LANGUAGE ARTS

‘A world of uncertainty’

Voices from the front: Arts philanthropist Ronni Lacroute says COVID-19 is forcing arts groups to think in new ways. Her role? “I just calm people down a lot.”

If you’ve attended plays or concerts in Portland or visited the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland with any regularity over the past decade, chances are good you owe at least one afternoon or evening of cultural enrichment to philanthropist Ronni Lacroute.

Lacroute lives in Yamhill County, where in 1991 she co-founded a vineyard and world-class winery on property that had been a cattle farm. As co-owner with her former husband of WillaKenzie Estate, she immersed herself in the wine business for a quarter century, until the winery was sold in 2016.

Lacroute, whose father was in the foreign service, had traveled extensively abroad in her youth. She studied romance languages and literature and has degrees from Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and both the licence ès lettres and the maîtrise ès lettres in North American literature from the Paris-Sorbonne University. She was a college professor and taught French language and culture in high school in Massachusetts in the 1970s and 1980s.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Along the way, she became a patron of the arts and for years has given widely to a variety of Oregon arts organizations. She’s a generous donor to arts programs at Linfield College in McMinnville, where she’s a member of the Board of Trustees. (From the Department of Full Disclosure: She’s also a donor to Oregon ArtsWatch, and earlier this year I appeared in a play at Gallery Theater in McMinnville that she sponsored.)

Ronni Lacroute says arts organizations hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdown are those locked into a venue, like a symphony hall or a theater that doesn’t allow flexible spacing. Smaller, project-based companies are better able to look at alternatives. Photo by: Carolyn Wells-Kramer
Ronni Lacroute says smaller and project-based arts organizations that have flexibility in terms of venue are coming up with creative alternative ways of connecting with audiences. Photo by: Carolyn Wells-Kramer

She now is involved full time in individual philanthropy, holding nonstop meetings with the nonprofit community. She’s particularly interested in artistic projects and groups that promote important conversations across social, economic, and political divides and that effect social change.

Because Lacroute is so connected with the region’s artistic life, we thought it would be enlightening to find out what she’s hearing in the wake of COVID-19. A lot, it turns out. And she was more than happy to share. The following interview was conducted via Facetime and has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me what it was like for you, when this really hit, as far as your meetings and contacts.

Lacroute: Well really, the only thing in my life that’s changed is no live meetings. I used to have people here every single day for meetings. The structure of my work life was to meet live and spend a couple of hours brainstorming ideas. It’s really hard to do that when you just have a phone call. You don’t do that for two hours. We exchange ideas, but how much can you put into an email or a 10-minute phone conversation? I’m missing the depth of exploration that we had before, where people were expecting that we’re going to hang out until we have some plans.

How did those conversations change once everyone really understood what was happening?

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Virtual art show goes viral

An online exhibition at Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg explores artistic responses to COVID-19

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, like every other gallery and cultural venue in Oregon, is closed to the public, but the nonprofit’s resolve to stay on task with showcasing art, bringing artists together, and building a cultural community is unbroken.

Last week, the center unveiled an extraordinary and ambitious online exhibition brilliantly curated (presumably from her home) by Carissa Burkett, who keeps the center’s multiple galleries full year-round. It answers, at least in a preliminary way, a question that’s been on my mind since mid-March when COVID-19 shut everything down: How will artists respond to a pandemic?

“A dream of flying,” by Stan Peterson of Portland (carved and painted basswood on birch panel, 11 by 14 by 4 inches, April 2020). Peterson says of his piece: “The reclining figure emanating the yellow light of sky rests in a boat adrift. There is a sort of reverie to sheltering in place. I’m also feeling adrift, waiting to fly again.”
“A dream of flying,” by Stan Peterson of Portland (carved and painted basswood on birch panel, 11 by 14 by 4 inches, April 2020). Peterson says of his piece: “The reclining figure emanating the yellow light of sky rests in a boat adrift. There is a sort of reverie to sheltering in place. I’m also feeling adrift, waiting to fly again.”

A global trauma like COVID-19 will surely reverberate through the art world in coming years and even decades in ways we can’t predict. But Our Changing Context: Initial Artistic Response to COVID-19 at least provides an expansive snapshot of what artists are up to right now.

The show’s emotional resonance is all the more powerful thanks to two personal notes Burkett includes in the program’s description. She credits her father, Phil Burkett, for “planting the idea for this exhibit in my mind and for continually nurturing my creative spirit.” Also: “My work on this exhibit is in loving memory of my grandmother, Arlene Sue Conner, who passed away this past weekend on 4/18/2020.” 

“Curating this online exhibit has been a unique experience,” she writes. “Arranging images and text on a screen instead of lugging around my hammer and nails has allowed me to spend more time looking at, thinking about, and arranging these artworks than any physical exhibition I have ever put together. This allowed me the opportunity to bring together artists from across the country who work in widely different mediums but share the common experience of a pandemic that leaves every life continually grieving a new context, one in which needs cannot be met.  However each person chooses to make it through each day during this crisis is unique and how each of these artists have created is a testament to humanity.”

The exhibition features work by more than 20 artists, from Oregon and around the country, and includes digital photography, collage, drawing, poetry, painting, and video.

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The little bookstore that could

Voices From the Front: McMinnville’s Third Street Books rides out COVID-19 with home deliveries, curbside pickup, and mail order

Over the past decade or so, every time I see one of those The End of Books stories or yet another article about how Amazon is crushing small, family-owned businesses or how eBooks are rendering bookstores irrelevant, I’ll make a point of asking Sylla McClellan, who has owned and operated Third Street Books in downtown McMinnville since 2004, how her shop is doing.

The answer is usually positive, sometimes less so. Given how the odds are stacked against indie bookstores even in the best of times, Third Street Books stands out as a survivor. So far, at least. That’s why I thought the occasion of a pandemic might be a good time to check in.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


In Yamhill County, most of our restaurants are shut down, though a few have modified their menus for curbside pickup. Third Street’s crown jewel, McMenamins Hotel Oregon, is shuttered. When I had breakfast there a few days before the governor’s executive order closed restaurants statewide, I was the only one in the restaurant at 9 a.m. Third Street Books just down the block remained open to customers, but the next day, March 12, McClellan posted this on Facebook:

“I have never spent so much time thinking about public health and the impact on our economy that it can (and will) have on my business. The news is changing so fast I have a hard time keeping up. We’ve been wiping down door handles and counter-tops all week. No hugging, handshaking or coughing is allowed (only sort of joking)!”

Sylla McClellan (right) laid off her staff at Third Street Books when the coronavirus forced the shop to close its doors, but has hired back one employee. Emily Kelly (left) hosts online story times, streaming Thursday mornings on Facebook. Photo by: David Bates
Sylla McClellan (right) laid off her staff at Third Street Books when the coronavirus forced the shop to close its doors, but has hired back one employee. Emily Kelly (left) hosts online story times, streaming Thursday mornings on Facebook. Photo by: David Bates

There’s always been a strong “shop local” culture in McMinnville, which clearly helps stores such as Third Street Books. McClellan is fortunate enough to run a bookstore in a city that likes to read. When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, were here in February to plug their book, more than 800 people showed up. Anecdotally, it seems there’s a high concentration of writers, artists, and teachers who, along with many others, must be regularly satiated with reading material — now, more than ever. Via email, McClellan and I talked about how you run a bookshop during a pandemic. The exchange below has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start at the beginning, just to give readers some context about how Third Street Books was positioned as the pandemic hit. Give us the quick version of the store’s origin and history, how you came to start it.

McClellan: In 2004, I purchased the then-named The Book Shoppe on Third. We opened in early January of that year with fresh paint as Third Street Books. I’ve always been grateful to be in a community that values having access to books. The downturn of ’08 didn’t really hit us until 2011. It was tough, but we learned how to slim down, work hard, and survive. That experience will be helpful now.

How was the shop doing before COVID-19? It seems like every time I’ve asked over the years how things are going there, you seem pretty upbeat.

We were solid before mid-March. We had a great staff of Real Professional Booksellers, as I like to call everyone, with a combined bookselling history of over 50 years. We were moving forward with new ideas; author visits to schools, tiptoeing into expanding our events offerings, and getting out of debt! Now all that has changed.

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Lincoln City Cultural Center mines COVID-19 silver lining

Creative Quarantine provides activity kits for kids and online entertainment for adults

Even in these strange days, people are finding the silver lining. At the Lincoln City Cultural Center, that’s been a chance to connect with innumerable people who previously may not have known the center existed. It’s also been a reminder of what creative and innovative people are in our midst.

Last month, Executive Director Niki Price temporarily closed the center due to COVID-19. It wasn’t easy. There were layoffs, reduced hours, and the cancellation of one of the year’s biggest kids’ events, the Festival of Illusion.

Sisters Juniper (left) and Hazel Jones made Ben Soeby Fishboxes, https://artstudiotourlccc.com/artists/ben-soeby/ part of the April 9 Creative Quarantine packet, using popsicle sticks, pens, markers, paint and glue. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center
Sisters Juniper (left) and Hazel Jones made Ben Soeby Fishboxes, part of the April 9 Creative Quarantine packet, using popsicle sticks, pens, markers, paint and glue. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center

“Everybody went home and rested for a few days,” Price said. “And then I began to think, we have all these supplies and all these ideas. Surely, we can find a way to get them out there in a safe way.”

So she called the center’s visual arts director, Krista Eddy, who knew exactly what Price was thinking.

And that’s how Creative Quarantine was born.

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Powell’s Books: The next chapter?

A surge of online orders is keeping the great Portland gathering spot going. A look back on its glory days, and a hope for their return.

Editor’s note: Powell’s Books, and in particular its flagship store off West Burnside Street, Powell’s City of Books, is Portland’s best-known and probably most-loved cultural institution, a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. Everybody goes to Powell’s. Or did, until the coronavirus crisis forced the company to shut down its brick-and-mortar stores and lay off its staff. Fears rose that the economic hit would make it impossible for the stores to reopen. But a surge in online business has brought 100 workers back, with hopes for more once the crisis abates. Photographer and writer K.B. Dixon takes a look at the city’s quintessential cultural destination in its glory days.


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This small collection of photographs is excerpted from a larger project completed three years ago. It is a simple homage to the act of reading in general and to one of Portland’s defining institutions in particular—Powell’s City of Books. The largest independent bookstore in the country, it is a vital part of this city’s cultural and intellectual life. It is not “a” bookstore—it is “the” bookstore. It has been “my” bookstore for more than thirty years.

Right now, with all five Portland-area stores shuttered in response to the COVID-19 menace, it is community support that is keeping Powell’s alive. A surge in online book sales at Powells.com has allowed the company to rehire more than 100 laid-off workers.

***

2016

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An invitation to ‘unleash the artist’

Manzanita's Hoffman Center for the Arts responds to the coronavirus shutdown by encouraging artists in all media to participate in a virtual show

Like so many others, artist Christine Wichers is feeling a bit out of sorts these days. She and her husband are 72; her mother, 94, lives with them.

“We’re in that high target range” for susceptibility to the novel coronavirus, said Wichers, who lives in Washougal, Wash. “I worry every single day that I am going to make some kind of mistake and cause us harm. I could do something wrong and bring that home or make one trip to the grocery store too many.”

When Christine Wichers saw how her painting, “At Home Day 9,” turned out, she thought, “Dang, that’s how I feel.”  The painting is part of the Hoffman Center for the Arts’ “Creating in Place” virtual show.  Photo courtesy: Hoffman Center for the Arts

But she does take comfort in her afternoon painting routine and recently found herself channeling the anxiety and uncertainty into her art. She’d been working on a series of sea creatures, with a focus on the eyes.

“I just started putting paint on the canvas,” she said. And as the work she has since dubbed At Home Day 9 evolved, she knew she’d captured her stormy spirit. “I said, ‘Dang, that’s how I feel.’”

Then came that moment of serendipity, the place every artist hopes to land – a gallery to share her work.

The Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita is hosting Creating in Place: Connecting in a Time of Uncertainty. The project was Hoffman Center board member David Dillon’s idea.

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Music, poetry, and visual art, all within walking distance

Yamhill County calendar: Linfield College offers a little of everything, shows are changing at the Chehalem Cultural Center, and nearby, Salem goes steampunk

Totem Shriver uses various media to explore imagery in PATH SKY DREAM at Linfield College. Photo by: David Bates

We close out February in wine country with a rich bundle of cultural opportunities on the Linfield College campus in McMinnville. In the James F. Miller Fine Arts Center on the southwest side of campus, you’ll find Totem Shriver’s PATH SKY DREAM, an interesting collection of sculpture and imagery. The show runs through March 21.

This Thursday would be a great day to drop in, because afterward you can head over to the Nicholson Library and hear Dartmouth College professor Joshua Bennett read from his work. Bennett is a nationally recognized poet, the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin Books, 2016), and a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. His Linfield appearance runs 5 to 6 p.m. Feb. 27. Then, at 7 p.m., you’ll find Linfield music instructor and flutist Abigail Sperling in the Vivian A. Bull Music Center. All events are free and open to the public.

STEAMPUNK CELEBRATION IN SALEM: Portland is still the weirdest, but Salem is doing what it can to keep up. Exhibit A this weekend would be the third annual Salem Steampunk Ball of Oregon. This year’s event promises a “circus element” and runs from 8 p.m. to midnight in the Reed Opera House Mall downtown. Craven Valentine serves as the ringmaster, and steampunk band Faerabella will provide the soundtrack for a pool of jugglers, magicians, burlesque dancers, and a parade led by Capitol Pride. Proceeds benefit Prisms Gallery, which strives “to make art accessible for all.” Tickets are $25 presale, $30 at door.

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