Regional Arts & Culture Council

In Brief: Visual Chronicle wants you

Portland's collection of visual history is looking to expand; grants for emerging artists; Chinatown Museum reschedules exhibitions

Time’s running short for Portland artists to throw their hats in the ring to add their work this year to The Visual Chronicle of Portland: Deadline for submission is 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 27. A second, broader opportunity open to artists in Oregon and Southwest Washington, Support Beam, offers a little more breathing room: Its application deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 3. Information on both is available here from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Willow Zheng, “Classical Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon III,” Chinese watercolor and ink, 2002; collection of the Visual Chronicle of Portland.

Support Beam, with an overall budget of $70,000, is intended to support works of art created by emerging artists over a period of three to six months. Individual grants will be between $3,000 and $5,000. The Visual Chronicle funding is for direct purchase of pieces to add to the City of Portland’s collection of works on paper that chronicle the life and identity of the city. Total budget for this year’s additions is $15,000, and no individual piece can be priced higher than $1,000. Eligible artists may apply for either or both awards.


Friday coronavirus arts news roundup

A news update about the relief efforts for artists and arts organizations in Oregon

The country’s chief executive revels in the ratings for his crazy coronavirus briefings in D.C. Meanwhile, the rest of us deal with the pandemic itself, trying to protect our health and scrape together enough money for the culture to keep from falling into a deep state of dormancy. Sorry, but that’s about as jolly as this roundup of arts news in Oregon is likely to get. Well, maybe there ARE some glimmers.

In case you missed it, yesterday I talked to Brian Rogers, the director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, about what he was seeing out there and the status of the emergency fund the Cultural Trust is assembling. Not to mention how much of that woefully inadequate $75 million the Congress allocated for the National Endowment for the Arts is coming to Oregon. The short answers: “pretty grim,” waiting for approval from the next session of the Oregon legislature, and not much.

Subashini Ganesan and Kim Stafford, the city’s Creative Laureate and the state’s Poet Laureate, started a relief fund for artists, as you probably already know. In the early days of the lockdown they raised $95,000, which they have distributed to 245 artists in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, mostly in $400-$500 increments. Ganesan reports that MRG Foundation and a few other independent donors have donated an additional $40,000. “Kim and I are reading through a little over 250 applications (that were received through March 29th) to pull together the next round of recipients,” she wrote.


A cityscape in crochet

Jo Hamilton's new public mural in SE Portland


Scottish fiber artist and Portland transplant Jo Hamilton endows yarn with the representational properties of paint. Using a traditional crochet technique learned from her grandmother, Hamilton creates staggeringly colorful portraits and whimsical cityscapes. Luckily for us Portlanders, Hamilton has crocheted a prodigious landscape mural out of parachute cord. Funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council and installed on September 24th, it now adorns the facade of the Slingshot Lounge on SE 56th and Foster (you can view a timelapse of the installation here).

Hamilton’s new mural contrasts depictions of construction cranes and condos with longstanding Foster businesses such as the Phoenix Pharmacy, I’ve Been Framed, and Bar Carlo. Materially, the mural represents a departure from Hamilton’s previous work: she typically crochets with soft yarn up-cycled from second-hand stores, yard sales, and friends. This mural, however, is constructed from thick, weather-treated parachute cord to withstand exposure to the elements for as long as possible. Thematically, the piece represents a return to Hamilton’s roots as a crochet artist. While her focus and best-known works are human portraits, her first foray into representational crochet work in 2006 was an image of a friend’s house and cityscape including Burnside Street and the iconic Portland skyscraper, Big Pink.

Jo Hamilton with her new mural
Jo Hamilton with her new mural at SE Foster Road. Photo credit: Kevin McConnell.

The Foster mural’s installation was orchestrated on a drizzly morning by an eclectic troupe of artists and musicians from the Portland community, all friends, colleagues or patrons of Hamilton’s. The installation crew included the prolific puppet designer and sculptor Michael Curry, of Michael Curry Design, Inc.; Curry’s wife, the textile designer and painter, Julie Hannegan; Dan Gluibizzi, an observant yet soft-spoken watercolorist and sculptor, who like Hamilton, is represented by the Russo Lee Gallery in NW Portland; and John Moen, a leading member of several rock bands including The Decembrists and Eyelids (Jo’s partner, Chris Slusarenko, is also a leading member of Eyelids). Using a cherry-picker, a wire frame was first bolted into the drywall of the bar’s South-eastern exterior to support the mural, which Hamilton had crocheted in three 10 foot sections. The sections were then secured to the frame using zip ties by Hamilton and Michael Curry.

By leaving a varicolored garland of untrimmed threads around all of her crochet pieces, Hamilton pushes back against the notion that an artwork must appear finished. “I’ve discovered that the idea of being finished is a myth,” Hamilton told me. “ “Being finished just happens when you decide to stop.” Standing below her monumental cityscape mural, I felt as if a gentle tug on any of the loose threads just out of reach above me would cause the piece to unravel into a colorful puddle on the sidewalk. But Hamilton’s pieces are tougher than they look––they have the structural integrity of a well-made rug.

Hamilton’s portraits are, like Chuck Close paintings, as abstract as they are realistic. A key difference between Hamilton’s work and Close’s is that her technique can be described as more organic. Whereas Close typically applies paint to a grid to produce a photographically realistic image, Hamilton works directly from photos of her subject without using a grid, template, or computer image. She starts by crocheting the sitter’s eyes and works outward. “Nothing is planned ahead,” she says. “I make it up as I go along.” Likewise, when she begins a cityscape project, she chooses a few landmarks to ground the piece in reality, sometimes referring to a sketch, but improvises the final composition. Crochet, she tells me, has taught her to thrive in synchrony with imperfection. The medium demands that she either feel satisfied with the results, or unravel the polychrome threads and start over, embracing a process of addition and subtraction.

Jo Hamilton with her new mural at SE Foster Road. Photo credit: Kevin McConnell

While many contemporary painters fashion richly layered and textured canvases which hardly qualify as two-dimensional, Hamilton’s knotted works are fundamentally sculptural. Each individual knot has the quality of a three-dimensional, pointillistic brush stroke, with its own form, grain, and contours. Although she hasn’t worked with other media in over a decade, Hamilton said that she wouldn’t be able to do the work she makes now if she hadn’t painted for 20 years first. Painting and drawing, she claims, taught her how to express the shades of light and color she sees in real life to an audience by creating compositions from yarn. “I see tones as colors,” Hamilton says. “So, rather than simply finding a lighter or darker shade of a particular color, I tend to use different color entirely, that does the same work tonally.”

One of the awe-inspiring features of Hamilton’s work is the amount of time, energy and concentration it takes her to produce a single piece, in spite of her mastery of her craft. Over 30 feet in length and five feet tall, her Foster mural is her largest piece to date, and took over four months working to complete. When using yarn, Hamilton says, she is able to work steadily for as long as 12 hours. But with the heavy parachute cord, her hands would begin to cramp after just five. As with many fine artists, the time most of her viewers will spend admiring one of Hamilton’s pieces is drastically incommensurate with the hours of labor she actually invests in her work. In 2012, she created a 30 second stop motion video documenting her portrait-making process and uploaded it to the streaming platform Vimeo. It went viral, receiving over 150,000 views, and was reposted by The Huffington Post. The video’s popularity boosted her online presence. She began finding images of her work on Pinterest, and received requests for interviews from international periodicals based in Turkey and Eastern Russia.

detail of Jo Hamilton's mural
Jo Hamilton, SE Foster Road mural detail. Photo credit: Kevin McConnell

After graduating with a B.A. in Fine Art from the Glasgow School of Fine Art in 1993, Hamilton moved to Portland, Oregon in 1996, where she began working in the restaurant industry. In her first series of crocheted portraits, she used her coworkers as subjects. This project instilled in her the belief that fine art portraiture alters how the public views people who don’t receive much recognition from society. Over the course of her 23 years in Portland, Hamilton has deepened her connection with the city and its different communities through her portraiture and landscape works, and by volunteering on a weekly basis at organizations like OutsideIn (which provides drug addiction treatment to young houseless people) and Our House of Portland (a residential HIV/AIDS care facility). She has subsequently produced portrait series based on mugshots of people processed through the Multnomah County Jail, residents at Our House of Portland, and women she views as matriarchs in her community.

Hamilton’s portraits ask their viewers to reimagine specific demographics in their community who might otherwise remain invisible. Similarly, the Foster mural asks Portland’s ever growing population to reimagine the relationship it would like to have with the city’s roots. Troubled by the construction boom, displacement, and gentrification, Hamilton hopes to draw attention to the widening socio-economic and cultural gap between old and new Portland in her parachute cord cityscape. She hopes it will start conversations that slow our rapid descent towards a less human landscape and help us make decisions about our city’s future that we can be proud of.

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including economics, medicine, food, music, literature, film, fashion, and visual and performance art.

NEA: $1.2 million in Oregon grants

The National Endowment for the Arts delivers 17 grants in Oregon as part of an $80 million round of awards nationally

The National Endowment for the Arts today announced its latest round of grants, more than $80 million across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. jurisdictions. Oregon’s share is $1,219,200 among 17 groups and agencies – more than half to the Oregon Arts Commission, which then makes further grants throughout the state. Funding ranges from hiring a folklorist at the High Desert Museum in Bend to developing a new tribal arts and culture plan in Coos Bay to creating a new work at Eugene Ballet.

The complete Oregon list:

High Desert Museum, Bend:

$45,000 to support a folklorist position at the High Desert Museum.

Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, Coos Bay:

$50,000 to support the development of an arts and culture master plan to establish guidelines for public art and architecture that will celebrate sites of historical significance in Coos Bay, Oregon.


Bill Bulick, arts agency architect, has died

Bill Bulick built the Regional Arts & Culture Council into a model arts agency, imitated around the country

Bill Bulick, the architect of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the primary way government supports the art in the tri-county area, died yesterday in Portland. He had lived with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He was 65.

When I first met Bulick in the late 1970s, he was affiliated with Artichoke Music, the great folk music center, attempting to get coverage for Artichoke shows. He was so earnest and so affable that his pitches were impossible to resist: He made me feel that I was doing a great service to the culture at large by helping to spread the word, and to this day, I think he was right.

By then, he had attended Reed College, the University of Chicago and Portland State, worked as a studio potter, and spent a couple of years in Ireland studying Celtic music. In 1983 he helped organize Wildgeese, the leading proponent of Celtic music in the Northwest, and he became the first program director at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Bill Bulick, here making a presentation in Bradenton, Florida, spread the arts plan behind RACC across the country.

The culture at large: Bill switched gears and careers, moving from the folk music niche into arts administration. His sense of fairness, his calm demeanor and his determination were a perfect fit in this role, and he quickly became a crucial figure at the old Metropolitan Arts Commission, Portland’s city arts bureau, which he joined in 1987. By 1989, he had become executive director, succeeding Selina Ottum, who had professionalized the arts commission before moving to the National Endowment for the Arts as Deputy Chair.


NEA and NEH, on the chopping block again

Trump's budget proposal eliminates the national endowments for the arts and humanities, and public broadcasting – but it's not a done deal

“It’s unlikely but not impossible,” I wrote four days ago in the ArtsWatch story A little money for the arts, “that the [National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities], which have been targets of the fiscal and social right almost since they were created in 1965, could end up on the chopping block again. They are pawns in a much larger game, and increasingly, powerful political players are unafraid to sacrifice their pawns in search of bigger victories on the board.”

That was Thursday. Today is Monday. Pass the mustard so I can eat my words: “Unlikely” was a word choice of undue optimism.

In his new federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 released today, President Trump has once again called for elimination of both endowments and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, another longtime target of the political right. The 22 agencies targeted in the budget proposal for elimination, according to The Hill, also include the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as programs that help fund low-income and after-school learning centers, several education programs, the Global Climate Change Initiative, and public health programs such as the Chemical Safety Board.


Dance Weekly: Ballet and postmodern dance

Oregon Ballet Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet" continues and postmodern dance debuts

This weekend’s eclectic mix of ballet and postmodern performances helps us see where we have come from in dance and where the investigation into contemporary dance practices are going.

This is the second weekend of James Canfield’s “Romeo and Juliet” with Oregon Ballet Theatre, and for more insight into the artistic processes you can listen to an interview with Canfield about “Romeo and Juliet” and with Nicolo Fonte about his upcoming piece “Beautiful Decay” on OPB here.

Bay Area choreographer and performance artist Keith Hennessy will be giving a lecture at Portland State University and performance of “Bear/Skin” at Studio 2 through Portland Institute For Contemporary Art (PICA). Hennessy describes “Bear/Skin” as a “dance that is politically motivated by the tension between killer cops and virgin sacrifice, between indigenous culture and modernist appropriation. It has (almost) nothing to do with gay bears and everything to do with “The Rite of Spring,” teddy bear shamanism, the reconstruction of ritual bear dances, action movies, suicide economics, and the poetry of springtime.”

For more insight into Hennessy and “Bear/Skin,” check out his interview by Gia Kourlas in Time Out New York.

Performances this week

You Must Work in the Garden of Eden
by Jackie Davis
Presented by Night Lights
6:30 pm March 3
North side of RACC offices, 411 NW Park Avenue
You Must Work in the Garden of Eden by Jackie Davis is an avant-garde dance/Super-8 film performance that “displays the beauty of everyday routine and the necessity of interpersonal support as two foundations for building the lives we dream of living. A visual and auditory pattern of stylized actions, the film investigates daily habits and the profound effects these often subconscious choices have on shaping individual and community cultures. With this site-specific performance, Davis explores conversations and questions pertaining to our collective work and existence”

Night Lights is a monthly series produced by the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) in conjunction with The Hollywood Theatre, on the First Thursday of every month, in the Pearl District, that features projection artists on the North Wall of the RACC offices (411 NW Park Ave.).

Keith Hennessy in "Bear/Skin". Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

Keith Hennessy in “Bear/Skin”. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

Keith Hennessy: PSU MFA Studio Lectures Series
7 pm, March 3
Portland State University, Lincoln Hall Room 75
Bear/Skin (Performance)
Keith Hennessy
Presented by PICA
March 4-5
Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont St
Hennessy is a San Francisco-based dancer, choreographer, and performance artist regarded as a pioneer of queer and AIDS-themed expressionist dance. Hennessy is known for nonlinear performance collages that combine dance, speaking, singing, and physical and visual imagery, and for improvised performances that often undermine the performer-observer barrier.

If you are interested in furthering your Hennessy experience, he will be teaching a workshop on March 12th from 1-5pm, at University of Washington’s Dance Department’s Meany Hall. Check out the Velocity Dance’s website for more information.

Xuan Cheng as "Juliet" and Peter Franc as "Romeo" with choreographer James Canfield (in the background) in rehearsal for Oregon Ballet Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Blaine Truitt.

Xuan Cheng as “Juliet” and Peter Franc as “Romeo” with choreographer James Canfield (in the background) in rehearsal for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Blaine Truitt.

Romeo and Juliet
James Canfield/Sergei Prokofiev
Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 27-March 5
Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St
Young love, underage sex, teen suicide and Crips vs. Bloods family rivalry factor into how choreographer and former OBT Artistic Director James Canfield defines his “Romeo and Juliet” in his interview with Arts Watcher Marty Hughley for Artslandia.

What’s different about Canfield’s version is his investment in the development of the characters and their relationships with each other, giving the work dimension and depth. And of course there is always beautiful dancing, chiffon and Prokofiev, performed every night by the live OBT orchestra.

Zinzi Minott, Sharita Towne, Amento Abioto, Dead Thoroughbred: Sidony O’Neal and Keyon Gaskin
LACUNA, 5040 SE Milwaukie Ave
7 pm March 6
An evening of performance, sound, and video featuring London-based dancer/choreographer Zinzi Minott, video artists Sharita Towne, sound artist Amento Abioto, and Dead Thoroughbred made up of Sidony O’Neal (writer, dramaturg and performance artist) and well-known Portland dance artist Keyon Gaskin.

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. Photo courtesy of White Bird.

Later in March

Dance Wire Dance Passport: March 13-May 31
March 11, PDX Contemporary Ballet with Northwest Piano Trio
March 10-12, Kyle Abraham presented by WhiteBird.
March 13, Dance Film Day, an afternoon of dance films and discussion, co-presented by dance artists and writer Jamuna Chiarini and Performance Works NW.
March 14, workshop and lecture demonstration with Kyle Abraham at Reed College presented by WhiteBird.
March 17, Louder Than Words, NorthWest Dance Project
March 19-April 3, Butoh College: classes, performances and community dialogue. Presented by Water in the desert.
March 25, New Expressive Works/Studio-2. Residency artists to be represented are Catherine Egan, Lane Hunter, Linda K. Johnson and Ruth Nelson.