Dreams Deferred

ArtsWatch Weekly: A world on fire

Trees in Trouble. Farewell, Tim Stapleton. Maryhill finally opens. Lots of music. Women in film. Pop-up posters. TBA, Street Roots & more.

NOTHING I CAN WRITE ON A DAY LIKE THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT than the story sweeping across Oregon and the West, where high winds and wildfires and crackling-dry conditions have unleashed historic devastation. Whole communities have been erased. Main highways are blocked off; others have been bumper-to-bumper crawling with people fleeing danger zones. Hundreds of people have been burned out of house and home. Complex ecosystems have been uprooted; wildlife flee with no sure place to go. In Oregon as of Thursday afternoon at least 800 square miles of land was burning, much of it out of control. 

Amid the chaos I’ve seen many small tales of courage, generosity, and resourcefulness. People in the country offering refuge for horses, livestock, pets. Parking lots and driveways offered for people escaping in their trucks or campers. Neighbors helping clear downed trees. Medical and utility and emergency workers, already stretched by the mounting catastrophes of this most extraordinary year, laboring overtime under daunting and exhausting circumstances. As I sit at my desk at 10 in the morning and look out the window the sky has turned from blood-orange to a pink-tinged gray. The acrid smell of smoke seeps through the cracks and into my nostrils. And I am deeply aware, and immensely grateful, that I am one of the fortunate ones, sitting in a stretch of Portland that’s been spared the worst of these multiple conflagrations, and that, barring a radical shift in weather patterns, is likely to remain a safe shelter. 

How did we get here? Where are we heading? In search of some answers ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson talked with Portland writer Daniel Mathews, author of the recent book Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change. Mathews takes a long view of the state of the forests, the destabilizing effects of climate change, the role of public policy, and other factors contributing to the chaos of the land. “I’m heartbroken looking at the maps and seeing so many towns and forests I visited just in reporting for this book,” Mathews tells Johnson. “This week’s fires are shocking and truly historic: it’s likely that more acres burned in the West than in any 48-hour period in written history, including the Big Blow-up of 1910. … I  guess there are a lot of disconnects between science and policy in this country, but forest fire policy is one of the most stubborn.”


TIM STAPLETON: FAREWELL TO A GREAT SPIRIT


The much loved Tim Stapleton, in transition. Photo courtesy Gary Norman

TIM STAPLETON, THE LONGTIME PORTLAND set designer, visual artist, writer of uncommonly good memoirs, and occasional actor, died at a hospice care center on Labor Day morning, Sept. 7, from the effects of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He leaves legions of friends and admirers, and an enormous hole in Portland’s artistic community. Tim, born in Kentucky coal country in 1949, constantly called in his work on memories of those days and that culture, and before he had to move to hospice care he made his home in The Holler, a stretch of country-in-the-city in a tucked-away part of northern Portland, which is where photographer Gary Norman took the portrait above. In it, Tim seems to be simply walking away, toward something, taking his soft wry voice and sometimes jagged laughter and passion and wit with him, but leaving a trail of memories behind. 

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The new history: Dreams Deferred

As the U.S. cracks down on "Dreamers," a new show at the Oregon Historical Society digs deep into the journey stories of new Americans

“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” 

― Arundhati RoyThe Cost of Living (1999)

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IF IT WEREN’T FOR THAT PESKY NUMBER at the end of the quote, dating it some 20 years back, you might as well imagine that Arundathi Roy had crafted that paragraph with an eye on the exhibition just opened at the Oregon Historical Society, DREAMs Deferred.

Inside the museum. Photo: Friderike Heuer

Roy frequently writes about the fate of minorities, refugees or displaced people on the Indian subcontinent. The focus of the DREAMs Deferred exhibit is closer to home, asking what happens to those who came to the United States from Mexico or Latin America as young children of undocumented parents. The collaborative work on display shows a combination of six portraits and short-form narrative accounts of young undocumented immigrants, joined by photographic documentation of some treasured objects they chose to take with them on the hazardous journey. The thrust is indeed: Watch! Try to understand! Never look away! These are your neighbors. These are people who just like the rest of us seek love, overcome obstacles and indescribable challenges, pursue a simple life and do not confuse the things that matter with those that should be ignored.

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Five Oaks: What’s in a name?

The former Washington County Museum branches out under a new name, Five Oaks Museum, reflecting a broader cultural umbrella

Last summer the Washington County Museum picked a dynamic new team to lead it into the future, naming Community Engagement Coordinator Molly Alloy, 38, and Education Director Nathanael Andreini, 45 as co-directors. They immediately embarked on a re-thinking of the 63-year-old institution, overhauling its educational curriculum, diversifying its exhibit curation, and expanding its focus to further include the perspectives of the region’s Native American and immigrant communities, giving the arts a higher profile than ever. 

But as the pair accelerated their efforts, which they’d begun in their previous positions at the museum, they realized that something stood in the way of their new, broader vision for the museum: its name. 

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FOR ONE THING, AS THE MUSEUM EXPANDED its digital reach beyond its cozy campus at Portland Community College Rock Creek, the team realized that it risked confusion, because there are Washington Counties across the United States. Nor is the independent museum, whose history stretches back decades before its consolidation as Washington County Historical Society, actually owned by Oregon’s Washington County, though the county is one of its major supporters. 

The new brand.

But the name’s limitations ran deeper. “The ‘Washington County’ designation came to this area when Western settlers established American control of this place,” Alloy explained. “By starting there, we’re cutting off 10,000 years of history that preceded it. The county is only one person at the dinner party. The stories that can be told about this area go so far beyond that that’s it’s not accurate historically for the institution. To retain that name does privilege a certain kind of history that is already the dominant narrative.”

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