NEWS & NOTES

The fire this time: a city and a nation seethe

ArtsWatch Weekly: As protests sweep Oregon and the U.S., and the pandemic continues to threaten, a gallery of art for our moment

TODAY WE ARE IN EXPLOSIVE TERRITORY. Portland and the nation are entering the eighth day of mass protests against the brutal slaying at police hands on May 25 of a Black man in Minneapolis, George Floyd. He was the latest in a seemingly endless line of Black men, women, and sometimes children to be killed under what at the very least can be called questionable circumstances. If anything, the protests are getting larger as the days draw on: On Tuesday night, The Oregonian reported, more than 10,000 people gathered in downtown Portland, where many storefronts are boarded up against looting and destruction. A like number poured into downtown on Wednesday, with crowds also filling the bridges and areas of the East Side. The protests were largely peaceful, but police in some cases deployed tear gas and explosives.

In Washington, D.C., the president staged a Bible-clutching photo op and took an aggressive line, blaming violence on leftist Antifa elements without evidence, calling on Antifa to be declared a terrorist group (evidence points to right-wing white supremacist groups posing as Antifa), and calling on the military to deploy to the nation’s cities and put down protests. Several current and former top brass demurred, saying it is not the military’s role to turn against its own citizens exercising their right to free speech. Mysterious armed guards deployed near the White House; they turned out, as Philip Bump reported in The Washington Post, to be from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, a branch under the jurisdiction not of the Pentagon but of the politicized Bureau of Justice. Historian and cultural commentator Heather Cox Richardson gives some context: “This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, according to Holocaust scholar Waitman Wade Beorn, who studies ethical decision making in the military, it’s a problem because soldiers are trained to defend civilians while prison guards are used to seeing civilians as their enemies, and are accustomed to using force, rather than de-escalation, to subdue them. The U.S. military, Beorn points out, does not like to be employed against Americans, and has a long tradition of that reluctance.”

Meanwhile, as masses of people gather together in protest, the coronavirus pandemic has not gone away. It’s here, it’s real, and the nation’s unrest could send the numbers of infections and deaths spiking sharply again. We are far from out of these woods. And that, very briefly, is how things look today.
 

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In Grants Pass, the show goes on

ArtsWatch Weekly: In spite a Covid-19 museum shutdown, a Southern Oregon showcase of student art finds a way to get out into the world

WE TEND TO THINK OF “CULTURE” AS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS IN BIG SPACES in big metropolitan areas, places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera, or the Portland Art Museum and the Portland Opera. But every corner of the country, and every region of Oregon, has a culture of its own, and the drive to express it, in spaces that may be much smaller but are equally important in their communities. They might be cultural centers, like the Pendleton Center for the Arts, or small museums, like the Favell Museum in Klamath Falls, or historic small theater spaces, like the Elgin Opera House in the far stretches of Northeastern Oregon. In an age of freely flowing information around the globe, sometimes smaller places bring the outside world in. Sometimes they highlight their own local culture, the things that make their communities specifically what they are.
 

Upstairs, downstairs: The Grants Pass Museum of Art occupies the 4,000-square-foot second floor of a historic downtown building at 229 Southwest “G” Street.

Like most museums and performance spaces across the United States, the Grants Pass Museum of Art in Southern Oregon is shut down for the duration. The museum isn’t very big – it’s on the second floor of a historic building in downtown Grants Pass – but it’s a crucial part of its community, with a permanent collection, a small retail gallery, workshops for kids and adults, music, poetry readings, and an ordinarily full schedule of special exhibitions. Just when it might reopen is up in the air: The museum’s two large open galleries would allow ample space for social distancing, but traffic on the stairway from the building’s first floor would need to be strictly controlled. It’s the sort of logistical issue that most cultural organizations, from the biggest to the smallest, are grappling with as they wait for the go-ahead to reopen.

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In Brief: Visual Chronicle wants you

Portland's collection of visual history is looking to expand; grants for emerging artists; Chinatown Museum reschedules exhibitions

Time’s running short for Portland artists to throw their hats in the ring to add their work this year to The Visual Chronicle of Portland: Deadline for submission is 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 27. A second, broader opportunity open to artists in Oregon and Southwest Washington, Support Beam, offers a little more breathing room: Its application deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 3. Information on both is available here from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Willow Zheng, “Classical Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon III,” Chinese watercolor and ink, 2002; collection of the Visual Chronicle of Portland.

Support Beam, with an overall budget of $70,000, is intended to support works of art created by emerging artists over a period of three to six months. Individual grants will be between $3,000 and $5,000. The Visual Chronicle funding is for direct purchase of pieces to add to the City of Portland’s collection of works on paper that chronicle the life and identity of the city. Total budget for this year’s additions is $15,000, and no individual piece can be priced higher than $1,000. Eligible artists may apply for either or both awards.

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Everything’s coming up virtual roses

ArtsWatch Weekly: It's Rose Festival time, virtually speaking. Plus: Actor's Nightmares, down in the Goon Docks, starting over, and more.

I MARRIED INTO A FAMILY THAT DID ITS ROSE FESTIVAL GOOD AND PROPER. Among other things, that meant (or had meant, before my time) building floats and driving them along the parade routes, squinting to see through all the decorations shrouding the actual vehicle so you didn’t slam into the float in front of you: serious insidery stuff. For years, especially when our kids were young, my wife packed some snacks on the morning of the Grand Floral Parade and we dutifully nailed down a sidewalk spot so we could smile and wave as 76 trombones and various other instruments of civic horn-tooting trotted brassily past. One rain-drenched year the carnival grounds at Tom McCall Waterfront Park were so hog-wallow thick with mud that when I got home I promptly threw my slime-soaked shoes into the garbage. Another year a friend who was visiting from out of town scored some seats for us along the parade route in front of the downtown hotel where she was staying and we found ourselves in the midst of an exuberant group from Pendleton who were there to cheer their rodeo queen and princesses as they strutted their horses proudly down the boulevard. (“My daughter asked which horse she could ride in the parade,” one proud fellow wearing a “Rodeo Champion” jacket said, “and I told her, ‘Any horse you want’.”) Caught up in the excitement, we cheered lustily along with them, and became honorary Pendletonians for a day.
 

An Afghani dancer from the troupe Dance Inspired at last summer’s second Beaverton Night Market celebration of immigrant cultures, in The Round. Photo: Joe Cantrell

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Starting Over: The value of crisis

Societies change and the arts are at the center of how we understand both the societies and the change

Nearly every day during my particular version of shelter-in-place, I sift through articles and essays (not to mention tweets) from likely sources, hoping to find out what in the blazes is going on out there. Or in here. Surely, I think, somebody has figured this stuff out, and so I search. 

I’ve been productively edified and instructed, pleasantly amused and delighted, annoyingly frustrated and aggravated, and alternatingly filled with dread and anxiety. You have to love the cycle that starts with anxiety, leads to dread, and then ends up back at anxiety. We’re all Kierkegaardians now!

Last week I ran into science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s essay, “The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations” in the New Yorker’s excellent feed. Robinson opened his argument with a reference from the late culture critic Raymond Williams, who argued in “The Long Revolution” that each historical period has its own, distinct “structure of feeling.” Robinson neatly paraphrases Williams’ observation about cultural difference as “a distinct way of organizing basic human emotions into an overarching cultural system. Each had its own way of experiencing being alive.”

Robinson then goes on to argue that we are (or maybe it’s “we should be”) entering a new cultural system through the door of the pandemic. That’s good: We need to turn the page on our current system if we are going to mitigate the disaster of climate change in a meaningful way.

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Connecting in a time of isolation

ArtsWatch Weekly: As the world turns, will real reality replace virtual reality? Plus: The mountain blows its top – this time, virtually.

EVEN AS OREGON BEGINS TO MOVE CAUTIOUSLY TOWARD REOPENING its social and commercial activities – today Gov. Kate Brown announced a loosening of restrictions in 28 of the state’s 36 counties, though not in the greater Portland metropolitan area – the new reality of social isolation remains with us. This holds true in the cultural world in particular: The reopening of theaters, concert halls, museums, and cultural centers is likely months in the future, and for many people the experience of the past two months has prompted a rethinking about the importance of art and what, in fact, “art” means.

In the Pacific Northwest in particular, art has long had a deeply rooted connection with the land itself, from the days of Indigenous stone paintings and carvings to the place-inspired work of contemporary artists and, presumably, the work of future artists grappling with the stark realities of environmental crisis and climate change. You can feel it even in the work of Oregon giants of abstract art, such as Lucinda Parker and the late Carl Morris and Mark Rothko, all of whose paintings are intellectual yet also deeply, unashamedly physical. At a time when the long lockdown and the world’s resulting switch to virtual reality have people yearning for a reconnection with real reality, the region’s stubborn insistence on connecting to the land seems suddenly to put it ahead of the game.
 

Aleksandra Apocalisse, “Grow” (2015). 11 x 14 inches. Watercolor and pen on paper. Image courtesy of the artist. 

Oregonians also have long been open to the idea of outsiderism, in a positive sense: Where you come from or who you trained with seem less important than what you do. And in a time of deep economic and structural insecurity the rigors of the academic and deep-pocket Wall Street pipelines don’t dominate the region’s artistic hierarchy the way they do in more heavily populated art centers. Here, if you Just Do It, as one local corporate juggernaut likes to put it, you stand a fair chance of being seen.

In Oregon, an artist might arrive from anywhere. That’s the case, for instance, with Aleksandra Apocalisse, who, as Shannon M. Lieberman writes for ArtsWatch in Celebrating connection in many forms, “started painting on a whim when she was 21.” Apocalisse’s interests, Lieberman continues, were both broad and focused: “After a series of unusual jobs, including farming, teaching children circus arts, and a stint as a camp science instructor, Apocalisse reached a turning point while interviewing for graduate programs in neuroscience. Unable to stop thinking about how she would balance the demands of graduate work with her desire to make art, Apocalisse realized that her hobby had become her passion–but could she turn it into a career?”

Yes, she could – and her route was not art school but the deeply populist, and popular, Portland Saturday Market, a grand communal gathering of all sorts of people with all sorts of interests. It was connecting at street level, taking art to the people in a way similar to the WPA art projects of the 1930s, except on an individual basis, not government-run. “It has been a good fit for Apocalisse, who thrives on talking to people,” Lieberman writes. “… In her explorations of connection, Aleksandra Apocalisse’s work does not call for change per se. Yet it powerfully implies that we all have tremendous power to forge the kinds of connections we want to see in the world.  Maybe we’re already making them. And if not, what are we waiting for?”

Bruce Conkle, “Quarantine,” 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

More established Oregon artists are taking a turn in their work during the shutdown, too. As Martha Daghlian writes in Artist Bruce Conkle: Isolation as meditation time, Conkle has been doing a series of drawings inspired by the great turn of events taking place beneath our noses – or at least by the headlines and news feeds of a world turned upside down. At the same time, Conkle says, in a strange way the shutdown fits right in: “Artists in general thrive having a lot of time alone, to be inside their own head, so I think in a way we are getting through this house arrest a lot easier than people who constantly need external stimuli. The creative mental state is a type of meditation—one loses track of time, of place, and of self. I draw mandalas as meditations on a certain subject. After a few minutes (of drawing) you become unaware of the subject itself.”


WATCHING MOUNT ST. HELENS BLOW HER TOP


Lucinda Parker, “Magma opus,” July 1980. Mixed media on paper. Collection of Stephen McCarthy, L2019.69.1. Image courtesy Portland Art Museum

SPEAKING OF PHYSICAL REALITIES: Monday, May 18, will be the fortieth anniversary of the big blow that shook the Pacific Northwest to its foundations and sent clouds of ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption scurrying around the globe. And Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art, the sprawling exhibition at the Portland Art Museum that opened with a bang in February and was packing ’em in until the museum’s forced shutdown in March, was scheduled to close on Sunday the 17th. The museum, of course, is already closed for an undetermined time. But you still stand a decent chance of seeing Volcano! in the flesh. “After much work with cooperative lenders, we can now confirm that we expect Volcano! to reopen when the museum does (whenever that may be),” museum spokesman Ian Gillingham said in an email exchange on Tuesday. “We expect it to run through sometime in January.”

Now you can get about as good a virtual experience of the exhibition as is possible. The museum staff has assembled and made available online a virtual tour of the exhibition, beginning in prehistory and continuing through early European American paintings, images of the explosion itself, and paintings and photographs from the aftermath. There are even a few examples of ceramics made of Mount St. Helens ash, which for several years formed the basis of a vibrant souvenir cottage industry.

This week’s edition of Willamette Week features a very good, lavishly illustrated guide to the exhibition, We Brought a Piece of Mount St. Helens to You, that’s well worth your time.

And at 3:30 p.m. Sunday – the day before the anniversary – museum curator Dawson Carr, who brought the exhibit to fruition, will host an online event, Mount St. Helens: A Landscape Across Time, with several guests discussing aspects of the show: Seattle artist Barbara Noah, whose excellent painting Tag III is featured in the exhibit; Nathan Roberts, an ecologist and interim director of cultural resources for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe; and director Ray Yurkewycz and science education manager Sonja Melander of the Mount St. Helens Institute.

Barbara Noah, “Tag III,” 1981. Oil on photolinen. Collection of the artist, Seattle, ©1981 Barbara Noah, for changes and additions to a Mount St. Helens image courtesy of USGS, L2019.93.1.


IN TOUCH: KEEPING A LINE ON WHAT’S ONLINE


Elizabeth Woody, part of May 20’s “Who Gets To Be an American?” online conversation in the Vanport Mosaic 2020 Virtual Festival. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust

IF YOU HAVE A KEYBOARD AND A CONNECTION (and if you’re reading this, you do) the world’s at your fingertips. All right, not the real world: These days it’s prety much all virtual, all the time. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of good stuff to plug into. Here’s just a sampler:

VANPORT MOSAIC 2020 VIRTUAL FESTIVAL. We wrote about this vigorous and positively provocative festival in last week’s ArtsWatch Weekly, and the online attractions just keep coming through May 30, the 72nd anniversary of the Memorial Day flood in 1948 that wiped the city of Vanport off the map, killing 15 people and leaving 17,500 homeless. Among the upcoming attractions (check the full schedule in the link above): taiko artist Michelle Fujii in conversation with Douglas Detrick on “the constant state of otherness,” Friday, May 15; a conversation with Sankar Raman of The Immigrant Story and writer Ramiza Koya about “becoming American,” Sunday, May 17; a Confluence Conversation among Patricia Whitefoot (Yakama Nation), former Oregon poet laureate Elizabeth Woody (Warm Springs) and Chuck Sams (Umatilla) about “who gets to be an American,” Wednesday, May 20.

THE TURN OF THE SCREW. The Beaverton-based Experience Theatre Project is offering an encore performance of its live-screened production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s two-actor adaptation of Henry James’s classic ghost story on Friday, May 16. The original screening on May 1 played to a stay-at-home audience of 7,000. You need to register to get your virtual seat; click on the link above.

BROADWAY ROSE AT HOME. The Tigard theater company, which is the metro area’s most prominent home for musical theater, is going virtual with its new series Midday Cabaret, at 1 p.m. every Wednesday. It’s just what it sounds like: livestreamed cabaret shows, hosted by Broadway Rose’s Dan Murphy and featuring stars from past company shows. Right now, performances by David Saffert and Benjamin Tissell are available, with more on the way.

MOMENTARY JOYS, WITH HENK PANDER AND BRUCE GUENTHER. Two lions of the Oregon art world – painter Pander and curator Guenther – talk in a webinar sponsored by the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education about how, in the museum’s words, “bad times can produce great art. Dadaism grew from the tragedy of the First World War; the Depression sparked a social realist movement and Jews created art in ghettos, concentration camps, and in hiding during the Second World War. … Momentary joys, if you will, that help us get through confinement.” Noon Wednesday, May 20, and you need to register: Once again, click on the link above.


ISOLATIONISTS ARE LOOKING FOR A FEW GOOD READS


Alison Dennis is executive director for Sitka Center for Art and Ecology near Otis.
Alison Dennis, executive director of the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, on the Oregon Coast, says in “I am Still here … it still is a time for singing” that she feels both more isolated and more connected than ever.

‘I AM STILL HERE … IT STILL IS A TIME FOR SINGING.’ In the latest in our “Oregon in Shutdown: Voices from the Front” series, Lori Tobias, ArtsWatch’s Oregon Coast columnist, talks with five key coastal arts figures about how the pandemic has changed what they do and think. It’s not all bad news.

MY APPETITES: ON EATING AND COPING MECHANISMS, CHILDHOOD AND SELF-CONTROL, CRITICISM, LOVE, CANCER, AND PANDEMICS. Jerry Saltz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic for New York Magazine who is married to Roberta Smith, art critic for The New York Times (imagine their conversations over coffee), writes a beautiful, searing, and sometimes heartbreaking personal essay about the accumulations of experience and realities we carry with us into the time of plague.

SAFE DISTANCE SOUNDS, PART 2: CHAMBER TERROIR. “With live performances temporarily out of the picture, I’ve been fulfilling my jones for homegrown sounds by listening to recent releases from Oregon-based or -born musicians that caught my ear,” Brett Campbell writes. This compilation, which features ambient and other contemporary sounds (including Kenji Bunch’s fresh score for Eugene Ballet’s The Snow Queen) follows his first Safe Distance Sounds, a roundup of recent Oregon jazz recordings.

INTERVIEW IN A TIME OF SEQUESTRATION. Alone with his camera and his keyboard, photographer and frequent ArtsWatch contributor K.B. Dixon resorts to desperate measures: He interviews himself. His resulting essay in Q&A form (which is illustrated with several of his portraits of Portland arts figures) is both illuminating and amusing. Think the mysteries of shadows, and native soil, and “that much revered Southern snake-charmer, William Faulkner.” 

WHAT SHAKESPEARE ACTUALLY DID DURING THE PLAGUE. Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, who teaches at Linfield College and is an occasional ArtsWatch contributor, manages two difficult tasks with aplomb in this short humor piece for The New Yorker: He makes light of Shakespeare and of the Plague Times that Shakespeare lived through, and makes us laugh at both. “Day 13: You’ve been wearing the same doublet and hose for two weeks.” 

OZZIE GONZÁLEZ: STAGING A RACE. The theaters have shut down for the duration. But Portland actor González has moved onto a much bigger stage, as a serious candidate to become mayor of Portland. Bobby Bermea talks with him about why he’s running, what his goals for the city are, and how the world of theater and the arts is good preparation for politics.

MUSEUM CURATOR GRACE KOOK-ANDERSON: FIGURING IT OUT. Martha Daghlian talks with the Portland Art Museum’s curator of Northwest art about working from home, the economic impact of the pandemic, and how things are changing: “There’s a huge emphasis on the extreme local right now that I think is really interesting. … The DIY culture that is celebrated here is evident in many art spaces, and I see that reflected in the ways they are adapting to this situation.”


QUOTABLE (THE NEW BROADWAY VERSION)


Corey Brunish, the Broadway and Portland theater producer who we wrote about last week, was challenged online a few days ago to develop some ideas for updated musicals to fit our shutdown times. He came up with a few:


The Pajama Game All Day Long
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to 2021 
Into the Woods for a Walk
Bye Bye Income
Annie Get Your Face Mask
How To Succeed in Business by Washing Your Hands
HAIRcut

– Your turn. Create a Broadway Quotable of your own!


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‘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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