i can’t afford to have a favorite: the definition of employee engagement

May 2, 2010

in culture

“middle school field trip” and “revelatory” aren’t words i ever utter in the same sentence, except when accompanied by dripping sarcasm. yet revelatory it was, my field trip to philadelphia’s magic gardens.

these gardens aren’t like the ’70s magic garden tv show (if you grew up on it, you’ll know what i’m talking about. if you missed it…trust me, you really didn’t.) these mosaic gardens wind over more than 3,000 square feet—transforming a formerly vacant lot and discarded objects into a simultaneously peaceful and stimulating retreat.

we live only two blocks from the magic gardens, so it wasn’t walking through the space that triggered the ah-hah moment. i’d seen it before. but this visit i heard from the man, the artist himself: isaiah zagar. not talkative one-on-one, zagar’s a consummate showman. and a nimble one. in spite of his 70+ years, isaiah crouched atop a folding chair and relived the day when he was three and first discovered taking his art out of bounds—from the top of his family’s refrigerator, his crayon strokes swirling across the ceiling. for twenty minutes, isaiah crafted tales and answered questions, mesmerizing all adults and the sixty 10- and 11-year-old kids present.

we couldn’t hear the kids, so isaiah kindly repeated their question before answering:

“she asked which is my favorite, which is a great and important question. she and you are allowed to have a favorite. i can’t have a favorite because if i did, it would mean that i’m done.”


there it was. amidst a seemingly routine field trip: employee engagement, defined.


note: when you’re next in philly, you must visit the magic garden. (i’d gladly escort you.) until then, you can get into isaiah’s mind and history through the award-winning documentary his son made about his life/his art.

[image: urban 75]

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Roche May 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm



Pamela Meyer May 2, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Love this! Thank you.


fran May 2, 2010 at 9:36 pm

pamela and frank, thank you. it was really something, hearing this man who jokingly says he works 8 days a week. we should all be lucky enough to find and hook into that thing we love.



mark May 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

WOW, that’s absolutely revelatory! makes an argument for all sorts of art, whether you’re a novice or an expert (whatever THAT is). beautiful


fran May 11, 2010 at 7:43 pm

mark, you’re close enough that you can pop and experience it for yourself. it’s really marvelous, particularly on a sunny day.



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