Rembrandt, “An Actor in his Dressing Room,” Devonshire Collection

ArtsWatch is ever-vigilant, even when summer in Oregon suggests that we leave our post for more undisciplined activities. No, we are at the ramparts. Just like Colonel Jessup: “…deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall…”  Wow! At this point, brunch would be nice, wouldn’t it?

And while we pull an imaginary mimosa lipward, a few bits of news and few links. From the Wall.

 Good words: From Cornelius Swart, we learned a little more about the 90-day rescue of the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival and the reasons the venerable festival needed a rescue in the first place. Maybe a new generation of arts organizers can breathe new life into our old institutions? (I can just barely suppress a Rose Festival rant…) ArtsWatch certainly hopes so.

And Marty Hughley, The Oregonian’s indomitable theater critic, assembled a little story on Portland Storyteller’s Lawrence Howard’s acceptance into New York City’s relatively new United Solo Festival to perform his one-man show, “Shackleton’s Antarctic Nightmare: The 1914 Voyage of the Endurance.” Bob Hicks wrote the definitive account of this show for ArtsWatch in January.

By the way, news of both of these developments has popped up on the ArtsWatch Facebook page, which I hope you’re following!

We just can’t keep up with Milepost 5because there’s just too much going on over there on NE 81st, from innovative art openings to Shakespeare. Check out the website if you don’t believe me. The artists’ community is also hosting the Portland Outdoor Shakespeare Festival, July 20-22  and 27-29, which brings together several of the city’s Shakespeare-engaged ensembles—Northwest Classical Theater CompanyOriginal Practice Shakespeare FestivalPortland Actor’s EnsembleWillamette ShakespeareFuse Theatre Ensemble and Post5 Theatre itself. This is a GREAT idea, and we’ll get you the schedule as soon as we can.

Maybe it’s weird, here in the middle of festival season, but after seeing the TBA festival schedule from PICA, we suddenly wanted to fast-forward to September. On second thought, missing July and August might not be such a good idea, but that line-up is juicy.

Each local theater ecology has its problems, even the one in Los Angeles. The LA Times’ Charles McNulty conducted a round-table with the leaders of some of that city’s most progressive theater companies to explore one of those problems in LA: The delay in getting challenging new work by national-level playwrights onto the city’s stages. The names of 2012 Pulitzer winner Quiara Alegría Hudes, Annie Baker, Will Eno, Christopher Shinn, Lisa D’Amour, Young Jean Lee and Amy Herzog all came up. So did Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “A Spoonful of Water,” winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama. I’ve been wondering the same thing about new works by Annie Baker, Will Eno, Christopher Shinn, Lisa D’Amour, Young Jean Lee and Amy Herzog. David Harrower and Martin McDonagh.

The major issue seemed to be getting the rights to the plays: Playwrights and their agents hold off on granting the rights to the smaller, more adventurous companies if there’s any chance they might land a production at one of the Big Boys, Mark Taper Forum, Geffen Playhouse, South Coast Repertory, the La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe, which pay  much greater royalties—but are much more conservative in their programming. Only at the end of the roundtable did one potential solution arise: Maybe the companies should nurture their own set of playwrights and plays, because LA has loads of writers.

Of course, this problem isn’t exclusive to LA. Every city has its pecking order when it comes to securing rights to new work, basically in order of size. So, in Portland, generally, Portland Center Stage gets first pickings, followed by ART and then down the line. Of course, the adventure level of the selections is another matter for another time.

This week in Old Master drawings: Which is “more important,” the discovery of 100 drawings by the young Caravaggio in an Italian castle or an exhibition of wonderful drawings from the Devonshire collection by Rembrandt, Raphael and Leonardo, among others, that haven’t been seen for 100 years? I don’t know, but I guess I’d go for the sampling of drawings assembled by the various Dukes of Devonshire over the years, the second-largest collection in England after the Queen’s, per the Guardian. On the other hand, why even bother answering that silly question? Mostly, I just wanted an excuse to show that Rembrandt (above) of an actor preparing for his role, apparently he’s playing a well-fed bishop, if the robes on the hook behind him are any indication. Maybe a farce by Gerbrand Adriaensz Bredero, not that I’ve seen one, but I’d like to. You see where drawings get you? Far afield…

Preston Dickinson, “Factory,” 1920/Courtesy Wikimedia

In a society obsessed with assigning a dollar value to everything, we naturally attempt to tease out the monetary value of the arts. Or maybe that should be “unnaturally.”  A recent study, by American for the Arts, with local support from the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Business for Culture & the Arts, for example, determined that non-profit arts groups generate $253 millionin annual economic activity in the Portland metro area. I have no idea what the total would be if we added for-profit arts and culture activity into the mix, all the local bands and clubs, artists and galleries, touring rock shows and circus extravaganzas, into the mix. Pink Martini by itself must contribute massively to our collective GDP, fetching currencies from far-flung regions, Euros and Yen and all their kin. Anyway, the number would be very large indeed.

And what if you tossed in arts-related businesses, design firms of all sorts, from architecture to bike manufacturers and including clothing and shoe design? And how about computer chip design and then manufacture? Solar panels? Because, yes, they really are “arts-related.” As my mentor in these things, John Dewey, points out, in the age of industrialization (and post-industrialization, I suppose, not that I know exactly what that means:  Haven’t the great factories of the world simply moved to China and other places?), we tend to think of the arts as “independent and esoteric.” In fact, they are dependent (meaning simply, “connected”) and everyday.

Trying to tease out their monetary value, therefore, is practically impossible, not to mention their effects on our other cultural practices. Just look at the local effects of one little satirical sketch comedy show, “Portlandia,” on the city and its sense of itself. How do you measure that?


Really, Portland? Have we all just decided to take advantage of that Wednesday Fourth of July and start the weekend with a (may the fire gods forgive me) bang, three full days early? You were percussed last night and you’re going to stay percussed for the rest of the week? I think that very well may be the case. And when you throw in Monday, July 9, as a sort of “Hangover Day,” that’s a week we’re taking out of our work schedule for… frivolities. And those of us, ahem, “working” (you call this work?) are just sending out random emails to people we know aren’t going to respond or leaving distracted phone messages, “hey, if you happen to get this…” and then taking some long coffee breaks and lunches and then heading home early.

O, I know, not everybody, right? But enough. And it’s that “Let’s take a break” spirit that actually keeps the imagination of our little local culture fed, re-establishes our connections with each other and allows us to perfect our grilling skills (for my part, I’ve been tossing little chunks of wood from the woodpile on the coals to generate a little smoke and “get primitive”).

So, dear Portland, go right ahead. Take a seven-day weekend. I’d say you deserved it, but that would be a total lie, and it’s not about deserving anyway. After I finish this post, maybe I’ll join you?

Waterfront Blues FestivalThey seemed to be happily warming themselves in the natural amphitheater south of the west bank of the Hawthorne Bridge yesterday, thousands of them. I saw (and heard) them from across the way. Without doing a “study,” I’m wondering why the City doesn’t just make this an “improved” natural amphitheater, like the one at the Rose Garden and a hundred other places, with grassy step terraces curving upward. A City that was truly into this bread and circuses thing would do this, right?

Anyway, the July 5 schedule looks mighty fine, mighty fine, with Jesse Samsel and the New Iberians kicking things off around 3 pm. The rest of the day combines locals (Pete Krebs, Jim Mesi) with headliners (Toots and the Maytals, Booker T, JJ Grey and Mofro (see the clip below…) on four stages of blues, semi-blues and blues-related goodness. I’m suggesting that you dig around and find some sunscreen.

Chamber Music Northwest: Maybe when you weren’t looking last week, Chamber Music Northwest was well and truly launched by the Tokyo String Quartet. The festival, which continues through July 29, is going with the classical hard-core repertory tonight at Reed’s Kaul Auditorium: Bach, Brahms, Beethoven. Hey, aren’t those the 3 B’s? Or is that Bartok, Babbitt and Berg… I get so confused.

It’s great music, though, with some Chamber Music Northwest stalwarts onstage: Paul Neubauer (viola), Jennifer Frautschi (violin), Anne-Marie McDermott (piano), Ronald Thomas (cello) and Eric Ruske (horn). And it’s a great night for a picnic at Reed.

Just to get you in the mood: One of the pieces on the program is Brahms’ Trio in A minor for Viola, Cello and Piano, Op. 114, here played by Ettore Causa, Clive Greensmith and Boris Berman.

Oregon Bach Festival: The Bach festival, headquartered in Eugene with occasional forays up the valley and to the coast (Joshua Bell played Portland Saturday night, or rather, he played Mendelssohn on his violin in Portland Saturday night), is also in its second week and it continues today with a lecture by organist John Scott, a lecture/concert by Helmuth Rilling of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Part Two, and the fiery pianist Ya-Fei Chuang in recital playing a program with lots of Debussy along with Stravinsky, Gershwin, Mozart and Liszt. Here she is playing some Scarlatti and Chopin.

Kabuki Titus, Bag & Baggage: Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicushas become increasingly popular in our day, maybe because it’s so crazily bloody? We do love our horror movies, don’t we? Maybe the ascendance of “Titus” is part and parcel of the same phenomena? I just don’t know.

Bag & Baggage’s “Kabuki Titus”/ Casey Campbell

“Titus” seems made for a Kabuki-style shaking, though, and Bag & Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer’s 2002 adaptation also has the advantage of having former Oregon Ballet Theatre principal Anne Mueller in its cast as Lavinia. Bad things happen to Lavinia. Lots of bad things. (Marty Hughley’s preview should help you get your bearings.) This is an outdoor event in Hillsboro, the home of Bag & Baggage.

The show runs only through July 14, and it’s outdoors in the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in downtown Hillsboro, located on E. Main street between 1st and 2nd. Public parking is available at the SW Corner of the Civic Center off of SE Washington street & 1st Ave and some nearby street parking is also available. The management suggests: “Please bring blankets or folding chairs for your seating, and blankets and jackets for warmth in the evening. Picnics are allowed and encouraged, but no alcohol is permitted.”

And good grief, that’s far from all. First Thursday, for example. This should be a WILD First Thursday. Maybe we’ll see you out there?

Would the “Forgotten Man” vote for women’s suffrage?

I rolled my eyes a little when Dave Miller, the host of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s  Think Out Loud radio program this morning, announced that Don McIntire, the Gresham businessman who helped wreck public funding for the schools back in the ’90s, was going to argue against a proposed income tax increase that would pay for arts instruction in the Portland Public Schools. Of course, he’d oppose it, though as a Gresham resident, he wouldn’t actually be able to participate when it comes up for a vote in November, presuming City Council agrees to refer it to the ballot at its meeting tomorrow.

McIntire was good for comic relief, sure, moaning about the cranky, old “Forgotten Man,” who’d undoubtedly have to pay the freight if the measure passed, and dismissively calling the  reason for the tax “frivolous.”  His primary argument was really: “Hey, I helped wreck school financing back in the day, and here you are, trying to repair my damage in an inventive way. No fair!”

That The Oregonian supports McIntire’s position is depressing (if not surprising). I expect him to have his own column on the op-ed page any day now, though his salad days are long past. Because he doesn’t see the arts as central to our shared cultural life, of course he would vote against a tax for arts instruction. But then he would vote against ANY tax. I wish news organization would stop trotting him out for any and all tax stories. “No new taxes” may be persuasive in some circles, but for rational, pragmatic people actually trying to figure things out, it’s no help at all.

I had a few more thoughts about the proceedings, which may only be comprehensible to those of you who heard it this morning:

A good reason for singling out the restoration of arts programs in the public schools (as opposed to more math and science, as Miller asked about) is that those are the ones that have been cut during the past 20 years. We teach math. We don’t teach the arts. The case organizers need to make is that the arts are central to our participation in the larger culture, just as they are (or can be) in individual lives. As such, we need to make sure that participation in them begins early and continues through high school.

A caller, echoing McIntyre, suggested the existence of some sort of back-slapping cabal at the Regional Arts & Culture Council which would direct money, “a slush fund,” to each other’s organizations. Neither knows anything about how RACC operates, clearly, and should be embarrassed to offer an opinion or fantasize a description out of that sheer ignorance. A better question might have been, how much of the $12 million the tax would raise (if projections are correct) would to to arts education and how much to RACC for further distribution? And then, what restrictions, if any, are there on how that money could be used? Is it primarily to help them with diversity and accessibility issues? Or does it just go in their general operating fund? I can see arguments for both.

A caller’s question about tax fairness was an excellent, however, and it’s a vulnerability of the proposal. Organizers need to give us some good case studies that illustrate where the “line” of payment is (who ends up paying and who doesn’t) and what the result would be if other money-raising proposals (property tax, say, or a sales tax) were enacted.

I don’t think this is an easy measure to pass, but regardless how it goes, we should be having this argument now. Both Mayor Sam Adams and Jessica Jarratt Miller of the Creative Advocacy Network represented the pro-tax position well, but the idea and the reasoning around it could use deeper conversation. Thanks to OPB for beginning the process.

And if you missed my response to The Oregonian’s wan anti-tax argument? Well, we can fix that, can’t we!


Matt Groening is on our minds today. So is Randee Paufve. And Keith Hennessy. And for sad reasons, movie critic Andrew Sarris, who died yesterday at 83.

Akbar & Jeff make a connection.

Today, the news began to circulate that Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” cartoon strip, the enterprise that gave us our first warning that a new comic subversive was on the loose, will cease in July. ArtsWatchers know that Groening grew up in Portland, right? And we often claim him as one of ours, but “Life in Hell” was inspired by Groening’s move to Los Angeles in 1977, and really, despite the names and locations in “The Simpsons,” it’s a response to Hollywood and LA, too, mostly. Still, to me at least, there’s was always something “Portland-y” about Akbar & Jeff, Binky & Sheba & Bongo. Fortunately, “Life in Hell” wasn’t especially topical, so we can happily consume old strips, collected in many volumes, with great pleasure and even surprise because, come on, that was a LOT of strips!

Randee Paufve spent some quality time in Portland, though she’s based in the Bay Area, and she returns this weekend for “So I Married Abraham Lincoln,” which takes its contours from the life of Mary Todd Lincoln (as the title suggests) and mixes words, music and movement in original ways. Paufve is inventive like that. (You can look at the highlights on YouTube below.) The concert details: 8:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Conduit, 918 SW Yamhill Avenue, Suite 401, Portland. Tickets are $14-$17.

While we’re talking about weekend events, PICA is presenting a weekend Symposium with Keith Hennessy. I started to describe Hennessy as a “performance artist,” which wouldn’t be wrong necessarily, though he’s also a choreographer, but like any performance artist worth his/her salt, he’s also an astute culture critic. The Symposium is an excellent forum for his activities and interests. It will include a solo performance tonight of “Crotch” (yeah, probably not for the kiddies, as you can tell from the video below), panels, conversations and public rehearsals of new work, much of which considers the present-day economy and its intersection with queer politics, at least from what I was able to gather. It’s nearly all at PICA’s palatial new digs, 415 SW 10th Ave, Suite 300, Portland, and it’s free. The Dill Pickle Club and PICA are combining for “The Oh So (Queer) History of Portland” tour, as part of the Symposium. It begins at 11 am Saturday, lasts until 1 pm, and costs $10. Pre-registration is required.

As a teenager in New Jersey, I “discovered” the Village Voice, which meant I discovered Andrew Sarris, which meant I never looked at movies the same way again. Movies, I learned, could be serious business with serious stuff at stake. It didn’t keep me from being shocked the first time I saw “400 Blows” (“You can DO that in a movie???), but Sarris gave me a way to think about such movies, once I’d settled down. That great generation of Voice critics was the best. I’ll miss Andrew Sarris.

Today, I am deliberately ignoring nature’s various shenanigans outside my office window. It’s seriously disturbing! Instead, I’m moving on to theater and performance, because the Risk/Reward Festival’s fifth incarnation is this weekend and Artists Rep announced a couple of the directors for its 2012-13 season, and that got us dreaming…

Queen Shmooquan

I have some insider info on this year’s Risk/Reward Festivalbecause Hand2Mouth, which produces this annual adventure in experimental performance, invited me to serve on its selection panel. So I spent most of a day reading proposals and watching video with the other panelists, an interesting group from Seattle and Portland. Want some names? Let’s see: PICA’s Erin Boberg Doughton, Sean Ryan, the regional programs director of On The Boards in Seattle, White Bird’s Walter Jaffe, Portland Actors Conservatory’s Philip Cuomo and several more, including members of Hand2Mouth and other artists.

We disagreed. A lot. A couple of my very favorites did not make the cut. On the other hand, that was probably true for everyone on the panel. My main problem was just this: I didn’t know the performers well enough to be able to predict how inclusion in the festival might affect their trajectories as artists. Was this the kind of thing that would accelerate their growth somehow, maybe from the recognition or maybe because it would give them a chance to bring together ideas they’ve been playing with for a while into something they perform for an audience?

So sometimes I was drawn to work that was highly proficient technically and sometimes my voting was affected by the stories of the artists that some of the other panelists knew.


Who knew that paradise was so cool and cloudy? Yes, friends, it’s June in the Great Northwest, and as I sit at my desk, two squirrels are making sure there will be a next generation, so yes, there’s one vote of optimism for a real summer. Not that I’m complaining, either about the weather or the squirrel jollies. I’m just doing some reporting.

Before he achieved apotheosis with The Wire, David Simon was a reporter, too, on the crime beat at the Baltimore Sun. And maybe he’s never lost his taste for the job, though maybe he now better understands how important it was. In fact, this recent blog post (yes, he blogs!), which was forwarded to me by ArtsWatch friend Greg Newland, gets right down to cases on the social utility of the independent reporter (in this case the crime reporter), and what happens when reporters aren’t around. Here’s his kicker:

“And for all of us, the stakes are profound. It’s hard enough to hold agencies and political leadership accountable in a culture that no longer has the patience or inclination to engage with the actual dynamics of actual institutions. At this point, we are having trouble as a society recognizing our problems, much less solving any of them. But absent a properly funded professional press — one that covers the civic bureaucracies with constancy and tenacity, we’re going to have even less of a shot going forward.”

Of course, I would add a range of topics to civic bureaucracies—business, say, and certainly the arts, because the arts help us achieve the social cohesion we need to create responsive bureaucracies. But more about that later…

For a long time, the problems of the city newspaper and the problems of the symphony orchestra have seemed similar to me, and one of the big ones is the demographics of their audiences, which get older all the time. Yesterday, I linked to a couple (or was it three?) posts by Greg Sandow about the problems symphonies are having, and today he started in on the solution. As we consider the direction of the Oregon Symphony in its soon-to-be post-Elaine Calder incarnation, Sandow is valuable, both because his ideas are coherent and grounded in decades of thinking about the problem and because they are so different from the conventional practice. Sure, he caricatures that practice a little too broadly, and I’m not totally convinced that his central idea is, by itself at least, the answer. But he IS provocative, in a good way:

“In a dozen, twenty, a hundred ways, we have to create an environment in which people come to a concert, feel a buzz, see musicians who plainly care that the audience is there. And know that the music is being played for a reason. Again thinking of an orchestra: it’ll be clear that the conductor, the musicians, the soloist, the board and staff of the orchestra, and other people in the audience love the music, think it matters, can and do say why it matters, at the concert, before the concert, after the concert, in the hall, in the lobby, on the orchestra’s website, on Facebook and Twitter, throughout the city, everywhere.”

ArtsWatch loves artists’ talks, and maybe even more we love video of artists’ talks, because then we can slow down and really listen (and look at the art, too). So, here’s Tom Cramer, who spoke at Laura Russo Gallery last month:

“I like the Arts and Crafts movement a lot because it was one of the first movements to stand up and rebel against the machine or rebel against the industrial machine. And there was a strong emphasis on making things by hand. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do, and that is make each piece a unique world. Each one is different, very different, in this show, I’m bored with shows where everything is kind of the same thing over and over and over, which is kind of a machine way of thinking.”

The Right Brain Initiative is an innovative program that supports arts education at a time when it’s vanishing from schools. I do a little volunteer work for Right Brain, even. What is the easiest possible way for you to get involved, too? Well, on Wednesday you can eat at Lincoln Restaurant, 3808 NE Williams Ave., Portland, where the food is delicious (I’ve eaten there happily before) and which is donating 10 percent of its Wednesday take to Right Brain. It would be fun to run into some of you there!

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