ArtsWatch Weekly: ArtsWatch gets a brand new look

A redesign of the ArtsWatch site brings many more options to the home page. Plus a reawakening performance scene, contemporary Japanese prints, and more.

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IF YOU TRIED TO LOG IN TO OREGON ARTSWATCH’S HOME PAGE at, say, 5 a.m. on Monday of this week, you were in for a big surprise. “Down for Maintenance,” you were told, and we weren’t just mopping the virtual floors: Our website was getting a complete remodel. ArtsWatch’s crack design and technical team had been up and at their computer screens since the wee hours, pushing the buttons and loading the plug-ins that would put into action a new look that had been in the works for months. If you got up a little later Monday morning, put on a pot of coffee, and signed on to ArtsWatch at 7:30, when the engine roared back to life again, you saw a completely different picture. Surprise! 

What’s changed? We wanted to give readers more options to find stories they want to read, and to feature many more stories than the old home page design could manage. The old page had slots to feature 16 stories. The new home page design has almost 40 story slots. In addition, the desktop version adds a scrollable feature, “The Latest,” at the top left, which lists the most recent 15 stories we’ve published. That gives readers a lot more options, and a better sense of the variety of stories we write. You can still go to the top of the page, click on any of the eleven subject headings such as “dance” or “learning” or “visual art,” and get the entire feed of stories in those categories. It’s a much newsier look, and helps keep stories visible that in the old design sometimes disappeared from the home page too quickly.

We also wanted to improve the look of our mobile home page. That was important, because roughly half of you access ArtsWatch via your phones. The new mobile design is much cleaner and, we think, more attractive. Our tech team continues to test the new site and make improvements, especially to performance speed, as the new system settles in. Expect some changes as we go along. And, read on!


Live & onstage: For performers, it’s curtains up

Yes, you need a mask and proof of vaccination. But at long last, the world of performance is back in real time and real space, and audiences eager to see what’s up are venturing back into theaters that had been dark since early 2020. ArtsWatch writers have been out among the crowds, bringing back reports on the reawakening scene.

The Oregon Symphony Orchestra celebrated its return to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall – revamped with an expansive new acoustic system – with a season-opening performance highlighted by Mahler’s Second Symphony, complete with choral sections performed by the Oregon Repertory Singers and Portland State University Chamber Choir. Jason DeSomer Photography

FOR FANS OF LIVE THEATER, DANCE, MUSIC, and other performance, September and October have brought a slow but steadily building return to some sort of normality. It’s not like pre-Covid times: If you go to a show, you’ll be wearing a mask for your entire visit, and you’ll have to show proof of vaccination or a very recent negative Covid test. But the shows are finally happening, and people are coming out to see them. Caution’s in the air: A lot of people who ordinarily would be filling theater seats are staying home, just in case. But a lot of other people are coming to see the performers they love.

One thing that’s disappeared, at least at the five downtown theaters of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, is widely spaced seating. “We intentionally did not open up the theaters until we could do it without social distancing,” Robyn Williams, the centers’ executive director, said Wednesday. If they’d reopened earlier, she said, they could’ve got maybe 600 audience members into the complex’s two larger halls, the 2,700-seat Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and the 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium. Now, she said, with rigorous biorisk cleaning during the down months, installation of state-of-the-art air filters and air handlers, and strict state mandates for attendance, they can let companies sell as many tickets as they choose.

So far attendance at most events has been softer than in “ordinary” times – the Oregon Symphony has probably had the highest attendance, Williams said – but it’s gradually gaining. And the theaters, she added, are ready: “We’re probably about as safe a place as you can be for gathering.” If, of course, you’re ready to gather at all. 

Some of the things ArtsWatch’s writers have seen and written about in the past week:

  • YOGA FOR THE EARS: OREGON SYMPHONY’S “RESURRECTION,” A NEW CONDUCTOR, A NEW SOUND SYSTEM,  AND OPEN MUSIC WITH KENJI BUNCH. That’s quite a mouthful of a headline. Then again, the orchestra’s been extraordinarily busy since settling back into its home at Schnitzer Hall, which greeted the musicians with a brand new high-tech sound system. David Danzmayr’s settling in as the new man at the podium, and … well, it’s no wonder the symphony called its season-opening program “Resurrection.” Charles Rose sorts it all out.
  • AT LONG LAST, OBT GOES “FACE TO FACE” WITH ITS AUDIENCE. Oregon Ballet Theatre, one of the primary tenants of downtown’s other giant-sized theater, Keller Auditorium, got back down to business with a season-opening program highlighted by George Balanchine’s classic The Four Temperaments. Martha Ullman West reviews. 
  • BOJANGLES ASCENDING AT STUMPTOWN STAGES. Bennett Campbell Ferguson reviews the premiere of the new musical Bojangles of Harlem, about the great dancer/actor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Ferguson calls it “the most fun I’d had at a theater in over a year.”
  • PORTLAND DANCE FILM FEST AND THE EXPERIMENTAL NATURE OF DANCE ON FILM. Amy Leona Havin dives into the cross-genre festival of international dance films at the Clinton Street Theater and surfaces with some recommendations and some ideas about how dance and film can best work together. Festival films are available to view online through Oct. 24.
  • FAITH IN NATURE AND ONE ANOTHER: HANNAH KRAFCIK AND EMILY JONES AT TBA. “In apogee,” Lindsay Costello writes, “trust is everything.” The experimental performance by dancers Krafcik and Jones at PICA’s recently concluded Time-Based Art Festival, Costello writes, explored themes of nature and intuition.
  • CENTER STAGE’S FINE FIT OF FRIDAMANIA. Writer and solo performer Vanessa Severo’s virtuoso turn onstage as the legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in Portland Center Stage’s season-opening show Frida … A Self Portrait keeps the audience rapt, Angela Allen writes.

Vanessa Severo and her quick-change wardrobe in Portland Center Stage’s season-opening “Frida … A Self Portrait.” Photo: Owen Carey / Courtesy of Portland Center Stage

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In the news: Farewells, rebuilds, a big idea

Saying goodbye to Michihiro Kosuge, Debi Coleman, and Ian Houser. Milagro Theatre emerges from Covid times. And Portland considers turning IFCC into a center for Black arts and culture.

Farewell to three Oregon arts leaders: Michihiro Kosuge (left), Debi Coleman, and Ian Mouser.

FAREWELL TO THREE WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE. We remember and honor three Portland arts leaders who died this month, and who during their lives helped make the city a better place. Japan-born sculptor Michiro Kosuge left his mark both as an artist and as a longtime studio teacher at Portland State University. Hich tech executive and investor Debi Coleman was a lover of the theater and other arts who put both her money and her friendships into the cultural scene. Ian Mouser led an innovative youth music program; he was struck and killed on the road while bicycling across the country to raise money for his program. 

THE REBUILD: MILAGRO THEATRE. Bennett Campbell Ferguson talks with José González and Dañell Malan, founders and longtime leaders of Portland’s Latinx theater and cultural center, about how Milagro is emerging from the long Covid slowdown that has affected almost all cultural organizations. Beginning its 38th season, the company is in the midst of its annual Día de Muertos Festival.

WILL THE IFCC BECOME A CENTER FOR BLACK ARTS AND CULTURE? The City of Portland is looking long and hard at the possibility of turning North Portland’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center into a hub for Black arts and culture. The 1910 former firehouse building has a good small theater with seating for not quite 100 people, an attractive lobby, meeting and rehearsal spaces, good upstairs galleries, and an adjacent park. And it has a history of serving similar purposes to groups as various as Milagro and Vanport Mosaic. Its galleries were curated for several years by artist Roberta Wong. All in all it’s an exciting prospect, and one to keep an eye on.


Coming up: Keeping an eye on stage & screen

Theater lights up with new shows at Portland Playhouse, Artists Rep, Imago, and elsewhere. Musicians Margo Cilker and Maddy O’Neal have new shows. And the Oregon Repertory Singers launch their 48th season of joyful song.

Barbie Wu in “The Chinese Lady” at Artists Rep. Photo: Lava Alapai

DRAMAWATCH: AT CORRIB, A PASSING OF THE IRISH TORCH. Marty Hughley talks with the once and future leaders of Corrib Theatre, Portland’s innovative home for contemporary Irish plays — founding Artistic Director Gemma Whelan, and Artistic Director designate Justine Nakase, who’ll inherit the top slot in January. “It’s my baby, but it’s almost a teenager now,” Whelan tells Hughley. “And, in this case, somebody else can take over the mothering.” That somebody, happily, is Nakase. Hughley also highlights several openings this week, among them Portland Playhouse’s Barbecue, Artists Rep’s The Chinese Lady, and Imago’s short-run The Lonely Vampire.

WEEKLY PREVIEWS: MARGO CILKER BEATS THE ODDS, MADDY O’NEAL ENJOYS THE RIDE. In his weekly musical look at what’s coming up (and sometimes what’s recently happened), Robert Ham chats with Americana artist Cilker, who opens Thursday for Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra at Mississippi Studios; and Denver’s O’Neal, who performs Friday at Sessions Lounge in Eugene and Saturday at Portland’s Star Theater.

A CHOIR IS ITS SINGERS: OREGON REPERTORY SINGERS RETURN TO THE STAGE, FILLED WITH PROMISE. As it enters its 48th season, Daryl Browne takes a look back at the choir’s history and a look ahead to this weekend’s season-opening concerts, with music as diverse as Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land and the Portland premiere of contemporary Norwegian composer Kim Andre Arnesen’s Infinity.

FILMWATCH WEEKLY: OBSESSIVE ARTISTRY IN “THE FRENCH DISPATCH” AND “THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN.” Marc Mohan takes a nuanced, admiring-with-cautions look at Wes Anderson’s Dispatch, which pushes the filmmaker farther and farther into Wes Andersonland, and at the new biopic of Wain, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the extremely obsessive Victorian polymath best-known today for his extraordinary proto-psychedelic paintings of cats.

Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.”

The face of contemporary Japanese prints

The world of Japanese printmaking, which reaches back to the eighth century, leapt into the modern age with the 20th century’s Sõsaku-hanga, or Creative Print, movement. A Eugene gallery showcases some standout examples.

At Eugene’s White Lotus Gallery: Yuji Hiratsuka, “Drink Mystique” (1994). Woodblock print, 40/60. 23.75 x 17.75 inches.

“BEYOND CREATIVE”: JAPANESE PRINTS SINCE THE 1950s AT WHITE LOTUS GALLERY. Ester Barkai reviews the current show, drawn from White Lotus’s own collections, which “shines a light on prints created after 1950 by artists who helped establish modern printmaking in Japan and by Japanese-American artists still working today. The works and careers of Yuji Hiratsuka, Saitō Kiyoshi, and Chizuko Yoshida stand out as particularly noteworthy.” Japan’s modernist movement, which both influenced and was influenced by European modernist art, stepped away from the assembly-line aspects of traditional ukiyo-e printmaking and into the idea of artists controlling their own work from start to finish. 


End note: ‘Tis the season for missed opportunities

ONE OF MY SMALL WEEKLY PLEASURES is reading the witty and informative Book Club newsletter that Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles sends out every Friday. (You can get it in your own e-mailbox; it’s free.) Last week, anticipating Halloween and the beginning of the holiday season, he included this note:

What we do in the shadows: Years ago, I wanted to write a Halloween story about the villa in Switzerland where Byron and his friends wrote their famous spooky tales, including ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Vampyre.’ I called a hotel on Lake Geneva and asked, ‘Is this the place where Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley once stayed?’ The concierge replied, ‘I’m sorry, sir, I’m not able to release any information about our guests.’” 

This reminded me of my own pitch, every December for several years, to the desk of the large daily newspaper that once employed me. It was for a Christmas morning feature spread. We should send a photographer and writer to one of the malls on Christmas Eve, I proposed, and put together a story on the mad scramble as tardy shoppers tried to beat the deadline and buy their last-minute gifts. The headline, in a nod to composer Gian Carlo Menotti, would read: “A Mall and the Night Visitors.” Alas, the city desk was not amused.

And that’s enough for this week. See you again next. 



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About the author
Senior Editor

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."

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