NEWS & NOTES

DramaWatch Weekly: Fertile Ground, Playing Favorites

As Portland's sprawling festival of new performance works begins, A.L. Adams picks her best bets (and weaves in a nonfestival highlight, too)

For YEARS, at multiple publications, I used to compile an overview of Fertile Ground titled “Fertile Ground Speaks for Itself,” wherein quips from the scripts submitted by their authors comprised the entire story, and I just formatted it.

It is, after all, a lowercase-f fringe festival, an uncurated and welcoming workshop space where indeed the pieces DO “speak for themselves.” But now I’m in grad school. And my time to listen is limited. If I go at all, I’ll have to be pre-selective. Hence, I find myself (for the first time) inclined to speak up for particular festival participants whom I’ve already observed doing good work. If your time is limited like mine, here’s my short list of “good risks.”

Nikki Weaver and friends, piecing things together for “Weaving Women Together.” Portland Playhouse photo

Aubrey Jessen’s appeared in many plays at Action/Adventure, portraying everything from a superhero action star to a breathlessly anxious secretary. I didn’t catch her playwrighting debut, Hawthorne, but a Drammy nod suggests it was deft. A speech therapist by trade, Jessen seems even in her improvs like a master of metacognition, with a keen awareness of thoughts-about-thoughts and an aw-shucks persona that makes such musings accessible. I’d deem it worth seeing what she does in Sable and the Forest. It’s a double-header with Autumn Buck’s Velvet, about which I have no special knowledge except that Phillip Berns—last seen carrying A Christmas Carol solo—is directing. I could say a lot about Berns, but my opinionated aunt side would rather just pat your arm and exclaim, “He’s very good!”

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Music Notes

New music series, awards and honors, death and resurrection and other transitions in Oregon music news

As a new year begins, here’s one of our periodic roundups of recent news in Oregon music. This is only a smattering, of course. Got more news about Oregon music? Let us know, or leave it in the comments section below.

High Notes

On Sunday at its 40th Anniversary National Conference, Chamber Music America (CMA), the national network for ensemble music professionals, awarded longtime Chamber Music Northwest artistic director clarinetist David Shifrin its 2018 Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award, which annually  recognizes an individual or entity that has provided historic service to the small ensemble music field.

Chamber Music Northwest artistic director David Shifrin.

Congrats to Oregon music stalwarts Randy Porter and Nancy King. The superb pianist and Lewis & Clark College faculty member and legendary singer received a Grammy Award nomination for their new album Randy Porter Plays Cole Porter, special guest Nancy King (Heavywood).  “If Randy Porter played more widely outside the US Pacific Northwest, he would likely be lauded as one of the leading contemporary jazz pianists,” wrote eminent jazz journalist Doug Ramsey. “This new album of songs composed by his namesake Cole Porter could go a long way toward bringing about wide recognition of an artist with a record of achievement going back more than three decades. Porter has toured extensively in Europe and Asia [and] is known on the west coast well beyond his home base in the Portland, Oregon, area. Six of the nine tracks find Nancy King, at 77, as musicianly as ever—individualistic and expressive, one of the few vocalists capable of improvising with harmonic wisdom equal to that of experienced instrumentalists.”

Eugene-based production company AO Films and Eugene Concert Choir won “Best Documentary” from the Oregon Independent Film Festival for their collaborative film, ”The Story of Shadow and Light: Giving Voice to an Alzheimer’s Journey”’

As we reported before the original performance, Eugene Concert Choir was awarded a $125,000 Creative Heights Initiative grant from the Fred W. Fields Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation to help fund the commission of a new composition for chamber choir and orchestra by Portland composer Joan Szymko of Oregon, as well as the world premiere performance in the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall, professional concert video and audio recordings, and the film documentary of the artistic journey.

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Love and taxes: Solving the contradiction

How to support the arts and thumb your nose at the new tax bill

Today’s subject is the contradiction between Oregon’s obvious love for the arts, and our tepid support for them at the state level. Well, actually the subject is how you and I, dear reader, can help solve that contradiction.

It’s especially important this year, given the tax bill that was signed into law last week. That bill will eventually double the standard deduction that most Americans take, and that will make it less likely that we will itemize. You know where I’m going with this: Unless you itemize, you don’t have the tax incentive to give to charities. And the only taxpayers who will now itemize, especially now that the deduction for state income taxes and property taxes have been limited, are very high-income earners. “The biggest change is expected to be among households earning $75,000 to $200,000 a year — a bracket in which more than half of filers itemized their taxes under the old code,” according to a Washington Post analysis.

The bottom line: If you itemize now, but probably won’t itemize in 2018, then this is the last year to take a charitable deduction of any kind. You can keep giving—no one expects private philanthropy to dry up completely—but your tax incentive will disappear. And an Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study, cited by the Post, is predicting a 4.5 percent drop in giving in 2018, which would be about $13 billion.

Albert Robida, “A night at the opera in the year 2000,” cartoon, 1882

Most arts organizations in Oregon are nonprofits, and they depend on philanthropy for their existence (either direct giving or through foundations), along with ticket sales and government support. This solution to the problem of supporting the arts starts with the Oregon Cultural Trust, and then, for this year at least, involves a change in giving patterns by individuals. Stick with me: We can do this!

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Just for an update, the glorious State of Oregon ranks 35th in funding for the arts through its arts agencies, the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust. That’s a little weird. The state always ranks near the very top in attendance at its arts events. You would think, all things being equal, that we’d be happier to support the arts than most other places.

That’s not the case. I’m going to focus on the states that start with the letter O for a moment, a universe of three states. According to the complex calculations of the National Association of State Arts Agencies, Oregon state government spends a grand total of 84 cents per state resident on the arts. Let that sink in a moment. Eighty-four cents. A grand total of $3,422,588.

Now, I hear people complain about government support for the arts a lot, but complaining about 84 cents is complaining about nickels and dimes. Actual nickels and dimes. And pennies. Even if you’re ideologically opposed to giving to the arts (and I’m sure those folks have clicked away from this story already), there are much bigger targets around for your slings and arrows. (For the record, I think the same thing about people who complain about the arts tax in Portland. That $35 is going directly toward something we actually voted for—arts education at the primary school level and support for our non-profit arts organizations. But that’s another story.)

Back to the O states. The other two are Ohio and Oklahoma. Ohio is a much bigger state, and during the 20th century, it was one of the nation’s richest, home to very large national corporations, from Procter & Gamble and Kroger in Cincinnati to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron. It’s still an industrial center of major national importance, but its per capita income has slipped below Oregon’s. We’re 26th nationally, at $54,148 per household. They are 34th, at $51,075. Still, they are ahead of us in state funding for the arts: They spend $1.39 per capita, and a total of $16,173,750.

Oklahoma is more our size, and for much of its history, its wealth was built on an extractive industry, just like ours—oil in their case, timber in ours. The average household income in Oklahoma is $48,568, which ranks 39th nationally. So, they give less of their state budget to the arts than we do, surely? Uh, no. It’s close, but they contribute 99 cents per capita to their state arts agencies, which ranks 26th nationally. Among the O states, Oregon is last.

Some might say this is a brilliant economy of resources— we invest little and get a lot. Unfortunately for us, among the O states Oregon is most dependent on its creative economy—the design, tech, new knowledge companies that drive our economy now. And the arts are crucial for attracting the talent that sharpens the edge of those companies and for keeping them engaged with their creative side when they get here. We can’t afford to be pennywise and pound foolish.

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Fortunately, the Oregon Cultural Trust allows us to rectify an ongoing error of the state legislature—in this case its reluctance to fund the arts sufficiently. The beauty of it is, it doesn’t cost us any money. And though it’s been around for awhile now, many of us don’t take advantage of its unique provisions. Many do: Oregonians invested more than $4.55 million in the Oregon Cultural Trust in 2016, after all. For good reason: It distributes money to every corner of the state, and funds tribal and historical organizations as well. So, if you’re taking advantage already, this is just a refresher.

The process isn’t hard, but it does involve a few steps. And the subject of taxes makes my head swim, my eyes blurry and my knees weak. That’s why I’m sure that if I can do it, so can you.

  1. It starts with a gift to one or more of the 1,400 or so arts and cultural groups in the state. You can find the list of qualifying groups on the Trust’s website, though nearly anyone you can think of qualifies.
  2. Make a matching gift to the Cultural Trust. You can do it online. You will be provided with a confirmation screen you can print for your records to claim your tax credit. Or you can donate by telephone (503-986-0088).
  3. Claim your entire contribution to the Trust as a tax credit on your Oregon income tax—up to $500 for an individual, $1,000 for couples filing jointly, and $2,500 for corporations. Much of that money will be distributed to Oregon arts groups directly, and some will go to the Trust’s permanent fund.

Let’s compress that: You gift your favorite arts group(s), you give to the Cultural Trust, you take a tax credit for the gift to the Trust (and to the arts groups), you enjoy great art the rest of the year.

Not so hard, is it? Ohio and Oklahoma, we’re coming for you!

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OK, one more idea. Take a look at Step One: The original gifts to arts organizations. Although the limit on the Oregon Cultural Trust tax credit is $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples filing jointly, you can still take the federal income tax deduction on any larger amount. At least you can take it THIS year, if you itemize. But let’s imagine next year. It’s entirely possible that you won’t be itemizing on your 2018 tax return, which means you won’t get a deduction for your charitable contributions (to arts groups or anyone else). Bummer.

That’s why it’s a good idea to give the money you WOULD have given in 2018 now, in 2017, so you can take the tax deduction now. Instead of giving Oregon ArtsWatch $100 this year—just an example!—you could give us $200, and take the full tax deduction this year. We would be much obliged to help in this way. And it would work the same way for any charitable contribution: This is the year to double up and guarantee that you get the deduction.

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So, right, this column is self-serving. Oregon ArtsWatch is one of the organizations on the Oregon Cultural Trust’s list. You can donate to us, then donate to the trust and get the money you gave to the trust back in the form of a tax credit.

Why would you do that? Because we believe that a healthy, active, adaptive culture, something we all need, requires a healthy, active, adaptive and independent source for culture news, analysis and commentary. We’ve been talking about that this week on the site: The stories we’ve written that have had a big impact, the stories that our new writers have written, the in-depth stories that introduce you to important artists in the community, the reviews from informed writers we post. As other sources for the news, feature stories and interpretation of the arts dry up, we believe that our contribution becomes more and more important.

We hope you think the same way! And if you do, it’s very easy to get started. Thanks for considering us!

A dozen great reads from 2017

From a Lewis Carroll lark to a rambling Road Dog to a play about a baby to art out of ocean garbage, twelve ArtsWatch stories not to miss

A dance critic walks into an art show. A man and his dog travel the byroads of America. A pop song sinks into a writer’s soul. A jazz pianist walks into the wilderness. A play about a baby strikes a theater reviewer close to home. On the southern Oregon coast, artists make huge sculptures from the detritus that chokes the sea.

We run a lot of stories on a lot of subjects at Oregon ArtsWatch – more than 500 in 2017 alone – and a few stand out simply as stories that want to be told. Put together a good writer and a good subject and chances are you’ll get a memorable tale. Here are a dozen such stories from 2017.

 


 

We’re able to tell the stories we tell 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 look back at a dozen stories from 2017 you won’t want to miss:

 

Matthew Kerrigan reinterprets Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, with a fleeting attention span ruled by a smartphone.

We’re all mad here … so let’s party

Jan. 31: “What do you do with your existential frustration? If you boil it down into its purest form, you get either despair or rage—which then has to be dealt with. But if you chill it out and mix in some humor, you end up with absurdity. And that can be played with! O Frabjous Day!” A.L. Adams got down in the existential trenches with Shaking the Tree’s We’re All Mad Here, a piece performed and largely conceived by Matthew Kerrigan in homage to the great absurdist Lewis Carroll. “Any drug-addled dodo could dream up a different world, but that wasn’t the crux of Carroll’s vision. Like his forebears Aesop and Chaucer and Jonathan ‘Gulliver’ Swift, Carroll was a satirist as well as a fabulist.”

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Profiles & Conversations 2017

From poets to painters to dancers to actors to musicians, 21 tales from ArtsWatch on the people who make the art and why they do it

Art is a whole lot of things, but at its core it’s about people, and how they see life, and how they make a life, and how they get along or struggle with the mysteries of existence. That includes, of course, the artists themselves, whose stories and skills are central to the premise. In 2017 ArtsWatch’s writers have sat down with a lot of artists – painters, actors, dancers and choreographers, poets, music-makers – and listened as they spun out their tales.

We’ve been able to tell their stories 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:

Here are 21 stories from 2017 about Oregon artists and artists who’ve come here to do their work:

 


 

Erik Skinner. Photo: Michael Shay

Eric Skinner’s happy landing

Jan. 18: “On the afternoon that Snowpocalypse struck Portland, Eric Skinner walked into the lobby at BodyVox Dance Center after a morning in the studio and settled easily onto one of the long couches in the corner. As always he looked trim and taut: small but strong and tough, with a body fat index down somewhere around absolute zero. If anyone looks like a dancer, Skinner does. Even in repose he seems all about movement: you get the sense he might spring up suddenly like a Jumping Jack on those long lean muscles and bounce somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of bouncing.” In January, after 30 years on Portland stages, Skinner was getting ready to retire from BodyVox – but not from dance, he told Bob Hicks.

 


 

Les Watanabe in ‘Sojourn’ by Donald McKayle, Inner City Repertory Company. Photographed by Martha Swope in New York. 1972. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe

Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovich, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Jan. 20: In a wide-ranging Q&A interview, Jamuna Chiarini hears a lot of modern-dance history from Watanabe, who was in the thick of it and now teaches at Western Oregon University:

“During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, ‘Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!’

“At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I then asked, ‘Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.’

“’Are you dancing now?’ he asked.

“’Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.’

“’Where do you take class?’ Lar asked. ‘At Maggie Black’s,’ I answered. ‘Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week.’”

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New voices of ArtsWatch 2017

A dozen writers have joined the ArtsWatch ranks this year. Find out who they are, and what they're bringing to the cultural mixer.

In one important way it’s been a very good year for Oregon ArtsWatch: We’ve added a lot of good writers to our mix, deepening and broadening our coverage of everything from dance to theater to music to visual arts to literary events and more.

ArtsWatch has been able to add the voices of a dozen new contributors 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.

In 2018 we hope to add even more fresh voices and perspectives to our continuing engagement with Oregon’s complex and diversified cultural life.

Meet 2017’s new writers, from A to Z (all right; A to W), and sample their work:

 


 

TJ Acena

A Portland essayist and journalist who studied creative writing at Western Washington University, TJ was selected as a 2017 Rising Leader of Color in arts journalism by Theatre Communications Group. He writes about theater and literary events for ArtsWatch, and also contributes to American Theatre Magazine and The Oregonian in addition to literary journals such as Somnambulist and Pacifica Literary Journal. Web: tjacena.com

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Greg Watanabe with Mao on the wall in “Caught.” Photo: Russell J Young

CAUGHT IN A LIE, OR A TRUTH

Acena reviews the installation and performance Caught at Artists Rep, a play that crosses the line between fact and fiction, fake news and real. “If it feels like there’s something I’m not telling you about Caught, you’re right. Don’t take it at face value: There’s a hidden conceit to the show. But discovering that conceit is what makes Caught compelling.”

 


 

Bobby Bermea

 

A leading actor, director, and producer in Portland and elsewhere, Bobby specializes in deeply reported and insightful profiles of theater and other creative people for ArtsWatch. A three-time Drammy Award winner for his work onstage, he’s also the author of the plays Heart of the City, Mercy, and Rocket Man.

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ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2017

Readers' choice: From a musical fracas to rising stars to a book paradise, a look back on our most read and shared stories of the year

Here at ArtsWatch, it’s flashback time. It’s been a wild year, and the 15 stories that rose to the top level of our most-read list in 2017 aren’t the half of it, by a long shot: In this calendar year alone we’ve published more than 500 stories.

Those stories exist 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.

Here, back for another look, is an all-star squad of stories that clicked big with our readers in the past 12 months:

 


 

Matthew Halls conducted Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Josh Green.

The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival

In June Tom Manoff, for many years the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, looked at the severe drop in attendance and cutbacks in programming at the premiere Eugene music festival. He summarized: “Thinking ahead, I ask: If this year’s schedule portends the future, can OBF retain its world-class level? My answer is no.” His essay, which got more hits than any other ArtsWatch story in 2017, got under a lot of people’s skin. But it was prescient, leading to …

Bach Fest: The $90,000 solution. This followup that had the year’s second-highest number of clicks: Bob Hicks’s look at the mess behind the surprise firing of Matthew Halls as the festival’s artistic leader and the University of Oregon’s secretive response to all questions about it.

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