a few games into her first season, she would finally take a shot in exchange for a Happy Meal. She found herself lined up for a corner three, chucked the ball up and watched it ricochet off the side of the backboard.

Williams recalled the crowd let out a collective sigh. The memory served to motivate her to become a better shooter.

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Plastic bags — the stuff that dreams are made of

By Xiao Lyu & Qingwei Chen

Mary Moy, vice president of New Life for Old Bags (NLOB), has crocheted 52 sleeping mats in the last 5 years ago. But the mats are not made of yarn, they’re made from discarded plastic shopping bags. The process not only recycles the bags, but gives them new life: as sleeping mats for the homeless.

Every Tuesday afternoon NLOB volunteers work hard turning old bags into beautiful and useful mats at Bethesda Home and Retirement Center in MontClare. Each six-by-two-foot mat takes between 500 and 700 bags and requires 80 hours to make.

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