Granting Tahni Holt, leasing Portland Playhouse, saving Fantagraphics

News & Notes has a couple of pieces of good local news, and then we’ll wander just a bit, first northward to Seattle and Fantagraphics, the comic publisher, and then to consider the late art writer/philosopher Arthur Danto.

First the good news!

Choreographer Tahni Holt has received a touring grant from the prestigious New England Foundation for the Arts through its National Dance Project to fund her new piece, “Duet Love,” which is slated for completion next year. The touring grants help dance presenters bring specific companies to their venues.

It’s rare for a Portland choreographer to receive a NEFA grant, though both White Bird and PICA frequently receive presentation grants to bring dance companies to town. Minh Tran received support from NEFA in 2004, and Jayanthi Raman’s Natya Dance Academy (2004) and the Native Wellness Institute (2010) received grants, too.

I reviewed Holt’s 2012 dance, “SUN$HINE,” for ArtsWatch. We’re hoping to talk to her a little more about “Duet Love” and the grant soon.

Suzanne Chi in Tahni Holt's “SUN$HINE”/Jeff Forbes

Suzanne Chi in Tahni Holt’s “SUN$HINE”/Jeff Forbes

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The home of Portland Playhouse

The home of Portland Playhouse

Portland Playhouse just signed a long-term lease on its home in an old church at 602 Northeast Prescott St, which is good news, but even better, its landlord is a group of Playhouse supporters who recently purchased the building. The company will control the entire building for the first time, meaning more space for various uses:

“…the square footage available to us for rehearsals and play-readings, offices and storage, scenic construction, receptions, meetings – you name it – just about doubles. The opportunities this additional space, and a stable tenancy, will present to us, well…our heads are swimming with the possibilities.”

Space for performances and concerts is increasingly hard to come by anywhere near the city center, even on the near East Side, so the happiness of Portland Playhouse is understandable, just on this score. And it also cements the company’s relationship with the King neighborhood, an aspect of its success that can be easily overlooked. Can the arts help build better neighborhoods? So far, Portland Playhouse suggests they can, and watching the experiment spool out further will be fun to watch.

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I once attempted to talk an employee of Fantagraphics, the great Seattle comic book publisher, into moving to Portland. It just made so much sense (at least at the time). Anyway, the company has been struggling, which is no surprise given its sweet antiquarian tendencies (Peanuts, R. Crumb, Sunday comics of all sorts) maverick, alt.comic independent streak (notably “Love and Rockets”), and lush publications (just about everything they do). And it also lost its co-founder and editor Kim Thompson to lung cancer, earlier this year.

As financial difficulties piled up (Thompson was the direct editor on 13 different projects at the time of his death), Fantagraphics resorted to a $150,000 Kickstarter campaign to keep its 39-book publishing schedule this spring going. And Fantagraphic fans rose to the challenge—raising more than the target in a week.

It may seem weird to fund a for-profit company (the Portland bookstore Reading Frenzy went the Kickstarter route, too, and received some criticism on these grounds), but sometimes companies act so often and so well in the public interest that the public doesn’t want them to go away. In the case of Fantagraphics that means preserving a publisher with a mission to preserve an important part of our cultural heritage and to extend the comics form with the work of artists and writers we might not otherwise see.

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The art essays of Arthur Danto,  the art critic for the Nation and a much-decorated philosophy professor, were always such delicious fun, both vividly descriptive and intellectually alive, that I found them practically irresistible. And as what we call, somewhat lamely, post-modernism washed over the culture in 1980s, his way of dealing with it seemed exactly right. Art, he argued, was liberated to just be art, not Art with that imposing capital A. And he traced that jail break back to Warhol and his Brillo boxes. After thinking about what Danto said, I never thought the same way about Warhol.

Danto died last month, and after a spate of obituaries, we are now starting to get a few longer remembrances. Morgan Mies writing for N+1 explains Danto’s Big Idea, and also points out some of its problems.

There is a phrase that appears and reappears in the essays of Arthur Danto. That phrase is “the miraculousness of the commonplace.” Danto wanted to feel that miracle. But he realized that he wasn’t going to feel it by pretending that we are still surrounded by objects of high aesthetic beauty. The modern world doesn’t make great cathedrals, stone temples, or paintings to be worshipped in chapels and shrines. The modern world makes cheap shit out of plastic. But this was not the end of the story. Warhol’s paintings of Coca-Cola bottles convinced Danto that the world of plastic and junk could be redeemed. Danto used this kind of language without apology. He said that Pop art redeemed the world. He called Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans sacraments.  Danto had been converted. He had good news to tell the rest of us.

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