Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

2023 in Review: In Oregon, a long and lively cultural trip around the sun

It was a year of building booms, an Off-Broadway triumph, a financial flop in the Legislature, a great cultural-funding divorce, AI everywhere, and a good number of artistic happy surprises.

|

“Make Me Gorgeous!” star Wade McCollum, left, and writer-director Donnie at the post-opening night party in New York. Photo courtesy Don Horn.

Twenty-twenty-three? That’s so yesterday!

Well, yes: Here from the vantage point of New Year’s Day 2024 it is yesterday. But before we throw it onto the scrap heap of history let’s take a look at what happened during the past twelve months, specifically in the realms of arts and culture, and more specifically in the arts and culture of Oregon.

Or New York. In one of the feel-good stories of the year, a playwright and an actor from Oregon spent November and December in an off-Broadway theater, pulling in Manhattan audiences and enthusiasm for a show called Make Me Gorgeous!

The playwright is Donnie, also known as Don Horn, founder of Portland’s Triangle Productions. The actor is Wade McCollum, a Portland favorite years ago in the likes of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Bat Boy: The Musical who’s gone on to success in New York and London’s West End. And the play, a solo show about the larger-than-life trans trailblazer Kenneth/Kate Marlowe, has hit the Manhattan spotlight, but it was born in Portland.

In Triangle makes New York gorgeous, Max Tapogna writes for ArtsWatch about McCollum’s and Horn’s preparations for opening night, and the show’s positive critical response. “A highly entertaining and beautiful show. Wade McCollum gives a brilliant performance,” playwright and legendary drag performer Charles Busch raved, and it’s tough to get a better endorsement than that.

***

The year had other feel-good stories, too, from the success of Beaverton’s sparkling new Patricia Reser Center for the Arts and Studio Abioto’s triumph there in January to the still-running late-year successes of the big exhibits Africa Fashion and Black Artists of Oregon at the Portland Art Museum. But first, let’s take a look at some of the potholes along what’s been, after all, a decidedly bumpy road.

Sponsor

Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon

Going out? Do we have to?

Like so many cities in the United States, Portland is undergoing a very slow crawl out of the pandemic years: To borrow the lyrics from an old Duke Ellington tune, people don’t get around much anymore. Downtown is slow and ragged, though things are picking up gradually. But a lot of office space is still going begging as many workers are continuing to work from home or split their time between home and office, and several large businesses have responded by abandoning large spaces for smaller and cheaper places to lease.

That means a lot less foot traffic downtown, which in turn means tough times for downtown small businesses such as restaurants that rely on a bustle of people – and that, in turn, affects theaters and other cultural destinations. Furthering the slowdown is the ascendancy of entertainment options on television, which is keeping a lot of potential audiences, especially older ones who once were the financial lifeblood of downtown cultural organizations, hunkered in comfortably at home. Dinner and a show on the town? Not tonight, dear. Maybe some other time.

Also complicating matters is the national upward trickle of money to the very wealthy and the shrinking economic power of the working and middle classes, whose members might be buying tickets to shows if they felt they could afford it. Arts groups across the nation are trying hard to shake things up and get the cultural economy moving again. But so far, much of the populace remains unstirred.

The politics of disappointment

It all started so optimistically.

In February, for the first time, a group of state legislators banded together to form an Oregon Arts and Culture Caucus to push the interests of the historically underfunded cultural sector in the state budgeting process and elsewhere. “Arts and culture are so important to Oregon,” Rep. Rob Nosse (D-Portland), who coordinated the new caucus, declared. “… We must support the cultural and community hubs in our neighborhoods, and I hope this caucus will continue to ensure arts and culture thrive in this state.”

In February, pianists Hunter Noack (feft) and Thomas Lauderdale brought their four hands to a resounding “Rhapsody in Blue” at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre as legislators and artists celebrated the launch of the legislative Arts and Culture Caucus launch. Photo: Elayna Yussen

Later in the month legislators and prominent artists including hip-hop and visual artist MOsley WOtta and Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale actually got down and partied together at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre to celebrate the imminent good times for arts funding.

And then the Great Walkout happened: Almost every state Senate Republican took a six-week tactical hike, bringing legislative action to a virtual halt. By the time late in the session when they wandered back in from their self-imposed wilderness, the Legislature rushed to get votes in on a very small number of issues, and arts funding once again was left in the lurch.

Sponsor

Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

Arts groups large and small were left holding a mostly empty bag, disrupting their already tight budgets at a time when most were still reeling from the cumulative effects of Covid shutdowns. The legislative thumbs-down of cultural funding measures and the general economic boost that would have come with their approval was of biblical proportion: Ask, and ye shall not receive.

Building booms

Good times or no, in 2023 a lot of cultural organizations headed for the wide open spaces — or the structural spaces they believe will serve their needs better. Several branches of the Multnomah County Library, including downtown’s Central Library, spent much of the year shut down for renovations and upgrades (and some new buildings) approved by public vote; look for many of them to reopen in 2024.

A healthy handful of groups made bets on the future of Portland’s downtown and close-in neighborhoods. One made its mark in North Portland, another planted a prominent flag in Southeast Portland, yet another is getting ready to open in Corvallis in 2024. And one big one, still being negotiated, could land in one of three locations.

Young students and performers take part in a celebratory parade Sept. 17, 2022 from the children’s theater’s old home in Northwest Portland to its under-construction space in the heart of downtown. The new space opened in 2023. Photo courtesy Northwest Children’s Theater and School.

Northwest Children’s Theatre & School, which had long been looking for a new home, moved into an old movie multiplex at 1000 Broadway, directly across the street from the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and in the midst of downtown’s Cultural District. Since opening, the company’s new home, renamed The Judy, has been a hive of activity, with classes, play productions, and family movie screenings.

Artists Repertory Theatre, after long delays, began construction on what’s expected to be a $30-31 million total renovation of its building between downtown and the Providence Park soccer stadium. That’s only part of a long saga of ups and downs for the company; read more below.

The Portland Art Museum began construction on its long-planned Mark Rothko Pavilion, a glass-encased structure that, as Brian Libby writes, will connect the museum’s two main buildings and vastly improve access to the museum’s galleries. Set to open in summer 2025, it’s the centerpiece of a $110 million redesign and upgrade that will add 40,000 square feet of gallery and other space in the Pavilion itself and include renovations on another 55,000 square feet of existing space.

The Albina Arts Center, which played a key role in Portland’s Black cultural life in the 1960s and ’70s, and later was shut down for about 30 years, took another step in its revival as a core location for the city’s Black community when Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc. and Rosemary Anderson High School took ownership in September. The Soul Restoration Center had moved into the space in 2022, and with the new ownership the Black theater company PassinArt has moved its headquarters there, too.

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

Part of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education’s new “Human Rights After the Holocaust” gallery. The clown is part of a team of doctors who go to war zones and other distressed areas around the globe and, in addition to dealing with medical crises, take time to entertain children. Oregon ArtsWatch photo

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education took a four-month break to renovate and expand its galleries and add a significant new gallery devoted to displays about international human rights after the Holocaust. The museum reopened in June after completing the $2.2 million project.

All Classical Radio moved across the river from Portland Opera’s East Side building to the KOIN Tower, near Keller Auditorium in downtown. The new space gives the ambitious network, which has an international audience, more space, including live-performance space, and allows it to grow. President and CEO Suzanne Nance sees the move as ” a much-needed investment in still-reeling downtown Portland’s arts community and economy,” Brett Campbell writes. “The station’s announcement promises the move will ‘lead urban rejuvenation of downtown Portland through music and the arts’.”

The Tomorrow Theater, home to the Portland Art Museum’s PAM CUT film center, opened in November, taking over a renovated old movie house on Southeast Division Street. It’s in the midst of a populated area of potential moviegoers, and gives the museum a permanent flag on the city’s East Side — and as Marc Mohan writes, “With 249 fixed seats, there’s not really a bad one in the house.”

The $75 million Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts, known as PRAx for short, spent much of 2023 under construction on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis and is scheduled to open in 2024. The center — the second such complex to bear Patricia Reser’s name, following the successful rollout of the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton — will have a 425-seat concert hall, a black box theater space, and ample gallery space. Alexander Banks has written about the project here, and Gabe Braukman here.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians broke ground in February on Ghii Dee-Ne Dvn, A Place for the People — a new, 20,000-square-foot tribal cultural center and museum that will rise next to the tribal community center in Siletz. It’s been a dream since at least 1977. “Our expectation is it is a place to house those things that mean a lot to us, things our children want to see,” Alfred “Bud” Lane III, Tribal Council vice chairman, told Lori Tobias. “This museum will function as a home for the collections we have, to show people our traditions. It really is kind of a mirror of ourselves, where people can go and immerse themselves.”

Keller Auditorium (or not). Portland is eager to do something about the 3,000-seat Keller, home to Portland Opera, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and countless Broadway touring shows, as Brian Libby wrote in a 2022 story. The aging Keller is susceptible to earthquake damage, has limited acoustic quality, and a sprawling layout. Several options for replacement have been proffered, and this fall the candidates were narrowed to three: a new building at Portland State University, a new building at the Lloyd Center complex, or a complete renovation of the existing building. Stay tuned.

RACC and the city

One of the strangest, and in many ways most substantive, cultural stories of 2023 was the continuing battle between the Regional Arts & Culture Council and the City of Portland over how cultural spending should be handled and who should hold the purse strings.

Sponsor

Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

In July, Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan, whose portfolio includes arts and parks, told RACC’s board that the city would not renew its contracts with RACC after the end of the current fiscal year in summer 2024, and instead would build up its own City Arts Program. The independent nonprofit RACC administers grants to arts and arts education groups under contract not just in Portland but also throughout Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties – and since City of Portland funding amounts for roughly 80 percent of its annual budget (Portland arts groups in turn receive a majority of RACC funding), the city’s decision to pull out and go it alone upset a significant fiscal apple cart.

The City’s decision caused a huge ruckus among regional arts groups, many of which had strong relationships with RACC’s staff and received training and administrative advice as well as funding from the regional agency. RACC has had a tradition of supporting smaller, diverse, and geographically scattered arts organizations in addition to the major downtown Portland groups, and many artists suspected that the City’s move was based more on political than artistic motives — that it was part of a plan to give the big downtown companies a stronger boost, at the expense of smaller companies, as part of an overall effort to combat the deterioration of the city center and bring it back to life.

No firm evidence has risen to prove or disprove that belief. In December a task force co-led by Gov. Tina Kotek announced several recommendations for reviving Portland’s downtown core, including programming events in public spaces in the city core, reactivating several vacant street-level storefronts as art spaces, and making downtown “a worthy destination,” in part by supporting the major arts groups: As the report puts it, “Powell’s, Pioneer Square, and the Portland Art Museum are solid attractors, but they need company.”

An active arts scene has proven to be an economic boon for city centers internationally, with the drawback that cities sometimes put most of their apples in the downtown basket, largely ignoring cultural centers in their neighborhoods. But many people argue that a healthy city needs both, and the task force’s proposals also call for “(p)ublic and private support increases for arts, innovation, and culture organizations.” 

There is a large distance between the task force’s recommendations and any action, which underscores the current confusion over cultural funding. And the city/regional split has come in the midst of a long-term regional arts planning effort called Our Creative Future, throwing a huge curveball into the planning process.

In a surprise move, RACC’s board placed the group’s executive director, Carol Tatch, on paid leave and then ousted her in late October, giving no reason for her departure, and leaving many unanswered questions. Clackamas County’s board quickly announced that it, too, would cut off funding to RACC, even as RACC vowed to continue to operate after City money disappears in the summer of 2024.

Finally — or provisionally, as Ned Hayes reported in November — Jeff Hawthorne, director of the new City Arts Program, announced at a public informational meeting that by saving on overhead costs the City could provide an additional $1 million a year directly to artists and arts organizations. At the same meeting, Ingrid Carlson, grants officer from RACC, declared that RACC and the City would continue to collaborate. “RACC is not going away,” she said. “We plan to continue to actively partner with the city.”

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

Tune in in 2024. This story is far from over.

Look back in pleasure

But let’s talk for a bit about more pleasant things. In spite of the political losses, governmental feuding and shaky budgetary platforms for many arts groups, a lot of good things happened in 2023. Musicians kept making music, some of it at February’s 20th annual BiAmp PDX Jazz Festival, which Brett Campbell declared “more hip hop than bebop.” Actors and playwrights tended to their crafts.

Left: Painting by MOsley WOtta in the exhibit “Black History IS History.” Photo courtesy Multnomah Arts Center. Right: Nia Musiba, “The Very Last Time We Touched,” cut paper collage, 2023. Oregon ArtsWatch photo.

Artists kept producing fresh new works in their studios, and finding ways to get it seen: I appreciated, and wrote about, several exhibits, including the Hallie Ford Museum of Art’s Tom Prochaska retrospective Music for Ghosts and its concurrent retrospective on the longtime printmaker Jim Hibbard; Black History IS History, the Multnomah Arts Center’s compact and well-chosen overview of contemporary Black art in Oregon; and The New Abnormal, Sabina Haque’s paintings at Waterstone Gallery of hope and alarm in response to climate disasters in Oregon and in Pakistan, where she grew up.

Most groups found ways to survive, and some smaller, leaner, and more adaptable ones actually thrived, often in more affordable locations in neighborhoods and suburbs away from the city center.

Events — sometimes very complex ones to create — came along, including the overlapping stories of the Portland Book Festival, which in a single day featured the works of more than 100 Oregon and national writers, with spotlights on cartoonist Roz Chast; novelist and National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien; poets Jane Hirshfield, Elisa Gonzalez, and Victoria Adukwei Bulley; and Viet Thanh Nguyen and Tommy Orange talking about memory, racism, and the politics of unity and solidarity. Books columnist Amy Leona Havin wrapped things up with a lively overview of the festival.

A few more good stories to read or re-read and remember with pleasure:

“Brown Clown” Nikki Sandoval reading to young students. Photo: Bri “Ladybug” Terrell

Nikki Brown Clown helps Black and Brown children see themselves beneath the makeup. Portland’s Nikki Sandoval finds national success while centering Oregon’s Black children and families in her performances, Bruce Poinsette writes, helping to “put an engaging face on Black Oregon joy.”

Sponsor

Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

Neuroscientist Larry Sherman and Portland Chamber Orchestra at The Reser on Valentine’s Day. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Science & Sensibility: Cupid’s arrow to the brain: the neuroscience of music and love. Writer Angela Allen and photographer Joe Cantrell spent Valentine’s Day evening at The Reser, where scientist Larry Sherman, singer Naomi LaViolette, and the Portland Chamber Orchestra were taking the holiday sweetly beyond a box of chocolates as they explored the neurological and musical links to pleasure centers.

“Finally Found a Place,” 2023. Photo: K.B. Dixon

Photo First: An Amble Through Scare City. As Halloween approached, photographer and writer K.B. Dixon roamed the streets of Portland with his camera in search of the odd, the eerie, the hair-raising, the ghoulish, the spectral, and the skeletal. Saints preserve us, he found them. Dixon, a regular contributor to ArtsWatch, also continued The Cultural Landscape, his excellent series of photographic portraits of many of the city’s key arts figures.

Traditional Purépucha dancing at October’s Sempoashochitl Festival in Garden Home. Photo: Joe Cantrell

An Aztec celebration in Garden Home. As he has in past years, photographer Joe Cantrell pretty much covered the waterfront and a whole lot more for ArtsWatch in 2023. That’s Waterfront, as in the Waterfront Blues Festival, in which he immersed himself over the Fourth of July weekend. His camera caught the celebratory whirl of movement by Poison Waters and other drag divas, and the festivities of concerts at farms and churches and shiny arts centers. And in this photo essay he captured the spirit and good times of October’s Sempoashochitl Festival at Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District’s Garden Home Recreation Center — a whirl of traditional dance, art, music and remembrance in honor and celebration of Día de los Muertos and the glories of the marigold.

Treasure Lunan on the stairwell at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Hannah Krafcik

“The most interesting story wins.” “In theater, actors step into the shoes of the characters they play, creating imaginary worlds where archetypes might be foregrounded, shuffled, or remixed in service of dramatic vision,” Hannah Krafcik writes in their Gender Deconstruction series for ArtsWatch. “While plenty of theaters still assume a circumscribed approach to casting, Portland Center Stage pushes the proverbial envelope. … Here, gender is always acknowledged as a performance.” Krafcik talks with genderqueer actor Treasure Lunan, who’s performed in a variety of roles for Center Stage, and with Chip Miller, the company’s associate artistic director, who’s cast Lunan in several shows. At PCS, Lunan says, “I can be openly autistic, openly ADHD, openly queer and have that all honored here … not just honored, but supported.” 

Director Štĕpán Šimek and puppeteer Birdie Amico in rehearsal at 2509 studio. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Piercing the veil, telling a Samhain tale. Marty Hughley, whose weekly DramaWatch column shines a smart and often witty light on Oregon’s theater scene, tells the story here of the making of Piercing the Veil: a Samhain Celebration, a particularly bold collaboration: The puppeteers of Kettlehead Studios, the instrumentalists of Musica Universalis, the adventurous director Štĕpán Šimek and the skilled actress Briana Ratterman create a myth-driven seasonal show. Photos by Joe Cantrell of the process bring visual sparkle to the tale.

Dragon masks for the Lunar New Year, made by children in Cibyl Kavan’s art class. Photos courtesy of Cibyl Kavan.

Imagine That: The Serious Business of Having Fun in the Art Classroom. In an eye-opening essay on the creative things that can happen in a good art classroom, art education teacher Cibyl E. Kavan writes about how she draws on her imagination, current events, and her wide-ranging knowledge of fellow artists to light the creative sparks in her young students.

Bobby B and The Thing discuss why Thor won’t ease up on Portland already. Please note the copy of “Fantastic Four #1” in the corner. Photo: Jamie Rea

Bobby B in OMSI’s Marvel-ous universe. Spider-Man, Black Panther, X-Men, The Hulk, Eternity, The Thing and friends were hanging at Portland’s science museum for a couple of months in 2023, and actor/director/ArtWatch columnist Bobby Bermea, an aficionado of comic books and superheroes, had a thing or two to say about that.

Sponsor

Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

AI Everywhere

The Merriam-Webster dictionary people have proclaimed “authentic” to be 2023’s Word of the Year. But shouldn’t it, well, authentically be “AI”? Seems like everywhere we looked in 2023, there was AI, butting into the conversation. AI? The first problem with AI is that almost always when you see it in print it looks like “Al,” some Albert or Alvin’s shortened first name. Whoever this Al is, he appears to be artificially intelligent. That doesn’t mean he isn’t at least potentially powerful and significant, in bad and possibly benevolent ways. That might just be Big Artificial Brother watching you, and mining you for information and profit.

At that, “AI” and “authentic” do seem to be closely linked: AI forces us to question the authenticity of a great many things. And Oxford’s Word of the Year is the slang term “rizz,” purportedly short for “charisma,” as in “ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner,” which may or may not be either authentic or something that AI aspires to.

Image from Hito Steyerl’s “This Is the Future” at the Portland Art Museum. Courtesy of the artist; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Esther Schipper, Berlin.

AI does seem to aspire to getting to know you very much more thoroughly, then taking that knowledge and using it for its advocates’ own financial purposes: One of the big deals in the recently settled Hollywood actors’ strike was a fight against studios’ creating artificial versions of actors’ performances, without compensation, to use in place of actual actors in future productions.

“The next thing Big Data wants is your body,” Portland dancemaker Katherine Longstreth wrote for ArtsWatch in her March essay AI wants your art. Do you have a say? “While everyone is dazzled and distracted with ChatGPT,” Longstreth wrote, “I am concerned about the next frontier for AI – how you move. Today’s technology enables companies to lift movement sequences from any video and turn them into movement data to be bought and sold.”

A couple of months later, in her review of German filmmaker Hito Steverl’s AI-driven show This Is the Future at the Portland Art Museum, Georgina Ruff noted that “(i)n foregrounding (and exaggerating) the role of AI in the work, Steyerl demands that we engage with the ethical complexities and anxiety that AI generates.” She also noted how rapidly artificial intelligence is changing: Steverl’s piece, four years old, “is now a tech relic as AI next frame prediction algorithms have evolved to become faster and more accurate. Even in 2019, the predicted images were glitchy and unreliable.” In other words, AI’s getting “smarter” all the time — and what does that mean?

It isn’t just dancers’ and actors’ bodies that AI wants to repurpose, either: It’s also writers’ words. In late December The New York Times sued Open AI and Microsoft over those companies’ unauthorized use of millions of the newspaper’s copyrighted stories to train chatbots that now compete with The Times, according to the lawsuit. Which leaves one to wonder: Will artificially repurposed lawyers argue for the defense?

Stage and Studio

Cara Chen, host of “World on Fire,” Episode 2 of Stage and Studios’ five-part podcast series “Speaking Our Truths.”

The Stage and Studio podcast series, created by Dmae Lo Roberts, carried out by Roberts and Jenna Yokoyama and hosted by ArtsWatch, spent much of its time in 2023 on the five-part series Speaking Our Truths: The –Ism Youth Files, in which young people from Oregon and across the country guest-host episodes and talk about mental health, dealing with pandemic isolation, and other issues.

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

A few other memorable Stage and Studio podcasts from 2023:

  • Renegades of the Opera. Yokoyama talks with Danielle Jagelski, Renegade Opera’s artistic director, about the company’s beginnings, its approach to opera, and its production Adam’s Run.
  • Regina Taylor at PassinArt. Roberts talks with the celebrated actress and playwright, who was in Portland in August for PassinArt Theatre’s Pacific NW Multicultural Festival.
  • Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong: Preserving history at JAMO. Yokoyama has a conversation with the new executive director of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, whose family was incarcerated during World War II, about her personal and professional background in preserving Japanese American history and her ideas for the museum’s community-driven future.
  • Author Grace Lin makes a literary space for Asian Americans. The Newbery-winning author and illustrator of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon talks with Roberts about creating tales for kids who don’t see themselves in most books.

The big crunch

The year 2023 was not kind to some major players in the Oregon cultural sweepstakes. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, beset by devastating Southern Oregon wildfires and the Covid pandemic that combined to keep tourists away, suffered deeply at the box office and the bottom line: It was forced to cancel many performances and severely cut back on the length of its seasons and the number of plays it produced.

In April, as Marty Hughley writes, the festival put out an emergency plea for $2.5 million to keep its 2023 season going. In May the company parted ways with Nataki Garrett, its embattled artistic director, who was the first Black woman to lead the festival, which had hired her in 2019. In July the festival hired Tim Bond, who had had a long history with the festival, to replace Garrett as artistic leader (he began work in September).

In the fall the festival announced a ten-play 2024 season, inching back toward its old standard of a dozen plays. And in October, Holly Dillemuth of ashland.news, in a wide-ranging profile, quoted Bond on how it all felt: “It’s like getting shot out of a cannon. It’s exhilarating, it’s wild, it’s fun, it’s challenging. It feels good, though.”

***

Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre also took some big tumbles in 2023. Engaged in an expensive, years-long campaign to radically renovate its building, it finally began a major phase of construction in April, as Marty Hughley wrote in a story that also detailed some of the company’s long-standing financial problems. In August, faced with persistent money woes, the company canceled its 2023-24 season. In October it laid off its artistic director, Jeanette Harrison, who had come from California only a year earlier to lead the company, and who never got a chance to direct a show at ART.

The dizzying whirl of events had the city’s theater circles talking and speculating and wondering. Late in October Hughley talked with company insiders to get a sense of what might be coming next. In November actor, director, and ArtsWatch columnist Bobby Bermea, speaking for many, published A hope and lament for Artists Repertory Theatre. And in a late December email blast the company announced its intention to reopen in Spring 2024, with “a new spacious lobby serving as our first performance space.”

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

***

One of the oddest departures of the year was Priti Gandhi‘s almost silent leave-taking as artistic director of Portland Opera, a move that came at the end of the 2022-23 season in May. “The company broke the news in a single sentence midway through its fall newsletter,” Brett Campbell wrote, “issuing no press release about Gandhi’s departure (after only two years) or her successor’s arrival, with no explanation about the reasons for or impetus behind her abrupt exit.” Gandhi later surfaced at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which she joined as associate director of the Met’s annual Laffont Competition, in which more than 1,500 young singers apply to compete.

***

Gandhi’s abrupt departure from Portland Opera was significant in another way: She was the fourth woman of color to lose or depart from a major artistic directorship in Oregon in 2023. Gandhi is of Indian descent. Like OSF’s Garrett, Carol Tatch, ousted at the Regional Arts & Culture Council, is Black. Artists Rep’s laid-off Harrison is Native American, identifying ethnically with the Onondaga Nation. Bond, who replaced Garrett at the Shakespeare Festival, is also Black, as is Alfrelynn Roberts, who has joined Portland Opera as director of artistic planning and operations, and assumes Gandhi’s duties.

***

A shocking crunch came in late December when the Eugene Weekly newspaper announced that it was laying off its entire staff and ceasing print publication, at least for now. The paper has been covering its city and region since 1982, providing a valuable voice in a shrinking media world, and its journalism includes vital arts and cultural coverage. The Weekly is fighting a financial crisis that it says was caused by embezzlement, and is turning to the public for help: It’s set up a GoFundMe account for contributions. In the meantime, several laid-off workers are voluntarily keeping the paper’s online edition going.

*** 

Sponsor

Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

Finally, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild, which was formed in 1958 to support what at the time was one of the largest community theaters in the United States, disbanded in 2023, severing an important link to the city’s theatrical past: The old Civic Theatre’s roots went back to 1926, and the Guild just kept on going after the theater closed its doors in 1990. The Guild produced daytime play readings, raised money for several annual theater awards, and kept the fires burning, but eventually the Covid shutdowns and time caught up with it. The core problem, Guild President Adair Chappell told Marty Hughley for this benedictory column, was that “in 2020 we were operating with a 1958 business model.” 

Hollywood on (or near) the Willamette

Bright lights, medium-sized city: In 2023 ArtsWatch writers remembered with pleasure a few scenes from Oregon’s screen-ic glory.

Raquel Welch, mopping up the rink in “Kansas City Bomber.” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/1972

When Raquel Welch took Portland by Storm. Stephen Rutledge writes with wit and fondness about the late star’s filmed-in-Portland roller derby movie Kansas City Bomber, and the key role a Portland bar played. “Welch’s Portland connection has to do with a little spot in my North Portland neighborhood, Kenton, The World Famous Kenton Club, a dive bar with live music that opened in 1947 as a biker bar.” The “world famous” part, Rutledge writes, was added after the bar was featured in the 1972 film. 

A young Helen Hunt dresses for the game as the quarterback/homecoming royalty in the 1983 TV movie “Quarterback Princess,” filmed at McMinnville (or as the movie has it, “Minnville”) High School. YouTube screenshot.

Forty Years of “Princess” Pride. Keeping with the sports theme, Brian Libby recalls the filming in 1983 of the TV movie Quarterback Princess, starring a young Helen Hunt and a prankish Tim Robbins, in Libby’s hometown of McMinnville. Based loosely on the true tale of Tami Maida, who bucked the odds and opposition to play quarterback for the high school team in nearby Philomath, the filming had much of McMinnville agog — and Libby, who was 11 at the time, even put in some time as an extra.

Hannah R. Loyd, Bitsie Tulloch, Claire Coffee, and Silas Weir Mitchell in the Portland-made television series “Grimm.” Photo: NBC/Allyson Riggs/NBC © 2016 NBC Universal Media, LLC.

Creature Comforts: The joys of “Grimm.” The 2011-17 run of the NBC series Grimm, a sort-of-monster series in which the creatures from the tales of the Brothers Grimm were real and living among us, created a love affair between Portland, where it was filmed, and the show’s cast, which spent a great deal of each year living here. Some of the actors did stage plays while they were here. Others became regulars on the city streets and in its cafes and other everyday spots. A love like that is hard to give up, and several of the women cast members didn’t: Valarie Smith talks with two of them, Claire Coffee and Bree Turner, about their podcast “The Grimmcast,” in which they team up again to tell behind-the-scenes stories, interview special guests, and share their love of Portland.

Pinocchio production puppets in progress in the workshop. Photo Netflix © 2022

Talking “Pinocchio” from the inside. The wooden puppet with the growing nose was a big deal in Portland in 2023, and that’s no lie. The exhibition Guillermo del Toro: Crafting Pinocchio had a long and popular summer run at the Portland Art Museum. And much of del Toro’s visually dazzling stop-action animated movie was made in Portland, by Portland crafters. S.W. Conser sat down in the KBOO-FM radio studio for ArtsWatch with co-director Mark Gustafson and animation chief Brian Hansen to talk about the making of the Oscar-winning movie.

***

Sponsor

MORE “2023: A YEAR IN REVIEW” STORIES

  • 2023 in Review: The look of visual artsFrom the Rothko Pavilion to Converge 45 to the Hallie Ford’s 25th anniversary and much more, a look at some of the highlights of Oregon’s year in the worlds of museums and visual art.
  • Stage & Studio: A look back on 2023. In her year-ending podcast, Dmae Lo Roberts talks with ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks about the cultural highs and lows of 2023, and the lingering effects of the pandemic on the arts.
  • Out with a bang: The Top Ten movies of 2023From Poor Things and Barbie to Dream Scenario and Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Marc Mohan shares his picks for this year’s best films.
  • 2023: Around and about OregonFrom coast to desert to hills and valleys and places in between, culture thrived in towns large and small around the state. Wherever people were, so was art.
  • 2023 in Review: Jamuna Chiarini’s year in dance. From a magnificent dancerly takeover of Zidell Yards to a push/FOLD contemporary festival to her own solo Odissi show, our DanceWatch columnist steps deftly through a busy year.
  • 2023 in Review: Amy Leona Havin’s literary year. ArtsWatch’s LitWatch columnist looks back on a year of good reading, writing, and talking about books.
  • 2023 in Review: What we heard this year. Music Editor Matthew Neil Andrews’  longitudinal study of everything we loved (and a few things we didn’t) in Oregon music this year, and last year, world without end, amen.
  • 2023 in Review: Remembering those we lost. Katherine Ace, Yaki Bergman, Margaret Chapman, Walt Curtis, Darcelle, Cai Emmons, Michael Griggs, Donald Jenkins, Henk Pander and more: Oregon arts figures who died in 2023.

Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

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."

SHARE:
Corrib Theatre From a Hole in the Ground Contemporary Irish Theatre Alberta House Portland Oregon
Kalakendra Indian Classical Instrumental Music First Congregational Church Portland Oregon
Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon
Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon
Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon
Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon
Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon
Newport Visual and Performing Arts Newport Oregon Coast
Kalakendra Indian Classical Instrumental Music First Congregational Church Portland Oregon
Triangle Productions Perfect Arrangement Portland Oregon
NW Dance Project Moving Stories Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
Oregon Repertory Singers Finding Light 50th Season Portland Oregon
Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon
Imago Theatre Carol Triffle Mission Gibbons Portland Oregon
Maryhill Museum of Art Goldendale Washington
Portland State University College of the Arts
Bonnie Bronson 2024 Fellow Wendy Red Star Reed College Reception Kaul Auditorium Foyer Portland Oregon
PassinArt Theatre and Portland Playhouse present Yohen Brunish Theatre Portland Oregon
Pacific Maritime Heritage Center Prosperity of the Sea Lincoln County Historical Society Newport Oregon Coast
Portland Art Museum Virtual Sneakers to Cutting Edge Kicks Portland Oregon
High Desert Museum Sasquatch Central Oregon
Oregon Cultural Trust donate
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.