pica

PNCA, Willamette U. will merge

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Portland art school and Salem private university join forces; reading is the new going out; deaths in the arts family

THERE’S A NEW-OLD SCHOOL IN TOWN: Two high-profile Oregon private colleges, Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art and Salem’s Willamette University, have announced plans to merge, The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Thursday morning. The boards of the two schools approved the merger on Wednesday, and PNCA’s faculty, staff, and students were told in a general announcement at 9:33 Thursday morning. The Oregonian’s Jeff Manning reports that the two schools have been discussing a merger off and on for five years, and the talks turned more serious 18 months ago. The Covid-19 crisis and PNCA’s failure to meet enrollment goals played into the agreement, The Oregonian said. The merger still “needs approval from regulators and the accrediting agencies of the two schools,” which is expected in 2021, Manning reported.

Pacific Northwest College of Art straddles Portland’s Old Town and Pearl District. Photo: PNCA

The two schools will maintain their own campuses and names. It hasn’t been so long since PNCA considered taking over the late Oregon College of Art and Craft, which folded after PNCA and other potential suitors decided against merging. PNCA also, after taking control of  Portland’s venerable Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2009, closed the museum down and took charge of some of its collections in 2016. Willamette University has been expanding quietly, Manning reported, including last year’s addition and move to the Salem campus of California’s Claremont School of Theology with its faculty and 300 students. This week’s announcement doesn’t define what this newest merger might mean to Willamette’s existing art department, or whether it will have any effect on Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, which comes under the university’s wing.

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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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A group of major Oregon foundations has pooled its money to create a new arts relief fund. So far, the Oregon Arts and Culture Recovery Program has $1.3 million to distribute to nonprofit arts and culture organizations throughout Oregon with grants for emergency operating support and recovery activities.

Organized and administered by the Oregon Community Foundation, the fund will give preference to arts nonprofits led by and serving communities disproportionately impacted by the social and economic consequences of the outbreak of Covid-19. The application process doesn’t look too onerous, either.

Carl Morris (American, 1911-1993), Audition, 1946; reworked 1951, oil on paper board, Gift of Frederic Rothchild, © 1946 Carl and Hilda Morris Foundation, 76.39/Portland Art Museum

The emergency funds are intended to meet “immediate operating needs and losses related to the cancellation of performances, gallery exhibitions, fundraising events and more,”  according to the RACC press release announcing the start of the program. The group of funders will also look for “proposals with strategies that allow art organizations and cultural institutions to innovate and adapt to the challenges of Covid-19. Organizations serving as a hub or facilitator for the arts and artists in their local, state and regional communities will also be prioritized for funding.”

Most of the money will be distributed in smaller grants, $5,000 and below, though larger grants (up to and even exceeding $25,000 in rare cases) will also be available. 

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45th Parallel’s real-time music video

An interview with Ron Blessinger

It’s such a weird thrill going to Oregon Symphony concerts, looking down into the string section with its fifty-odd neatly seated performers, and seeing 45th Parallel Universe Executive Director Ron Blessinger, buried in the violins, attentively warming up his bow with the rest of the office. That’s how it goes with this orchestra: scan the rest of that string section and you’ll see local composers Nancy Ives, James Shields, and usually Kenji Bunch. Up in the back, Niel DePonte tightens cymbal stands and organizes mallets. Supergroup!

In 2018, when Blessinger took the reins of local music organization 45th Parallel (founded ten years earlier by his fellow symphony violinist Greg Ewer), he immediately expanded the relatively loose-knit group into a Universe of ensembles drawn mostly from the ranks of Oregon Symphony principal players. The Parallel Universe has exploded all Marvel crossover-like in the last season and a half, with a wide range of classical music concerts all across the Old Versus New abyss. Our personal favorite highlight (so far) was 45||’s double concert last year pairing Mousai Remix’s beautifully economical black composer history lesson with a Pyxis Quartet concert featuring new work by local composers created in collaboration with local poet Micah Fletcher.

Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet at The Old Church in 2018. Photo by Seth Nehill.
Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet at The Old Church in 2019. Photo by Seth Nehill.

Tonight, 45th Parallel presents the latest result of their restless creativity: Les Boréades, an evening of French music performed on a square stage inside the PICA building, two sides open to the audience and a pair of projection screens on the others. We’ve just learned that the concert is down to standing room only, which suits this eternally peripatetic music journalist just fine. Come early for a discussion of The Frame with the concert’s visual/psychological collaborators, and wear comfy shoes for your circumambulatory musical adventure.

We spoke with Blessinger by phone; his answers have been condensed and edited for flow and clarity.

On collaboration and performance space

I go way back with Brad Johnson, the lead artist. He used to be the principal of Second Story Interactive, and I did a project with him where we used existing technology to create what you could call a virtual venue. We did something similar just about 15 years ago. This time around we came up with a musical program–a survey of French music–and then we were thinking of where to perform it.

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Vision 2020: Ella Ray

"There is this level of resistance coming from formerly colonized people who are marginalized, and I feel something bubbling under the surface"

Ella Ray is an art historian who, as she puts it, “produces environments, partnerships, and texts that explore the relationship between the interpersonal, the public, and the in-between.” She has a B.A. in art history/critical theory from Portland State University, and works for the Portland Art Museum and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. She is community partnership coordinator for Portland Art Museum’s Hank Willis Thomas exhibition All Things Being Equal, which closes Sunday, Jan. 12.


Ray is a multifaceted creative who uses Black studies and Queer studies to examine the ways Black popular culture and Black fine arts are defining contemporary culture. She earned her degree from Portland State University in Art History with a focus on Critical and Queer theory. As a historian and a community member, she is leading challenging conversations around race, historical erasure, and the fruits we all can gain through open institutional critique.   


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


What I’m going to do is go through a list of questions. Just whatever is on your mind, go ahead and let it flow. Give me whatever is in your crystal ball. Let’s start with your current professional background.

Currently, I work at the Portland Art Museum, formerly as a Kress interpretive fellow through the Kress Foundation. At the same time I am the community partnership coordinator for the Hank Willis Thomas All Things Being Equal exhibition. In addition to that, I work with PICA in their youth program, freelance consult for various arts organizations, and art adjacent things, and I write about Black theory, Black studies, and performance.

Art historian Ella Ray, using “Black studies and queer studies to think about the ways in which Black popular culture and Black fine arts are defining western culture.” Photo courtesy Ella Ray


You also have a background in art history. Can you tell me just a little bit about your education and what you went to school for?

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MusicWatch Monthly: Second winter descends

Hymns, films, saxophones, French music, Local music

Oregon has two winters as well as two summers. We’ve just wrapped up First Winter: the time when it hasn’t gotten too terribly cold and miserable, holiday cheer is in the air, and everybody’s all excited for the solstice and the new year. Now that all that busyness is behind us, it’s time to hunker down for the rest of winter, the long cold dreary late morning of the soul, a grim season that seems to grind on forever and promises only the occasional snow day in compensation.

But we’re in luck: we get to ring in the Coming of Second Winter with a month of pleasantly undemanding concerts of medieval hymns, saxophone ensembles, live film music, and classical chamber music by a variety of French and Local composers. It all starts this weekend with Cappella Romana and the Hymns of Kassianë.

This weekend: nuns, saxes, oboe, and movies

“With a golden apple in his hand, Emperor Theophilos slowly walked between two lines of contending beauties; His eye was detained by the charms of Kassia, and, in the awkwardness of a first declaration the prince said that in this world, women had been the occasion of much evil,” from Eve on down. “And surely, Sir,” Kassia pertly replied, “they have likewise been the occasion of much good,” including Mary, who birthed Jesus.

Kassia’s impudence at a medieval beauty contest aimed at finding a bride for the ruler of Medieval Europe’s Eastern Empire may have cost the composer (born 810 in the Byzantine capitol Constantinople) her chance to become Byzantine empress. But it might have also sparked her to overcome the barriers female artists faced in her time—some of which remain. Kassia subsequently left the royal court, earned fame as a poet, philosopher, and activist who endured beatings and other persecution. And, like the later, more famous female medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen–she became abbess of her own convent. The Orthodox church later beatified her as St. Kassianë.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Keeping the beat going

It's end-of-the-year donation time. Help us keep the arts & culture clock ticking. Also: Whole lotta holiday-season shows goin' on.

AS THE HOLIDAY SEASON GETS INTO SWING and the end of the calendar year approaches, I’m turning over the top of this week’s column to Laura Grimes, ArtsWatch’s talented executive director, who says this better than I can:

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I’m incredibly proud of the phenomenal work my colleagues publish every day on ArtsWatch. We never sleep. And I mean that. I wake up in the morning and new stories are up, as if elves have been working in the night. 

I work with the best editors, the best writers, the best photographers. It’s a giant labor of love to bring you quality independent arts journalism – the criticism, news, profiles, and heart-warming essays that are hard to find anywhere else as traditional news outlets continue to shrink dramatically.

Donations from you make all that possible. We’ve doubled in size in three years, and we still find it hard to keep up. This is what you can look forward to in the coming months: 

– In January we are running 20 interviews for our Vision 2020 project, which evaluates the arts scene and forecasts how it might change in the years to come. Some of the stories are already in, and they’re as telling and insightful as you might expect. We’re pretty excited to share them with you.

– We’ll have expanded Visual Arts coverage in 2020, thanks to a generous grant from the Ford Family Foundation.

– We have more deeply reported stories in the works in our occasional series about the Art of Learning – how do art and education impact each other? – and the Art of Space: In an escalating real estate market, how and where do artists and arts groups find places to make and show their work?

As I said, we never sleep. Every penny of your donations pays for stories. Please join us as we prepare for another year of essential arts journalism and donate today.

My heartfelt thanks to you,
Laura Grimes
Executive Director
 

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