Living in a world of upside down

ArtsWatch Weekly: The pandemic is the puzzle. Adaptability is the key. Unlocking the cultural world's path to the future is the challenge.

SUDDENLY EVERYTHING’S TOPSY TURVY, and it’s seeming more and more like a mistake to think that things are going to get back to “normal” even after the health threat has ended, whenever that might happen. In the cultural world, the economic effect of the coronavirus shutdown is going to be hard on everyone and catastrophic for some. And by “everyone” I mean not just arts groups themselves but also the artists and staffers who’ve made their livings working for them, and the funders who keep them going, and the audiences who may understandably be reluctant to flock back to theaters and concert halls and museums as if social distancing were just some crazy blip that’s done and gone. Some groups, even if they do everything “right,” aren’t going to survive.
 
Barry Johnson, ArtsWatch’s executive editor, has started writing a column he calls “Starting Over,” which is about exactly those issues. How do we start over? How do we reinvent? What do we return to, and what do we move beyond? In his most recent “Starting Over,” Masks and democracy, he talks about some of the political failures that have made things worse in the United States than they needed to be, and reports on his conversation with the veteran arts consultant George Thorn, who suggests that the sort of creative, step-by-step problem-solving artists engage in every day might be a model for the society as a whole. In an earlier column, Point to point, Johnson talked with Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s Cynthia Fuhrman about practical adaptability. 

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Friderike Heuer, “The Strikers,” montage, from her series “Fluchtgedanken,” 2020. In her visual essay “Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape,” Heuer writes about manipulating images of paintings by the mid-20th century painter George Tooker, and how her adaptation of his work is a response to such disturbing issues of the Covid-19 crisis as the return of eugenics to public discussion and practice: “Took us what, only 75 years to get around to it again? What are expendable lives? The old? The diseased? The incarcerated? The poor?”

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ADAPTABILITY IS GOING TO BE CRUCIAL, and in a lot of cases, also not sufficient. Because the situation will be different for everyone, which means that while there may be smart overall strategies, they’ll have to be adapted to specific situations. And the ground keeps shifting.

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Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape

Friderike Heuer's new montage series based on George Tooker's art raises questions of who lives and who dies in the time of pandemic


STORY AND MONTAGES BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


SINCE WE ARE ALL OVER THE MAP this week anyhow, I might as well think out loud about one of my current preoccupations in the art department.

As those of you familiar with my montage work know, I often appropriate partial images from other artists into my art. I am not alone in that venture: Artists more famous or talented than I have long pursued all forms of appropriation, sometimes even direct copying. A more detailed discussion in the art world can be found here.

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‘A world of uncertainty’

Voices from the front: Arts philanthropist Ronni Lacroute says COVID-19 is forcing arts groups to think in new ways. Her role? “I just calm people down a lot.”

If you’ve attended plays or concerts in Portland or visited the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland with any regularity over the past decade, chances are good you owe at least one afternoon or evening of cultural enrichment to philanthropist Ronni Lacroute.

Lacroute lives in Yamhill County, where in 1991 she co-founded a vineyard and world-class winery on property that had been a cattle farm. As co-owner with her former husband of WillaKenzie Estate, she immersed herself in the wine business for a quarter century, until the winery was sold in 2016.

Lacroute, whose father was in the foreign service, had traveled extensively abroad in her youth. She studied romance languages and literature and has degrees from Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and both the licence ès lettres and the maîtrise ès lettres in North American literature from the Paris-Sorbonne University. She was a college professor and taught French language and culture in high school in Massachusetts in the 1970s and 1980s.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Along the way, she became a patron of the arts and for years has given widely to a variety of Oregon arts organizations. She’s a generous donor to arts programs at Linfield College in McMinnville, where she’s a member of the Board of Trustees. (From the Department of Full Disclosure: She’s also a donor to Oregon ArtsWatch, and earlier this year I appeared in a play at Gallery Theater in McMinnville that she sponsored.)

Ronni Lacroute says arts organizations hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdown are those locked into a venue, like a symphony hall or a theater that doesn’t allow flexible spacing. Smaller, project-based companies are better able to look at alternatives. Photo by: Carolyn Wells-Kramer
Ronni Lacroute says smaller and project-based arts organizations that have flexibility in terms of venue are coming up with creative alternative ways of connecting with audiences. Photo by: Carolyn Wells-Kramer

She now is involved full time in individual philanthropy, holding nonstop meetings with the nonprofit community. She’s particularly interested in artistic projects and groups that promote important conversations across social, economic, and political divides and that effect social change.

Because Lacroute is so connected with the region’s artistic life, we thought it would be enlightening to find out what she’s hearing in the wake of COVID-19. A lot, it turns out. And she was more than happy to share. The following interview was conducted via Facetime and has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me what it was like for you, when this really hit, as far as your meetings and contacts.

Lacroute: Well really, the only thing in my life that’s changed is no live meetings. I used to have people here every single day for meetings. The structure of my work life was to meet live and spend a couple of hours brainstorming ideas. It’s really hard to do that when you just have a phone call. You don’t do that for two hours. We exchange ideas, but how much can you put into an email or a 10-minute phone conversation? I’m missing the depth of exploration that we had before, where people were expecting that we’re going to hang out until we have some plans.

How did those conversations change once everyone really understood what was happening?

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MusicWatch Weekly: La dérive symphonique

Examining the New Flesh; staying home and slaying dragons; running on a treadmill

Well, the good news this week is that beloved Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki is still alive. See, here he is conducting his Violin Concerto No.2 ‘Metamorphosen’:

Put down your pitchfork, dear reader: this isn’t a tasteless joke but yet another complicated philosophical point. Penderecki has indeed left this vale of tears in order to go do whatever composers do when they’re done with their bodies, and you can mosey over here to read Arts Watch contributor Charles Rose’s assessment of Krzysztof’s time on this plane. But Penderecki did, before departing, leave many copies of himself scattered about this realm, and I don’t just mean the usual copies: written musical scores (we’ve had that form of immortality since Gutenberg) and the fond memories of his students and colleagues (that road to heaven has always been open to us all).

No, I’m mainly talking about the New Flesh, the digital ghost realm Penderecki now inhabits via the audio and video recordings he made while inhabiting the Old Flesh–these myriad recordings of Penderecki conducting his own work over the years make especially good company right now, here in the vale of tears. As more artists follow Penderecki (and Prince, Bowie, Lemmy, et alia) along the via dolorosa into virtual immortality, that famous old “giants walking behind you” problem becomes more acute than ever.

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A poet laureate for new times

As the world turns, new Oregon laureate Anis Mojgani embraces his role: "Writing a poem is the answer to an unknown question."

On Monday, April 27, Governor Kate Brown named Anis Mojgani as Oregon’s 10th Poet Laureate. Mojgani, whose two-year appointment begins May 4, succeeds Kim Stafford, who has held the post since 2018. In a press release Brown praised Mojgani as “the pragmatic optimist Oregon needs in these unprecedented times. His words breathe fresh air into the anxiety and negativity that we all feel. He urges us to resolutely reflect in the moment and with each grounding breath, our hearts ‘come closer and come into this’.”

The role of the Oregon Poet Laureate is to foster the art of poetry, encourage literacy and learning, address central issues relating to humanities and heritage, and reflect on public life in Oregon.

Mojgani is the author of five books of poetry, most recently In the Pockets of Small Gods, published in 2018. He is a two-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam and a winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and he has performed at venues around the world, including the United Nations.

Born and raised in New Orleans. Mojgani received a BFA in Sequential Art and a Master of Fine Arts in Performing Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design. He first called Portland, Oregon home in 2004.

Anis Mojgani takes over as Oregon’s 10th poet laureate on May 4. Photo: Hilde Frazsen

What does it mean to win this award, especially right now, in this world?

It’s strange and weird and bananas. One feels very excited and validated while at the same time humbled and unsure. But (it’s) also terribly exciting and fantastic for a number of reasons. As many years as I’ve had a relationship with Oregon I haven’t seen a majority of the state. To be tasked specifically to go to places I haven’t been is in itself a wonderful opportunity. To get to do that while introducing poetry to people or fostering the reading and writing of poetry and widening that dialogue and space and permission to engage in that with folks is very exciting.

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Oregon arts news: Covid-19 updates

Literary Arts has an emergency fund for writers, BodyVox is drawing blood, Shakespeare festival goes digital, more!

All arts news these days is Covid-19 news, at least in part. But then I suppose that extends to every central sector of the society. Arts organizations in Oregon are trying to raise enough money to keep enough staff on board to keep planning for their eventual return. Oh, and enough money to stage or hang the art they’re involved with when audiences can finally gather safely.

As George Thorn says, “We can’t wait to be in a room together with artists.”

There are two themes for this edition of News and Notes, and all subsequent ones, I expect. The first is the happier one: creative initiatives that artists and arts groups are coming up with to keep their connections with us possible, even though we’re isolated from each other.

Give blood then go to BloodyVox/Photo by Blaine Covert

The second includes funds that have been established to help artists in need and pleas for immediate help from groups in trouble. Two Portland venues, The Old Church and the Alberta Rose Theatre, are in that latter category. You know them, you love them, and if you can, this is a great time to support them.

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Writers need to eat, too, not to mention pay the rent, and they are rarely tethered to corporate support systems. To help them out, Literary Arts has designated money from its Brian Booth Writers’ Fund to create the Booth Emergency Fund for Writers, designed to provide meaningful financial relief to Oregon’s writers, including cartoonists, spoken word poets, and playwrights. Grants of $1,000 each will go to 100 eligible writers, and if more money shows up, a second round of applications will open in June.

The deadline to apply for Round One is May 13. Literary Arts is prioritizing money for writers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color. 

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has launched O!, a digital content platform the company has had in the works since Nataki Garrett became artistic director. With the theater closed, O! becomes a primary outlet until its stages are filled again, but the company intends to keep working on the site, even when we’re back in the theater again.

Right now, you can hear audio from a 1951 version of Twelfth Night, with founder Angus Bowmer himself as Sir Toby Belch. Or download an audiobook version of 2015’s Pericles, with recordings of King Lear (2013, directed by Bill Rauch), Romeo and Juliet (2012, dir. Laird Williamson), and Julius Caesar (2017, dir. Shana Cooper) soon to come. And there are documentaries and classes to sift through, too. For now, it’s all free. Click here to get started.

Profile Theatre’s eNewsletter this week brought two excellent pieces of news, and believe me, excellent news has been hard to come by lately. They are so excellent that I don’t know which to feature first. 

We’ll start with the money. The company’s Be a Light fundraiser brought in $100,193, exceeding the $75,000 Profile needed to keep operations going, move community engagement programming online, and prepare for a return to the stage when the pandemic has subsided enough for audiences to return. The key word: EXCEEDING. Cash contributions reached $82,861 by the April 24 deadline, and donations of previously purchased tickets totaled $17,332. (If you have tickets for performances of any sort, please consider donating them to the issuing organization, if at all possible.)

Profile artistic director Josh Hecht and Paula Vogel/Courtesy Profile Theatre

And now to the art! Profile’s featured writer this year, Paula Vogel, has been teaching playwriting for 30 years, using her“playwriting bake-off’ idea—a method for creating new work quickly with a recipe of “ingredients,” including characters, settings, props, and source material. Earlier this month she established a “Covid Bake-Off,” using the structure of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, with its 10 pairs of lovers, and characters from around the globe from Wuhan to Milan and beyond. 

Profile has enlisted playwrights Hilary Betis, Philip Dawkins, Hansol Jung, EM Lewis, Dan Kitrosser, Harrison Rivers, EM Lewis, Christopher Oscar Peña and Anna Ziegler to collaborate with Vogel in this special Bake-Off. Their creation will be recorded as an audio-play and released as a podcast. We’ll keep you apprised here at ArtsWatch.

The Alberta Rose Theatre is seeking support now that Covid-19 has wiped out its concerts and events. Portland doesn’t have nearly enough arts facilities as it is, so if you’re able and inclined, you can help keep this Alberta street institution going.

The theater’s online streaming fundraiser has already begun, but you can still hook-up to hear a long roster of Portland musicians perform. Tonight, for example, singer-songwriter Colin Hogan performs. You can buy a single ticket, a 10-concert flex package, or a full-access package. Well, they aren’t actually “tickets,” but the more you buy, the cheaper they are. The 20-concerts-for-$100 is still the best deal overall, even though a few have already taken place. You can get sorted out at the website.

Speaking of crucial performance venues, one of the city’s very best, The Old Church, is under pressure, too. “We are working around the clock to find funding to stay afloat for what is feeling like it will be an extended closure,” the organization announced. “Without funding we will be out of cash by mid-July.”

The nonprofit has been working on a campaign to ensure that some of the federal money that has gone to states will trickle down to the arts, including venues like The Old Church. They are hoping you will write the Oregon legislators from their district and advocate for arts funding and The Old Church: Rep.AkashaLawrenceSpence@oregonlegislature.gov and  Sen.GinnyBurdick@oregonlegislature.gov

The Old Church has also started a Better Together campaign, which features online benefit performances to support the work they do and the building they have renovated so well. 

If Portland reopens without The Old Church, we’ll always regret it.

One of the many things that BodyVox is known for (along with its great dance films, comic stylings, fine dancing, etc.) is its Halloween send-up BloodyVox. So, it makes sense (at least to me) that the dance company would host a community blood drive with the American Red Cross. The drive runs from 9 am to 2:30 pm on May 7 at the BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave., in  Portland.

Speaking of BloodyVox, it kicks off the company’s 2020-21 season. Full details are available on the website.

BodyVox’s penchant for film and video is evident in its fifth annual Contact Dance Film Festival, available to stream starting April 30. The four-day festival features three different programs, showcasing award-winning collaborations between filmmakers, dancers, and choreographers from around the world. Maybe watch some dance and then give some blood?

Tragedy and loss

Mourning the passing of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music processes trauma

It’s only been a month since we woke up to the unfortunate news of Krzysztof Penderecki’s death on March 29th. Penderecki’s musical preoccupation with tragedy and global trauma makes his passing seem especially relevant to the current global COVID-19 pandemic. Since his 1960 breakout piece Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, he continued to write music meant for public grieving: the terrifying Dies Irae, the massive Polish Requiem and dozens of other works from the late 1950s until his death. And he was especially familiar to Oregon audiences, thanks to his long association with the Oregon Bach Festival, including a stint as composer in residence and a 2001 Grammy award for Best Choral Performance for the Festival’s world première recording of his Credo (you can read their homage here).

It’s difficult for us not to correlate the death of Penderecki to the masses of tragic deaths happening during the pandemic: so far we’ve lost composer Charles Wuorinen, soul legend Bill Withers, experimental music legend Genesis P-Orridge, giants of jazz McCoy Tyner and Ellis Marsalis, architects Michael Sorkin and Michael McKinnell, stage director Gerald Freedman, and thousands of others. We also lost a local philanthropist and woman whose name adorns our concert hall, Arlene Schnitzer.

While not all of these deaths can be attributed to COVID-19 (and there are, of course, thousands of other tragic deaths not named), their coinciding with the current health crisis will be solidified in future generations’ memories–victims of the same faltering healthcare system that will lead to even more needless loss of life. I am also reminded of composer Lili Boulanger, who died at the age of twenty-four during the Spanish Flu pandemic and could have become as emblematic of French music as Debussy and Ravel. 

Like so many others, I’ve been stuck inside my neighborhood for the last two months. In such a short time, COVID-19 has seemingly reoriented all of society around itself. As Oregonians we have been lucky that Governor Brown took decisive action, as Oregon has one of the lowest rates of infection in the country. But we still have lost over 50,000 Americans, and recently surpassed a million infections. The social impact takes its toll on us as individuals. As the cabin fever sets in, I have little to do right now except compose, read, write and reflect upon life, death and tragedy. Sadly it took his passing for me to reacquaint myself with Penderecki’s music, and (to quote Keats), now more than ever it seems rich for him to die.

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