“State of Wonder

Wordstock 2: The new comics, the unwanted book, donuts & dystopias

After Lit Crawl, the main event: Literary Arts' annual festival of writers and writing packs the Park Blocks with ideas and words

Despite a late night (for me) at Lit Crawl the night before, I managed to arrive at the Portland Art Museum last Saturday right as this year’s Wordstock literary festival opened. I had spent hours crafting my schedule for the day, weighing various panels and readings against each other, and realized the morning would be the only time I’d have to check out the Book Fair.

Yes, you can buy books there, but you can also: Get information on MFA programs, learn how to self-publish a book, buy literary-themed gifts, discover literary magazines, find writing retreats, join literary organizations, and sign up to volunteer in the community. It’s an amazing reminder of how vibrant the literary scene is in Portland and the Northwest. There’s also a lot of free pens there.

Sometimes you listen. Sometimes you look. And Wordstock offers plenty to browse through. Photo courtesy Literary Arts

A note on Lit Crawl: If you haven’t been to this pre-Wordstock event it’s a great way to get to know local writers. I went to readings organized by Incite, Perfect Day Publishing, and Pie & Whiskey.


Today’s News & Notes has a few threads that link at least some of its far-flung parts. You don’t even need that hint or the ones that follow(!) to detect them, even though your correspondent feels duty bound by the Old Rules to include them. I can’t help myself!

To the heart of the matter:

The second episode of OPB’s State of Wonder hits the air waves at noon Saturday (I’m not exactly sure about that metaphor: hits the air waves? slaps the atmosphere?). The show enlisted comics journalist, historian, theoretician Douglas Wolk as a “guest curator,” so it will feature Alli Brosh and cartoon storytelling on her blog Hyperbole and a Half and comics writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. The show will also discuss Jeff Jahn’s proposal for naming the new Willamette transit bridge after abstract painter Mark Rothko (which we’ve debated in an earlier News & Notes: check out Mr. Jahn’s defense of his proposal in the comments and my futile ripostes), soul singer Laura Mvula (who played here recently), and novelist/songwriter Willy Vlautin (a film made from his “The Motel Life” opens at the Hollywood Theatre today!), among many other things. Listening to State of Wonder evolve is going to be fun!


While we’re in the plugging business, we should note that Brett Campbell’s MusicWatch, which slaps the atmosphere right here at Oregon ArtsWatch, is the most coherent music column in the city right now, with commentary and calendar all mixed together in one delightful place. Headliners this week include Meredith Monk and Morten Lauridsen (hey, let’s name a bridge after HIM!), but the point of the column is to explore the variety of musical experience available in these privileged parts.


Did someone mention comics? We have very recently learned about the existence of Julian Peters’ fabulous poetry comics. So far he has done Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” lots of Rimbaud, a Keats and a Yeats (manga style!), but my favorite is his graphic investigation of TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Illustrating a poem only makes sense if it’s not “merely” illustrating, but interpreting and intervening somehow to make the reader think about the poem (or actually, any text) in a different way. Peters, we get the idea, really understands Eliot and this poem and his drawing passes his understanding along to us, visually.

prufrock4 2


ArtsWatch admires the good work that P:EAR does, using the arts to help kids on the street find a better path. P:EAR’s second Harvest Fundraiser is on Saturday: the cause couldn’t be better, P:EAR’s parties are always super, LiveWire’s Jason Rouse emcees, Blind Pilot band members will play, a good time will be had by all!


The Neo Boys/Courtesy K Records

The Neo Boys/Courtesy K Records

We’re also secret admirers of Rock and Roll Camp for Girls (well, maybe not so secret anymore), and we once were MAJOR fans of the NeoBoys, whose punk stylings in the late ’70s and ’80s seemed just about perfect to us at the time. All of which is to say that you can support the R&R Camp for Girls and celebrate a lovingly compiled new album of NeoBoy songs from back in the day, “Sooner or Later,” at one big show. It’s on Saturday at the Crystal Ballroom, the guest bands are impressive, the cause (as we say) couldn’t be better, and it will be big fun. Doors open at 5 pm. It’s an all-ages show, naturally, and kids under 12 are free!


ArtsWatch loves its science. How could we not? But we LIVE for our arts and humanities. Heck, we even studied it when we were schoolboys and schoolgirls. But did we waste our money on classes about TS Eliot, Rimbaud, Michelangelo, and Rothko? Not according to a sweet study collected for Pacific Standard by Paul Hiebert.

“”If what we want are creative, inventive people as opposed to technicians, then we need to support more broad-based, Renaissance-style educational opportunities and experiences,” said Rex LaMore, one of the study’s lead authors and the current director of MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development. “It doesn’t matter how you get it—whether through public schools or private lessons—just as long as you get it.””

Dear America, no matter how you cut it, the arts are in the public interest. Love ya, ArtsWatch


OK, America, we know you aren’t going to believe US! How about Neil Gaiman, though? He’s a really smart and creative guy (comics(!), novels, screenplays, etc.). And though a recent lecture of his focuses on reading, not the arts in general, well, those two are bound pretty closely together, yes? Here’s Gaiman:

“We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

“Enough,” you say. “We WILL leave the sweatshop for a moment and the canned ‘entertainments’ of Corporate World and risk it all on the world’s best human achievements!” All right then, we are finally in agreement, and so to the weekend.

A Q&A with April Baer of OPB’s new ‘State of Wonder’ program

The host talks about her new radio show about the arts right before Episode 1

On Saturday at noon on an Oregon Public Broadcasting radio station near you, April Baer and Vice President of Awesome, Ifanyi Bell, will premiere a new radio show about the arts called “State of Wonder.” I’ve been really looking forward to this show since it was announced during the summer. Baer digs into stories like no one else, and to have her digging into ARTS stories, well, that’s amazing. The arts community here couldn’t be richer and more interesting right now, and having a smart, weekly radio program discovering and explaining what’s going on will add immeasurably to our access and understanding of it all.

As usual, I waited until the last minute and sent April some questions via email. She responded with minimal moaning, given that my questions had landed at the worst possible moment. I think you’re going to like the answers.

1. What is “State of Wonder” and what’s your mission?

“State of Wonder” is that place you go when you’re standing in front of a canvas or installation that just won’t let you go. It’s the place where a song makes you close your eyes and lean back. It’s the book so engrossing, it renders you unaware of the flight attendant’s third offer of peanuts. It’s the movie that made you cry, the game you can’t put down, and the performance that made you sign up for Adult Beginning Tap.

We’re casting a wide net for interviews and reporting. Basically, if a story survives our pitch meeting, it’s on the short list. If one of us can’t stop thinking about it for some reason or another, we’re going to go get it.

2. As a journalist, how are you going to go about pursuing that mission?

One action-packed day at a time, and on very little sleep. The model for the show involves making fuller use of stories from Oregon Art Beat, OPB Music, KMHD, Think Out Loud, and other production units within the OPB blended family of media. There is a dizzying stream of vivid storytelling produced every day. We’ve always wanted to give all those stories a second life, more breathing room. So part of the show’s mandate is true multi-media—taking these stories, sometimes re-editing sometimes fleshing out angles that didn’t make the final cut elsewhere. Maybe it’s an artist interview on KMHD or an author who dropped by on Think Out Loud.

One more thing I’d like to say: we really want to push back on the idea that people have become so specific in their tastes and habits that they’re only interested in very specific brands of art or creative work. Sure, everyone’s got something they really geek out on: jazz or handmade books or instagram, etc. But we believe in chipping away at silos between genres.

Vice President of Awesome Ifanyi Bell and host April Baer of "State of Wonder"/OPB

Vice President of Awesome Ifanyi Bell and host April Baer of “State of Wonder”/OPB

3.What’s the show going to sound like? What can we expect in Episode One?

Busy, busy, busy.

We’ll spend some time with capital-A artists. Ann Hamilton is in Oregon this week. She’s a visual artist who specializes in gargantuan installations made with the intent of bringing people together. That may give you a sense of the glorious paradoxes she presents. Her command of her medium is so good it kind of terrifies me, and that’s matched with a fantastic warm affect. We’re checking in with Ian Karmel—one of Portland’s best comedy writers. He moved to LA a few months ago, and we wondered how that’s going. Carlos Kalmar’s on, talking about the Britten Requiem the Oregon Symphony’s performing this weekend.

But it was also kind of a crazy news week. We’ll spend some time decoding Chris D’Arcy’s departure from the Oregon Arts Commission, and report on a weird thing that happened at a Portland Center Stage performance of “Fiddler.”

Katrina Sarson’s dropping in to talk about something interesting she noticed on three separate shoots—how artists are using 3D printers.

And there’s just a slew of really cool things we found to show what interests us. Ifanyi Bell, our Vice President for Awesome, got this interview with two authors who recently published a book on color, from a historical and biological perspective. I got down to Corvallis to check out a Day of the Dead altar building. Ifanyi and our intern Jeffrey pulled together this really lovely piece, just by asking people rushing to work what they were listening to.

Actually, next week’s episode is super exciting. We’ve got some thematic stuff around comics and street art, and an incredible OPB Music Studio session with Laura Mvula that’s blowing everyone’s mind.

4. What’s the geographical and art form range you’re hoping to cover?

Our first principal is that artist and the people who check out their work do not exist in a vacuum. There are people who sell their work all over the world—I’m thinking Dan Attoe and Willy Vlautin. While they work on a global stage, they’re very much products of the Northwest. Likewise, people who create in a local context don’t work in a vacuum. They go on trips, listen to music made all over the country, check out foreign language films. So, with the show, we’re shooting for an elasticity that frees us to talk about local, national, and international stuff, as it pertains to what’s created and consumed here.

And, like I said before, we’re a pretty omnivorous bunch, and we’re assuming listeners are, too.

5. You’d like to get as many listeners as possible, but is there a particular sector of the audience you’re pitching “State of Wonder” toward?

Anyone who ever had a heart. Anyone who ever played a part.

6. What was your very worst experience ever at an arts event?

I know why you’re doing this, Barry. It’s because I put you on the spot back in August during that roundtable, asking what happens when you give somebody a bad review, right?

Alright, alright.

About three months ago I attended a launch for a literary magazine that will remain nameless. The publishers and writers were pretty young and had obviously worked super hard on it, and I arrived ready to like what they were doing.

I open their finished product, and this little slip of paper comes fluttering out. It was a short, very chagrinned apology for not having produced the mag in a handmade format. The cost of production had just been too much, and they wanted readers to know they were committed to reaching that goal of a handmade product.

I kept looking around, thinking Fred and Carrie were going to pop out at any moment. A beautiful presentation is important, but it just depressed me beyond belief that they got hung up on this instead of giving themselves over to the content they were producing.

7. The show will be on Saturdays at noon, right? Will it be re-broadcast and can listeners who miss those broadcasts be able to listen at their leisure in some other way? (I SO bet they can!)

Yeah, the show will be podcast, like all OPB’s other locally produced radio goods, and we’ll have whole shows and some segments up online over here at airtime.


I’d encourage folks to check out our Soundcloud page, too. It’s our playground for things in development.

We love feedback. Drop us a line.


You know what I’m hoping, right? That April asks Carlos Kalmar how much he’s going to make on his new contract! No, he hasn’t called me back, the scamp. As I intimated yesterday, after my now-habitual expression of neglect, things like extensions and secrecy about their terms don’t happen in a vacuum. So I have some additional questions for Carlos, should he choose to call! How about that for an enticement: a lengthier interrogation by the vicious Portland art press.


News & Notes: OPB arts hour, PBO recording, FIDDLER extended, MORE

Your Tuesday, Oct. 1, edition of the ArtsWatch News & Notes column

News & Notes: Hot off the presses!/Wikimedia

News & Notes: Hot off the presses!/Wikimedia

As we wrote earlier today, ArtsWatch is committed to providing fresh arts news and commentary every day because THE ARTS ARE EVERYDAY! Seems obvious. What took us so long?

The problem with any daily arts news report in Portland and Oregon? Way too much news… So, right to it.

OPB announces “State of Wonder”

The April Baer-hosted radio hour devoted to the arts hasn’t really been a secret enterprise, but today OPB made it official. Although the show won’t begin until Nov. 2, “State of Wonder”  is posting audio segments from a variety of pilot shows previously recorded on its Facebook page.   And once it starts, like all OPB shows, the program can be streamed anytime on opb.org and mobile users can download the latest episodes on demand using the OPB News app.

A little editorial comment? ArtsWatch is excited that “State of Wonder” is ramping up, and we’re  confident that Baer will find the right blend of discovery, gravity and fun as she explores arts and culture around the city and state. Welcome aboard!

Portland Baroque Orchestra announces a new recording

On Friday, PBO starts a two-weekend-long program of Bach oboe and violin concertos featuring ace oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz and five violinists from the orchestra. We fully expect those to be excellent, and if you want know more about these seminal oboe concertos, you can read David Stabler’s interview with Monica Huggett, PBO’s artistic director director.

PBO is going to be recording the concertos at St. Anne’s Chapel at Marylhurst for release before the Oregon Bach Festival in 2014. And it may be the recording that launches PBO’s own label, according to executive director Tom Cirillo.  PBO used Avie Records for its wonderful recording of Bach’s St. John Passion, but this time Cirillo says he’s both shopping for a label and considering going it alone: “It’s a little loose right now.”

An independent recording means lots of in-house marketing, of course, and lots of distribution work, but increasingly, that’s the way classical music groups are going, Cirillo said, because these days so much distribution is electronic. And PBO wouldn’t have to pay fees to a label for a service it could easily provide itself.

Center Stage adds eight ‘Fiddler’ performances

After I read Bob Hicks’s review of “Fiddler on the Roof,” I figured Center Stage would extend the run of the musical. Sure enough, they’ve carved out eight new shows, Tuesday, Oct. 29 to Sunday, Nov. 3, and now there’s much less of an excuse for missing Tevye in action.

And while we are on “Fiddler,” the cast will break character for an evening of cabaret to benefit Our House of Portland and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, 7:30 Monday, Oct. 21, at the Armory. Tickets are $20-$40, and these guys can really sing.

More and more

Design Week figures prominently in Brian Libby’s Design Calendar on his Portland Architecture site.

The Oregon Arts Summit is Monday at Portland’s Oregon Convention Center.

Artists Repertory Theatre’s Michael Mendelson burns down “Mistakes Were Made.”

Bag & Baggage’s “The Great Gatsby” examines the emptiness of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age characters.

Philadelphia’s major investment in the bricks-and-mortar part of the arts has succeeded, but what about ongoing support for those arts centers, museums and organizations?

Music director Osmo Vänskä resigned from the Minnesota Orchestra as the Top Ten symphony continues its death spiral.

Composer Aaron Jay Kernis, co-founder and director of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composers Institute, has also resigned.

Cut arts funding? Not Edinburgh.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives