Well, that was the year that was, wasn’t it? Old Man 2018 limps out of the limelight with a thousand scars, a thousand accomplishments, and a whole lot of who-knows-what. The new kid on the block, Baby 2019, arrives fit and sassy, eager to get rolling and make her mark. She’s got big plans, and the ballgame’s hers to win, lose, or draw.
On the Oregon arts and cultural scene, 2018 entered the game with similar high hopes and then handled a lot of unexpected disruption, holding his ground and even making a few gains even as his hair grew thin and gray. He can retire with his head held high, if he’s not too busy shaking it from side to side over the things he’s seen.
A quick look at a few of the significant moments of the cultural year, including some banner advances by Oregon ArtsWatch:
In & Out
Chris Coleman heads to Denver. After 17 years as artistic director of Portland Center Stage, shaping the ideas and styles of the biggest theater company in town, Coleman left to take a similar position at the even bigger Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Coleman opened up to Barry Johnson in a wide-ranging and insightful exit interview.
All-woman leadership at Portland Center Stage. Coleman’s departure led to a national search for a new artistic director. In August the company hired Marissa Wolf, who had been in charge of an ambitious new-plays-development program at Kansas City Rep. In a city with very few women artistic directors, Wolf joins managing director Cynthia Fuhrman in providing all-woman leadership. Marty Hughley sat down for interviews with each on their plans for the company’s future.
Defying the real estate gods, part 1. Amid a serious space crunch and skyrocketing real-estate prices across Portland, a few brave new gallery spaces opened. In the west Pearl District, the environmentally focused Elisabeth Jones Art Center opened with a bang, making its debut with an expansive show of work by Native American artists who had ties to the Standing Rock anti-pipeline protests. In Old Town Chinatown, the sparkling new Portland Chinatown Museum, a history museum and center for contemporary Asian American artists, drew crowds with openings both soft and grand. And several new alt.art gallery spaces, among them Ori Gallery, Killjoy Collective, and Fuller Rosen Gallery, jumped into the fray.
Defying the real estate gods, part 2. Meanwhile, a couple of brave new performing spaces also took the plunge: Steps PDX, a 1,421-square-foot studio space with vaulted ceilings in the Troy Laundry Building on Southeast 11th Avenue, owned and run by ballet dancer and pilot Kathryn Harden; and Chapel Theatre, a new multi-use space in Milwaukie bought by TriptheDark Dance Company artistic director Corinn deWaard, Illya Torres-Garner, and JR Holland. The Chapel also quickly became home to a small and lively theater company, the Chapel Theatre Collective.
Aquilon Festival joins the crowd. Come summer, Oregon floats on a harmonic convergence of music festivals, from Portland to Sunriver to Astoria to Eugene to Siletz Bay to Jacksonville to Coos Bay and far beyond. In 2018 the Aquilon Music Festival, brainchild of Moscow-born operatic baritone and Linfield College music professor Anton Belov, happily joined the crowd, settling in for a scintillating three weeks of opera and other events in McMinnville and the vineyards of Yamhill County wine country. ArtsWatch’s David Bates settled in equally well for a long exploratory chat with Belov.
Eric Skinner heads for Chicago. For more than 30 years in Portland, you could scarcely talk about dance in the city without also talking about Skinner. His fingerprints – and of course, his footprints – were all over the place: the old Pacific Ballet Theatre; the new Oregon Ballet Theatre during the James Canfield years; many years at BodyVox Dance; his own Skinner Kirk Dance Ensemble, which he founded with his partner Daniel Kirk; studios and rehearsal halls and classrooms all over the city and on tour. In 2018 he decided to return to his native Chicago, and talked with Martha Ullman West about why.
Double switch at Third Angle and 45th Parallel. Portland’s contemporary chamber music scene played a game of musical chairs in 2018. Third Angle New Music cut its ties with Oregon Symphony violinist Ron Blessinger, who had led the group for 17 years, eventually replacing him with flutist Sarah Tiedemann. Blessinger, meanwhile, took the reins at the younger 45th Parallel (which now calls itself 45th Parallel Universe), taking the members of the Third Angle string quartet with him. Brett Campbell wrote about Third Angle and Matthew Andrews wrote about 45th Parallel to keep you, well, contemporary with what’s going on in the city’s contemporary music circles.
Bill Rauch gets ready to go to New York. Rauch, the innovative artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, was head-hunted to be the first artistic director of the Perelman Center for Performing Arts at the World Trade Center, the new complex opening in 2020 on the site of the 9/11 terrorist strike on New York City. The 2019 season will be Rauch’s last in Ashland, and in his column The Bill Rauch Times, Marty Hughley discusses a few of the innovative and sometimes controversial choices that might’ve attracted the New York venture to him. Meanwhile, the OSF job is a national plum that’s sure to attract a lot of talented and ambitious applicants.
Neither in nor out. After abruptly firing its talented young artistic director Matthew Halls in 2017, the Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene did … nothing. At least, it did nothing to replace Halls, clinging firmly to its announcement that it would use a guest-director model, though what exactly that might mean in practice did not emerge. Good things happened during the 2018 season, including the festival’s Composers Symposium, which drew young composers and contemporary stars including Philip Glass alike, and which Christina Rusnak and Gary Ferrington wrote about for ArtsWatch. But Tom Manoff, in an overview of the ’18 season, wrote that the festival was “below the standards of years past,” and that unless it makes plans to audition for and then hire a new artistic director, “I think the festival will fade away, note by note.”
RACC ’em up. The metro tri-county Regional Arts & Culture Council, which dispenses tax dollars to artists and arts groups, appointed a new executive director, Madison Cario, who joins the staff in January. She replaces Eloise Damrosch, who retired at the end of June 2017. Long-time RACC administrator Jeff Hawthorne had served as interim executive director. Cario comes from a stint as the inaugural director of the Office of the Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology (better known to football fans as Georgia Tech) in Atlanta.
Scott Palmer leaves for Sun Valley. The founder and artistic leader of Bag&Baggage proved that high-quality, adventurous professional theater could thrive in the suburbs – in this case, downtown Hillsboro, where Palmer spearheaded development of The Vault, which is not only B&B’s home but is also rapidly becoming a coveted space for guest performances. Next stop for Palmer: Company of Fools in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he’ll be producing artistic director. Brett Campbell interviewed Palmer about his brand new bag.
All the world’s a branding opportunity
This was the year we got used to adding “At the Armory” to “Portland Center Stage,” and finally came to terms, sort of, with “Portland’5 Centers for the Arts,” though we’re still darned if we have the slightest idea how to pronounce it.
But 2018’s big rebranding news stunned the state’s literati when Literary Arts renamed Wordstock – the sprawling annual bookfest whose name was beloved by word nerds near and far – The Portland Book Festival. Readers who like a snappy title sobbed into their alphabet soup, but language lovers thronged to the events, anyway, even confirmed introverts like Katie Taylor who basically just like to curl up at home with a good book. And the announcement that the newly cookie-cutter-titled festival would feature guest author Tom Hanks helped quell potential discord. Who doesn’t like Tom Hanks?
Art on a rollercoaster (or a Ping Pong table)
What a breathtaking behind-the-scenes exhibition 2018 provided! The Art Gym, an indispensable center for seeing and thinking about Northwest contemporary art, turned into a Ping Pong ball after its host institution, Marylhurst University, went out of business. The Oregon College of Art & Craft said it’d take it, then said no, as OCAC and the Pacific Northwest College of Art quietly talked merger. Late in the year Marylhurst and the Portland Art Museum jointly announced that PAM will create a home for the Art Gym’s valuable records, publications, and website, though not, at least for now, its continuing programming.
Meanwhile, the Art Institute of Portland also folded up shop, part of a string of such closures across the country by the for-profit Art Institute college chain that left thousands of students in the lurch. Lewis & Clark College dropped its longtime, highly respected curator Linda Tesner, looking for “a new direction” for what has been a highly successful and outward-looking contemporary art gallery. Portland State University, meanwhile, went ahead with plans to open a new 7,500-square-foot museum, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at PSU, with a $5 million gift from the Portland collector and philanthropist; it’ll open in 2019.
PAM stayed in the news by agreeing to put a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel through its proposed Rothko Pavilion connecting its two buildings, and by finally hiring a new curator for its collection of Native American art. And in December, PNCA’s board voted against merging with OCAC, possibly to the relief of some craft-school proponents and other art followers who had witnessed the art school’s adoption and subsequent killing off of the much-missed Museum of Contemporary Craft. But OCAC, with its small enrollment of about 180 intensely hands-on students, still needs to find a path to long-term financial stability.
Money Makes the Art World Go ‘Round
Sally Bowles and the Emcee sing it gleefully in the musical Cabaret, and the world often seems to dance to its tune: “Money makes the world go ’round.” Certainly President Trump plays the tinkle of coin, either proffered or withheld, like an overwrought symphonic conductor, as he did once again when declaring his intention to kill off the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts. As we noted in March in the story Ka-ching! Money for the NEA, Congress defied his wishes and voted a modest upward bump for both endowments, in addition to maintaining federal funding for PBS, which Trump had also declared an enemy of the public pocketbook.
Meanwhile, an anonymous white knight gave $7 million to the financially struggling Artists Repertory Theatre, a gift that the company pronounced “transformational” as it also moved to sell half of its complex to a developer and lose, at least temporarily, one of its two performance spaces, severely curtailing use by other companies as it moves to emerge stronger and more stable.
And the touring company of the Broadway musical megahit Hamilton hit town, practically selling out in hours with a run on the box office and leaving stragglers either to deal with a lottery system for a few held-back seats at each performance, or, as we suggested, going through a ticket-resale site and offering “your first-born child, your mother-in-law, and a case of Eyrie 1975 South Block Pinot Noir.”
The year saw the passing of many bright and shining stars. Among the many arts figures who died in 2018: writers Ntozake Shange, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Simon, Philip Roth, Amos Oz, Tom Wolfe; musicians Aretha Franklin, Cecil Taylor, Roy Hargrove, Otis Rush, Nancy Wilson, Portland jazz bassist Andre St. James, Portland indie-rock producer Richard Swift; Portland musician and innovative arts administrator Bill Bulick; Claymation pioneer Will Vinton; actors Barbara Harris and David Ogden Stiers; dancers or choreographers Arthur Mitchell, Paul Taylor, and Raven Wilkinson; movie directors Milos Forman, Penny Marshall, and Bernardo Bertolucci; visual artists and art figures Sister Wendy Beckett, Robert Indiana, Oregon painter Deborah Horrell; key Oregon photographer and organizer Cherie Hiser; Microsoft co-founder and significant arts patron Paul Allen.
ArtsWatch’s Martha Ullman West wrote moving memorials to Le Guin, her friend of more than 50 years, and Mitchell, the founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, whose influence reached far and wide. Marc Mohan traced the influence and importance of Vinton, the Portland Academy Award winner. Lori Tobias wrote about Stiers’ continuing legacy to the cultural life in his adopted home of Newport and the Central Oregon Coast. Barry Johnson wrote about Bulick, “the architect of the Regional Arts and Culture Council,” whom he’d known for decades. And we remembered Horrell here. Goodbye, and thank you, every one.
And now, a word from our sponsor
Oregon arts did not stand still in 2018, and neither did ArtsWatch. We expanded our coverage considerably, publishing about 650 stories during the calendar year, up from a little more than 500 in 2017. We told more visual stories, letting our photographers and artists take the storytelling lead. We reviewed all sorts of events – music, theater, dance, film, gallery and museum shows – but also profiled artists, discussed art politics and issues, analyzed cultural trends, spotlighted artists breaking new ground.
Perhaps most significantly, we expanded our statewide coverage, adding regular columnists David Bates in Yamhill County and Lori Tobias on the Oregon Coast. And we added five editors: Karen Pate (regional), Heather Wisner (dance), Laurel Reed Pavic (visual arts), Marty Hughley (theater), and Bridget Otto (special projects). We now have about 50 writers, some of whose bylines you see often, others now and then.
For 2019 and beyond we’ve set our sights on larger-scale projects, from examining the needs and realities of arts programs in public schools, to looking at greater Portland’s increasing price and space crunch for artists and art venues, to profiling Oregon arts and culture outside the heavily populated Willamette Valley and Portland metro areas. Increases in advertising, personal donations, and grants from foundations, public sources, and individuals have made our growth possible, and for that we’re deeply grateful. With your help, we can do even more. Here’s how you can become a part of what we do: Just push the “donate today” button below for details: