Portland arts

$1.1 million for poets laureate

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Laureate Anis Mojgani has projects for the money. Plus: Classical gets up close, theater busts out all over, Mosaic, egg art, more.

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY THAT ARTSWATCH GETS TO ANNOUNCE MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS GOING TO THE POETS OF AMERICA. Today is one of those days. On Thursday morning the Academy of American Poets announced awards of $1.1 million for the 2021 Poet Laureate Fellowships, “given to honor poets of literary merit appointed to serve in civic positions and to enable them to undertake meaningful, impactful, and innovative projects that engage their fellow residents, including youth, with poetry, helping to address issues important to their communities.” Funding comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That breaks down to $50,000 each for 23 state or city poets laureate in the United States ($25,000 each for the two poets who share Montana’s laureate position). And Anis Mojgani, Oregon’s poet laureate, is among the award winners.

Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani: $50,000 for projects around the state. Photo: Tristan Paiige

If large sums of money and the quiet pursuit of poetry seem somehow incompatible, consider the words of Dolly Levi, as she famously declares in Hello, Dolly!, the Broadway-musical adaptatation of Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker: “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

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Vanport Mosaic’s flood of memories

ArtsWatch Weekly: A festival to remember, theater heats up, All Classical's leap forward, whither Europe, Chachalu steps up, more

MONDAY IS MEMORIAL DAY, a national remembering of soldiers who have died while on duty, and this is a week for other meaningful anniversaries, too. Tuesday marked a full year since George Floyd was murdered at the knee of a Minneapolis policeman, setting off national protests, accelerating a nationwide battle over race and cultural and political life, and reverberating through the presidential election and the failed Capitol takeover of January 6.

And Sunday will be the 73rd anniversary of the Vanport Flood, which on May 30, 1948, burst through a a 200-foot section of railroad berm just north of Portland on land where Delta Park and its surrounds now sit. Floodwaters from the Columbia River poured in, inundating the wartime city of Vanport, sweeping away its infrastructure, killing at least 15 people, and leaving 18,500 homeless. It was a sudden cultural reshaping with historic consequences. Built in 1942 to house workers at the Portland and Vancouver Kaiser shipyards and their families, Vanport had a population of 40,000 at its height, making it the second-largest city in Oregon at the time. It was also, for its few years, the most racially and ethnically diverse city in Oregon: Wartime workers came from all over, creating an instant city that looked and acted very differently from the Oregon of its time, and more like the multicultural nation that the United States is becoming in the 21st century.

A few of the faces of Vanport, Oregon’s most racially diverse city before floodwaters washed it away in 1948. Photo: City of Portland Archives

SIX YEARS AGO THE VANPORT MOSAIC FESTIVAL sprang into being, building on the memories of Vanport to expand upon its meanings in contemporary life. Created by Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb, it began as a Memorial Day Weekend event at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, with a historical display, play productions, and other events. It’s grown since into a citywide event lasting several weeks in various venues, including online. This year’s festival, which involves about 200 artists, activists, historians, collaborating groups, and others, began Wednesday and continues with both virtual and in-person events through June 30. 

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Stage moms storm the gates

ArtsWatch Weekly: Storm Large and 3 Leg Torso make a movie, Chamber Music NW goes live, the Joy of words, news & views

SUNDAY IS MOTHER’S DAY, AND IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS someone in the Pacific Northwest would be producing a streaming version of the great show-biz musical Gypsy, which features that most outrageous stage mom of all time, Mama Rose. So far as we can tell, that isn’t happening – but it’s worth noting that this not-quite-docudrama has Northwest roots. Rose’s daughter Gypsy Rose Lee, the celebrated ecdysiast on whose memoir the musical is based, was born in Seattle. Her sister, Baby June – the actress June Havoc – was born in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Storm Large is Mom, carpooling the boys in the movie “M Is for Mischief,” a musical comedy with 3 Leg Torso.

Ah, but who could be a more Mama Rose-size figure for Mother’s Day than Storm Large, the Portland rocker, musical memoirist, and stage and concert star whose triumphs range from Cabaret to Pink Martini tours to singing Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins at Carnegie Hall to writing and starring in her own musical play, Crazy Enough? And what better sidekicks than the brilliantly eclectic Portland band 3 Leg Torso? Large stars as Mother Torso, an overworked mom of four boys, in the new film M Is for Mischief, which is produced by 3 Leg Torso and Lakewood Center for the Arts (where it was filmed), and co-stars those wry and effervescent boys in the band. It premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday: Ticket details here, and a short film trailer here. In what sounds a bit like a Mom’s Day twist on the movie 9 to 5, Ms. Torso, it seems, has raised good boys: “The brothers secretly use their special musical powers to prank her wretched boss, who learns the hard way that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Torso.”

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Oscars, books, and strange things

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oscarmania, Oregon Book Awards, strange tales and a stranger firing, opera's triumph, carving stories, photo stories

ON SUNDAY HOLLYWOOD THREW ITS BIG BACCHANALIA, the 93rd such annual fling, and even in its pandemic-year virtual tuxedo it was an obsessively overproduced wingding that was, at heart, a gigantic sales pitch for the movie industry. Nomadland (based on a book by Jessica Bruder, a former reporter for The Oregonian) won, the late Chadwick Boseman did not, and television viewership numbers took another tumble. Marc Mohan wraps things up smartly in his new “Streamers” column. Most refreshingly, he notes, the studios pushed their big fall and winter releases back to this summer, a move that “allowed greater recognition for films that didn’t conform to Hollywood ‘Oscar-bait’ formulas. As a result, the Academy took a few more halting, belated steps towards racial, gender, and aesthetic diversity.” 

A doff of the ArtsWatch cap also to Portland filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald, who scored his second Oscar nomination for his short documentary Hunger Ward, about the war-caused famine in Yemen and the struggle of two women to feed the devastated nation’s children and infants. Colette, about a former French Resistance member who travels to Germany for the first time in 74 years, won that category, but that takes nothing from Fitzgerald’s achievement. Mohan, ArtsWatch’s movie columnist, talked with Fitzgerald a week before the ceremony, and the resuting interview is worth a second read.

And now, back to our previously scheduled coverage.



WRITE A BOOK. MAKE IT GOOD. SEND IT INTO THE WORLD.



Left: Joe Wilkins, author of “Thieve.” Right: Ann Vileisis, author of “Abalone.”
 

THE OREGON BOOK AWARDS ARE COMING UP SUNDAY, and although they’re much less high-profile than Sunday’s Academy Awards blowout was, a lot of talent and a lot of prestige will be in the virtual room when this year’s winners are announced. That’ll be at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 2, on a special episode of OPB Radio’s The Archive Project, a co-production of OPB and Literary Arts, which also sponsors the annual book awards. (You can see the list of nominees here.)

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The race is on. Ready for live events?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Ready or not, things are opening. Plus Lillian Pitt & Friends, opera breaks the mold, movie time, poetry all over

THE RACE IS ON, as George Jones famously crooned, and if it’s not pride up the backstretch and heartaches goin’ to the inside, as the song’s lyrics breathlessly declare, the stakes may be higher: Can we get the nation and world successfully vaccinated before relaxed safety standards and unchecked viral variants send us back to the starting gate? As warmer months approach, and vaccination rates improve, and people become more restless after more than a year in shutdown, the urge to get out and do things grows stronger – but is it jumping the gun? This week the state reclassified Multnomah and Clackamas counties, with a combined population of more than 1.2 million, from “moderate” to “high risk” for coronavirus. (Washington County, with a population of almost 600,000, maintained its “moderate” status.) The question is vital and controversial, and it goes beyond schools and workplaces and houses of worship and even a weekend at the coast. It has a deep and direct impact on cultural life, too.

Young blues phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, had the crowd roaring at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival. The festival, a Portland July 4 Weekend tradition, was canceled in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions but will return in July 2021 at the new Lot at Zidell Yards, south of its usual sprawling location on the downtown waterfront. This year’s acts have not yet been announced, and crowd size will be controlled. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Things are stirring. Restaurants have opened for indoor dining. Even theater, beyond the Covid-special videotaped virtual version, is taking tentative steps. Portland’s Triangle Productions has just gone into rehearsal for Joe DiPietro’s four-performer throwback comedy Clever Little Lies, with plans to open to a live audience on May 6, and it could be just the sort of nostalgic escapism that cooped-up audiences will be craving. Movie theaters are reopening (see Marc Mohan’s “Streamers” column, linked below). A consortium of Oregon large-event venues, meanwhile, has written Gov. Kate Brown pushing for guidelines and permission to reopen, arguing that they know how to control crowds and should be part of the decision-making process. The letter includes about fifty signees, ranging from the Pendleton Round-Up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Sisters Folk Festival, and the Portland and Eugene symphonic orchestras.

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Dramatic? It’s like an opera out there

ArtsWatch Weekly: Where's Frida; how to (maybe) reopen; farewell to Ross McKeen; puppets; comics; art that tells stories & more

AS WE ZOOM PAST THE ONE-YEAR MARK IN ENFORCED ISOLATION, shutdowns have caused havoc everywhere, sometimes straining well-run organizations and sometimes exposing structural weaknesses that pre-existed the pandemic. Being big can be a problem in itself: You might begin with a bigger bankroll, but the larger a group’s budget, the harder it is to shift direction, and the more a shutdown stands to imperil the entire operation. Being small can mean you’re nimble, but it can also make it tough to scrape up the wherewithall to hunker in and just survive for a while.

Portland Opera’s “Frida”: heading to the great outdoors? Photo: Keith Blakoff/Long Beach Opera

How’s that playing out in the world of opera? Herein ArtsWatch presents a new three-act contemporary work, which we’ll refrain from calling Stayin’ Alive:

ACT ONE: New York’s Metropolitan Opera is undergoing monumental convulsions, as Julia Jacobs reports in The New York Times, with 40 percent of its laid-off musicians leaving the expensive New York area, and abrasive battles being waged between management and unions. Massive debt is being piled up, veteran musicians are choosing to retire, and shop work is being farmed out to non-union companies as management pushes for big salary cuts. (Subtheme: Conductor and music director James Levine, the leading artistic force at the Met for almost a half-century until being fired in 2018 over multiple allegations of sex abuse and harassment, died at age 77 on March 9, it was reported Wednesday.)

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Ross McKeen, beloved arts leader, dies

McKeen, who helped lead Oregon Children's Theatre to national prominence and helped launch the Oregon Cultural Trust, dies of pancreatic cancer

THE PORTLAND ARTS SCENE LOST A MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR AND A GREAT FRIEND on Tuesday when Ross McKeen, the longtime managing director of Oregon Children’s Theatre, died. “My beloved husband and best friend, Ross McKeen, passed away yesterday morning, six months after receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer,” his wife, Robin Remmick, wrote Wednesday on Facebook. “He was a cherished son, father, brother, and uncle, and he was the kindest, gentlest, smartest and funniest person I have ever known. I can’t even begin to fathom how much I will miss him. He died with his best dog Kid by his side, with a serene and full heart.”

Ross McKeen, who died Tuesday of cancer. Photo: Rebekah Johnson, via Facebook

McKeen, in partnership with recently retired artistic director Stan Foote, built OCT to national prominence, and was known in Oregon arts circles as a smart and capable administrator, an excellent and generous mentor, and a man of keen humor. Before joining OCT in 2008 he had spent several years as a grant writer and fundraising consultant for several Portland arts organizations, served a year as the first manager of the Oregon Cultural Trust, and spent three years as general manager of Portland Center Stage. Ross understood the artistic side of the business (he was also a musician in a “swell cowboy band” called Bourbon Jockey), which helped him greatly as an administrator. He was a writer of great wit and erudition, as he revealed a dozen or so years ago, during the heyday of blogging, on the sites Mighty Toy Cannon and Culture Shock. McKeen and Oregon Children’s Theatre controversially parted ways last November. The company has not announced a replacement for him.