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Season’s Greetings, On Beyond Hallmark

ArtsWatch Weekly: Things to watch and listen to as the year ends; looking forward to 2021.


WE’LL KEEP THIS COLUMN SIMPLE THIS WEEK: I’m guessing you have other things on your mind, and other things to do. So: a few recommendations, a little catch-up on stories we’ve published, a brief virtual trip to the museum, some thoughts about giving, and back to our regularly scheduled lives. Whether you love the holidays or simply endure them, we here at ArtsWatch wish you the happiest of seasons, especially in this most unanticipated and unpredictable of years, and we thank you for the amazing generosity of your attention and patronage. Without you, we wouldn’t be. It’s as simple as that. 


Merry Glitter and a Happy Old Tune: David Saffert is Liberace and Jillian Snow Harris is Liza Minnelli in the virtual return of their hit show “Liberace & Liza: A Tribute.” Photo: Mike Marchlewski

WHAT CAN WE RECOMMEND FOR YOU TO DO while you’re wrapping those last presents or sipping a little of the eggnog you whipped up a couple of days ago, other than tuning in to yet another Hallmark Christmas movie about a highly driven urban executive-on-the-rise who heads home for the holidays to the sweet little town she’d abandoned in her quest for success and discovers rekindled romance and the True Meaning of Life with the baker or carpenter or toy-shop owner of a high school boyfriend she’d so foolishly left behind? Maybe a higher, and more locally sourced, form of seasonal celebration: Hop on board the Nostalgia Express, chugging around the holiday bend as sure as a Little Drummer Boy rum-a-pum-pumming on an AM radio dial. 

Something about the season pulls the Ghosts of Pop Culture Icons Past back into the picture, eager to spread a little celebrity joie de vivre once again. That means, from CoHo Productions, a fresh flurry of glitter from talented musical impersonators David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris in a repeat version of their cheery showLiberace & Liza: A Tribute. This time around it’s a virtual production, live-streaming from the CoHo stage for two performances, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 26-27. Details here
Along the same rhythmic railroad tracks, the musical-theater company Broadway Rose continues its streaming production Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash through Dec. 31 (ticket sales end today, Dec. 24), with singer-actors Charles Cook, Courtney Temple, Joe Theissen, and Malia Tippets, and the talented team of director/choreographer Dan Murphy and music director Darcy White. They’ll fly you to the moon. They’ll make you feel so young.  Details here.

Maybe you’re itching for a virtual stroll – something very interesting and very far away, to sights you’ve never seen or ones you’re aching to revisit. There’s a way to do that, ArtsWatch’s Gary Ferrington writes in Travel for the homebound: armchair virtual strolls through the streets of Amsterdam, or a Bolivian marketplace, or catching a glimpse of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. All from your easy chair, of course: Hiking boots are very, very optional.

If you’re looking for a little soundtrack on Christmas morning, the excellent and inventive Willamette Radio Workshop will be broadcasting in Portland and streaming around the state its well-loved version of A Christmas Carol, at 11 a.m. on KBOO Radio’s Mr. Jones’s Neighborhood, complete with Foley bells & whistles and even a 20-voice choir. It’s free, but as in its live performances over the past 30 years, the company’s hoping you’ll make a donation to your local Food Bank.

Portland Center Stage at The Armory, meanwhile, continues to stream its hour-long musical show The Bells That Still Can Ring, through Jan. 3. “In the darkest time of the year — in one of the darkest years we can remember — how do we find joy? How do we find light?” Isaac Lamb, the project’s lead artist, asks. “That’s essentially what we’re after.” Center Stage is also offering access to (but not producing) Jefferson Mays’ critically lauded solo performance of A Christmas Carol (yes, he plays all of the roles, from Tiny Tim to Marley to all those pesky ghosts), and a streamed version of Dael Orlandersmith’s solo performance Until the Flood, which she wrote following the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and which she presented in a transformative performance on the PCS stage a year and a half ago: Here’s our review of that show.

Amy Kim Waschke as Prospero and Rodney Gardiner as Ariel in a “first reading” of Kenneth Cavander’s modern-language version of “The Tempest,” from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Image: Screen shot from video. 

Down Ashland way, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is offering a different take on the Good Old Days. You could call it nostalgia – the play is The Tempest, first produced more than 400 years ago – but it’s a Tempest, literally, like none you’ve seen or heard before. Part of the festival’s Play On Shakespeare First Read series, it’s a modern-verse translation (or adaptation/updating, if you prefer) by Kenneth Cavander, and it is, indeed, a stripped-down reading, the kind that companies do at the very beginning of a new production. OSF, which had most of its 2020 season canceled because of coronavirus shutdowns, calls it “a no-frills zoom play-reading project that aims to capture the excitement of the first table read of a traditional theatrical production by gathering a room of talented actors and other artists, giving them very little prep time, and as a group discovering a script for the first time together.” Streaming is free: Check here. O brave new world, that has such features in it! 


Follower of Agnolo Bronzino, “Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John,” ca. 1540-60, oil on poplar, 40.4 x 31.5 inches. Portland Art Museum; gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

ONE OF THE PLEASURES THAT 2020 HAS TEMPORARILY TAKEN FROM US is the pleasure of visiting familiar works of art, in familiar places, and making fresh connections with them. The museum world, which had shut down for months before cautiously reopening, has shut down again in response to a fresh spike in coronavirus cases, and is likely to stay closed for some time to come. When our art museums safely open again, it’ll be like finally revisiting a host of old friends and getting to know them all over again. A good art museum is a visual library of aesthetics and history, and as such is a constantly shifting thing, museum and visitors alike reevaluating what’s good and what’s important. It’s a doorway, partly, to the ways that people of the past thought and believed and went about their lives, and as such, a treasure chest of clues to the forces that have helped shape our own lives. Far from being a mausoleum for “dead art,” a good museum is a living, breathing thing.


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The painting above – long attributed to Bronzino; now believed to be by one of his followers, possibly from his workshop – is at once art, religion, and history, a lovely and beautifully balanced Mannerist painting from the mid-sixteenth century that plays with light and emphasizes ideal forms. It holds a prominent place on a wall of the European galleries of the Portland Art Museum, close to another Mother-and-Child painting, Bernardo Strozzi’s Virgin and Child, from roughly a century later. Strozzi’s version is just as steeped in belief, but the ideal is less present, and maybe, as the world was gradually becoming more modern, less necessary. His mother and child seem real people: everyday faces that you might see in the neighborhood; the divine inhabiting the ordinary. And just around the corner in the PAM galleries from these two paintings is another by Strozzi, Saint Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor. In it, an element of radical social action has joined the picture – the idea of belief as a verb, of an activist church sharing its wealth, caring for the poor.

Giving, it seems, is itself a gift: a kind of potlatch, a radical redistribution, a generosity and a right to be extended over and over again, to more and more people, transforming lives. Happy holidays, indeed.


Martha Pfanschmidt, “Collage,” 12 x 8 inches, in Waterstone Gallery’s group exhibit “In This Moment.”

ARTISTS AND ARTS ORGANIZATIONS, PINCHED AS BOTH ARE by the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis, continue to give as they can to other causes. Art is, after all, a sharing – yes, a market commodity at its high-end extremes, available to the highest bidder, but essentially a sharing of human achievement and ideas. Just one example of that sensibility in action: the group show In This Moment, on view through Jan. 10 at Portland’s artist-run Waterstone Gallery. The exhibit, which is made up of small works responding to “the difficulties of this extraordinary year,” has a lot of good work by a lot of good artists. And it has an excellent extra benefit: 15 percent of all sales income will be donated to the Oregon Food Bank.

Baba Wagué Diakité, Large Lidded Vessel, ceramic, 34 inches high. Wagué, a native of Mali who since 1985 has divided his time between Portland and his native country, where he founded and directs the Ko-Falen Cultural Center, is one of 20 artists in the Portland metro area to receive grants through the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

And sometimes the giving flows from patron to artist, providing a financial nudge that can help keep the work coming in tight economic times. Portland collector and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer has recently announced $150,000 in small grants to 60 artists in the Pacific Northwest to create “art that communicates the voices, experiences, and artistic expression of social justice efforts in response to systemic racism.”

The individual grants are modest – $2,500 each – but their reach is broad, spreading a little to a lot of people, ranging from well-known artists such as Willie Little and Baba Wagué Diakité to several who’ve had little public exposure. Twenty grants each were awarded through the three Northwest college museums that bear Jordan Schnitzer’s name – at Portland State University, the University of Oregon in Eugene, and Washington State University in Pullman. Exhibits at each museum of the grant-winners’ work are being planned.

PSU’s awardees are: Annabelle Araya, Julia Bond, J’reyesha Brannon, Amirah Chatman, Steven Christian, Baba Wagué Diakité, Sade DuBoise, Austin Gardner, Leila Haile, Elijah Hasan, Edmund Holmes, Willie Little, Latoya Lovely, Aiyana McClinton, Jessica Mehta, Christine Miller, AnAkA Morris, Annie Schutz, Sharita Towne, and Kyra Watkins. 


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Awardees through the University of Oregon museum are: Tumelo Moloi, Ana-Maurine Lara, Gabriel Barrera, Gabby Beauvais, Malik Lovett, Mya Lansing, Anthony Lewis, Kathleen Caprario and Gregory S. Black, John Adair, Josh Sands, Michael Perkins, Elliot March, Jasmine Jackson, Aaron Thompson, Marina Hajek, Artemas Ori, Naomi Meyer, MO WO, Stormie Loury, and Mika Aono.

It’s been a tough year for performing artists, too, who for the most part have been out of work. Schnitzer and the family CARE Foundation also recently announced a gift of $100,000 to the Oregon Symphony and Oregon Ballet Theatre for direct $1,000 gifts to the organizations’ out-of-work performers: 21 dancers, 74 symphony musicians, with the remainder to cover tax liabilities.



Hunter Noack and piano in the great outdoors: Back again, soon. Photo: Joey Hamilton

IN A LANDSCAPE, Hunter Noack’s innovative series of classical concerts in the wilderness, was hit hard in 2020 by the twin catastrophes of coronavirus and wildfires, and like most cultural organizations, it lost both performances and a lot of money: Noack was forced to cancel 50 concerts. Amid the disasters of the year a lot of people have put in a lot of effort to help bridge that financial gap, including the Oregon Cultural Trust, which awarded In a Landscape $86,000 in emergency relief through the federal CARES Act. The money helped Noack and company retool its sound systems and develop a Covid-friendly phone app for audiences, which ordinarily wander through the wilderness as they listen to the music via wireless headphones. The grant money also helps set up In a Landscape for a 40-concert 2021 season: Let the hills be alive. 

MUSIC 2020: STREAMING THROUGH THE SHUTDOWN. In the first of a series of year-end reviews we’re calling “Looking Back: 2020 in the Rear View Mirror” (which is where we’d dearly love to put it), Brett Campbell takes a look at notable trends, losses, triumphs, and adaptations during the Covid year, with some emphasis on those 2020 catchwords “virtual” and “streaming.” Campbell’s look back is filled with news and views: A lot happened. Watch for more year-in-review stories between now and New Year’s Day.

STRIVING TO HIT THE LOW NOTES. Every band, Elizabeth Soper tells ArtsWatch’s Lori Tobias, needs a tuba section: “You don’t have the balanced sound if you don’t have the really low instruments.” Soper is the first-year band teacher at Toledo Jr/Sr High School, just inland from the Oregon Coast, reviving a band program that’s been dormant for a year and a half, and she’s discovered that the school owns exactly zero tubas, which are as spendy as they’re brassy, going for something like $8,000 a pop. Soper’s absolutely right about the importance of the tuba (as a long-ago high school Sousaphone player, I can attest to that). Let the fund-raising begin.

Girl playing tuba, postcard, 1928


Mary Henry (1913-2009), “Apollo’s Trip,” 1977, acrylic on canvas,48.5 x 71 inches, Portland Art Museum, gift of Suzanne and John Rahn through Bill Rhodes, © Mary Henry Estate

MONDAY WAS THE DARKEST DAY IN A DARK YEAR – the winter solstice, with the fewest minutes of daylight in the calendar year. That means things can only get brighter, and the Portland Art Museum has a good painting for that, too: the late Pacific Northwest artist Mary Henry’s large burst of sunny glory Apollo’s Trip, which a couple of years ago was a highlight of a museum show of work by five 20th century Oregon woman modernists. Drink it in, virtually. It’ll be back for real soon enough. You can’t keep a good sun down.


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WITH JUST A WEEK LEFT BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR IT’S A GOOD TIME TO THINK ABOUT GIVING. Here at Oregon ArtsWatch we’re asking you to add us to your list of year-end donations. Many of you have, and we appreciate it deeply. Your support makes it possible for us to keep writing stories and bringing you news about Oregon’s arts and cultural life. Dec. 31 is the cutoff for tax-year donations, so it’s an excellent time to give. Your donation at this critical time will go toward our Full Circle Fund, which provides free ads to all cultural nonprofits in Oregon and Southwest Washington for one year. In essence, it’s a double donation: At the same time you give to ArtsWatch, you’re also helping the cultural organizations that advertise with us. 

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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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