covid-19 and arts

Finding freedom in adversity

A pandemic, a wildfire – while the hits keep coming, the Lincoln City Cultural Center responds with an online fundraiser and a transition to arts incubator

Some people just can’t catch a break.

Yes, it’s a cliché, but clichés exist for a reason, and at the Lincoln City Cultural Center this one may seem doubly true. And still they rise.

Last spring, after the pandemic changed our world, the center made the difficult decision to cancel its annual Culture, Of Course! fundraiser. The 6-year-old event typically brings in $20,000 to $30,000, unrestricted operating funds the center uses for necessities.

Niki Price, co-chair of the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition and vice chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust, says of donating to the trust, “Once we convince a donor to do it once, we rarely have to resell that donor. Once you try it, you’re in.”
Niki Price, executive director of the Lincoln City Cultural Center, says with travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the center decided to focus its auction on adventure, “interesting things we could go and do and dream about, something great to look forward to.”

Then, after months of finding innovative ways of operating safely — streaming concerts, virtual workshops, drive-in movies, take-out art supplies — center leaders knew they were ready to bring Culture, Of Course! back in a new way. There would a drive-in movie screen, food provided and prepared by Kyllo’s and delivered to tables set up alongside cars, entertainment by the surf/punk band Retroactive Gamma Rays, an arcade, and auction.

Then the Echo Mountain fire blew up. Parts of Lincoln City were evacuated and Pacific Power crews took over the center parking lot as a staging zone.

Canceling the Sept. 19 in-person event wasn’t a hard choice — they had no choice. But they did have options and, of course, they grabbed one — an online auction.

“We focused on adventure,” said Executive Director Niki Price. “Given all the travel restrictions and the way we have been kept at home, we focused on interesting things we could go and do and dream about, something great to look forward to.”

The list of items continues to grow, and so far includes a biplane ride, a mushrooming camp at Camp Westwind, an art class and retreat at Sitka Center, and a plein air artist getaway in Baker City, including accommodations, a tour of downtown, a gift card for lunch, and an artist-guided day-long high desert plein air workshop.

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Talking back to the darkness

In difficult times, two workshop instructors say, writing can illuminate corners of the mind and restore a sense of possibility

In these difficult days, most everyone is looking for a way to cope, to find peace, to make sense of things. For some, it’s taking a walk, paddling a kayak, or learning a new skill. And for some, it’s writing. In the near future, Nancy Linnon and Kim Stafford will be leading writing workshops at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. I talked with them about writing your way out of darkness and how to defeat the demons that hold people back.

Linnon’s online workshop, “Changing in Place,” runs this weekend, Sept. 5 and 6. A writer for nearly all her life, Linnon has long had a practice, especially during tough times, of writing daily. But when the pandemic struck, she’d let that practice lag.

“I wasn’t giving it the attention it needed, given how chaotic and painful things were,” said Linnon, a writing instructor of 25 years. “My yoga teacher immediately went online daily, so I was doing my yoga practice daily. I was like, ‘I can do yoga every day, but I can’t write every day, when writing has been my practice?’ There was a lot to digest. Things were starting to pile up internally. I brought that practice back into my life. Nothing sees me through like writing.”

Nancy Linnon will teach a writing workshop at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.
Nancy Linnon advises writers, “Before you sit down, tell yourself you are free to write the worst junk in the world.” She will lead a virtual writing workshop this weekend at the Sitka Center.

Linnon thinks of writing as a tool, not just to express what is there, but to discover what you didn’t know was there. It’s a sort of flashlight moving around inside, illuminating corners, she said. For her, one corner was a troubling connection with a family member who lost her mother when she was barely more than a toddler.

“My oldest sister’s mother died in the polio epidemic” of the mid-20th century, Linnon said. “I’m in the middle of this pandemic and not drawing the connection that an epidemic like polio had touched my father’s life. It was in the writing that I had that ‘A-ha.’ Probably if I had talked to my sister, it would have come up. Instead it came up in the writing, keeping me present in myself in a way nothing else really does.”

For those new to writing or intimidated by it, Linnon likes to draw on the teachings of author Natalie Goldberg. While some may insist writing is as simple as sitting down and picking up the pen, Linnon acknowledges it’s not always that easy. One important tip is to keep your hand moving.

“The other thing is, before you sit down, tell yourself you are free to write the worst junk in the world,” Linnon said. “All these voices in your head come and say, ‘You’re not describing it right.’ This isn’t the place for that. Don’t cross out, don’t think, don’t get logical, don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. When the critical voices come in, either put what they are saying on the page, or notice them and try to write through them. Go where your mind takes you. Another thing Natalie Goldberg says is, ‘Go for the jugular.’ It doesn’t matter what you start writing about, it’s the flashlight thing again.”

Stafford’s online workshop, “Pandemic Diary for the Earth” is set for Oct. 10 and 11. Like so many in these challenging times, Stafford said he finds himself starting the day with a sense of being surrounded by dire news.

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When the proscenium arch is a computer monitor

Technology presents challenges for students in an online summer drama club, but the tradeoff is lessons in creativity, self-reliance, and responsibility

I am in the passenger seat of our pickup headed back to the coast from Eugene when I check in with the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts’ Online Summer Drama Club. The oldest group, students entering seventh and eighth grades, is rehearsing 10 Ways to Survive Life in Quarantine. I am listening to an announcer doing commentary on an imaginary sport — and then I am gone. Dropped.

Oh, the joys of life in a virtual world.

As the 19 students in the club are learning, virtual performances come with unique challenges. One is technology. When one actor talks, her voice continues, but the video freezes — blame the dreaded lag time brought on by a poor Wi-Fi connection. Then there’s remembering to stay in the frame; to turn off the camera and mic when your performance is over; and to unmute yourself when it’s showtime.

“The thing that I think is most frustrating is you can be doing your scene and you don’t know you are freezing up on the other end,” said Hazel Fiedler, who performs with the Prime Time Players in 10 Ways to Survive Life in Quarantine. “That’s the most nerve-racking — going live. What if I freeze up? What if my internet goes off in a performance?”


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


The arts council formed the eight-week summer drama club when the pandemic forced cancellation of drama summer camp. Since July 6, students have met twice weekly. Monday meetings feature a theater professional and question-and-answer session. The groups meet a second time each week to rehearse, devise props, and create costumes. The club will culminate in an invitation-only day of virtual performances Aug. 28.

The club is divided into three age groups: Act One Players are third- and fourth-graders; Act Two Players are entering fifth and sixth grade, and the Prime Time Players are incoming seventh- and eighth-graders. Classes were open to all students in those grades, with varying levels of theater experience.

Technical issues aside, performing alone from your living room is entirely different from acting with fellow thespians on stage. That presents its own challenges — and learning opportunities.

Members of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts’ Online Summer Drama Club meet twice weekly in preparation for their virtual performance later this month.
Director Jennifer Hamilton (top left) meets with the Act Two Players in the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts’ Online Summer Drama Club. The club meets twice weekly in preparation for virtual performances later this month. Photo by: Lori Tobias

“It’s just really hard when you can’t do as much,” said Lucy Furuheim, who has a role with the Act Two Players in The Show Must Go Online. “You can’t interact, you can’t pass a prop. In one of the scenes, we’re using stuffed animals instead of people.”

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An artistic smorgasbord at Chehalem Cultural Center

The fall Art Harvest tour is canceled, but the work of more than 40 Yamhill County artists who usually participate is displayed in Newberg

This year’s Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County has, predictably, been shut down by COVID-19. Ordinarily, the October event runs two weekends and allows the public access to dozens of artists’ studios, but for obvious reasons (in many cases the studio is located in the artist’s home) that aspect of the tour will need to wait until 2021, at least.

The Parrish Gallery of the Chehalem Cultural Center is showing the work of more than 40 Yamhill County artists through Sept. 19. Photo by: David Bates
The Parrish Gallery of the Chehalem Cultural Center is showing the work of more than 40 Yamhill County artists through Sept. 19. Photo by: David Bates

However, in recent years, the Chehalem Cultural Center has piggybacked on the event, offering a pre-tour preview of participating artists’ work in the flagship Parrish Gallery, and mercifully that hasn’t changed. The exhibition, curated by the center’s director of arts programs, Carissa Burkett, opened earlier this month with work by more than 40 artists from McMinnville, Dayton, Newberg, Amity, Dundee, Carlton, and Yamhill.

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Caught in the coronavirus doldrums

Carrie Lewis, CEO of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, says the popular Newport attraction awaits the governor's OK to reopen: "Our over-sanitized hands are tied."

Visitors to the Oregon Coast Aquarium have made it one of the most popular attractions on the entire Oregon Coast. Opened in 1992, it was named one of the top 10 aquariums in the country by Parade magazine only one year later. When it was chosen to rehabilitate Keiko, the orca star from the film Free Willy, its popularity boomed.

But in 2000, two years after Keiko was transferred to Iceland for release in the wild, the nonprofit seemed doomed. The aquarium was $4 million short on the tab for its new $11 million, 1.3-million-gallon Passages of the Deep exhibit, and it was unclear if the aquarium would survive. But the community – local and beyond – rallied, and in recent years the aquarium again has thrived.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Then the virus hit, and Newport’s most popular attraction and a crucial component of the coast culture, struggles. We talked with aquarium president and CEO Carrie Lewis about the future.

When did the aquarium close?

Lewis:  On March 16. It was the right thing to do at the time because things were ramping up. That’s right around the time Gov. Kate Brown put out her mandate for businesses to close. We were in lockstep with all the other zoos and aquariums around the country. Unfortunately, it was right before spring break. It was a huge hit.

Any idea when you’ll be able to reopen?

The anticipated opening date remains unknown. We’re really concerned. Because Lincoln County is on the “Watch List,” we can’t open until Lincoln County gets into Phase 2. I am appealing to the governor to get a redesignation of our status, which is indoor/outdoor entertainment facility. The Oregon Zoo, the High Desert Museum in Bend, and the Sea Lion Caves are open. We have a lot of exhibits outside. We have a lot of things we can do to keep our guests safe. I don’t know what hoops we’ll have to jump through to reopen. We’re taking it very seriously, but our over-sanitized hands are tied.

Carrie Lewis, Oregon Coast Aquarium CEO, has been charting a course for reopening. “We’re small but we’re mighty,” she says, “and we will get through this.”

What are your plans for reopening?

We have a couple of opening plans. There would be a reduction in fees and everything would be purchased online: No coming up to the window to buy a ticket, and you would have to reserve a time. We’re seeing that this is a really productive way of getting visitors in.

We would set up stations at all outdoor exhibits, and visitors would go from exhibit to exhibit in groups of 10 with volunteers interpreting. We would be able to do 40 people an hour for seven hours. It would be a much shorter stay time. Usually, 2 to 2½  hours is the normal stay time. This would be about one hour.

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A visual-arts bright spot in COVID summer

Chehalem Cultural Center galleries showcase work by the late Michael Gibbons, Kerri Evonuk, and Sara Siestreem

In Yamhill County, for a few more days, visual art enthusiasts have an opportunity to see a sprawling collection of paintings by Michael Gibbons, the self-described “poet with a paintbrush” who died July 2 at his Toledo home, the result of complications from a stroke suffered in 2006. The exhibit fills two galleries in the Chehalem Cultural Center that are large enough to easily accommodate our new normal of six feet from others. The exhibition runs through Friday.

The Yaquina Exhibit: A Painted Voice for a Sacred Landscape, curated by the center’s director of arts programs, Carissa Burkett, showcases paintings inspired by vistas from the Oregon Coast around Newport. When considering Newport, most Oregonians probably think of Yaquina Bay and civilization’s stamp immediately around it: the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the restaurants, shops, and docks along the waterfront, the bridge. We forget an ecological fact: Yaquina Bay is merely the lowest elevation of a 250-square-mile basin that stretches up and away into the hills and out of view. As the show’s notes point out, the watershed encompasses breathtaking geographic and biological diversity and is home to bears, Coho salmon, cougars, beaver, eagles, and other wildlife.

"Doyle Thorne's Ditch" by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)
“Doyle Thorne’s Ditch” by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)

Gibbons packed his paints, brushes, and easel into this area beyond the bay, producing over three decades the more than 45 plein air oil paintings that compose the show.

“When en plein air,” the notes say, Gibbons “comes to a place that feels right to him, then he’ll pause, find a bush he can hang onto and grab a branch. ‘How would you like to be seen?’ he’ll ask. You can almost hear the chorus of the different trees. It’s a sense. You don’t hear words, per se. The language is right there. It’s a living being.”

The exhibit features a series of drawings Gibbons created in preparation for The Mighty Oak, depicting a Heritage Tree at the Oregon Gardens. It allows the viewer to see and truly appreciate the extraordinary amount of work — rehearsal, one might say — that can go into a piece before the artist ever picks up a brush.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG remains one of Yamhill County’s bright spots in our COVID-19 summer. The center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday just north of the Newberg Public Library (which is also open) and is following the state’s Phase 2 guidelines. Last week I exchanged notes with Burkett, and it’s encouraging to learn that the rest of the year’s exhibitions are still on the calendar — so long as the center is able to remain open.

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Arts advocate steps down

Catherine Rickbone, executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, says cutbacks caused by the pandemic make this a good time for her to retire

Catherine Rickbone had grown accustomed to people asking when she was going to retire and enjoy life. Rickbone, executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, frequently responded, “I enjoy myself now.” She planned to see to the end the final phase of the Newport Performing Arts Center’s $4.3 million capital campaign, to be completed in 2020.

Then came COVID-19. The deadline for the “Entertain the Future” campaign was pushed out to at least 2021. Rickbone, 74, knew it was time to go. She retired July 2 after 13 years at the helm of the council, where she oversaw management of the Newport Performing Arts Center and Newport Visual Arts Center. The council is also the local arts council for Lincoln County and the regional arts council for Clatsop, Tillamook, Coos, and Curry counties, as well as coastal towns in Lane and Douglas counties.

“Catherine will be really missed,” said Akia Woods, president of the council’s board of directors. “We’ll especially miss her earnestness and her love of the arts and her ready smile. Catherine was a tremendous advocate for the arts. Her advocacy hasn’t just been local, she’s been a great advocate at the state level.”

In announcing her retirement from the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, Catherine Rickbone told the board of directors that her tenure with the council “was made up of billions of moments, millions of interactions, thousands of programs, hundreds of decisions, and uncountable challenges and joys.” Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
In announcing her retirement from the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, Catherine Rickbone told the board of directors that her tenure with the council “was made up of billions of moments, millions of interactions, thousands of programs, hundreds of decisions, and uncountable challenges and joys.” Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts

A search for a new executive director has begun, Woods said.

With a life rooted in the arts, Rickbone seemed destined for the leadership role.

She was raised by her grandmother in Emporia, Kansas, in a three-story home that also served as a rooming house. Rickbone was hooked on the arts from the day she found a book on her grandmother’s bookshelf titled Picture Studies. Dedicated to children and lovers of art, it was a study guide from 1928 with details of each piece pictured, followed by questions. The book fueled a hunger in the young girl for more.

“As I got a little older, I did chores for my grandmother,” Rickbone recalled. “Instead of money, I parlayed for magazine subscriptions, such as Saturday Review. Also, the Metropolitan Museum of Art put out 12 books. Inside were color plates of artwork. The books talked about great works of art. I cut my teeth on that when I did summer reading on the hanging swing or glider on my grandmother’s big Midwestern-style porch.”

Her grandmother’s home was half a block from what was then known as the Kansas State Teachers’ College.  “There was always summer theater — it was one of the longest running in the nation,” she said. “My grandmother and I would walk across the street and get on the campus and we’d go to plays.”

As host of the “Arts Talk” radio show, Catherine Rickbone (left) talked with Teresa Simmons, vice chair of the Siletz Tribal Arts and Heritage Society, about the group and its dream for a new building. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
As host of the “Arts Talk” radio show, Catherine Rickbone (left) talked with Teresa Simmons, vice chair of the Siletz Tribal Arts and Heritage Society, about the group and its dream for a new building. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts

Rickbone also took advantage of the William Allen White Library across the street from her home, named for the founder of the Emporia Gazette and featuring a huge room of children’s books, where the girl would hang out for hours. Within walking distance was a Carnegie library. “I’d go to that library and read and look at things, so I had a lot of nurturing.”  

Rickbone, a poet and singer, eventually completed two bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. She married a Navy lieutenant, following him during their nearly 10-year marriage to towns along the East Coast.

She taught English, started her own mail-order business, and held positions in public relations and marketing. Eventually, the road led to Ashland, where she was an independent art consultant. The self-described “prairie woman … used to wind, wide open spaces, lightning and hail, storms and tornados,” found the town nice enough, but with mountains on both sides, a bit claustrophobic.

“There was no room to breathe, to stretch out, to vision,” she said. “Not that mountains aren’t inspiring, from a distance, just not up close and hovering.”

Searching for a new opportunity, Rickbone learned of a job opening in Newport, a town she hadn’t even known existed. Driving to the coastal town for her first interview, she recalls seeing the Performing Arts Center on her left and the glittering ocean before her. “That did it. I could vision again, breathe again, check the weather, and see it coming.”

The weather, however, did take some adjusting to — no four seasons; dreary, dark, damp, and depressing during fall, winter, and spring. She made it through to summer, coming out on the other side with the new knowledge that “drippy weather breeds creativity.”

During her time with the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, Rickbone was instrumental in establishing the Coastal Oregon Visual Artist Showcase (COVAS) in the Visual Arts Center, which highlights midcareer Oregon visual artists while making a statement on visual arts ecology. She helped save the former Jazz at Newport festival, later renamed the Oregon Coast Jazz Party, and signed the first Metropolitan Opera Live in HD contract for the Performing Arts Center, second in popularity, she notes, only to the Jazz Party. She also helped establish a public arts policy for Newport. She remains a member of that city committee and continues to serve on the board for the Oregon Cultural Advocacy Coalition.

Lincoln County Counsel Wayne Belmont, who worked with Rickbone on numerous projects and committees, recalled the enthusiasm and energy she brought to every task.

Catherine Rickbone (left) joins sculptor Mary Lewis at her piece “Mother and Child,” which was a gift to the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts in 2014. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
Catherine Rickbone (left) joins sculptor Mary Lewis at her piece “Mother and Child,” which was a gift to the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts in 2014. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts

“The term I’ve used is boundless energy,” he said. “Exuberance. It can be very contagious. She’s not going to be quietly sitting on the sidelines. I know she will continue to be a super volunteer.”

In announcing her retirement, Rickbone said budget retraints caused by the the COVID-19 shutdown make this an “excellent opportunity and the appropriate time” for her to step down. She added she is “contemplating my next opportunities in life, where I can use my skills of leadership to further other interests and causes important to me.” She said she believes the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, which has laid off most of its staff because of COVID-19 budget constraints, will survive the pandemic, but it won’t be the same.

“When the time is right, I think our supporters will return,” she said. “Things may look different, but let’s face it, nothing takes the place of a live performance. The synergy and energy between stage and audience is magical. There are a lot of virtual tours and they are great… but there is nothing like an up close and personal look in real time at a work of art.

“I say the same thing about performing, you don’t get the buzz from online streaming … as you do when you are in that seat in the Alice Silverman Theatre. The stage has living people on it and something starts to happen. I’ve experienced it time and time again. I think those times will come back.”

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.