‘The Hillsboro Story’: Weaving a web of memories

In a new book, performance artist Susan Banyas integrates multiple voices and viewpoints, revisiting a 1950s school desegregation battle in her Ohio hometown.

“Two months after Brown v. Board of Education legally ended school segregation…my sleepy segregated little hometown, Hillsboro, Ohio, the county seat of Highland County, was jolted awake by a fire at the colored school; and History and Memory came marching into town like the Fourth of July Parade the day before.” — The opening passage of The Hillsboro Story, a new book by Susan Banyas.

“In the wee small hours of July 5, 1954, I popped wide awake and looked at the clock. Two o’clock. I quietly dressed and tiptoed downstairs. Armed with a can of gasoline, a bottle of oil and a clutch of newspapers, I kicked and struggled my way through a tangle of growth that choked an abandoned alley at the back of lots to the little cloistered school and up the steps.” — From an unpublished memoir by Philip Partridge, former Highland County engineer.

“I am eight years old, and women and children appear and disappear outside my third-grade classroom window. They carry signs with messages. OUR CHILDREN PLAY TOGETHER, WHY CAN’T THEY LEARN TOGETHER?…There I am, floating in my inner tube in the plastic pool in the backyard on Danville Pike, soaking up the cultural commotion, riding my bike around in it, watching it from behind a window at school, fascinated by the drama, the characters who come and go. But I have no story to hold it, and I remain mute, in the dark, wondering, haunted.” — from The Hillsboro Story.

“How does a kid arrive at a resolution that shakes his world? Is there a sense of justice even in young children.” — From Partridge’s memoir. 

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, mothers and children in Hillsboro, Ohio protest continuing segregation of the town’s schools. Photo courtesy of Susan Banyas.

Back to a place of one of many beginnings

“It’s hard to know where a story begins,” Susan Banyas says on a recent afternoon, sitting in a Ladd’s Addition coffee shop a few blocks from where she lived when she began the lengthy artistic exploration that has become her book, The Hillsboro Story.

Indeed it is. You might consider the beginning of The Hillsboro Story to be one of those days when young Susan gazes out a Webster School window, her attention momentarily pulled away from Charlotte’s Web, being read aloud by Mrs. Mallory, and onto the puzzling protest that goes on outside, day after day for two years. But maybe it started with Philip Partridge, a white man wanting to further the cause of social justice, deciding to torch the decrepit, Reconstruction-era Lincoln School, where blacks were sent, figuring that its destruction would force integration of the town’s other schools. 

Perhaps you’d need to go back to Partridge’s politically aware childhood epiphany that he would one day “do something that would strike a blow at the way things were.” Or might it start back further still, in the legacy of quiet activism by Banyas’ Quaker forebears, who built a secret room in a cistern to hide fugitive slaves as part of the Underground Railroad?
Then again, one of the many short segments of narrative, reflection, oral history and commentary that make up the text of Banyas’ book is called “This Is the Beginning – May, 2003, Hillsboro, Ohio” — marking her first meeting with the grass-roots freedom fighters she refers to as the Marching Mothers. But since the process behind the book — pulling together not just the interviews and research, but also personal memories and emotions, impressions of place, resonant coincidences and dreams — is so much of what constitutes the book, you could as aptly point to its beginnings in the mid-1980s, when Banyas, began innovating and teaching a hybrid storytelling performance form she calls Soul Stories. 

The Hillsboro Story is Banyas’ own Soul Story, on paper and writ large.

The now of the story

Author, teacher, performance artist Susan Banyas. Photo: Quincy Davis

On Thursday, September 19, Banyas will visit Broadway Books (1714 NE Broadway in Portland) at 7 p.m. to present a reading from The Hillsboro Story. Multidisciplinary artist that she is, she’s prepared a 12-minute multi-media synopsis of the story and will use music by her frequent collaborator, the jazz musician David Ornette Cherry, to augment her reading of excerpts from the book.

The story at an earlier stage

Though she moved to Astoria a few years ago, Banyas has had a long career in Portland as a dancer, writer, performance artist and teacher. I’ve been a fan since I first wrote about her work for Willamette Week in the late 1980s, when she ran a studio on Southeast Stark Street called Dreamswell. So perhaps you’ve encountered her work before, maybe even something called The Hillsboro Story.
Yet another beginning, you could say, came in 2010 when Artists Rep presented The Hillsboro Story as a work for the stage. 

The Oregonian (well, really it was me — I was the paper’s staff theater critic at the time) called it “one of the most important pieces of theater presented in Portland this year”:

“The Hillsboro in Banyas’ multilayered memory play isn’t the city in Oregon, but a small town in southern Ohio, not far north of the Mason-Dixon Line,” I wrote.

“In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which essentially declared segregated public schools unconstitutional. But black children in Hillsboro still were relegated to a segregated, Reconstruction-era schoolhouse. The county engineer, a white man, set fire to the school to try to force desegregation, but still the local school board dragged its feet.

Enter “the Marching Mothers,” as Banyas calls them, and the NAACP and the first Northern test case for the high court’s Brown decision.

…In her view, integration is a concept that includes the civil-rights sense of racial desegregation but is much broader and deeper. It encompasses (Martin Luther) King’s ‘beloved community’ ideal, built on a vision of what he called ‘the solidarity of the human family.’ It speaks to its semantic relative, ‘integrity,’ with the corresponding implications of strength and balance. It reflects her interdisciplinary way of making art, which dances gracefully between the whimsical and the profound.

Even though it deals with events a half-century ago, its underlying themes are resonant and relevant today — so much so that Portland Public Schools created an extensive curriculum based on ‘The Hillsboro Story,’ not only to help students understand the historical facts and themes of the play but also to learn how to look at their own lives and surroundings through the craft of storytelling.

As Banyas puts it in an introductory essay she’s written for the play, ‘Memory is not about the past, any more than a right angle is about geometry.’”

Susan’s web

Embedded in Banyas’ memory and her emotional connection to the varied aspects of the story is Charlotte’s Web, her “favorite thing about third grade.” The themes of friendship, community, concern for the welfare of others, and the importance of bold action in support of a just cause — all of these connect E.B. White’s classic children’s tale with the values Banyas espouses throughout The Hillsboro Story.

Another commonality is the idea of messages embedded in a web. Banyas’ book is written as a series of short sections, sometimes as short as a few paragraphs, seldom longer than a few pages. Their overall structure is complex, sometimes elliptical, occasionally repetitive, rarely chronological or linear. Many sections are scenic in nature, some more documentary and historical, some personal and reflective, while others are straightforward oral-history transcriptions. The content ranges in scope from the details of how the desegregation fight progressed to the practical and emotional ramifications for those involved, to dark observations on the mechanisms of economic and geopolitical power. The subtitle — “a kaleidoscope history of an integration battle in my hometown” — is telling. It’s her story and she tells it her way; but that way insists on an ever-shifting multiplicity of voices and perspectives, and utilizes a sometimes dizzying fluidity in regard to time, moving rapidly from 1982 to 1955, back to 1982, to 1990, to 2003, back to 1955, then eventually to the mid-19th century, the 1960s and ‘70s, 2015… 

“It’s a quest,” she says during our coffeehouse conversation. “I tried a more conventional method, and I just wasn’t interested in it. One of the questions I wanted to ask with all this was: How powerful is it to take a single memory and walk back into it?”

Susan Banyas’ great-great-grandparents moved to Highland County, Ohio in 1837. The area’s Quaker population would work for justice, sheltering fugitive slaves in the 19th century, and helping to home school protesting black students in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Susan Banyas.

At points, the book reflects upon its own methods: “A story’s choreography is global and geographic when you step back and look at life this way — how you circle around and have chance encounters, how your life starts to take a shape, how, little by little, your blues hit the heat of imagination and you are somewhere else.”

Or, as she puts it when her quest brings out a particularly strange and fortuitous confluence of personal histories: “I feel like Nancy Drew on acid.”

A template

Banyas acknowledges that her account is far from a conventional history. “It must not have been an easy sell to publishers,” I remark.

 “The academics wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole,” she says with a rueful chuckle. “And who’s at the center of it? Me. So I’m more suspect from the point of view of a straight-ahead publisher.”

But the project found a home with publisher Todd Thilleman, whose Spuyten Duyvil press specializes in “avant-garde books…honest and reality-based imaginative texts…shot-in-the-dark efforts,” according to its mission statement. 

“He saw it as an art book, a kind of documentary,” Banyas said. “And that worked for me, because it’s really a template. It’s meant to bounce you into your own thoughts, not to resolve itself. I didn’t want it to be like The Help, where you just go away and congratulate yourself on having read the book….

“I hope it’s used for people to start recalling their own memories — talking to Uncle So-and-So, looking into privilege and history and what’s right in front of us that we’re not talking about. I think we always have to ask: Who’s controlling the narrative? I hope people wake up to their own experience and don’t take anyone’s word for anything.”

Word wide web

Toward the end of the book, Banyas periodically poses a question to some of the people involved in the desegregation battle all those years ago:

“‘If you were Charlotte,’ I ask…, ‘what word would you choose to weave into the web — to save the world?’” Among the answers she hears are “friendship,” “curiosity” and “fair play.”
I wonder what word Banyas would choose. “Integration,” perhaps? “Connection”? Or maybe “Soul Story.”

You have to start somewhere

“As a movement artist, I wanted to write a book about the movement and spiritual intelligence of protest because as a white person, schooled and socialized in America, I was denied access to this intelligence because of fear and ignorance,” Banyas said in an interview with writer Deborah Kalb. “I had to re-member, piece a history together, retrieve the parts of my memory — history that had been kept in the shadows, demonized, or simply ignored.”

“News was becoming national,” she writes of the desegregation case reaching the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. “My sweet little home town would have a hard time hiding out in the hills now, pretending to be a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Some of the most engaging, illuminating moments in “The Hillsboro Story” come when Banyas subtly indicts the mid-American orthodoxy she grew up with — that ignoring, that willful ignorance — by juxtaposing mundane, superficially innocent lifestyle details with broader social developments. It’s her way of stepping — fitfully at first, then purposefully —  out of that Rockwell world and into her truth.

About the summer of 1967 she writes: “The whole country is awake now…tuning in and turning on a new social order.
“I carry on in the social order and get a summer job as a lifeguard at the Chillicothe Country Club where I can swim laps, practice my diving moves, work on my tan while on the job. The wealthy housewives stretch out on the reclining lawn chairs, gossip, rub Coppertone into their skin, smoke Salems, order club sandwiches from the kitchen, made and served by the Black help, read Vogue and Redbook.

“Four hours north, Detroit burns for four days.”

About having married at age 20, she muses: “Fortunately, I have seen my first Felliini film, and the strange people in Juliet of the Spirits have captured my imagination, but for now, I am stuck in a trailer park on the outskirts of Athens, Ohio trying to cook a pot roast. You have to start somewhere.”

Not long afterward, teaching jobs bring her and her husband to Oregon, where she becomes fast friends with a free-spirited and opinionated colleague: “Rosie and I laugh so hard, I am born again.”

Still ready to laugh: Susan Banyas near her home in Astoria. Photo: Dorinda Holler.

Of conspiracy and credulity

“Sometimes meaning is amplified by seemingly whimsical gesture, as when she gives a bit of background on her school’s namesake, Daniel Webster,” I wrote in  my review for The Oregonian of The Hillsboro Story play, back in 2010. “Describing him as a ‘centrist,’ she says the word while giving a little limp wriggle, as if to denote a slippery spinelessness.”

Now, as then, I’m bothered by the aspersion. Partly because I don’t think political values have to be extreme to be authentic or useful, partly because I wish that Banyas availed herself of a bit more centrist-style caution. 

As much as I’ve always liked her and her work, and as much as The Hillsboro Story is engaging and illuminating overall, I sometimes found it tough to read. On top of its determinedly non-linear structure (plus a lamentable number of copy-editing and proof-reading gaffes), it strains so far to make points about systemic corruption that two-thirds through we’re far from Southern Ohio and instead are mired in digressions about the deaths of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.  

She recalls the deaths of JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, writing “I grew up on Nancy Drew and Perry Mason. I can spot the criminals…I am only fifteen, but it is clear to me that the whole thing was an inside job.” How Perry Mason can be the basis of such certitude I don’t know, but fine. Before long, though, there’s discussion of “corporate mafia,” “Vatican mafia,” “shadow government,” a “black underground communication network,” “the new world order” and so on. She recounts claims by Philip Partridge, the engineer-turned-arsonist, that secret agents used invisible laser weapons to cause him various illnesses. Then she Googles a few things about experimental weapons research, connects dots to Obama-ordered drone strikes and the like and concludes, “I don’t need to fact-check remote control torture to postulate whether Philip Partridge was writing about real or imagined experience” — as though possibility establishes fact.

Both Patridge and Banyas may well be right about such sinister forces at work. But such claims read here more like histrionics than history. 

Memory serves

And yet, her overarching argument is hard to quibble with. Discussing the efforts of the likes of Constance Baker Motley, Daniel Ellsberg, Sen. Frank Church, and, by extension, the Marching Mothers, Banyas writes: “The social engineers fighting to unify society through equal protection were shadow-boxing against covert, internalized, systemic racism and a deadly game for geopolitical world domination, a ‘grand strategy’ of complete control of earth’s resources through supremacy in the military, marketplace, media, and most of all, memory.

“..This story is not about small-town drama, although drama drives the story. The story is about power, about who controls memory, who has the authority to speak.”

Home school of the heart

In a way, The Hillsboro Story is an answer to one of the questions that Banyas quotes from Philip Partridge’s memoir. Yes, there is a sense of justice even in young children. And Banyas has artfully traced her way back to its origins in her own life, as well as followed its call outward, into the lives of others. 

 “It really gets down to relationships,” she says as we finish our coffee. “You can’t argue those — or judge them. They’re very personal. It’s always a little mysterious to me that history isn’t written more in this way — it’s so relational.

 “The women of Hillsboro taught me a lot about love and common sense at the heart of justice.”

“Queens Girl”: a colorful, complicated coming of age

Rich, evocative writing and Lauren Steele's vibrant performance highlight a winning one-woman play at Clackamas Rep.

Over the course of decades writing about performing arts in Portland, I have come to recognize a certain sort of experience that I refer to as a “black dot show.” This is when I happen to glance around at the audience and notice that I am the black dot amid an auditorium full of white people. As a Portland native, I find these occurrences neither surprising nor uncomfortable. 

On a second scan of the crowd at Clackamas Repertory Theatre this weekend, I spotted a young family in the back row that tilted the melanin equation a bit, but I already was musing about the company’s choice to stage Queens Girl in the World — a play about black adolescence and identity in early-1960s New York — for what I would guess is the oldest and whitest audience among Portland-area theaters.

Lauren Steele as Jacqueline Marie Butler, navigating the tricky terrain of adolescence and the socio-political changes of the ’60s in “Queens Girl in the World” at Clackamas Rep. Photo: Travis Nodurft

I’m not the only person to find the choice surprising. In an unusually personal program note, the playwright, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, recalls her initial inclination to deny Clackamas Rep’s request for performance rights: “I pulled up your website and here’s what I saw: both of you (artistic director David Smith-English and managing director Cyndy Smith-English) are white. Your past theatrical seasons were white. Your theatre is located in a white community. You are outside of the City of Portland. Enough said.” But a follow-up phone call and a chance visit changed her mind.
“I should have remembered that embracing with curiosity, empathy and love the stories of those who look like ‘the other’ is the very definition of the theatrical impulse,” she wrote. “Silly me. How could I have forgotten that the more specific our stories, the more universal their themes?”

From the moment that Lauren Steele steps onstage as 12-year-old Jaqueline Marie Butler, all bright-eyed innocence and pin-point-polite diction, specificity is the hallmark of this terrific production. Written with abundant heart and loads of evocative detail, performed with winning vibrance, Queens Girl draws us in and charms us from the outset, then brings us along on a journey of surprising scope, depth and, yes, universality.

We meet Jacqueline — or Jackie, as she’s mostly called — on the stoop of her family’s two-story detached brick house in a neat but modest part of Queens, serenaded by the roar of planes on their descent to LaGuardia Airport. She comes across as sweet and sheltered. It’s quickly apparent that she’s hard at work, navigating and negotiating a path between the exacting uplift-the-race standards of her parents and the looser culture of the surrounding neighborhood. Her mother is a stickler for propriety, in speech and manners, such a model of Negro grace and bearing that Jackie refers to her not as “Mom” but as “Grace Lofton Butler.” By contrast, Persephone — a neighbor girl who is growing up a bit faster and less inhibited than Jackie — says things such as, “James ain’t feel me up! He jus’ kiss on me lil’ bit.”

It might seem at first that we are in for an engaging, lighthearted coming of age story. Jackie looks forward to confirmation classes at church, because her Grace will let her trade in her kid’s anklets for real stockings. When Grace begins talking tactfully of “womanly cycles,” Jackie is half puzzled, half excited: “Am I getting a bike?!” she wonders. Jackie’s social development briefly gets airborne with her first crush/kiss, then is blown off course when her parents transfer her from PS 124 to a private school in Greenwich Village, where suddenly she’s a black dot. 

All of this is easy to enjoy and easy to relate to, regardless of the racial/cultural specifics — Jackie’s or those of any audience member.

Steele is a wonderfully winning performer, and versatile to boot. (The program lists 13 roles portrayed by Steele, but as is often the case with such shows, this really is a single character telling us a story. While young Jackie vividly recreates the distinctive speech and mannerisms of the people in her life, we see these others strictly from her perspective, which is sometimes sensitive, sometimes broadly comic.) Director Damaris Webb has shaped the production with a sure and easy rhythm and unfussy, solidly supportive design work (Haley Hurita’s projections are especially effective). And Jennings’ writing is studded with descriptive gems: Jackie says her mother has a voice like “twilight-colored taffeta,” sketches an image of her proud West Indian father with his “dimples and brushed mustache,” and swoons at the 15-year-old boy whose recently changed voice sounds like “melting butter in a skillet.”

What ultimately elevates Queens Girl in the World, though, is the “in the world” part. By gradual, graceful, deceptively significant steps, Jennings builds her story (“semi-autobiographical,” according to Webb’s director’s note) outward from that unassuming front stoop, taking in larger ideas and events: the pros and cons of cultural assimilation, gradualism versus radicalism in politics, the tricky relationship of social-justice allies, the complex overlays of racial/economic/ideological identity, the cascading cataclysms of the march on Washington, the Birmingham church bombing, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X.  As she is at the outset, toggling between Persephone’s street vernacular and her mother’s textbook English, through all the growth and change and turmoil and learning Jackie repeatedly finds herself in complicated social dynamics, facing contradictory expectations, having to construct and calibrate an identity that fits herself and her situation.  

In that regard, maybe Jackie’s neither black dot nor black sheep, as much like any of us as different from us — not just a Queens girl in the world, but a chameleon riding a rainbow.

Notes from Eastern Oregon: Art centers keep culture alive

Former Carnegie libraries in Pendleton, La Grande and Baker City house collections ranging from rocks to Lee Marvin's yellow-striped pants.

A road trip to Eastern Oregon late this summer opened my eyes to an error of provincialism on my part. I had regarded Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center as being somehow unique for a small community. Granted, it is one of the largest nonprofit facilities of its kind in Oregon outside of Portland, but it is hardly the only instance of an old building being repurposed to keep arts and culture alive in a small town.

A trip that took us up the Columbia Gorge and into Pendleton, though La Grande, and finally into Baker City yielded a few journalistic snapshots.

The entrance of the Carnegie library that houses the Pendleton Arts Center was designed to resemble the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. Randy Gundlach’s horse statue lends a western touch. Photo by: David Bates
The entrance of the Carnegie library that houses the Pendleton Center for the Arts was designed to resemble the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. Randy Gundlach’s horse statue lends a western touch. Photo by: David Bates

The Pendleton Center for the Arts is perched on a hill on the northwest corner of downtown next to the Umatilla River. Like the other art centers we visited in Eastern Oregon, the Pendleton center is a remodeled Carnegie library, this one designed by Portland architect Folger Johnson (1882-1970) and built in 1916 in the style of Italian Renaissance Revival. The entrance was designed to resemble the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. Near the front steps is an equestrian statue titled Sisters in Spirit by Randy Gundlach, dedicated in October 2004.

On the day I was there, the photographic work of David Webber, an artist/professor from Oklahoma, occupied the main gallery. Trees, gates, fences, sidewalks, and exterior walls were the primary motifs featured in the 15 prints, blown up to enormous size. According to the program, Webber’s “photos confuse the boundaries of their reference and challenge the viewers’ perception of what they are seeing. Superimposing images through layering, he pushes them to varying degrees of density by creating simple composites, fields of color and meshed textures.”


Art on the Road: Whitney Biennial

The power of codes in the art of American black women: This year's adventurous Biennial talks smartly and deeply with art on the streets


Sometimes I wonder if I am actually visiting the same exhibits that I have read about in the mainstream reviews. Take the Whitney Biennial. Introduced by the Museum’s founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, in 1932, the Biennial is the longest-running exhibition in the country to chart the latest developments in American art. This year’s exhibit was reviewed as Young Art Cross-Stitched with Politics by Holland Cotter in the New York Times; explained by ArtNet’s Ben Davis as The 2019 Whitney Biennial Shows America’s Artists Turning Toward Coded Languages in Turbulent Times; and featured by the Wall Street Journal’s Peter Plagens as Still Protesting, but to What End? (with an entry paragraph that describes the exhibition as filled with work expressing political and social grievances, but feels like it may be preaching to the converted.)


DanceWatch Monthly: TBA gets it going

This year's Time-Based Art Festival is loaded with dance events, and the rest of the month is brimming with dance, too

It’s September and it’s time to celebrate because Portland’s 2019-2020 dance season is here, and it’s tremendous! Listed below are September’s performances as well as all of the dance related performances that I am aware of in Oregon from now until next summer. The list will of course grow as new performances pop up, so check back often. Spend time with the list, ogle its greatness, click the links, and research at will. There is a lot to choose from and you don’t want to miss a thing!

The incredible amount of Portland dance offerings this year span American modern dance history, show breadth in style and approach, represent different cultures/counter cultures and countries, offer many ways to interact with them, and will be performed by local, national, and international dance companies and artists.

This week? It’s TBA time! TBA stands for Time-Based Art, and it’s the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s annual 10-day festival (September 5-15) of performance, music, visual art, film, workshops, lectures, and after-hours parties. The festival is inherently interdisciplinary and champions local, national and international artists who reflect and respond to our times. It’s a mind-altering, opinion-changing, heart-opening extravaganza of the senses. 

This year, the work of legendary, slow-motion Japanese performance artist Eiko Otake opens the festival and her work is woven throughout, an homage to Eiko and her dance partner Koma. During TBA’s inaugural Festival in 2003, Eiko and Koma performed “Offering,” a meditation on sorrow, in Portland’s Jamison Square fountains.

Below I have highlighted the dance-centric TBA events along with other September dance performances, because that’s what we do here at DanceWatch. For the full schedule of TBA events go to PICA’s website. Enjoy!

September Performances by week

Week 1: September 2-8

Members of the cast of In the Heights. Photo courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

In The Heights
Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, directed by May Andrales
August 31-October 13
Portland Center Stage at The Armory, 128 NW Eleventh Ave

In a Dominican-American community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, life is bubbling on a hot summer day in this tale of a neighborhood’s struggles and sacrifices in search of identity and place, by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Premiering in 1999, this Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical directed by May Adrales (she also directed Chinglish or Portland Center Stage), with choreography by William Carlos Angulo, brings hip-hop and the sounds of salsa, merengue, soul, and rhythm and blues, to center stage. 

Renowned Japanese dancer Eiko Otake, in her solo work, A Body in Places. Photo courtesy of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

A Body in Places (TBA:19)
Eiko Otake 
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
6 -8 pm September 5 (Opening Reception) 
September 5 – October 24, Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA, 511 NW Broadway, Free

Inaugurating the opening of TBA’s 19th festival, Eiko Otake, one half of the renowned Japanese dance duo, Eiko and Koma, will perform her 2014 solo, A Body in Places, in and around the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s exhibition gallery. The work has been performed in 40 sites around the world, and it responds to the architectural elements of the gallery, the audience, nature, time and space, death, family, politics, and Eiko’s experience revisiting the nuclear disaster site of Fukushima. 


Exquisite Gorge 11: It’s a print!

On a bright & shining Saturday, it all came together: Maryhill Museum's audacious, 66-foot long print project went to press via steam roller

Woodblock print by Ken Spiering (Detail)


“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.” Karl Marx The German Ideology (1846)


It was Print Day at Maryhill Museum of Art. Eleven wondrous woodcuts, each sized 6×4 feet, were inked, aligned in a row, and printed by a steam roller, producing the largest contiguous woodcut print that we know of. They depict the length of the Columbia River flowing through The Gorge, with geographic precision regarding the river, and imaginative representation for everything else.

The scaffold is ready, early morning


PHAME and friends rock out

PHAME Academy and Portland Opera collaborate on original rock opera

Photos by Friderike Heuer

Two summers ago, Portland Opera Manager of Education and Outreach Alexis Hamilton attended an original musical performed by artists from Portland’s PHAME Academy, which serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She hoped the 35-year-old organization might help her make the Portland Opera To Go program more accessible to people with disabilities. But she was so impressed by PHAME’s 2017 production that she imagined a bigger project.

“After I saw that,” Hamilton recalled, “I was really on fire” to collaborate with PHAME.

PHAME dancers in rehearsal.
PHAME “movers” in rehearsal.

That production coincided with the arrival of PHAME’s new executive director, Jenny Stadler, who was looking for ways “to overcome the invisibility” that separated many people with disabilities from the rest of society. One method: give PHAME students opportunities to tell their own stories to the larger public. After Hamilton approached her about collaborating, Stadler woke up with a “middle-of-the-night epiphany: we help them become inclusive, and they teach our students how to create an opera.” 

This weekend and next, 18 months of groundbreaking work by PHAME and Portland Opera staff — and above all the students themselves — culminate in what Stadler calls ‘the biggest project we’ve ever done.” PHAME’s original new rock opera, The Poet’s Shadow, runs for seven performances this weekend and next at Portland Opera’s Hampton Opera Center.