My Night as an Upstairs Guest

Mingling with Lady Grantham at "An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey."

Mingling with Lady Grantham at “An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey.”

Downton Abbey: It’s addictive, charming and … over … for now. As we begin our Downton detox and await Season 6’s 2016 premiere (Maggie Smith’s last season), you may find yourself missing your favorite Sunday night show.

We’ll each find different ways to cope with the absence of Downton. Take me, for instance. This past weekend, I dressed up in full Edwardian garb for Wisconsin Public Television’s An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey. The event was an opportunity to revel in the Downton lifestyle for a good cause, and it distracted attendees from the grim truth that the season would come to an end the following day.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening. As adults, we get far too few opportunities to dress up and transport ourselves to a different time. The food was delectable, the company was charming and the music was incredible. Be sure to check out photos from the event.

It’s nights like An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey that make me so proud to work for Wisconsin Public Television. Our mission is not only to offer quality content over the airwaves, but also to offer quality outreach events throughout communities, taking the time to connect with the many supporters who make our station possible.

Now that the event’s over, I’ve traded my costume for contemporary clothing, but I’ll definitely remember my Downton evening fondly. (Side note: if anyone knows how Edwardian women pulled off those hairstyles without hairspray, please let me in on the secret.)

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Behind the Scenes: Q&A with Remarkable Homes host Michael Bridgeman

Host Michael Bridgeman speaks with the owner of the Havilah Babcock house in Neenah, WI.

If you’re looking for a glimpse of summer and some architectural gems, check out one of our newest shows, Remarkable Homes of Wisconsin, premiering 7 p.m. Monday, March 2. Inspired by the Wisconsin Historical Society’s book, Wisconsin’s Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes, the new program showcases six buildings that are truly works of art. The show explores not only the architectural details, but also the families and stories behind the historical houses. Host Michael Bridgeman sat down with me one afternoon to talk about how the show came together.

What about this project caught your attention?
“This project was great; it’s exactly the kind of thing I like to do. I actually started my undergraduate studies as an architecture major. I was always going to be, I thought, an architect and was a big youthful fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. My architectural career in college lasted exactly one semester, but my interest never waned.” Continue reading

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See Sesame Street’s “House of Cards” Parody

“Some people say there’s too much pork in this town. Frank Underwolf could not agree more.”

Sesame Street released its latest parody this week, this time wonderfully merging the stories of “House of Cards” with “Three Little Pigs.”

“House of Cards” begins its third season Friday on Netflix, and though we would never recommend watching the Kevin Spacey version with your kids, Sesame Street’s playful little “House of Cards” spoof is one you and the kids will both enjoy.

Want more? Watch “Upside Downton Abbey” and more spoofs from Sesame Street.

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7 Ways to Engage Your Creative Children

I love that my daughter loves art and music, and I’ve dedicated a large part of our fairly small house to art supplies and her projects. I also know that how I respond to my daughter’s creations affects her deeply. Courtesy of PBS Parents, Patti Saraniero at ArtsEdge.org gives us seven suggestions about how parents can talk with their kids about their creative work.

1. Be thoughtful.
Your young artist has put effort into his work. Generic praise that we all use —“that’s great, honey”—gives us away that we aren’t really looking or listening. It can be discouraging. On the flip side, highlighting a weak spot in the artwork can also undermine a young artist. Often your artist is aware of where the artwork doesn’t work as well. If your young actor cannot be heard from the stage, encourage him to talk about what he is doing well and what he wants to continue to work on. When your actor identifies that he needs to better project his voice, offer to help. If he says no, accept that, but be willing to lend a hand when your child is ready for your help.

2. Don’t take over.
For parents who have a special ability or interest in the child’s art area, it can be tempting to “help.” Hold on. Let your child find her own way and wait for her to invite your participation. For example, let’s say the theater has been a very important part of your own

childhood and adulthood. It makes sense that you would want your children to enjoy it, too. So absolutely take your kids to the theater. Speak to them afterward about the experience, and let them know that you are willing to take them again.

3. Get beyond yes and no.
Use open-ended questions that encourage your child to discuss or explain his work. Listen closely to what he says. Try asking “Tell me about your sculpture” rather than “What is that?” Questions such as “What was your inspiration for this song?” encourage young artists to articulate their artistic thinking and process. The arts offer a valuable opportunity for children and teens to practice self-reflection.

4. Teach to learn.
Ask your young artist to teach you about the arts concepts and skills she learned to create the artwork. Teaching is a great way to reinforce learning and build mastery. What kid doesn’t love the opportunity to show an adult how something is done?

5. Encourage the process.
The artistic product is what you see at the end of your child’s hard work. The process of creating the work is as valuable as the product—and, for many kids, more so. When producing a piece of art, student artists must create, revise, polish, and persevere. All of these experiences are useful both in and outside of the arts. Music, dance, and theater rehearsals are great opportunities for your artist to practice not only the art form but also collaboration, compromise, and patience.

6. Effort counts.
Not every artistic product will be perfect (or even “good”). Interestingly, it may be the effort put into creating it that matters more in the end. In each of the arts, there are technical skills that need to be developed. Not every child may be artistically gifted, but with education and practice, every child can develop artistic skills. Encourage practice. Remember the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice…”? The reason the joke still works is because practice matters!

7. Let their light shine.
Find ways for your child to share his work if he chooses to. With visual artwork, encourage your child to photograph his work to create a digital “catalog” of his accomplishments. Videos and recordings of performing artworks also allow student artists to “collect” their body of work.Parents are an artist’s first and often unabashedly best audience. Whether your young artist has career aspirations in the arts or not, your support, interest, and commitment underscore the importance of her artistic work and viewpoint. Remember, the arts are valuable ways for kids to make sense of life and the world. You can further illuminate the way for them.

For more articles about kids and the arts, visit pbs.org/parents.

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Archives of Vel Phillips to be Made Available

Written by Michael Edmonds, Deputy Director of the Library-Archives Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which hosts a free discussion on Milwaukee’s Civil Rights Struggle Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Judge Vel Phillips – WHS Image ID 28115

As you probably saw from Monday night’s documentary, Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams, Milwaukee’s Vel Phillips has led a remarkable life — activist, Common Council member, judge, Wisconsin Secretary of State, and much more. The records of her career recently came to the Wisconsin Historical Society, where a team of archivists has begun to prepare them for use by researchers.

An old maxim claims that newspapers are the first draft of history, but in fact there’s an even earlier draft: the notes, scraps, manuscripts, and other documents that people preserve in file cabinets or toss into boxes under the bed. Phillips was an enthusiastic saver of such records, and over the decades she carefully preserved enough papers to fill two storage units. She and her family recently donated them to the Wisconsin Historical Society where, thanks to a generous gift from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, they are being properly arranged and described. Archivist Emil Hoelter is in charge of the project.

Cataloging the large quantity of documents is no simple task. The first step was to repack the papers from hundreds of miscellaneous containers into 116 acid-free boxes and ship them to Madison. Hoelter and his staff are currently making a first pass through those boxes to make a rough inventory of the collection and write a professional appraisal report and processing plan. Over the next year, the project team will implement that plan by arranging records according to their dates or topics, noting those that need special conservation treatment, and selecting the most interesting and important ones to be digitized and share on the Web. Digitization is being supported by a gift from retired UW history professors Allan Bogue and Margaret Beattie Bogue.

Watch Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams online.

It’s too early to say what documents may be published on the Web, but the 116 cartons thoroughly document all aspects of Phillips’ life and public career. When the collection is made available to researchers early in 2016, it will surely shed much new light on the history of Milwaukee’s African-American community, the city’s civil rights struggle, and Phillips’ own illustrious career.

Hoelter will talk about the papers on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 24th, at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison. Dr. Patrick Jones, author of the award-winning book “Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee,” will introduce the program, which also includes selections from Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams and a conversation with James Steinbach, director of Wisconsin Public Television, about the documentary project.

More information on the Tuesday night program is at wisconsinhistory.org.

Michael Edmonds is the Deputy Director of the Library-Archives Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society and curator of the Society’s online collection of more than 25,000 pages documenting Freedom Summer. He is editor of the Society Press’s book highlighting that collection Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader.

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