Paolo Soleri Retires: New Leadership at Cosanti Foundation

When the SETI Institute announced it was hibernating the Allen Telescope Array, I didn’t feel the need to say, “Production is starting up again” and fly out to California to interview Jill Tarter and shoot the dishes. (See, Is Production Really Over?) However, upon receiving the following press release from the Cosanti Foundation, I am wondering if it might be worth dusting off the camera.


Arcosanti, Arizona, July 13, 2011 – The Cosanti Foundation in Paradise Valley, Arizona announced today that its founder, internationally renowned architect Paolo Soleri has retired as its President and CEO.

“There are other things that I want to accomplish,” said the 92-year-old Soleri. “I am ready to leave the management of the Foundation and its primary project – the urban laboratory Arcosanti – to the next generation.”

That generation will now be led by Boston Architect Jeff Stein AIA who has been elected the Foundation’s new President by its Board of Trustees. Stein, a longtime Soleri collaborator, leaves his post as dean of the Boston Architectural College, the oldest and largest independent college of design in the nation, to accept the position in Arizona.

Preserving the enormous Soleri legacy while continuing to strengthen the Foundation as it pursues new areas of urban research is on our agenda ahead,” said Stein. “All of us connected with Paolo and the Foundation are looking forward to a new era in its work.”

A letter for the Wednesday Morning Meeting…

Arcosanti Community Colleagues: Good morning; it’s Jeff Stein sending you this note. This is an important moment for Arcosanti. Please know that I am thankful that you are all here, and accept my sincere apology for not being present with you this morning to share this news in person. It is a surprise – but a welcome one – for me to accept my new role as President of the Cosanti Foundation – in Paolo Soleri’s good stead. Every one of us have been brought here by the ideas of Paolo Soleri. For the past two years, our friend and mentor, Paolo, has pondered his eventual retirement. This past weekend at our Cosanti Foundation Board meeting he made it official: at age 92 he has relinquished his management responsibilities with the Foundation, and with Arcosanti in particular. Our job now is to move Arcosanti forward, to honor Paolo’s legacy, your ongoing good work, and the work of 8,000 others who have helped to build and grow this place over the past 40 years. We are in a real “What If” position at this time, and the Whole World lies before us. We are fortunate to have Paolo here with us as we continue our journey and work to move Arcosanti forward. I do not expect his thoughts – or the genius of his spirit – to stop within the state of grace that is retirement. As we now redouble our efforts on site, our intention will be to move forward together in full honor of Paolo. And have fun doing so! The job is to make Arcosanti a place where we can do the best work of our lives, keeping in mind the significant experimental nature of this place and what it may mean to the culture at large. In the space / time between today and my arrival in September, please know that Mary Hoadley and Tomiaki Tamura, as Officers of the Foundation, are in charge. They have the legal responsibility – and the confidence and respect of both Paolo and myself – for management decisions at Arcosanti. I am honored to accept this complex new role and responsibility, which again, is a surprise. I believe that this is the right thing to do, even if it is not the easy thing to do. As Paolo and the Cosanti Board have decided that this is how it will be, I look forward to contributing to the daily work at Arcosanti, and spending time in serious discussion with all of you about how best to do that in future. Best. Jeff Stein AIA, President, Cosanti Foundation

Thank you to the Cosanti Foundation for letting me post the press release. I wish all the best for Paolo Soleri in his retirement, and Jeff Stein in his new job.

SETIstars: SETI Institute Using Crowdfunding

Yesterday’s post about SETI was in the works since last week. Soon after it went live, I found out about SETIstars, the SETI Institute’s effort to raise $200,000 so they can get the Allen Telescope Array out of hibernation and back online. And soon after that I was contacted by SETI’s PR firm, who requested some of A Life’s Work footage of the ATA in case some press outlet is looking for moving images. I was happy to provide it, for the folks at SETI who have been so generous to me.

I like the crowdfunding idea, and I think this could be a good way for SETI to get the ATA up and running again. But I think what really needs to happen is something bigger. What needs to happen is a shift from, you guessed it, short-term to long-term thinking. SETI is engaged in an activity that is pushing the limits of today’s technology.

Think of the 1960s space program. The space race, whatever its sinister basis, resulted in an innovation explosion (it had nothing to do with that weather balloon that crashed in Roswell, really). People who are in the position to fund endeavors like SETI (governments, corporations, the SuperRich) would do well, by their constituents, shareholders and legacy, to think not in terms of quarters or fiscal years, but in terms of decades and centuries.

It’s simple: not supporting ventures like SETI, the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, Arcosanti, and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is detrimental to our future.

Okay, stepping off the soapbox now.

Here’s an article in Wired about SETIstars.

SETI Institute Hibernates Allen Telescope Array

The SETI Institute announced this week that it lacks the funding to keep its pride and joy, the Allen Telescope Array, up and running. The National Science Foundation awarded the SETI Institute one-tenth of what it gave previously and the State of California slashed funding as well.

SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson informed donors that the ATA was put into “hibernation.” So it’s sleeping, not searching.

“There is a huge irony,” said SETI Director Jill Tarter, “that at a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don’t have the operating funds to listen.” *

SETI has been here before. SETI was once under the NASA umbrella, then in 1994 congress eliminated government funding completely. The SETI Institute regrouped as a non-profit and since then has survived on private funding, corporate sponsorship, and grants.

First and foremost, this really burns me up. SETI needs $5 million over the next two years to keep the facility operational. That’s relatively nothing to keep a project like this going, a project that is probing one of the most profound questions humankind has ever asked.

Second, it raises an interesting question about the A Life’s Work. I’ve essentially declared shooting to be over, but does this news warrant going into production again? That joke that keeps coming up (will I finish the film in my lifetime?), when people crack it, they refer to the fact that it’s taking a long time to complete, but the deeper layer is this: given A Life’s Work’s premise (projects may not completed), how will I know when to stop shooting? Should I just keep shooting for the rest of my life? Keep following the cycles of these projects? These were questions I’ve thought about since pre-production and I return to over and over. All of these projects go through periods of hardship and then rebound.

I have footage representing the cycles, I have the subjects talking about them and how they handle them. It is like life, really. And if you’re going to tell a story, you don’t tell a whole life’s story, you tell part of it. The film isn’t called A Whole Life, after all.

What are your thoughts about the ATA going into hibernation?

* Source: SETI Institute suspends search for aliens, By Lisa M. Krieger

That One’s Mine: A Clip

Someone else shoots and someone else edits. So what exactly do I do on A Life’s Work besides sit opposite these amazing people and ask them a bunch of questions?

I make a lot of decisions. Who, what, where, when? I decide those. I come to a location with a shot list, knowing that in a documentary it may be useless since so much is determined by what’s available and not what I can set up, block, or stage. So I decide how to adjust. In post-production, I talk with the editor a lot and review the progress of the edit and I say, “Yes, I like this. No, I don’t like this.” “Can we go in this direction?” “Can we find a way to include this shot?”

But I do sometimes shoot, and I do construct a rough edit, and it’s a running joke with this director, and I suspect others, that when one of my shots or edits makes it into a finished film, I note the shot or edit with cheeky pride. “Yeah, that’s my shot.” “Yeah, that’s my edit.”

Our egos are fragile, you see. And so much of what we do is a mystery, that we really do need to let the world know when we did some tangible part of the finished film.

So here, this one is mine. (The banter doesn’t start until 30 seconds in.)


See also: How Do You Write a Documentary?

World Science Festival Recap

I went to the World Science Festival’s Cool Jobs event early and had the opportunity to spend a few minutes catching up with Jill Tarter. Topics of conversation included the status of the Allen Telescope Array, the status of A Life’s Work, space junk, unemployed theater folk, robotics, the necessity for a support team on your project, whether that project is making a documentary or searching for extraterrestrial life, and the importance of making time to catch the last dance at your spouse’s high school reunion. And she brought me a white chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie from the green room. Sweet!

It was nice to see some of A Life’s Work on the biggish screen. The radio telescopes looked fantastic, and they also included a snippet of me riding a bike through the ATA. (You can’t tell it’s me.) I was honored that they used some of my work, but mostly I was thrilled to see so many parents who brought their children to be inspired by four brilliant scientists.

Some stats:
Music while the audience found their seats: She Blinded Me with Science (Thomas Dolby), Weird Science (Oingo Boingo), Space Oddity (David Bowie), Atomic (Blondie).
Number of talking robots: 1.
Number of penguin wetsuits: 1.
Number of strange red skull caps that measured brainwave activity: 1.
Number of astronomers who held an audience of children and parents rapt while she discussed the search for an engineered signal from beyond earth: 1.

Thanks again to the World Science Festival, and a super special thank you to Dr. Tarter for taking the time to share a few minutes and a cookie with me.

Note: Select WSF events are streaming online.