Art among the plants: a lament

Across the globe, botanical gardens are luring crowds with sculpture. An artist asks: Is the art undermining the mission of the gardens?


What’s wrong with this picture?

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, Florida

“Nothing?” the astute observer might reply. “I see some pretty glass in beautiful surroundings. Say, don’t you like Chihuly?”

Let’s try again: What’s wrong with this picture?

San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas, California

“A version of ‘Is that art, or just something that got tossed in the flower bed’?” the discerning viewer wonders. “Give me some context!”

Context it shall be: Have you set foot into a botanic garden lately? Not a sculpture park, not a designated area for environmental or land art, not a private or semi-private garden, but a botanical garden? I dare you to find one that has not been invaded – or graced, depending on perspective – by frequent, ever-changing sculpture shows. Just try to google “Botanic Garden” and you’ll find a list of famous sculptors for the big ones and less familiar names for all the others, advertised as their new visitor attractions. The gamut runs from celebrated Segals to melancholic simians.

San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas, California

Atlanta, New York, Denver, Tuscon, Phoenix, to name just a few botanic gardens, have succumbed to the “Wow” factor. As Sabina Carr, Atlanta Botanical Garden’s vice president for marketing, succinctly put it: “Wow, you have to see this.” Ever-changing attractions are aimed at getting people to attend on a recurrent basis.


Spotlight on: E.M. Lewis and ‘Magellanica’

As Artists Rep embarks on an epic journey to Antarctica, an Oregon playwright talks about the epic journey that brings her tale to the stage

“Ferdinand Magellan, the first to circumnavigate the globe, one of those early sea-farers, named everything after either his queen or himself. In very, very old maps, the kind with sea monsters at the bottom, of the period immediately following his circumnavigation of the globe, the whole bottom southern hemisphere is called ‘Magellanica’.”

— E.M. Lewis

When you meet E.M. Lewis, you don’t necessarily think “epic.” She’s more like your favorite librarian, excited about every subject you ask for help on, and and nothing makes her happier than when she recommends a book that you enjoy. She’s friendly, bordering on bubbly, and laughs a lot. You wouldn’t necessarily look at E.M. Lewis and think risk-taker, rule-breaker, fire-starter.

But she is.

Once you start talking to her, you feel it. Simmering underneath, barely contained, sometimes so close to the surface she’s almost shaking, is a drive, a passion, an intensity that is pushing her, pushing her, pushing her. “I’m always a person who has lots of pots bubbling on a stove,” she says, and you not only believe her, you’re also struck by how apt a metaphor that is. This relatively quiet woman would, during the course of our conversation, all of a sudden smack the table with authority to punctuate a story or drive home a point. And that’s when you see it. That’s when you feel it. Epic.

E.M. Lewis, author of “Megellanica.” Photo: Russell J Young

Lewis is the author of Magellanica, an ambitious, five-act, five-and-a-half-hour odyssey to the end of the world. In this world premiere at Artists Repertory Theatre (it begins previews on Saturday, Jan. 20, opens on Jan. 27, and runs through Feb. 18) eight intrepid trekkers from different nations, different races, and at different stages in their lives’ journeys to the South Pole, ostensibly for science. But for most, if not all of them, the journey is about much more than that. You can be a scientist anywhere. There is a reason why certain people choose to go to the most extreme climate on Earth in their pursuit of knowledge, and that reason can be very, very personal. As Morgan Halsted, Magellanica’s atmospheric scientist, puts it: “No one goes to Antarctica accidentally. … We all have our reasons for being here.” Or, as Lewis says during the course of our conversation: “The more I read about the people who go to Antarctica, the more I began to understand that there are a lot of psychological reasons why people feel the need to go to a place of such great extremity and hardship.” Or, more succinctly: “Sometimes, you need to go far to bring back a piece of yourself.”


Fertile Ground: get set, go

On your mark: Portland's festival of new work, with more than 100 offerings, is ready to roar. Grab your tickets: It's a jumble out there.

It was 5:30 on a blustery Thursday evening – still rush hour in The City That Sometimes Works – and Nicole Lane was busy herding cats. Some of the media people were stuck in traffic and still on their way but they’d be there soon, she announced loudly to the litter of playwrights, producers, actors, and assorted theater people caroming about the byways and bar of Artists Repertory Theatre’s Morrison Street lobby.

Then Lane, director of the ninth annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Work (this year’s begins Thursday and runs eleven days through January 28, in venues scattered across the city) ticked off the rules for this latest version of the festival’s speed-date-the-media night. Scope out the tables. See who you want to talk to. Get in line. When your turn comes be ready to make your pitch, and be quick about it. When the bell rings, your time’s done: Get up, move on to another table, start all over again. Ding!

Milagro’s “Bi–” has its world premiere at Fertile Ground. Photo: Russell J Young

I don’t know what it was like for the theater people as they hustled through their paces, but for me – one of those media types, with a little oblong table to call my own – it was a little like sitting in front of a wind machine taking wave after wave full force. I looked neither left nor right but straight ahead, only glancing down now and again at the succession of press releases and show cards to get my bearings. Who was this, now? What show? Where? When? Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh they went, a succession of mini-conversations, a jumble of scribbled notes, a scramble of unsorted information.


Audio drama PDX: Curated nostalgia

In the first of two parts – and before a Tolkien birthday bash on Saturday – a look at the old-time radio roots of a modern media movement

For most of my life I’ve been chronologically out of step. I was born in 1965, and my favorite clothes were out of fashion by 1930, my favorite authors were all dead by 1945, and one of my favorite artistic mediums, audio drama, culturally peaked in about 1950 and was until recently virtually extinct.

As a kid in the isolation of small-town Alaska, I would stay up late to hear, via the hit-and-miss bouncing signals of AM, re-broadcasts of the radio dramas from the 1930s and 40s, shows like The Shadow and Inner Sanctum. For a while anyway in the ’70s there was also the five-a-night broadcast of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a project helmed by grizzled radio veterans that featured fun performances though generally mediocre scripts.

Promotional photograph from November 1930 for the CBS Radio series “The Detective Story Hour,” the program that introduced The Shadow to radio audiences. The character was initially played by James La Curto. Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of the general hokiness of many of the shows, new and old, for reasons that were clearly thought peculiar to my friends and family I was hooked. How did they do so much with nothing more than a script, a few actors, and some carefully placed sound effects? (The answer, of course, is that the listener’s imagination does the work. As radio pioneer and general funny guy Stan Freberg once said, “the monitor of our head is limitless.”)


In the Frame: Eleven Men

In photographic portraits, K.B. Dixon captures the essence in black and white of eleven people who've helped shape Portland's creative soul

Essay and photographs by K.B. DIXON

A good picture tells a story, and nothing tells a story better—more eloquently, more efficiently—than the human face. The story these eleven faces tell, in part, is Portland’s. These are talented and dedicated people who have contributed in significant ways to the character and culture of this city, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.

Why eleven? Why not? It is the atomic number of sodium, the number of players on a football team, the number of thumb keys on a bassoon. I am a retentive sort with a bias in favor of symmetry who prefers numbers that divide evenly by two. I thought I would challenge myself. If the helping professions are to be believed, it is a way for one to grow.

With each portrait it has been my hope to produce first a decent photograph—a truthful record, one that honors the unique strength of the medium; but I have also sought to produce a photograph that is more than just a simple statement of fact, one that preserves for myself and others a brief glimpse of the being behind the image, one that presents a feeling as well as a form.

Soon I hope to be doing portraits of eleven Portland women. I have written to the President & CEO of one of our major cultural institutions, but she has not gotten back to me. Ms X, if you’re listening…. The portraits will be black & white, casual, available light, and done, ideally, in your office or work space. (My style is pretty straightforward as you can see—a nondenominational mix of street, fine art, and documentary photography.) Time, I know, is always an issue so I try to keep the intrusion to a minimum—30 minutes or so. Please let me know if you would be interested. We could set up a shoot at your convenience.



Will Vinton

Oscar-winning filmmaker. Vinton was a pioneer in stop-action animation. He is the head of Vinton Entertainment.


ArtsWatch year in theater 2017

From "Astoria" to "The Humans" with a whole lot in between, a month-by-month stroll with ArtsWatch through the year in Oregon theater

From Portland Center Stage’s Astoria: Part I (Part II is streaming around the bend in January, along with an encore run for Part I) to Artists Rep’s The Humans and a slew of holiday shows, it’s been a busy, busy year in Oregon theater.

In Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival rolled out another season blending contemporary and classic with a wide-angle world view. And the fine actor G. Valmont Thomas, after spending a season playing Falstaff in all three plays in which the great character appears, died in December from bone cancer, at age 58.

In Hillsboro, Bag&Baggage, which had been temporarily homeless, opened a spiffy new home in a renovated downtown former bank building.

In Portland, the sprawling Fertile Ground festival introduced dozens of new works (and, like Astoria, is gearing up for a fresh new run in January). Chris Coleman, Center Stage’s artistic director for 17 years, announced he would be leaving at the end of this season to take over the theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. TCG, the influential Theatre Communications Group, held its annual conference in Portland. And theater companies large and small produced more plays than The Count could count in a dozen seasons of Sesame Street.


ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.



We’re able to bring smart coverage to dance and other disciplines because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:



A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:


“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.