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Resourcefulness and resilience: Local thesis shows in a global pandemic

Graduating art students pivot from in-person thesis shows to an array of virtual offerings

By BRIANA MILLER

There is a lot going on in the world right now, and in the midst of it, a newly minted class of fine art and craft students is setting out into the world. The timing couldn’t be better – we need their hope, creativity, resiliency, and ingenuity now more than ever. Equally, the timing couldn’t be worse – nearly all of their final in-person thesis shows were cancelled because of Covid-19 related closures. But art and artists are attuned to change, and as the pandemic forced colleges and universities across the Portland Metro area to close their campuses, their art departments moved swiftly to adjust expectations and find meaningful ways to culminate their degree programs. 

“Our role was to be responsive to the moment and work with the circumstances and not despite them,” said Jess Perlitz, who teaches sculpture at Lewis & Clark College and is the co-chair of its Department of Art. “Something about the arts is to be prepared and resourceful and resilient. We got to model that.”

For many schools, delaying or postponing the thesis exhibition wasn’t an option. Students left as campuses closed in mid-March, and because they were graduating, any plans to return were uncertain. As a result, institutions pivoted to thinking of the final exhibitions as virtual, building new online galleries or substantially enhancing existing web pages. 

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Homeward Unbound

Resetting Oregon arts policy for the post-Covid age

Oregon arts are in big trouble. The Covid crisis has, as in many parts of our society, exposed critical flaws in the ways Oregon supports its performing arts. Former Portland Opera Managing Director Christopher Mattaliano lays out some of the primary causes in his ArtsWatch story Will Portland Protect its ‘Big 5’?

Portland5’s Newmark Theatre

I think that’s the wrong question. The right question is: in the new reality shaped by declining support for big performing institutions, likely new restrictions on big crowds, and a long overdue need for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the arts, how should Portland and Oregon support the arts? Rather than squander energy futilely trying to “protect” a doomed, dated, unsustainable set of 19th century institutions from 21st century reality, we should use this crisis as a chance to radically transform a model that, as Mattaliano noted, wasn’t working all that great before the virus struck. And we want Oregon ArtsWatch to be the place where we discuss that transformation. I’ll touch it off with a proposal that looks for salvation — or at least evolution — in an entirely different direction than what we might call the old MAGA (Make Art Great Again) model: more decentralized, more democratic, more equitable and inclusive, and, I hope, less susceptible to viral outbreaks.

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Focusing in Isolation

Portland photographers reflect on their work during the pandemic: Part One

When I think about how the world has changed so fundamentally over the past few months, I find it hard to accept that I won’t suddenly recover from some crazy Alice in Wonderland Syndrome and come out from behind the looking glass. Time and space seem so distorted right now that navigating my way through each day is like moving through a perceptual minefield. And as more recent events seem to have supplanted the pandemic scare, my feelings of fear, sadness and loneliness have lately given way to feelings of anger, outrage and disbelief. 


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


But unlike so many others, I am fortunate. As I remain vigilant about practicing self-isolation, all that is happening now has affected me more emotionally than practically. As a photographer I can still create work, even though the nature of that work has changed since the start of the pandemic. As I continue my photography safely at home, I’ve been wondering how the lockdown has affected other photographers in the community. So I caught up with a few fellow photographers and asked them how the current crisis has influenced their own creative work. The following is the first in a two-part series based on my interviews with ten of Portland’s finest photographers. Today’s report features the work and voices of Ray Bidegain, Jamila Clarke, Jim Fitzgerald, Heidi Kirkpatrick and Angel O’Brien.


RAY BIDEGAIN


Ray Bidegain, “Becoming Invisible”

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Black music is the centerpiece of American culture

Damien Geter’s "An African American Requiem": Part One of a three-part interview with the composer

Portland-based choral group Resonance Ensemble named its eleventh season after its motto “Programming with Purpose,” an ethos that fits right in with other Portland ensembles that take inspiration from social justice (FearNoMusic being one notable example). The season’s first two concerts—Beautiful Minds and Safe Harbor—featured music dealing with issues of mental health and immigration, and showcased music by Pauline Oliveros and Sarah Kirkland Snider alongside new works by local composers Theresa Koon, Joe Kye, and Brandon Stewart.

Composer and vocalist Damien Geter, performing with Portland Concert Opera.

The season’s final concert–a collaboration among Resonance, local gospel choir Kingdom Sound, singers auditioned from around the area, and the Oregon Symphony–was to be the world premiere of An African American Requiem by Oregon composer and bass-baritone Damien Geter, a full-length choral and orchestral work commissioned by Resonance Ensemble. When the symphony cancelled the remainder of its season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the premiere was rescheduled for January 22, 2021.

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Will Portland protect its ‘Big 5’?

The city's precarious arts funding structure and "small is better" ethos imperil the major arts groups, Portland Opera's former leader says


By CHRISTOPHER MATTALIANO


It was difficult to read a recent Willamette Week article (May 21) about Portland Opera canceling its fall season. I love the company. I’m very grateful for the 16 years I served as General Director and I wish to see it thrive. The article was also difficult to read because of significant inaccuracies. To write that the company has suffered from “years of substantial deficit” is simply not true. This can be verified by examining the financial documents on the company website.

But I’m not writing today to correct faulty characterizations of what has occurred in the past. Instead, I’ve been thinking about Portland, its arts organizations, and our future together. This time of quarantine provides an opportunity to take a “big picture” look at Portland’s arts community and what may lie ahead, post-pandemic.

First, let’s look back at the economic support conditions prior to the pandemic. The subscription model, which has been the life-blood of so many arts organizations, was already faltering and on life support. Consumers simply are not purchasing season subscriptions as they once did. There are a number of reasons why this has happened. Michael Kaiser, who has led many nonprofits and is known as the Turnaround King, has written extensively on the subject. There’s general agreement that the subscription model may improve somewhat in the years ahead, but it’s not coming back anywhere near where it was 20 years ago.

Christopher Mattaliano. Photo: Portland Opera


A number of Portland foundations that previously provided dependable, annual operating support have changed their focus and funding priorities. This often happens over time, particularly with a change of foundation leadership. Arts organizations have had to adjust quickly, as foundations have either reduced their support or no longer support the city’s arts organizations at all.

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Portland Art Museum sets reopening

The museum, shut since March 14, will begin a phased reopening in July. Beset by lost income, it also announces a round of layoffs.

The Portland Art Museum, shuttered since March 14 because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, is making plans to reopen in the second week of July. The reopening will be phased, with limits on the number of visitors allowed inside the building at any one time, and many details are still being worked out. “We’ll have more information in coming weeks, but we know museum operations and visitor numbers will need to be smaller at first due to precautions and restrictions for community health, including ongoing gathering restrictions that may prevent Northwest Film Center programs and museum event rentals from reopening for some time to come,” museum spokesperson Ian Gillingham said in an email Thursday afternoon.

Bad news arrived with the good: Effective July 1, the museum will lay off 51 full-time and 72 part-time workers. The cuts will reduce staffing costs for the cash-strapped museum by roughly one-third, and the museum hopes many of the layoffs will be temporary, Gillingham said.

“These layoffs are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and in no way reflect upon the dedication and talent of those who are affected,” museum Director Brian Ferriso wrote in a letter to staff that was sent Thursday. “I very much value and appreciate every member of the staff, your patience and your continued dedication to this institution.”

The museum had refrained from fully laying off staff earlier in the shutdown by using staff leaves, federal pandemic relief, and private emergency support that kept workers on the books through June. That effort has now ended.

“We can begin to rehire some of the laid-off staff as business needs allow, and as funding is available,” Ferriso continued. “We have been and will continue to be committed to advancing racial equity in our staffing and programming. I am deeply sorry to those impacted by this, and remain hopeful that we will be able to bring many people back as the crisis subsides and restrictions are lifted.”

Robert Colescott, “Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Upside Down Jesus and the Politics of Survival,” 1987, acrylic on canvas. Portland Art Museum purchase: Robert Hale Ellis Jr. Fund for the Blanche Eloise Day Ellis and Robert Hale Ellis Memorial Collection. © 1987 Robert Colescott. A Colescott retrospective will be on view when the museum reopens in July.

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Virtual and vital: Strike up the band

Caught short by the pandemic, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra takes to technology and shows that shutdown doesn't have to mean shut up

On that dark day in March when Oregon began to shut down, Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s leaders knew they had to move fast. “As soon as we knew we were going into lockdown, we tried as quickly as possible to transition to what’s next,” recalls music director Raúl Gómez. The Portland organization had to cancel not only its four upcoming spring concerts, but also its weekly Saturday rehearsals and its classes, affecting more than 500 students in 14 orchestra, band, string and jazz ensembles, including the 90-member Symphony Orchestra, and in beginning strings and theory classes. MYS leaders knew nothing could fully replace the lost programming, but they were determined not to leave a musical void in their teenage students’ lives.

“We had to find a way to keep the students engaged,” Gómez says, “to keep making music in some way.” 

Raúl Gómez conducts MYS way back in the days when they could all play together on stage.

But how? Governor Kate Brown’s emergency announcement prohibited gatherings required to put on a concert or a group rehearsal in the band rooms at its regular Northeast Portland and Hillsboro high schools. Nevertheless, MYS found a way to rethink — if not entirely replace — its major programs, including its crown jewel season closing concert. ArtsWatch readers, and everyone else, can see the result on their own screens this Saturday.

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