NEWS & NOTES

DramaWatch: Planning for a bountiful harvest from Fertile Ground

Portland's wide-ranging new works festival offers more than you can manage alone. Plus, new shows from Portland Center Stage, Portland Playhouse and others.

“Conceived and organized by the Portland Area Theater Alliance, Fertile Ground is a new, 10-day, city-wide festival dedicated to the creation and promotion of original works for the theater. Home-grown and wide-ranging, it both reflects and nurtures the creativity, aesthetic diversity and collaborative spirit of Portland’s performing community with three dozen projects in all. Even in these cold, hard times (in terms of the weather and the economy) it looks like something fun and invigorating enough to take root on the highlight calendar of Northwest arts events.”

Doesn’t seem so long ago, really, that I wrote that — in my former life as theater critic for The Oregonian — about the first Fertile Ground festival in January of 2009. Surely enough, the festival did take root and very quickly grew into one of the city’s mid-winter cultural staples. Not only did that first iteration provide proof of concept (a.k.a., “It works!”), but it delivered memorable works such as Christine McKinley’s science-themed coming-of-age musical Gracie and the Atom, Ezra Weiss’s Mad-Hatter-hip jazz version of Alice in Wonderland and Nancy Keystone’s rocketry epic Apollo.

Right off the bat, attendance was in the 10,000 range. Soon, the number of plays/projects/performances on offer doubled, and Fertile Ground became a reliable hot house for buzz-worthy work: The North Plan, Famished, Dear Galileo, Willow Jade The Huntsmen, The Tripping Point, 99 Ways to Fuck a Swan, The Hillsboro Story, My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow, The Snowstorm…

Maureen Porter joins the CoHo Clown Cohort for “Witch Hunt,” a seriously comic take on Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” as part of Fertile Ground 2019. Photo: Urban Body Project.

So here we are at the 10th anniversary of that inaugural edition, with the 11th annual festival set to kick off on January 24. Chances are good that a critical and/or popular consensus will lift a few of the 70-some presentations to memorable status and/or further development and/or subsequent productions. But the whole idea here is that these shows are new; so while we may have hunches about what’s promising based on the artists involved or the idea they’re pursuing, no one really knows what you really ought to see. Of course there’s the matter of subjectivity. Topics range from Shakespeare to BDSM (er…if you have to ask…), and while my personal “Don’t care!” sign starts flashing red at the thought of, say, vampire stories or circus arts, you might think me a hopeless dolt to be intrigued by a Chekhov adaptation or a drama about gun control.

And schedules only complicate the matter further! For starters, not everyone can do a full Kay Olsen on the thing (Portland theater insiders know what I mean). With so many shows, at venues spread across Portland and (a bit) beyond, at conflicting or overlapping times, even a full-time commitment to the festival wouldn’t allow you to see even half.

So.

Decisions, decisions.

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Oregon College of Art and Craft finds another potential partner

The OCAC-PNCA merger is off, and Portland State is OCAC's new suitor

While the Oregon College of Art and Craft was seeking to join forces with Pacific Northwest College of Art this fall, it was also talking to Portland State University about a possible deal. Those talks are heating up. The statement yesterday from PSU: “Portland State is currently conducting a feasibility study of a possible acquisition of OCAC.”

Written mostly from the perspective of PSU, Jeff Manning’s story for OregonLive today framed the story as part of PSU president Rahmat Shoureshi’s efforts to expand his university’s arts footprint.

“We’re committed to investing in expanding our College of the Arts whether or not we pursue this opportunity,” Shoureshi told Manning. Shoureshi said that adding the faculty and facilities of OCAC would make the PSU College of the Arts a top 10 arts department nationally.

Manning also reported that OCAC had incurred $685,649 in expenses beyond its total revenue in 2017, that the school owed more than $1.5 million to lenders at that time, and had a $1 million payment due in 2018. OCAC didn’t reveal whether the college or its foundation had made that payment, but Shoureshi said that OCAC wanted PSU’s decision on the merger made by April. “They’re under financial pressure,” Shoureshi said, “they need answers.” PSU’s involvement in a rescue of OCAC is contingent on raising money to cover the costs of the merger, Shoureshi said.

The Oregon College of Art and Craft campus/Photo by Bruce Forester

The OCAC campus on Southwest Barnes and Leahy roads is a considerable asset. Previous 990 returns by the college have valued it around $10 million, and the acreage right along Barnes and Leahy could easily be developed without disturbing the campus itself. And at the end of its 2015-16 fiscal year, OCAC’s foundation had assets (mostly in the form of investments) of $1,930,700.

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I reached out to OCAC for more information about the fall discussions with PNCA, and the college asked to postpone talks with me until the end of January. I’ve reached out to them again to answer some new questions about their perspective on the PSU acquisition, but they haven’t responded to my queries. If they respond later today, I’ll post their answers here.

UPDATE: Here is the OCAC official statement, which is all they want to say at this point.

Portland State University and Oregon College of Art and Craft are exploring a potential agreement for partnership that is mutually advantageous to both parties.  Uniting OCAC and PSU would establish a more robust foundation for Portland’s higher education in the arts, while expanding and diversifying opportunities for students.

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If you read Manning’s story on OregonLive today, you might have thought, “Didn’t OCAC merge with PNCA this fall?” The quick answer: They didn’t, though we can be forgiven for thinking so. That’s because the public narrative about the proposed merger between PNCA and OCAC plunged into the murky depths this fall. After a round of positive stories about the likely success of merger talks early in the process, two of the city’s legacy journalism companies, The Oregonian/OregonLive and OPB, both published stories announcing that the merger had been approved and was going forward. That was wrong, and six weeks later any possible deal was off the table.

Let’s just look at the bullet points:

  • September 10: President Denise Mullen leaves OCAC for personal reasons. Jiseon Lee Isbara, Dean of Academic Affairs, is appointed Interim President for the college.
  • Early October: PNCA president Tuski announces to PNCA students, staff and faculty that the boards of the two institutions were in talks about joining forces.
  • October 3: The Oregonian’s Everton Bailey Jr. quotes Tuski in a story on October 3: “In our first meeting, people at OCAC were thinking the same thing that we were, that if we could do this, we could really take the next step to be an art, design and craft school that rivals anything in the country, and that’s really the goal,” Tuski said.
  • November 1: Oregon Public Broadcasting’s April Baer reported that the merger was set: “Oregon’s two major, standalone art schools have voted to merge,” she wrote. And then she said the schools were negotiating a memorandum of understanding to determine the shape of that merger. Her quotes from Tuski and Isbarra seemed definitive proof of the merger: “By any measure, OCAC is in a place that needs to explore proactive solutions for a sustainable future,” Isbara told Baer. “The current higher education environment has proven to be precarious. We believe the merger will strengthen the merged colleges’ future.” And Tuski was already imagining that future: “It will be a new culture created by faculty, staff, students and alumni of both schools,” he said. “Art, design and craft schools about creating something new, authentic or original. This is where two strong art schools are going to do this together.”
  • November 2: The Oregonian’s Douglas Perry built on the OPB report: “The Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft have voted to combine, OPB reports.” He adds later, “A new name and how exactly the two schools and their programs will combine remain to be worked out. Some job losses are expected because of the merger.”
  • December 14: The Oregonian’s Amy Wang reported: “After three months of discussion, the boards of both schools voted Friday against the merger, calling it “not a feasible option” at this time, according to statements from both schools.”

As it turns out, the PNCA board on October 26 resolved “that PNCA will continue to discuss the possibility of a merger with OCAC and will begin the process of negotiating an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding], which, if agreed to by both parties, and voted on independently by each college’s Board of Governors, will begin the merger process.” That was an important step in any merger, but it clearly doesn’t actually constitute a vote to merge. And by December 14, those boards decided against the merger, having failed to agree on a memorandum of understanding.

Maybe there is some humor in this—a misunderstanding about a memorandum of understanding. Typically, merging organizations give themselves several exit ramps during the merger dance. If early talks go well, they often start negotiating an MOU, basically a non-binding agreement that they have enough common interests to keep talking. After they agree on an MOU, they start negotiating the merger itself, a binding legal agreement that actually merges the two institutions. In this case, PNCA and OCAC, for whatever cluster of reasons, were unable to produce a memorandum of understanding, let alone dot the i’s on a contract to merge.

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The idea of a merger between Portland’s two arts colleges—Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft—has never made real sense to me, if we take financial necessity out of the equation. We’ve heard about talks along these lines for a long time, even before the Portland Art Museum mothership ejected PNCA from its pod in 1994, perhaps simply because few American cities support more than one art and design college, none the size of Portland.

But the cultural differences have always seemed insurmountable to me. OCAC sits on ample acreage on Barnes Road, and its mentorship approach to teaching the fine points of the craft tradition even today recalls the best parts of the Medieval apprenticeship.

PNCA has spent most of its history as an independent institution either in the middle of the transforming Pearl District or, now, situated on busy Northwest Broadway, between the Pearl and Old Town. And its program has adjusted to the constant shape-shifting of contemporary art practice and to the rise of Portland as a significant American design city.

For most of their history, the two have been rivals for students, donors and even for such cultural “prizes” as the Museum of Contemporary Craft. PNCA won that contest, though only a few years after the victory, it shut down the museum and sold off the building. Which still stings in many corners of the city’s arts community.

As American arts and design schools have, both PNCA and OCAC have struggled financially. Costs are up and enrollments are down across the board. But during the past decade, both have had solid leadership and, despite the economic headwinds, they’ve accomplished some major feats that required effective organizing and mobilization of Oregon’s smallish donor base. OCAC expanded its campus and became an accredited college, while PNCA managed to secure that new HQ on Broadway. Still, the fundamentals—especially the decline in the number of college-age students and the society’s hard-right turn toward profit and thus chasing white-collar jobs, entrepreneurial success or both—have been against them.

Their weakness is relative. The PNCA budget is more than twice the size of OCAC’s and its enrollment numbers are substantially larger, 595 to around 180, though Manning pegged OCAC enrollment at 138.

PSU is vastly larger than either PNCA or OCAC. It will spend around $590 million in its 2018-2019 fiscal year. And in addition to the economic, cultural and demographic changes that PNCA or OCAC face, PSU also has to deal with the vagaries of state politics. Manning’s story goes into those in some detail. The cultural differences between an urban state university and a small, private art college are immense.

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We will add to this story (or more likely, write additional stories) as this new chapter in OCAC’s history unfolds. An “acquisition” and a “merger” have different meanings after all.

Art in Oregon turns its bridge-building to Lincoln County

The nonprofit is dedicated to helping artists connect with their communities by setting up a statewide database and awarding funds for the purchase of art

A healthy community needs a healthy cultural side, and that includes the arts, says Tammy Jo Wilson, cofounder of Art in Oregon (AiO). After a first year that included setting up a database of Oregon artists and offering micro-grants to Clackamas County businesses to purchase art, the nonprofit is turning its attention to Lincoln County.

Wilson and her husband, Owen Premore, got the idea for the nonprofit after the only gallery in Oregon City closed soon after the couple, both artists, bought a house in town. “We really started to think, how is art going to be part of our community?” Wilson said. “That led us to think not only about our community, but Oregon in general. That’s what led us to start this. Not just think about our community, but the state as a whole.” Wilson, a painter, and Premore, a sculptor and installation artist, started Art in Oregon in late 2017 with the goal of building bridges between artists and their communities.

“Road to Timberline,” by Elo Wobig (right), is the first painting purchased by the Museum of the Oregon Territory, says museum manager Jenna Barganski (center). Tammy Jo Wilson (left) says Art in Oregon hopes to continue working with the museum to expand its collection to include more Oregon artists. Photo courtesy: Art in Oregon

Through a program called the Art Shine Project, they have set up a curated database of artists they hope will serve as a digital gallery leading to the purchase and placement of artwork in public. The 2018 Art Shine Project focused on Clackamas County, providing funds to help three local businesses and nonprofits purchase art of their choice from work submitted by 33 local artists.

“We are trying to connect with the artists of Oregon, both emerging and established and everything in between, and then help them find their community,” Wilson said. “So the goal of the Art Shine Project was to find as many artists in Clackamas County as we could, and from that we started the Art Shine database.” There is no charge to be included in the database, which includes close to 100 artists throughout the state.

Wilson sees project benefits as three-fold. The artist makes money from the sale of art and gets to see it publicly displayed. The businesses get to own an original piece of art, and the community is exposed to work by a local artist.

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Music Notes: new year, new directions

New year brings new leadership to Oregon music institutions, and more recent news in Northwest classical and jazz music

Portland’s classical music scene is experiencing a leadership transformation. This season, Third Angle New Music selected Sarah Tiedemann as its artistic director, replacing Ron Blessinger, who had moved over to 45th Parallel Universe as interim artistic director of the now collectively run organization. Now two of the city’s biggest classical presenting organizations have announced upcoming new directors.

Marc-André Hamelin

Portland Piano International announced that one of today’s most esteemed performing classical pianists, Marc-André Hamelin, will curate the presenting organization’s 2019-2020 SOLO season. The Boston-based Canadian ultra-virtuoso is the first guest curator in PPI’s new, annual single-year guest curatorial system, instituted after artistic director Arnaldo Cohen ended his five-year tenure last year, leaving founding artistic director Harold Gray to step in and curate PPI’s current season.

• Another venerable Oregon classical music institution that recently flirted with the rotating curator model PPI has adopted is evidently having second thoughts. The Oregon Bach Festival has announced a search for a new artistic director, apparently prompted by its School of Music and Dance’s new dean, Sabrina Madison-Cannon, who oversees the festival. (Last year’s festival was run by a committee of music school faculty and others.) Eugene writer and longtime festival observer Tom Manoff argued recently in ArtsWatch that the absence of a single artistic leader in the wake of the messy and still mysterious dismissal of its respected previous AD created a vision vacuum at the nearly half-century old Oregon music institution. The good news: the search will be headed by savvy Eugene lawyer Roger Saydack, who spearheaded the successful searches for Eugene Symphony conductors Marin Alsop, Giancarlo Guerrero, and others who have gone on to starry careers on larger stages.

Soon-to-be CMNW artistic directors Kim and Chien

Chamber Music Northwest announced that violinist Soovin Kim and pianist Gloria Chien will become joint artistic directors in fall 2020. They will succeed David Shifrin, the New York clarinetist who has led the organization since 1980 and who will curate the next two summer festivals before passing the baton to the husband and wife team, chosen from among 60 candidates. They’ve run chamber music series in Tennessee and Vermont, and Chien was a CMNW Protege artist in 2017.

• Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras named Cecille Elliott to the newly created position of Director of Creative Play, which has to be the coolest title on any music resume in memory. “Her primary responsibility is to find existing activities and develop new ones that are not usually seen as components of classical music education,” the press release says, “using body percussion, rhythmic chants, songwriting, singing, circle songs and games, as well as body movement.” She’s been with the admirable youth organization since 2015.


BREAK THE CAGE – Collective Composition at BRAVO from Seth Truby on Vimeo.

•  All Classical Portland’s new Artist in Residence program has chosen renowned Portland pianist Hunter Noack as its first Artist in Residence, and  Lakeridge High School senior and cellist Taylor Yoon as its first Young Artist in Residence. The program provides residency for both a professional and a young musician, with plans to announce a poet and visual artist in the fall of 2019. They’ll have access to All Classical Portland’s facilities and studio time, including on-air opportunities including appearances on Thursdays @ 3, at station events, concerts and special broadcasts. Noack is best known here for his In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild project, an outdoor concert series involving a 9-foot concert Steinway in state and national parks, historic sites, and other spectacular locations. Yoon and her sisters formed a musical group, Yoontrio, and she helped launch Olivenbaum, a non-profit organization that uses music to promote social harmony. This past summer, the group performed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea as part of the Lindenbaum Music Festival. Noack and Yoon will make their performance debut at All Classical Portland’s Lovefest Concert on February 26 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre.

Hunter Noack, playing in the wild

• The Siletz Bay Music Festival named Karin M. Moss as the festival’s new executive director. She’s a 30-year veteran of music promotion and business development at organizations in California, New York, Chicago, North Carolina and beyond.

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The power to move people

Miles Davis, Linfield College’s new president, champions the arts as both a means to living well and to forging relationships, but warns of a dark side

A recent change in leadership at Linfield College is significant not only for the 160-year-old liberal arts institution, but also for the community at large. It is not hyperbole to say that the private college plays a major — even an essential — role in local cultural life beyond the resources it offers its 1,980 students.

McMinnville residents may check materials out of the Nicholson Library. Authors from around the region give readings that are free and open to the public. There’s an art gallery, and both the theater and music departments mount classy productions (plays are often accompanied by panel discussions) and concerts. Linfield music professor Anton Belov launched, on his own, an ambitious, opera-centric event last summer that drew musicians from all over the world. Meanwhile, Linfield faculty members publish work that reaches far beyond the campus, one recent example of which I wrote about here.

In July, Miles Davis became Linfield’s 20th president and the first African-American to fill the role. Davis, 59, comes from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., where he headed the university’s Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business. Don’t let that “business” part throw you. In fact, you may want to tread lightly inquiring about that aspect of his life, if you’re implying an unbridgeable chasm gapes between professional (or vocational) education and liberal arts education. Davis says that’s a false dichotomy, and when I sat down with him recently to discuss arts and culture, he explained why. He also elaborated on the issue on LinkedIn, where he occasionally posts short essays.

Linfield College President Miles Davis says the best art “pulls you in. It transports you. It takes you to a different place.” Photo courtesy: Linfield College

Davis welcomed me into his spacious office and even before I was seated, he was firing off questions about my education, work history, and artistic interests. I mentioned that I’d done many shows at Gallery Players of Oregon, which he was familiar with because a couple of Linfield administrators also are long-time Gallery actors.

We launched into a lively conversation that went a full hour. The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about yourself. What’s your favorite art form?

Davis: My favorite — and some people will debate whether this is fine art or not — but I like photography. I love imagery, I love the visual display of things, I love taking something that is ordinary and capturing it. Even now, I love looking out this window, looking at the framing of that tree, and the moss on that tree. That is a perfectly framed photo for me. And the ability to play with light. I started in the prehistoric age where you had development paper. Now, what you can do with digital imagery is incredible, but I like unfiltered stuff.

Where did that interest come from?

I was a photography student, even back in middle school. I was finally able to purchase my dream camera about 15 years ago, a Nikon. I like action photography, I like travel photography. I don’t do still or portraits except for imagery. It’ll be an image that will capture me. I actually won a Kodak photography award. I hate posed things, but I happened to be at a rally where Joe Biden was speaking, and he had his granddaughter with him, and I had my camera. He had leaned over in what I believe was an unscripted moment, and put his arm his granddaughter, and just the look of love and adoration on his face for her, I captured it. Kodak was having a photo competition, and I submitted it, and I won.

It was a true Kodak moment!

It was! And that’s what they wanted. They didn’t want posed, they wanted unscripted moments. That must have been 2007.

I’ve read that you were raised in Philadelphia, and that your parents made sure that you had a lot of exposure to the arts. Tell me about that.

It’s really interesting, for a poor inner-city black kid to be taken to art museums. Philadelphia has one of the great art museums, quite frankly what I think is one of the greatest art museums in the world. To be exposed to that. They exposed me to opera. This is the time of Motown sound, so you heard that stuff, but my parents wanted to make sure I was exposed to far more. So I got a chance to see ballets and symphonies, because they wanted me to have a vision of myself that was bigger than the world in which I found myself.

All of that has come to bear later in my life. I went horseback riding, I played tennis, I was on the fencing team! They exposed me to a world that was greater and bigger. They didn’t have money.

I had a chance to spend time in Cuba. I was in Havana in January 2012 studying the transition, as Raúl Castro came in and was looking at the expansion of entrepreneurship and their equivalent of deregulation of their economy. I talked to people, and I speak Spanish, so I asked them about these changes. They said there are three things that government should always do, that the government should provide support for: One is health care, the second is education, and the third is the arts. I think about that, because I went to the Philadelphia art museum for free.

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Jimmy Mak’s: Ace of clubs prepares to play a new hand

Friday's Mission Theater concert helps revive the brand of one of Portland's most influential nightspots, due to re-open in the fall.

For many years, J.D. Stubenberg and Lisa Boyle were mainstays of the great Portland music club Jimmy Mak’s, in their own ways as vital to the place as the hotspot’s founder/owner Jimmy Makarounis and the musicians who lit up the stage there. Since the club’s closing at the end of 2017, followed hard upon by the death of Makarounis from laryngeal cancer, they’ve been involved in plans to revive and sustain the Jimmy Mak’s legacy.

So now they’re getting the brand back together.

Tonight’s concert at the Mission Theater — a high-energy double serving of rock-and-soul featuring the Yachtsmen and the Paul Creighton Project, with the Soul Vax horns adding some special sauce all around — comes to you under the Jimmy Mak’s Presents banner, an imprimatur of the discerning yet populist aesthetic that Makarounis and Stubenberg championed over the past couple of decades. The show is a benefit for the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship at Portland State University, a program launched in 2017.

Portland pop-rock band the Yachtsmen will play at the Mission Theater on Friday to benefit the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship.

The show also serves as a reminder that the much-loved, much-missed club likely isn’t gone for good. In fact, the investor group Friends of Jimmy Mak’s plans to launch a new location this fall.

“We’ll hopefully start swinging hammers by the end of May, maybe June,” Stubenberg said last week. “So we’re hoping to open in September or October, but we won’t really know until we get into construction.”

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Art gallery reopens at Salishan Resort

The gallery director says she hopes to oversee restoration of John and Betty Gray's art collection to the coastal landmark, as well as support new artists

After decades of decline, the Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach may be looking at a brighter future. New owners, Alpha Wave Investors, took over the property a little more than a year ago and are promising to restore the resort to its glory days. That includes a commitment to showcasing Oregon artists, which has already seen the Gallery at Salishan reopened, once again under the direction of Patricia Williams, a close friend of the original developers.

Gallery at Salishan’s current show includes paintings by Allen Cox, including “Materia Medica,” 48” x 36”, oil and wax on linen (2016).

The resort was built by John Gray of Portland, whose other landmark Northwest projects include Sunriver and Skamania Lodge. “When John and Betty Gray opened the Salishan Lodge in 1965,” Williams said, “their mutual love of art became an important component of the lodge’s aesthetic. They had already started an impressive collection of Northwest art, and worked closely with well-known art professors from Oregon State University.”

When the Marketplace at Salishan shopping area opened in the mid-1970s, Gary Lawrence opened a gallery, partnering with art collectors Patrick and Darle Maveety. Patrick Maveety was director and curator of Asian art at Stanford University.

New owners took over Salishan in 1996 with an eye toward turning it into a corporate retreat. Valued art was lost, rumored to have been given away, stolen, and even found in dumpsters, and the gallery closed.

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