Colorful banners with hopeful messages for anxious times

Community and collaboration are at the heart of The Living School of Art's project now on view at Nationale

At Nationale, the line between fine art and functional object has always been blurred. The iconic Portland gallery space is also part shop, thoughtfully curated with must-reads and apothecary curiosities. These days, the space contains a selection of Mixed Needs ceramics and Incidental Music’s tone poem, along with a selection of music, print, and home objects.

Interior view of Nationale with banners from The Living Art School’s Banners for Cultivating Resilience. (2020)

Nationale’s embrace of art in all its forms made the gallery a perfect venue for Banners on Cultivating Resilience, a project by The Living School Of Art (LSA). Facilitated by artist and neighbor Amanda Leigh Evans, LSA is an intergenerational art project based in an affordable housing development in east Portland. Neighbors in the community teach and participate in hands-on activities and present exhibitions in the eight apartment complex laundry rooms. The program includes a visiting artist residency, a community garden, a medicinal herb garden, and field trips. LSA draws participants are of all ages, though the banners featured in this exhibition were made exclusively by children.


Making music for the love of it

ArtsWatch Weekly: A very different kind of orchestra, a weekend of horrors, board moves, toppled statues, farewells, flicks & how we see

SOMETIMES, IN THE UNDERSTANDABLE QUEST FOR EXCELLENCE AND EVEN PERFECTION in the arts, performers and artists can lose sight of something that should be at the core of the entire enterprise: a love of the game. That happened, Brett Campbell writes in ‘Orchestrating change’: healing music, to Ronald Braunstein, an up-and-coming orchestral conductor whose promising career was derailed, despite his prominent and obvious talents, by the stress and pressure of the job. “Anxiety, distraction, emotional ups and downs paralyzed him,” Campbell writes. “He couldn’t keep it all together.” 

For the love of it: Dylan Moore, a bassist with Me2/Orchestra. Photo courtesy of Me2.

Eventually Braunstein discovered that he had a crippling bipolar disorder, and that might have been the end of the story – except it wasn’t. He still had all of that talent, and a growing appreciation for the love that attracted him to music in the first place. And he discovered that there were a lot more people like him: professionals, amateurs, in-betweens who genuinely loved the music but not the pressure that goes along with a fast-track career. He discovered he had a simpatico with those among them who also had some form of mental illness. And so was born the Me2/Orchestra, a place where people could go for the simple joy of playing. It’s an amazing story, a genuine joy to read, and the original Me2 has spawned offspring groups, including one in Portland. It’s also a timely reminder of the genuine pleasures of amateurism – a word derived from the Latin amare, which means, simply, to love. Whether you’re a professional or an acolyte, it’s where it all begins.


Farewell to the Tangerine Window

In his final days, the beloved set designer and artist Tim Stapleton hosted a steady flow of friends. Now, his final artwork is on display.

“To get to the Tangerine Window you had to go on a bit of a spirit journey,” as Mary McDonald Lewis puts it.

The window in question was at West Hills Health & Rehabilitation, a nursing facility in Portland’s Multnomah Village, with low-slung yellow-brick buildings and well-manicured lawns. “You’d walk down the narrow side of the building, through a gate and into a little courtyard of small lawns, park benches, little gardens,” McDonald Lewis continues. The anodyne surroundings are scrupulously, pleasantly plain — except for one section. There, little bursts of color catch the eye — flowers in sky-blue planter pots, a yellow rubber duck in a rusted iron bird feeder, large ceramic carp glazed in brilliant cobalt blue, seeming to swim along a dry stream of stones. And then, instead of the standard-issue white curtains of the other rooms, a flash of bright orange appears like a welcome.
“It’s like a window that you’d expect to see on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ A window that glowed like monarch butterfly wings. But then, inside, is a very ill man. And yet, within moments you’re caught up in his eyes, and in his stories, and then it’s just Tim. You’re with Tim.”

Photographer Owen Carey, who shot this portrait of Tim Stapleton in 2013, joined forces with Stapleton on many a play and many a cocktail. Carey says that in one of his last text exchanges he asked if he should bring anything on his next visit. “He asked for ‘some Pirate’s Booty, your booty, and a Negroni in a sippy cup.’”

Timothy Wayne Stapleton, an accomplished and beloved figure in the Portland arts scene, died on Sept. 7, at age 71, from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the motor neuron condition commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” For the last several months of his life, pushing against the isolating effects of both the COVID-19 pandemic and his progressively debilitating illness, many of his many friends made pilgrimages to what everyone called the Tangerine Window.


Nye Beach Banner Project goes international

The 12th annual fundraiser for arts education includes work by artists in Newport's sister city of Mombetsu, Japan

Shigeru Yamai depicted the Yaquina Bay Bridge, with love from Mombetsu City, for the Nye Beach Banner Project.
Shigeru Yamai depicted the Yaquina Bay Bridge, with love from Mombetsu City, for the Nye Beach Banner Project.

Twelve years after a group of Nye Beach merchants sought to define their little neighborhood’s identity, the Nye Beach Banner Project has gone international.

This year’s banners include four from artists in Newport’s sister city of Mombetsu, Japan. After Mombetsu delegates visited Newport last year, banner project organizers were inspired to offer artists an additional option for the banner theme — traditionally meant to represent some aspect of Nye Beach.

“Many of the artists embraced that and did something representative of Mombetsu,” said Veronica Lundell, project coordinator. “Last year when the delegates came, they were given a tour and really enjoyed what we were doing.”

The banners hang from neighborhood lamp posts during the spring, summer, and early fall, before being taken down for the fall auction. The artists donate their time and talent, with auction proceeds benefiting youth arts education and public art through the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts.

Former Newport City Councilor Wendy Engler, who recently visited Mombetsu, came up with the idea for a banner exchange with the sister city. So this year, project organizers sent eight blank canvasses to Japan. Four painted by Mombetsu artists were returned, the other four stayed in Mombetsu for that city’s own display, to join four chosen from among those by Oregon artists.

“The idea was that Mombetsu would start their own project,” Lundell said. “But COVID has presented some challenges we could not have anticipated. How we proceed for next year is still to be decided. We hope to continue.”


Another one bites the dust

The monument to Harvey Whitefield Scott is the latest statue to fall in Portland. How did we end up with it in the first place and should we keep it?

When I heard that the sculpture of Harvey Whitefield Scott was pulled down from its pedestal sometime on the morning of October 20th, I couldn’t help but give a small cheer. Unlike with the topplings of Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt a few weeks ago, no one has taken credit for taking Scott down. Whoever it was gets some extra flair points for not only pulling the sculpture down from its pedestal but also removing an arm. The photo from The Oregonian of the dismembered arm discarded against the fence is a nice touch.

Dismembered arm from Harvey Whitefield Scott sculpture on Mt. Tabor on October 20. Image from the Oregonian.

A few weeks ago, I argued that the city needs to keep its historical sculptures, not in prominent places but still visible somewhere so that the history they represent isn’t glossed over or conveniently forgotten. It’s good to change our minds but important to acknowledge the past, even (or especially) if we’d rather not. It’s disingenuous to pretend that the errors never existed. Public art can serve as a medium for confession of the past as well as a proclamation of current values.

I still believe that, but I want to offer a caveat: it’s naive to think we’re going to keep every sculpture, and we certainly don’t have to keep every sculpture intact and “as is.” Who or what the sculpture represents matters, but so do the circumstances of its making. It should be a case-by-case decision and in this case, I’m advocating for Harvey Whitefield Scott to go.


‘Orchestrating Change’: healing music

Riveting new documentary tells the story of an orchestra of musicians with mental illness — and a Portland affiliate

One day a couple years ago, filmmaker Margie Friedman got a phone call from a woman in Vermont who wanted to buy a DVD of a documentary she’d made that aired on PBS, Conducting Hope, about the only men’s prison choir in the United States to perform outside prison walls. Catherine Whiddon wanted to screen it for an orchestra she’d recently co-founded that also performed in prisons and other non-traditional venues. The orchestra, she explained, was composed primarily of musicians with mental illness. 

Come again? As Whiddon described the orchestra’s mission and history, Friedman thought: “this is amazing!” And it sounded perfect for a collaboration with another Los Angeles-based filmmaker she’d been wanting to work with, Barbara Multer-Wellins, who shared her interest in stories about social justice topics. Though both veteran directors had won Emmys and other awards and produced films and TV shows for many channels and series (from Independent Lens to HBO, Discovery, National Geographic and many more), they’d never before worked together on an independent documentary. Both realized they’d found a powerful story that they just had to tell. 

Ronald Braunstein conducts Me2/Orchestra.

Just released this fall, their moving new documentary, Orchestrating Change, streaming on PBS (and airing at 11 AM this Sunday, October 25, on Oregon Public Broadcasting) spotlights Me2/Orchestra, which has performed dozens of concerts in concert halls and rehab centers, prisons and schools, medical conferences, parks, and other non-traditional settings — including a memorable show, documented in the film, in a Boston subway station.

Based in Burlington and Boston, Me2 has spawned affiliates — including one right here in Oregon. Its story turned out to be a lot more dramatic and thrilling than even the filmmakers expected.


Streamers: Recapping the pandemic, reimagining Jack London

No, we are not stuck inside the bars of various online platforms. (Did someone say "bars"?)

Portland’s independent theaters continue to provide virtual programming, as the shutdown of in-person cinema-going enters its 437th month. (Some, however, are allowing members of the public in under certain circumstances—see below.) Here are some of the recent local “openings” (how long till those scare quotes disappear?) worth your digi-cash and quaran-time:

Martin Eden

Luca Marinelli and Jessica Cressy in a scene from Martin Eden, photo by Francesca Errichiello, courtesy Kino Lorber

This Italian drama, based on a 1909 Jack London novel, was initially scheduled to screen during March’s Portland International Film Festival. Now, it’s being offered as a streaming option online, with a share of proceeds going to the Northwest Film Center.

The story follows the evolution of the titular proletarian worker (Luca Marinelli) from traveling laborer to literary sensation, as he first ingratiates himself with a bourgeois family in 20th-century Italy and goes on to become a politically active iconoclast and disaffected celebrity. In the process, his romance with the daughter of said bourgeois family (Jessica Cressy) waxes and wanes, as does his proximity to the socialist ideals promulgated by his aging, radical mentor (Carlo Cecchi).