April 2008 Archives

It's a heartfelt event for me when kids are allowed to truly interact with art and this is just what happens at the annual Clydefest celebration each April in Chatham County, N.C.  It's a grassroots event in the tiny community of Bynum and the feeling is more of village festival which it in fact is, although it is organized with the intention of also honoring a specific individual: local outsider artist Clyde Jones.  The festival is at the Bynum ballpark with all sorts of tents and activities set up across the outfield grass. Clyde himself takes up residence in a folding chair under a tent canopy set up right in the middle of all the action and it's great fun to be able to walk right up and talk with him and check out a rough work-to-be by his side in the tent. A highlight of the day is when Clyde does a demonstration and carves a work right on the spot for a charity auction.  Clyde's trademark artworks are his 'critters' which are extremely rough-hewn, large wooden animals, usually brightly painted and festooned with glitter, metal scraps, and all other sorts of found objects. (A giraffe on display this year had its markings demarcated by old tuna cans for instance and many smaller pig critters have attached objects like softballs for eyes.) They are often decked out in these tremendous pastel colors like mint green or lavender.  I think whatever old house paint color palette Clyde has going at the time. The festival this past weekend had my personal favorite, a Harley Davidson-size glittery silver critter - decked out with a saddle even- and of course all are invited to climb aboard for a photo op or just a momentary ride down the highway of one's imagination.  Kids of course love all this, mine are certainly no exception, and Clyde has also sawn and carved several other attractions at the festival for them: a hoop toss onto a few medium size spiky critters, a ball toss into a slanted piece of brightly painted plywood, a few fish critters that kids can fish for in a small wading pool, an open painting area with pre cut animal shapes and plenty of open paint cans in a wide variety of colors and a whole bunch of glitter where you can make your own take-home critter.  I think you get the idea. It is crowd participation par excellence. The fact that kids can so directly interact with the artwork I think is the best part. Rather than be all touchy and particular about the sculptures, Clyde in fact encourages this interaction and the fact that kids can be so hands-on I think is a tremendous benefit for them. Kids have that natural inclination to learn by touching and the Bynum ballpark on this day is a great learning field.   The fact that Clydefest's main attraction and namesake (not to mention all the volunteer help) puts in this amount of work and personal energy to give everything such a personal touch and also takes the time to make it so fun for all the attendees and especially for all the kids makes this a new favorite day out adventure for me.  Now if I can just wrangle up one of those critters to keep at home...


April 27, 2008 6:40 PM |

My apologies for underrepresenting the Lone Star State of late, Flyover friends. (Everything's bigger in Texas ... except arts coverage, wink.) The combination of late-onset NEA Institute exhaustion, health troubles, copious antihistamines, and the formidable "Best Of" of issue (love-hated by altweekly staffers everywhere) on the horizon have prevented me from accomplishing much more than washing my hair every (other) day. I've even developed an immunity to coffee, believe it or not. (Why do I get the feeling that when I tell my friends I'm just drinking it for the flavor, they look as if I'd just told them I read Playboy for the articles. Sigh.)

But things are happening hereabouts. The Marfa Film Fest is near (May 1-5), and I for one cannot wait to watch There Will Be Blood on the Alamo Drafthouse's giant inflatable screen in the film's still-standing set. Definitely wasn't my favorite P.T. Anderson film; in fact, the more distance I get the more reservations I have (or the more I'm able to put my finger on them). But I'll watch anything Robert Elswit shoots.

SA film/makers should be in abundance, too, and apparently Dennis Hopper's coming also. (How long will I be able to I refrain from "Pop quiz, hotshot" jokes? Your guess is as good as mine.) 

Now, closer to home, something's has been on my mind since I reviewed San Pedro Playhouse's production of Crowns (Regina Taylor's musical adaptation of Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry's coffee-table book, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats; not fantastically written, but extremely well performed here).

Anyway, if my snarky ass was in charge of the San Antonio theater scene, programming would be a lot different. All together now: Duh! But I've gotta say, though I may not love San Pedro Playhouse's every show (I lean edgier), I honor its decision to regularly produce plays that showcase local African-American talent. (According to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 6.8% of San Antonians identified as black or African American.) Aida, Dreamgirls, and now, Crowns, have all graced the stage of San Antonio's oldest public theater recently.

I haven't attended all of the Playhouse's shows, so I can't say with any certainty how multi-racially cast its other productions are. It's one of my dearest hopes that people don't feel boxed into casting "the canon" with Caucasians all the time, that performers of color aren't ghettoized into plays written specifically about the African-American or Latino experience; the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  revival would suggest we're moving in that direction, anyway.

That's something I'll be keeping my eyes open for here, friends, and I'll be sure to report back. Happy Weekend. 

April 18, 2008 3:35 PM |


Note: This article discusses an event in Charleston, S.C., called Kulture Klash 2, a kind of art party that I argue could be a model for "authentic" branding as posited by Bill Breen in a 2007 article in Fast Company. Inspiration for this piece comes from Andrew Taylor's hugely insightful blog on arts and the business of the arts and my fellow Flyoverstani Bridgette Redman's August post about authenticity and audience connection.

Song of Experience
Kulture Klash 2 and the authenticity of an emerging arts brand
By John Stoehr, Charleston City Paper

One way of explaining the astounding popularity of the iPod, YouTube, and Facebook is that they feel authentic.

We, the consumers, are in control. We pick the songs we want to hear, the videos we want to see, and the people we want to befriend.

In a consumerist country saturated by corporate rhetoric, marketing hype, and the commercialization of you-name-it, these devices might offer respite from the out-of-control anxieties of a seemingly out-of-control marketplace. They can provide a comforting break from a heavy psychic burden -- the knowledge that someone, somewhere at any given time is willing to say anything to sell you something.

For those of us in GenX or GenY (if those are still useful terms), this is old news.

We were raised on TV. We've become intimately familiar with the verisimilitudes of bullshit.

We grew up wanting to know that there's more out there than commercials for toys, games, and breakfast cereals interspersed with Saturday morning cartoons. We eventually found ourselves searching -- for what, we weren't really sure. Whatever it was, though, it had to be something we could trust and believe in. It had to be something, as a sage songwriter once put it, that's "really, really real."

When it comes to the arts -- and when I say "arts," I mean all of them, from classical ballet to parkour, from Greek tragedy to krumping -- it's no surprise to see people of this younger generation being put off by the standard strategies of arts marketing.

Marketers typically tout the product -- good actors, good singers, good whatever. A classic case in point concerns the symphony orchestra, which has, since the postwar era, used the term "masterworks" to describe endless performances of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Hyping the best still sounds like hype, and unfortunately for symphony orchestras, that hype is increasingly falling on deaf ears. For young patrons (i.e., those born after 1964, the last year of the Baby Boomer generation), sensibility, quality, and taste are for the consumers, not producers, to judge. The more arts groups adopt the superlative rhetoric of toothpaste commercials and all-weather tires, the less young people are likely to listen.

I know, I know. Generalizing is a fool's errand, especially when it comes to the ambiguities of generational difference.

But I can't help wondering about these things in the days running up to the second Kulture Klash.

Kulture Klash is a one-night event that might be best described as a semi-annual party featuring visual artists, dancers, musicians, and performers gathered in one place at one time. Organizers Scott Debus (artist and art dealer) and Olivia Pool (editor of ART Magazine) were aiming to invite their friends, and the friends of their friends, to participate in a single night of camaraderie, interaction, and conversation -- oh, and partying.

"We wanted to bring this group together to encourage community and dialogue between artists," Debus says. "We want the graffiti kids to know about the palm tree artists and the palm tree artists to know about the graffiti kids.

"Usually, they clash," he continues, "but this is about collaboration."

After the jump, read about how Kulture Klash 2 might be a model of "authentic" branding.

April 17, 2008 7:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Charleston, S.C. -- It's time again in cinematic history to call for the imminent death of the movie theater.

When TV emerged in the 1950s, the death knell was tolling.

When VHS ascended in the '70s, Gabriel was calling.

When DVDs triumphed in the '90s, theaters were knocking on heaven's door.

But death? Not yet.

This time, though, things are different. Movie theaters are facing a perfect storm of cultural, economic, and technological change that's been brewing for the past half decade.

International piracy (bootlegs popping up on the Shanghai black market), advancements in home entertainment systems (56-inch high-definition TV, DVRs), and improvements in broadband and the Internet (cable on demand, streaming video from Hulu and Netflix) -- these have conspired to undermine the value of going to the movies.

But movies aren't going away. You could even say it's a great time to own a theater, says Mike Furlinger of the Terrace Theatre in Charleston, S.C.

The same technological advancements that have come to threaten theater venues are the very advancements that will make them more relevant and profitable, he says.

Along with mainstream movies, theaters everywhere are trying to make themselves unique by subscribing to live broadcasts of special timely events, like sports and opera, as well as films made for niche-market demographics, such as fashion-obsessed teenage girls, pro-wrestling freaks, NASCAR fans, or Japanimation aficionados. 

After the jump, read more about movie theaters taking steps to use high-tech to attract viewers, plus other companies enticing audiences with fashionable amenities and plain old-fashioned aggressive business tactics in order to break into the Charleston market.

April 16, 2008 5:32 AM |

Eugene Symphony horn players

Festival season is here early this year. I don't know what it is about festivals, but as the PR person for the Eugene Symphony said to me, "Eugene's a festvial town." Perhaps she was referring to the Helmuth Rilling-headed Oregon Bach Festival, which has probably accustomed Willamette Valley-ites to lectures and hoopla surrounding music. Perhaps she meant that our summer weather attracts people from more humid parts of the country. Whatever she meant, we're through our first festival and moving hurriedly toward the Track and Field Olympic Trials, which happens to coincide with the Bachfest. (Yikes.)

I do know that the Symphony created a long-range plan over the summer of 2007 and announced several resulting events at the beginning of the 07-08 season. One of the plans -- a plan immensely popular among patrons but not ... quite ... worked out yet according to the exec director, to whom I spoke a week or two ago -- calls for summer concerts in the park. (I wrote about the Symphony's announcements of all of this here.)

In any case, last week, there was much festival activity in Eugene. And I had enough Maurice Ravel to last another, oh, 20 years or so.

April 15, 2008 4:00 AM |

Even since Gian Carlo Menotti severed ties in the early 1990s between The Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and its American counterpart, Spoleto Festival USA, based in Charleston, S.C., there has been speculation about how to get the two back together.

After Menotti's death at the age of 95 on Feb. 1, 2007, speculation has grown. Last Monday, it swelled to its highest pitch yet.

That's when the mayor of Spoleto, Italy, and the new director of The Festival of Two Worlds Foundation (it recently changed names) arrived in the Lowcountry to meet Mayor Joe Riley and tourism officials at the Convention and Visitors Bureau to discuss ways of boosting commerce between the two cities.

The meeting was also seen as the latest step in "reunifying" the two festivals. The next day's Post and Courier announced that "Spoleto may rejoin with Italian roots" and "Officials with Umbrian festival visit Charleston, discuss reunion."

Strange thing, though. No one from Spoleto Festival USA was there.

And even if someone from the American organization had been present, what does "reunification" really mean? Beyond the obvious and so far largely symbolic, sentimental, and romantic appeal of re-establishing cultural ties with the Old World, that remains unclear.

[. . . ]

In an interview Thursday, Nigel Redden [executive director of Spoleto Festival USA] said the whole notion of reunification is something of a misnomer. The festivals have always been separate organizations, with different administrators, boards, fund-raising strategies, and so on. In the past, they did indeed share artists -- chamber musicians, the Westminster Choir, and even some operas. That may recommence, but a merging of the two organizations has never been a part of their history.

"They have always been quite different organizations," he said.

Read the rest of this article at Charleston City Paper.

April 10, 2008 9:21 AM |


A report in yesterday's Post and Courier implied that the new director of the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation, the Italian sister of Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA, was going to scour the Holy City's theaters searching for a good place for an opera in the 2008 festival:

He [Giorgio Ferrara] said there are also plans to produce an opera at Spoleto, which will be held May 23 to June 8. "I will visit all the theaters in Charleston to see what will fit and how we can collaborate," Ferrara said.

Strange thing, though. The article doesn't reference anyone from Spoleto Festival USA, not Nigel Redden, the executive director, not even one of the public relations people.

So I called Spoleto to see if there's anything to this. Paula Edwards, director of marketing and PR, told me yesterday that she didn't know anything about it, but would get back with me today. When she did, nothing had changed. There will not be any collaboration with the Italian festival this year. Perhaps in the future, Edwards said, in an effort -- really -- to say who knows? Hell might freeze over, too.

The P&C article reported on Mayor Joe Riley's efforts to reach out to the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation after the death of Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti and his son Chip Menotti, who was given the heave-ho by the Italian government after running the Umbrian arts festival into the ground financially.

Riley seems to be making highly visible overtures to that city's mayor and Ferrara, but what it means in terms of material gain for the American festival and for the city of Charleston and its art lover seems unclear at this point. Maybe Ferrara was talking about putting on an opera with Piccolo Spoleto in 2008. That's something Riley can make happen. And that would be very interesting indeed for everyone, even Spoleto.

See update below for more on Piccolo Spoleto

April 5, 2008 8:51 AM |
Given the size of our community, we have a wealth of theater critics.

The daily newspaper that I write for has three freelance critics who share most of the reviewing duties plus a staff writer who occasionally writes a theater review. The alternative newspaper in town rotates its reviews among six freelance critics. A local television broadcaster makes it to nearly every single show and posts reviews on his Website as well as on the air. Depending on the semester, the college newspaper will have a critic. Then the Detroit papers send critics to town for the professional shows. An alternative newspaper has three critics that come to town and the Free Press usually sends someone.

We are also blessed that it is a fairly collegial community and we enjoy good relations with each other.

Last fall, Don Calamia, the critic from Between the Lines, a Detroit weekly newspaper, and I were discussing how Patrick Shanley's Doubt was dominating the 2007-2008 professional season. Three groups were performing it in a four month span, with two of the shows opening within a week of each other. The first was in Lansing, the second in Detroit, and the third in Ann Arbor. While these are somewhat spread apart in distance, they are all within an hour of each other and there is some overlap in audience between the three groups.

During this discussion, we agreed that we would each see all three shows and then do some sort of joint discussion comparing the three productions. We didn't know what form that would take when we started, but we eventually turned to our respective blogs: Don's Confessions of a Cranky Critic and my Front Row Lansing.

This week--on April Fool's Day to be specific--we began a week-long blogfest comparing the three productions. On Tuesday, we independently created our own all-star casts drawn from the three productions. On Wednesday, we revealed which of the three productions we thought was the best. On Thursday, we discussed whether the priest was guilty or innocent--and came up with different answers for each of the three productions. Finally, today, we arranged to have a live chat free-for-all and post the transcript on our blog.

We didn't come up with the idea for a live chat until the last minute, so our invitation for our readers to join us didn't get out until less than 24 hours before the lunchtime chat--not really enough time to give people notice. However, both the director of the BoarsHead show and the BoarsHead artistic director was able to join us.

It was a fun way to look at theater in a larger context than an individual show and we had a lot of fun discussing our different takes on the show. It's something we're both planning to do again, though we're still brainstorming what the next topic will be.
April 4, 2008 12:29 PM | | Comments (4)

Todd Smith shocked everyone last week when he resigned as executive director of the Gibbes Museum of Art (in Charleston, S.C.).

The sudden and unexpected decision became effective Tuesday. Until June 30, Smith will serve as director of special projects while an interim replacement is found and a new director search is launched. An official press release said what we already knew: Smith was resigning. It didn't elaborate much further except to list his accomplishments.

Since March 2006, Smith led an effort to rebrand the museum's identity, he shepherded its re-accreditation with the American Association of Museums (a long, complicated process), and he brought back fiscal discipline.

Smith was hired to usher the Gibbes into the thick of the 21st century. That meant overseeing a new brand, an assertive outreach program, a renewed network of development, imaginative and culturally relevant exhibitions, and a collection refreshed by new work.

That also meant building a new facility to replace or augment the current Gibbes Museum. Building, Smith told me in an interview last January, was a major reason he took the job. The board was eager to expand and grow. He was ready to build. It was a good match all around. Now he's leaving. Why?

The official line did little to stop speculation (including my own) that Smith was pushed out. My hunch was that he'd locked horns with the wrong board member over how, when, and how much it would take to build a new museum. I wasn't alone. Others were skeptical, too.

The Post and Courier surmised in a March 25 report that Smith was fired, either because he presented too much contemporary art or because he didn't present enough (the article seems to contradict itself in guessing that the reasons were both). Other rumors spread that Smith wasn't doing the job he was hired to do.

These are barely plausible theories. By all accounts, Smith and the board agreed, for the most part, on the role of contemporary art. As for job performance, most measures indicate at least modest gains -- membership grew by 7.5 percent and large donations by 6 percent during his brief tenure. What bothered me was that Smith was the second executive director in six years to step down. It was starting to look like an institutionally unhealthy pattern.

But after several conversations with board members, museum staffers, and former employees (most of whom were granted anonymity because they did not want to be identified commenting on his imminent departure), it appears there is little more behind Smith's resignation than a change of heart.

April 3, 2008 3:06 PM |
I was able to get out over this past weekend to enjoy a beauti-mous day out at the outdoor sculpture area and path around the NC Museum of Art's campus known as the Museum Park or artwalk. You can check it out here.

'Tis a good thing the art walk is in such good shape (although it's still awaiting some real construction action on the yet to be constructed pavilion designed to be a model in environmental stormwater management with high art mojo to boot)  as the rest of the museum's grounds are a bit of a wreck at the moment. A highly anticipated museum addition is in the early to mid-construction phase and there's basically a whole bunch of exposed red clay dirt punctured by a little raw steel framing on that side of the site.

There is however some definite progress on the Thomas Pfifer-designed addition which promises to provide much improved galleries more in line with contemporary standards of gallery design.  Let's face it, the museum's Edward Durell Stone bunker building from 1983 (which in truth feels much older - surely I'm not alone in feeling this?) is a little lacking compared to the spaces being churned out now by the big starchitects who have been benefiting from the big museum building boom of recent years.  Nowadays the light filled soaring spaces that seasoned museum goers can experience from MoMA to the Tate to the Nelson-Atkins are not only getting them accustomed to some serious spatial extravagance, but now they are indeed expecting this every time out I think.  While the Phifer addition still has a long ways to go until completion, it will be a very interesting project to see as it moves toward completion.  One of NCMA's biggest problems is their hodgepodge of a campus which besides the Durell Stone building and Museum Park also includes a Smith-Miller Hawkinson designed amphitheater and concert pavilion as well as Barbara Kruger piece designed to be seen in aerial view.  There is a lot to see out there and it all sprawls around the grounds so the question of how the Phifer piece fits into this menagerie will be a very interesting one to watch...

April 2, 2008 10:37 PM |
menotti.jpgAn Italian delegation came to Charleston on March 31 to talk about bringing two cities and their respective international arts festivals -- Spoleto USA and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy -- back together again after years of division, according to a press release issued Friday, March 28. The news comes more than year after Gian Carlo Menotti, founder of both festivals, died at the age of 95. It also comes after Menotti's adopted son, Chip, was replaced as head of the Festival of Two Worlds by the Italian Culture Ministry, because he was botching up the once-venerable festival's finances. He has since been replaced by Giorgio Ferrara as chairman. The Italian and American festivals split in 1993 after years of feuding between Menotti and the festival's American board of directors. Since Menotti's death, there has been speculation that the two festival would once again merge. It looks like that speculation is taking one step closer to being reality.
The meeting will cover the development of the collaboration between the two cities and the two Festivals, with the Spoleto Festival USA which has been taking place in Charleston for 32 years, founded by late Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti in 1976. Menotti chose this city for the beauty, the importance in history and the special atmosphere. [. . .] The presence of Maestro Giorgio Ferrara will be particularly significant, because the reactivation of the collaboration that in the past used to distinguish the two Spoleto Festivals is strongly wished for, for the mutual advantage and satisfaction of both Charleston and Spoleto.
From *[Charleston City Paper](http://arts.ccpblogs.com/2008/03/28/one-step-closer-to-reunifying-the-spoleto-festivals/)*
April 2, 2008 10:36 AM |

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