In 2018 ArtsWatch writers spent a lot of time out and about the state, putting the “Oregon” into “Oregon ArtsWatch.” Theater in Ashland and Salem. Green spaces and Maori clay artists in Astoria. A carousel in Albany. Aztec dancing in Newberg. Music in Eugene, Springfield, Bend, the Rogue Valley, McMinnville, Lincoln City, Florence, Willamette Valley wine country. Museum and cultural center art exhibits in Coos Bay and Newberg and Newport and Salem. Art banners in Nye Beach. A 363-mile art trail along the coast.
In 2018 we added to our team of writers in Eugene and elsewhere weekly columnists David Bates in Yamhill County and Lori Tobias on the Oregon Coast, plus regional editor Karen Pate. We expect to have even more from around Oregon in 2019.
Twenty terrific tales from around the state in 2018:
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The Original Tesla
Jan. 11: “Clean energy. Wireless charging. A world connected by invisible communication technology. For many,” Brett Campbell writes,” they’re today’s reality, tomorrow’s hope — but they were first realistically envisioned more than a century ago by a a Serbian-American immigrant whose name most of us only know because a new car is named after him. … ‘He’s an unsung hero,” Brad Garner, who choreographed and directs Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, a multidisciplinary show about the technological genius Nikola Tesla that played in Eugene, Bend, and Portland, tells Campbell. ‘We wouldn’t have cell phones and power in our homes without his work. He was an immigrant with an American dream who changed the world.”
Setting Brecht to music
Feb. 25: “Mother Courage and Her Children without music is like Shakespeare without poetry,” the University of Oregon’s Michael Malek Naijar tells Gary Ferrington. Brecht’s 1939 antiwar play isn’t a musical, Naijar adds, but it requires military marches, piano ballads, haunting elegies and more to tell the “cautionary tale about the mendacity of capitalism dressed up as patriotism leading to war.” So Naijar set out to find a composer for his production of Tony Kushner’s 2006 English adaptation – and that’s how Daniel Daly got involved. Ferrington spins the tale of a classical collaboration in Eugene.
Ashland: changing the social order
March 12: “’We’re here to change the social order. So deal with it.’ That’s the cheery, cheeky ensemble announcement that begins Karen Zacarías’s wildly entertaining Destiny of Desire—a deliciously theatrical homage to the mistaken identities, thwarted romances, and swooning pageantry that drive Latin American telenovelas—and it could well serve as the motto for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new season,” Daniel Pollack-Pelzner writes as the 2018 Ashland season begins. “An 80-year-old tourist destination in small-town southern Oregon that has a dead white male as its middle name, as its staff is fond of joking, might not seem the likeliest engine of social change. Under its outgoing artistic director, Bill Rauch, however, its resident company has become 70 percent actors of color, and the 2018 lineup features five new plays by women.”
Delgani’s crimes of passion
April 14: “True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” Gary Ferrington tells the satory of how these words from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart grabbed hold of Eugene composer Paul Safer and Delgani String Quartet leader Wyatt True and brought about a rousing literary/musical/theatrical collaboration with Man of Words Theatre Company in Springfield and Portland.
Rogue Valley Symphony’s season of renewal
April 17: Oregon arts outside of Portland, Gary Ferrington observes, are a little like Rodney Dangerfield: They don’t get no respect. Yest, he adds, they “thrive elsewhere in the state and … we Oregonians have a rich cultural landscape to embrace and celebrate.” Case in point: the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra, 70 musicians strong and a force in southern Oregon, and which in 2018 turned half a century old. Ferrington traces how this musical marvel came to be, and where it’s headed.
Out & About: twice the party
May 3: The joint was jumpin’ on a Saturday night at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem when two opening-night parties converged, Bob Hicks writes. One was young and eager, filled with students there to celebrate the art and artists in the Senior Art Majors show from Willamette University. The other was a more established crowd for the opening of Water Is Sacred: Water Is Life, the latest exhibition from the prominent Salem artist (and Willamette U. art prof) James B. Thompson. Hicks observes: “It struck me, looking at these two very different yet strangely congruent exhibitions, how good and likely, after all, the arrangement was. Young artists, on the cusp, bringing energy and enthusiasm and a restless net of ideas and possibilities to the conversation. A mature artistic craftsman demonstrating how such ideas and energy can be focused, channeled, shaped into a vision.”
Photo First: The Albany Carousel
July 16: “Every small town wants something to put it on the map,” photographer K.B. Dixon writes. “Now, after fifteen years of hard work, Albany has that something—a remarkable new carousel.” Dixon and his camera spent time in the display spaces and the workshops of the Willamette Valley city’s Historic Carousel & Museum, a genuine community triumph that has been, in Dixon’s words, “meticulously restored over a period of ten years. It is populated by a menagerie of stunning animals, both real and imagined—horses, of course, but also lions, tigers, elephants, hippocampus, and dragons. Each has been hand-carved and hand-painted by local volunteers.”
Connecting 363 miles of coastal art
July 31: If it’s public art, but you don’t know where to find it, is it public? While traveling the 363-mile highway between Brookings and Astoria, the Oregon Coast Visitors Association’s Marcus Hinz began to wonder if there was a disconnect. “I would see public art in random places and wondered how anyone would ever find them,” Hinz told Lori Tobias. “After a while, it dawned on me that one, there is a lot of public art on the Oregon Coast, and two, that our agency has never done a great job partnering with the coastal-art-culture community. The goal of this project is to help residents and visitors connect with artists, gain a deeper sense of place, and improve artists’ livelihoods.” And so the idea for the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail was born.
Bach to the future of music
July 31: The Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene may be going through problems, but that hasn’t dampened the effect of its innovative Composers Forum, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Oregon composer Christina Rusnak writes about what it was like to be in the midst of more than 100 composers, performers, and conductors. “One of the most enticing aspects of the symposium for us composers was the opportunity to both attend concerts by and have (our) work performed by guest artists of the highest caliber. … We were immersed in a diversity of pieces that included everything from vocal works and guest artist’s solo performances to chamber pieces, collaborations with Korean Instrumentalists, and improvisation.”
An Oregon pairing: in vino violins
Aug. 3: “Pinot noir and salmon surely make a felicitous match, yet imagine an even happier marriage: Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59 No. 2 paired with J. Christopher Wines’ 2016 ‘Lumiere’ Pinot Noir. ‘Both can certainly be enjoyed for their beauty alone, but together the two really shine,’ said cellist Leo Eguchi, co-founder with violinist Sasha Callahan of the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival.” Angela Allen tells the tale of how this sparkling festival came out of the cellar to pair with Oregon wine heavyweights J. Christopher, Sokol Blosser, and Elk Cove, and how it lured star composer Joan Tower to be composer-in-residence.
A king and his Castleman
Aug. 8: At 77, David Bates writes, Charles Castleman “is something of a rock star in the violin world,” revered both for his playing and his teaching. When Castleman came to Linfield College in McMinnville for the third year in a row to play and teach with students gathered from around the country, he sat down with Bates for a long talk about the musical life, including playing on TV with Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny when he was 10, and again with the Dorsey brothers when he was 14.”I never really thought very much of any other profession. On the other hand, I went to Harvard when I was 16. I was never limited to music in terms of what I was doing. But that always made it even more likely that I was going to be a musician, because everything else, people would have eventually accused me of being a dilettante.”
50 years, 340 plays, thousands of stories
Aug. 14: David Bates tells the tale of McMinnville’s Gallery Players of Oregon, one of the state’s longest-running community theater companies, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. “I cannot hide my enthusiasm about it,” Bates writes, “and you ought to know why: For many of the past 20 years, I’ve acted on Gallery’s stage. Candidly, this is a bit weird for me. I’ve been a journalist since moving to McMinnville in the mid-1990s, and I’ve been involved at Gallery (both as an actor and a director) for most of that time. But those two lives haven’t intersected — until now.” Maybe it’s the stories that bring the two lives together: “I’ve been killed by and slain good friends, then gone out drinking with them afterward. I’ve come to understand how and why the show must and ultimately does go on, even when the director walks out, or when an actor vanishes on the eve of opening night or — for any number of reasons I’ll not get into here — in the middle of a show’s run.”
High tide in Astoria
Sept. 7: “Tidal Rock—a green space in Astoria, Oregon, formerly overgrown and obscured from the public eye—has received a makeover courtesy of three artists, Agnes Field, Brenda Harper, and Jessica Schleif, who have rallied their community to create a space for public art in an unlikely spot,” Hannah Krafcik writes. “Known for its role in marking the water level for its coastal community, Tidal Rock is officially designated as a historic site. Since late 2017, the three artists have been hard at work cultivating the space as a place for temporary public art installations and community gatherings.” In the process, their concepts of the nature of art have been stretched: “For Field, the question remains: is this whole process meant to be seen as art? Is clearing land, picking up dog poop, going to city council meetings, and hosting rituals in a green space an artistic endeavor? These questions, for her, continue to fuel discourse and public engagement with the project.”
In Newport, 30 and going strong
Sept. 11: “In the 1980s, when talk first started about building a performing arts center, the town of Newport had a population of less than 8,000, and I’d be willing to bet many of those lived paycheck to paycheck,” Lori Tobias writes. “Nye Beach, particularly the area where the (Newport Performing Arts Center) is located, was a rat-infested neighborhood of rotting cabins and teetering cabins. There were no fancy boutiques or fine dining, much less luxury condos. Into that scene came a group of artists accustomed to performing in school basements, churches or wherever they could grab space with the gumption to believe that they could raise enough money — millions — to build a hall dedicated to showcasing their talent. City fathers listened.” Now, at 30, the center is a magnet for performing art and artists – and audiences – throughout the Central Coast.
Breaking the gardenia code
Sept. 13: “For know-it-all critics and discerning music-goers, ‘community opera’ can be code for bad music, lousy singers and shabby production,” Angela Allen writes. “Not this time.Tango of the White Gardenia, a collaboration of Cascadia Chamber Opera (previously Cascadia Concert Opera) and Lincoln City Cultural Center, was a triumph, if on a far smaller scale than Portland Opera, or even Portland State University student productions. Composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s Argentine-influenced music and the touching tango-centered libretto by artistic and life partner Tiziana DellaRovere addressed bullying, identity and the spiritual healing power of art — in this case tango.” After premiering in Lincoln City, Tango moved on to Florence, Bend, Astoria, and Eugene.
Clay arts, Maori to Astoria
Oct. 15: When Lori Tobias called Richard Rowland in Astoria for a scheduled phone conversation, no one answered. “Thirty minutes later, Rowland was on the line, apologetic, but with a good excuse. Rowland, a native Hawaiian and ceramics instructor at Clatsop Community College, had an important task at hand — preparing a pig for a community luau at which the guests of honor were nine visiting Maori clay artists from New Zealand, or in the native tongue, Aotearoa. ‘It is my responsibility to cook in the imu, a traditional way of Hawaiian cooking,’ Rowland said. ‘It is my responsibility that everyone has been fed.’” It was the New Zealand clay art collective’s third visit to fellow artists in Astoria to swap ideas and techniques, and Rowland figured he was cooking for a crowd of 100 to 130 people.
Bringing the real deal to Dia de Muertos
Oct. 29: “When Jose Carlos came to Oregon in the mid-1990s,” David Bates writes, “he didn’t see much of his own Mexican culture in the community. Other Latinos attended his Woodburn high school, but public displays of culture from south of the border? No. … ‘I didn’t see celebrations of Day of the Dead, I didn’t see marches or Mexican celebrations, and now I see a lot. A lot of people are learning, sharing, teaching, and doing.’” Carlos and his wife, Kelly, founders of Woodburn’s Aztec dance troupe Grupo Ritual Azteca Huitzilopochtli, have had something to do with that, and this year helped the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg celebrate Dia de Muertos.
10 years of flying the Nye Beach freak flag
Nov. 6: “Organizers can smile about it now,” Lori Tobias writes, “but 10 years ago, few involved in the fledgling Nye Beach Banner Project saw the humor. It all came down to one banner, the work of Rowan Lehrman. The front featured a topless woman painted in the style of bathing suit model Bettie Page, cavorting in the ocean waves, arm reaching up, ending not in a hand, but a crab claw. On the opposite side was the legend: ‘Nye Beach is 4 Freaks.’” Somehow the Newport neighborhood project survived, Thirty-five artists have created banners over the ensuing 10 years, and the project has raised about$70,000 for children’s art programs.
Coos Bay’s Everybody Biennial
Nov. 14: “What if they gave a Biennial and invited everyone to join in?” That’s not, Bob Hicks writes, how the fiercely competitive and highly selective world of biennial art shows usually operates. “Or you could just invite any and all artists in the state of Oregon to drop by with up to three works, and then fit them all onto your museum’s walls. That’s the way it works at the Coos Art Museum on the southern Oregon coast, where since the 1990s a ‘come one, come all’ approach to its biennial has prevailed and, perhaps astonishingly, largely succeeded. In a way, it can’t get more daring. The show has no gatekeepers. Museum officials don’t know who or what’s going to walk in the door. You trust that it’ll be good, or at least not embarrassing. And what you get, you show. If ever there was a People’s Biennial, a purely democratic approach to the state of the art, this is it.”
Craft? Art? It’s a HEATWAVE
Dec. 3: When the Columbia FiberArts Guild’s show of art quilts HEATWAVE opened at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, David Bates wasn’t sure what to think. “Then I went and saw it,” he writes. “I’ve seen it three or four times now, marching in on each occasion to look specifically at that exhibition, to spend a few more minutes with this piece or that. … The work is astonishing and beautiful and, occasionally, mysterious.” Bates talked with the guild’s president, Paula Benjaminson, for a little background. “It may be difficult to convince some ‘authorities’ on art that what we make can be regarded as art, rather than craft,,” she told him, “but I don’t think we should bother wasting time over this issue. ‘Craft’ objects deserve as much respect as art objects, depending on the caliber of the work. Instead of focusing on artificial divisions in the world of making, our guild celebrates what we make with our own hands and imaginations. … The experience of making is important in and of itself.”