Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

2020 in review: At last, over & out

The ups, downs, disasters, trends, outrages, and triumphs of Oregon arts & culture in a tortuous year.


2020? Perish the thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish: We’re gonna wash that year right out of our hair. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or, as the old curse has it, “may you live in interesting times” – but not quite this interesting, thank you very much.

The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name led pretty much everyone, including all of us here at Oregon ArtsWatch, on a frantic and astonishing chase. It was discombobulating, because for the most part we were chasing in isolation inside the confines of our own homes, like cats in a cardboard box desperately racing after our own tails. Oh, sure, there were those fair-weather walks through the neighborhood, and the masked-up trips to the grocery store. But, really: Things might’ve been new, but they were far from normal.


Normality, of course, is how the year began. Even optimism. On Jan. 1, 2020, a year ago today, ArtsWatch strode brashly into the Brave New Year with the first dispatch in Vision 2020, an ambitious series of 20 interviews over 20 days with a cross-section of Oregon arts figures who agreed to talk with us about how things looked from their corners of the cultural world, and what they hoped to see in the coming year and decade. They had some terrific insights and ideas, and the series makes for some fascinating reading: From Rachel Barreras-Kleeman’s tale of why she teaches dance to low-income kids on the Coast, to Dañel Malan’s vision of creating bilingual arts through Teatro Milagro, to 18 compelling stories in between, you can find all 20 interviews here. But nobody – least of all those of us at ArtsWatch Central, in our eager editorial innocence – anticipated what was lurking just around the corner.

In January Maya Vivas and Leila Haile talked with Martha Daghlian for ArtsWatch’s “Vision 2020” series about the joys and challenges of running an adventurous art gallery on North Mississippi Avenue featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color). Because of the Covid-19 crisis, their Ori Gallery has since shifted to an online presence. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

And how could any of us have? Yes, news reports buried on the inside pages of the newspapers alerted us to some new virus very far away, but it didn’t seem like much to get alarmed about. Then things began to build, until, come March, the virus was all very real, and all over the place, and in spite of a determined right-wing campaign to persuade people that it was all fake news and the disease was a hoax, the world began to shut down.

After that, disasters began to tumble over one another like the biblical plagues of Egypt. People began to die from a little-understood disease that had grown rapidly into a pandemic. Black people, meanwhile, were dying at the hands or knees or firearms of police officers – an all too familiar story, with the major difference that now the killings were being recorded and shared globally on smart phones – and mass protests swept the nation. Federal forces descended on Portland as protests became nightly affairs. Tear gas and mace filled the streets. Protestors disappeared into unmarked vans. Statues came tumbling down. The economy tanked (although people at the very top pocketed huge profits), and Congress largely failed to get sufficient emergency help to the people who needed it most. A ferocious fire season came, wiping out entire communities in Oregon and across the West. As an acrimonious political season kicked into high gear, campaigns ramped up divisive fabrications and provocateurs hit the streets. A sitting president warned darkly that his enemies were stealing the election. Then, when he lost by nearly eight million votes, he declared against all evidence that his prediction had come true, and began a barrage of legal suits aiming to overturn the election. He failed, although it’s not January 20th yet.

All of this had a significant, sometimes devastating effect on Oregon’s, and the world’s, cultural life. Live performances – music, dance, theater, stand-up comedy, even readings in libraries and bookstores – were shut down for most of the year. Museums and movie palaces went dark. Festivals were canceled, or became “virtual” events, delivered online. Words like “virtual” and “Zoom” became everyday lingo as we found ourselves attempting to connect inside some giant, complex, sometimes alluring, yet artificial video game of a community life. Artists were thrown out of work, ranking among the hardest-hit of all vocational categories. Arts groups faced devastating, sometimes fatal, economic losses.


Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Through it all, the cultural world began to reinvent itself. The process continues, fervently yet haltingly, as all of us wonder how well the Covid vaccines will work, and when and how they’ll be delivered, and who will or won’t agree to get them, and whether a new strain of mutated virus will change the game yet again. It’s been a year of hunkering down and concentrating on surviving – not at all what we were thinking about a year ago, when it began. What’s going to happen in 2021? This time around, we’re not even going to guess. But we will look back on the Year That Was, with just a little disbelief that it happened, and thankfulness that we’ve made it through so far. Here at ArtsWatch, we saw a few themes emerge:


T-shirt by Danny, a student in the “Create More, Fear Less” program. Image courtesy of Kathleen Lane

As we moved into 2020 one of ArtsWatch’s primary goals was to continue our focus on Oregon’s education systems and how arts education does or doesn’t work. Then coronavirus struck, and schools shut down – a trying situation for all students and subjects, but especially tough for arts classes, which ordinarily thrive in group settings. The state’s teachers, students, and private arts organizations got busy reinventing themselves and trying to figure out how to make arts ed work – especially in an education landscape in which, as ArtsWatch writer Brett Campbell discovered, the norm was already “chronic arts ed underfunding.” Even with money, how do you make music or theater or dance in isolation? How does virtual art work, especially when you’re young and trying to learn the basics? Let us count the ways:

  •  Rachael Carnes discovered ArtSpark Online, a program across 16 Lane County school districts to create long-distance studio art classes.
  • Max Tapogna talked with several Portland public-school arts teachers who are making Zoom work.
  • As Covid restrictions began to kick in in earnest in April, Alex Behr took a deep look at “Create More, Fear Less,” an arts-based program that helps schools respond to their students’ anxiety levels, and how it responded to the challenges and stresses of long-distance learning.
  • Brett Campbell tells the tale of how the Metropolitan Youth Symphony turns to technology and “shows that shutdown doesn’t have to mean shut up.”
  • Campbell writes about pianist Michael Allen Harrison’s “Virtual Supper Club” and his longtime mission to restore music classes to Oregon’s public schools.
  • In Helping the Bands Play On, Lori Tobias writes about Music Is Instrumental, a program that pays for mentors, online instruction, choir – even valve oil – to keep music education alive in Lincoln County schools.
  • David Bates writes about Fire Writers, the conference at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center that lets Yamhill County teens tap into their potential without facing the social stigma of being “smart kids.”
  • Laurel Reed Pavic traces how Hillsboro’s Golden Road Arts, designed as a free arts education resource for teachers, parents, and students, pivoted successfully to the internet.

Those stories are just a taste. There’s much, much more: You can see a complete file of our arts & education stories here.


“Paint got politicized this summer”: Black Lives Matter mural by Emma Berger and anonymous at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Place.

When artists did manage to make and disseminate new work, it often arrived with an edge of urgency and challenge that reflected the turmoil in the world at large. Yes, there was escapism, and gentle humor about people and their private lives, and images of simple beauty weathering troubled times. But much of what we saw was sharp and pointed, responding to and shaped by the extraordinary events that had enveloped and transformed “ordinary” life:

  • Jamuna Chiarini wrote about how Charles Grant’s Matter, a short solo play about being Black and dealing with police and gun violence, was successfully reconceived for video, with an emphasis on movement.
  • Theater artist and writer Bobby Bermea wrote about Dangerous Days, the constant tension of being Black in America: “Black people have to be perfect. We have to earn the right to live, let alone have the laws protect us. Even then, it’s not guaranteed.”
  • Andrew D. Jankowski wrote about the proliferation of protest-sparked murals around Portland accompanying the Black Lives Matter and social justice movements: “Paint got politicized this summer.”
  • Laurel Reed Pavic wrote about what it means when public statues of controversial historical figures come tumbling down.
  • Charles Rose conducted a three-part interview with Portland composer and singer Damien Geter about Geter’s new work An African American Requiem and the intermeshing of classical and folk traditions with a tendentious culture at large.

Reflecting the year’s crisis mode on many fronts, there were many more stories about politics and art.


Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon


Ken Unkeles, who has converted several Portland warehouses to art studios and spaces, will add Building 5 to the NW Marine Artworks studios in spring 2021./ Photo courtesy Dana Lynn Louis

Location, location, location. Price, price, price. In spite of the economic shambles that hit the nation and the globe in 2020, Portland’s real estate squeeze continued. The price of renting or owning continued to rise, especially in close-in neighborhoods that not so long ago had provided affordable studio and performance spaces for artists and cultural groups, who all too often found themselves dispossessed or pushed farther from the city’s core – at the same time that they were taking steep economic hits from the Covid crisis. Architecture and design expert Brian Libby dove deep into the subject in two stories for ArtsWatch: January’s Spaces: Arts groups and the Portland real estate game, and September’s Spaces: Artists make room for the arts.


Violinist Monica Huggett, who’s guided Portland Baroque Orchestra as its artistic director for a quarter-century, will retire after the 2020-21 season. 2013 photo courtesy PBO

Every year, crisis or not, brings shifts in focus, personnel, and vision. People move in, other people move out. Titles and leadership change. Organizations change their priorities, and sometimes even go out of business. The year 2020 saw a lot of such motion in Oregon.

  • Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art and Salem’s Willamette University announced in September they would merge. Exactly how the merger will work is being sorted out: Both colleges also will maintain their own identities. But it’s bound to have an impact on the region’s visual art. PNCA draws art students from around the nation, and Willamette, which has its own art and art history programs, is the parent institution for the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, known best for its excellent Pacific Northwest and Indigenous art collections. The small but important collection of the Museum of Contemporary Craft, which went to PNCA when MoCC was shut down several years ago, will be transferred to the Hallie Ford; details on whether and how it will be displayed are being worked out.
  • Carlos Kalmar, the Oregon Symphony’s music director and chief conductor since 2003, announced he’ll retire from the orchestra at the end of the 2020-21 season. Kalmar, 62, an Uruguayan native who trained in Europe, replaced the longtime music director James DePreist and almost immediately put his own stamp on the orchestra’s repertoire and sound. All Classical Portland radio is in the midst of an eight-part series of broadcasts running through June of symphony performances under Kalmar’s baton.
  • Monica Huggett, the celebrated Baroque violinist who has led Portland Baroque Orchestra for a quarter-century and built it into an internationally prominent ensemble, announced in February that she, too, will retire at the end of the 2020-21 season. As with the symphony (and Eugene’s Oregon Bach Festival, which is also searching for a new artistic director) PBO’s hunt for a new leader has been complicated by coronavirus slowdowns.
  • David Shifrin completed a Portland troika of prominent classical-music retirements, ending his long run as music director and chief artistic shaper of Chamber Music Northwest. In August, Angela Allen wrote this appreciation of his 40-year run at the CMNW helm. The new artistic directors, the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim, are already in place and beginning to lead the celebrated festival into its next chapter.
  • Meanwhile, the nationally prominent Oregon Children’s Theatre lost its two top leaders in 2020. The first was expected: Longtime artistic director Stan Foote retired and moved to Mexico; he was replaced by Marcella Crowson, who had been associate artistic director. The second was a shock: In November the company’s board quietly parted ways with its widely respected general manager, Ross McKeen. McKeen said he was fired with no warning; the board said simply that he no longer was associated with the company. The key issue, McKeen said, seemed to be disagreement over how and how much to cut the company’s budget because of Covid losses.
  • In November, Artists Repertory Theatre and The Actors Conservatory join forces in their professional training programs, offering combined classes across a broad array of theatrical subjects. The conservatory has national accreditation and draws national enrollment; Artists Rep has (or will have) spaces and a ready-made pool of professional instructors. Valarie Smith tells the tale.
  • The new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University, which got off to an excellent beginning in late 2019 under the start-up leadership of veteran curator and administrator Linda Tesner, now has a permanent director. Maryanna G. Ramirez, a curator and administrator who most recently oversaw strategic initiatives at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami, took over the PSU museum’s top spot in November.
  • In December the Portland Art Museum named a new curator for one of its most significant collections, promoting Jeannie Kenmotsu, Ph.D., as its curator of Asian art. It’s been a swift rise for Kenmotsu, who joined the museum in 2017 as an assistant curator, was promoted to associate curator in 2019, and was named interim curator upon Maribeth Graybill’s retirement in 2019.


AND NOW, A FEW HIGHLIGHTS OF HOW ARTSWATCH SAW THE WORLD, from the high hopes of January to the uncertainties of December:



Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Ferguson and Arakelyan: Thriving in a Wobbly world.

Vision 2020: Yulia Arakelyan and Eric Ferguson. “From a choreographer’s point of view, the more body diversity there is, the more opportunity for creativity and uniqueness.” The leaders of the multidisciplinary performance company Wobbly, both of whom use wheelchairs, talk with Brett Campbell about creating their imaginative art, and about the rise in hate crimes outside the art bubble against people with disabilities.

Whose land is it, anyway? Laurel Reed Pavic writes about the updated and reinstalled exhibition This IS Kalapuyan Land, at the renamed Five Oaks Museum, adding the work of 17 contemporary Native artists to the former display at what had been known as the Washington County Museum.

New art territory in Oregon City. At the Museum of the Oregon Territory, Friderike Heuer writes, a dynamic partnership and a “gutsy art of overcoming” created a new spin on art and history.

45th Parallel’s real-time music video. Matthew Neil Andrews talks with Ron Blessinger, violinist and executive director of the contemporary ensemble 45th Parallel Universe, which “has exploded all Marvel crossover-like in the last season and a half, with a wide range of classical music concerts all across the Old Versus New abyss.”

$10 million for the Portland Art Museum. On Jan. 21 the museum announced that philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer has donated $10 million to the capital campaign to build the Rothko Pavilion, a long-desired, glass-sheathed connector between the museum’s north and south buildings, which would put everything under one roof and also improve access for visitors and streamline flow between galleries. It would be Schnitzer’s final big gift in a storied lifetime of philanthropy: On April 4 she died, at age 91. The Rothko capital campaign, meanwhile, has been slowed but not stopped by the financial impact of the pandemic: The museum says its fundraising campaign is in its “quiet” phase.

RACC reorganizes and changes directions. The Regional Arts & Culture Council, the Portland metropolitan area’s behind-the-scenes organization that makes grants, including distributions from Portland’s Arts Tax, and has a great deal to do with how arts money and expertise are dispersed in the tri-county area, announced a radical reshuffling, eliminating five positions, laying off 15 staff members, and adding 15 new positions to be filled.



Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

The ebullient composer and musician Terry Riley, creator of “In C” and much, much more.

A tree grows in Eugene. In February Oregon’s performing arts venues were full to overflowing with music, dance, theater, comedy, and more, with little sense that the following month it would all shut down. Gary Ferrington took a deep look at the making of Eugene Ballet’s world premiere of The Large Rock and the Little Yew, choreographed by Suzanne Haag to music by the contemporary Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi and based on a children’s book by Oregon writer and arboriculturist Gregory Ahligian.

“Tightrope”: a working class in tatters. David Bates talked with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who grew up on a farm outside the Oregon town of Yamhill, about Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, the book that Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, wrote about “the seismic economic shifts that have left the working class in tatters.” Tightrope looks at the lives of workers across the country, many of them from Oregon, including several of Kristof’s former schoolmates.

Monster Mashup. Marty Hughley took in Beethoven & Chopin (Monster Hunters) Meet the Bride of Frankenstein (a Romance), the CoHo Clown Cohort’s latest show-in-the-making at the Fertile Ground Festival of new works, and declared it, though certainly funny, “the least uproarious of the Clown CoHort shows. Yet it’s surprisingly lovely, and easily the most emotionally affecting.”

At Albertina Kerr, art of ebullience. Friderike Heuer took on the term “outsider art,” a label she despises, and then praised the “highly creative and life-affirming without apology or categorical pigeonholing” art from the Portland Art and Learning Studio, a project of Albertina Kerr, much of it being shown in an “exhilarating” exhibition at Portland’s Gallery 114.

Fishers of poetry. Lori Tobias got behind the scenes of Astoria’s 23rd annual FisherPoets Gathering, which attracted nearly 100 poets, storytellers and songwriters to spin tales about the life of the sea. “The public is attracted to tragedy,” Astoria fisherman Dave Densmore told her. “It attracts our interest, but the things we talk about at the FisherPoets Gathering are the successes, the dumb-ass things we did that no one got hurt. I think art lies in the routine rather than the exceptional things. Or else you become nothing but a voyeur or thrill-seeker.”

From Jazz to Minimalism to India and back. Brett Campbell profiled Terry Riley, “one of the 20th century’s most influential and widely accessible contemporary classical composers,” who was in town to perform at the PDX Jazz Festival with his son Gyan.

Jungle of Eden. A look into a “song and dance sort of week,” with Northwest Children’s Theater’s highly affecting adaptation of Kipling’s The Jungle Book, with choreography by Indian American dancer Anita Menon that blended traditional Bharatanatyam movements with Western dance styles and a touch of Bollywood; and a “staged singing” of the 1966 Broadway musical The Apple Tree, part of Lakewood Theatre’s valuable “Lost Treasures” series of good but largely forgotten musical theater.


Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington


Sign of the times: An invitation to the neighborhood from Oregon Symphony violinist Greg Ewer to come close, stay apart, and join him at a distance as he makes some music. Photo: Joe Cantrell

March was the month that came in like a lamb – acting just like any “ordinary” month – and went out like a ravening lion, devouring normalcy as the Covid-19 pandemic turned everything upside down. In the beginning, ArtsWatch ran several very good stories about interesting things going on in a flourishing arts world:

  • Daniel Pollack-Pelzner wrote tellingly about Pipeline, Dominique Morisseau’s “heart-rending” tale of Black identity.
  • Marc Mohan talked with Amy Dotson, new director of the Northwest Film Center, about a fresh look for the 43rd Portland International Film Festival.
  • Matthew Neil Andrews wrote about how the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, and Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra were putting American music into their programming and revitalizing the classical repertoire.
  • We noted, approvingly, spotting a cluster of schoolkids sitting on benches and sketching during a visit to the Portland Art Museum to see the big new show about Mt. St. Helens, Volcano!
  • Marty Hughley went to Ashland for the opening of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 85th season and wrote two big pieces: the first previewing a season dominated by plays by women and people of color; the second an in-depth interview with new artistic director Nataki Garrett.
  • Martha Daghlian wrote about the making of the Oregon Symphony’s innovative collaboration with the talented animation artist Rose Bond – a highly anticipated concert that, this being 2020 and March, became one of the first in town to be canceled because of the virus.
  • Shannon B. Lieberman wrote about a fascinating exhibit of John Buck’s politically resonant prints and sculptures at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, in Salem.

And then the roof caved in. On Wednesday, March 11, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the first of what would be several covid-related shutdowns of public gatherings. A day later, Hughley published Your no-show of shows, a rundown of all the theater productions that suddenly were postponing or canceling their performances.

This was the beginning of what we’ve come to think of as the “real” 2020. Among the headlines through the rest of March:


A little whimsy for strange times: Tripper Dungan, “Chicken Songs,” 28 x 11 inches, acrylic on wood. Image courtesy of Antler Gallery

Starting Over: Enter the Dragon. Combine a pandemic and an economic crisis and you get the dragon, wrote Barry Johnson, contemplating the emerging shape of Pandemic Culture.

And then Sasquatch was serenaded by a rooster. This story might’ve made our year-end wrap on the strength of its headline alone. But in fact, Shannon M. Lieberman’s review of a show of raw and whimsical artworks at Northeast Alberta Street’s Antler gallery reflects a refreshingly sane response to the suddenly topsy-turvy times: “Their whimsy invites us to concoct preposterous narratives to explain what we see, imagine what else might happen beyond the frame, or even project ourselves into the works.”


Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

A sharp shutdown at the museum. Things started to get real at the Portland Art Museum: A shutdown and resulting steep loss of income led to sharp staff reductions, with 80 percent of museum workers put on unpaid leave. The reductions highlighted “a problem that is common to regional cultural organizations across the United States: Nearly all operate on an economic razor’s edge.”

Home front: arts at a distance. As “virtual” suddenly became more than a throwaway word or a technical term, I contemplated the difference between real and virtual in the world of art, and the relative strengths of each.

Love & loss in the time of coronavirus. “It’s weird when you wake up one day and everything is different.” As the arts world began to react to crisis, ArtsWatch began a series called “Oregon in Shutdown: Voices from the Front.” Actor, director, theater producer, and frequent ArtsWatch contributor Bobby Bermea scanned what suddenly seemed a post-apocalyptic cultural horizon: “(I)t’s not like science fiction. Face masks. Rubber gloves. Zoom. Science fiction is now real life.”

The little bookstore that could. David Bates told the tale of McMinnville’s Third Street Books, a hometown treasure that had found ways to survive in crisis times: home deliveries, curbside pickup, mail order.

A poet laureate for new times. TJ Acena interviewed Anis Mojgani, a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, a winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam, and Oregon’s new poet laureate, about what it means to be an ambassador for writing in a time of isolation: “We are alone but we know we’re not the only person who is alone right now. Everyone right now around me is is being alone. And to me that’s the most human thing you can be.”


Poet/cook/lawyer Wendy Willis in her kitchen: “Luckily—in the end—there are my cookbooks, smiling back as I blow past, waiting for me and a strong cup of coffee, making pretty promises that I will never keep.” Photo: David Biespiel

Food and art, art and food. Suddenly, it seemed, everybody was cooking. Staying in place, working from home, for a lot of people the kitchen, not the office, became the central space of shutdown. Angela Allen, who writes about music for ArtsWatch and is also a photographer, a food writer, and a committed cook, talked with chefs and artists and poets about the intimate links between food and art – and included some ravishing photographs to prove her point.


Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

Ozzie González: Staging a race. As art and politics increasingly intertwined in crisis times, Bobby Bermea talked with the Portland actor – also an architect and government veteran – about his campaign to become Portland’s mayor. He didn’t win: Ted Wheeler was reelected in a runoff against Sarah Iannarone – but he had incisive things to say about how the city does and doesn’t work.

Stage frights and podcasts. As the stage world went dark, actors’ tales of real-life stage disasters seemed a perfect antidote. So veteran actor/director Louanne Moldovan and producer Adam Klugman cooked up The Actors Nightmare, a podcast series in which theater people tell all about what went wrong, and how they did or didn’t crawl out of those sticky onstage moments.

The ironic allure of corporate chic. Sebastian Zinn took a deep dive into Corporate Solutions, the fictional corporation and gallery show created by artist and musician Chaz Bear. The “company,” he wrote, was generating lots of buzz, merchandise, and even a few paintings.

May 25: “I can’t breathe” – the killing of George Floyd. On this day in Minneapolis, police took down an unarmed Black man suspected of knowingly passing a counterfeit bill at a convenience store. One officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, killing him. On this day the world turned again, changing everything – including the arts.


Bill Traylor, “Untitled (Blue Man on Red Object),” ca. 1939-42, poster paint and pencil on cardboard, 11.75 x 7.75 inches, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia. Photo © Mike Jensen

The fire this time: A city and a nation seethe. As Portland protests grew and the national Black Lives Matter movement took on more urgency in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we gathered a gallery of artworks that spoke to the moment.

Will Portland protect its ‘Big 5’? As financial crises hit virtually every arts and cultural organization, former Portland Opera general director Christopher Mattaliano argued that the city’s “small is better” ethos imperiled its major arts institutions – the opera, Oregon Symphony, Portland Art Museum, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland Center Stage at The Armory – and that the first order of business should be to keep them stable: “They establish a strong cultural foundation for the city and provide an anchor for other important, smaller-scale arts organizations and local artists to coexist within a rich arts ecology.”


Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Focusing in isolation. Photographer Pat Rose talked with five leading Oregon art photographers – Ray Bidegain, Jamila Clarke, Jim Fitzgerald, Heidi Kirkpatrick and Angel O’Brien – about how the crises of 2020 were affecting their work and their outlooks. The story includes a trio of images from each. Rose followed up with Focusing in isolation: Part 2, featuring photographers Zeb Andrews, Susan de Witt, Julie Moore, Motoya Nakamura and Deb Stoner.

Homeward Unbound. Brett Campbell responded to Christopher Mattaliano’s call to support Portland’s “Big 5” cultural groups first, arguing that the post-covid world will need far greater diversity, not less: “Rather than squander energy futilely trying to ‘protect’ a doomed, dated, unsustainable set of 19th century institutions from 21st century reality, we should use this crisis as a chance to radically transform a model that, as Mattaliano noted, wasn’t working all that great before the virus struck.”

Lincoln City Cultural Center’s plaza project reaches its goal. In a welcome bit of good news amid the bad, Lori Tobias reported that the coastal city’s prime arts & cultural meeting place, in the former DeLake School, had raised the money to complete its ambitious outdoor redesign.

Summer Streams. As summer music-festival season swung into what should’ve been full bloom, Chamber Music Northwest and the Oregon Bach Festival led a parade of concerts – online.


Polka dots mark the spot: Artist Bill Will’s installation “Polka Dot Courthouse Square” brightened downtown Portland’s “living room” as it established social distancing and served as a launching pad for performances. Photo: Horatio Hung-Yan Law

The cabin (and the music) in the woods. Bennett Campbell Ferguson wrote about Aberdeen, the new livestreaming project by the Portland band Lost Lander and its leader, Matt Sheehy: “Part concert, part confessional and part woozy fantasy, this rendition of Aberdeen may seem like old news to people familiar with Sheehy’s nakedly emotional, gently yearning songs. Those who aren’t acquainted with his work are about to discover a brilliant and bizarre plunge into the mind of a singular artist.”

Oregon arts get $50 million boost. The Oregon Legislature’s Joint Emergency Board voted more than $200 million in Covid-19 relief, including $50 million for arts and cultural organizations and venues throughout the state. “While it can’t come close to solving all of the cultural sector’s financial emergency, it is a necessary and welcome lifeline that will help keep many organizations afloat as they seek other funding to stabilize,” we wrote.


Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Arts advocate steps down. Catherine Rickbone, an influential arts figure as director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, retired at age 74. She talked with ArtsWatch’s Lori Tobias about the whys and hows and challenges and successes.

A new home for the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. The contemporary art center Yale Union, in an extraordinary step, transferred ownership of its historic building at 800 S.E. 10th Ave. in Portland to the Native cultures group, a major player in Northwest indigenous arts and culture. Robert Ham reported on how it happened and what it means.

Portland, protest, the theater of life. As Portland became the epicenter of the national media lens for its nightly protests and the arrival of heavily militarized federal police of uncertain agency, the people who lived here weren’t sure whether they were watching the show or were the show. Meanwhile, in a satisfying act of true local flavor away from the national cameras, artist Bill Will polka-dotted Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Black opera: Singing over ourselves. The Portland singer Onry wrote about carving a career that confronts unrealistic and limiting expectations: “African American men face two stereotypes: either you are overweight and funny, or you are a muscular sex symbol. These stereotypes limit and suffocate our individuality, and every day I face the work of breaking that mold.”


The “Nightmare Elk” in downtown Portland on August 19. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

Now Hear This: August Edition. As the coronavirus crisis settled in for a long spring/summer/fall/winter/likely spring again stay, people got used to the idea of bringing art into their homes instead of going out of their homes to find art. In that vein, Robert Ham began his monthly column Now Hear This, in which he scans the pages of the music distributor Bandcamp, finding fresh new work across genres from local artists, and passing his discoveries along. In August: a little Moon Shy, a little In Mulieribus, a little We Like Chops, a little more.

Flights of music in a barrel room. Angela Allen talked with composer Gabriela Lena Frank about her new recording with the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, Her Own Wings, recorded in the barrel room of J. Christopher Wines.


Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

The lens is cracked: Art and protest in the summer of 2020. Andrew D. Jankowski and Safiyah Maurice wrote about the proliferation of protest art around Portland, and its significance.

Chamber Music Northwest: Never waste a good crisis. Brett Campbell took a deep look at the ways the Portland music festival, pioneering new approaches in a time without live performances, pulled off a highly successful virtual season.

Graphic voices of Guantanamo. TJ Acena reported on Portland writer Sarah Mirk’s new graphic book, Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison, based on interviews she did in 2019 on a visit to the “War on Terror” prison and illustrated by a who’s who of graphic-book artists.


Clifford Gleason, “Blue Passage,” 1973, oil on canvas, 68 x 38 inches, Collection of Dorothy and Brooks Cofield. Photo: Aaron Johanson

Weathering the storm. Pat Rose wrote about the photographic arts center Blue Sky’s reaction to the challenges of the Covid Age. The center “has been in the vanguard of local galleries that have adapted successfully to the demands of the pandemic,” she wrote. “As its patrons began sheltering in place, Blue Sky got to work figuring out creative ways to bring art directly to its audience.”

Clifford Gleason: Early Oregon Modernist. Paul Sutinen wrote insightfully and appreciatively about the Hallie Ford Museum of Art’s retrospective on the modernist painter, and why Gleason remains worth considering more than 40 years after his death.

It’s so 2020: A virtual conversation about virtual reality. ArtsWatch’s Marc Mohan and Laurel Reed Pavic engaged in a virtual conversation about the Virtual Reality component of the Venice Film Festival, which landed – virtually, of course – for a limited engagement at the Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film Center.


Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Live theater’s back in town. We talked with Don Horn, founder of Portland’s Triangle Productions, about how and why he was producing the metro area’s first live-theater performance with in-house audience since the shutdowns – a one-man show, My Buddy Bill, about Bill Clinton and his dog and a writer who stumbled into a friendship with both. As it turned out, it was both the metro area’s first and last live production of the 2020 shutdown months.

Daniel Mathews on trees, fire, and public policy. As a horrific wildfire season swept across Oregon, Barry Johnson asked Mathews, Portland author of Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change about how we got here and how we might get out.

Antigone behind (and beyond) bars. Bennett Campbell Ferguson followed the transformation of Patrick Walsh’s production of Sophocles’ Antigone – which had been meant to tour to Oregon prisons and elsewhere – from stage to film. The solution: film inside the then-empty Wapato Jail, which is now being turned into a homeless shelter.

More than a sum of parts. Sue Taylor wrote about the looping chains and cursive forms of Rose Dickson’s pieces at Melanie Flood Projects, the work of “a gifted artist, creating watercolors, metals, ceramics, and wool rugs, all to draw us into her meditation on emotional connectedness.”


Malia Tippets and Joe Theissen in “Daddy Long Legs”: It’s a match. Photo: Broadway Rose

When ‘Daddy Long Legs’ says ‘I Do, I Do.’ This just might be the feel-good Oregon arts story of a very very strange and generally not-feel-good-at-all year. Bennett Campbell Ferguson wrote about the making of the musical-theater company Broadway Rose’s carefully controlled streaming production of the two-person comedy Daddy Long Legs, and about the on-set proposal and acceptance that transformed a fantasy romance into something very real.

It’s not about the elk, it’s all about the elk. Barry Johnson found himself arguing with an essay in the New York Review of Books about Portland’s iconic downtown elk statue, which was removed for safekeeping during the Black Lives Matter and social justice protests. He then wound into a contemplation of the meanings and intertwinings of art, culture, and politics. Portlanders, protestors included, love their elk, he declared: “Of course the protesters didn’t attack the Elk! It’s not about the Elk. It’s about way more important things than the Elk. Or maybe it is about the Elk, and protecting it is the most important thing we can do. Art is like that.”


Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

McMinnville Short Film Festival marches on – pandemic or no. “I find it a relief to reveal an ambitious cultural project that is marching onward,” David Bates wrote about the popular Oregon festival, which is indeed doing just that, looking ahead to its 10th annual go-round in February 2021 – one way or another.

Horatio Law’s Urban Studies. As the pandemic’s dragged on the Portland artist Horatio Hung-Yan Law has wandered the city streets with his phone camera, creating by this point more than 1,500 images of unexpected cityscapes that he’s shared on social media under the collective title “Urban Studies.” Here he selects 16 of them, and writes about the hows and whys of what he looks for and how it all came to be.

The Portland Dance Film Fest and the inevitable future of dance on film. Amy Leona Havin explains why the two art forms belong together.

Another one bites the dust. Laurel Reed Pavic follows up on her earlier story about statues of historical figures being toppled with this piece about the anonymous trashing of the monument to long-ago Oregonian editor Harvey Whitfield Scott, who had presided visually over Mt. Tabor Park: “Whoever it was gets some extra flair points for not only pulling the sculpture down from its pedestal but also removing an arm.”


Art for 2020: Ralph Pugay’s “Hang in There,” at Upfor Gallery. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Chehalem Cultural Center expansion makes A-list. The Newberg cultural center and its many patrons were thrilled to learn that their $9.5 million project to build a performing arts wing was given a major boost by the Oregon Cultural Advocacy Coalition, a lobbying group that’s had considerable success in winning state money for cultural projects, David Bates wrote. Ten other projects across the state also received the coalition’s priority nod.

LitWatch Monthly: Virtually November. Amy Leona Havin began a monthly literary column for ArtsWatch, looking in on the Portland Book Festival, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a new literary crawl, and the brave new virtual literary world.


Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Theater for the Ears. Stop. Listen. What’s that sound? As live theater remained in lockout, Brett Campbell got the lowdown on the new game in town, a trend toward streaming radio-style audio theater.

Telling Oregon’s Hawaiian story. Monica Salazar talked with the curators of DISplace, a new virtual exhibition from Washington County’s Five Oaks Museum about the little-known, more than 200-year history of the Hawaiian diaspora in the Pacific Northwest.

The Year of Living Crowdlessly. In this photo essay of big and often celebratory gatherings in Portland in the Before Times, photographer and writer K.B. Dixon – not ordinarily a big fan of crowds – reconsiders after nine months of isolation.

And the Quartet Played On. In a profile that was published originally by The Immigrant Story, Elizabeth Mehren tells the fascinating tale of violist Dijana Ihas’s journey from the wartime rubble of Sarajevo to European tours with the Sarajevo String Quartet to a performing and teaching career in Oregon.

Top 10 things I learned about Chip Miller. Valarie Smith has a long conversation about life and theater with Miller, associate artistic director of Portland Center Stage at The Armory and director of such PCS hits as Redwood and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The spirit of radio. Matthew Neil Andrews writes in praise of All Classical Portland and its increasingly adventurous programming, including its close links with contemporary local musicmakers.

VizArts Monthly: The “freeze” edition. Lindsay Costello’s monthly look at what’s in the galleries looks at a scene with a lot of virtual exhibitions, among them Ralph Pugay’s Hang in There (pictured above) at Upfor, and Blue Sky’s photographic look at Women of the African Diaspora.


Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon


Is it bounceback time? Portland photographer Patrick F. Smith’s vintage image of some death-defying trampoline tricks at a city street fair.

The end of movie theaters? Not so fast. Marc Mohan, in his “Streamers” column, made the case that, after the pandemic and its move to in-home streamed delivery, the struggling movie-theater business will bounce back, if in different form: Small independents such as Portland’s Hollywood Theatre and Cinema 21 may fare better than the suburban mega-multiplexes.

Once things clear out, what do you hear? Matthew Neil Andrews carried on a fascinating long-distance conversation with composer Caroline Shaw, whose early March Third Angle concert Caroline in the City had haunted him, in a good way, for months.

Jennifer Robin on politics, mothers, and mortality. Amy Leona Havin conducted a slam-bag interview with Robin, the Portland author of the recent Death Confetti and multiple-platformed literary and performance presence.

Patrick F. Smith: Recovering Old Portland. Brian Libby told a fascinating and, as the year ended, hopeful story in words and images about the rediscovery of the urban street photography of Portland native Smith, who is 63 and has been taking pictures of his native city for 50 years.


More ArtsWatch 2020-in-review stories

PASSAGES: THE ONES WE LOST IN 2020. The year 2020 included, among its many disruptions, the deaths of several notable arts and cultural figures in Oregon. We remember 15 in particular for the art they made and the lives they led, among them writer Barry Lopez, dancemaker Mary Oslund, and philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer.


Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

MUSIC 2020: STREAMING THROUGH THE SHUTDOWN. Brett Campbell takes a look at notable trends, losses, triumphs, and adaptations during the Covid year, with some emphasis on those 2020 catchwords “virtual” and “streaming.” Campbell’s look back is filled with news and views: A lot happened.

LOOKING BACK 2020: REPORTS FROM THE ORCHESTRA SEATS. Matthew Neil Andrews matches Campbell with his own provocative and deeply informed take on a musical year like no other.

AFTER THE FIRE 1: SCARRED LANDSCAPE and AFTER THE FIRE 2: STARTING AGAIN. In a year of massive disruptions, one of the biggest was the sweep of wildfires across the West, a deadly reminder amid a time of social and political trauma that climate change isn’t just the future: It’s now. In Oregon, whole communities were destroyed. In a two-part series, writer and photographer Dee Moore visited the aftermath of the devastating Santiam Canyon fires, in small towns where a lively arts & crafts culture had sprung up. Part 1 records the physical damage to the forests and communities. In Part 2, Moore talks with two artists who lost their homes about what comes next.

THE YEAR IN DANCE: 2020, GO AWAY! Dance writer Jamuna Chiarini looks back on a year of closures, crises, streamings, and reimaginings, and looks forward to a more cheerful 2021. January began, she noted, with “a preview of Marquee TV, the newish streaming service for dance, opera, and theatre. Who knew that this idea would no longer be an anomaly a couple of months later and that ALL performing arts would end up online?” 

STREAMERS: WHAT’S NEXT FOR MOVIE THEATERS? “If there’s one thing we’ve all learned, or at least should have learned, over the least year or four, it’s that prediction is folly,” Marc Mohan declares in a story that looks forward to 2021. “As a calamitous 2020 comes to a close, and we take a moment, despite ourselves, to imagine what the coming 12 months have in store for cinema, about the only thing we can be sure of is that it’ll be better. Right? I mean, it kind of has to be better. Right?” Welcome to the brave new world of total confusion in the movie business.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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