FAMILY

Vision 2020: Darcy Dolge, Sarah West, and Nancy Knowles

Leaders of Art Center East in La Grande say funding cuts could have been dire in their rural area, but the community stepped up to keep arts thriving

Since 1977, Art Center East in La Grande has coordinated arts programs in a 10-county area that includes Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler counties. The nonprofit community art center houses two exhibit galleries, a gift gallery, and three educational studios in a former Carnegie Library owned by the city. At the center alone, classes, concerts, exhibits, and workshops are offered year-round. Organizers recently estimated that roughly 25,000 people visited the center every year.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


Given the far-flung reach of the center’s programs, we ran our questions by not one, but three women who play key roles. Darcy Dolge is executive director at Art Center East (ACE) and an entrepreneur and owner of Blackberry Moon SoundNancy Knowles, a poet and professor of English at Eastern Oregon University, serves as the nonprofit board’s president. Sarah West, also a local entrepreneur and owner of Teahouse La Grande, is the center’s community outreach coordinator. She also sits on the board for the La Grande Farmers’ Market. Their comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Leaders at Art Center East (from left) Darcy Dolge, Sarah West, and Nancy Knowles oversee arts and culture programs serving 10 counties in Eastern Oregon.

Who comes to the Arts Center? What do they use it for? Basically, what goes on there, year-round? Can you give us a general sense of it?

Dolge: Ours is the only art gallery in Union County open to the public six days a week, and we see a wide range of visitors, both locals and out-of-towners. We’re often surprised at how many visitors wander through our doors to have a look at our exhibit or inquire about the local art scene.

We offer a lot of programming, including an average of 150 classes each quarter, nine-plus exhibits each year, a monthly author reading series, a community music program, monthly dance nights hosted by a partnering organization, along with several free community events and cultural performances all year long. We also serve local artists in the form of retail sales in our gift gallery and an annual maker’s market around the holidays, exposure and notoriety via gallery exhibits, as well as giving those who are interested a place to earn income by teaching their craft.

We have several local partnerships to bring art instruction to underserved populations, including the Union County Juvenile Department, Union County District Attorney Parole Restitution Program, Shelter From the Storm Victim Rehabilitation Program for victims of domestic abuse, and the Center for Human Development. Lastly, our Artists in Rural Schools program places professional art educators in rural schools in 10 counties of Eastern Oregon.

How would you characterize the general state of artistic and cultural life in your area?

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Vision 2020: Rachel Barreras-Kleemann

The Newport dance teacher says her goals are small: “To keep kids motivated to dance and to help kids that are lower income have a place they can go”

Editor’s note: This story begins a series of twenty interviews in twenty days with arts and cultural figures around Oregon, creating a group portrait of the state of the arts in the state. It looks at where we’ve been, where we are, and what might or should happen culturally in the 2020s.

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Rachel Barreras-Kleemann grew up in Newport and began studying dance at the age of 11. After moving to  Portland for college, she grew interested in African-American and Afro-Brazilian dance, and signed on with the marching samba ensemble Lions of Batucada. She later moved to Brazil, where she pursued a technical degree in dance.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


Barreras-Kleemann, who is of Mexican and Native American descent, left the South American country after being mugged numerous times and realizing she had become frightened of the children who roved in gangs. “I thought, I want to be able to go home and help the kids I see, not fear them,” Barreras-Kleemann said. The mother of a baby girl, Barreras-Kleemann teaches dance to children and adults, many of whom are minorities and of low income.

Rachel Barreras-Kleemann says she wants to bring joy and encouragement to people who are fearful of doing arts. “People are tentative about celebrating themselves and about feeling good… I want to remind people it is good to feel joy and it’s still OK to be happy, even in these times that we’re living in.”
Rachel Barreras-Kleemann says she wants to bring joy and encouragement to people who are fearful of doing arts. “People are tentative about celebrating themselves and about feeling good… I want to remind people it is good to feel joy and it’s still OK to be happy, even in these times that we’re living in.”

What, good or bad, has had the biggest impact on arts and culture in your area in the past few years?

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Coast calendar: Holiday shows, music — and whale-watching

It seems dark and stormy at the end of December, but upcoming events promise a lot of merry and bright

Things can get awfully quiet on the coast in late December. Black Friday has come and gone, the holiday visitors haven’t yet arrived, and dark and stormy nights are not the exception but something of a rule. Despite all that, there’s quite a bit going on. 

In Newport, Saturday is “The most wonderful night of the year…” as Red Octopus Theatre Company presents, one night only, The Christmas Show in the Performing Arts Center’s Alice Silverman Theatre.

This year’s performance features The Lutz Radio Theater Christmas Show (of 1947). The story line:  “It’s Christmas Eve 1947 and the final radio broadcast for station KMAS in Hollywood, California. After this, they’ll be converted to a television studio… and not everyone’s happy about it. When the writer throws a fit and the professional actors and musicians don’t arrive, the station workers must scramble to save the broadcast (after all, the show must go on!)” 

Hosted by the music-comedy duo The Tequila Mockingbirds, the Dec. 21 show is also a food drive for Food Share of Lincoln County. Attendees who donate two or more items of food receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win two tickets to Red Octopus Theatre Company’s four 2020 shows. The winner will be announced during the show and must be present to win. 

Get your tickets to the performance here.

DOWN THE STREET, THE NEWPORT VISUAL ARTS CENTER is hosting several shows, including Gourd Play, an exhibition by Newport-based artist Louise Hemphill, through Jan. 25 in the Coastal Oregon Visual Artists Showcase.

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The medium is the mask

The Chehalem Cultural Center fills its galleries with masks by Tony Fuemmeler and others depicting human emotions, anthropomorphic animals, and one evil bunny

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg is closing out the year with an extraordinary exhibit (four exhibits, actually, it just feels like one) that virtually anyone – even those who don’t usually visit galleries — will find intriguing.

The subject is the human face and the oceans of meaning the face either reveals or conceals. The medium is the mask — hundreds of them.

Tony Fuemmeler’s Evil Bunny is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (paper-mache, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates
Tony Fuemmeler’s “Evil Bunny” is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (papier-mâché, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates

More than two years in the making, A Universal Feeling is a collaborative effort spearheaded by Portland mask-maker and theater artist Tony Fuemmeler and featuring work by more than 60 artists from around the United States and the world. The intellectual seeds of the project go back to the 1960s, when a group of psychologists suggested that a few universal facial expressions convey emotions understood across the entirety of human culture: fear, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and disgust.

Fuemmeler, whose masks have appeared on stages up and down the West Coast and around the country, gave around 70 fellow mask-makers a task. He sent them a papier-mâché mask based on one of the six expressions and asked them to complete it, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on whatever identity, styles, experiences, and cultures inform their work.

The results are stunning, fascinating, playful, and occasionally disturbing. “It was an experiment,” he told me as we strolled through the exhibit recently. “I had no idea what would happen. I was very curious how people would respond.”

Respond they did, and alongside three other mask-themed exhibits that fill the center until Jan. 3, the exhibit is a riveting exploration of inner life as conveyed by the simultaneously simple and complex image of the face as rendered by a mask — an art form that goes back to ancient times.

Beth Bondy created Surprise 07: Paper Insect from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates
Beth Bondy created “Surprise 07: Paper Insect” from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates

“I have long admired Tony’s work, and have had the pleasure of playing his masks onstage in several settings,” said Sean Andries, executive director of Chehalem Cultural Center, in the press materials. “The ability of a well-crafted mask, full of life, to reveal the true sense of the performer who wears it has always transfixed me. When I heard about Tony’s vision for A Universal Feeling, coupled with an exhibit of his mask-making journey with Reveal/Conceal, I was immediately intrigued. By collaborating with artists from many cultures and backgrounds to ‘finish’ the masks he created for this special project, Tony has found a new way to reveal the nature of the artist within.”

Andries refers to Fuemmeler’s other exhibit, Reveal/Conceal: The Transformative Masks of Tony Fuemmeler, a selection of his own work, including some of his earliest pieces. Most are human, but some are not, and one is, arguably, both: Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes an appearance. All, he points out, were made for and used on the stage. This is the first time Fuemmeler has shown his masks in a gallery exhibit. It is a welcome debut.

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‘Dinosaurs are the gateway drug to science’

Fossil fanatics Ray Troll and Kirk Johnson will visit Salishan Resort to talk about their latest book, "Cruisin' the Fossil Coastline"

Like many, I always associated Ketchikan-based artist Ray Troll with the crazy T-shirts sporting colorful fish or other wildlife and lines like “Ain’t No Nookie Like Chinookie” or “There’s No Ho Like Coho.” Troll’s art — irreverent, funny, sometimes dark — is an icon of Alaska, and likewise big, bold, and unique.

What I didn’t know was that as much as Troll is known for his wildlife and Alaskan-lifestyle art, he’s also equally well known — at least by some — for his love of fossils.

“It’s a lifelong thing,” Troll told me when we talked by phone this week. “I’ve been drawing dinosaurs since I was 4 years old. People know me for my fishing T-shirts, but my love of prehistoric things has been lifelong. Dinosaurs are the gateway drug to science. I was an early paleo enthusiast. I was using crayons; I still use crayons, but they are professional.”

Paleontologist Kirk R. Johnson (left) and artist Ray Troll have collaborated on a second fossil-filled book, "Cruisin' the Fossil Coastline."  Art by: Ray Troll
Paleontologist Kirk Johnson (left) and artist Ray Troll have collaborated on a second fossil-filled book, “Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline.” Illustrations by: Ray Troll

Troll and fellow fossil expert Kirk Johnson are bringing their latest book, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, to the Oregon Coast. The pair will give a free talk and sign books Nov. 13 at Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach. The talk is presented by the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, where Troll and Johnson, a paleontologist and director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, collaborated on the book, a sequel to Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway. The project took them nearly 10 years to complete, earning them a Guggenheim Fellowship and taking them from San Diego to the northern reaches of Alaska.

“He’s the word guy,” Troll said of Johnson. “I’m the picture guy.”

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Coast calendar: Calling all artists, and arts lovers

Lincoln City seeks new public art; Sitka Center holds a fundraiser; Floyd Skloot reads from his new book; and Cannon Beach celebrates stormy weather

If you’ve ever driven through Lincoln City on a summer day, it will come as no surprise that every year 8.8 million vehicles travel that stretch of U.S. 101. While that may be discouraging news if you’re sitting in traffic, it’s no doubt heartening to artists who’d like their roadside work to be seen. That the opportunity to do so comes with a commission of up to $120,000 only sweetens the prize.

Lincoln City’s roster of public art includes the Community Center’s swimming tile mural by Ted and Judith Schlicting. The city is seeking proposals from artists to craft a piece for the new Cultural Plaza.
Lincoln City’s roster of public art includes the Community Center’s tile mural by Ted and Judith Schlicting. The city is seeking proposals from artists to craft a piece for the new Cultural Plaza.

Lincoln City is offering one artist the chance to craft the first major piece of art to be installed in the new Lincoln City Cultural Plaza. But don’t spend too much time thinking about it. The deadline for proposals is Nov. 1. Get your request for qualifications (RFQ) here.  

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Finn builds a galaxy… with help from a pro

Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. and 6-year-old Finn Connaughton collaborate on an extraterrestrial installation at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg features an exhibit, Finn Builds a Galaxy, that was created by two artists whose life experiences could scarcely be more different.

Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. is 32 years old, has studied art at Alfred University School of Art and Design, and is doing graduate work at Portland State University. Stevenson has worked as a figure model, a cook, a grocery store clerk, and a community organizer. Born in Gaithersburg, Md., the artist has traveled to Mexico, Canada, Scotland, Italy, and Germany. For the past 10 years, Stevenson has worked on a variety of projects while also studying.

The exhibit is named after the other artist, Finn Connaughton. He’s 6 and attends first grade at Yamhill-Carlton Elementary School. The son of a pharmacist father, Erin, and Jacki, a stay-at-home mother, he’s fond of Minecraft, building with LEGOS, and Pokémon. And, of course, art. 

Finn Connaughton, 6, and Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., 32, collaborated on an other-worldly exhibit on display through Oct. 31 at the Chehalem Cultural Center. Photo by: David Bates
Finn Connaughton, 6, and Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., 32, collaborated on an other-worldly exhibit on display through Oct. 31 at the Chehalem Cultural Center. Photo by: David Bates

At a reception last week, Finn stood on the center’s spacious lobby mezzanine gazing at his galaxy — planets, stars, LEGO spaceships, and a few flying creatures — looking a bit awed by the attention but clearly proud of his galactic creation. Below, his parents and extended family, other visitors, and staff looked up, some taking pictures.

Next to him, Stevenson grinned and offered Finn one of many compliments: “You are even more famous in Newberg than I am!”

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