The Vilcek Foundation Newsletter
The Vilcek Foundation Newsletter
Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle Hosts a Reception for the Vilcek Foundation at Historic Washington Place
I always think of Fall as the beginning of the cultural year, and look forward to perusing all the new programs and schedules in music, dance, film, theater, and art. And for me, now, Fall also means a trip to our fiftieth state, to attend the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF), held in mid-October. I've just returned from my third trip there as representative of the Vilcek Foundation, which since 2007 has been sponsoring HIFF's American Immigrant Filmmakers on Profile (AIFP) series, a curated program of films by foreign-born writers, directors, and actors. Watching these films, I am always struck by how human creativity finds so many different expressions within this artistic medium.
The festival was particularly rewarding this year, both for the Foundation and for me personally. On October 19, Hawaii's Governor Linda Lingle hosted a reception in the governor's mansion, at historic Washington Place, for 200 guests, as an official thank you from the State of Hawaii to the Vilcek Foundation, for our unique grant to HIFF and the interesting programming that it has provided the state. And all five films in this year's AIFP series were very well attended and received—three of the five sold out, even at additional screenings. Two—White on Rice and The People I've Slept With—have already been picked up and released for general distribution; a third, and a favorite of mine, Prince of Broadway, has won numerous awards worldwide.
I believe we are lucky in life to find people, or communities, like HIFF, that share our vision, and through that sharing broaden our horizons. We present a clear example of that process in the lead article in the Fall 2009 issue of our newsletter, about an artist who has a direct connection to HIFF.
I met Kai-Duc Luong at last year's festival and later commissioned him to produce the Foundation's first video installation, a medium making inroads into many artistic venues, including dance, concerts, and theater. I hope that reading about Kai and this innovative art form will encourage you to experience his piece, called "Circumplex," which opened in our gallery space on East 73rd Street on October 2, and is on view until November 14. I think you'll find it to be a very contemplative work of art.
Next, as part of our year-long focus on the culinary arts (it's our 2010 arts category for both the main Vilcek Prize and the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise), we bring you a brief look at the history of the cookbook, which might be more accurately described as a form of history book. Early cookbooks were much more than guides to food preparation; they tracked the adaptations and changes in early American family life and society and the direct influences on our culture by the waves of immigrants over time.
We can likewise trace a direct line between immigrants and American opera, and another article in the newsletter turns the spotlight on the Santa Fe Opera, one of the oldest and most successful regional companies in the country. The Vilcek Foundation is a sponsor of the company's apprentice program, which gives young singers and technicians, many of them immigrants, the opportunity to hone their craft.
Finally, our profile in this issue is on a biomedical investigator at the top of his craft, Dr. Peter Palese, Chairman of the Department of Microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and President of the American Society for Virology. You may already have heard or read about him, for he is frequently called upon by the media to lend his expertise and insight— and perhaps ease our minds a bit—about the avian and swine flu viruses.
As you can see, the content of our newsletter is becoming more extensive, a reflection of the growth of our events and programs calendar. I hope you enjoy the expanded coverage.
The crowd in the reception area at Vilcek Foundation headquarters on the evening of October 2, 2009 was all abuzz after having seen Circumplex, filmmaker Kai-Duc Luong's video exploration into human emotion, while behind the black curtain leading to the gallery space a very different atmosphere prevailed. There, newly arrived guests in small groups sat in rapt silence as they viewed this hybrid artwork.
Although many in attendance had read in advance the artist's intent to invoke viewer reaction via words, music, and dance, few were prepared for the actual experience. On two large screens, hung on opposite walls, appeared a man and a woman, one on either side. In the darkened room, as their interaction played out on-screen, viewers found themselves literally in the middle of the couple's effort to understand one another and themselves. Dressed similarly, all in white, and in a mutual yet separate struggle, the duo pass through their "primary" emotions, one after the other, in a circumplex—a circular representation—of human nature.
Is it private, their passage? Or meant to be shared?
Based in part on psychologist Robert Plutchik's theory of emotions, and inspired by the six medieval tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, in ten and a half minutes Mr. Luong takes his representational couple through anger, surprise, fear, trust, joy, disgust, anticipation, sadness. Is it any wonder viewers exited back into the light and clamor of the crowd with what can only be described as mixed emotions, eager to join the discussion and offer their interpretation?
"It was nothing like I expected," said one guest, "but I admit it's the first video installation I've seen. I found it very effective, and moving—but I think I have to see it again."
She was not the only one who felt the need for repeated viewings. Mr. Luong said he was "surprised and gratified" that a number of guests viewed Circumplex two and three times, even "reorganizing the chairs or resituating themselves in the gallery to get a different viewpoint."
Two other visitors, Yi Leng and Matt, who saw the video after the opening, wrote, "[We] visited the Vilcek Foundation a couple weekends ago when we were in New York. I was so glad we were able to see it—the video installation was amazing! ... It seemed like it worked on so many levels, but all came together—the physical installation, the choreography, the storyline, the cinematography—so beautiful."
Mr. Luong said he was gratified that "a lot of people were touched by the piece," even as he acknowledged that "some didn't fully get it," and drew some conclusions from the mixed responses. "The younger crowd really connected to it," he said, "while the more mature audience seemed to have more difficulty with the piece—not in terms of how it's made but in terms of the content and its emotional impact and being able to fully relate to it. Perhaps there's a generational gap at play; perhaps it's the newer kind of ‘streamlined/purified' aesthetic that is not commonly seen, even though the themes discussed are similar."
Overall, Mr. Luong is satisfied with audience reaction to Circumplex, and says he fully intends to continue to develop video artwork as part of his filmmaking career. He is currently at work on a documentary about protests against bankers in Chicago.
Circumplex is on view at the Vilcek Foundation through November 14, 2009. Those unable to visit the exhibition can get a sense of the experience by clicking on the "Circumplex Exhibition Trailer," under Kai-Duc Luong: Circumplex," on our home page.
From their first appearance in this country, cookbooks have been much more than just books about cooking. Their contents hold historical significance far beyond recording changing food practices and tastes in America. We can, say culinary historians, look to cookbooks as valuable historical resources that enable us to follow the waves of immigrants as they transformed the American landscape, beginning with early colonial times. Some culinary historians go so far as to hail the first American cookbook, published in 1796, as another declaration of American independence.
A declaration of independence is about the only thing that Amelia Simmons, author of the first American cookbook by an American, seems to have left out of the title of her small volume, American Cookery, or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes,...Adapted to This Country and All Grades of Life. How did such a short book with such a long title come to carry so much weight historically?
The answer, explains renowned culinary historian, Janice Bluestein Longone, curator of American Culinary History at the Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is that before American Cookery, all cookbooks published in this country were British reprints, and although many of Simmons's recipes were clearly derived from those books, "the originality of her work lies in the recognition and use of truly American products"—cornmeal, turkey, squash, pumpkin, potatoes, and cranberries (it was Simmons, Longone says, who first suggested cranberries as an accompaniment to turkey).
The continuous historical import of cookbooks published since American Cookery is clear in retrospect. In describing an exhibit she curated at the Clements Library in 1996, to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the American cookbook, Longone said, "All the major events in American history are captured in these cookbooks—war, recessions, the Depression, changing roles of women and children, the westward expansion, immigration, increasing industrialization and the production of food, and the introduction of new foods, techniques, and equipment."
The two world wars, for example, were reflected in cookbooks printed during those difficult times. They instructed homemakers how to economize and, at the same time, do their part for the war effort. Recipes called for cornmeal instead of wheat flour, margarine instead of butter, and less meat, to ensure that the men at the front could have more higher-grade food items. Similarly, Depression-era cookbooks offered households new, innovative ways to stretch their budgets. This can be seen again today, in the aftermath of the most recent economic collapse. "There's much greater interest in cookbooks, particularly those about slow cookers, value meals, canning and preserving," said a spokeswoman for Borders Group Inc. ("Recession Stirs Up At-Home Cooking in Weak Economy," Associated Press, April 1, 2009). In fact, weak economies have always meant strong sales for cookbooks, as well as for sales of cooking and kitchen equipment.
Forging the Melting Pot
But it is, perhaps, the immigrant story as revealed by early cookbooks that is the most telling. "When I began gathering early ethnic American cookbooks, one by one," Longone wrote, "I assumed that as a collection they would come to represent a certain genre of American culinary history. And they do. But the more I examined the books, the more they forced me to see them as evocative chapters of the American immigrant saga, in which the personal experiences were more meaningful than the litany of recipes" (Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 4, no. 2, 2004).
The "chapters" depended, of course, on the intended audience for a cookbook; but for homemakers, the early American cookbook was commonly divided into three parts: cookery, medicine, and household hints. Homemakers of the day were responsible for much more than preparing meals and keeping house; they were also called upon to minister to the medical needs of their households, and to serve as keepers of the cultural flame.
To meet these diverse needs, explained Longone, some early cookbooks were written in the immigrant's native language; others were in English; still others were bilingual. Early cookbooks also were written as an aid for immigrants going "into service" and their employers, serving as a foreign-language phrasebook, so that the lady of the house could communicate with her foreign-born maid, cook, or butler by pointing at various relevant phrases provided both in English and the native tongue of the "help." Especially after the Civil War, more of these double- and triple-duty cookbooks began to appear, says Longone, each offering "a different, specific, and intriguing perspective on how the melting pot was created." Cookbooks might also contain, for example, rules of etiquette, home-decorating tips, how-to's on managing household staff, or a seasonal catalog of foodstuffs.
Cookbooks today carry on the tradition of being much more than compilations of recipes, and to serve as windows on our ever-changing culture and society. Modern cookbooks may no longer offer tips on "managing the help," but they will explain how to manage the enormous wealth of new foodstuffs now available from all over the world, along with the tools and equipment for working with them; they are also important, and often in-depth, resources of nutritional information. And the influence of immigrants remains a powerful force in the cookbook genre; indeed, ethnic cookbooks comprise a huge category in the cookbook-publishing world. The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Cookbook Awards program includes under the "American" category, the subcategory, "Cookbooks that focus on ethnic, cultural, historic, or regional cooking in the United States."
Likewise, bilingual cookbooks are still being printed in many different languages, albeit typically not by mainstream publishers—although that, too, is changing. In 2005, for example, Betty Crocker went bilingual. Cocina Betty Crocker: Favorite American Recipes in Spanish and English (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) offers traditional American recipes such as apple pie and Sloppy Joes, with instructions in English on one side and in Spanish on the other. Next to instructions for Macaroni and Cheese, for example, are directions for Macarrones con Queso.
That then raises the question: What is traditional American cuisine? Not surprisingly it turns out, "traditional American" recipes, like most Americans themselves, have foreign-born ancestry. Consider apple pie, thought by many to be the quintessentially American dessert. Recipes for the confection (along with the apples) were brought here by early European settlers, and date back to medieval times (such as "For to Make Tartys in Applis," from around 1381). The American hot dog ("frankfurter") is a nineteenth-century descendent of the Austrian/German wienerwurst and other Old World sausages. The American hamburger also can claim German ancestry, by way of the Russian Tartars, who are credited with introducing it to the Germans ("Hamburg steak"). Even the humble jelly bean can trace its roots to Turkish Delight, a fruit-gum candy originating in the Middle East.
The Growing Appetite for Cookbooks
For 150 years before Amelia Simmons's American Cookery was printed, immigrants and settlers relied on the cookbooks they brought with them from overseas; they also shared recipes by word of mouth and in practice (e.g., daughters watching and helping their mothers prepare meals), and they kept handwritten "receipt" books. So, in fact, says Longone, Americans came late to cookbook publishing. (The word "recipe" itself, to refer to a list of ingredients and directions for cooking with them, was also slow to come in to widespread use. Until about the middle of the nineteenth century, "recipe" was used predominantly to mean "prescription." The oldest surviving recipes, written on clay tablets some 3700 years ago, were for many years thought to be pharmaceutical formulas.)
Once Americans got the cookbook habit though, they couldn't get enough of them. About 160 cookbook titles appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the number has been growing ever since; today, many hundreds of new cookbooks and reprints are published every year, with thousands more already on shelves in a huge variety of specialties. As they have done historically, they continue to reflect our cultural and societal trends. Today's focus on nutrition, and concerns about obesity, for example, are evident in the wealth of cookbooks on "healthy eating"—vegetarian cookbooks, once hard to find, are now hard to miss; and diet cookbooks fill long shelves in bookstores. And we have only to cruise the ethnic cookbook section to see which immigrant populations are today expanding our culinary traditions. Joining the ever-popular French, Italian, and Mexican cookbooks are Indian, Vietnamese, African, many Asian, and since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, and more.
For all their diversity, one thing remains constant in cookbooks: the link between the culinary arts and progress. As Fannie Farmer stated in her Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, published in 1896, "Progress in civilization has been accompanied by progress in cookery."
Photo Credit: From the Private Collection of Janice Bluestein Longone
If music is the universal language, it speaks a number of dialects at the world-renowned Santa Fe Opera Company, where diversity is prized and young artists from all over the world participate in apprentice programs that give them once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to hone their crafts.
"Priceless—there are no classes you can take to compare the experience," said Spanish-born tenor Jorge Prego, one of the lucky few (37 of around 1,500) chosen to take part in the Apprentice Program for Singers in the summer of 2008. Now in his second year at the Chicago College of Performing Arts with the Chicago Opera Theater Young Artists Program, Mr. Prego's apprenticeship was sponsored by the Vilcek Foundation, longtime supporter of the company (the Foundation sponsors three artists or technicians annually).
The Apprentice Program for Singers, the first of its kind, was launched during the company's inaugural season in 1957 (a program for theater technicians was added in 1965). Since then, the program has been widely emulated, said Santa Fe Opera General Director Charles MacKay. "Similar programs are now attached to some 118 opera companies across the country."
An important strength of the apprentice programs, said Mr. MacKay, is their long tradition of welcoming foreign-born participants, who help create a more energized environment for all. "When many cultures are represented," he said, "it broadens the experience for everyone involved, and especially those who are younger and from more insular environments. It helps them to be exposed to a wider world—both as artists and people." That is why he commends highly the stipulation that the Vilcek Foundation-sponsored apprenticeships be awarded only to foreign-born artists and technicians. "It is a healthy provision, one that ensures a vitality that is very, very important and beneficial to the company."
Cultural Crossroads in the Desert
The mountainous region of northern New Mexico, hundreds of miles from any major city, may seem to many an unlikely place to find a world-class opera company—though not to Mr. MacKay, who was raised in Santa Fe and notes proudly that the state has a long history as a cultural crossroads. "My private theory on New Mexico is that it has been a meeting place of many cultures going back to ancient times. There has always been a harmonious coexistence of different cultures here, from which grew a real appreciation of the arts."
"By the time artists began to come from Europe in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century," he continued, "they were welcomed, even revered by the community. There was, and continues to be here, a climate of acceptance, and a fascination with the European influence."
And early on, opera was seen as a valuable, even necessary, component of the growing cultural landscape. An article in the November 18, 1897, issue of The New Mexican read, "The city needs an opera house and needs it very much. ... The public spirited citizens should heed this."
But it would take another sixty years before a young conductor from New York would make it happen. John Crosby's dream was to give American singers the same opportunity as their European counterparts—namely, adequate time to learn and perform new roles. As he noted, "In this country, young artists have to do something which is impossible—gain experience. ... To get such experience now, a young artist has to go to Europe." 1
Today, young artists come to the Santa Fe Opera to gain this invaluable training, as Jorge Prego has done. "One of the greatest things in this country," he said, "is that people here have the power to change things for the better, and they do—like the Vilceks. It's inspiring."
Of his three-month intensive schedule at the Santa Fe Opera (which included voice lessons, repertory coaching, lessons in movement and diction, and performance opportunities in main-stage and ensemble roles), Mr. Prego says, "From beginning to end, I was surrounded by talented singers, and able to be close to principals, to see how they breathe, move, act—everything. It was fantastic."
In spring 2010, Mr. Prego will have his professional debut at the Chicago Opera Theater, where he will sing Aronne in Rossini's Mosè in Egitto. He will be joining the ranks of hundreds of former Santa Fe Opera apprentices, such as James Morris, Samuel Ramey, Franco Farina, and Neil Shicoff, Celena Shafer, Michelle de Young, Beth Clayton, William Burden, Kurt Streit, and Joyce DiDonato, who are now enjoying international careers at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House, La Scala, Opéra National de Paris, San Francisco Opera, and other prominent companies.
1. Eleanor Scott, The First Twenty Years of the Santa Fe Opera (Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press), 1976.
Photo credit: Photo by Ken Howard. Used with permission.
When it comes to influenza, "the flu," most of us only want to know one thing: how to avoid catching it. Fortunately for all of us, there are scientists who spend their lives doing the opposite—trying not so much to catch flu viruses as to "capture" them, in order to understand their genetic makeup and biology, for the purpose of developing the vaccines that keep the rest of us healthy. Preeminent among these virologists and microbiologists is Dr. Peter Palese, Chairman of the Department of Microbiology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, and President of the American Society for Virology.
Born in Freiwaldau (now the Czech Republic) and educated at the University of Vienna (MS in Pharmacy; PhD in Chemistry), Dr. Palese came to the United States almost forty years ago as a postdoctoral fellow, during what he calls a "golden time" for foreign scientists and scholars. "My first job [an assistant professorship at Mount Sinai]," he recalls, "I got by sending in a one-page CV—no checking of this and that...." Today, he notes, things are much different—and much more problematic—for foreign scientists, postdocs, and students who want to come to the United States to work or study. "Unfortunately," he says, "red tape is suffocating a lot of the vitality of this country, and the situation could be easily resolved." He cautions that it's important to keep in mind the enormous benefit to this country of educating foreign-born scientists and encouraging them to carry out their research here "We really are not helping ourselves by making it so difficult for them to enter the country. Only if bureaucrats don't shut the door can the U.S. maintain its excellence in the sciences."
At the same time, Dr. Palese remains optimistic. "I think this country is still a land of a thousand opportunities. For those who want to work hard, the country is still wide open." And he stays closely involved in promoting opportunities for immigrants to this country, not only in his laboratory but as a member of the jury for the Vilcek Foundation's Creative Promise prize in biomedical research. Of the goals of the Foundation, he says, "What a great idea, to highlight the science of foreign-born colleagues! It is a unique prize, which reflects so well on the Vilceks, on the one hand, and the extraordinary talents of the people who are so chosen, on the other."
To find Dr. Palese, one leaves the airy, skylit spaciousness of the lobby at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and ascends sixteen flights, where a mostly windowless, mazelike atmosphere prevails. Following a sign on the wall that promises to lead to Dr. Palese's laboratory and office, one is immediately struck, upon turning a corner, by a seemingly endless series of large refrigerators jutting out into the already-narrow hallway. No doubt a familiar sight to the scientists and students who work and study here, to the uninitiated, it's quite a striking image. The question immediately comes to mind: What's in them? But bigger questions loom.
On everybody's mind, of course, is swine flu: Just how serious is the risk of a widespread pandemic? And with flu season upon us, how effective are the new vaccines to protect against it? As one of the most sought-after experts on influenza, Dr. Palese is just the man to ask.
At the Department of Microbiology (he was named chairman in 1987), Dr. Palese has done, and continues to do, groundbreaking work in the investigation of influenza viruses. He is a pioneer in the field of reverse genetics, which uses the opposite approach of classical, or "forward," genetics to discover the function of a gene. A more recent improvement to this technique, which is crucial to the development and manufacture of novel vaccines, enabled Dr. Palese and his colleagues to reconstruct and study the pathogenicity of the highly virulent 1918 flu (which caused approximately 50 million deaths worldwide). Dr. Palese was also the first to map the genetic makeup of influenza A, B, and C viruses, and discovered the function of several viral genes. In addition, he defined the mechanism of neuraminidase inhibitors—neuraminidase is an enzyme essential for replication of influenza and other viruses. The inhibitors are now FDA-approved antivirals.
He maintains his small office in a corner off his laboratory (one of six NIH-designated Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance), testimony to his ongoing hands-on involvement with the programs he designs and that are carried out in collaboration with approximately twenty other scientists, graduate students, and "postdocs." He says he still spends 90 to 95 percent of his time in the lab, even if he no longer "pours solutions" on a regular basis. These days, he also spends a great deal of time patiently answering questions about swine flu, and influenza viruses in general.
He explains, first, that the influenza virus is extremely small, in comparison to the much larger cell that gets infected by it, so "we are dealing with a very small entity that, within eight hours, can infect and kill this cell and make one hundred thousand new virus particles." Adding to its power is that it changes all the time, making it necessary to reformulate the vaccines used to prevent illness. That is why there is a flu season every year, and why flu shots have become a regular part of most Americans' annual health regimen.
What's different, then, about the 2009–2010 flu season? In simple terms, the H1N1 strain—"swine flu"—took health organizations and experts alike by surprise. Until its appearance in late March/early April last year, vaccines were being produced to counteract three influenza strains (H1, H3, and influenza B) that were co-circulating in the human population at the time. Then, the new virus emerged late in the season.
"If someone would have asked me what would be the next pandemic virus, I would never have guessed it would be an H1N1 virus," said Dr. Palese, "and one with this curious and complex origin—containing one gene from a human virus, two genes from an avian virus, and the rest of its genes from a swine virus."
Thanks to a number of factors, however, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have mobilized early and well, says Dr. Palese. The avian flu scare of a couple of years ago, he explained, "served as a motivator on all levels, a rehearsal for the present." He added, "The CDC has done a great job of surveying what's going on and providing information on what's available to the public."
As to the influenza vaccines, he says, "They're very helpful—they're not perfect—but they are effective 70 to 80 percent of the time," and he encourages everyone to get them.
Looking farther into the future of flu vaccines, Dr. Palese has his scientific eyed trained on something a little closer to perfect—and it has to do with what's in all those refrigerators: some five thousand flu viruses. Working with them, Dr. Palese hopes one day to locate the holy grail of influenza virus research: a universal vaccine.
For his achievements to date, Dr. Palese was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, in 2000; in 2006, he received the Robert Koch Prize (for excellence in biomedical sciences); and in 2008, he was a recipient of a Charles C. Shepard Science award (sponsored by the CDC).