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Who couldn't use a little good news these days?  With that in mind, here's a smattering of positive arts news from Wisconsin, albeit an incomplete one.  Feel free to share your own good news in the comments area below.

  • The Milwaukee Ballet recently received a $1 million gift from the Dohmen Family Foundation, and its school has become fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance.
  • Spring Green's American Players Theatre, a classical repertory company, opened its second stage this year.  The 200-seat, indoor Touchstone Theatre now complements APT's main stage, a 1,148-seat outdoor amphitheater.  Ticket income for the 2009 season was up 1% over the previous year, despite a smaller patron base of just over 101,000 attendees.  Some Touchstone shows were so successful (like Jim DeVita's one-man show, an adaptation of Ian McKellen's Acting Shakespeare) that extra performances were added.
  • The Wisconsin Book Festival, which took place in Madison Oct. 7 to 11, was once again a splendid event.  Presenting authors ranged from Wisconsin residents with national profiles (Jane Hamilton, Lorrie Moore) to comix legends Harvey Pekar and Lynda Barry to thinkers like Wendell Berry.  Events are typically packed by grateful audiences--all events are offered to the public free of charge by our state humanities council.
  • While the Madison Repertory Theatre folded earlier this year--very sadly, in the midst of its fortieth anniversary season--new professional companies are starting up in an attempt to fill the void.  (While Madison has dozens of community theater companies, the Rep's closing left a hole in the professional sphere.)  One I'm excited about is Forward Theater Company, which will stage the first production of Christopher Durang's Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them outside of New York.  As Jennifer Uphoff Gray, Forward's artistic director, told me in a story for Isthmus, "We reached out to Chris Durang directly. He actually responded the next day and was really supportive. He said, 'Oh, I had heard about the [closing of the] Rep,' and he was really upset about it."  We need timely, provocative, professional theater here, and I'm glad there are people willing to fill that need.
October 29, 2009 10:53 AM | | Comments (3)
makeitnew.jpg


When Ezra Pound said, "Make it new," he was urging modernist artists, mostly poets, to find value in the past from the point of view of the present. Orchestras and dance companies have done just that, but over time, they eventually inverted Pound's edict, as if saying to living composers and choreographers, the oldies are the real goodies.

So orchestras and dance companies have become, over the past half century, more like cover bands. All method and technique, but little creative spark. Why dick around with the new and convince your donors to give it a try, when you can offer Beethoven and Brahms? And The Nutcracker? Don't even think of it. Those tutus are here to stay.

Benoit-Swan Pouffer understands how art sometimes becomes a sacred cow. The artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which performs for the first time at this year's Spoleto Festival, is keenly aware of stagnation.

"Our mission is to bring attention to new work by international choreographers," Pouffer says from Switzerland. "We try to make a comprehensive environment for them to work. They are all different, and the dancers are all eclectic, and, somehow, it all works."

The whole story ...

June 7, 2009 9:44 AM |
There's a pretty thorny mess sprouting in Montana these days, concerning the way the state expects venue managers and promoters to deal with musicians and other performers. Some say the issue could literally shut down live music and other types of performing arts across the state, if not rectified. You can read about it here
March 27, 2009 12:56 PM |
In writing today's story about Dances of Universal Peace, and how it seems to be an interesting counterexample to a historic trend in which art and religion have parted ways during most of the 20th century, I did some research. I found this article by the sometimes controversial feminist writer Camille Paglia (she wrote the Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson). The 2007 article published in Arion, a journal of the arts from Boston University, is actually a transcript of a speech she gave in 2003. You can read the article in pdf format here. I also came across John Patrick Diggins' review of The Secular Age by Charles Taylor. It has nothing to say about the rocky marriage of art and religion but does address the role of spirituality in public life, something that has become unfashionable for liberals to talk about since the 1960s, leaving blowhards like James Dobson to do it for them.
August 18, 2008 6:45 PM |

Curt Holman, a 2005 fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at the University of Southern California and writer for Creative Loafing in Atlanta, has thoughtfully pointed out a cover story, published in Time Out New York in December, that turns the tables on Big Apple critics. Anyone who reads Art.Rox ought to check it out. The book critics section is particularly interesting.

What's also interesting is the thinking expressed in the introduction. Writer Nathan Huang cleverly notes that critics give readers a lot to talk about, even if readers have no intention of experiencing the theater, concert or performance in question. One purpose of criticism, in other words, is providing readers with information with which to take action. But isn't another purpose to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of a community?

As Huang writes: "We live in a city that churns out massive amounts of art and entertainment, then proceeds to talk about it endlessly. At times it doesn't even matter if you haven't seen, read or heard something, as long as you can gab about it--and our local critics provide the handiest cheat sheets."

Even if a city doesn't churn out as much culture as New York (and let's face it, name one that does), culture still plays an important role in the lives of everyday people, even if they themselves don't know it. Here in Savannah, where I'm the arts and culture reporter for the Savannah Morning News, people love -- and I mean love -- high school and college football.

There is an Southern adage worth remembering -- you don't get married in the fall, you don't die in the fall, you don't do anything in the fall except watch football. The result is people are gabbing about football endlessly come autumn. But why can't they also gab about the arts? Their children are involved in all sorts of cultural activities, in school and in other organizations. I suspect parents don't talk about the arts at least in part because such talk would be considered haughty and highfalutin.

Case in point, I was reading the New York Times while waiting for my lunch yesterday. The waitress came by with my order and patiently waited while I moved by newspaper. She said: "I don't want to put this on your New York Times," with a tone of voice that suggested I was some fancy-pants Yankee doing something regular folk, like her, don't do.

But when it comes to the arts, people in reality are very engaged; they just don't talk about it. In my view, that's where we as arts journalists can play a critical role -- by normalizing what they already experience and giving them the vocabulary to use in talking about it. Perhaps someday even a place like Savannah will talk about the arts as endlessly as we do about sports.

February 14, 2007 10:37 AM | | Comments (2)

More from Bridgette Redman:

It's not the big budgets that make great art. In fact, I question whether big budgets can get in the way of great art. If art is all about making the sale, recouping the investment, and making sure box office sales are high, doesn't it lose touch with its creative power? Doesn't it become commercial rather than groundbreaking and expressive?

It's why I'm fascinated with groups that are creating compelling art with small to modest budgets. They have a certain freedom to pursue the art which speaks to them rather than the art which will sell to faceless masses created by marketing research composites.

In Lansing, Happendance is one of those groups that everyone knows. They're also a group that has had to be creative in finding ways to survive--especially after state arts funding was frozen in 1991. They're celebrating their 30th year and the story of their survival is one of commitment to their art, sacrifice by its founders, and the generosity of those who believe in dance as an expressive art form that makes our community a better place.

Mike Hughes chronicles that tale in this recent Lansing State Journal article.

February 14, 2007 9:30 AM |

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