Arts notes: Jewish Museum to open

Plus: The 2020 Governor's Arts Awards, and what isn't playing at the Roxy (but is coming your way via Portland theater companies)

IT’S BEEN A LONG HAUL for the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, which like so many other destinations has been shut down for months by the Covid-19 crisis. But things are looking up: The museum has announced it’ll reopen to visitors next Thursday, Aug. 6, on a limited schedule and with restrictions. The Portland museum joins several others – among them the Portland Art Museum, Oregon Historical Society museum, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the Architectural Heritage Museum (which reopened last weekend with the exhibition Darcelle XV at Home, photographs by Tom Cook of the famous female impersonator and his richly decorated 1896 Queen Anne style house) in Portland; Bend’s High Desert Museum, and the Schneider Museum of Art, in Ashland – that have ventured into open hours again.

The Jewish Museum will reopen its first-floor galleries and gift shop, continuing through Sept. 5 with the exhibit Southern Rites, photographer Gillian Laub’s pictorial profile of racial progress and regression in Montgomery County, Georgia – including the integration of previously segregated high school proms, and then the murder by a white man of an unarmed young black man. Laub spent a decade documenting the tensions in the community. Friderike Heuer wrote in ArtsWatch about the exhibition in February, before the museum shut down, calling Laub’s work “beautiful.” She added: “It is not the beauty that matters here, though. It is the package of three elements that make this not just an artful, but an important exhibition: a longitudinal project executed with skill and courage in the light of tremendous obstacles, for one. Secondly, a slew of smart curatorial decisions on how to present that project, equally important for creating a narrative. And finally, the flexibility of a Jewish museum bent on going beyond the traditional role of keeper of memory, whether Holocaust-related or preserving the history of the local community.”

“Amber and Reggie, Mount Vernon, Georgia,” 2011, © Gillian Laub, Courtesy of Benrubi Gallery. Included in Laub’s photographic exhibition “Southern Rites,” reopening Aug. 6 at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.


August DanceWatch: Streaming right along

Dance doesn't hibernate: It dances. Even during a pandemic.

Welcome back to DanceWatch. The dancers are still here and they are dancing!

I know, I know, watching virtual dance performances isn’t the same as watching live performances, but who cares? This is where we happen to be. So let’s celebrate and enjoy it as it is, in all of its uniqueness. Someday we may even look back on this moment nostalgically, though I’m not taking any bets.

There are some benefits to these new viewing conditions. You don’t have to get dressed up and put on those uncomfortable shoes you only wear to performances. You don’t have to fight traffic and time and look for parking. And if you don’t like what you are watching, you can turn it off or switch the channel and no one will be the wiser, and no one will be offended. Sometimes you can even watch it again, if you want.

So get comfy, invite your friends (virtually), order or make some great food, grab a cold drink, ‘cause it’s really hot out there, and enjoy the virtual dance world brought to you by a whole lot of dancers who just want to keep dancing, no matter what!

Dance performances in August!

Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater. Photo courtesy of Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater.

Virtual Last Thursday Online
Hosted by Last Thursdays On Alberta and Alberta Main Street
7-9pm July 30
Live streamed from the Blind Insect Gallery
To view go to YouTube #SummerofAlberta

Take a virtual art walk down Alberta Main Street and experience live streamed performances by African drummer Alex Addy; singer, songwriter and performer Justin Leon Johnson; and dance company Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater.


Through the tear gas, darkly

ArtsWatch Weekly: As Black Lives Matter protests enter a third month, where do artists stand? "We are in a marathon, not a sprint."

“We are in a marathon, not a sprint.”

Yes, it’s felt like a slow-moving marathon since the Covid-19 crisis kicked in – a trudge through a dream of a river of mud. But Damaris Webb, the Portland actor and director, was talking about something more than that. Webb, an African American woman who was born in Tanzania, grew up partly in Portland and spent about twenty years studying and working in New York before returning to Portland. She was talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and Portland’s weeks-long protests that began after the murder via police knee of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the amount of work that looms beyond. “I resonate with the statement that we’re grappling with two pandemics simultaneously, and they’re both international,” she said.

I wanted to talk with Webb partly because she’s a founder with Laura Lo Forti of Vanport Mosaic, an innovative organization that looks deeply into the historical roots of cultural issues in Oregon and elsewhere, and because her work in general has landed in the fertile meeting-place of art, culture, and politics. As the city’s nightly protests move into their third month and the presence of heavily armored federal agents ratchets tensions higher and higher, she is deeply aware of the underlying issues of dissent in a city that is 77 percent white and not quite 6 percent black. “It’s so nuanced. That is always a concern,” she told me in a phone conversation on Wednesday. “There is a sort of disorientation. Especially when being Black is a minority of a minority of a minority in Portland.” As dramatic and attention-grabbing as the nightly protests have been, she said, the issues are deeper and longer. “Keep staying engaged and serious,” she advised. “It’s not going to be over. Not even when the feds leave.”


IN FACT, THE TENSIONS ARE LONGSTANDING, and they run in multiple fractured lines. On Monday I ran into an acquaintance, a smart and capable and ordinarily wryly funny Black woman, who had heard an hour earlier that her brother had tried to slit his wrists and had been rushed to a psychiatric ward. She was waiting to be allowed to go and see him, and she was of course upset. It was everything, she said – the protests, the pressure, the pandemic. It all just came down on him. Lots of people are feeling that way, she said. A few evenings earlier, she added, she’d gone downtown to see what was happening, and was shocked: “It felt like I was in the middle of a Third World country.”
If you’re Black and American, a lot of that unrelenting pressure that my friend’s brother felt comes from police culture. How do we expect police to solve the problem when to such a great degree police are the problem? I cannot begin to count the number of Black Portlanders who’ve told me over the years of their encounters with the police: being stopped while driving or walking, for no reason other than going about their everyday lives, often in their own neighborhoods; being arrested and illegally searched because they “looked” like a suspect in a crime somewhere else; being on the bad end of cynical and unprovoked stop-and-frisks. Sometimes these stories made the news. Usually they did not. They were just part of the background noise of life as usual – the so-called “normal” of this unnerving stretch of contemporary history.
One story that did make the news, several years ago, was from the side streets of North or Northeast Portland – I don’t recall the precise location – which is my sector of the city, and I’ll preface it by saying that in many neighborhoods the streets are unofficial peoples’ property: People stroll in them, idle their cars in the middle of them to stop and chat with friends, treat them as common space, just another part of the village. If you happen to be driving along one of these streets, you simply stop and wait a bit. That’s how things work.
On this particular afternoon two teen-age girls were walking home after basketball practice, down the middle of a side street as was their habit, when a pair of officers in a patrol car spotted them and jumped out and took them down, sprawling them on the pavement and handcuffing them. For walking in the street. And all these years later the inescapable question with the inescapable answer remains: Would two white teen-agers, walking down the center of the street in their own neighborhood, laughing and chatting and bouncing a basketball, have been stopped, let alone assaulted?

 Horace Pippin, “The End of the War, Starting Home,” 1930-33, oil, 32 x 39.5 inches, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Pippin (1888-1946) was a self-taught artist who created a distinctive personal vision beginning in the 1920s. He was shot in his right shoulder while fighting as a member of the “Harlem Hellfighters,” one of four African-American regiments in World War I, and the wound for a time cost him the use of his entire arm. He took up painting in part to recuperate from the war.

BLACK LIVES MATTER MEANS, of course, that Black deaths matter: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, so many others. It also means that Black lives matter. Inside a fractious political and cultural debate lie individual tragedies. How do you go about living your life in a nation in which you are constantly looking over your shoulder, in which you are legally free but in actuality unfree in so many ways?


Caught in the coronavirus doldrums

Carrie Lewis, CEO of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, says the popular Newport attraction awaits the governor's OK to reopen: "Our over-sanitized hands are tied."

Visitors to the Oregon Coast Aquarium have made it one of the most popular attractions on the entire Oregon Coast. Opened in 1992, it was named one of the top 10 aquariums in the country by Parade magazine only one year later. When it was chosen to rehabilitate Keiko, the orca star from the film Free Willy, its popularity boomed.

But in 2000, two years after Keiko was transferred to Iceland for release in the wild, the nonprofit seemed doomed. The aquarium was $4 million short on the tab for its new $11 million, 1.3-million-gallon Passages of the Deep exhibit, and it was unclear if the aquarium would survive. But the community – local and beyond – rallied, and in recent years the aquarium again has thrived.


Then the virus hit, and Newport’s most popular attraction and a crucial component of the coast culture, struggles. We talked with aquarium president and CEO Carrie Lewis about the future.

When did the aquarium close?

Lewis:  On March 16. It was the right thing to do at the time because things were ramping up. That’s right around the time Gov. Kate Brown put out her mandate for businesses to close. We were in lockstep with all the other zoos and aquariums around the country. Unfortunately, it was right before spring break. It was a huge hit.

Any idea when you’ll be able to reopen?

The anticipated opening date remains unknown. We’re really concerned. Because Lincoln County is on the “Watch List,” we can’t open until Lincoln County gets into Phase 2. I am appealing to the governor to get a redesignation of our status, which is indoor/outdoor entertainment facility. The Oregon Zoo, the High Desert Museum in Bend, and the Sea Lion Caves are open. We have a lot of exhibits outside. We have a lot of things we can do to keep our guests safe. I don’t know what hoops we’ll have to jump through to reopen. We’re taking it very seriously, but our over-sanitized hands are tied.

Carrie Lewis, Oregon Coast Aquarium CEO, has been charting a course for reopening. “We’re small but we’re mighty,” she says, “and we will get through this.”

What are your plans for reopening?

We have a couple of opening plans. There would be a reduction in fees and everything would be purchased online: No coming up to the window to buy a ticket, and you would have to reserve a time. We’re seeing that this is a really productive way of getting visitors in.

We would set up stations at all outdoor exhibits, and visitors would go from exhibit to exhibit in groups of 10 with volunteers interpreting. We would be able to do 40 people an hour for seven hours. It would be a much shorter stay time. Usually, 2 to 2½  hours is the normal stay time. This would be about one hour.


A visual-arts bright spot in COVID summer

Chehalem Cultural Center galleries showcase work by the late Michael Gibbons, Kerri Evonuk, and Sara Siestreem

In Yamhill County, for a few more days, visual art enthusiasts have an opportunity to see a sprawling collection of paintings by Michael Gibbons, the self-described “poet with a paintbrush” who died July 2 at his Toledo home, the result of complications from a stroke suffered in 2006. The exhibit fills two galleries in the Chehalem Cultural Center that are large enough to easily accommodate our new normal of six feet from others. The exhibition runs through Friday.

The Yaquina Exhibit: A Painted Voice for a Sacred Landscape, curated by the center’s director of arts programs, Carissa Burkett, showcases paintings inspired by vistas from the Oregon Coast around Newport. When considering Newport, most Oregonians probably think of Yaquina Bay and civilization’s stamp immediately around it: the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the restaurants, shops, and docks along the waterfront, the bridge. We forget an ecological fact: Yaquina Bay is merely the lowest elevation of a 250-square-mile basin that stretches up and away into the hills and out of view. As the show’s notes point out, the watershed encompasses breathtaking geographic and biological diversity and is home to bears, Coho salmon, cougars, beaver, eagles, and other wildlife.

"Doyle Thorne's Ditch" by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)
“Doyle Thorne’s Ditch” by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)

Gibbons packed his paints, brushes, and easel into this area beyond the bay, producing over three decades the more than 45 plein air oil paintings that compose the show.

“When en plein air,” the notes say, Gibbons “comes to a place that feels right to him, then he’ll pause, find a bush he can hang onto and grab a branch. ‘How would you like to be seen?’ he’ll ask. You can almost hear the chorus of the different trees. It’s a sense. You don’t hear words, per se. The language is right there. It’s a living being.”

The exhibit features a series of drawings Gibbons created in preparation for The Mighty Oak, depicting a Heritage Tree at the Oregon Gardens. It allows the viewer to see and truly appreciate the extraordinary amount of work — rehearsal, one might say — that can go into a piece before the artist ever picks up a brush.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG remains one of Yamhill County’s bright spots in our COVID-19 summer. The center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday just north of the Newberg Public Library (which is also open) and is following the state’s Phase 2 guidelines. Last week I exchanged notes with Burkett, and it’s encouraging to learn that the rest of the year’s exhibitions are still on the calendar — so long as the center is able to remain open.


Black Opera: Singing Over Ourselves

The Portland opera singer Onry raises his voice for inclusion


I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, often called “the Whitest City in America.” I’m a Black opera singer, dancer, actor, composer, musician, and educator. I strive to weave all these worlds together and bring culture and diversity to my listeners.

When I was around seven years old, I turned on the TV one day and saw my first opera. It was on the only channel that came through at the time. I sat down, and I started to recognize the grand gestures of 1990s Marvel superheroes. Many may think opera is a stuffy thing, but for this seven-year-old’s eyes, it was full of villains, people cheating on one another, hearts being broken, death, betrayal. Fascinated, I ran to my siblings and to my stepdad and said, “I want to be an opera singer! Oooo-ooh!” I hadn’t hit puberty yet. I had this high soprano voice, and I was singing around.

Onry singing at Yale Union. Photo: Tiana Avila

Little did I know, years before I was born, my mother also wanted to be an opera singer. She auditioned and was accepted for the Portland Opera. Then someone came along and told her that she couldn’t do it because she had three kids. She gave up that dream and never told me until later in life.

When I was ten years old, my father passed away, and there wasn’t a lot of conversation around his death. From that moment on, I went mute. I was quiet that entire year, except for when I made music. People didn’t have a chance to get to know me. One thing I held close was music. I would sing over myself. I’d weep and cry. I would sing hymns from church. Songs would comfort and console me.


The Cherokee lens, up close

Photographer Joe Cantrell's micro-images blend art and science to pierce time and geology and discover secrets of the shape of things

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of ArtsWatch’s contributing writers and photographers are themselves artists. Joe Cantrell, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation who spent 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, has photographed subjects and celebrations for ArtsWatch ranging from the Waterfront Blues Festival to backstage stories about the opera to classical-music performances ranging from concert halls to musicians’ front porches, as well as chalk art festivals and the immigrant-culture celebrations of Beaverton Market. For several years he’s been working on two special projects of his own, photographing the interior structures of pictographs and exploring the microstructures of geological time in rocks and fossils. For both projects he calls on his Cherokee tradition of viewing the universe.


Cherokee tradition embraces outside technology and methods when we think they will be useful. One of the best examples of that was Sequoyah’s remarkable feat of single-handedly developing his syllabary. Sequoyah was one of only a handful of geniuses in human history who have single-handedly invented a written language for their people. It was so effective and easy to learn that illiterate Cherokees could become literate in one week! Compare that to the amount of time and energy we spend to learn English, folks, and the sad state of the language in spite of it.

Growing up in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, the name Sequoyah surrounded us from the Sequoyah Theater to the “Indian Training School,” as it was known then, to the grade school. He became a part of who we were and would be. Even in my mid 70s, he still is. So as my photography has evolved since they sent me to the Tahlequah High School darkroom, September of 1960, it was natural that Sequoyah’s influence would follow.

I am perplexed by the fact that to meet a popular concept of “real Indians,” the Cherokees back in the Smoky Mountains apparently must emulate Plains Indians, the ones who John Wayne and other show-biz white guys could kill with one pistol shot from a running horse. Last time I was at the Cherokee Holiday Parade down Main Street, Tahlequah, our Principal Chief and Tribal Council wore big eagle feather headdresses. I don’t recall ever seeing a Cherokee man wear a turban, our real traditional head covering, as Sequoyah did.

This image, photographed from a fossil at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals, in Hillsboro, is from a piece of “the oldest precursors of life, 3.4 billion year old stromatolites,” Cantrell says. “These were prokaryotic, meaning single cells with no nucleus, and were the state of life for about 1.7 billion years in the Precambrian era. They gained nuclei, and with that the ability to adapt and mutate, about 1.7 billion years ago.”