Monday, August 24, 2015

Banksy To Disney: It's A Small World, LOL!

If you boil down my public relations portfolio to three types of clients, the triumvirate includes, in no particular order, arts, Olympics and theme parks (more broadly "attractions").

From time to time there are overlaps among these genres of business.

Olympics meets arts at the Cultural Olympiad. Or theme parks coincide with the Games as sports venues become attractions (like Beijing's Water Cube turned water park), or new destinations are born around an Olympiad (the new-in-2014 Sochi World theme park, for instance). 

But unless you count art museums as attractions -- as my client International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) does for their membership base of permanently-affixed destinations for fun and learning -- it's less common for the news cycle to blend theme parks and the arts.

And that's not all that's uncommon about the new art installation titled Dismaland now open on the west coast of England. 

In case you haven't read the reports and seen the videos or photo galleries, Dismaland is perhaps the world's first 'bemusement park' now open in Weston-super-Mare, a coastal town three hours from London by train.

The hometown newspaper Weston, Worle & Somerset Mercury has some great galleries and daily updates like the pop-up park's first wedding.

Dismaland is presented by the artist Banksy, who recruited a few dozen other modern and contemporary artists for his secret-until-last-week installation at an abandoned beach side pool attraction named the Tropicana.

While the Weston-super-Mare locals were told a movie production would take over the abandoned Tropicana for a feature film setting, Banksy & Co. quietly assembled numerous rides and experiences inside its walls.

A wave of publicity began around August 18 as external signage and black flags went up, and by last Friday several global news outlets carried the story of Dismaland's opening weekend.

The installation remains in operation through much of September. 

Banksy has some major league art friends. Two favorite names -- Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer -- leaped off the screen when my friend Brian first told me of early Dismaland reports in the Wall Street Journal.

A look at the complete list of artists yields a who's who compilation of known or rising stars of modern and contemporary artists, skewing heavy on the cynical scale through their conversation piece (and critically acclaimed, bold and unforgettable) creations. 

I fell in love with Holzer's work at her Walker Arts Center installation in Minneapolis in 1991, on my
first 'adult' visit to a museum during the autumn of my college freshman year.

She had me at Truisms and her carved benches at the High Museum of Art (a client from time to time) and other museums always make me smile. 

My first Hirst encounter arrived in 2012 at the Tate Modern's Cultural Olympiad exhibition the day after the London Olympics ended three years ago.

Something about a bovine head decomposing in a fly-filled glass box, or a great white shark encased in jello, or a live butterfly room followed by several canvases made from tens of thousands of butterfly wings, not surprisingly stays with the museum visitor.

Hirst's anatomically correct (inside and out) carvings of male and female medical school models, and gazillion-dollar diamond-encrusted skulls, also made an impression. 

Banksy's Oscar-nominated documentary film "Exit Through The Gift Shop" introduced me to his work -- then mostly a distinctive graffiti or tagging pieces -- making me an instant fan.

Banksy's Olympic street art intrigued me on the lead up to London 2012 (though I never did find any of it in person, likely due to collectors' theft or authority figures covering up Banksy's handiwork).

I theorize that one episode within "Exit Through The Gift Shop" itself created the foundation for Dismaland.

In the documentary, Banksy and a filmmaker accomplice embarked on a mission to install a temporary work of art -- an inflatable 'Guantanamo Bay prisoner' -- inside a fenced ride area of Disneyland. After purchasing tickets and making their way through the Happiest Place On Earth, Banksy did successfully deploy the smuggled work while cameras rolled.

It's safe to say Disneyland's security team was not amused.

According to the documentary narration, "While Banksy went on the rides, [the filmmaker] was introduced to a different side of the Magic Kingdom."

I won't spoil the film by revealing details of that experience, but it's a solid bet the shared adventure and its outcome planted many seeds for today's Dismaland, and last week's installation opening may be the result of more than five years of planning.

And, oh what bemusements await Dismaland visitors!

Outdoor highlights (er, lowlights) spotted online so far include:
  • Entry queues for several hundred ticket holders (with wait times authentic to many theme park experiences), after which guests are curtly greeted by black and white-clad security guards and signs banning everything from weapons to underwear
  • One Shamu-like orca leaping from a toilet toward an awaiting trainer's hoop
  • A park bench on which a woman is swarmed, Hitchcock-style, by attacking seagulls
  • Midway games including 'Topple the Anvil' (featuring the metal tools straight out of Looney Toons' Coyote and Road Runner episodes), and 'Hook the Duck' at which players attempt to rescue petroleum-covered rubber duckies from an oil spill (hint: the hooks are mismatched for an impossible latch)
  • More oil spill adventures on an unplayable golf putting green nicknamed "Mini Gulf" (the top half of the "o" rusted and broke off)
  • A not-so-merry-go-round carousel ridden by protesters and a knife-wielding purveyor of lasagna
  • Park employees clad in day-glow "Dismal" branded vests, with some offering black Mylar balloons bearing the message "I AM AN IMBECILE"
  • A massive, pretzel-bent tanker truck sculpture, with matching impractical picnic tables belched out of (and still attached to) rolled sheet metal (or is that bath tissue?)
  • Motorized boat game through which players steer Mediterranean refugees or pursuant coast guard cutters 
  • Children's sandbox play area with built-in micro-loan bank charging only 5,000 percent interest
  • Caricature artist who only sketches the backs of her customer's heads
  • Selfie holes featuring blank outlines or cutouts for group photos with ISIS soldiers
  • A new twist on the pop-up puppet show featuring Punch & Judy
  • Book burning featuring glowing works by local author James Joyce
  • Several "traditional" Banksy street art works spray-painted about the Dismalandscape.

The creepiest and perhaps coolest, edgiest works are inside a custom-built castle, the centerpiece of the installation. Inside its doors visitors explore:

  • An fan-suspended beach ball precariously hovering over a few dozen skyward-pointing (and sharpened) steak knives
  • A miniature urban landscape featuring only police and media crews in the hours after a Ferguson, Missouri-like violent event
  • Canvases featuring a truck full of weapons-clad ISIS soldiers (driven by Cookie Monster) and pollution-blackened Los Angeles skyline with one surviving color billboard for the real Disneyland
  • Holzer's latest, brilliant word-infused works, including one stating (paraphrased here), "Keep Your Church Out of My Sex Life and I'll Stop Having Sex In Your Church"
  • Bumper car demonstration featuring The Grim Reaper with soundtrack provided by Blue Oyster Cult

The most shocking work of Dismaland may be Cinderella's overturned golden carriage featuring a dying princess hanging out of the crashed vehicle, illuminated only by the strobe flashes of paparazzi cameras.

With the approaching anniversary of Princess Diana's fatal crash in Paris, this work is bound to remain a conversation piece (it takes one's breath away).

Looking at the actual rides installed at Dismaland with some knowledge of what buyers seek at IAAPA Attractions Expo each November, I cannot help wondering whether Banksy or any of the other artists attended the trade show in Orlando in recent years.

After all, some IAAPA member ride manufacturers likely provided the customized carousel, space ride (made to look like a camping trailer gone off its hitch), miniature Ferris wheel, the aforementioned bumper cars and other on-site thrills. What remains unclear is whether paying customers are allowed on the rides (for safety's sake, I hope if rides are permitted then operator protocols are in place).

I've been pricing flights to London and train tickets to Weston-super-Mare and for about $1,800 for a five-day journey from Atlanta, a trek to Dismaland my be slightly out of my budget. But then again, a week in Orange County, California, might be about the same range, right?

Since Dismaland includes its own signs instructing everyone to "Exit Through The Gift Shop" one might expect an expensive glossy catalog may soon be available as an alternative. Consider this blogger delightfully Banksy-bemused.

Most photos via Reuters except the Damien Hirst image at Tate Modern photo by Nicholas Wolaver

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Olympic Sponsor Will Have A Ball In Rio

Since readers are still drowning in Rio pollution coverage in the wake of an Associated Press report, here's a positive Olympic water story to consider from now to the 2016 Games.

Brazil-based FloatBall LLC is working with a to-be-announced Rio Olympic sponsor to launch several Games-time 'FloatBalls' in time for next year's party.

And according to one company executive, the FloatBalls will help create an iconic image and lasting memories at some water competitions next year.

What's a FloatBall

FloatBalls are a new, spherical watercraft topped with a windowed dome reminiscent of a golf umbrella. Inside the 12- to 15-foot-wide vehicle, passengers find a dedicated captain, plush cushioned seats, flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi access and refreshments, creating a luxurious and floating living room. 

When deployed into a large body of water, such as Lagoa Rodriogo de Freitas (in Rio's Copacabana venue cluster), FloatBalls resemble European footballs or soccer balls accidentally kicked into a pond. The boat's electric engine is eco-friendly and quiet.

Float Balls debuted in tandem with World Cup events in South Africa and Brazil, and last year FloatBall arrived in North America at Zoo Miami, according to published reports and a photo gallery

On the heels of the Florida opening, FloatBall exhibited at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2014 in Orlando, the global convention and trade show of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), a long-time public relations client of this blogger. 

I spent a few minutes talking with FloatBall CEO Giovanni Luigi in the company's outdoor booth, where one of the Miami-style FloatBall boats was on view. Though he would not reveal which Rio Olympic sponsor(s) may engage FloatBall for their Games-time activation, he said it was a safe bet that rowing and canoe spectators would see FloatBalls charting a course near Lagoa Stadium.

"Some special guests may watch competitions in a FloatBall," said Luigi.

It was unclear what sponsor activation(s) may be possible in the waters surrounding Barra Olympic Park, the heart of the Games on the north shore of Lagoa de Jacarepagua. Luigi said Olympic security topics were a big part of the Rio Olympic FloatBall negotiations, but he remained confident any hurdles could be cleared.

"It will be a fun experience of Rio," Luigi added.

First image via FloatBall, second image via All other photos by Nicholas Wolaver. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Frank Gifford (1930-2015), An Olympic Appreciation

One of ABC's better known Olympic commentators of the 1970's and 1980's, Frank Gifford, died today in his home in Connecticut, according to published reports.

Gifford is one of those Olympic correspondents who provided on air reports with consistent skill and strength but for fewer iconic moments like those of Jim McKay or Al Michaels.

I recall Gifford's voice on the 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal match during which the Soviet Union and Team USA squads shared a controversial ending. Sure enough, several pages of Howard Cosell's 1973 autobiography "Cosell by Cosell" feature the author's interactions with Gifford as he worked with officials to file the protest of the Soviet victory.

According to Cosell, "Gifford had done one hell of a job in staying on top of the story from beginning to end."

Unfortunately Gifford's research and later segment with Cosell -- during which they did an interview with an official Olympic scorekeeper whom Gifford located during two sleepless days -- did not alter the outcome for the gold and silver medalists.

A quick online search also showed that Gifford provided Winter Olympic commentary from Innsbruck, Austria, in 1976 and in 1980 at Lake Placid, where he and wife Kathy Lee Gifford apparently hosted late night reports (according to a 2014 interview with Kathy Lee).

He also took on more prominent Olympic reporting duties during the Los Angeles Games of 1984, including a decathlon preview with gold medal decathletes Caitlyn Jenner (then Bruce) and Bob Mathias in the studio.

Gifford also shared a desk and microphone with Howard Cossell for 'Monday Night Football' for many years, including the night the duo announced the death of John Lennon.

It looks like Gifford wrote three books during his career, and I'm now curious about his own words on the Olympic and reporting experience. Sorry to learn of his passing just shy of his 85th birthday.

Photos via this link and this link.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rio de Janeiro's One Year To Go

It hardly seems possible the Rio de Janiero Olympic Opening Ceremony will take place in just one year.

The night in Brazil on August 5, 2016, should be extraordinary.

Rio was not my first choice when the IOC named next year's hosts. Playing the 'what if' game is a losing proposition, but anyone who supported the Chicago Olympic bid likely can't help themselves from imagining the possibilities of the last six years every once in awhile. I thought I'd be married and working at AON Center while commuting from Milwaukee or other Chicago suburbs. But for the most part, my current situation pleases me, and optimism reigns for great things on the horizon.

Rio 2016 will present a magnificent party, and this writer can barely stand to wait to see things unfold during the next 365 days. My fingers and toes are crossed for a 'cake' volunteer assignment; my top three choices on the Brazil application: Olympic Village, Main Press Center and/or Torch Relay media duties.

I'm told my video interview got me through to the next stages, and it will be exciting to learn the potential assignment later in 2015.

It's been 10 years since my first visit to Rio, and it's fun to dream of new friendships and experiences to be realized. The challenge of finding temporary Olympic housing seems easier than London, and definitely easier than for Athens or Sochi.

Obrigado/thank you to many readers and supporters who helped this site achieve nearly 140,000 page views to date. Please share requests and ideas for what you'd like to read about in anticipation of Rio 2016. See you next year!

Photo illustration includes image by Pedro Kirilos/LatinContent/Getty Images via this site.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kazakhstan or China for 2022

In a few hours the International Olympic Committee will at last vote on the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. 

The IOC selection process is limited to only two options: Beijing, which seeks to become the first metropolis to host both a summer and winter Games, and Almaty, Kazakhstan, the central Asian nation's former capital.

Almaty, Kazakhstan
After my incorrect predictions for the 2018 IOC vote (for which Munich was a personal favorite), and since Tokyo was not my first choice for 2020 (I was vying for Istanbul), and since my top pick for 2022, Oslo, long ago bowed out of the race, it's been challenging to summon enthusiasm for either remaining candidate. 

Also in mind, I remain devastated about Chicago's loss to Rio, and the state of the U.S. candidate cities makes me cringe. 

With that said, for this blogger, my 2022 vote is for Almaty for a simple list of reasons:
  • New territory for the Olympic Movement
  • Major city with a compact Olympic venue map and gorgeous mountains in view
  • Controversy-free government (at least comparatively) 
  • Real snow
To me, Beijing offers only headaches for all:
  • Lightning rod for protesters worldwide (thanks to China's human rights record)
  • Scattered Olympic venues, villages and victims of Beijing 2008's migraine-inducing processes
  • Closer proximity to Korea, site of the 2018 Winter Games
  • Fake snow and mountains far, far away. Did I mention fake snow?
I do believe a return to Beijing would put some 2008 venues and successes to another round of good use. It might be fun to see China in a new light and in a different season. 

Regardless, I wince at the realities their bid brings in terms of navigating hundreds of kilometers between venues. Geography alone makes a vote for Beijing a vote for insanity.

But what do I know? Crazier things have happened in the Olympic bidding ballpark. 

Almaty's theme is 'Keeping It Real' and I hope the voting IOC members will do just that with a vote for Kazakhstan. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

One Year Until Rio ... BINGO!

August 5, 2015, marks the "one year to go" milestone for the Rio 2016 Olympic opening ceremony.

In step with -- or maybe a pace ahead of -- the standard Olympic reporting playbook, a news outlet or two already dropped their Rio preview stories as early as mid-July.

Many more will follow during the next week. In fact, as I typed this blog entry, the Associated Press distributed their one-year-out summary already picked up stateside and in Singapore.

Predictably, these one-year milestone reports skew negative. Olympic news understandably isn't "news" without a cynical tone or a steady drumbeat of "CON-TRO-VER-SY ... CON-TRO-VER-SY" and click-bait headlines stirring the pot. 

Too often the remarkable stories of athletic feats and organizational successes are brushed aside for the easier angle of perceived problems on the horizon. I concede, many pre-Games issues are real. But most of the challenges of hosting a global sports festival do not rise to the life or death threshold some news outlets would have their viewers or readers believe.

In anticipation of this year's crop of anti-Olympic rhetoric and various outlets/reporters parroting each other, some friends and I came up with a new twist on a traditional, popular game. 

We present for your reading and social media sharing pleasure ... Olympic Buzz Word Bingo.

Buzzword Bingo (a.k.a. bullsh*t bingo) shares an interesting heritage rooted in traditional bingo cards. My own introduction to the buzzword bingo concept arrived via Dilbert by Scott Adams (see sample below). 

It remains a mystery as to which, and whether, former managers knew who played this game in the halls and conference rooms of the P.R. agencies where I worked over the years. 

Reading last week's Olympic countdown story distributed by Agence France-Presse inspired our five-ringed version, and you're invited to play along and please share the bingo card at the base of this post.

Go ahead and try it out! The aforementioned AP story almost creates a blackout Olympic bingo card! 

This game is also intended to help throw stones at what I perceive to be NBC's regular Olympic roll-out of scare tactics designed to encourage viewers to keep their butts on the couch instead of on planes to the Olympic host city. 

Far too many people fell for the anti-Athens and anti-Beijing Olympic Fear Factor messaging, and they missed quite a party in both cities. 

The Olympic terror threat level reached high enough crescendos in 2008 that even The Onion spoofed Tom Brokaw, Bob Costas and John Tesh pre-Games scare tactics (or in the case of Tesh, his over-the-top gymnastics commentary).

I, for one, hope fewer people will believe the anti-Rio hype and book passage to experience and enjoy Brazil. Rio 2016 in 365 days ... it's going to be a great event!

Cartoon via Thanks also to this site for 'Blu' bird image and this site for 'press' hat image used in illustration created by N. Wolaver.

Please download and share this bingo card with your favorite Olympic reporter. Fun for all!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Beantown Blows 2024 Olympic Bid

In case others didn't already spill the beans, the Athens of America -- Boston -- today ended its 2024 Olympic bid by "mutual agreement" with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Titletown now has a new nickname about which to brag: Olympic bid flunky.

Unlike Detroit with its ill-fated bids (seven of them) spanning the 1940s through early 1970s, Beantown is not likely to emerge as a future U.S. bid city in the lifetime of any living resident.

I predict Boston's Olympic aspirations will only echo Katy Perry's lyrics to "The One That Got Away" for many decades.

It's not entirely the Boston bid team's fault, though this armchair quarterback does believe some significant missteps were committed by, and rest at the feet of, Boston 2024 leadership. I'll come back to these questionable local choices in a few lines. 

For this blogger it feels like Boston was unintentionally teed up to fail from day one. 

Maybe when the U.S.O.C. met in early 2015 to choose the nation's candidate city, they should have given the winning metropolis a few days to get ready for a winning selection announcement with a more robust public Q&A option to instill confidence from the start. I hope this is a key takeaway the powers that be at Team USA will keep in mind for their next bid selectee for 2024 (assuming a bid will still occur) and future bids. 

Up until January , the U.S.O.C. was doing well with a new approach to Olympic bidding. They invited several cities to submit their interest and pose questions, and earlier stages of the new process seemed to go smoothly. If on a roll with new processes, I wondered then and now, "Why go back to the pre-2014 playbook after choosing Boston from a solid pool including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.?" 

A bigger lesson learned the hard way in Boston: No modern Olympic bid will succeed without the power of transparency. From the first day of their selection, Boston 2024's occasionally milquetoast and often dismissive Q&A responses (I suspect misguided by some old-school, non-P.R.-savvy execs at the U.S.O.C.) proved to be major Achilles' heels. 

The opening press conference was convincing (sort of), but the honeymoon period -- if there was one for Boston's bid team -- was short-lived. Public opinion spiraled in the wrong direction. Even at last week's televised debates (the selected event's title/theme itself seemed a communications flub) there was too much remaining room for skepticism. 

The biggest lesson, perhaps, is that the message "no public funds will be used" is a statement that worked only in a social media-free world of long ago. Like Joan Crawford at a Pepsi board meeting in "Mommy Dearest," too many citizen journalists, longtime Olympic reporters and plain folks have 'been to the rodeo' on Olympic bids and know that federal, state and local investments are part of the mix. 

It seems to me that if a future U.S. Olympic bid city would just put into plain English a summary of likely public funds to be spent, this transparency would diffuse some dissenting voices like those heard in Boston. Another way to get around this? Present Olympic bid "must haves" on one list with a matching list of "nice to haves" about which the public may pick and choose. To wit, clearly explain to the public and media what is negotiable (or isn't) with the IOC, leaving only the "negotiables" for debate.

A fellow Olympic historian believes the U.S.O.C. should frame a 2024 candidate as "America's Bid" (a national bid) rather than the work of a single metropolis. Monday's New York Times report on Boston's aborted mission lends credence to this "national approach" as an Associated Press survey found a vast majority of U.S. citizens -- nine in 10 or 89 percent -- support a USA bid, but their support wanes the more localized the bid city and financial responsibility gets. 

Speaking to the Boston Olympic naysayers with a Colonel Slade/Al Pacino Scent of a Woman voice, "F*ck you, too!" 

Members of No Boston Olympics or No Boston 2024 may feel like 'heroes' for 'defeating' the bid, but history will not likely be kind to you for your efforts. You not only killed the team dream for 2024, but also for several future generations of Boston bids. Like so many other anti-Games organizations who both loathe the power of the Olympics but also thrive only because of the Olympic news hook, your voices in Boston will soon be only a murmur. Best of luck on your next quest to improve Boston without the Olympic news machine to keep your messages on Page One and local broadcast news.

Yesterday, when the trade publication "Inside The Games" broke the news of the U.S.O.C. conference call to decide Boston's fate, their reporter mentioned Los Angeles as a likely 2024 alternative. 

This is an option I support, but today's NBC report deflated my expectations in LA2024 as the city's mayor "hasn't had recent conversations with the U.S.O.C."

You mean to tell me the U.S.O.C. decided to pull the plug on Boston without touching base with LA2024? This seems like another avoidable misstep to me. Only time will tell. 

As stated in my early 2015 post, my vote and Olympic bid hopes remained pinned on Washington, D.C. The city already has solid mass transit that actually connects points of interest, they are skilled at hosting mass-security gatherings, and the area's wealth of destinations provides an unlimited array of non-Games options to keep folks busy on the days when they have no Olympic tickets.

Given the aforementioned AP poll, Washington seems all the more appropriate as "America's candidate," a city getting ready for the world's Olympic spotlight for 200+ years. I can just picture Olympic wrestling and fencing at The Kennedy Center, archery on the National Mall or at Mount Vernon, and rowing on the Potomoc. The IOC could bring back the mostly dormant Cultural Olympiad at the Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art or Hirshhorn Museum.

The worst thing the U.S.O.C. could do for a fiasco encore would be to select San Francisco as its go-to candidate. If you think opposition was rough in Boston, wait until you see Olympic protesters in Shaky Town!

Do I support a 2024 Olympic bid from either D.C. or LA? Yes, absolutely. Would the 2024 Games rock in either city? Certainly. My preference simply is for a new city (Washington) to enjoy the opportunity to compete against Budapest, Hamburg, Paris and Rome.

And I'd prefer that the U.S.O.C. set a sturdier course for its next candidate city from day one.

Images via Boston 2024, this Flickr account and Conde Nast Traveler. Cartoon by Dan Wasserman via Boston Globe.

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