NEWS & NOTES

Museums set sail for Reopenland

ArtsWatch Weekly: The doors swing open, carefully. Plus: Black & white in America, "new normal" in the wayback machine; follow the money.

WHILE MUCH OF OREGON’S CULTURAL WORLD REMAINS FROZEN IN LOCKDOWN, the ice is beginning to thaw in the river of art. A lot of commercial galleries have been open by appointment for some time. Now Portland’s three biggest museums are also reopening their doors for visitors:

  • OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, is open already, complete with its under-the-skin exhibit Body Worlds & the Cycle of Life, although many of its popular interactive attractions are under strict control.
     
  • The Oregon Historical Society Museum reopens Saturday, July 11, with several attractions including the exhibition Nevertheless, They Persisted: Women’s Voting Rights and the 19th Amendment. 
     
  • Across the Park Block from the history center, the Portland Art Museum swings open its doors again on Thursday, July 16, with several exhibitions including its big Volcano! celebration of Mount St. Helens forty years after its explosion and its Robert Colescott retrospective Art and Race Matters. The museum will welcome visitors with free admission the first four days of its reopening.
When the Portland Art Museum reopens on July 16, so will the special exhibition “Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott.” Pictured: “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook,” 1975, Acrylic on Canvas, 84 x 108 inches. © Estate of Robert Colescott / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Estate and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Jean Paul Torno

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Fighting the one-two punch

ArtsWatch Weekly: Amid twin crises, arts and social awareness mix and meld and come together

IT’S BEEN A WEEK TO PICK OURSELVES UP, DUST OURSELVES OFF, START ALL OVER AGAIN: The one-two punch of pandemic and racial injustice has kept the culture on the ropes even as some of the contenders take a premature victory lap. The United States has solidified its dubious distinction as the epicenter of the global coronavirus crisis: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in the face of a rudderless national response is the closest thing we have to a national leader on the issue, warns that if Americans don’t get serious about the threat we could be facing 100,000 new cases a day. While the nation gradually and sometimes not so gradually reopens, the numbers of infections and deaths have spiked. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown has ordered that people wear masks in indoor public settings in every county, a directive that many, even those assigned to enforce the law, feel free to flout. 

The designer Milton Glaser’s final project. miltonglaser.com 

Culturally, in the past week the nation’s lost two towering figures. The great comedian Carl Reiner, who with the likes of Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks helped shape a stream of antic and sometimes subversively open American popular comedy, died at 98. And Milton Glaser, the graphic artist/designer/entrepreneur/American hybrid, died on his 91st birthday. Glaser’s touch was all over the culture, from book and album covers to concert posters to restaurant designs to the iconic “I (Heart) NY” logo that’s been copied by cities from here to the farther moons of Pluto, or so it sometimes seems. At the time of his death he was working on a new cultural connector to bridge the divides of troubled times: a distinctive image of the word “Together.”

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Virtual Festivals

Oregon festivals keep the music spreading online and in other virus-resistant ways

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and last month, we noted how several major Oregon summer festivals were making the transition from onstage to online. The parade continues in July and August, beginning with what’s always the major musical event of Independence Day weekend. As ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks explained in Blues Minus the Waterfront, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is shifting its annual July 4 show from one large stream — the bank of the Willamette River — to a mostly virtual one. The fest will stream highlights of past festivals on KOIN 6 over the air and online July 4, and on KBOO 90.7 FM and online July 4&5. But happily, the festival has also managed to safely add a live component. Instead of grooving to the blues in big, virus-friendly crowds, Blues Fest Bandwagon brings performances to select driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland metro area Friday and Saturday.

Amenta Abioto performs at Pavement on July 18.

That’s not the only show to venture out to non traditional outdoor spaces for distanced live performance. On July 18, Risk/Reward Festival and Portland’s Boom Arts theater company present Pavement: pop-up performances in a public parking lot on Portland’s Central Eastside. Where? Excellent question, and to find the answer, and see and hear music by Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi, Portland Opera, and Amenta Abioto, plus some of the city’s top dance and theater artists, you’ll need a ticket. All these free streams we’ve enjoyed are a treat, but artists still need to eat and pay rent.

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Young writers, burning bright

The Fire Writers conference helps Yamhill County teenagers tap into their potential while fighting the stigma associated with being a smart kid

A literary scene is a knotty thing to define and locate. Unlike live theater, music, or visual art, it has no brick-and-mortar base. It is everywhere and nowhere, from the “local author” shelf at a bookstore to events such as creative writing festivals to the occasional open mic night to the world that exists in the electronic ether: Instagram posts, tweets, Facebook, even text messaging.

Yamhill County has had for a while two tangible measures of the region’s literary life: the Terroir Creative Writing Festival, which was scheduled for its 11th annual renewal in April until COVID-19 shut it down, and the 27-year-old Paper Gardens literary journal. Published every spring by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County, the journal features prose and verse by locals of all ages. Oregon authors including William Stafford, Kim Stafford, Primus St. John, Robin Cody, and many others have served as judges.

A third, writer-centric tent-pole event has sprung up. On a mild, overcast Monday morning last winter, more than 100 high school students from around Yamhill County sauntered into the ballroom at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg for the Fire Writers Conference. The brainchild of retired McMinnville educator Deborah Weiner, the 2-year-old gathering is as ambitious, polished, and well attended as the Terroir festival.  The goal of the daylong conference is to “ignite the fire” in teenagers who show an aptitude and interest in writing. Validating that interest, organizers say, makes students, who pay nothing to attend the event, feel they are part of a writers’ community and can instill confidence in kids who might feel marginalized for being academic achievers.

The opening session of Fire Writers organizer Lisa Ohlen Harris addresses the opening session of the Fire Writers Conference at the Chehalem Community Center in Newberg. “Writers are everywhere,” she told students, “doing things that on the surface may seem to have nothing to do with writing.” Photo by: David Bates
Fire Writers organizer Lisa Ohlen Harris addresses the opening session of the Fire Writers Conference in Newberg’s Chehalem Community Center in January, before masks and social distancing were the norm. “Writers are everywhere,” she told students, “doing things that on the surface may seem to have nothing to do with writing.” Photo by: David Bates

“There is still a stigma for being a smart kid, a kid who reads, who cares about grades,” said Julie Stubblefield, one of several language-arts teachers at Amity High School, which sent nearly 30 students to the January conference. Teaching writing to teens poses several additional challenges, she said.

“One thing is that this is not a reading culture right now,” she said. “The current culture in high school is dominated by smartphones, YouTube, social media, Netflix, and video games. The practice of imagination, self-reflection, and the slow work of resourcefulness is not a part of their everyday lives. So when it comes time to get quiet and listen for the inner voice, the creative voice, the imagination, it can take a lot of patient exercise and reorientation to wake it up and get in touch with it.”


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


This year’s conference drew 123 students from eight schools — five public, three private, and a couple of homeschooled students. Attendance is largely by invitation. Teachers have an eye for which kids have taken to writing, who might benefit from what ultimately amounts to an educational field trip. One other brand of stigmatization — or possibly something else — emerges in talking with organizers, who asked that two students not be photographed; their parents didn’t know they were attending.

Writer and organizer Lisa Ohlen Harris, who is also instrumental in organizing Terroir, opened the event with a casual attempt at perhaps removing some of the stigma and illusions students might connect with writing and writers.

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Pajama music & tumbling statues

ArtsWatch Weekly: Cozying in at home with the pleasures of Chamber Music Northwest online; as statues fall, a bold new mural rises

I WENT TO THE OPENING NIGHT OF CHAMBER MUSIC NORTHWEST‘S SUMMER SEASON on Monday – in my pajamas, at my desk, on my computer screen. CMNW’s always had a relaxed dress code, for the audience, anyway, but this was taking things to extremes. Then again, we’re all taking things to extremes these days, reinventing wheels we thought had been spinning extremely well, thank you very much, except that then the rules changed, and here we are in Pandemic Land, playing a makeshift game and hoping for the best.

As makeshifts go, this one was quite good: three excellent performances by three fine quartets, with good sound quality and some brief chats interspersed with the music. It wasn’t the same as sitting in the concert hall, yet an undeniable excitement came across the electrical surge of what we used to call the Information Superhighway – a sense of triumph that, against daunting odds, this thing was working. While many other performing groups were shut down and worrying about their futures, for CMNW the show was going on. As of noon Tuesday, with 12 hours still to go before the opening concert was taken down, close to 2,200 people from Oregon and around the world had tuned in to see and hear.

Chamber Music Northwest and I have been on friendly terms for more than forty of its fifty years. We go back to the early days, when the violinist Sergiu Luca was still running the show, and concerts were in a large non-air-conditioned indoor commons on the Reed College campus, where on a high-humidity summer evening much of the audience sat cross-legged on the floor and the musicians might be accompanied by a fluttering undertone of flapping programs fanning up a breeze. A cozy conviviality ruled, and a sometimes fragile separation between performers and audience. Sweltering room or not, right there was where we wanted to be, listening to great music performed by people who knew how to perform it well. It was our Paradise of the moment. 
 

Clarinetist and retiring artistic director David Shifrin and Guarneri Quartet cellist Peter Wiley in Monday’s season-opening stream of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. CMNW photo

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I feared this installment of our occasional news roundups should really be called Music Rests instead of the usual Music Notes. Like others recently, it’s peppered with postponements and cancellations — but scroll down a bit and you’ll also find some happier tidings, as musicians and music organizations creatively adapt to this year’s somber new reality.

Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. Photo: Jennie Baker

As you peruse the gloomy news below to the sound of sad trombones, you might wonder: what can I do to help Oregon music survive this crisis? Well, you might tell your lawmakers to support allocation of Coronavirus Relief Funds to help venues survive this extended closure. Portland’s invaluable Old Church Concert Hall, whose existence is threatened along with many others, has a template letter to your State Representatives, who are considering voting on such measures very soon, that explains the importance of independent music venues to the state’s economy. You can find your own rep here. Reps from the Old Church testified before a legislative work group this month, but lawmakers need to hear from all Oregonians who cherish arts in smaller independent venues.

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The arts: After the deluge, what?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Planning for a post-Covid Oregon cultural scene; pancakes and the art of dissent; good things come in multiples

AS OREGON HESITANTLY REEMERGES FROM ITS LONG COCOONING – baby steps, everyone: take it cautiously, and wear your masks – it’s not too early to think about what the “new normal” might look like for the state’s arts and cultural organizations. A couple of highly respected onlookers have been considering the changed landscape long and deep, and while they disagree on some fundamental issues, on one thing they’re in accord: It’s highly unlikely that enough money will be available to support everyone in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed.

What to do, then, when financial push comes to shove?

Fear No Music playing music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at The Old Church Concert Hall: Will the future of arts in Oregon by small and adaptable? Photo © John Rudoff/2017

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