A Q&A with April Baer of OPB’s new ‘State of Wonder’ program

The host talks about her new radio show about the arts right before Episode 1

On Saturday at noon on an Oregon Public Broadcasting radio station near you, April Baer and Vice President of Awesome, Ifanyi Bell, will premiere a new radio show about the arts called “State of Wonder.” I’ve been really looking forward to this show since it was announced during the summer. Baer digs into stories like no one else, and to have her digging into ARTS stories, well, that’s amazing. The arts community here couldn’t be richer and more interesting right now, and having a smart, weekly radio program discovering and explaining what’s going on will add immeasurably to our access and understanding of it all.

As usual, I waited until the last minute and sent April some questions via email. She responded with minimal moaning, given that my questions had landed at the worst possible moment. I think you’re going to like the answers.

1. What is “State of Wonder” and what’s your mission?

“State of Wonder” is that place you go when you’re standing in front of a canvas or installation that just won’t let you go. It’s the place where a song makes you close your eyes and lean back. It’s the book so engrossing, it renders you unaware of the flight attendant’s third offer of peanuts. It’s the movie that made you cry, the game you can’t put down, and the performance that made you sign up for Adult Beginning Tap.

We’re casting a wide net for interviews and reporting. Basically, if a story survives our pitch meeting, it’s on the short list. If one of us can’t stop thinking about it for some reason or another, we’re going to go get it.

2. As a journalist, how are you going to go about pursuing that mission?

One action-packed day at a time, and on very little sleep. The model for the show involves making fuller use of stories from Oregon Art Beat, OPB Music, KMHD, Think Out Loud, and other production units within the OPB blended family of media. There is a dizzying stream of vivid storytelling produced every day. We’ve always wanted to give all those stories a second life, more breathing room. So part of the show’s mandate is true multi-media—taking these stories, sometimes re-editing sometimes fleshing out angles that didn’t make the final cut elsewhere. Maybe it’s an artist interview on KMHD or an author who dropped by on Think Out Loud.

One more thing I’d like to say: we really want to push back on the idea that people have become so specific in their tastes and habits that they’re only interested in very specific brands of art or creative work. Sure, everyone’s got something they really geek out on: jazz or handmade books or instagram, etc. But we believe in chipping away at silos between genres.

Vice President of Awesome Ifanyi Bell and host April Baer of "State of Wonder"/OPB

Vice President of Awesome Ifanyi Bell and host April Baer of “State of Wonder”/OPB

3.What’s the show going to sound like? What can we expect in Episode One?

Busy, busy, busy.

We’ll spend some time with capital-A artists. Ann Hamilton is in Oregon this week. She’s a visual artist who specializes in gargantuan installations made with the intent of bringing people together. That may give you a sense of the glorious paradoxes she presents. Her command of her medium is so good it kind of terrifies me, and that’s matched with a fantastic warm affect. We’re checking in with Ian Karmel—one of Portland’s best comedy writers. He moved to LA a few months ago, and we wondered how that’s going. Carlos Kalmar’s on, talking about the Britten Requiem the Oregon Symphony’s performing this weekend.

But it was also kind of a crazy news week. We’ll spend some time decoding Chris D’Arcy’s departure from the Oregon Arts Commission, and report on a weird thing that happened at a Portland Center Stage performance of “Fiddler.”

Katrina Sarson’s dropping in to talk about something interesting she noticed on three separate shoots—how artists are using 3D printers.

And there’s just a slew of really cool things we found to show what interests us. Ifanyi Bell, our Vice President for Awesome, got this interview with two authors who recently published a book on color, from a historical and biological perspective. I got down to Corvallis to check out a Day of the Dead altar building. Ifanyi and our intern Jeffrey pulled together this really lovely piece, just by asking people rushing to work what they were listening to.

Actually, next week’s episode is super exciting. We’ve got some thematic stuff around comics and street art, and an incredible OPB Music Studio session with Laura Mvula that’s blowing everyone’s mind.

4. What’s the geographical and art form range you’re hoping to cover?

Our first principal is that artist and the people who check out their work do not exist in a vacuum. There are people who sell their work all over the world—I’m thinking Dan Attoe and Willy Vlautin. While they work on a global stage, they’re very much products of the Northwest. Likewise, people who create in a local context don’t work in a vacuum. They go on trips, listen to music made all over the country, check out foreign language films. So, with the show, we’re shooting for an elasticity that frees us to talk about local, national, and international stuff, as it pertains to what’s created and consumed here.

And, like I said before, we’re a pretty omnivorous bunch, and we’re assuming listeners are, too.

5. You’d like to get as many listeners as possible, but is there a particular sector of the audience you’re pitching “State of Wonder” toward?

Anyone who ever had a heart. Anyone who ever played a part.

6. What was your very worst experience ever at an arts event?

I know why you’re doing this, Barry. It’s because I put you on the spot back in August during that roundtable, asking what happens when you give somebody a bad review, right?

Alright, alright.

About three months ago I attended a launch for a literary magazine that will remain nameless. The publishers and writers were pretty young and had obviously worked super hard on it, and I arrived ready to like what they were doing.

I open their finished product, and this little slip of paper comes fluttering out. It was a short, very chagrinned apology for not having produced the mag in a handmade format. The cost of production had just been too much, and they wanted readers to know they were committed to reaching that goal of a handmade product.

I kept looking around, thinking Fred and Carrie were going to pop out at any moment. A beautiful presentation is important, but it just depressed me beyond belief that they got hung up on this instead of giving themselves over to the content they were producing.

7. The show will be on Saturdays at noon, right? Will it be re-broadcast and can listeners who miss those broadcasts be able to listen at their leisure in some other way? (I SO bet they can!)

Yeah, the show will be podcast, like all OPB’s other locally produced radio goods, and we’ll have whole shows and some segments up online over here at airtime.

http://www.opb.org/radio/programs/stateofwonder/

I’d encourage folks to check out our Soundcloud page, too. It’s our playground for things in development.

We love feedback. Drop us a line.

****

You know what I’m hoping, right? That April asks Carlos Kalmar how much he’s going to make on his new contract! No, he hasn’t called me back, the scamp. As I intimated yesterday, after my now-habitual expression of neglect, things like extensions and secrecy about their terms don’t happen in a vacuum. So I have some additional questions for Carlos, should he choose to call! How about that for an enticement: a lengthier interrogation by the vicious Portland art press.

 

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