Now Open: the Pentagon’s super secret art collection

Did you know the Pentagon collects art? The United States military began taking an interest back in 1840 and today, the total collection counts more than 15,000 pieces produced by some 1,300 actual American soldiers. Most of these artists are self-taught, enlisted military personnel and depict the sights and scenes of life in the armed forces–often at war and often in other countries.

I got a sneak preview of the exhibit a while back and was amazed by the talent and emotion depicted in the collection. From Vietnam to the Gulf War to Iraq and Afghanistan–these paintings explore an insider’s view of war, sometimes tender and sometimes horrific yet utterly lacking in propaganda or modern media. One artist even painted on canvas torn from combat tents because that’s what was available in Iraq.

Interested travelers can get a taste of our nation’s long-hidden art reserve in Philadelphia, where 300 pieces have been chosen for a special exhibit, Art of the American Soldier at National Constitution Center. The show opens today, September 24, 2010 and runs until January 10, 2011, after which it will begin a national tour.

(Attack at Twilight; Roger Blum, Vietnam 1966)

American Airlines to deliver free liquor to top customers

American Airlines is stepping up to take care of some of its most loyal and committed customers. The carrier is going to start offering up free booze in its U.S. Admirals Club lounges beginning October 1, 2010. Look for the basics – “well-brand liquors, as well as beers and house wines” – the company said in an announcement. Premium alcohol and food will be available, but not free.

The company continues, in its statement, “Our customers have asked for free drinks and we are delighted to respond to their request by providing this service for our existing and new members at our clubs worldwide.”

[Image credit: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee]

This comes on the heels of another perk offered in the Admirals Club. American put the word out on Monday that it was bringing new HP computers into the lounges “to offer members and guests the latest technology for their professional and personal needs.”

This is both nice and smart. In addition to improving the travel experience for its customers, American is focusing on those with likely the highest spending behavior, which means it’s rewarding its best passengers – a tactic that works well in just about every other business.

The Afro-Punk Festival: not your mama’s punk show

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

You think you know what punk is. But you haven’t seen anything until you’ve joined the thousands of head-bangers who make the pilgrimage once a year in June to Brooklyn’s Afro-Punk Festival.

This two-day celebration of music, skating, and film has become a Mecca for the burgeoning movement of Afro-Punk, a collection of African-American bands, fans, and misfits who are embracing hardcore rock culture and making it their own. Launched in the summer of 2005, the festival was the brainchild of record executive Matthew Morgan and filmmaker James Spooner, who wanted to give voice to the growing popularity of indie and punk rock in traditionally urban communities. It has ever since been a focal point of musical and cultural cross-pollination, fueled by an audience as diverse as the music itself.

Each day of the festival features bands ranging from eclectic rockers like Houston-based American Fangs to genre-bending artists like crooner Janelle Monae, that by turns, awe and electrify the crowd. Afro-Punk is the wild, weird alternate universe where anything is possible (I personally will never forget seeing bass guitarist Ahmed of Brooklyn’s Game Rebellion strut onstage sporting a fan of giant peacock feathers). Want to learn more about the Afro-Punk Festival? Keep reading below…

For first-timers, the Afro-Punk mashup of grunge guitar and streetwise swagger can be overwhelming. But have no fear: punk is a contact sport, and no one can stand still for long. Crowd surfing is encouraged, from the tiniest faux-hawked kindergartener to the heaviest thrasher, so dive away! And if you yearn for the days of good ole-fashioned moshing, you’ll have no trouble finding a scrum for a little full-body ping-pong.

Other thrill-seekers can get their kicks on the festival’s custom-built skate park. The dizzying array of jumps, ramps and rails is also the battleground for the annual URBANX skate and BMX competitions, where pro-skaters and bikers defy gravity and common sense for a coveted $5,000 prize.

Listen for the distinctive clink and hiss of spray cans and you’ll also find a one-of-a-kind outdoor art exhibit. At Afro-Punk, graffiti is king, and true to form, the artists work at lightning speed, to the delight of onlookers, tagging a rich tableaux of original pieces along a 30-foot wall of wooden panels.

On Sunday, the festival closes with a block party featuring live DJ’s, fashion, and food. But before you go, take a moment to enjoy the greatest spectacle on display: the crowd itself. Revel in being someplace where piercings outnumber iPhones two-to-one, and ‘business casual’ means keeping your shirt on. There are few places on Earth where dreadlocks and leather chokers so seamlessly co-exist. Afro-Punk is the center of a movement that defies definition. In the end, what could be more punk than that?

The 2010 Afro-Punk Festival hits New York June 26th and 27th, and will this year open in two new cities: Chicago and Atlanta. Check out for dates and updated details.

American Airlines is being watched by the FAA

Three strikes have led to increased federal attention for American Airlines. The last month hasn’t been kind to the airline. In two instances, planes bumped wingtips with during landings in Charlotte, North Carolina and Austin, Texas and another overshot the runway in Jamaica. The FAA released a statement on Friday indicating that it would review these situations in case they’re symptoms of a larger problem. American Airlines, of course, is cooperating with the FAA in this matter.

And, this comes on top of the airline’s customer service debacle, in which a flight attendant threw a nutter over a passenger’s request for orange juice (still no word on whether disciplinary action or litigation has occurred).

This doesn’t change my perspective on American as the one to beat in 2010. A little extra FAA scrutiny doesn’t change much, and if the airline comes out the other end with no problems – and, better, resolutions – this extra look will soon be forgotten.


Holiday travel to fall 2.5 percent

The airports may not be as crowded at Christmas this year. The Air Transport Association of America expects holiday flight traffic to fall 2.5 percent from 2008. The holiday period is measured as December 17, 2009 through January 6, 2010. The busiest days in the sky are most likely to be the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday after Christmas.

Don’t expect to have plenty of legroom, though. Part of the decline stems from the fact that airlines have cut flights, so fewer people may be jockeying for fewer seats, leaving you just as cramped as usual. Both the dip in the number of passengers and in the number of flights is a direct result of a recession that has had a magnified effect on the travel market this year.

Last week, Delta, American and United all came out and said that they’re seeing an increase in demand — and from those high-value corporate clients that keep the planes in the air.