Wanda Walden

One year after: Waking up to the slow thaw

ArtsWatch Weekly: A year into shutdown, signs of revival: Stimulus aid for the arts, museums reopening, a theater with an audience of 1 to 5

A YEAR AGO TODAY I PARKED MY CAR IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE, tossed the key in a drawer, and began to shelter in. Suddenly I was home (if not, thank goodness, home alone), away from the concerts, theater and dance performances, museum visits, coffee-shop conversations with artists and writers, and other rounds that had made up my peregrinations around Portland and the Pacific Northwest going back deep into the previous century. The day before, I’d been at the Portland Art Museum, walking with curator Dawson Carr through Volcano!, the big exhibition of artworks relating to the 1980 eruptions of Mount St. Helens. Scant days later, the museum shut down. As “ordinary” life began to crumble I was also putting the finishing touches on an essay about revivals of two retro plays I’d recently seen – Blood Brothers at Triangle Productions and The Odd Couple at Lakewood Theatre. That piece never went beyond my computer files: Both shows were quickly canceled as Covid-19 restrictions hit Oregon, and the nation, and the world, full force. 

The world had tipped upside down, and the arts & cultural world, which in the intervening twelve months has been devastated economically by shutdowns, tipped with it. Now, after more than half a million deaths in the United States (including more than 2,300 in Oregon) and more than 2.6 million globally, the world is cautiously trying to tip itself back up again. It has a long way to go. Many millions of people in the U.S., and billions globally, are awaiting inoculation, and a new wave of infections is only a few indiscretions, mask-burnings, or rogue viral variants away. But vaccines are being manufactured much more quickly and on a much bigger scale, and delivery systems are improving. Cautious hope, perhaps crossed with reckless impatience, is beginning to rise.                     

Unknown Russian artist, Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign (Platytera) with beaded riza, c. 1800–1850, tempera on wood panel and glass beads, 9” x 8”; Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art; among the featured works as the museum reopens March 15.

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Wanda Walden on Stage & Studio

Dmae Roberts moves her essential performing, literary and media arts podcast to ArtsWatch. Up first: A conversation with costumer deluxe Wanda Walden.

A conversation with a Portland Theater Icon for Women’s History Month.

Editor’s note: Oregon ArtsWatch welcomes Dmae Roberts, one of Oregon’s leading arts and cultural voices, to our lineup of journalists. Beginning today, Roberts, a writer, theater artist, and two-time Peabody Award-winning radio producer, will publish her lively and essential biweekly podcast Stage & Studio on ArtsWatch. In 23 years of producing Stage & Studio in Portland, she’s interviewed more than 1,000 of the artists and other workers who create Oregon’s performing, literary, and media arts scenes – a continuing who’s-who of the creative world.

Roberts maintains her own Stage & Studio website and moves her podcasts to ArtsWatch from KBOO-FM community radio; they’ll also continue to be available on her podcast website. Her projects with ArtsWatch will be, in her words, “especially focused on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and arts.”

Wanda Walden: actor, writer, visual artist, costume designer. Photo: Don Lewis

Roberts begins her partnership with ArtsWatch with this conversation with Wanda Walden, the Portland- and Oakland, California-based actor, visual artist, writer, and in-demand costume designer, who had an astonishing fourteen shows lined up in Portland for 2020 before the pandemic shut productions down. Since the 1980s Walden, who grew up in Portland after moving here from Chicago at age 11 in the 1960s and began her career as a theater costume designer with the pioneering Black theater company PassinArt: A Theatre Company, has designed for most of the city’s leading theater companies. She talks here about her history of working with artists to develop Black theater in Portland. Most recently she costumed Martha Bakes at Vanport Mosaic from afar, locating a Revolutionary War era dress in her collection. Walden spoke from her studio in Oakland.

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