George Floyd

The Endurance of The -Ism Project

How a monologue series about race, gender, and sexual identity leapt from stage to screen

“Put your hood on so you don’t get soaked. Take your hood off so you don’t get shot.” Playwright Josie Seid spoke those words aloud to herself on a rainy day. As water fell from the sky and onto her hair, she pulled on her hood—then reconsidered.

“That process in your brain of trying to keep safe in this world that we live in as people of color—especially Black females, Black people—that’s always going,” Seid says. “I see the American flag on someone’s house and I have to decide, ‘Am I going to walk past that house?’ I see an open garage door and I have to decide, ‘Am I going to walk past there? Is something going to happen?’”

Seid’s experience is chronicled in The -Ism Project, a cinematic anthology from the multicultural production organization MediaRites that ruminates on race, gender and sexual identity in profoundly personal terms. It began as a series of monologues, but as the pandemic ravaged the planet, MediaRites shifted the project from stage to screen.

Shareen Jacobs in Josie Seid’s play “Being Me in the Current America.” Photo courtesy MediaRites

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2020 in review: At last, over & out

2020? Perish the thought. The ups, downs, disasters, trends, outrages, and occasional triumphs of Oregon's arts & culture in a tortuous year.

2020? Perish the thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish: We’re gonna wash that year right out of our hair. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or, as the old curse has it, “may you live in interesting times” – but not quite this interesting, thank you very much.

The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name led pretty much everyone, including all of us here at Oregon ArtsWatch, on a frantic and astonishing chase. It was discombobulating, because for the most part we were chasing in isolation inside the confines of our own homes, like cats in a cardboard box desperately racing after our own tails. Oh, sure, there were those fair-weather walks through the neighborhood, and the masked-up trips to the grocery store. But, really: Things might’ve been new, but they were far from normal.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


Normality, of course, is how the year began. Even optimism. On Jan. 1, 2020, a year ago today, ArtsWatch strode brashly into the Brave New Year with the first dispatch in Vision 2020, an ambitious series of 20 interviews over 20 days with a cross-section of Oregon arts figures who agreed to talk with us about how things looked from their corners of the cultural world, and what they hoped to see in the coming year and decade. They had some terrific insights and ideas, and the series makes for some fascinating reading: From Rachel Barreras-Kleeman’s tale of why she teaches dance to low-income kids on the Coast, to Dañel Malan’s vision of creating bilingual arts through Teatro Milagro, to 18 compelling stories in between, you can find all 20 interviews here. But nobody – least of all those of us at ArtsWatch Central, in our eager editorial innocence – anticipated what was lurking just around the corner.

In January Maya Vivas and Leila Haile talked with Martha Daghlian for ArtsWatch’s “Vision 2020” series about the joys and challenges of running an adventurous art gallery on North Mississippi Avenue featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color). Because of the Covid-19 crisis, their Ori Gallery has since shifted to an online presence. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

And how could any of us have? Yes, news reports buried on the inside pages of the newspapers alerted us to some new virus very far away, but it didn’t seem like much to get alarmed about. Then things began to build, until, come March, the virus was all very real, and all over the place, and in spite of a determined right-wing campaign to persuade people that it was all fake news and the disease was a hoax, the world began to shut down.

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Portland, protests, the theater of life

ArtsWatch Weekly: The theater of politics comes to town, and the city's center stage. Plus: polka-dot square, Black & classical, a big gift.

FRUSTRATED BECAUSE THERE’S NO THEATER TO SEE FOR THE CORONADURATION? Look around. The show’s running 24/7, and we’re in the middle of it – unlikely stars of the Show of the Moment, praised and panned for our performances, from the pages of The New York Times to the breathless patter of cable-television talking heads to the bombastic Twitter feeds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Boffo! A bomb! Lurid, violent spectacle! A bracing warning for us all! Shocking demolition of the fourth wall! Strains credibility! Nonstop action! Predictable performances in a shoddy script! Oughtta be in jail!

Everybody’s a critic in the Theater of Real Life. In the past week Portland’s been getting more national and international attention than it’s had since the heyday of Portlandia jokes (no, you put a bird on it!), and it’s hard to tell whether this new show – let’s call it “The Siege of Portland!” – is tragedy, documentary, or farce. However it all plays out, we’re like a city full of Beckett characters, caught in a world far bigger than we can comprehend, stumbling through the confusion toward a conclusion that we can’t predict.

You know the basic plot. It begins, after a preamble that traces a complex but necessary 400-year backstory, with the deaths at police hands of a seemingly endless string of Black Americans: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown – the list goes on and on. This is the moral heart of the story, the unshakable truth that cannot be denied. Add a pandemic, an economic calamity, a historic shift of wealth from bottom to top, two months of nightly protests, a profusion of graffiti and torn-down fences (“Shocking!” “Criminal!” “Not to be believed!”), a trip-wired political standoff, a president with diving poll numbers in an election year, a steady supply of tear gas, “non-lethal” bullets, smashed heads, and broken bones – who’s writing this script? The guy who wrote the Book of Job? Then add an invading force of militarized mystery federal police, upping the ante on everything, bullying into a story where they weren’t invited and are not wanted. Tighten the tension with a Wall of Moms, some Leaf Blower Dads, and an explosion of new and angry protesters filling the stage like essential extras in a spectacle about the French Revolution.
 

Besides presenting a united front and sometimes being tear-gassed, flash-banged, roughed up, and arrested, the “Wall of Moms” at the re-energized protests in downtown Portland have shown a flair for the moment, making theatrical counter-statements of their own. Photo: Deborah Dombrowski

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Museums set sail for Reopenland

ArtsWatch Weekly: The doors swing open, carefully. Plus: Black & white in America, "new normal" in the wayback machine; follow the money.

WHILE MUCH OF OREGON’S CULTURAL WORLD REMAINS FROZEN IN LOCKDOWN, the ice is beginning to thaw in the river of art. A lot of commercial galleries have been open by appointment for some time. Now Portland’s three biggest museums are also reopening their doors for visitors:

  • OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, is open already, complete with its under-the-skin exhibit Body Worlds & the Cycle of Life, although many of its popular interactive attractions are under strict control.
     
  • The Oregon Historical Society Museum reopens Saturday, July 11, with several attractions including the exhibition Nevertheless, They Persisted: Women’s Voting Rights and the 19th Amendment. 
     
  • Across the Park Block from the history center, the Portland Art Museum swings open its doors again on Thursday, July 16, with several exhibitions including its big Volcano! celebration of Mount St. Helens forty years after its explosion and its Robert Colescott retrospective Art and Race Matters. The museum will welcome visitors with free admission the first four days of its reopening.
When the Portland Art Museum reopens on July 16, so will the special exhibition “Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott.” Pictured: “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook,” 1975, Acrylic on Canvas, 84 x 108 inches. © Estate of Robert Colescott / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Estate and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Jean Paul Torno

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Dangerous Days: Being Black in America

Wondering why "Black Lives Matter" matters? The answer's baked into the nation's racial attitudes and its acceptance of police violence

These are the most dangerous days to be Black in America. 

On May 25, via social media, the world watched George Floyd be brutally murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin. Since then, America has erupted in racial and social unrest – protests, riots, statues toppled, flags changed, cops out of control. Historically, there’s nothing America hates more than being called out for its racism, and it will do anything to not have to change its ways. The response to calls for social justice have been one hundred percent on-brand. Violence, thick and pungent and unpredictable, is in the air. These are the days when, in the past, churches were bombed and children were killed, civil rights leaders were assassinated, men were lynched, civil wars were fought. At the best of times, Black people live with the knowledge that at any moment, for any reason, everything they have fought for, built, achieved, can suddenly be snatched away because of the color of their skin. We learn to live with that awareness at an early age.* But in times like these, that awareness needs to be turned up to defcon five, because white America is on the defensive.

Tributes to George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, where Floyd died after a police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly 8 minutes. Floyd’s death sparked a national protest movement that is still going strong. Photo: Vasanthtcs / Wikimedia Commons

Today it’s the Fourth of July. I was asked to write this a month ago. But it’s been hard. I wake up every day angry. A long time ago I had to take an anger management class. In that class they taught us that anger is never the first emotion. There’s always something underlying that drives it: fear, frustration, guilt, pain. This has never been more apparent than in the past month. I wake up some days and my hands are shaking and it feels like I’ve had three cups of coffee before I’ve touched a drop. Turning on the news or social media is like stepping into the ring with a heavyweight. Every day, every hour, every minute, there’s a new video, a new outrage, a new spasm of violence. Responding, reacting, donating, writing. It feels like you’re at the beach trying to mop up the ocean. 

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The arts: After the deluge, what?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Planning for a post-Covid Oregon cultural scene; pancakes and the art of dissent; good things come in multiples

AS OREGON HESITANTLY REEMERGES FROM ITS LONG COCOONING – baby steps, everyone: take it cautiously, and wear your masks – it’s not too early to think about what the “new normal” might look like for the state’s arts and cultural organizations. A couple of highly respected onlookers have been considering the changed landscape long and deep, and while they disagree on some fundamental issues, on one thing they’re in accord: It’s highly unlikely that enough money will be available to support everyone in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed.

What to do, then, when financial push comes to shove?

Fear No Music playing music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at The Old Church Concert Hall: Will the future of arts in Oregon by small and adaptable? Photo © John Rudoff/2017

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Resonating: Arts groups respond to race crisis

In an open letter organized by Resonance Ensemble, more than 1,000 individuals and 100 groups lend voice to demands for racial justice

EDITORS’ NOTE: Since the slaying in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white police officer on May 25 protests have sprung up across the nation, including Portland and many other towns and cities in Oregon. Portland artists and cultural groups have responded strongly, raising their voices against racial injustice and inequity. In Portland, more than 1,000 individuals and 100 cultural organizations have put their signatures to the open letter below, organized by the choral group Resonance Ensemble and addressed to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and other state and local officials. Most but not all of the signatories are from Portland’s musical community.

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Tributes to George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after a police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Photo: Vasanthtcs / Wikimedia Commons

An Open Letter from Resonance Ensemble and the Portland Arts Community

Dear Governor Brown, Mayor Wheeler, and state and local government officials:

Millions of people have taken to the streets around the country to protest the killing of George Floyd by a police officer who pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds as he lay pinned on the ground in handcuffs. Mr. Floyd’s pleas for help — repeating that he couldn’t breathe — were ignored.

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