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The Big Quiet brought strangers together to meditate under the Fernbank’s dinosaurs

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The Big Quiet
The Big Quiet at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History

Photograph by Brendan Ek

When was the last time you observed a moment of silence just because? Was anyone else around to share it with you?

On October 2, about 280 people gathered under the clear dome and iconic Argentinosaurus cast at Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum to do that for the Big Quiet, a mass meditation experience designed to promote wellness and observe mindfulness in a social setting.

The nationally touring event, founded by Jesse Israel, combines breathing exercises, a sound bath, meditation, and live music from local artists for a cleansing experience aimed to help the mind, body, and soul recalibrate in an overstimulated world. Atlanta was the second stop on the tour, which started October 1 in Chicago and will conclude October 27 in Boston.

Prior to founding the Big Quiet, Israel found success by starting a record label and signing indie synth-pop band MGMT while he was a college student at NYU. He began practicing meditation as a way to cope with the pressures of the music industry, leading meditation groups backstage at festivals such as Coachella and Lollapalooza. Israel left the industry five years ago and eventually gravitated toward hosting more group meditation meetups in New York City. Fast forward a few years later, and the relationships and connections those meetups beget have become a nationally touring event. The first official Big Quiet took place at Central Park in June 2015; past venues have included Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, Madison Square Garden, under the 94-foot blue whale model at the American Museum of Natural History, and more.

The Big Quiet
The Big Quiet

Photograph by Brendan Ek

“When it came time to go on this year’s tour, some of the first places we looked at were museums of natural history,” Israel said. “There’s something [authentic] about doing [meditation] in a place that celebrates history, nature, and great powerful creatures.”

The event’s mission is relatively simple: Bring together people who struggle with burnout, information overload, isolation as a result of social media, and other issues of the digital age. The event incorporates live music and offers “freebies” such as seated cushions, Smartwater bottles, and full pours of kombucha to provide participants with something to show and tell afterward. (The use of phones during the actual meditation is discouraged however; the point is to minimize technology dependency.)

The Big Quiet
The Big Quiet

Photograph by Brendan Ek

Jackie Cantwell, the director of MediClub in NYC and a sound practitioner, lead the group in breathing exercises that set the tone for the rest of the mass meditation, lead by Israel. The first exercise, the ha-breath, had participants breathe, raise our arms in the air, and then pull them down into our ribcage while audibly letting out every breath in our lungs to the sound of ha! This process happened for an entire minute, and the chants became noticeably louder as the process went on. Cantwell says the technique recalibrates the nervous system.

Next, she lead a boxed breathing exercise: inhale, hold for four seconds, exhale, hold for four seconds. Repeat again for an entire minute. Orchestrating your breath in such a way allows your head and heart to be at peace while enabling your mind to find clarity and focus, she says.

The Big Quiet
The Big Quiet

Photograph by Brendan Ek

The Big Quiet
The Big Quiet

Photograph by Brendan Ek

Cantwell then switched to her instruments for sound meditation—crystal singing bowls, a Shruti box, koshi chimes, and an ocean drum—as Israel lead the group meditation experience, asking participants to channel their breathing, energy, and voices into their deepest vulnerabilities: a memory with a loved one, a vote of love and blessings to someone with whom they’re in conflict with, and finally the loudest and most passionate call of love, peace, and om to oneself in the name of self-love. (Israel said this last breath, right before the inhale, is the most important one. And afterward, it’s as if your mind’s eye can see the room from a dinosaur-eye view.)

After the meditation ended, a few local musicians—curated by the Big Quiet’s music director—played a selection of songs that brought the moment full circle. Israel is big on music as a form of therapy. The performances at the end helped the group settle back into the world that was temporarily vacated. And at the end of it all, I became aware that I had shared my vulnerabilities and my true self with the strangers around me, but still walked out feeling reinvigorated, revitalized, and reborn—which is exactly what I needed.

The Big Quiet
The Big Quiet

Photograph by Brendan Ek

A few of my personal takeaways form the experience:

  • Control what you can, but understand life isn’t in your control.
  • Leave your insecurities behind and be fearless about what (can) happen next.
  • Try to find moments of stillness amongst the chaos.
  • Sitting on the ground made me feel truly connected to the Earth, and the magnitude of the dinosaurs at Fernbank cannot truly be grasped until you sit on the floor and look up at them.
  • It only takes a few minutes each day to explore the depths of your consciousness and serve yourself with love, gratitude, respect, and courage.
  • I had to let out emotions of resistance, regret, and rejection in order to let in feelings of humility, clarity, and confidence.

The world’s largest collection of vintage supercomputers is in Roswell, Georgia

Computer Museum of America - Cray 1A

For decades, well before we had iPhones and laptops, Atlanta real-estate developer Lonnie Mimms collected hardware, software, prototypes, and other pieces of computing history, much like a lover of contemporary art. In July, Mimms opened the Computer Museum of America, a 40,000-square-foot tribute to hundreds of thousands of technological throwbacks dating to the mid-1800s, in Roswell, the heart of North Fulton’s Tech Hub. The permanent collection includes Vanquishing the Impossible, 25 iconic and original supercomputers that could conduct space exploration, weather simulations, medical research, and more. Among the items: the rare Cray 1A, named after Seymour Cray, the father of supercomputing.

  • Sometimes called the “world’s most expensive loveseat,” this Cray 1A Supercomputer was manufactured in 1977, weighs 10,500 pounds, and occupies 39 square feet of floor space. People actually did sit on the surrounding bench.
  • The purchaser of each supercomputer could pick the color of the machine. The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute chose purple in honor of the Minnesota Vikings.
  • The Cray’s central processing unit operates at 80 million instructions per second and can perform 160 million arithmetic calculations per second.
  • Fewer than 100 Cray 1A supercomputers were made. They were purchased by government agencies, educational institutions, and large corporations. The original retail price was approximately $8 million (more than $27 million in today’s economy).
  • With more than 25 Cray Supercomputers, the Computer Museum of America has the largest such collection in the world.
  • The Cray 1A holds just 303 MB worth of storage. Today’s top iPhone contains 512 GB of storage, which is roughly 1,700 times as much capacity.

The Computer Museum of America is located at 5000 Commerce Parkway in Roswell. Open only on weekends. Tickets start at $10 for children, $15 for adults. computermuseumofamerica.org

This article appears in our August 2019 issue.

Editor’s note: The original version of the story incorrectly equated memory and storage. The math has been updated using the correct storage specs.

Laughing Skull Comedy Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary

Laughing Skull Comedy Festival 10th anniversary
Laughing Skull Comedy Lounge

Photograph courtesy of Laughing Skull Comedy Lounge

Among the many things that Atlanta is known for—business, hospitality, music, film—its thriving local comedy scene may be among the most underrated. Our city has helped launch the likes of Chris Tucker, Ed Helms, Tyler Perry, and Donald Glover.

Of course, to prove themselves, comedians need a stage. And, fortunately, we have a handful of mics and venues where comics—both legends and aspiring professionals—hone their craft regularly.

Midtown’s Laughing Skull Lounge, located in the back of the Vortex restaurant, is arguably the most iconic. Within the last year alone, Tucker, Dave Chappelle, and Tiffany Haddish have all dropped by to do surprise sets. And this year is particularly special, as it marks the tenth anniversary of the club’s annual comedy festival, held May 9-12 at various venues in Atlanta.

Laughing Skull Comedy Festival 10th anniversary
This year’s Laughing Skull Comedy Festival starts on May 9.

Photograph courtesy of Laughing Skull Comedy Lounge

“We started Laughing Skull Comedy Festival for two things,” says Marshall Chiles, the lounge’s owner and founder. “One is that I wanted to help build the Laughing Skull brand in Atlanta—for comedy fans—but I also wanted it to be beneficial for the comedians that are in it. The goal is to get work for as many comedians as possible,” adds Chiles, who is no stranger to open mics himself.

For this year’s “Skull Fest,” a record 1,000 comedians (myself included, though unfortunately I didn’t make the cut) applied for a spot, which guarantees at least five shows in front of audiences that include industry bookers, agents, and managers. It’s not uncommon for a featured comedian to gain representation.

Only 60 comedians were selected, and, while cuts are always hard, this year’s class was particularly controversial. When the lineup was released in March, fans were quick to point out that it included no African-American females. Organizers apologized quickly and scheduled a virtual town hall meeting to discuss concerns with the community. Eventually, the lounge promised to launch an outreach policy (31 black women applied this year), to work on diversifying its judges and administrative positions, and to add panels addressing inclusivity. Chiles also invited the four highest-scoring black female comedians to perform at each of the Industry Showcases, the festival’s marquee events. About the controversy, Chiles now says, “I’m actually glad that it happened because it’s going to make the festival better, as well as just the club itself.”

Past performers at Skull Fest have included Sam Morill, who opened for Aziz Ansari at the Fox Theatre in April; Mandal, a mainstay in the Atlanta comedy scene; and Rocky Dale Davis, who stars in Dating: Unfiltered on E! Mandal’s appearance in 2018’s Industry Showcase earned him representation, which has enabled him to do conferences and college shows. “Working with the festival definitely pushed me to another level, and I think it has done that for other comedians in this city,” Mandal said. “The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is remember to have fun. It’s a fun time and valuable opportunity. Of course, you’re there to try to have good shows, but also there are awesome crowds there too that are ready to laugh.”

If you go: The Laughing Skull Comedy Festival takes place May 9-12 at nine venues. Pro tip: The evening Industry Showcases offer the best opportunities to see future stars of comedy before they make it big. You can get tickets here.

Atlanta artist Greg Mike wants you to “explore the creative unknown” with the OuterSpace Project

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OuterSpace Project Atlanta
A mural is painted during the 2017 OuterSpace Project Big Bang Block Party.

Photograph courtesy of OuterSpace Project

Sixteen artists from various backgrounds, styles, and cultures have converged in Atlanta this week for the fourth-annual OuterSpace Project, a public art series that aims to “explore the creative unknown” via public mural paintings, creative meet-ups, and the Big Bang Block Party grand finale, which takes place at Terminal West this Saturday, September 29 and features a mini-skate park, live painting from popular artists such as Catlanta and Chris Veal, live music, food, and more.

Atlanta street artist Greg Mike, best known for his blue Larry Loudmouf character that has appeared on billboards and murals across the city, has curated the artistic direction of the OuterSpace Project since its inception. That includes recruiting artists from all over the world (Netherlands, Canada, and Mexico are all represented this year), as well as several artists from Atlanta to participate, in addition to coordinating logistics, wall space, and art supplies for each artist.

Mike chatted with us on Wednesday morning to tell us more about this year’s OuterSpace Project, how he landed Atlanta-based Home Depot as a sponsor, what people can expect from Saturday’s party, and what the future of OSP looks like. [Interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

OuterSpace Project Atlanta
Brooklyn-based artist Its a Living works on a mural during the 2018 OuterSpace Project.

Photograph courtesy of OuterSpace Project

Tell us about your inspiration for the OuterSpace Project and how it got started.
I watched street art festivals all over the world begin to pop up within the last 10 years, but Atlanta didn’t have much like that when we started the OuterSpace Project [in 2015]. I also just felt like there needed to be something in tune with what we [as street artists] were interested in: the merging of street art, public art, music, and action sports. Every artist that you see painting is probably listening to music in their headphones, and a lot grew up skateboarding—myself included—so those are all elements we’re inspired by. We also wanted to beautify the city of Atlanta, bring art to blank walls, and make traveling more exciting—to make people get out of the house and head out to different neighborhoods.

That was really the goal: To get people off their phones, out of their houses, and get them to explore what we call “the creative unknown.” That might be [visiting] a mural painted in an area you’ve never been to, or maybe you’re sitting in a car bored on your way to work, and you look out your window and your day is brightened by a once-blank, mundane wall brought to life [by a mural] that gives you something to think about.

16 murals are painted during OuterSpace Project. How did you get people to donate blank walls and warm up to the idea initially?
In the beginning it was definitely challenging because we didn’t really have much to show for [the project itself]. Luckily, both myself and other artists in my agency and studio [ABV Gallery] had painted a bunch of walls in the city independently, so we had a portfolio and a nice track record of things we’d done in the past. I think that made people more understanding than if we were just going to them having never painted a wall before. As our mural portfolio continued to grow, more people were receptive to the idea and saw the value behind it. A lot of these property owners are now getting tons of foot traffic because people go there on the weekends to take photos and interact with the art, and people are traveling the rest of the city to check out different walls, so [the business owners] acknowledge and understand what it does for the community.

In four years, I think we’ve done 65 to 70 murals for just this project alone, and it’s going to continue to grow.

OuterSpace Project Atlanta
Joram-Roukes’s in-progress mural

Photograph courtesy of OuterSpace Project

How do you curate the artists each year?
I always try to keep a balanced roster in terms of style: some stuff that’s maybe a little more geometric and has clean lines, some that’s a little bit more figurative and realistic, some stuff that might be a little bit more pop-art and cartoony. It’s not heavier in one direction over another. We work with a lot of the local artists on the regular through ABV Gallery. And traveling the world to paint and attend different mural festivals has opened a lot of doors in terms of finding the international artists. The internet is also a great tool—I was a fan of Dutch artist Joram-Roukes, and while we’d never met in person, we talked a lot online. He’s one of those guys that gets really immersed in the local culture and spends the night before he arrives doing research on all the hot spots. He went and ate at Fox Bros. by himself and went to Revolution Doughnuts to get coffee before he started painting. It’s always cool to see that we’re bringing artists who really want to feel what Atlanta’s all about. Hopefully they’re inspired by what they see here [while they’re painting].

What are you doing differently or better this year?
Artist experience is a big thing for us: making sure the artists are taken care of, have a great time in Atlanta, and leave the city with a smile. We work with local partners, such as restaurants, to make sure these people get well-fed and get the right accommodations. We try not to make an artist wait more than an hour if they need something, so if somebody runs out of paint, we shoot up to Sam Flax, who’s our paint supplier, to get them a new Montana can [a German spray paint specifically designed for public art].

Acquiring the walls is also obviously one of the most important parts. As people better understand the project and have seen what we’ve done for the communities, they’ve been more open to donating walls. We’re getting bigger and better walls and better locations.

OuterSpace Project Atlanta
Los Angeles-based artist Michael Reeder works on a new mural on the side of the Sound Table.

Photograph courtesy of OuterSpace Project

And this year Home Depot is also providing supplies around the clock?
Yeah, they’re one of our new partners. When most people think Home Depot, they think home renovation, but for us as artists, its one of those places we frequent more than anything to get roller trays, paint brushes, paint, gloves, masks—most of our tools.

How did that collaboration come about?
I reached out to them and explained the project, and they were really excited about it. That’s one of those dream partnerships where we were both like, “Hey, this makes perfect sense.” We’ve been utilizing their products and shopping there, so for them to support it would really help us out. With all of our partners, you want to make sure it’s an organic fit that makes sense with what we do. That one was definitely a no-brainer, and being Atlanta-based, too, I feel like that’s a good sign.

What are some of your goals for the the future of OuterSpace Project?
The goal is to continue to grow the event in terms of murals, locations, artists, and expanding the community side as well. I definitely want to do some stuff for kids in the future, and really grow the weekly events. Right now, we have events on Wednesday (a Drink ‘n Doodle and a pop-up art show) at my gallery. On Thursday, we’ll have an artist talk at Sound Table. We’d like to expand the footprint for the Big Bang Block Party, too, since it’s been hitting capacity every year.

OuterSpace Project Atlanta
The Secret Walls Illustration Battle at the 2017 OuterSpace Project

Photograph courtesy of OuterSpace Project

Tell us more about the block party.
It’s unlike any other event in Atlanta—there’s tons of live art happening, massive panels being painted, a halfpipe being skated. There are over 30 skateboarders riding the halfpipe throughout the day. There’s a Secret Walls live illustration battle, which is like the Fight Club of the art world. There are eight artists on stage, four versus four, battling each other out. There’s an indoor and outdoor music stage featuring a mix of music: rock, electronic, some party stuff.

It’s an experience. It’s not like going to a typical show; you’re going to be inspired by what you’re seeing visually, but you’re also going to be inspired by what you hear. It’s a multisensory experience, which is definitely unique.

OuterSpace Project Atlanta
The halfpipe at the 2017 OuterSpace Project Block Party

Photograph courtesy of OuterSpace Project

These triplets just graduated from Emory’s School of Medicine—joining their family’s long line of doctors

Top Doctors 2018 triplets
Allison, Stephanie, and Lauren Boden stand between their mom, Dr. Mary Caufield (Boden), and dad, Dr. Scott Boden.

Photograph by Corey Nickols

In May, Emory University graduated some 140 students from its School of Medicine. Eight of them matched into orthopaedic surgery. Three of them are triplets.

The Boden sisters—in order of birth: Lauren, Stephanie, and Allison—grew up in metro Atlanta and graduated from Lakeside High School. As fraternal triplets, the women are not identical, but they all share the same smile.

Soon, they will join their family’s long line of doctors and medical practitioners, from their great-grandfather on their mom’s side, to aunts and uncles, family friends, even both of their parents. “We joke that it’s a family business,” Lauren says during a group lunch on the patio of the Panera Bread in Emory Village. Their mother’s side includes nine physicians in the last three generations, not including the triplets. The field is so ingrained in their family that Allison wrote her career choice was a “genetic predisposition” on residency applications.

Their father, Dr. Scott Boden, has been the interim chair for the orthopaedics department at Emory since February. He has been an Emory professor since 1992 and the director of the Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center since 1994. He’s been Chief Medical Officer and VP of Business Innovation for Emory Healthcare. Their mother, Dr. Mary Caufield (Boden), is an internist and was previously associate director of primary care for the Emory Clinic and a former top executive with Cigna Healthcare of Georgia. Both of them have been voted Atlanta magazine Top Doctors. But right now, their proudest title is parent.

The triplets became interested in orthopaedics not by observing physicians but by being patients. Twice, the siblings (with younger sister Susanne) took their high school golf team to the state championships, and Lauren was the first girl to play on her high school’s varsity baseball team. In college, they founded a women’s golf team and also played softball and basketball. Lauren has pitched the fastest baseball thrown by a woman, according to the Guinness Book of World Records (a record she set in 2008 and then surpassed in 2013). And this year, all the Boden women participated in a Red Sox women’s fantasy camp, where they placed second. With this much athletic activity, broken bones have not been uncommon.

“We had a five-day rule growing up, where if we thought something was broken, we had to wait five days before getting an x-ray,” Lauren says. “If it was still too painful to use at day five, we would go get x-rays and see a doctor.”

Their mother signed them up for baseball when they were four. “When I was growing up, leagues did not allow girls to play baseball,” she says. “I hoped that they would come to love the game as much as I did.” She and Scott believe that their daughters’ experience competing with boys, a frequent occurrence, will help them succeed in a typically male-dominated specialty. Of course, they can also look to their maternal grandmother, one of six women in her 125-person med school class, who opened an orthopaedic medical clinic in San Rafael, California.

Growing up, watching medical television shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy was more than idle entertainment in the Boden household. Lauren says, “We used to have tests on Fridays, and we would argue that watching Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday was”—all three sisters finish her statement in unison—“studying!” Their mother would begrudgingly critique each House episode and predict the outcome within the first few moments, always turning out to have the correct diagnosis by the show’s end.

Top Doctors 2018 triplets
(L-R) Lauren, Stephanie, and Allison Boden

Photograph by Corey Nickols

Medical conferences doubled as family vacations. Mother’s Day meant meetings at Amelia Island. And around middle school, Allison began accompanying her father to a spine conference in Florida. At first, she went to play golf, “but the trips turned into me kind of sitting in at the back of the conference and pretending to take notes,” she says. “I met a whole bunch of people through those conferences and will be interacting with most of them in the next few years,” Allison says. “I can say, ‘Hey, remember me back when I was 12?’”

“At the end of the day, I had to ask myself, ‘Can I see myself not being in the operating room?’”

Growing up, the girls have always tried to enroll in the same classes because they motivate one another and could rely on their sisters to complete group projects in a timely and efficient manner. “We turn every little thing into a competition,” admits Lauren, who was the valedictorian in high school while her sisters were both salutatorians.

All three girls went to Pomona College in California for undergrad, and they will now be doing residencies at different institutions—making this summer the first time they have truly lived apart. “At each stage, we thought we were going to end up somewhere else. Now, it’s finally happening,” Stephanie says.

“It’s 5 p.m., and I haven’t eaten all day, and I’ve seen six surgeries, but this has been great, the best day ever!”

“We’ve been mentally prepared for eight years,” Allison injects. “I am going to practice saying ‘I’ and not ‘we.’”

Deciding where to apply for residencies was one of their biggest challenges. Knowing that they had better odds of getting their first choices if they split up, they decided to hold a family draft. Appropriately, it took place on Independence Day last year. “We had our parents arbitrate, and we went around basically in a circle, ‘I want this school,’ ‘I want this one’ . . . There was a lot of compromising and heated discussion,” Stephanie says.

Lauren is headed to her parents’ and maternal grandparents’ med school alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, where she did a short rotation as a student. Though she enjoyed her exposure to other specialties, she says, “At the end of the day, I had to ask myself, ‘Can I see myself not being in the operating room?’ I enjoyed orthopaedic surgery ORs and how we help people get back on their feet.”

Stephanie will be just five hours away at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was drawn to the sports medicine program. And Allison is headed for warmer weather at Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami, a trauma center and teaching facility similar to Atlanta’s Grady Hospital, where she and Stephanie spent some time before med school. “That was when I first discovered that I loved being in the operating room,” Allison says. “I would be there for 12 hours a day, look at my watch at 5 p.m., and be like, ‘It’s 5 p.m., and I haven’t eaten all day, and I’ve seen six surgeries, but this has been great, the best day ever!’”

School choices aren’t over for the family yet, though. Their younger brother is a management science and engineering major at Stanford, and Susanne is a med student at Oakland University in Michigan. She starts applying for residency next year.

This article appears in our July 2018 issue.

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