Art on the move: responding to crises

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing coronavirus challenge are reshaping the arts world

WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF LIFE-CHANGING TIMES, and in the face of multiple crises remarkable work is being done. How do artists fit in? Sometimes, smack in the middle of things. Many news organizations have been doing excellent work of discovering the artists speaking to the moment and bringing their work to a broad audience. Oregon Public Broadcasting, for instance, has been publishing some sterling stories – including the feature The Faces of Protest: The Memorial Portraits of Artist Ameya Marie Okamoto, by Claudia Meza and John Nottariani. Okamoto, a young social practice artist who grew up in Portland, has made it her work not just to document the events of racial violence in Portland and across the United States: She’s also, as OPB notes, “crafted dozens of portraits for victims of violence and injustice.” 

Ameya Okamoto, “In Support of Protest.” Photo courtesy Ameya Okamoto

“People get so attached to the hashtag and the movement of George Floyd or Quanice Hayes,” Okamota tells OPB, “they forget that George Floyd was a trucker who moved to Minneapolis for a better life, or that Quanice Hayes was actually called ‘Moose’ by his friends and family. When individuals become catalysts for Black Lives Matter and catalysts for social change … there is a level of complex personhood that is stripped away from them.” In her work she strives to give that back.


Update: PAMTA musical theater awards postponed

Theater curtains closed? No problem. On Sunday night, Portland's annual musical-theater awards celebration takes the show to YouTube.

UPDATE: The PAMTA awards ceremony has been postponed indefinitely to not conflict with Black Lives Matter protests, producer Corey Brunish announced Wednesday. No new date has been set. “The PAMTAS fully supports the movement towards BIPOC equality and out of respect we have elected to postpone our annual celebration of the arts,” Brunish said.


You can keep ’em out of the theater for a few months, but you can’t keep a good song and dance down. This year’s PAMTAs – the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards – will stream live on YouTube at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 14. (The YouTube link will be posted later on the PAMTA link above: Keep checking.) Musical theater people know how to have a good time, and the PAMTA celebration, generally a dress-up, strut-your-stuff, hoot-and-holler showcase that’s one of the best public theater parties of the year, has been forced online because of pandemic restrictions: It should be fun to see how the song & dance make the transition from stage to screen.

A double lineup of PAMTA trophies, waiting to be engraved and awarded.

This year’s awards, produced by three-time Tony Award winning producer and longtime Oregon resident Corey Brunish and covering the 2019-2020 season, are the thirteenth annual ceremony celebrating the best of musical theater in Portland area theaters.

Nominees were announced Monday, and are listed below. Seven shows are in the running for outstanding production: Once, Into the Woods, and Footloose, each from Broadway Rose Theatre Company; West Side Story and Mama Mia, both from Stumptown Stages; Newsies, from Journey; and The Rocky Horror Show, from Lakewood Theatre Company. In addition, two productions are nominated for outstanding original show: Broadway Rose’s It Happened One Christmas, and Triangle Productions’ That’s No Lady, the bio-musical about the legendary Portland drag performer and club owner Darcelle.

Among other interesting tidbits on the nominee list: The musical-theater adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda drew nominations for productions at two companies – Lakewood Theatre and Northwest Children’s Theater & School. And Brian Karl Moen scooped up four of the eight nominations for outstanding sound design, giving him at least a chance to win, place, and show.

The nominees:


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.


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.


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.


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


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.