Pioneer Courthouse Square

Rebuilding a State of the Arts

ArtsWatch Weekly: All around Oregon, the cultural Covid freeze of 2020 begins to thaw. Will it continue?

WE’RE LIVING IN CURIOUS TIMES. Things thaw, things freeze up again. Things close, things open. Vaccines are available, but good luck getting a shot (let alone two). One day it’s snow, the next day it’s spring. People stay home, people flock to reopened restaurants. Schools start up, state Senate Republicans walk out. The national death count soars above half a million as rates of infection taper off. And, as I type this late Wednesday morning, here comes the sun. (Update Thursday morning: There it goes again.)

Here, too, comes a gradual revival of Oregon’s cultural life, in greater Portland and, hearteningly, around the state. Sometimes things look almost the way they used to look. Sometimes everything’s virtual: art exhibitions viewed online; concerts streamed from musicians’ living rooms to listeners’ living rooms; dance and theater via Vimeo or Zoom. Sometimes it’s a hybrid of virtual and carefully spaced live action. And more and more, things are beginning to happen in real space and real time, although with heightened restrictions on distancing, audience size (think small), and safety precautions (think masks and more).

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Virginia Darcé (born Portland, Oregon, 1910; died Los Angeles, California, 1985), “The
Market,” 1938, tempera on board, 22 ½ x 30 ½ inches, Portland Art Museum, Portland,
Oregon, Courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, US General Services Administration, New
Deal Art Project, L45.3.2
Marwin Begaye (Diné, born 1970), “Columbia River Custodian,” 2018, ed. 18, eight-color lithograph, 28.25 x 22.25 inches, collection of the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, CSP18-101.

In Salem, the big news of the week is that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art reopens for visitors today – Thursday, Feb. 25 – with a particularly attractive lineup of exhibits (and virtual online tours on its web site if you can’t or won’t visit in person). It’s not entirely like the old days: You can’t just walk up and buy a ticket. The number of people inside the museum at any one time will be limited, and you’ll have to make a reservation from the museum web site (link above) for timed entry. But the museum will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, giving you plenty of options.

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The Year of Living Cautiously

Veteran dance critic Martha Ullman West looks back on a year of Covid isolation and moments of movement that vividly broke the spell

My year of living cautiously began the end of February last year, and while I had hoped it would conclude close to the same day this year, I think it’s more likely to stretch into a second year of the same.   

 In the past year I have seen two, count them, live dance performances, and one dance film in a theater, Alla  Kovgan’s stunning 3D documentary Cunningham. (I think all dance films should be shot in 3D, based on this one and Pina, Wim Wenders’ 2011  film about Pina Bausch, both shown at Portland’s Cinema 21.) 

 I have watched as many streamed performances as I could bear; written one obituary tribute;  read a dozen or so dance and dance-related books, some of which I was dipping into for a second and third time; and, in the name of shameless self-promotion, finished writing a book I started thinking about at the turn of the millennium.  Todd Bolender, Janet Reed and the Making of American Ballet, the gods and Covid willing, will be published in May.  

Jacqueline Schumacher, in her teaching studio in downtown Portland’s Odd Fellows Building, ca. 1975. Photographer unknown.

Dance watchers will know that Reed was a native Oregonian, who was trained in Portland by Willam Christensen, as was her close friend Jacqueline Martin Schumacher. Schumacher, who died in September, 2019, would have been 100 on November 30, 2020, and a centenary celebration was under discussion when Covid hit; needless to say it did not take place. 

Both women were founding members of the San Francisco Opera Ballet (now the San Francisco Ballet) and danced, respectively, the roles of Odette and Odile in the first American evening-length production of Swan Lake.  Reed went on to a stellar career with Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet.  Schumacher brought her star power back to her  home town, returning to Portland in 1942, when San Francisco Ballet went on hiatus right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  

Here she established a ballet school with rigorous standards (ask any former pupil!) where she taught generations of Portland students, many of whom became professional dancers. Equally important, as the founder of the Portland Ballet, a successor to Christensen’s company and a precursor of Oregon Ballet Theatre, she was pivotal to the establishment of the city’s resident ballet company.

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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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MusicWatch Weekly: What (else) is going on?

ARCO turns up, Geter turns on, “Kevin” takes the night off

Last week we talked all about how everyone should be making albums right now, and hopefully you all nodded your heads and muttered, “hell yeah!” Okay, good, we’re happy to have you on board. You know what you can do to make that happen? You can support the artists who will make it happen–by supporting what they’re doing right now.

And what are they doing right now? Well, the big news on our desk today is ARCO-PDX performing Beethoven in Pioneer Square at 6:30 this Saturday evening (tomorrow!), playing for–ahem—whoever happens to be downtown just then, all while keeping distant in local artist Bill Will’s Polka Dot Courthouse Square installation.

ARCO says:

Thanks to technological advances, passersby will be able to enjoy the music either from their seats on the semicircular steps, or by weaving their way through the players for a one-of-a-kind immersive experience!

This is clearly the exact right ensemble for Polka Dot Square: among other things, the “amplified” part helps a ton when you’re not only outside but six feet away from the other players, and the “repertory” part helps when the point of the concert is not about building the repertoire but putting it to use.

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Tuba or not tuba: That’s the holiday question

For the 29th year, Portland Tuba Christmas makes a mighty sound in Pioneer Courthouse Square, renewing a pleasure we've been missing.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON
WORDS BY BOB HICKS


Portland’s 29th annual Tuba Christmas boomed and rumbled over Pioneer Courthouse Square in the center of downtown on Saturday, and to tell the forlorn truth, I’d forgotten all about it. Fortunately for the world in general and ArtsWatch readers in particular, K.B. Dixon had not.

Dixon, my friend and a frequent ArtsWatch contributor, is an enthusiast of the sort of odd creative compulsion that struts proudly just a little to the side of the workaday world. He believes it’s part of the joy and generosity of life to hurl himself into the midst of such wonders – things like carousel museums, vintage car and airplane collections, Day of the Dead celebrations, Saturday Market, coffeehouse culture, roadster shows – and record them in visual images for the rest of the world to see and appreciate for what they are: the quirks and passions and alternate pathways that create a life well-lived.

Out of the chaos, a universe of coordinated sound is born. Music stands and music scores help midwife the joyous event.

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