Culture: the newest of Arizona's 'Cs'

April 13, 2011

Approximately eight months ago, Betsy Fahlman was invited to take on an assignment that could be called thankless at best: “In the next 8 months I’d like you to create and edit a 200-page report, and recruit the authors – whom you won’t be able to pay.”

Fahlman, professor of art history, accepted, and her work is now complete. The product is a 236-page report titled “Capitalizing on Arizona’s Arts and Culture,” which will be the “textbook” for the 98th Arizona Town Hall May 1-4 in Tucson. Download Full Image

This is the first time the Town Hall report has focused entirely on arts and culture, according to Tara Jackson, Town Hall president. “But it’s also about the economy – the relevance of arts and culture in economic development,” she added.

The process of producing a report for Town Hall follows the same pattern, no matter what the subject matter. First, the editor meets with the Town Hall research committee to discuss what the report’s content and scope should be.

One of the debated points for Fahlman’s report was whether or not it should include architecture, Jackson said. And when the committee agreed it should, Fahlman recruited noted Valley architect Will Bruder to write about how architecture “defines our sense of place.”

Fahlman, who is sometimes described by friends and colleagues as the “energizer bunny” or a whirling dervish,” characteristically plowed into the project full steam, enlisting 39 arts administrators, educators, gallery owners, artists, librarians and others to write chapters for “Capitalizing on Arizona’s Arts and Culture,” which set a record, according to Jackson. “In this report, the number of authors is unprecedented,” she said.

The report also includes photos, poems, drawings and other illustrations by noted artists and writers, including Janet Echelman (whose floating sculpture “Her Secret is Patience” is on the cover), Mark Klett, Carole Jarvis, Alberto Rios and Tiffiney Yazzie.

In her introduction to “Capitalizing on Arizona’s Arts and Culture,” Fahlman, who has studied Arizona’s New Deal art extensively, notes that “Arizona’s first artist-visitors were dazzled by the state’s geographically impressive landscape, while others sought inspiration in the rich heritage of the region’s Native American culture. The paintings and photographs they produced helped define the state’s national image to those unable to travel to the far West. From the start, art and economics were intertwined in Arizona.”

Perhaps the first major art transaction involving Arizona, Fahlman said, was the sale by artist Thomas Moran of a large painting of the Grand Canyon in 1873 for $10,000 – to Congress.

And the first significant act of public arts patronage in Arizona came at statehood “when Lon Megargee was commissioned to paint fifteen mural-sized canvasses for the State Capitol. The artist was paid $250 apiece, receiving a total of $4,000, and the Arizona Republican (newspaper) celebrated the fact that there would be ‘Art Galore for Capitol.’”

Before Arizona became a state in 1912, “the arts were a rare commodity in Arizona, and it would be a long time before Culture took its place beside the ‘five Cs’ that are the historic foundation of Arizona’s economy – Copper, Cattle, Citrus, Climate, and Cotton,” Fahlman noted.

But according to her introduction, “Culture” has taken a beating in the last few decades.

“As documented by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, public funding for the arts in Arizona was at its highest in fiscal year 2007, at 65 cents per capita. The state then ranked 33rd in the nation. In fiscal year 2010, Arizona’s legislative allocation in support of the arts fell to 15 cents per capita (the national average was $1 per capita) lowering our rank to 47th in the nation.”

When Fahlman was invited to edit the report, she said yes without hesitation. “It struck me as the perfect task for me, as I am very much oriented to real world issues relating to the arts,” she explained. “I have a long and extensive record of public service in the arts (20 years in public art with Scottsdale and Tempe, extensive lecturing around the state for the Humanities Council, board service, etc.).”

During the fall and spring semesters, while she was contacting authors and reading their essays, she was given a one-course load reduction for both semesters and a research assistant for fall.

“This put me completely out of the formal classroom for the academic year, though each semester I had 150-200 students in my online history of photography course and 25 interns,” Fahlman said.

The first part of the process involved meeting with numerous people involved in the state’s arts and cultural activities, seeking both chapter authors and suggestions of other possible writers and topics.

Fahlman said, “I consulted with many, many individuals in the arts and culture sector, and spent countless hours on the light rail (I got a lot of murder mysteries read in transit).

“Early on, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted the report to look like, in that I aimed for the usual suspects be present, as well as voices not normally included in such a report. I also wanted to highlight points of pride in Arizona, areas in which we had achieved national leadership and recognition (for instance, public art).

“Since this was the 98th background report put out by the Arizona Town Hall – and the first ever since their founding in 1962 on the arts – I knew it had to be a substantive one that would clearly convey the state of the arts in Arizona.”

Fahlman admits she “got a little obsessed as the report took over my life.”

Previous reports had averaged 10 chapters and 10 authors, but “Capitalizing on Arizona’s Arts and Culture” includes 23 chapters by the 39 authors, seven art works by eight artists, and three poems (one written specifically for the report).

Fahlman chose to include art works “to convey something of the character of Arizona’s vibrant arts community. But the art works also had to suggest some of the broader issues facing the state (development, transit, etc.).”

One of the most satisfying aspects of her job as editor was meeting “so many amazing, committed individuals who have remained enthusiastic, even amidst the many daunting economic challenges currently facing the state.”

And the most important lesson she learned from editing the report is how deeply the arts, economy and education are interconnected.

“The arts are often accused of not having the kind of good, crunchy statistical data that exists in other fields. But that view is wrong. Take a look at all the charts, tables, and studies in ‘Capitalizing on Arizona Arts and Culture’ and you will find that there is a wealth of hard information that supports precisely why the arts are important to Arizona’s economy and what a huge contribution they make to the state as a whole.

“The arts and culture dollar is often stretched very thin, yet it makes an excellent return on monies invested, revealing that supporting the arts reaps positive benefits for the communities that invest in them.”

Fahlman added that the “creative economy” plays a significant role in both attracting and retaining a diverse pool of well-educated and innovative knowledge workers.

“Such individuals, who include a younger demographic, often want more than a job and a salary, and issues relating to quality of life and community building are important to them.

“Arizonans may want to consider this, as they work to stabilize the state’s economy so as to remain nationally competitive within a global marketplace. The arts can contribute significantly to this process.”

For more information on Arizona Town Hall, and to see “Capitalizing on Arizona’s Arts and Culture,” go to">">

New DNA nanoforms take shape

April 13, 2011

Miniature architectural forms – some no larger than viruses – have been constructed through a revolutionary technique known as DNA origami. Now, Hao Yan, Yan Liu and their colleagues at ASU’s Biodesign Institute have expanded the capability of this method to construct arbitrary, two- and three-dimensional shapes, mimicking those commonly found in nature.

Such diminutive forms may ultimately find their way into a wide array of devices, from ultra-tiny computing components to nanomedical sentries used to target and destroy aberrant cells or deliver therapeutics at the cellular or even molecular level. Download Full Image

In today’s issue of Science, the Yan group describes an approach that capitalizes on (and extends) the architectural potential of DNA. The new method is an important step in the direction of building nanoscale structures with complex curvature – a feat that has eluded conventional DNA origami methods.

“We are interested in developing a strategy to reproduce nature’s complex shapes,” Yan said.

The technique of DNA origami was introduced in 2006 by computer scientist Paul W.K. Rothemund of Caltech. It relies on the self-assembling properties of DNA’s four complementary base pairs, which fasten together the strands of the molecule’s famous double-helix. When these nucleotides, labeled A, T, C and G, interact, they join to one another according to a simple formula – A always pairs with T and C with G.

Nanodesigners such as Yan treat the DNA molecule as a versatile construction material – one they hope to borrow from nature and adapt for new purposes.

In traditional DNA origami, a two-dimensional shape is first conceptualized and drawn. This polygonal outline is then filled in using short segments of double-stranded DNA, arranged in parallel. These segments may be likened to pixels – digital elements used to create words and images displayed on a computer screen.

Indeed, Rothemund and others were able to use pixel-like segments of DNA to compose a variety of elegant 2-D shapes, (stars, rhomboids, snowflake forms, smiley faces, simple words and even maps), as well as some rudimentary 3-D structures. Each of these relies on the simple rules of self-assembly guiding nucleotide base paring.

Once the desired shape has been framed by a length of single-stranded DNA, short DNA “staple strands” integrate the structure and act as the glue to hold the desired shape together. The nucleotide sequence of the scaffold strand is composed in such a way that it runs through every helix in the design, like a serpentine thread knitting together a patchwork of fabric. Further reinforcement is provided by the staple strands, which are also pre-designed to attach to desired regions of the finished structure, through base pairing.

“To make curved objects requires moving beyond the approximation of curvature by rectangular pixels," Yan said. "People in the field are interested in this problem. For example, William Shih’s group at Harvard Medical School recently used targeted insertion and deletion of base pairs in selected segments within a 3-D building block to induce the desired curvature. Nevertheless, it remains a daunting task to engineer subtle curvatures on a 3-D surface."

“Our goal is to develop design principles that will allow researchers to model arbitrary 3-D shapes with control over the degree of surface curvature. In an escape from a rigid lattice model, our versatile strategy begins by defining the desired surface features of a target object with the scaffold, followed by manipulation of DNA conformation and shaping of crossover networks to achieve the design,” Liu said.

To achive this idea, Yan’s graduate student Dongran Han began by making simple 2-D concentric ring structures, each ring formed from a DNA double helix. The concentric rings are bound together by means of strategically placed crossover points. These are regions where one of the strands in a given double helix switches to an adjacent ring, bridging the gap between concentric helices. Such crossovers help maintain the structure of concentric rings, preventing the DNA from extending.

Varying the number of nucleotides between crossover points and the placement of crossovers allows the designer to combine sharp and rounded elements in a single 2-D form, as may be seen in figure 1 a & b, (with accompanying images produced by atomic force microscopy, revealing the actual structures that formed through self-assembly). A variety of such 2-D designs, including an opened 9-layer ring and a three-pointed star, were produced.

The network of crossover points also can be designed in such a way as to produce combinations of in-plane and out-of-plane curvature, allowing for the design of curved 3D nanostructures. While this method shows considerable versatility, the range of curvature is still limited for standard B form DNA, which will not tolerate large deviations from its preferred configuration – 10.5 base pairs/turn. However, as Jeanette Nangreave, one of the paper’s co-authors, explains, “Hao recognized that if you could slightly over twist or under twist these helices, you could produce different bending angles.”

Combining the method of concentric helices with such non-B-form DNA (with 9-12 base pairs/turn), enabled the group to produce sophisticated forms, including spheres, hemispheres, ellipsoid shells and finally—as a tour de force of nanodesign – a round-bottomed nanoflask, which appears unmistakably in a series of startling transmission electron microscopy images (see figure 1, c-f )

“This is a good example of teamwork in which each member brings their unique skills to the project to make things happen," Nangreave says. The other authors include Suchetan Pal and Zhengtao Deng, who also made significant contributions in imaging the structures.

Yan hopes to further expand the range of nanoforms possible through the new technique. Eventually, this will require longer lengths of single-stranded DNA able to provide necessary scaffolding for larger, more elaborate structures. He credits his brilliant student (and the paper’s first author) Dongran Han with a remarkable ability to conceptualize 2-D and 3-D nanoforms and to navigate the often-perplexing details of their design. Ultimately however, more sophisticated nanoarchitectures will require computer-aided design programs – an area the team is actively pursuing.

The successful construction of closed, 3-D nanoforms, such as the sphere, has opened the door to many exciting possibilities for the technology, particularly in the biomedical realm. Nanospheres could be introduced into living cells for example, releasing their contents under the influence of endonucleases or other digestive components. Another strategy might use such spheres as nanoreactors – sites where chemicals or functional groups could be brought together to accelerate reactions or carry out other chemical manipulations.

Richard Harth, richard.harth">">
Biodesign Institute

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library