joe kye

Amid crises, creating art to heal

Portland's former Creative Laureate Subashini Ganesan-Forbes leads a city drive to nurture art for a time of grieving and healing

In April of this year the City of Portland announced a six-month grieving and healing initiative titled “Community Healing Through Art.” Led by the city’s outgoing creative laureate, Subashini Ganesan-Forbes, the six-month initiative uses community engagement to drive public art projects to promote healing among Portland communities after the extraordinary health and cultural crises of 2020 and 2021.

With initial support from the offices of Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Carmen Rubio, the project has grown to a $200,000 initiative thanks to funding from the Oregon Community Foundation and the Miller Foundation. As part of the initiative, 13 grants were awarded to artists and organizations in Portland to create individual projects totaling $65,000. A full list of the grantees, whose projects range from a Black Arts Summer Showcase music festival to a Parkrose district youth film project to end gun violence, can be found here.

The first of these projects began this week, a Joint Collaborative Garland by the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Local poets will contribute first lines of poems that reflect on the grief and healing of the past year. The zine library will be open through September for community members to contribute to the installation.

Arts advocate Subashini Ganesan-Forbes. Photo: Intisar Abioto

Ganesan-Forbes was appointed Portland creative laureate in 2018, and was succeeded earlier this summer by the dual laureates Leila Haile and Joaquin Lopez. But she’s continuing with the healing initiative, which she’d begun before her term ended. We talked with her about the initiative’s projects and what they might do:

TJ Acena: What is the history of this project?

Subashini Ganesan-Forbes: From the beginning I made it clear that, yes, I’m leaving as creative laureate but it’s gonna take a lot of time to even think about what the concept of community healing could be. The first month was a lot of organizing, thinking and strategic work. I’m super grateful I was given a lot of freedom to create, build, and initiate a lot of collaborations.

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On belonging: The art of remembering

ArtsWatch Weekly: Amid a time of violence in America, art that remembers its roots and looks beyond

YOU CAN FEEL THE FORCE IN ALL-AMERICAN, Portland artist Roberta Wong’s blunt and extraordinarily effective 2003 piece consisting of a thick wooden cutting board, a cleaver, and a length of dark braided hair, severed with a swift swing of the blade from the head it once adorned. Wong’s carefully arranged tableau of the imagination isn’t just a haircut, but a banishment – a denial. The piece implies an amputation of the self, a separation of roots and history and identity in the name of assimilation, of fitting in: Where, then, is the “Chinese” in “Chinese American,” or the “All” in the all too ironically aspirational “All-American”?

Roberta Wong, “All-American,” 2003.

THE FEELING INSIDE THE CAGE that was the downtown Portland prison cell of Minoru Yasui in 1942 and ’43 is different: not a severance, but an entrapment. Yet it also feels very much like the other side of the same coin. Yasui, a second-generation Japanese American born in Hood River in 1916, landed in solitary confinement for his dissent against President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s infamous Executive Order 9066, which authorized the wartime evacuation and incarceration of Japanese American citizens in detention/concentration camps across the West: Once his prison sentence had ended, Yasui was sent to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho for the duration of the war. 

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The sound of dance across borders

"The Way Out," Portland violinist and composer Joe Kye’s latest single, brings dance, Zoom, and social justice together to address the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border

It all started last Spring in a Zoom meeting. Joe Kye, a Portland violinist and vocalist, listened with perked ears as high school student Diego Garita described his vision of creating a dance piece that would tell the story of the current crisis at the United States-Mexico border. 

“I knew immediately I wanted to work with him,” recalls Kye. 

Composer, violinist, and vocalist Joe Kye. Photo: Jason Sinn

The two were on the Zoom call as a part of a program run by New York City’s Young Dancemakers Company, an organization that pairs professional composers like Kye with high school students in New York to collaborate and produce original dance pieces. In the past, only composers based in New York participated, but with the pandemic Kye was able to join from across the country. 

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DramaWatch: A new stage of “Otherness”

Unit Souzou turns to live streaming to present part of its performance project "The Constant State of Otherness." Plus: what isn't happening in local theater.

It’s lonely out there.

You might have that sense these days merely from looking outside. As Americans and others around the world practice — to unfortunately varying degrees — the newly ascendant and essential principles of social distancing, our streets appear emptier and therefore lonelier, and it’s not a big step to imagine that many folks sheltering in place (odd use of “sheltering,” as though the novel coronavirus were falling like acid rain) alone are sheltered in a lonely place.

Michelle Fujii has a different sense of it. She has long felt the loneliness of the outsider.

Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe, co-directors of Portland-based taiko-theater company Unit Souzou. Photo: Intisar Abioto and New Expressive Works.

An artist who has forged a career out of representations and explorations of her cultural identity, formerly as artistic director of Portland Taiko and for the past several years as co-director of Unit Souzou, Fujii has lately been digging into what her company’s current performance project calls The Constant State of Otherness.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Stay home!

Cancellations, confirmations, and quarantine playlists

Bad news, everyone! No, it’s not quite the end of the world, at least not yet–and that’s probably the scariest thing of all. It seems we never quite hit Full Disaster, and if the Great Malthusian Dieoff really is underway it’s apparently content with taking its sweet time with us. Instead of a full-blown crisis, we get a series of morally debilitating crises which drain us but don’t ever amount to much (except for the people directly impacted by these subapocalyptic crises, of course, but they’re usually poor, old, foreign, or some other shade of invisible).

Not that we’re wishing for a full-blown crisis: but our minds sure go there in a hurry, don’t they? You’ve seen all the memes by now: on some level of our social psyche we find it easier to hoard toilet paper than to wash our hands more often. We don’t like the small, rational fixes. We like to dream big, and we like to nightmare big too. We like to panic. We like to ostrich.

That, paradoxically, is why the present author has been so gratified to see the concert cancellation notices pouring in. Denial and panic are two sides of the same apocalyptic coin, a rejection of measured responses in favor of whichever easy option is more comfortable (note that neither denial nor panic require much effort). Instead, everybody’s actually talking about it, weighing options and doing their own research, grappling with their social responsibilities, and coming to their own conclusions in the old contest between “safety is job one” and “the show must go on.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: Look before you leap day

A weekend of concerts and a Portland Weird undectet

Fry Day

As usual, we’d like to start by bringing you last minute news of a few shows happening tonight, tonight, tonight. As you read this, Mike Dillon and Band are packing up their road bags, leaving Eugene (where they played at Whirled Pies last night), and trekking up I-5 to Portland, where they’ll head straight down to the Jack London Revue subterraenan social club for an evening of what we can only call “gonzo punk jazz.”

See, from a technique perspective these dudes are all basically just avant-garde jazz musicians (bandleader Dillon is in wide demand as a vibraphonist and all-around killer percussionist), but–like so many others over this last half-century of escalating strangeness–they’ve found the grittiest, truest expression of both “avant-garde” and “jazz” not in the relatively staid traditional world of characters like Henry Threadgill and Branford Marsalis (who are, of course, total badasses and not to be trifled with except for purposes of this strained comparison), but instead have seen the true face of “jazz” and “avant-garde” in the wooly realm of punk, metal, and other folk musicks of the rough and ragged variety. If that’s your bag, dear reader, get on it!

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MusicWatch Weekly: new sounds from Oregon

This week’s Oregon music schedule boasts numerous new works by today’s composers from the Northwest, Midwest and beyond, mixed in with classics from across the ages and oceans

Big Horn Brass, a baker’s dozen of brass players and two percussionists, feature brassy new music by Cascadia Composers Greg Steinke, Jan Mittelstaedt, John Billota, Greg Bartholomew, and fellow Northwest composer Anthony DiLorenzo at their Saturday night concert at Beaverton’s St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Some other guys named Debussy, Bach and Puccini will provide filler.

New Oregon music by Eugene composer Paul Safar is also on the program when Eugene’s excellent Delgani String Quartet goes all homicidal Friday at Portland’s and Saturday at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. The program features music inspired by murder, with theatrical readings from literary works that inspired them interpolated by actor Rickie Birran of Man of Words Theatre Company. Janacek and Shostakovich will be represented too. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

Speaking of new music by Oregon composers, read Gary’s ArtsWatch preview of Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s new composition commissioned by Rogue Valley Symphony, which the orchestra performs this weekend in Medford and Grants Pass. Beethoven is the closing act.

Estelí Gomez sings new music by University of Oregon composers at  Eugene’s Beall Concert Hall. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

There’s even newer Oregon music for voice Sunday at the Oregon Composers Forum’s Sunday concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. The superb soprano Esteli Gomez, one of the singers in Grammy winning Roomful of Teeth ensemble, returns to sing new music by UO composers.

Joe Kye performs at Portland State Friday.

That same night, Portland based, Korea-born songwriter-composer and looping violinist Joe Kye plays his engaging, often autobiographical songs at Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Shades of Sufjan Stevens and his albums inspired by American states! Does a symphony called “Portland” and named after Oregon’s largest city qualify as Oregon music — if it wasn’t written by an Oregonian? Decide for yourself at the University of Portland’s free concert featuring Erich Stem’s orchestral work Tuesday night at Buckley Auditorium. His website bio says nothing about where Stem resides or was born, but Indiana seems a likely suspect. The piece is part of Stem’s project called America By: A Symphonic Tour, which includes a collection of commissioned works from across the country, “each work reflecting the unique qualities and history of a specific location.”

New American Sounds

One of the most frequently performed and commissioned composers of choral music, Minnesota’s Jake Runestad, seem poised to follow Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre as a choral music star, and he’s also written several operas and other works. On Saturday night at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Choral Arts Ensemble and Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir team up to present the Music of Jake Runestad, the first major opportunity for Portland to get a healthy sampling of his heartfelt songs and broad, audience-friendly musical range.

Bells toll in Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas’s new, half-hour orchestral composition, Sonorous Earth (an evolution of her earlier Resounding Earth), which Eugene Symphony performs Thursday at the Hult Center to complete her artistic residency there. Each of its four-movements also uses techniques associated with the major composers who made percussion the defining sound of 20th century classical music: Stravinsky, Messiaen, Varese, Berio, Cage, Ligeti, Partch and Oregon’s own Lou Harrison.

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