‘Pity Party’: This one’s for you

Portland writer Kathleen Lane and her smart new novel for middle schoolers turn the table on anxiety and use it to spark creativity

Can I ask something? Can I ask you to think of something? Can I ask you to think of a time you felt as though you were at war with your brain, a time you felt overwhelmed by your own thinking? Can you think of a time you felt this way? I know I can. I have struggled with mental illness throughout my life resulting in a number of diagnoses, therapists, medications and assorted treatment plans.

After reading Portland writer Kathleen Lane’s new middle-grade novel Pity Party, published in January by Little, Brown, I knew I was not alone. I knew there were other people out there with minds often riddled with stress and worry. Most importantly, I knew that the focus didn’t have to surround dissatisfaction with my own brain. 

Lane is also a nonprofit founder and program director, and all of her work centers on shifting the focus from what is wrong with us to what is right with us. Through her writing, her work with Create More, Fear Less (which helps kids combat fear and anxiety through creativity) and SHARE (in which gatherings of artists work in a single evening to create new pieces based on a shared prompt), Lane invites people of all ages to investigate their relationship with their minds. 

“Pity Party” author Kathleen Lane at her book launch. Photo courtesy the author.

Open Pity Party and you’ll find an invitation to the pity party. Right off the bat, Lane makes a point of letting readers know they are accepted and understood in all their wonderful wackiness within the worlds of the book. The book is separated into five parts linked together by the story of Katya and “The Voice,” which is the manifestation of Katya’s anxiety. Constantly filling her brain with what-ifs and reminders of danger, “The Voice” has kept Katya safe. However, it does so at the expense of Katya’s self-esteem until Katya stands up for herself.


Hitting the coastal arts trail

Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Niki Price plans to create a series of web-based itineraries for people who like to hike and “to tour art and see beautiful things”

When Niki Price sets out to explore art on the Oregon Coast, she’ll need to pack hiking boots, a tide book, and, of course, rain gear, but exhibit hours, ticket costs, and museum reservations — not necessary.

Price, executive director of the Lincoln City Cultural Center, is about to embark on an adventure with a dual mission — a hike on along the Oregon Coast Trail while visiting some of the more than 800 pieces on the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail.

Her hike, dubbed “On the Path of Public Art,” is sponsored by the cultural center and the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, developer of the art trail. She plans to break it up into 10 segments, which will become, in turn, itineraries for public use. A website and blog following Price’s progress and her thoughts about the trek is in the works. The hope is that the project will not only raise awareness for public art, but also raise money for it.    

With her series of hikes, Niki Price hopes to raise awareness both of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail and the fundraising campaign for the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s plaza.
With her series of hikes, Niki Price hopes to raise awareness both of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail and the fundraising campaign for the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s plaza. Photo courtesy: Niki Price

The innovation, Price said, is that the coordinates of each piece will be available on a Google map. “For the most part, they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a really good complement to be walking down the Oregon Coast Trail and then take side excursions and check out the art. You don’t need to worry about the museum being open or arriving too late or having someone let you in. These are things you can enjoy any time.”

The visitors association signed on to the project with an eye toward helping people find the art along the 360-odd mile trail. Some of it has been on display for years, some is newer, and all has been placed by a variety of sponsors, including businesses, cities, and community colleges, said Arica Sears, spokeswoman for the association. The art might be in any number of forms — a mural, a statue, an abstract, or a big painting — but it has to be public, accessible 24/7, and at a spot where it can be viewed safely.


McMinnville Short Film Festival: Good things in small packages

The 10-day festival starts this week, bringing 127 films, none longer than 20 minutes, to the comfort of your home, including a free block of films for kids

The 10th annual McMinnville Short Film Festival, which launches 10 days of streaming cinema Thursday, is one of the few big-tent cultural events in Yamhill County that managed to skirt COVID in 2020 and has emerged in an arguably stronger position for 2021.

True, we will not have an opportunity to press the flesh with talented Oregon filmmakers such as Derek Sitter, whose film Tutu Grande we unpacked here a couple of weeks ago. Nor will it be possible to experience the spectacular visuals of films such as the animated My Generation or the two performed-underwater films, Lacrimosa and Casiopea, on a big screen, where they deserve to be seen. In a theater, GraceLand’s exhilarating climax might have produced a joyous communal moment like the audience rising to clap along at the end of Love, Actually. My vote would be to bring it back in 2022 to see what happens.

Ludovic Houplain’s 2019 animated film, "My Generation," is an eight-minute drive down a freeway where the scenery is a glitzy panorama of capitalism, finance, surveillance, sports, politics, religion, and mindless entertainment.
Ludovic Houplain’s 2019 animated film, “My Generation,” is an eight-minute drive down a freeway where the scenery is a glitzy panorama of capitalism, finance, surveillance, sports, politics, religion, and mindless entertainment.

What is happening is potentially fortuitous synchronicity. The festival has (this year, anyway) gone virtual at the precise moment that the movie-loving public is fully and necessarily on board with streaming movies at home. Given the timing, the festival (unlike the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which had to cancel last year’s event and then scrambled to throw a virtual fest together) had a whole year to plan. From a marketing standpoint, it represents a unique opportunity. Instead of attracting a few hundred people, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, to see movies in McMinnville for a weekend, the festival can put 127 films from around the world (and its own name and brand) on a global stage for 10 days. Dan Morrow, who founded the event with his wife, Nancy, said a test run last fall with a streaming platform showed that it would work and, more importantly, that movie fans would buy tickets.

“Biting off 127 films, that’s way more than we’ve ever done before” Morrow said. “We did 85 films last year, and that was a very full three days of screenings down at the theater, and so this year we don’t have that time constraint.”

Eyeballing my notes from watching everything, I’d say half of this year’s crop of narrative films (excluding the documentaries, in other words) represent exceptional and occasionally superior artistry and storytelling. Two-thirds of the rest are competent, enjoyable films made with varying degrees of talent and professionalism. The balance (mercifully a minority and spread evenly throughout the program) comprises more obviously amateurish work, although even there, one finds sincere efforts to create something meaningful. For example, I didn’t particularly care for the home movie-ish Februarium!! in the “Experimental/A Bit Strange” category, which tells the true story of a “holiday” created to honor the filmmaker’s deceased friend. But for weeks after seeing it, I found myself thinking about the issues it raises about the healing power of art, the relation between art and memory, and the social-construct qualities of virtually any holiday.

The festival has grouped films into genre-specific collections of six to 15 films. The films themselves run anywhere from three to 20 minutes, and each screening block (most of which are unlocked for a three- to four-day viewing window) runs about 80 to 90 minutes. Each block is $10, with discounts for purchases of three or more; an all-access pass costs $85, which is less than you’d spend on dinner for two and a two-hour movie preceded by 15 minutes of annoying trailers. That highlights another advantage of the virtual festival: It’s nearly 20 hours of film content, and no trailers with sound dialed up to 11. 

In “GraceLand,” a 10-year-old girl, played by Katie Beth West, believes she is the reincarnation of Elvis Presley.

The 127 films include 37 from around Oregon, more than 20 from the Los Angeles area, and 18 from a dozen countries outside the U.S., including Taiwan, France, Chile, India, Hungary, Austria, Spain, Brazil, and Italy. Along with the documentary, environmental, and Native American cinema I wrote about last week, there’s drama/comedy, experimental/a bit strange, animation, and suspense/horror and sci-fi. Three categories — locals, student films, and a children’s block — are available free all 10 days. Also, because so many people are Zooming from home, participation in pre-taped filmmaker Q&A sessions hit a record high. More than 90 of the people who have entries in this year’s festival appear at the end of each screening block in a panel discussion. The opening-night welcome will be livestreamed for free at 5 p.m. Thursday here, and awards will be presented live on Feb. 28.

The thing that struck me about this year’s collection is how so many of the films speak to and echo others and explore similar themes across the categories. There are plenty of ways one could do this, of course, but I’ll stick to half a dozen categories of my own. Plus, a few of my personal favorites. (On the registration pages for many of these films, a free trailer is available.)


String trio offers a virtual valentine

Newport Symphony musicians bring a concert to your living room, and the Coaster Theatre does the same later this month with scenes from Shakespeare

Normally, if you’re going to see the Newport Symphony Orchestra, it would be at the Performing Center Arts with as many as 72 players on stage. And normally, you wouldn’t catch them on Valentine’s Day, because the schedule usually calls for January and March concerts. Normally, too, you wouldn’t expect one-price-fits-all or the intimacy of a living room chat.

But then, of course, these aren’t normal times.

And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Violinist Alistair Kok will host Newport Symphony Orchestra musicians in his home for a virtual Valentine's Day concert.
Violinist Alistair Kok will host Newport Symphony Orchestra musicians in his home for a virtual Valentine’s Day concert.

This Valentine’s Day, the orchestra is hosting an intimate evening performance by the string trio of Alistair Kok, Julie Asparro, and Erik Nils Velasquez, along with conductor Adam Flatt. The concert will be recorded live and followed by a conversation with the audience, Flatt, and musicians.

The idea behind the performance is to enhance people’s lives despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19, which has seen the Newport Performing Arts Center closed, said Don Nelson, the orchestra’s executive director.

“There are a lot of videos on YouTube where people can watch, but they are not participating,” Nelson said. “They are seeing people they may usually see at concerts or even online. It’s a way for people to get together at this individual time, both in keeping with the symphony’s mission to enhance quality of life on the Oregon Coast, and to help each individual person who is attending.”

The 7 p.m. concert will include the Adagio from J.S. Bach’s Viola da Gamba Sonata in G Major, Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, Op. 9 No. 1, and Serenade in C Major for String Trio by Dohnányi. The performance will be recorded in violinist Kok’s living room in Portland, where ceilings are vaulted and the ambiance airy and light, Flatt said. The live, in-house recording also eliminates the need to find accommodations for the musicians who normally stay with local homeowners when visiting the coast. Those welcome mats aren’t quite as abundant during a pandemic.


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.


Coast calendar: Cultural Festival, mosaic art, writing contest

The Olalla Center's event and a Chessman gallery tour are virtual, but Siletz Bay Music Festival is hoping to welcome live audiences next summer

Despite surging COVID numbers in some coastal communities — Lincoln County could be moving into the extreme-risk category — people continue to find ways to keep the arts alive.

The Olalla Center is hoping to spread some cheer with a virtual Cultural Festival to be aired 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12.

“We want to highlight some of the local artists, but also it is about going into the community to have a break from all that is going on, give them a little entertainment to enjoy for a little while,” said Alex LLumiquinga, outreach program coordinator for the center.

Huehca Omeyocan is among the groups that will participate in the Olalla Center's Cultural Festival.
Huehca Omeyocan is among performers scheduled for the Olalla Center’s Cultural Festival.

The lineup includes music, dance, food, history, and art from El Salvador, Guatemala, Ireland, Mexico, Ecuador, and Oregon. The OSU Extension Service will make a presentation before the fiesta at 5:30 p.m.

The fest will be prerecorded and broadcast through the Lincoln City Cultural Center Facebook and YouTube channels.

“Our lives have changed so much in the past few months, we miss the ones that have left us, we remember them, we think about them, and we want to dedicate this event to them because they are still here in our hearts,” said LLumiquinga.

There is no charge for the event, but donations are welcome and will be shared between the Lincoln County Cultural Center and Olalla Center. The Toledo-based nonprofit provides mental health treatment and services for children and their families in Lincoln County.

“Activate the Midline” by Lynn Adamo is among mosaic work featured in a show in the Lincoln City Cultural Center. Adamo will walk viewers through a virtual tour of the exhibit.
Mosaic work including “Activate the Midline” by Lynn Adamo is featured in a show in the Lincoln City Cultural Center. Adamo will walk viewers through a virtual tour of the exhibit.

THE PJ CHESSMAN GALLERY in the Lincoln City Cultural Center is hosting a live virtual gallery tour of the latest exhibit, Tradition, Transgression, Transformation. The exhibit showcases mosaic artists from Oregon and Washington “who seek new paths to meaning as they absorb, reinterpret, and reinvent the mosaic tradition.” The virtual galley tour will be posted at 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, on the center’s Facebook page and will be available for viewing any time after. Gallery Director Krista Eddy and mosaic artists Joanne Daschel and Lynn Adamo will walk visitors through the exhibit.

The exhibit will be on display Thursdays through Sundays through Jan. 3 and by appointment. Masks and social distancing are required in the building.

SILETZ BAY MUSIC FESTIVAL is moving forward for 2021, with plans for nine events from June 26 through July 4, including appearances by Ken Peplowski, award-winning jazz clarinetist and tenor saxophonist. But the festival needs to raise money.


‘Christmas Carol’ harks back to another trying time

Cannon Beach's Coaster Theatre will present, virtually, the Dickens classic as radio theater set during the Great Depression

The year was 1973 and the country was in the throes of an oil crisis, leaving the streets of Cannon Beach empty, its businesses hungry for visitors. Vicki Hawkins, then-owner of the Cannon Beach Gazette, came up with the idea to host a community Dickens Christmas, with shopkeepers and others dressed in Victorian garb. The Coaster Theatre Playhouse, open little more than a year, would host a Dickens play. Hawkins dubbed the event “The Low Lights will be the Highlights of Cannon Beach.”

“We did this for many, many years after the first,” said Jenni Tronier, marketing director for the theater. “Each production was different, written by a different person every year. Sometimes it had carols, sometimes it didn’t. Each year was its own beast.”

And so it is again.

The Coaster Theatre Playhouse began offering a Dickens play at Christmas in 1973. This photo of the cast taking a bow is from sometime in the 1970s. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse
The Coaster Theatre Playhouse began offering a Dickens play at Christmas in 1973. This photo is from sometime in the 1970s. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse

The theater closed March 13 — COVID, of course — and since then, the Coaster has put on only one show, a Shakespeare play performed in the park. But winter on the coast is no time for outdoor theater, and besides, said Tronier, “It’s not the same. Theater is meant to be held in those closed quarters, sharing the experience with the stranger next to you.”