Bright spots peep through in Yamhill County arts forecast

Many events are canceled or scaled back for 2021, as gathering in crowds remains unlikely for some time, but it’s not all bad news

As the calendar rolled over into the new year, I reached out to more than a dozen leaders in Yamhill County’s arts scene (along with a couple in Salem) to ask what they could say about their plans and expectations for life returning to some degree of normalcy in 2021.

Bottom line? It probably won’t.

With a few exceptions, the organizers behind major local cultural events, institutions, and venues don’t expect we’ll be flinging our masks away anytime soon. We won’t be packing theaters to see plays, and we won’t sip wine at crowded artist receptions. More of us will (presumably) be vaccinated, but in terms of events where people come together to experience art up close and personal, 2021 pretty much resembles 2020.

“We have lost a lot of art and culture in this pandemic,” said Lisa Weidman, a Terroir writing festival planner. And, she added, “ a sense of community, too.”

It’s not all bad news. So let’s begin with the good news, because there is some.

McMinnville Short Film Festival: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the short film festival organized by Dan and Nancy Morrow. It is the only major tent-pole cultural event left standing in Yamhill County’s largest city. The festival barely squeezed under the quarantine wire last year because the event is held in February, which is otherwise a bit of a cultural dead zone. But organizers learned last fall, with their annual fundraiser, that people can and will attend such an event in significant numbers if the goodies are streamed online, which is where most of us are watching movies anyway. So instead of scaling down, they’re ramping up. The festival kicking off Feb. 18 will unveil 127 films with screening blocks scheduled over nearly two weeks. Visit the website to check out the titles and register.

“Chocolate Cake & Ice Cream,” an animated short about friendship between a dog and cat by Steve Cowden of Lake Oswego, is on the schedule for the McMinnville Short Film Festival.
“Chocolate Cake & Ice Cream,” an animated short about friendship between a dog and cat by Steve Cowden of Lake Oswego, is on the schedule for the McMinnville Short Film Festival.

Paper Gardens: Yamhill County’s annual writing contest, culminating in a spring publication of the best of the best, will soldier on. “We know the pandemic has sparked lots of writing,” said one of the organizers, Deborah Weiner. “So we encourage children, teens, and adults who live, work, or go to school in Yamhill County to submit their pieces.” Entries are due March 3 and a release party is tentatively scheduled for May 13 at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. As that date looms, organizers will reassess the COVID situation in crafting protocols for gathering in person.

Willamette Shakespeare: The theater company is sound financially, according to board chairman David Pasqualini, and operating on the assumption that an outdoor production of Pericles will be unveiled at select area wineries in August. They’ll be working with Patrick Walsh, executive artistic director of the Northwest Classical Theater Collaborative, and expect to have COVID safety protocols in place for both the company and audience. 

Chehalem Cultural Center: Along with local art galleries that remain open, the Newberg nonprofit will continue to be a cultural beacon for visual art. The exhibition calendar has shows booked through April 30, and beyond that, Director of Arts Programs Carissa Burkett has 2021 mapped out for visual art. “I do have additional exhibits planned for the rest of the year that aren’t on the website yet, primarily because of delays in getting info from the artists,” she said.

A couple of highlights to look for this summer: Black Matter, a group exhibit curated by Tammy Jo Wilson that will show first at The Arts Center in Corvallis; also Art about Agriculture, a juried exhibit put together by Oregon State University. A Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will be livestreamed Jan. 18, but beyond that, performing arts are unlikely. “I actually haven’t had folks reach out to me at all,” Burkett said. “Performers are just not trying to make plans. But as soon as we can safely host these types of events, we certainly will.”

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Aron Johnston’s “Clinging to the Status Quo” (oil on panel, 2020) is among pieces in the Chehalem Cultural Center’s “Understanding Ourselves” show opening Feb. 2.
Aron Johnston’s “Clinging to the Status Quo” (oil on panel, 2020) is among pieces in the Chehalem Cultural Center’s “Understanding Ourselves” show opening Feb. 2.

A couple of notes: The center is currently closed, but it is possible to reserve a time to see shows alone. Also, I highly recommend signing up for one of the artist receptions Burkett hosts via Zoom, they’re fun and interesting.

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That’s the good news. Now, here’s a look (in no particular order) at what’s downsized, canceled or TBA:

The Verona Studio:  The Salem indie theater’s first streaming production, Simon Stephens’ play Sea Wall, will air at 7 p.m. Jan. 15-17.  More information and ticketing are available here. After that? “We are in the middle of filming our second production, instead of rehearsing on stage, building sets, etc.,” said the company’s Randall Tosh. “With the exception of filming, everything is occurring remotely, and filming is being done under a set of COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of the actor, cinematographer, and sound engineer.”

Linfield University Theatre: Linfield’s 2020-21 “Season Like No Other” will continue this spring, after experimenting with live-streaming socially distanced theater last fall, with student podcasts, and with another live-stream of an original play in April on the school’s YouTube channel. We’ll have more on all that closer to the release dates. Meanwhile, the Music Department is planning a series of online events this spring.

Pentacle Theatre: Salem’s oldest theater closed down in the middle of a run in March and has been dark ever since. A couple of staff members were laid off and the theater closed its ticket office downtown. Realistically, the company’s “What’s Next?” committee is looking ahead to the 2022 season, according to Executive Director Lisa Joyce. “They’re just missing their work so much,” she said. On the other hand, the theater is on stable ground financially. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the level of support and love our community has shown us,” she said. “They miss us, and they want us to come back.”

Gallery Theater: McMinnville’s theater was days from opening David Auburn’s Proof in the black box in March when COVID shut it and everything else down. Despite the lost season, the theater had some successes with small street performances and Facebook streaming. Proof, directed by Marla Nuttman, will wait in the wings for a safe opening, but the first show out of the gate will be a one-man performance that was also set for 2020: Alessandro Baricco’s Novecento. Lance Nuttman will reprise the role he played at The Verona Studio in 2017, with Salem’s Ed Schoaps in the director’s chair and Nuttman’s wife, Marla, assisting. “We are in the planning stage, still,” said Gallery Manager Seth Renne. “We will be announcing a slate of shows soon that we plan to produce in 2021, when it’s safe to do so.” As long as the theater remains closed, he added, readers theater and cabaret events will likely be performed outdoors this summer.

Penguin Productions: The Newberg-based outdoor theater with a penchant for the classics has, like everyone else, been hunkered down. But the company also has been busy sprucing up its outdoor venues “to make our audience experience even better than before,” said Associate Director Stephanie Spencer. “We’ve missed our community dearly but are optimistic for what 2021 has in store.” While no schedule has been announced, the company does have an original script in hand that’s ready to go: Spencer’s Perchance to Dream, a new take on Hamlet‘s Ophelia.

Aquilon Music Festival: The fate of this summertime feast of indoor and outdoor opera organized by Linfield University’s Anton Belov is uncertain.  “We are accepting applications,” he told me. “However, whether we will be able to proceed with the season or not is very much in the air.” A complete COVID statement by Aquilon is here.

Fire Writers: One of Yamhill County’s two annual writers’ conferences, this one just for youth, has been held the last two years in January. Canceled this year.

Terroir Creative Writing Festival: Ordinarily held in March, Terroir is canceled again this year, though planners are eyeing possibilities for the fall. “We will need to feel confident that the health authorities will allow gatherings of about 100 people, and that it will be safe, of course, before we set a date and start planning,” Weidman said. “If we don’t hold the festival this fall, we will plan for April 2022.”

For 27 years, the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County has been publishing the Paper Gardens literary journal, which includes the work of several Fire Writers participants.
Submissions for the 2021 Paper Gardens writing contest are being accepted through March 3 by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County.

Downtown McMinnville Music: Probably canceled. Concerts on the Plaza at the corner of Third and Davis have become a summer tradition. The hosting organization, the McMinnville Downtown Association, has budgeted for the events but is not pursuing organizational efforts, recruiting musicians, etc. However, I’m told that if restaurants resume outdoor dining when the weather warms, there is discussion about adding live music. 

Wildwood MusicFest: Very likely canceled. “With so many unknowns with COVID, it’s really hard to make any decisions so far in the future,” said event co-organizer Kim Hamblin. “With all of the permitting and things needed for a mass gathering, I think we would need to make a decision by early May at the absolute latest, and that doesn’t seem realistic given where we are as a country and our response as a nation to the pandemic. We want to make sure it’s safe for our everyone to gather prior to opening back up.”

Walnut City Music Festival: This end-of-summer music fest was among COVID’s casualties in 2020. There’s no definitive word available, but given the sheer amount of long-range planning involved (and the number of people who attend), I expect it won’t happen.

Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County: There’s no questioning the value and track record for success of this annual event, in which local artists throw their studios open to the public for two weekends in October. In 2019, more than 32 studios participated and nearly 900 people signed up for the tour, raising $7,000 for the sponsoring Arts Alliance of Yamhill County. In 2020, nearly 50 artists signed up. Last year’s tour was canceled, of course, and it’s on hold this year as well. Organizers felt they couldn’t in good conscience begin fundraising and organizing with no guarantee that the event could be held. The Arts Alliance, however, informed members this month that organizers are considering going digital this year, with video tours and art available for purchase online.

Dreary news. But as empty as the arts and culture events calendar looks for 2021, I’m encouraged by the fact that my calendar for arts and culture reporting in Yamhill County and beyond is actually quite full, at least through spring. Keep an eye on this space for interviews with visual artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, teachers, musicians, and more.

About the author

David Bates is an award-winning Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and is currently a freelance writer whose clients have included the McMinnville News-RegisterOregon Wine Press, and Indulge, a food-oriented publication. He has a B.S. degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and a long history of involvement in the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players of Oregon and other theaters in Oregon.

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