White Bird Dance Paul Taylor Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

News & Notes: Snow, art, O’Bryant Square

Snow? Yes, that event might be canceled. A new future for a troubled public square. Converge 45 names '23 artists. Mattaliano on the operatic life.

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“Snow blankets metro area,” The Oregonian’s Thursday front-page banner blares. “Winter storm shuts down Portland region,” the Portland Tribune declares.

To anyone who’s looked out the window, this is not news. But it is the reality, and it has consequences beyond snowmen and beautiful vistas. Stories abound of people taking hours instead of their usual 20 or 30 minutes to get home from work, or of having to spend the night in a hotel. And the sub-freezing temperatures constitute an extreme danger for people on the streets: As another headline in the Trib reports, “Cold prompts opening of warming shelters in Portland, region.”

All of which means, things are not operating as usual. Schools are closed. So are a lot of other places. In the arts, that means a ton of postponements or cancellations. So before you strap on your skis or snowshoes and head out to the theater or museum or concert hall, check to make sure the event’s happening. Chances are very good it’s not. Enough said.

New life for O’Bryant Square?

Downtown Portland’s blocked-off O’Bryant Square in 2019. Photo: Graywalls/Wikimedia Commons

As downtown Portland attempts to come back from its multiple blows of the past few years and once again become a vibrant and appealing center of the metropolitan area, one trouble spot may be ready for an upgrade. The 50-year-old O’Bryant Square, tucked into a notch between Southwest Park Avenue and Harvey Milk Street and also known, as its Wikipedia listing notes, as “Paranoid Park,” “Needle Park,” and “Crack Park,” could be getting a whole new look.

The city and the private Portland Parks Foundation have been working on a plan to revive the square, which has been shut down since April 2018, officially because of structural problems in its underground parking garage. Called Back to Square One: Rethinking O’Bryant Square, the effort is an attempt to rethink the space from the ground up. “Historically we’ve always designed our urban plazas first, then brought the activities to them,” Randy Gragg, executive director of the Parks Foundation, noted in a press statement. “This time, we have the time and opportunity to learn from other cities, try things out, and let the successes determine the design.”

Many conversations have taken place, and more are in the works: See a list of Zoom webinars at the link above. As the city prepares to demolish the square, Back to Square One is sponsoring a survey through March 8 in which you can talk about your favorite public spaces and suggest what sorts of activities you’d like to see in a revitalized O’Bryant Square. Concerts? Food cart? Outdoor dance or theater? Puppet shows? Toss your ideas into the hat.

On March 8 the consortium will sponsor an open house at 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. at 820 S.W. Washington St. (the former Finnegan’s Toy Store) with interactive ways to share ideas about the square’s future. Starting at 10 a.m. March 11 at the same place, organizers will present a series of draft ideas for people to listen to and critique.

The project is led by the Parks Foundation, with Portland State University’s Center for Public Interest Design, Harvard University’s Loeb Fellowship, and the city-run Portland Parks & Recreation.

Converge 45 names its artists for ’23

Once upon a time there was the Oregon Biennial, an every-other-year survey of the best of art in Oregon that ran at the Portland Art Museum from 1949 until the museum killed it off in 2008. Others came in to fill the gap and, often, expand on the idea, including a series sponsored by Disjecta/Oregon Contemporary called the Portland Biennial.

Perhaps the biggest and most ambitious is Converge 45 (the “45” stands for “Art on the 45th Parallel”), which has just announced the artists for its 2023 exhibition, which will open Aug. 24 at 15 locations across Portland. Called Social Forms: Art as Global Citizenship, it’ll include more than 50 artists regional and international, living and dead. Among the artists are prominent Oregonians and Pacific Northwesterners including Marie Watt, who’ll show a major new public artwork for the City of Portland; Jessica Jackson Hutchins, James Lavadour, Malia Jensen, Adriene Cruz, Sara Siestreem, Jeremy Okai Davis, Joe Fedderson, and Judith Wyss; plus international figures including Joseph Albers, Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Mikalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, and Kehinde Wiley. Check the link for the complete list of artists, and other details.

Three Rivers Foundation Awards

The Three Rivers Foundation, the charitable arm of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians’ Three Rivers Casino Resort on the southern Oregon coast, has announced $1.1 million in grants to 117 oganizations across Oregon. It’s an excellent list of causes ranging from Boys & Girls Clubs to senior centers to food banks to health centers to maternity homes, and among its grantees are several cultural institutions: the Coos Art Museum ($1,000), Coos Bay Public Library ($3,500), Little Theater on the Bay ($8,000), Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Association ($1,500), Oregon Coast Military Museum ($10,000), The Traveling Children’s Museum ($5,361.85), and the Siletz Bay Music Festival ($7,000).

Mattaliano on Opera America

Opera America has been busy conducting oral history video interviews with opera leaders as part of its “Explore Opera” series, and it recently interviewed Christopher Mattaliano, the former leader of Portland Opera, who last year founded OrpheusPDX, the summer chamber opera company in Portland. You can see and hear Mattaliano talking about his life in the opera here.

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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