Penny Stamps Speakers You Need to See

Right After Work.  Years ago I belonged to the “5:01 Club.”  Six girls––no one said “women” back then––and moi, the token male member of the species. We’d meet as close to 5:01 p.m. as we could every Thursday afternoon at the dear, departed Midtown Café in Birmingham, Michigan. Birmingham is still the capital of suburban Detroit, where rock bands and movie stars and professional sports teams stay when they come to town. The 5:01 Club would drink too much, laugh too loudly, talk too vulgarly, get too high, stay out too late, and we told ourselves that’s why they call it a party. I’ve stayed in touch with most of this very accomplished group of professionals over the years and they’re still as much fun as ever, despite successful marriages, families and international careers. No wonder, then, I feel instinctively affectionate about the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series that meets every Thursday at 5:10 p.m. at the historic and world-class Michigan Theater, free of charge and open to the public. The Series showcases innovative art and design leaders from around the world who inform and entertain Michigan students, faculty and the larger public community.


Wonder + Skepticism.  On February 2 design whiz Sara Hendren brings us her futuristic vision on adaptive and assistive technology, prosthetics and accessible architecture. She teaches socially engaged design practice and disability studies at the prestigious Olin College of Engineering, where she is an Assistant Professor. A married mother of three based in Cambridge Mass, she has a background in painting and drawing from Wheaton College, an MA in Art History from UCLA and a Masters in Design Studies from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Hendren obsesses about ramps, whether for skateboards or wheelchairs and calls the inclined plane “one of Galileo’s simple machines.” She edits the forward looking God bless her work on behalf of those of us who have had or will have a problem getting around.


What You Want is Not What You Need. On February 9 you can meet, hear and dig Jonathon Barnbrook. You know Barnbrook from his design collaboration with the dear, departed David Bowie and the creator of Bowie’s last four album covers, including the final and current Grammy-nominated Blackstar. It has been noticed that if the Blackstar cover is exposed to sunlight or to black light amazing visuals occur. And there’s more to be discovered, Barnbrook teases. His most energetic recent work has been in social activism, including collaboration with the anti-advertising collective Adbusters, the Occupy movement, the graffiti artist Banksy and the absurdly and pointlessly successful conceptual artist Damien Hirst. To me, by far his most impressive work has been on type font. His “Mason” font was one of the first digital typefaces acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and he has done a dozen others. His utopian gigs with Occupy and even Bowie strike me as posing more than creating and designing, but that’s just one beloved art critic’s opinion. Google his font designs and you’ll see real genius. Come to his talk at the Michigan and you’ll hear about the Spiders From Mars.


Beyond Sacred.  On the 16th, yes at 5:10, you can have a free brush with greatness in the presence of Ping Chong. Director, playwright and innovator in the use of multimedia effects in theater, Chong has won two BESSIE awards for dance and performance and two OBIE awards for excellence in off-Broadway theater. Since 1992 he has created more than 40 oral history works exploring race and culture. Ping Chong + Company will perform Beyond Sacred, a ticketed University Musical Society event, at the Power Center two days later, February 18 at 8 p.m.  Keep it up, Penny Stamps!


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