Back to top

Material Evidence - featuring Charles Blow, Patricia McCarney, & Ben Rubin

Thu, Feb 6/14 – 6:30pm to 8:30pm

Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles Street West

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

We increasingly consider ourselves members of an information society, where the visualization of data, graphic design, and film play a key role in enabling us to process complex political, social and environmental phenomena. The use of visual essays and designing with data is growing, but how much do we understand about the way in which data-driven new media are used for artistic, political and commercial purposes?

Material Evidence will bring together a prominent New York Times columnist and design director, U of T’s leading academic on data and global cities, and a media artist whose work has been shown at the Whitney Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago to discuss and debate the potential for visual representations of data to improve civic engagement and make better sense of the world in which we live.

Featured speakers:

Charles Blow, Visual Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times

Patricia McCarney, Director of the Global Cities Institute at

the University of Toronto

Ben Rubin, Media Artist, EAR Studio and The Office for Creative Research

Moderated by:

Richard Sommer, Dean, and Professor of Architecture and Urbanism at the Daniels Faculty


This is a ticketed event. Attendees must RSVP via Eventbrite, and arrive before 6:20pm to claim their seat. A rush line will be available for non-ticket holders.

Stage furnishings provided by:



Charles M. Blow is The New York Times' visual Op-Ed columist. His column appears in The Times on Saturday.

Mr. Blow joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper's graphics director, a position he held for nine years. Mr. Blow went on to become the paper's Design Director for News before leaving in 2006 to become the Art Director of National Geographic Magazine. Before coming to The Times, Mr. Blow had been a graphic artist at The Detroit News.

Mr. Blow is a CNN commentator, often appearing on Piers Morgan Tonight and AC360. He has also appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe, the Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell and Hardball with Chris Matthews, Headline News' The Joy Behar show, Fox News' Fox and Friends, the BBC and Al Jazeera, as well as numerous radio programs.

Mr. Blow graduated magna cum laude from Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he received a B.A. in mass communications. He lives in Brooklyn with his three children.

Professor Patricia McCarney received her PhD in International Development and Planning from MIT in 1987. She has served as Associate Vice President, International Research and Development at the University of Toronto and is currently a Professor of Political Science and Director of the new Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto. She is also Director of the Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF) – a program initiated by the World Bank and now based in Canada and supported by the Ontario Government, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing - and positioned to be the definitive and authoritative compilation of validated, self-reported, comparative worldwide urban data. GCIF tracks progress on 115 indicators across more than 250 cities worldwide.

Before joining the University of Toronto, between 1983 and 1994, Professor McCarney worked as a professional staff member in a number of international agencies, including the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa, the World Bank in Washington, and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN-HABITAT) in Nairobi.

In addition to seven books — Cities and Global Governance: New Sites for International Relations (2011); Peri-Urban Water and Sanitation Services: Policy, Planning and Method (2011); Creating Knowledge, Strengthening Nations: The Role of Higher Education (2005); Governance on the Ground: Innovations and Discontinuities in Cities of the Developing World (2003); Cities and Governance: Asia, Africa and Latin America in Comparative Perspective (1996); The Changing Nature of Local Government in the Developing World (1996), An Urban Problematique: The Challenge of Urbanization for Development Assistance Policy (1992) — Patricia McCarney is the author of numerous articles and papers on these subjects. Her most recent contributions are two chapters in Climate Change and Cities: First Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network (Cambridge University Press 2011) and titled: “Cities and climate change: The challenges for governance” and “Urban Land and Climate Strategies”. Her two newest books nearing completion (2014) are tentatively titled, Global Cities, Global Prosperity: Measuring Risk and Opportunity; and, Building Resilient Cities: Planning, Management and Governance.

Ben Rubin is a media artist based in New York City.  His work engages with texts and data, transforming it into light, sound, space, and motion. Ben recently completed an light sculpture called “Shakespeare Machine" for New York's Public Theater, which continuously reconfigures the text of Shakespeare's plays in the theater's lobby. He frequently collaborates with UCLA statistician Mark Hansen, and their joint projects include Moveable Type (2007), a commission for the lobby of the New York Times Building, and Listening Post (2002) which won the 2004 Golden Nica Prize from Ars Electronica as well as a Webby award in 2003. Since 2009, Rubin has been collaborating with the Elevator Repair Service theater company, developing critically acclaimed media-performance works including "Shuffle" (2011) and "Arguendo" (2013). 

Mr. Rubin’s work has been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Fondation Cartier in Paris, and the San Jose Museum of Art. Mr. Rubin holds a B.A. from Brown University (1987) and an M.S. in visual studies from the MIT Media Lab (1989). Mr. Rubin has taught at the Bard College MFA program, NYU, and the Yale School of Art, where he was appointed critic in graphic design in 2004.


The Daniels Fora present vigorous, engaging, and accessible discussions of interest not only to students, alumni, and professionals, but also the broader public. The goal of these public events is to bring together different perspectives in order to raise the level of debate, build relationships, and stimulate discussion among academics, institutions, and the general public.