YAMHILL

‘I am still here.… It still is a time for singing’

Voices from the front: Five members of the coastal arts community talk about how the pandemic has changed them – and it’s not all bad news

I can’t think of another time in my life more unexpected or unpredictable. When will it end? Who will I be when it’s over? Certainly not the same, of that I’m sure. But the pandemic has not been without bright spots. Nearly every day I see evidence of something good. A rekindled relationship; an inspired new business; new friendships formed at virtual gatherings.

Thinking others must be experiencing the same, I reached out to members of the coastal arts world and asked three questions: What has been a pleasant surprise of the pandemic? What have you learned? Will your work be different as a result?  Here are their answers, edited for length and clarity.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Betsy Altomare is co-owner with her husband, Keith, of the Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City. The theater is closed but offering virtual films through its website. And every day from 6 to 7 p.m., the Altomares sell their popular popcorn to go.

Betsy Altomare is co-owner of Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City.
Betsy Altomare says she has been surprised at the outpouring of love for the Bijou Theatre.

What has been a pleasant surprise of the pandemic?

Altomare: Probably the reminder that people really love the Bijou Theatre. We decided to do a GoFundMe with the goal to pay off our mortgage, which was only $2,984. We actually raised it in 10 hours.

What have you learned during the pandemic?

Altomare:  Patience, and that viruses don’t discriminate.

Will your work be different as a result of the pandemic?

Altomare: That’s the big one. Very different. We’ve been doing virtual cinema. That’s been fairly popular. Right now, we have nine movies on our website and they are things we would normally play. I think we’re going to continue doing a few titles even once we open our doors. Also, the popcorn.  

Alison Dennis has been the executive director at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology since October 2018. The nonprofit was fortunate to receive a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program that has allowed Sitka to keep its full staff working full hours.

“We’re working remotely from home, both making preparations for the summer, adapting as we learn what will be possible, and also hard at work planning the 2021 schedule now,” Dennis said. “Even before the pandemic, Sitka had been pursuing a number of innovative ways to expand our reach, and we’re excited to share more about what we’ve been working on in the months ahead.”

Alison Dennis is executive director for Sitka Center for Art and Ecology near Otis.
The Sitka Center’s Alison Dennis says she feels both more isolated and more connected than ever.

What has been a pleasant surprise of the pandemic?

Dennis: The generosity of the Oregon arts community is awe-inspiring. Whether generosity in spirits (well wishes) or financial support (donated money for spring workshops we’ve had to cancel). Instead of requesting full refunds, people are donating part or all of it. We’re really overwhelmed. One of our newest team members put it this way: “The people are reaching out to us to make sure the Sitka team is doing OK. I’ve never worked anywhere where people care so much.”

I was really moved by that reflection. One of the other biggest surprises is feeling isolated, but also more connected than ever at the same time.

What have you learned during the pandemic?

Dennis: On a practical level, the Oregon Coast is an art and nature destination. It’s important for all of us who are part of coastal tourism and government to collaborate across county lines to determine when and how we welcome people back to the coast. On an art and ecology level, now is the time to listen to nature. Altea Narici, a cellist and vocal artist from Rome, participated in a residence here. Reflecting on her time here the first week of the pandemic, she wrote, “The world is saying I am still here, life is still here, spring is happening now. It still is a time for singing.”

Will your work be different as a result of the pandemic?

Dennis: I bet it will. At one level, Sitka is very much a place-based organization. We’re a place people come to get off the grid, connect with nature, reflect, and create. At another level, Sitka’s real work is the inspiration people take with them into their lives after spending time in this place. The pandemic is bringing communities together across geography in new ways. I’m excited to see how Sitka’s community of art- and nature-inspired people will connect, share, find inspiration in one another’s work through the pandemic, but also beyond.

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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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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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Now online: A quilt show takes on ecocide, consumerism, and capitalism

Fiber artists explore the toll plastics and the "invisible hand" are taking on the oceans in an exhibit in Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center

Update: With the coronavirus shutdown, the Chehalem Cultural Center has made its exhibits available online. To see the “Shifting Tides” show, go here.

One does not instinctively think of politics and protest when a quilt show appears in a local gallery, which is why the latest exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg may catch you off guard. Perhaps the stereotype ignores the versatility to be found in the textile arts, but I suspect that for most people, a quilt conjures up feelings of comfort, warmth, and security —  exactly the opposite of what Shifting Tides: Convergence in Cloth by Studio Art Quilt Associates has to offer.

Shifting Tides, which fills three of the Chehalem Center’s galleries and runs through April 27, is a penetrating look at the planet’s ecological predicament, particularly as manifested in the oceans. It could not come at a more appropriate moment. My visit last week coincided with the publication of a horrifying 7,163-word piece in Rolling Stone: Tim Dickinson’s Planet Plastic: How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades. It landed in my Facebook news feed just hours before I visited the exhibit, and the introduction highlights the show’s relevance. “Every human on Earth,” Dickinson declares in the opening sentence, “is ingesting nearly 2,000 particles of plastic a week.” It gets worse from there.

“Rings of Eternity,” by Lisa Jenni (33 by 41 inches), incorporates plastic rings from bottles and jugs into its design. Photo by: David Bates

It’s appropriate — no, necessary — then, that many of the more than 40 pieces featured in Shifting Tides actually incorporate plastic. Juried by Ann Johnson of West Linn and overseen by a national panel, the show is an official regional exhibit by Studio Art Quilt Associates based in Hebron, Conn. The program notes make clear what many of the associated textile artists are thinking about:

“As residents of the greater North Pacific region, fiber artists share personal narratives and statements regarding the Pacific Ocean ecosystem, its marvelous natural diversity, and the human activities that both sustain and threaten it. The exhibit is an artistic convergence, where quilting and surface design techniques come together into stunning works of contemporary textile art. The wide variety of viewpoints and artistic styles will delight and challenge viewers to assess their own perceptions regarding the interplay of oceanic and human communities.”

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Solidarity through song

Voices from the front: Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov brings a community of singers together through Facebook Karaoke

The pop culture reference point of the moment is Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion, which is surely streaming into quarantined homes at some kind of record. That COVID-19-inspired resurgence of popularity is justifiably shared with Albert Camus, whose 1947 novel The Plague rendered a pandemic.

For our purposes, however, the most salient line from an artistic rendering of pestilence may be found in Mary Shelley’s little-known novel, The Last Man, published in 1826. Yes, that Mary Shelley. Eight years after she unleashed Frankenstein, Shelley tried her hand at a literary pandemic.

In one section, she laments on the passing of what today we’d call the humanities: “Farewell to the arts, to eloquence,” she wrote. “Farewell to music, and the sound of song… !”

Ah, but Shelley wasn’t on social media.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Anton Belov, founder of the Aquilon Music Festival and a Linfield College music professor, recently launched Facebook Karaoke. Photo courtesy: Linfield College

The “sound of song” is alive and well in Yamhill County, thanks in part to the efforts of Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov, who this week began teaching his spring term classes at Linfield College online. Earlier this month, I stumbled upon a video of him on Facebook singing Sunday Morning Coming Down, a Kris Kristoffersen song that was included in Ray Stevens’ final album, Have a Little Talk With Myself, for Monument Records in 1969. Johnny Cash later recorded it for a hit on Billboard’s country chart.

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Portland’s All Classical teams with Linfield College

Yamhill and Polk county residents will have clearer listening to the classical radio station beginning Thursday

Starting Thursday, Yamhill and Polk county residents will have an easier time listening to classical music on the radio. FM station All Classical Portland is integrating Linfield College’s campus radio station into its network, meaning the signal of 24-hour classical music and arts programming will be much clearer for the 100,000 people who live in McMinnville and surrounding communities.

The donation of Linfield’s KSLC 90.3 FM to All Classical Portland was, according to a press release, initiated by McMinnville college students.

1955 Toshiba Vacuum Tube Radio. Masaki Ikeda/Wikimedia Commons
All Classical Portland fans would not actually be able to hear their station on this 1955 Toshiba vacuum tube radio, because it is AM only. But isn’t a thing of beauty? Photo courtesy: Masaki Ikeda/Wikimedia Commons

ICAN, the station’s International Children’s Arts Network channel, also will be available to residents of Oregon’s Wine Country through All Classical Portland’s HD2 channel. It offers noncommercial entertainment and educational programs for children through age 12.

In the press announcement, Joe Stuart, a Linfield student and KSLC’s general manager, said: “Although student radio has been a staple of the college experience for decades, we at KSLC are excited about this new era of digital student media that will help journalism students inform and engage with their community in the constantly evolving modern media landscape.”

Roughly 3 million listeners across Oregon and Southwest Washington have access to classical music on the FM dial through All Classical Portland’s current broadcast coverage. The existing signal already reaches Yamhill County, of course, but depending on weather and other conditions, the quality can be spotty.

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