News: RACC reorganizes and changes directions

The Regional Arts & Culture Council has shifted focus to fundraising, advocacy and outreach

The Regional Arts and Culture Council is reorganizing to expand its advocacy and fundraising programs with a deeper focus on reaching underserved communities, RACC announced today. In the process it will eliminate five vacant positions, lay off 15 employees and hire 15 new positions later to support the new direction.

The changes are occurring one year after RACC hired a new executive director, Madison Cario, and almost two years since the Portland City Auditor determined that the City had failed to set budgeting priorities for the non-profit group. Though it’s nominally a regional organization, RACC receives most of its budget from the City. It performs a variety of functions for the City in return, from managing public art and city art collections to distributing money to the city’s arts groups. It also manages the distribution of money from the city’s Arts Tax, which passed  in 2012.

RACC manages public artworks in Portland/Image courtesy RACC website

According to the RACC press release, the proposed changes are responsive to the audit of RACC in 2018 and the city’s current budget priorities. The changes are effective immediately. 

“We take this transition very seriously and deeply appreciate the work of RACC employees, especially those leaving the organization,” said RACC board chair Linda McGeady in the release. “These changes respond to what we are seeing and hearing from our community, and position RACC to better serve our region today and in the future.” 

At least some of the eliminated positions will be in the agency’s Right Brain Initiative, which places working artists in classrooms in the tri-county region and integrates the arts into classroom work. The initiative has 70 partnerships with area schools. The Right Brain program will move to another nonprofit, Young Audiences. RACC is also “sunsetting” its workplace giving program.

Some of the new positions will be in a new development team at RACC with clear fundraising goals to help increase and diversify revenue and use public dollars to secure new national and local funding. RACC also intends to increase its outreach and advocacy efforts, both with the general public and elected officials and policy makers, according to the release, hoping to increase awareness of the arts in the area and arguing for their importance.

We will be digging into the changes and the reasoning behind them in future reports. Stay tuned.

Dance preview: Everything and nothing

Subashini Ganesan and Yashaswini Raghuram integrate classical Indian dance forms and a modern dance sensibility in "Listening to Silence"

It’s Sunday night and I’m at New Expressive Works, watching a few minutes of tech rehearsal for the upcoming Listening to Silence, a dance performance co-created by NEW founder and executive director Subashini Ganesan and Yashaswini Raghuram, the assistant director of Odissi Dance Company. Before heading over to interview the pair, I was sitting on my porch listening to the rain as it beat down, mulling over the idea of listening to silence and reading through the ancient Rig Vedic poem 10.129 (Nasadiya).

The poem speaks of the creation of everything, the paradoxical and complex nature of it all, and alludes back to the idea of nothingness or a great void. Knowing that the Nasadiya had been an important point of inspiration for the work, I concluded that listening to silence must be similar to the experience of that great nothingness.

Subashini Ganesan and Yashaswini Raghuram have collaborated on a new dance, Listening to Silence/Image courtesy of New Expressive Works

When I asked Raghuram what the process of creating Listening to Silence has done to her perception of silence, she responded succinctly. “Before this project, I thought silence meant no noise, no movement,” she said. “Now, I find silence in everything and anything.”

So how can the experience of nothingness be found in everything and anything? Ganesan and Raghuram are using their new work as a space to tackle these larger than life concepts. Traditional classical Bharatanatyam training and a keen sense for pushing boundaries intermingle as they present their findings in a 50-minute performance set for a three-show run this weekend, January 31-February 2, at New Expressive Works in Southeast Portland. 

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Listening to Silence is the result of years of Ganesan’s research. Ancient texts like the Rig Veda, writings about silence by poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Jiddu Krishnamurti, and more recently, her conversations in rehearsal with Raghuram all play into the final product.

To get a feel for the kind of imagery the work pulls from, here’s an excerpt from Rilke’s poem I have many brothers in the South, translated by Robert Bly, which served as an inspiration: 

Yet no matter how deeply I go into myself
my God is dark, and in a webbing made
of a hundred roots, that drink in silence.
I know that my trunk rose from this warmth, but that’s all,
because my branches hardly move at all
near the ground, and just wave a little in the wind.

This project is the first time Ganesan and Raghuram have worked together. Last year, I got to know Raghuram when I interviewed her for my article on Portland dance-transplants. Yashaswini performs extensively in India and the U.S. She has performed in several international festivals—the International Odissi Festival, All Women’s Art Festival, Marghazhi Season at RR Sabha, and Tamara Arts Festival, among others. She is a principal dancer and the Assistant Director of Odissi Dance Company, the only actively touring Odissi company in the United States.

Ganesan, herself a South Asian immigrant, now serves as Portland’s very own Creative Laureate. She is a contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer and Artistic Director of Natya Leela Academy, where she choreographs and performs potent and universally relevant movement expressions in Bharatanatyam. Her Southeast Portland art space, New Expressive Works, fosters cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. Although Ganesan’s past projects have pushed traditional bharatanatyam boundaries, her collaboration with Raghuram in Listening to Silence stands as her first work with a professionally trained classical Bharatanatyam dancer. The pair’s knowledge and years of immersion within the rich philosophy, history and spirit of Hindu culture allow for a deep dive into the concepts of silence, nothingness, and paying attention. 

As we discussed such topics our conversation about the work came to drop-off points, but Ganesan and Raghuram aim to guide the audience through their work. They hope  that audiences will leave with greater understanding of concepts that are not only deeply rooted in Hindu tradition and philosophy but also permeate the lives of all of humanity—universal concepts seen through a Hindu lens.

To achieve such a lofty goal, the creation of Listening to Silence required the duo step outside of a traditional bharatanatyam performance structure. “We spent a lot of time finding the common ground between a contemporary approach and classical bharatanatyam,” noted Ganesan.

For comparison, Raghuram explained that when a traditional bharatanatyam dance is performed, the form of the performance is set in a way similar to that of a ballet class, where each exercise has a specific placing in the flow of the hour-and-a-half dance. Avid Indian dance fans arriving late to a Bharatanatyam performance would know the exact sections they’d missed and which ones were up next, solely based on the section being performed—regardless of their familiarity with the work or the choreographer. 

Listening to Silence frees itself from this structure, although this contemporary approach to a traditional style does not parallel Western dance at all. While modern dance originated as a rebellion against ballet, “the traditional way of learning gets us here,” Ganesan explained. “We are not breaking from tradition. There is so much to learn from the ethos, or the rasas.”

The rasas are the juice, or essence, that classifies the aesthetics of the work across genres of Indian art. For more detail on that concept, check out a piece of mine from last year, when I covered a show by a visiting Bharatanatyam couple with a focus on one of the rasas: love.

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While Ganesan has been working outside of the traditional lines of the style for quite some time now, Listening to Silence marks Raghuram’s first step to a different aporach to creating Indian dance. When I asked her how that experience had been for her, she said that her main worry was that veering from the set structure of Bharatanatyam would create misunderstanding in the audience. Raghuram noted that her experience of contemporary modern dance was so unconventional that understanding it became difficult. The cloak of experimentalism covered its lack of ability to communicate meaning. It’s an art, she said, to guide the audience through your work while still giving space for their imagination and interpretation.

That’s what Listening to Silence attempts to do. Ganesan was clear that their work is “not research, and not an experiment. We are making art to make meaning,” she said. 

Listening to Silence uses a plethora of mixed-media to pull the ideas together. Among them is a sound-score by Roland Toledo, whose work focuses on the natural environment and explores the potential of data to create a fabric of immersive audio. The work also includes recordings from NASA, as well as video projection and intricate lighting design.

“We are not cultural ambassadors of an age-old practice that is dying,” Ganesan says. “We are here. We exist. We are making work.” I was reminded of a 2019 conversation with Raghuram, when we discussed the challenges of cultural separation as an Indian artist in the West, and she told me about the “extra responsibility of Indian artists here to increase sensitivity [and awareness],” surrounding such ancient and sacred forms.

After sitting with the Ganesan and Raghuram for just an hour, I began to notice just how universal the topics we traversed were. Though nuanced and rooted in Indian traditions, what Ganesan and Raghuram are talking about is inherently human, and thus, relatable to everyone. The paradoxical journey of the work is like the verses of the Nasadiya, contradicting itself only to resolve in peaceful clarity. Like nothingness containing everything, or the idea of listening to silence. 

Spaces: Arts groups and the Portland real estate game

Artists Repertory Theatre and other performing arts organizations seek space and stability in an era of boom, bust and scarcity 

It’s a rainy evening outside the Tiffany Center, a circa-1928 Art Deco building in Goose Hollow that was first constructed for the Neighbors of Woodcraft fraternal organization. Inside, an elegant ballroom has been transformed by Artists Repertory Theatre, which has long been located across the street but will be itinerant for the next two-plus years while seeking to rebuild its theater building. 

For the play about to begin, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, there are no rows of audience chairs facing the stage. The ballroom is instead configured for dinner, with perhaps 25 circular tables and a no-host bar. While caterers serve a choice of fish & chips, Reuben sandwiches or corned beef and cabbage on paper plates, cast members are mingling with the attendees, remaining in character enough to retain Prudencia’s called-for Scottish accents, but not so Method as to refuse questions from munching ticket-buyers.

For the next few years, Artists Repertory Theatre will be on a tour of performing arts spaces in the city, including the Tiffany Center for The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, as it works on building a new theater headquarters./Photo by Kathleen Kelly


“My prom was here,” an actress visiting my table confesses. But she’s really there to instruct us: We must tear our paper napkins into shreds and, when cued a few minutes later, toss them into the air, simulating falling snow for a scene set in a blizzard.

Dinner theater is not Artists Rep’s stock in trade, but a play masquerading a theater as a pub is perhaps fitting for a theater company using this 92-year-old ballroom and various other locations around town. That’s to say nothing of Artists Rep’s offices, which also have temporarily relocated, in this case to the former Zidell Marine Company building in South Waterfront, as has the group of 11 fellow nonprofit arts organizations renting office space from Artists Rep as part of what’s called the ArtsHub; four of those have relocated here too, including the Portland Actors Conservatory, Staged!, the Portland Area Theater Alliance and the August Wilson Red Door Project, and Boom Arts recently moved in, too. (The actress at my table, a non-speaking member of the cast, was a Portland Actors Conservatory student.) Seven others have had to seek temporary space elsewhere.

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Photo First: Hope and joy

An evening showcase of student dancers from Faubion and Harriet Tubman schools highlights the talent and promise of a new generation

Jump for Joy: Lighting up the Winter Showcase.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


There were at least two people in awe at Da Vinci Arts Middle School on a mid-January evening while attending the Winter Showcase of Faubion and Harriet Tubman Middle School: this young lady and me.

As Harriet Tubman Principal Natasha Jackson, in unison with teachers, staff and musicians from the other organizations, put it: People of all races and all backgrounds are coming together to celebrate art and the achievement of these young dancers who have worked hard to present an incredible program. Both schools have a diverse student population, with many languages on their website to get information to all those parents who have newly arrived. To see all those different faces merge into dance ensembles that became one in the movement really represented hope: for a future where unity fights back the forces of segregation.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Big bucks, big visions

Following up on Portland Art Museum's $10 million gift; a fond farewell to Vision 2020; a final grace note; what's up onstage & in the galleries

THE BIG NEWS THIS WEEK ON THE OREGON ART FRONT came in a nice round figure: $10 million. That’s how much Portland philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer pledged to give the Portland Art Museum to spur funding for its Rothko Pavilion, a multi-story glassed-in structure that will link the Portland Art Museum’s original Belluschi Building to the south and its Mark Building to the north. Schnitzer has a decades-long record of support for the museum, and her gift – announced at a splashy unveiling on Tuesday at the museum and reported here by Laurel Reed Pavic – covers a tenth of the project’s cost in one swoop. Tuesday’s unveiling also included news of a $750,000 grant for the pavilion project from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
 

Design concept for the east entrance, from the South Park Blocks, to the Rothko Pavilion, showing the open passageway for pedestrians and bicyclists. The pavilion will link the Portland Art Museum’s north and south buildings. Illustration: Hennebery Eddy Architects and Vinci Hamp Architects

Schnitzer’s gift marks a significant turning point for the $100 million pavilion project, a major undertaking that has been in the works for several years and will help unite the museum campus and vastly improve what is now an often bumpy and disjointed interior flow for visitors among gallery spaces. Museum director Brian Ferriso told OPB’s Donald Orr that PAM still needs to raise $25 million to $30 million in the next two to three years to complete the project. The museum hopes to break ground on the pavilion in late 2021. The cost includes $75 million for construction and $25 million to bolster the museum’s endowment, which is now about $54 million. The $100 million estimated price tag is up from an originally announced $75 million: Construction costs have escalated by $25 million, in large part because of revisions to include a 20-foot-wide passthrough for pedestrians and bicyclists to move easily between Southwest 10th Avenue and Park Avenue. The design change was made in response to community objections to losing a heavily used public passageway through the museum’s plaza.

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MusicWatch Weekly: The fanfare zone

Gongs and songs, traditional guitars and uncommon fanfares, and a lecture on women in jazz

Tonight, tonight, tonight!

Your busy music editor has to miss a bunch of cool stuff tonight, dear reader: I’ll be schlepping gongs and playing reyong with Gamelan Wahyu Dari Langit, opening for Wet Fruit at Mississippi Studios. If you followed our adventures in Bali last summer and want to hear what all the fuss was about, here’s your chance.

We’ve been hearing the name Mary-Sue Tobin for years: her saxophone quartet Quadraphonnes is a real riot, and the composer/saxophonist herself gets involved in all sorts of Portland jazz shenanigans. Tonight at Literary Arts in Southwest, Tobin presents her free Women in Jazz lecture.

Across the river at Holocene on Southeast Belmont, local musicians Night Heron, Korgy & Bass, and Colin Jenkins join hands with local puppeteers for Pop + Puppetry. Meanwhile, down in Eugene, the symphony’s got a show tonight that Senior Editor Brett Campbell wants to tell you about:

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Coast calendar: Long-lost drawings and celebrating the nude

A fundraiser auctions a Rick Bartow sketch, the 14th annual "Au Naturel" show opens in Astoria, plus play and author readings, and cranky old men in Cannon Beach

Newport artist Rick Bartow died nearly four years ago, but his work is the gift that keeps giving, in some cases, surprisingly so. Last year, staff at the Olalla Center, a nonprofit in Toledo that provides mental health care for children, set out to do some spring cleaning. In the process, they discovered seven line drawings by Bartow stashed away and gathering dust.

They’ve set aside one of those drawings to be auctioned off at a Valentine’s Day fundraiser, Sea of Love, at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The framed drawing will be revealed the evening of the auction.

A Rick Bartow sketch similar to these, found in storage at the Olalla Center, will be auctioned during a Valentine’s Day fundraiser. Bartow created the drawings as part of an Earth Day exercise for children.

“We were literally clearing out a storage room of old games and toys and random items, sort of typical rummage sale items, and we found Rick’s pieces all at once,” said Diane Teem, executive director at the center. “We were so happy to find them. It was like a treasure. Our staff had changed since they were created, and we didn’t realize they existed. I don’t know how they came to be in storage, but we’re super happy we discovered them and can now honor Rick’s memory and contribution to the children of the Olalla Center. Rick was all about the children.”

The pieces, which Bartow called “eco art,” were created in 2010 as an Earth Day classroom exercise Bartow participated in. The drawing to be auctioned is 2.5 feet wide by 2 feet tall, framed in metal and signed. Teem is working to have the artwork appraised.

The other drawings have the children’s names on them, and on the back, a bio and picture of Bartow along with an Earth Day poem and the answers to a classroom assignment.

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