When we say “hit parade,” that’s what we mean. In the first of a series of stories looking back on the highlights of 2018, these 25 tales were ArtsWatch’s most popular of the year, by the numbers: the most read, or the most shared on social media, or both. From photo features to artist conversations to reviews to personal essays to news stories, these are the pieces that most resounded with you, our readers. These 25 stories amount to roughly two a month, out of more than 50 in the average month: By New Year’s Eve we’ll have published roughly 650 stories, on all sorts of cultural topics, during the 2018 calendar year.
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And now, the 25 of 2018, listed chronologically:
Jan. 2: Writer and photographer K.B. Dixon’s photo essay looks graphically at a group of men who have helped shape Portland’s cultural and creative life, among them jazz drummer Mel Brown, the late Claymation pioneer Will Vinton, Powell’s Books owner Michael Powell, gallerist Charles Froelick, and the legendary female impersonator Walter Cole, better known as Darcelle. Dixon would later profile eleven woman cultural leaders, a feature that is also among 2018’s most-read.
Jan. 3: Paul Sutinen sat down for a long and wide-ranging talk with Brophy, one of the Northwest’s premiere painters, whose “best known paintings embody a romantic attitude—whether the majesty of the old forest or the tragedy of the clear cut.” That future was hardly clear during Brophy’s high school years, he told Sutinen: “I took one little class. It was my mom haranguing me to take an art class. She wanted me to take an art class and I wouldn’t do it. … My grandfather was a Sunday painter. I have paintings of his. I’m half Italian on my mom’s side, so everybody painted and drew on that side. The only artists I knew of were comic book artists or my grandpa and my uncle and my great uncle Augustino. I remember them painting. I went to Lincoln [High School] and I did take one little half-year drawing class. It was pretty fun, but I didn’t think about it beyond that.”
Jan. 25: Playwright John Longenbaugh took in a lot of stuff at this year’s Fertile Ground new-works festival, and had something he wanted to get off his chest: “This last week I saw several playreadings and staged readings, adding them to a lifetime roster of hundreds of such events. I’ve had my work featured in playreadings, and I’ve produced readings, and directed them, and performed in them, and taken tickets for them. I even have a couple of books on what was called somewhat grandiosely ‘Reader’s Theater’ back in the 1960s and ’70s, when there was a school of thought that it was a legitimate dramatic form. Each of them features diagrams of where to put music stands, and black and white photos of people in dark sweaters sitting all askew on raised platforms. You might say that I’ve looked at readings from both sides now, up and down, but still somehow … I kind of don’t like them.”
Feb. 1: Dance columnist Jamuna Chiarini discovered a deep connection with her own history when talking with Gidu Sriram, a board member of the Indian performing arts presenter Kalakendra, about the importance of such an organization. “I have ALWAYS been interested in the intersection and cross-pollination of cultures,” Chiarini wrote. “As someone who grew up in Berkeley, California, in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s (hippie to hip hop), and within the Hare Krishna movement (a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu religious organization), I live at this intersection. I am the embodiment of that idea.” Among the things Sriram told her: “Indian classical music and dance is one of the richest if not the richest in the world and it dates back to over 2000 years ago. We believe that it is not only our duty to preserve our art but also showcase it to the American audience who may not be aware of it and to present it to the Indian Americans who would be sorely missing it being so far away from their homeland.”
Feb. 2: “A white knight has arrived at Artists Repertory Theatre, and his or her name is Anonymous,” Bob Hicks wrote about what was probably the most significant behind-the-scenes story of the year in the Portland theater world. The anonymous $7 million gift, along with the financially troubled company’s decision last year to sell the lower half of its complex to a developer for a 20-story housing and retail tower, provided some answers for the city’s second-biggest theater company, and raised questions for several of its tenant companies in the “Arts Hub,” some of whom will be displaced at least temporarily by construction.
Feb. 2: “My introduction to the multimedia maestro Leanne Grabel comes by way of her small pup, Bailey, who sleeps nestled in her bed on the front porch of a turn-of-the-century house in a close-in Northeast Portland neighborhood. After figuring my way through the black wrought iron fence, I see Bailey and realize a moment too late that she’s been startled. Contrary to what I expect, she just looks at me wisely, assesses the threat level (zero), spins in her bed a few times, and retires right back into whatever dream I interrupted. This bodes well, I think, for what is to come.” And so it does. Danielle Vermette settles in for a long, looping talk with the Portland poet and memoirist on the occasion of the release of Grabel’s book of illustrated poems, Gold Shoes.
March 5: Phyllis Yes has been known nationally for decades for her often pointedly feminist visual art: She’s in textbooks for her lace-painted 1967 Porsche 911S, PorShe. Danielle Vermette sat down with her to talk about Yes’s debut as a playwright, Good Morning, Miss America, about ” the psychological and logistical challenges of caring for ailing and aging parents who have lost their autonomy and ability to care safely for themselves,” and about the ways the two disciplines differ and feed each other.
March 6: In his reviews of the festival’s opening salvo of Othello, Henry V, Sense and Sensibility, and Destiny of Desire, Barry Johnson also assessed the impact of artistic director Bill Rauch, who had just announced his impending departure to become the first artistic director of the Perelman Center in New York City, on the rebuilt site of the World Trade Center: “From the beginning he explicitly linked the festival to social change, both internally and onstage, embracing diversity, feminism and social justice, well ahead of other regional theater companies and even national equality movements—#blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #occupy. During his tenure accessibility projects flourished, sharpened their focus, and had a real effect on how the festival does business and what it puts onstage.”
March 11: “Portland Playhouse’s new musical, Scarlet, is no dry historical retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter,” DeAnn Welker writes in her review of Michelle Horgen’s world premiere. “For starters, this is retold by a woman (Horgen is at least a triple threat, having written book, music, and lyrics) in 21st century America. And Hester Prynne has a lot to say — and, it turns out, sing — that rings as true today as it must have in 1850. Judgment and shaming, after all, have become public, prolific, and painful in the era of Twitter and Facebook, where most people can’t simply escape or go home to hide their embarrassment.”
March 16: “When I first met [Bill] Bulick in the late 1970s,” Barry Johnson writes, “he was affiliated with Artichoke Music, the great folk music center, attempting to get coverage for Artichoke shows. He was so earnest and so affable that his pitches were impossible to resist: He made me feel that I was doing a great service to the culture at large by helping to spread the word, and to this day, I think he was right.” Bulick went on to transform the Portland metropolitan area’s Regional Arts and Culture Council during his tenure as director at a crucial time, and had an effect on the shaping of arts agencies across the country. He died at age 65 after living many years with Parkinson’s Disease.
March 23: “The audience erupted in cheers Wednesday evening as the lights went down in Keller Auditorium and we were instructed to turn off our cellphones. The anticipation was palpable in that moment. I realized, Oh my god. I’m about to see Hamilton.” TJ Acena’s review of the Broadway-musical phenomenon in its touring-company production captured the flavor of a revelatory event in American theatrical and culture. “I left the Keller understanding that I had watched the story of a historical figure in my country’s history,” Acena concluded. “But also, I watched a group of brown people take agency in their lives and work to make something greater for themselves. Messy. But greater. As a person of color, it’s also just amazing to me to see so many talented PoC on stage knocking it out of the park. This is the show I want young people of color to see. Both to see themselves onstage, to know that there is space for them there, and to feel celebrated.”
May 6: DeAnn Welker reviews the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s same-sex production of the classic American musical. “This is inclusive rethinking and casting at its most innovative,” she writes. “… Beyond the casting and approach — which are close to but not quite everything here — everything else comes together for musical theater magic. … OSF’s Oklahoma! will make you laugh, clap, cheer, and believe that the moral of this story might come true on our own sometimes scary frontier.”
May 16: Stiers, the gifted actor best-known for his featured role as Major Winchester in the television series M*A*S*H, was a longtime resident of Newport on the Oregon coast and a leading figure in its cultural life, including as a conductor for the Newport Symphony Orchestra. Two months after his death from cancer at age 75, Lori Tobias writes, Stiers’ will revealed his largesse to the area he had adopted as his own: “Stiers didn’t just live in Newport, he took an active part in the central coast’s cultural life, and his last will and testament reveals some of the many ways his influence continues.”
May 21: Paul Maziar on the New York artist’s show at Portland’s Adams and Ollman gallery: “Certain of Bradford’s paintings bear a kind of light that, because of its durational attendance to storm departure and oncoming darkness, baffles. … Later, Bradford elaborated a bit about this strange illumination: ‘There’s a lot of beauty to that sensation but also a sense of foreboding, as if something unexpected has happened and a scary kind of dim light has taken over … the sensation that day light has suddenly been lost and the sky is filled with dampness and a sort of evening dark beginning to descend.’”
June 3: “Nine days before the June 7 grand opening of The Elisabeth Jones Art Center on the Pearl District’s western stretch, a kind of controlled chaos is in the air,” Bob Hicks writes. “Two large fabric sculptures, made from remnants of tents used at the Dakota Access oil-pipeline standoff near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that spreads across several counties in North and South Dakota, hang from the ceiling of the art center’s main gallery like soft-sided pyramids or upside-down tipis. A giant section of old-growth fir log, a good ton’s worth of tight-grained wood destined to be hewn into a canoe, sits on a frame of 4x4s by the wide garage doors that open to the sidewalk in front of Northwest 14th Avenue.” ArtsWatch went behind the scenes at Portland’s newest art center and its debut show, The Condor and the Eagle: Moving Forward After Standing Rock, which brought together Native American artists from across the country who were involved in the oil-pipeline protests.
June 26: Language, Michael N. McGregor wrote in this tale of the late, beloved Portland author, is key: “I sometimes think there is no writer as addicted to music and swing and rhythm and cadence in prose as me,” he once told Ruminate magazine. “I really do want to push prose as close to music as I can, and play with tone and timbre in my work, play with the sinuous riverine lewd amused pop and song of the American language.” But how to turn that cascade of musical language in Doyle’s novel Mink River into a play? McGregor talks with director Jane Unger and playwright Myra Platt, who are in the process of doing just that.
June 27: Like a breath of fresh air, the Aquilon Music Festival burst onto the Oregon music scene in McMinnville and around Yamhill County wine country. David Bates sat down with Anton Belov, the new festival’s director, to find out how it all came together and what audiences could expect.
July 3: Writer and photographer K.B. Dixon’s companion piece to his January In the Frame: Eleven Men was also a hit with readers. His photo essay on Portland arts and creative leaders included, among others, Oregon Symphony concertmaster Sarah Kwak, The Portland Ballet artistic director Nancy Davis, painter Lucinda Parker, and novelist Monica Drake.
Aug. 22: “On the Oregon Coast, creating a work of glass art is a bucket-list favorite, and there’s plenty of places to make that happen. But recent weeks have stressed some mom-and-pop glassblowing studios to the point of, well, a meltdown. It seems there’s just not enough glass to go around.” Lori Tobias tells the tale of what happens when supplies run low and artisans have to scramble to keep the glass art from breaking.
Aug. 28: Mathew Andrews talks with composer Gabriel Kahane about his new oratorio emergency shelter intake form, a “pop-classical whatsit” abpout homelessness in America, commissioned by the Oregon Symphony and the Britt Orchestra. “We cannot overstate the impact of the juxtaposition between the glorious Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, on Southwest Broadway where the Symphony performs, and the South Park Blocks behind it, often populated by people experiencing the sort of unsheltered homelessness which dominates our attention on the subjects Kahane’s song cycle addresses,” Andrews writes. “Kahane was, of course, well aware of all this, and initially hesitated to take on the project … Once he did, he worked at a Manhattan shelter for six months.”
Sept. 13: For the second year in a row, the turmoil at Eugene’s premiere summer music event resulted in our most-read story of the year. A year after the abrupt firing of rising-star artistic director Matthew Halls, Tom Manoff took in this year’s festival and concluded that, although there were high points, the festival was rudderless. He concluded: “OBF should immediately undertake a search for a new artistic director and bring candidates — one a year — in coming seasons. Audiences will be intrigued and will buy tickets. Without such a plan, I think the festival will fade away, note by note.”
Sept. 21: “The Oregon Symphony opens its 2018-19 Classical Series Sunday with a musically diverse program and a glittering star — Renee Fleming,” Damien Geter wrote as the new season began. “As varied as the concert selections are, though, they all have one thing in common: they were all written by white people. In fact, in the orchestra’s entire main classical subscription series this season, only one composer of color, out of about 46, is programmed – Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto.” Geter spoke with spoke with local and national composers of color, including Kenji Bunch, Darrell Grant, and Evan Williams, looking for ways the orchestra could break out of its self-imposed white mold.
Sept. 25: “Adaptations struggle with compressing the original work and this one is no different,” TJ Acena writes in his review of the stage version of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple at Portland Center Stage. “Exposition comes fast and blatant, especially in the short second act as the play rushes towards its climax.” Yet in the end, he writes, magic occurs: “When that last burst of energy from [Felicia] Boswell, timed perfectly with Celie’s own transformation, washes over the audience, for a moment we forget we are watching a show. Instead it feels like she’s leading us — the audience, the other actors, the musicians — in a moment of transcendence. And that moment, that rare moment, is what we all chase when we go to theater.”
Nov. 5: “As a typical book-loving wallflower,” Katie Taylor wrote, “I find festivals overstimulating and at times overwhelming, but when it comes to books, they’re important. In America, things loved by quiet people have a way of being ignored, shouted over, trampled on and phased out. Events like Literary Arts’ Portland Book Festival (formerly Wordstock) make a dazzling public smile their umbrella over a very private love, and by doing that, help keep that love safe, strong and thriving.” Ah, but how to survive the frenzy? Katie plots a plan.
Nov. 19: Seventy-five years ago, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner writes, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic American musical opened in what in effect was a whitewashed and straightwashed adaptation of its source material, a play called Green Grow the Lilacs, by Lynn Riggs, a gay Cherokee man. Seen in this light, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2018 same-sex lovers production actually takes the musical closer to its beginnings. Pollack-Pelzner talks with OSF director Bill Rauch and Cherokee playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, author of OSF’s play Manahatta, to get to the nub of some complex historical and cultural issues.