WESTAF Shoebox Arts

ArtsWatch Weekly: Big bucks, big visions

Following up on Portland Art Museum's $10 million Rothko Pavilion gift; a fond farewell to Vision 2020.


THE BIG NEWS THIS WEEK ON THE OREGON ART FRONT came in a nice round figure: $10 million. That’s how much Portland philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer pledged to give the Portland Art Museum to spur funding for its Rothko Pavilion, a multi-story glassed-in structure that will link the Portland Art Museum’s original Belluschi Building to the south and its Mark Building to the north. Schnitzer has a decades-long record of support for the museum, and her gift – announced at a splashy unveiling on Tuesday at the museum and reported here by Laurel Reed Pavic – covers a tenth of the project’s cost in one swoop. Tuesday’s unveiling also included news of a $750,000 grant for the pavilion project from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Design concept for the east entrance, from the South Park Blocks, to the Rothko Pavilion, showing the open passageway for pedestrians and bicyclists. The pavilion will link the Portland Art Museum’s north and south buildings. Illustration: Hennebery Eddy Architects and Vinci Hamp Architects

Schnitzer’s gift marks a significant turning point for the $100 million pavilion project, a major undertaking that has been in the works for several years and will help unite the museum campus and vastly improve what is now an often bumpy and disjointed interior flow for visitors among gallery spaces. Museum director Brian Ferriso told OPB’s Donald Orr that PAM still needs to raise $25 million to $30 million in the next two to three years to complete the project. The museum hopes to break ground on the pavilion in late 2021. The cost includes $75 million for construction and $25 million to bolster the museum’s endowment, which is now about $54 million. The $100 million estimated price tag is up from an originally announced $75 million: Construction costs have escalated by $25 million, in large part because of revisions to include a 20-foot-wide passthrough for pedestrians and bicyclists to move easily between Southwest 10th Avenue and Park Avenue. The design change was made in response to community objections to losing a heavily used public passageway through the museum’s plaza.

The project comes at a time when the museum faces financial challenges on other fronts that have included, in July 2019, a staff reduction, as reported by Amy Wang in The Oregonian. But the long-term desirability of the pavilion project, which includes significant work on the existing buildings as well, are clear and overdue. With new elevators and other interior changes, the project will greatly improve access for everyone – a major goal throughout the museum. And the new connections between the two existing buildings will make it much easier for visitors to move smoothly from gallery to gallery, greatly reducing the warren-like quality of the galleries in the Mark Building, which contain some of the museum’s most interesting collections but are so confusingly laid out that many visitors never get around to seeing them. That improvement alone could be a game-changer.

Schnitzer’s gift, by the way, comes during what fundraisers like to call the “quiet phase” of the capital campaign, when large gifts are secured behind the scenes; the campaign is expected to go public next year. But sometimes a quiet phase announces itself with a full-on fanfare.


Ajai Terrazas Tripathi’s play ¡Corre! ¡Corre! has been on tour last year and this for Teatro Milagro, which is led by Dañel Malân, who is spotlighted in ArtsWatch’s Vision 2020 series. It’s about a Tarahumara girl from Mexico and her long-distance running coach, who thinks she has Olympics potential. © Liana Rose Photography 

ON MONDAY WE CONCLUDED OUR VISION 2020 SERIES – twenty stories in twenty days to kick off the new year and create a group portrait of the state of the arts in the state. Our final four interviews in the series were corkers: Bobby Bermea talking with Connie Carley and Jerry Foster, mainstays for almost four dacades of PassinArt, Portland’s Ground Central for Black theater; David Bates’s interview with Brenna Crotty, editor of the adventurous women’s literary journal CALYX; Lori Tobias’s interview with Astoria teacher, curator and artist Kristin Shauck; and Bennett Campbell Ferguson’s interview with Dañel Malán, cofounder of Milagro Theatre and artistic director of Teatro Milagro, its touring arm.

When we set out several months ago to create this series (the idea came from theater editor Marty Hughley) we wanted to accomplish a few things. We wanted it to spotlight artists and behind-the-scenes cultural movers around the state. We wanted to talk with a few well-known figures, and also introduce creative people, many of them younger and rising, who aren’t yet widely known. We wanted to find out, from the people who were creating it, what Oregon art felt like across a diverse array of communities. We wanted fresh ideas, provocative viewpoints, illuminating perspectives. And we think we found them. You can find all twenty interviews by clicking here.

Vision 2020 involved, in addition to the artists and cultural leaders who agreed to talk with us, a lot of people putting in a lot of work. Bates conducted eight of the interviews, concentrating with his colleague Tobias on statewide perspectives, and Karen Pate, our state editor, edited all ten stories they produced. Visual arts editor Laurel Reed Pavic helped choose several of the subjects, as well as conducting one interview, and senior editor Brett Campbell wrote three Vision 2020 stories as well as a couple of spinoff stories he discovered in his reporting. Stephanie Littlebird Fogel, TJ Acena, Martha Daghlian, and Angela Allen conducted fascinating interviews. 

We might have learned different things from different artists – there are as many perspectives on culture in Oregon as there are people who think about such things – but these twenty interviews provided a challenging and varied and sometimes deeply personal view of the cultural state of the state. And we’ve learned all sorts of things. This, for instance, from CALYX editor Crotty: “We are hardcore proponents of the Oxford comma.” Here in the ArtsWatch bunker, we can only pause, and agree.


Sara Waddell and BRAVO Youth Orchestra’s Seth Truby, passing the torch at Sitton Elementary School in North Portland. Photo: Joe Cantrell

SOMETIMES STORIES WRAP THEMSELVES SURPRISINGLY AND DEEPLY into people’s lives. So it was for photographer and frequent ArtsWatch contributor Joe Cantrell, who about a year and a half ago had a chance encounter with a teacher and music lover named Sara Waddell. Big changes were taking place in Waddell’s life – an impending passage – and Cantrell found himself a helper and steadying hand through them. He’s also a big supporter of BRAVO Youth Orchestras – he’s shot a lot of photographs for them over the years – and when the time came for Waddell to hand down a cello and violin to the next generation, he made the connection. The tale of Waddell’s journey, A cello, a violin, and a final grace note, is a going-away gift, a gift of love and legacy. The circle may be changing, but it remains unbroken.


WESTAF Shoebox Arts

  • MUSICWATCH WEEKLY: THE FANFARE ZONE. From gongs and songs, to traditional guitars and uncommon fanfares, to a lecture on women in jazz, Matthew Neil Andrews lays down the bass line on the music of the week.


Morgan Walker (left) and Andrea Vernae in School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, opening Friday at The Armory. Photo: Russell J. Young

THEY SAY BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP, but that word “only” is packed with a huge amount of cultural baggage. Jocelyn Bioh’s play School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, which opens Friday at The Armory, dives right in. It’s set in an exclusive boarding school in Ghana, and involves a beauty pageant and skin tone and teenage rivalry. Oh, and it’s a comedy, if a sharply satirical one. It’s also a co-production of Portland Center Stage and the peripatetic Artists Repertory Theatre, which is bouncing from stage to stage around town while its home stage is a construction project.  

Also at the theater: Broadway Rose opens Up and Away, a musical-comedy spoof of comic-book caped crusaders; veteran Tobias Anderson directs several readings at Portland Playhouse of The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial, a play about the Scopes Monkey Trial that pitted Clarence Darrow against William Jennings Bryan; and on Tuesday the Broadway tour of the Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen (whose investors include part-time Portlanders Corey and Jessica Rose Brunish) settles into Keller Auditorium through Feb. 8. And Marty Hughley’s DramaWatch: Working up a ‘Sweat’ features a conversation with Christopher Acebo, director of Profile’s production of Lynn Nottage’s working-class drama Sweat.

In dance, composer/guitarist Berto Boyd and Flamenco Pacifico present an evening of Brazilian samba and American jazz at The Old Church; The Canadian circus/acrobatic company Flip Fabrique storms through Eugene and Portland for single nights in each town with a show called Blizzard; and the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series offers a Russian Giselle. Get the details in Jamuna Chiarini’s DanceWatch Monthly.


Dorothy Goode, Transfixed No 17 (2019), egg tempera on panel. Photo: Friderike Heuer 

THIS WEEK OUR WRITERS HAVE TAKEN A LOOK AT, well, things you take a look at, and come up with some intriguing observations:

  • ‘NOTHING AT ALL OF THIS IS FIXED’. Friderike Heuer visits Dorothy Goode’s studio to see her merging, playful, overlapping, joyful paintings.
  • FROM TEA TO ‘TIGHTROPE‘. David Bates scans the scene in Yamhill County and discovers vivid glasswork; botanical photos and photos documenting the sites of the Rogue River Wars; and a nicely steeped ceramic show celebrating the “quiet joy” of tea.
  • LONG-LOST DRAWINGS AND CELEBRATING THE NUDE. An auction at the Oregon Coast Aquarium of a recently discovered drawing by the late Rick Bartow and the return of the annual Au Naturel exhibit of contemporary nudes at Astoria’s Royal Nebecker Gallery keep things hopping on the coast, Lori Tobias reports.
  • UNWOUND AND UNBOUND. Rachel Rosenfield Lafo finds mystery and meditative qualities in Ko Kirk Yamahira’s painting/sculptural/fiber hybrids at Russo Lee Gallery.
Ko Kirk Yamahira at Russo Lee Gallery: Untitled (Suspended Pink
 (2019), graphite, partially unwoven canvas, wood.

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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."


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