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The High Chair: Putting Families at the Forefront of Social Change

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The High Chair: Putting Families at the Forefront of Social Change

As part of our High Chair series, Mindr sent a group to the Social Good Summit. This event, hosted by Mashable at the 92nd Street Y, focused on conceptualizing the world we want to live in by 2030. Featuring a myriad of speakers across industries and sectors, the Social Good Summit brought together individuals who are at the forefront of creating social change, with special attention on how we can “unlock technology’s potential to make the world a better place.” The event was kicked off by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who made international headlines last week by bringing 3-month old baby Neve to the UN General Assembly floor. #MINDRMAMA Audrey Symes gives us her rundown of the incredible changemakers featured at the Summit, PM Ardern’s efforts to govern with children in mind (and on the lap) and how to nurture social consciousness in our children every day.

As parents we face challenges - both great and small - from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep again (and often throughout the night!) In search of guidance on optimal nap length, finicky eaters or how much screen time is too much, we often look to fellow parents as our best resources. What we sometimes may forget is that our fellow parents - especially those with a special place on the world stage - can also serve as role models with respect to a vital but more subtle part of parenting: nurturing a social conscience. Though it may seem like a daunting topic for young children, social consciousness is and should be accessible to all ages. In fact, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that giving back can provide plays perfectly into little ones’ desires to do things themselves, be proud of their work and have their voices heard.

When I learned about the opportunity to join the Mindr delegation at the Social Good Summit, I eagerly said yes. I was excited to hear how the amazing speakers are rethinking paradigms, making workplaces and institutions more inclusive and championing innovative points of view on global issues. As an advocate myself, I wanted to learn more about how the UN Sustainable Development Goals are transforming policy, science, philanthropy and family life, and hoped to pick up some tips on how to continue to nurture the importance of social change in my daughter.

The day opened with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a focus on Gender Equality (UN Goal 5). As a new mother herself, the Prime Minister spoke movingly of her fresh, positive and inclusive approach to both parenting and governing. PM Ardern discussed her primary goal in office - to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child. She explained her strategy for improving the lives of children by changing what successful governance means, emphasizing long-term and sustainable impacts on living standards and reducing child poverty as a budgetary priority. As only the second elected head of state to give birth while in office (and the first to take maternity leave), PM Ardern also discussed how her infant daughter (who was backstage) was often by her side at work - noting that she wished all working mothers could have the same privilege.

Being in the room with PM Arden sparked something in me to find small ways to effect change. And it made me think how I can be a champion for other mothers simultaneous to being an ever-present champion for my daughters.

I was inspired to see how how natural yet powerful the inclusion of family life into government institutions can be. As fellow Mindr attendee Kate Hughes put it, “Being in the room with PM Arden sparked something in me to find small ways to effect change. And it made me think how I can be a champion for other mothers simultaneous to being an ever-present champion for my daughters.”

The following panel, called "Early Moments Matter," featured Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, who echoed PM Ardern’s beliefs. Ms. Fore began by stating that secure bonding is a hallmark of child development. Her advocacy focuses on making workplaces more inclusive and reflective of family needs. She invited the audience members to reimagine the workplace from a child’s point of view, observing that family wellbeing will ultimately make for a happier and more productive working environment.

One common theme of the Summit was the evolution of the workplace. So many of the speakers, from Andrew Lee of UBS to Andy Pharoah of Mars Corporation, mentioned the necessity for the corporate world to embrace their employees as people and think of them as family members. This can manifest across corporate operations, from impact investing and scaling up philanthropic projects to listening more closely to what families need to thrive. Flexible and creative thinking is the key to unlocking under-utilized human capital.

Also addressed was UN Sustainable Development Goal 11, “Sustainable Cities and Communities.” Alexandra Lafci of New Story shared her commitment to reducing global homelessness through 3D house printing and discussed the amazing success she’s had housing thousands of families across the world. I was struck by her admission that while she knew her solution wasn't perfect, there was no reason not to try to solve an incredibly large problem.

All of us, even our little ones, can take small steps together in our everyday lives to make the world a little bit better. These steps make more of an impact than you might imagine.

Lafci’s attitude encapsulates everything I love about advocacy, the mission of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and why I believe in the importance of nurturing social consciousness in our children. All of us, even our little ones, can take small steps together in our everyday lives to make the world a little bit better. These steps make more of an impact than you might imagine. In fact, they are the only way that true change can happen on a broad scale. Helping my four-year-old develop compassion for and understanding of her neighbors - and seeing her take enormous pride in doing so - has been a major highlight for me as a parent. More importantly, I believe that knowing she has the responsibility, courage and power to make things better for herself and others will be a lifelong source of joy.

There are many ways to bring the Sustainable Development Goals into family life. Every family will find certain goals that speak to them the most, whether they be Gender Equality, Responsible Consumption and Production, Ending Poverty, Ending Hunger, or others. Whichever way we choose to contribute to the 2030 Agenda, it starts with our own awareness of its importance and our resolve to make it accessible to our children.

Mindr Mama Stephanie Rubino noted of her experience at the Summit, “I only realized afterwards, that by the year 2030 my child will be 18 years old. Being able to witness every speaker, innovator and changemaker firsthand made me have hope for the future. I left with more knowledge on how to become a better guide to my son and his development in this ever-changing world.” Sally Cunningham observed, “It was so refreshing to step out of my own for a day, to be surrounded by and listening to people committed to making positive change in so many different ways. It also provided me with the much-needed motivation and reminder to keep pursuing the things that matter to me.” Just like the famous mamas at the Summit, we can all be inspired in our own ways to work toward the vision of a more inclusive world for our little ones - and make them part of our efforts at being our own forces of social change.

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Insights from the Playmat: Mara Martin

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Insights from the Playmat: Mara Martin

You asked for more Mindr, and we heard you loud and clear! We’re delighted to announce Mindr’s new YouTube series, Insights from the Playmat.

Throughout this series, our founder Sarah will sit down with some of the world’s most inspiring thought leaders and cultural icons, to discuss ways to elevate women and parents in the professional, intellectual, civic and social spheres. So now you can get a hit of that Mindr mojo you love, without changing out of your pajamas.

Our first episode was filmed at the United Nations, and features runway model and mama Mara Martin, who recently made international headlines when she walked down the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit runway while breastfeeding her baby daughter, Aria. We were at the UN with Mara for one of the events in our High Chair networking series.

We hope you enjoy the show! We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Community Spotlight: Aaron Kuffner on Parenthood and Art

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Community Spotlight: Aaron Kuffner on Parenthood and Art

Did you know that exposure to the arts - whether in school or at home - has been said to broaden children's perspectives, challenge preconceived notions and potentially increase tolerance and empathy? At a time when arts education is at an ongoing risk of losing funding, it is important to take advantage of the multidisciplinary art happening all around us everyday.

To help you do so, meet Aaron Taylor Kuffner, a Mindr dad to son Sebby (age 2) and conceptual artist based here in New York City. Aaron’s awe-inspiring Gamelatron installations are kinetic sculptures that marry Indonesian ritual and sonic tradition with robotics and modernist features. If you’re based here in the city, you can catch the final weekend of his exhibition at the 11th Annual Governor's Island Art Fair. He was also recently featured at Refinery 29’s 29Rooms. We spoke with Aaron about his journey to create the Gamelatron, how becoming a father has changed his artistic point of view, and how art can help us be present with our children.

Aaron, your kinetic sculptures are unlike anything we’ve seen before. Can you talk us through what led you down this path to pursue the Gamelatron project?

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I have always been a musician - I played saxophone from a young age and taught myself guitar in high school. As a student in the Visual and Performing Arts School at Syracuse University, I started to explore other forms of conceptual and performance art. I eventually dropped out of school and moved to Brooklyn in 1996. There, I became involved in a number of projects - I founded an arts collective, a multi-media performance troupe, and started DJing/producing electronic music, among other things. In 2002, I brought my performance troupe to Berlin and co-organized a multimedia art festival there. I ended up in Indonesia in an effort to escape the Berlin winter - and that one winter turned into several years. 

Some time later, I became an artist in residency with the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots headed by Eric Singer, one of the foremost experts in robotizing musical instruments. I started augmenting Eric's xylophone robots to play Indonesian gongs, and the concept of the Gamelatron was born. Eric and I worked together to build the first Gamelatron in 2008. I soon took over the Gamelatron Project and over the last decade it has become my main form of artistic expression. 

How has becoming a parent changed or impacted the way that you approach your work? Has becoming a parent changed your point of view/inspiration for your art?

Being a parent has impacted how I approach my work in a lot of practical ways. Prior to having children, I was a workaholic who would obsess over what I was making - sometimes to the detriment of my well-being. Becoming a parent has helped me set better boundaries with my work-life and I am better at balancing my time. I have become less obsessive about my work and have been able to relax about getting done what I can in the time that I have.

My point of view about my art has also changed since becoming a father. Without consciously deciding to, most of my adult life has been spent around people close to my age without kids. Over the last couple years, as I have become a father and have had a lot more contact with young people, I have learned a lot from watching the way they see the world. In doing so, I feel they influence me as to what is interesting. I don't think the inspiration behind why I make art has changed, but my perspective on its potential impact and how it is perceived has widened since becoming a parent.

Your Gamelatron installations are an inspirational blend of ancient musical traditions with modern technology. Has this balance of respecting cultural traditions while embracing technological advancements in society affected your parenting? 

I am not totally sure if it has in a literal sense. I believe technology is never static. When we talk about technology, it has a connotation that we are always talking about something new. In my work, I am constantly reminded that humans incorporate technology from a multitude of generations and geographic locations into our daily lives. Just looking around my kitchen I ask, who started using knives and then developed the steel I have here? Who/when did they begin to make glass mason jars? Digital timers in a variety of machines? A sono speaker? Modern life is not a collection of new things, but rather a multi-generational global collection of technologies that hopefully work harmoniously together (or on the backs of each other). In that context, it makes natural sense to me that I would blend ancient musical traditions with modern technology - because both exist in my world.  

The lesson that I might take into parenting from my work is not to be hierarchical. Pounding bronze in ways that makes it produce beautiful resonance might be an ancient technology compared to the computers we use - but it is not about one being better than the other, they are different and both brilliant in their own way. It is about respecting all the different processes and talents and traditions that go into making the world around us.

Across the country, we've seen cuts to arts education in public schools. In your opinion, what can parents do to ensure that their children are exposed to multidisciplinary arts fields and how important is this to a child's development?

Art for me is inseparable from anything else - and though I understand that schools need to create line items on budgets and draw distinctions between different curricula - I feel that art should be part of all subjects. It should be incorporated into how we practice at learning everything, from math to history and beyond. I see art as an approach to learning rather than a subject to be learned and mastered. Under this rationale, I think it is about reforming how we teach/learn and intentionalize art making to be part of that process. That way, if the budget for art as a subject is cut, art as a tool and a concept can still thrive.

I think art is very important to a child's development - it teaches the conceptual tools of creation - the beginning of combining elements to juxtapose each other, the shaping of form to create a thing. Even if you do not become an artist, it plants the seed that you can take materials, put them together, change them around and create a unique thing. These are building-block concepts for being a healthy and successful person.

Are there ways that your profession as an artist has made you a better parent? Do you have any great pieces of advice or life hacks to share?

I feel really fortunate that my profession is one that encourages me to stay open minded and push boundaries, allowing me to have a more inclusive and expansive concept of the world. My best advice (noting that I do not always follow it), is to just be present - as deeply and as diligently as you can to your child. Allow yourself to inhabit their perspective - value how they perceive the world - let yourself be where they are.

Tell us a little more about your exhibition at the Governor’s Island Art Fair this month. What are you hoping to achieve through these new pieces and how can our Mindr community check out your work? 

At the Governor’s Island Art Fair, I have set up a live sound lounge in an old abandoned row house featuring Gamelatron red birds, with rugs and bean bag chairs. This coming weekend is the exhibition’s last, so I encourage everybody to check it out. Always with my work, I hope to offer a respite from your life where you can have an experience of beauty and the sublime. An experience that will hopefully feed your spirit and let you connect with yourself and others around you in a harmonious way.

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