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News & Notes: Symphony hires a new leader, –Ism Youth speaking truths (and podcasts), Johansons in the galleries

Plus: Washougal Art and Music Festival, PassinArt's festival of multicultural play readings and films.


Isaac Thompson, incoming top executive at the Oregon Symphony. Photo courtesy Oregon Symphony.

The Oregon Symphony has hired Isaac Thompson, managing director of the New York Philharmonic, as its new president and chief executive officer. Thompson will replace Scott Showalter, the orchestra’s longtime top executive, who announced in March his plans to step down.

Thompson was chosen after a broad search that included screenings of more than 40 candidates. At the New York Philharmonic he “oversaw a broad portfolio of artistic, operational and business functions, and served as the executive lead on the Philharmonic’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work,” the Portland orchestra said in a news release. He also played key roles in planning the Philharmonic’s inaugural season in the renovated David Geffen Hall and in choosing Gustavo Dudamel as the orchestra’s new music and artistic director.

Before joining the Philharmonic Thompson held administrative positions at the Cincinnati and Milwaukee symphony orchestras. In Portland he’ll work closely with David Danzmayr, the Oregon orchestra’s music director.

Showalter, who among other accomplishments guided the Portland orchestra through the difficulties of Covid shutdowns, will move in October to a new position as executive advisor to the president and board, “assisting with institutional priorities like fundraising and strategic planning, and working to introduce Thompson to the organization’s strategic partners, lead donors, and other key stakeholders,” according to the news release.

Thompson assumes his new position in October. ArtsWatch will profile him more fully in the fall.

Speaking truth (and podcasts) at the Chinatown Museum

In March, Danielle Vermette wrote for ArtsWatch about Speaking Our Truths: The –Ism Youth Files, a new anthology from Portland’s MediaRites of writings by young people ages 10-21 from across the country and from BIPOC and disability communities. Much of their work was about dealing with the stresses of Covid-19 and other social and cultural pressures — “personal stories about surviving loss, mental health challenges, and social tensions through an unprecedented milestone in their lives.”


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“The paintings, essays, poems, and short graphic novels are guileless and compelling,” Vermette wrote, “reminding us that so many of the citizens working to make the world a better place have suffered deeply themselves. … The artists don’t shy away from pain or sincere self-reflection.”

Now, many of those young writers are about to go live in Portland. From 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, several of the anthology’s authors will be on hand either in person or virtually at the Portland Chinatown Museum to give readings from the book. Attendance is free with an RSVP, which you can provide here.

The event also is a kickoff for the next phase of The –Ism Youth Files project, a five-part series beginning Sept. 15 of youth-hosted podcasts on youth mental health, featuring interviews and readings by the 20 writers featured in the book. 

At the Chinatown Museum the young writers will be joined by podcast hosts and writers Jenell Theobald and Cara Chen and additional Portland-based writers. Attendees, the invitation reports, “will hear excerpts from the book and podcast, meet the youth creators, and enjoy light refreshments.”

In the galleries: George and Aaron Johanson

George Johanson, “Bacchanal By the River II,” 1995. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches. Courtesy Augen Gallery.

George Johanson, a widely loved giant of Northwest art known and admired in particular for his printmaking and paintings, died in October 2022 at age 94; see ArtsWatch’s obituary here and Laurel Reed Pavic’s appreciation of his life and art here.

Now Augen Gallery, his longtime Portland gallery, is offering a memorial show of sorts, a visual celebration of his talents and world view: The Way of Water: Paintings and Works on Paper 1980-2022, on view through Sept. 2, offers about 20 works, including some of Johanson’s final paintings.

Aaron Johanson, George’s son, is a fine Portland photographer well-known, among other things, for his portraiture and his superb photographs of other artists’ work: Check out, if you can find it, Subject and Object, his four-volume collection of portraits of more than 200 artists taken over 20 years.


Oregon Cultural Trust

He does a lot of other photography, too, often from his travels, which have included serving as an elections supervisor or monitor. In that light his current show Points of Interest, on view at Blackfish Gallery through Sept. 2, looks to be of particular interest. It consists of 40 images, shot between 1980 and 2007, and latterly altered, in the gallery’s words, “to reflect the artist’s current perspective on events and experiences in his past.”

How do such things change? Mykolav, the altered print below, is named for a port city in southern Ukraine, and in its original incarnation showed the large empty fields of the area. Time and war have shattered that outlook, and so, the image, too: They are bucolic no more.

Aaron Johanson, “Mykolaiv,” 2023, silver gelatin print, 8 x 10 inches.

Art along the Columbia River

The Columbia River is the line of demarcation between Oregon and Washington, providing the dividing point between the two until you get to the eastern part of both states, where the border becomes a straight line ending when it bumps into Idaho.

But it’s good to remember that in many ways the Columbia isn’t truly a border but the central, uniting feature in a longstanding river culture that takes in land and people to its north and south who have much in common and are only a bridge away.

Some of the action at last summer’s Washougal Arts Festival. Photo courtesy Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance.

So in Vancouver, Wash., for instance (two connecting bridges), a lot of people surely crossed the river for the just-completed Vancouver Arts and Music Festival, which James Bash wrote about for ArtsWatch here.

Next up, just a jog east, is the Washougal Art and Musical Festival, an inviting small-town celebration running 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, in the river city’s downtown. Traditionally a mostly visual arts event, this year it’s got together with the new Washougal Songcraft Festival, which actually runs a little longer — Aug. 11-13 — bringing a little groove to the proceedings. There’ll be food, of course, and a Sunday afternoon jazz concert with Louis Pain and Renato Caranto, and a lot of visual artists — 25 of ’em — showing and selling their work.

Celebrating Multicultural plays & films

From left: festival leaders Jerry Foster, Leasharn M. Hopkins, William Earl Ray.


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“Celebrating our differences together,” the Pacific Northwest Multicultural Readers Series & Film Festival describes itself, and that seems a good quick description of a highly varied event. The second annual festival, sponsored by the Portland Black theater company PassinArt, is coming up Aug. 17-20, and it’ll include a lot of stage and screen talent, including playwright and multiple Emmy-winning director Bobby Yan, actor/director/playwright and Golden Globe winner Regina Taylor, playwright Javon Johnson, theater director William Earl Ray, festival curator Leasharn M. Hopkins, festival film curator Kathryn Mobley, readings curator August Bullock, and many more. Jerry Foster, PassinArt’s artistic director, is also the festival’s executive director.

ArtsWatch will have more on the festival before it opens.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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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