lies like truth: May 2010 Archives

bear.jpegI wonder if there might be an inverse correlation between places of outstanding natural beauty and bad visual art?

When there are mountains and trees and lakes that take the breath away, then who needs breathtaking paintings and sculptures?

The greatest works of art tend to be produced in gritty urban settings, it seems. There are a few exceptions to the rule of course, such as environmental artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson, whose works make us see nature in a new way. And there's a lot of very beautiful Native American art that's produced away from big urban centers.

Over the past few days, however, all I've seen up at Lake Tahoe (where I've been sojourning over the long weekend) have been inept life-sized bear sculptures fashioned out of concrete or glazed wood.
May 31, 2010 12:55 PM | | Comments (1)
1_Banksy_Movie.jpgBen Davis' incisive slide-illustrated meditation on the state of street art in Slate poses fascinating questions about the tipping point between art and commerce. "Part of the lore of street art is that it is about the individual taking on the system," writes Davis. "Yet today, rather than feeling anti-commercial, the scene represents a kind of parallel-universe art world, with its own thriving cast of stars and set of commercial values. Street art's anti-establishment posture often shades seamlessly over into scrappy entrepreneurship...These days, it can be hard to tell where marketing ends and art begins."

Documentation has perhaps been the strongest force in helping to disseminate and turn into "product" what used to be a renegade art form. Without being endlessly photographed and disseminated on the web, a work like Banksy's 2005 project on Israel's West Bank separation wall would not pack anything like the same political punch that it does. And yet at the same time, the documentation is killing the lithe, underground nature of street art by making it commercial and turning it into a product of the art establishment.

I mulled over these ideas in a recent article about the Bay Area street art scene for the New York Times, but I think Davis' illustrated essay is much more thoughtful and penetrating than my own attempt to unpack some of the tensions and forces at play in this realm.

I don't think street art is over, but it's perhaps entering the early stages of a slow demise.
May 28, 2010 9:51 AM | | Comments (0)
news.jpegIt never ceases to amaze me that people who know that I make my living as a journalist share interesting bits of news with me and then are taken aback by the idea that I might like to make the information public.
May 27, 2010 10:36 AM | | Comments (0)
virgin.jpegIt struck me the other day as I was flying back to San Francisco from Los Angeles that there's an art to producing a great airline safety video. I think Virgin America has cracked it with its wonderfully tongue-in-cheek animated film.

The four-minute-thirteen-second film, which was created by Wild Brain animation in San Francisco and produced by Anomaly in New York, was made three or four years ago and I've seen it on Virgin flights many times. It's the only safety video that I've ever really paid attention to and the other airlines still have a lot to do to catch up.

The main goal of any airline safety video should be to grab people's attention as the information on them is important (even if passengers think they know it all.) But few airlines both to create a video that keep eyeballs on the screen.

The reasons that the Virgin film succeeds are:

1. It plays up the fact that people are bored of these announcements and makes a virtue of the yawn factor. For example, the instructions about how to buckle and unbuckle a seat-belt come with narration that's delivered in a patient tone and goes something like this: "For the 0.000000001 of you who've never worn a seatbelt..." And the images on screen show a sweetly clueless matador attempting the maneuver while his bull looks on in vague disdain.

2. The animation is imaginative and whimsical. The characters are very two-dimensional and have a sketchy, pencil-drawn look, but they have funny, incongruous features such as a fish head in a suit.

3. For the two reasons stated above and many more, the film is funny. It managed to turn a dry and boring subject into something entertaining.

The video can be viewed on YouTube, here.

Virgin America released the film in 2007 but other airlines haven't followed suit with interesting films. I know the airline industry isn't in a financial position these days to spend a lot of money refreshing their safety videos. But perhaps they should start to make this a priority. Passenger safety is, after all, no laughing matter :)
May 26, 2010 10:33 AM | | Comments (2)
Unknown.jpegThe environmental sculptor Noah Purifoy moved from Los Angeles to the desert in 1988 and set about creating one of the most surreal and startling sculpture parks I have ever seen. The park is located on a 2.5 acre site at Joshua Tree. To get to the remote location, you have to drive down some dirt roads and follow several hand-painted signs carefully. But the journey is well worth the trek to the back of beyond.

The park contains more than a hundred of Purifoy's works made mostly out of scavenged and donated materials. From a distance, the site looks like a dump, with piles of trash bleached white in the sun. Up close, though, it's an artist's playground packed with surprises. Many of the pieces on display, which visitors can roam around freely, are abstract constructions made out of anything from tattered old paperbacks to old toilet seats. Some, such as an enormous executive desk toy made of a metal frame, ropes and bowling balls, are whimsical and display the artist's sense of absurdist humor.

My very favorite work on display is a small but perfectly formed theatre fashioned from old pieces of mouldering wood. The theatre looks like it can hold an audience of 20 or so. There are two sets of covered wings which performers can walk along by the sides of the auditorium to get to the stage. The stage itself is only slightly raised off the ground. It's a delightful spot. It would be fun to view a show there.

In fact, the entire park would be a great venue for a large-scale performance art piece. I'm not the first person to have thought of this -- according to the friends I visited Purifoy's site with, various groups from LA have created performance pieces around the artist's sculptures.

A site like this could only exist in the hinterlands. Anywhere else and the artist would be subject to all kinds of tedious rules and regulations. As bizarre as the sculpture park is, it very much fits into the landscape. The junk feels weirdly organic.
May 25, 2010 8:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Dome.longshot.jpgThere's a whole branch of neuroscience dedicated to exploring the healing properties of sound. Music therapy comes in many forms. One of the most fundamental takes the form of simply lying back and letting sound vibrations course through your body for a while.

The hour I spent at the Integratron over the weekend, a sonic experience based in a space-age-looking dome structure in the middle of the desert near Joshua Tree National Park in California, had somewhat of a restorative effect on my body and mind. But the experience left me thinking that sound, though a powerful form of therapy, doesn't always work its magic on the listener, especially when the environment isn't perfectly conducive to allowing the vibrations to take you over.

This is how the Integratron is described on the organization's website:

"The Integratron is the creation of George Van Tassel, and is based on the design of Moses' Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials. This one-of-a-kind building is a 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter, non-metallic structure originally designed by Van Tassel as a rejuvenation and time machine. Today, it is the only all-wood, acoustically perfect sound chamber in the U.S."

My friends and I arrived at the Integratron just in time for the public "sound bath" session, which happens just once a month. We each paid $10 and made our way into the dome. We walked up some steep wooden steps and found ourselves in a round room, brightly lit with desert light streaming through the windows. About a hundred people lay on their backs in the space, with their heads facing the center of the room. It was packed. I found a wedge of room near the leader of the experience, a middle-aged woman surrounded by several large crystal bowls. After a brief explanation about what was going to happen next, the leader started playing the bowls.

The sound was intense. It rang through my ears and I could feel the energy of the vibrations thrumming through different parts of my body. But it was hard to immerse myself completely in the experience. I was cold because the floor was cold and by the time I arrived there were no blankets left to borrow. Also, there were too many snoring, shuffling people. Finally, the music didn't go on long enough, it seemed to me. I would have needed about an hour of continuous play to really fall under the spell of the vibrations. The 20 minutes or so of music wasn't adequate, though it clearly made quite a few people in the room go beyond a state of meditation and into sleep.

If I ever end up wanting to visit the Integratron again, I think I would arrange a private session (assuming it's affordable to do this) and I would definitely wear a sweater and bring a yoga mat. As it stood, the experience was a bit like going to see a play or a concert where the air-conditioning in the room is on too high and the people behind you keep coughing and the guy in front is too tall so you only have partial view of the stage.

But I don't want to discredit the therapeutic properties of this form of healing. I think it can be very effective if experienced the right way.
May 24, 2010 3:14 PM | | Comments (0)
bureaucracy.jpegSome irritating news from the San Francisco International Arts Festival in my in-box this morning. Two of the event's companies have had to cancel opening night shows owing, according to the organization's executive director Andrew wood, to local and national bureaucracy of one kind of another.

Al-Khareef Theatre Troupe from Damascus, Syria was scheduled to perform the U.S. premiere of their production, The Solitary, tomorrow, Friday night. According to Wood, SFIAF filed the petition for the company's visas ahead of most of the other visa applications for this year's festival. "Three months after USCIS received the application, whilst all of the other artists' petitions that SFIAF filed later were eventually approved, the Al-Khareef petition remained in the system with USCIS officials saying nothing about the application's progress," said Wood. "After much imploring--including from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the members of Al-Khareef finally received their visas on May 10. But then the Damascus Consulate refused to process them for over a week citing unspecified technical difficulties. The result was that the company was only able to fly out to San Francisco on Thursday May 20--the day they were supposed to be doing the technical load-in for their show. As a result the Festival producers had no choice but to do the technical rehearsals on Friday night and cancel the performance. Opening night will now be on Saturday."

The festival was dealt a second blow as a result of red tape challenges closer to home when the Bay Area-based ensemble, The Foundry, had to move their new show, Please Love Me, from the newly refurbished Monaghan's Bar on Pierce Street in the Marina District to the Dovre Club. "Monaghan's was slated for reopening on May 1, but San Francisco's Department of Building Inspections kept on putting off the bar's scheduled inspections to approve the work causing nearly five weeks of delays," said Wood. "The problem in getting a back-up bar was that most alternatives could do one date or the other, but not both, which would have required choreographer Alex Ketley and multimedia artist Les Stuck to completely reconfigure the show in 24 hours for a new venue. In the end, the decision was made to cancel the Sunday matinee and keep the Tuesday performance at another Irish Bar, the Dovre Club."

Hopefully these two hiccups will be the last facing the festival this year.
May 20, 2010 8:47 AM | | Comments (0)
peter.jpegThere's perhaps only one thing about the entertainment world that I dislike more than child actors, and that's adult actors pretending to be children on stage and screen.

I was reminded of this antipathy yesterday evening when I finally made it out to catch a performance of Peter Pan -- a 360-degree CGI-infused production from London adapted from the J. M. Barrie play by Tanya Ronder and directed by Ben Harrison. The show is on the first leg of a U.S. tour and is playing in a tent on the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

There's very little else going on besides people in their 20s and 30s stomping about the round stage petulantly in pajamas, fondling teddy bears and speaking in squeaky voices. Only the few pirate scenes, where the adults get to act their own age, provide relief.

That being said, as the show unfolded with its engaging mixture of high- and low-tech effects, I found my annoyance with the acting fading and felt immersed in the story. There are some lovely moments, such as Captain Hook's speech about how the only woman that ever felt anything for him is the crocodile that's trying to eat him. And I enjoyed the simplicity and imagination of some of the staging, such as an underwater sequence in which Wendy's brothers John and Michael flirt with two mermaids. The mermaids are aerial dancers and their tails are created by the unfurling sheets with which they slowly and gracefully move about the stage.

At two and a half hours, Peter Pan feels a little overly long. But I would definitely recommend the show for families -- I think it's a great treat for anyone aged eight and above.

Here's what The Chronicle's Robert Hurwitt had to say about the show.
May 19, 2010 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)

Small cultural gatherings in private homes are all the rage right now in San Francisco. I've been involved in a theatre salon for several years; the Home Theatre Festival is happening right now in people's living rooms across the city; the Mugwumpin performance troupe is producing a show in a motel room on June 7 and the San Francisco Parlor Opera is staging Don Giovanni in a private home through May.

I don't think there's anything particularly new about this phenomenon, though it seems more prevalent at the moment. In this age of increasing tech-driven isolation, perhaps people have been missing the intimacy of getting together with a few friends and new acquaintances to participate in artistic activities. Or maybe we're all just tired of the same old formats and want to try something new. 

At the weekend, I attended an hour or so of a lively Salon97 music-appreciation salon. I wish I could have stayed longer at the gathering, organized by a local music lover, Cariwyl Hebert, but I had to be at a concert rehearsal. At any rate, from the short time I spent at Cariwyl's home in the Upper Haight, I could tell that she and her friends are on to something. The event provides a wonderful high-engagement yet low-key format for listening and discussing music.

I asked Cariwyl (pictured) to tell us about the development of the salon and how it works. She sweetly obliged. Here is what she had to say about it:

In 2008, I visited the South by Southwest Music Festival. Excited to meet many new people and hear a lot of great music of varying varieties, I eagerly added my classical music affiliation to my conference badge thinking this would help pave the way to some great conversations. On the contrary, when fellow attendees saw that I wasn't involved with indie rock somehow, they looked the other way. This all became rather frustrating after awhile and as the hours turned into days, it became downright depressing. I loved all the music I heard and overall had a great time, but the defeated feeling of the art form I loved the most being irrelevant to everyone else wouldn't leave me alone. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

What was missing from classical music that made it seem so boring? Why was it that people were willing to stay up all night in crowded over-heated venues to hear indie rock, but not classical music? Was it a lack of intimacy? Community? Informality? Easy access to alcohol? Who wrote the rule that classical music listening couldn't have all of this?

Two months later I hosted my first classical music listening party. Then another that summer. Every few months I'd pull together a playlist of music constructed around a theme such as American composers (with hot dogs and root beer floats), music in cinema (on Oscar night), living composers, parody in classical music for April Fool's Day, and scary music for Halloween (with a costume contest). The principles I held to were: a. no experience necessary, b. no question is a dumb one, and c. we're all here to learn and have fun together.

As time went on, the crowd grew bigger. I started a website, and I named our listening parties Salon97: Classical Music for the Other 97%. The parties were named for the style of event (a salon) and "97" is a tribute to conductor Benjamin Zander's assertion that perhaps orchestras think three percent of the population likes classical music and that perhaps they strive for four percent. Instead, he says that everyone likes classical music but they just don't know it yet. I'm after the other 97 percent.

Last Saturday, we celebrated two years of Salon97 with a birthday party that would be typical for any two year old. Balloons, party favors, and Betty Crocker Rainbow Chip cupcakes were everywhere. Our guests wore party hats. We listened to a three piece retrospective of some of audience favorites previously heard at our listening parties. The playlist included:

-William Grant Still's The American Scene. We listened to the "Southwest" portion of the piece, and everyone was very intrigued by how much the work sounded like a film score to a 1960s western film.

-Arvo Pärt's Annum per Annum. We discussed the silent portion of the piece and whether it correlated directly to the periods of contemplative silence the composer has taken professionally.

-John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. We talked about Charles Ives' influence on his life as a composer in addition to the energetic and innovative nature of the piece.

Two years ago, I never would have guessed that one small listening party would evolve into a growing community where people who were previously too intimidated to go to the concert hall or buy a classical album would have so much fun listening to classical music. Nor did I anticipate creating a new environment for people to make new friends and business relationships. All of these have happened.

I have big plans for Salon97. A podcast, concert field trips, a classical music 101 video series and more. But fundamentally, the idea behind Salon97 is a small and simple one. Classical music--in jeans or a tuxedo, sober or drunk--belongs to everyone.
May 18, 2010 8:52 AM | | Comments (1)
balloon.jpegOf all the cultural activities that make the Bay Area stand out as unique, the Bay to Breakers must be one of the most outstanding.

Now in its 99th year, the enormous footrace is a cultural phenomenon not just for the sheer numbers that participate in the 7.5-mile run from one end of the city to the other (there are around 60,000 participants) but also for the inventiveness of the costuming and assorted sideshow activities.

Actually, this year's costumes were a bit of a letdown. The only truly inventive effort I saw while running in my cocktail dress yesterday morning was a group of synchronized swimmers with flowery swim-caps who kept formation by means of a blue tarp with holes in it which they collectively wore around their waists as they jogged along.

The prize for the event's greatest inspiration, in my opinion, should go to someone who didn't even participate in the race itself. My neighbor, Erica, performed an unlikely but welcome public service from her very own studio apartment in Hayes Valley all morning. For the second year running, Erica hosted a brunch geared towards deterring the many weak-bladdered Bay to Breakers participants from relieving themselves mid-race down the narrow back street over which her apartment looks. Every time Erica and her brunch guests saw someone taking a leak down Linden Alley, they threw a water balloon at the offending party. Most people took the onslaught from above well, Erica told me, soon after I turned up at her place post-run in my sweaty cocktail dress to catch the tail end of the party. Only one person, a man dressed up as a strand of bacon, threatened to throw rocks at her window.

Erica feels good about taking the law into her own hands and rightly so: For one thing, the Bay to Breakers organizers provide more than ample restroom facilities en route, making pissing down a back alley unjustifiable. For another, as Erica put it, the balloons she sourced for the proceedings were "of the biodegradable kind."
May 17, 2010 10:01 AM | | Comments (0)
bay.jpegHere's an update on what's happening with regards to the New York Times' Bay Area culture coverage going forward:

Starting on June 1, The New York Times is handing over the editorial content of its Bay Area section (which was launched last fall and runs on Fridays and Sundays) to a new start-up media organization, The Bay Citizen.

The culture column which I have been writing will be tweaked slightly under the new regime. For now, I will be writing every other week for the Bay Citizen. All of the writing I do will appear on the Bay Citizen's website. Sometimes, my pieces will also appear in the New York Times too. The column will be about the same length as in the past and the topics at least as broad in range. But it will probably have a more "insider-y" feel and "intimate" angle and tone.

The Bay Citizen just hired a wonderful culture editor, Reyhan Harmanci, who used to be an arts reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle among other media organizations.

Stay tuned for further developments.
May 14, 2010 11:03 AM | | Comments (0)
heights.jpegThink Rent meets West Side Story.
May 13, 2010 8:54 AM | | Comments (1)
sculpture.jpgAs I write, a giant, three-headed, three armed bronze Buddha statue is being dedicated by Mayor Gavin Newsom at the Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, located across the street from San Francisco's City Hall.

I went to look at the copper welded sculpture, which at that point was still encased behind a protective wire fence, yesterday morning. Against the blue sky, Chinese artist Zhang Huan's Three Heads Six Arms (2008) makes for an awesome sight.

The piece weighs 15 tons and measures 26 feet tall by 60 feet long. One of the most impressive things about it is the way in which it appears to look at you and reach out to you from all directions. As a work of art installed to mark the spiritual and cultural ties between San Francisco and its sister city of Shanghai, the Buddha perfectly symbolizes a 360-degree world-view and far-reaching partnership between the two places.

The piece is on loan from the artist and Pace Gallery in New York through 2011 with the potential for an extension.
May 12, 2010 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
volti and morten.jpgYesterday evening was one of those evenings which made me feel so joyful and blessed to be doing what I do in this great city.

The soiree started off with dinner for four at Mayes Oyster House on Polk Street with the formidable Los Angeles-based composer Morten Lauridsen, the poet, head of arts and culture programs for the Aspen Institute and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, and Tamsin Smith, the founder of Slipstream, an ethical business incubator based in San Francisco. The conversation grooved around such topics as poetry, music, architecture and whether oysters really taste like waves when you slurp them. The prize for the most memorable lines of the evening went hands down to Mr. Gioia: "Critics with musical backgrounds are best equipped to understand and write about my poetry" / "The BBC called about wanting to make a documentary about me. I declined because I thought it would give me just enough notoriety to receive more emails from strange people but not enough notoriety to be able to afford a secretary."

Dinner was followed by a trip to St. Mark's Church where I was thrilled to catch the local choral ensemble Volti rehearsing some works by Morten for a pair of concerts this weekend. It was amazing to watch the singers' body language change as they sang the gorgeous "O Magnum Mysterium," perhaps the composer's most well-known piece. Their bodies went from being rigid to supple. Their faces relaxed. It was like watching the musical equivalent of deep-tissue massage happening right before my eyes. Morten seemed so excited to be in the rehearsal room with the choir, a group with which he has collaborated on several occasions in the past. He leapt about like a sprite. It was wonderful to see him play the piano (see the snapshot I took, above) -- the composer is accompanying the singers in a performance of his "Nocturnes" at this weekend's concerts.

It was hard work tearing myself away from the church before the rehearsal was over, but I had to get to Davies Symphony Hall for the opening night of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's national tour -- the orchestra's first national tour in nearly a decade and its inaugural tour with its rockstar music director, Gustavo Dudamel. I was assigned to cover the concert for the Los Angeles Times. The event distinctly lacked the glamor of the LA Phil's opening night concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall last October, though the program was the same -- the orchestra performed John Adams' "City Noir" and Mahler's First Symphony. Unlike their counterparts down south, concertgoers in San Francisco don't know how to dress and have no sense of occasion. But the music was mostly divine and Dudamel made a huge impression (as always) on the audience.

I got some good material for my story, including interviews with Adler Fellows Leah Crocetto and David Lomeli (who sang the Verdi Requiem with Dudamel in LA last November). Then I hot-footed it back to base to file an article and blog item to the LA Times to meet an overnight deadline. Staggered to bed at around 2 a.m., tired but blissfully happy. I feel like the luckiest gal alive.
May 11, 2010 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
conte.jpegIt's no surprise that student composers often create music that sounds like the music of their teachers. As in most if not all fields of learning, students learn by emulating the techniques and principles that their teachers pass on to them. And creating music that's in the mold of the teacher's style is flattering and more likely to gain approval. It's usually the case that students are not expected to create anything wildly original, but rather to follow the rules and build something that's well-made. Creativity, if it comes at all, is a post-graduation right.

The 14 student pieces that constituted the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's choral composition competition mostly perfectly met these expectations. The competition, which is run by composer and conservatory composition professor David Conte (pictured) and takes place every two years (this is the seventh iteration of the event) was full of pieces that were a) very similar in feel -- most of them were ponderous, earnest and basically tonal -- and b) written in a style approaching the teacher's own compositional slant.

The choral ensemble with which I perform, The International Orange Chorale, was one of three choirs charged with performing the compositions. We were lucky enough to get to perform the winning piece -- a ponderous, earnest and basically tonal work entitled Peace by Aaron Pike. The song was a setting of a poem by Louise N. Parter. Because this piece won, we ended up giving it a "lap of honor" by reprising it at the climax of the event.

The winning work was certainly well-crafted, but it wasn't my personal first choice. I would have chosen one of the few works on the program which veered in a different direction from the rest. Performed by another local ensemble, the San Francisco Choral Artists, Carry, by Anthony Porter, juxtaposed a poem by e. e. cummings with the words of the Kyrie Eleison. Packed with jaunty rhythms, playful polyphony between the chorus and soloists and unexpected harmonies, the composer's writing demonstrated some measure of originality. The pace and energy of the work made for a welcome break from the rest of the dreamy-serious pieces, as inoffensive to the ear as all of them were.

Originality clearly isn't ranked high on the list of criteria for judging student compositions at the Conservatory. (The judges, by the way, were composer/conductor John Kendall Bailey, composer/organist Stephen Main, and singer/conductor Jeffrey Thomas.) The fact that veering away from the status quo seemingly isn't foregrounded is a shame in a way, especially since the pieces are given a public performance. The compositions might reflect the different personalities of the composers in the eyes of their teacher. But to most audience members, I suspect it was hard to distinguish most of the works from one another.
May 10, 2010 8:40 AM | | Comments (3)
Robin-Sharp_218x145.jpgIt was by accident that I heard about the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra's Rush Hour concert series. My composer friend, Gabriela Lena Frank, invited me to attend a performance by the group tonight, Friday. The orchestra is premiering a new work by Gabriela, her first violin concerto. Gabriela is the SFCO's composer in residence.

When I said I sadly wasn't available, she told me about a "quickie" series of late afternoon concerts run by the orchestra -- occasional hour-long concerts at the Contemporary Jewish Museum which are free to members of the public and serve as a prelude to the orchestra's main concert program.

I was so happy to meet my deadline for the day and walk over to the museum in downtown San Francisco in time to hear the music. The concert was well and diversely attended. There must have been about 60 people in the audience including a group of lively African-American elementary school kids (one of whom spent most of the concert energetically mimicking the conductor's hand movements.)

This weekend, the orchestra is performing a series of concerts around the Bay. Works include Mozart's Serenade in D Major, K. 239 (Serenata Notturno), Steve Reich's Nagoya Marimbas (1994), Wayne Vitale's Mbirama (2006), Gabriela Lena Frank's Hailli Lírico violin concerto [2010: world premiere], and Béla Bartók's Roumanian Folk Dances.

The Rush Hour program consisted of the Mozart, Reich and Frank pieces. This created a lovely mixture of periods and styles. If the Mozart was perfunctory and serviceable, the orchestra more than made up for this with the Frank premiere. The percussionists also did Reich proud with a mesmerizing rendition of the composer's spiraling piece.

I enjoyed parts of Gabriela's piece a great deal. The composer achieves a lyricism, warmth and intimacy with her work, all the while yo-yoing between radically different moods. Composed especially for violinist Robin Sharp (pictured), the SFCO's concertmaster, the piece shows off the soloist's ability to play with a Romantic weight and ardor as well as an angular, jaunty sprightliness. There are moments of great tenderness too.

The SFCO isn't the only classical music organization around offering commuter-friendly concerts. The idea is a good one, as it entices into audience segments that might not otherwise attend evening concerts, such as elderly people and children. The fact that these programs, like all of the orchestra's concerts, are free, is a wonderful bonus.

The SFCO's remaining concerts this weekend are as follows:

8pm Friday, May 7, 2010 Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
8pm Saturday, May 8, 2010 St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Avenue, Palo Alto
3pm Sunday, May 9, 2010 First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley
8pm Monday, May 10, 2010 Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia Street, Vallejo
May 7, 2010 8:57 AM | | Comments (0)
image003.jpgThe San Francisco Jazz Festival's parent organization, SFJAZZ, is opening its first permanent home in the city in 2012. The building, which will be located in Hayes Valley near many of the city's other key arts organizations such as the SF Ballet, SF Opera and SF Symphony, is touted as "the west coast's first facility dedicated to jazz music and education" -- a sort of Lincoln Center of the west, if you will.

The 35,000 square foot building is being designed by local architect Mark Cavagnero. It will include a state-of-the-art auditorium that will accommodate up to 700 audience members, rehearsal studios, a black-box theater, digital lab and sidewalk-level restaurant/café. The SFJAZZ Center will expand its education outreach to Bay Area children and adults through new lecture series, additional rehearsal spaces and opportunities to interact with world-class artists.

The funding for the project is anchored by an anonymous gift of $20 million, one of the largest donations ever given to a jazz institution. SFJAZZ is planning to raise an additional $60 million toward construction of the building and the expansion of the SFJAZZ endowment.

The news is particularly welcome at a time when San Francisco is suffering from great economic difficulties. And as a Hayes Valley resident, I am personally thrilled about welcoming another top-tier arts organization to the area.
May 6, 2010 10:48 AM | | Comments (0)
bibliohead_storefront.jpgI want to give a big shout-out today to my neighborhood bookstore, Bibliohead, in Hayes Valley, San Francisco.

I feel very lucky to live around the corner from this place. The Gough Street store is like Dr. Who's time and space travel machine, the Tardis. The store is cramped and musty, with books wobbling on wooden shelves and plenty of dark corners to while away the hours in. The staff is helpful and the inventory surprisingly comprehensive. It's the kind of place where you can buy a mottled 1950s edition of the J. S. Bach partitas to play on the piano and the latest Dan Brown. Bibliohead rarely lets me down.

I cannot think of any other place as convivial to get both new and used books, sheet music and whacky greetings cards at 9pm on a Saturday evening. Long may Bibliohead thrive.
May 5, 2010 8:44 AM | | Comments (0)
daydream.jpegAs part of a recent editorial job application for a web-based media startup, I was asked to put together my "blue sky vision" for coverage of the Bay Area culture scene. I didn't get the gig, though I was told the reasons for this are not to do with my ideas but rather the fit with the job; "I don't see you as a career editor," the person in charge of hiring for the position astutely told me last week.

In any case, I thought I would take this opportunity to share what I came up with, ideas-wise. Some of what follows in my "Bay Area Cultural Coverage Manifesto" may come across as hopelessly idealistic or ridiculously naive. But, hey, a gal's gotta dream...

1. Always keep the "why should anyone care?" question at the top of the editorial agenda

I believe that great arts journalism should focus on engendering high-quality conversations about the world around us. It's about connecting people to the important ideas in our lives. As such, the one single-most valuable principle that should guide culture coverage in the publicaton is that there should always be a reason for why we are telling our readers about something. A simple news peg like "we're writing about SFMOMA because the institution is celebrating its 75th anniversary" or "Amy Tan has a new novel out so we're writing about her" isn't a good enough reason to give something coverage. We constantly have to think about why it's important for our readers to know about a cultural concept or event - why should it matter / make a difference to their lives? This motive should govern our editorial decisions wherever possible.

2. Do away with the traditional categories under which media organizations cover the arts

Silos like "high art" and "low art" are meaningless today. Also, due to the proliferation of a vast quantity of hybrid formats like computer game soundtrack symphony concerts and interactive hip-hop choreography soirees involving live painting and bunraku puppetry, the standard classification boxes like "theatre", "film", "music" and "visual art" are also becoming quite useless. Instead, I would organize events by date and use tag clouds to help people search for what they're looking for. Columns and features, which would likewise range across traditional boundaries, would have their own easy-to-remember and descriptive names to help identify and classify them. Hopefully these content items would eventually come to possess as strong a brand image as something like Tim Grieve's "War Room" column in Salon. There should also be room for articles that range beyond what is traditionally considered "art". Where it makes sense for us to do so, we shouldn't be afraid to find ways of connecting cultural goings on with other aspects of life e.g. an article about the Barbary Coast aesthetic that's sweeping the cocktail lounge landscape, infusing everything from the drinks themselves to the way the bar tenders dress, the art on the walls of the bars and the music that's being played on the sound systems; a piece on the acting/performance styles employed by different local politicians.

 3. Take a curated, rich-media-oriented approach to "listings"

I am a fan of the way in which Flavorpill and The Onion's AV Club do arts listings. The idea would be to put together something similar each week, so that our readers have access to a wide-ranging but carefully selected crop of not-to-be-missed cultural events. Where possible, it would be good to embed video and audio into these blurbs as well as include a short paragraph of well-written, snappy prose which not only explains what the event is about, but also tells the reader why they should go check it out. This section would also provide a good opportunity for ticket giveaways, competitions and cross-promotions. The section need not only include arts experiences that have to be experienced outside. Alongside a weekly "big night out" concept which allows readers to plan their cultural activities ahead, we could also run a daily "big night in" feature which gives readers a short extract form a great new book by a local writer, a short snippet of a wonderful newly-released DVD by a local documentarian, a stunning YouTube clip by a local creator or one track from a fabulous local indie rock band's new album. The feature would also encourage users to visit iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or whatever to make relevant purchases, which could introduce a small additional revenue stream for the publication.

4. Dig into the corners of the culture in addition to covering the more obvious stuff (and combine longer- with shorter-form pieces)

Writing about the major arts institutions is of course important. We should follow what they're doing closely, provide commentary on what they're doing well and not be afraid to criticize them when they're letting the side down. However, I think it's equally important for the publication to get out and write about less well-known parts of our region's incredibly rich and diverse culture scene. I would like to see in-depth articles about the local hula and underground Cantonese opera scenes, the latest developments on the Bay Area Venezuelan percussion front and how the area's arts education offerings are serving (or failing to serve) our student population. To that end, I'd like to work with two or three smart columnists with wide-ranging interests who can draw connections between what's going on in the art world and our lives and dig deeper into issues and cultural nooks than is generally the case in news organizations. It would be good to see some "longer-form" journalism (up to 2000 words) in this regard each week. But I also think there's room for a few "diary"-like blog entries every day (up to 500 words) which consists of a few short and not necessarily connected observations about a range of interesting underground arts events.

5. Find ways to encourage people to get out and experience culture

I'd like to see a short feature each week on the website which provides a roundup of some of the most interesting free and low-cost events happening around the area, such as the free art parties being thrown all over the place (eg the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Big Ideas nights), free walking tours, and theatre companies like ACT offering steep discounts on theatre tickets to educators. The publication should also regularly host competitions and giveaways and host its own cultural tours and events. For instance, we could get a local art maven - perhaps a collector or a curator to lead a Thursday night art tour around San Francisco's galleries, or a singer-songwriter to lead a tour of a few folk music clubs.

6. Keep the editorial tone and style intelligent and rigorous, but allow the individual voices of the writers to come out

Great arts writing is an art form in itself. While adhering to the strictest rules of ethics, communicating through erudite prose and maintaining the high-quality house style, the culture section should also give its writers license, within certain parameters, to express themselves in their own voices. Culture writing should never be hokey or dumbed down. It should also steer clear of jargon and cheerleading. It's really just like well-reported news journalism but with more verve and sparkle.

7. Put local artists in the spotlight

Highlighting the work of great local artists is a great way to expose readers to new names of which they might not have heard and generate a bit of civic pride. The idea is also to create fast and easy context around an artist's work so that we see how they connect to the art scene more generally and to the world as a whole. To that end, It might be fun to run an occasional or even regular column that briefly describes the artist and his or her work (including a photo and any relevant audio or video and links that show readers a sample of their output) and then a list of, say, five arts events, artists or works that the artist being profiled is excited about. These could be works or artists that have influenced the person being profiled, and/or stuff that's going on in the Bay Area or beyond at the time of publication. Or maybe the artist could create a "virtual art tour" for readers in their medium e.g. a San Francisco painter might suggest five of his or her favorite local galleries and explain why. The only caveat here is that I would want the artist who's being profiled each time to declare personal affiliations to any of the influences / institutions or works they mention at the time of creating the tour and where possible avoid conflicts of interest in this regard.

8. Maintain a world view

One of the problems of local (arts) journalism is that it can be very parochial. We should be promoting San Francisco as one of the great world cities both to residents and visitors. In order to do that, we should look for ways of connecting the local with the national and international cultural scenes. Instead of always looking to tell intrinsically "Bay Area stories," we should also put effort into informing readers about the exciting global artists that visit the Bay Area on a regular basis as well as endeavoring to provide a national and/or global context on the local stuff we cover.

9. Find ways to interact actively with readers

The site should obviously provide room for reader comments. Though this is a very common way of soliciting feedback, it's still a great one. I think our writers should be asked to keep a close eye on the comments feeds they get for articles they write (can we set up an alert system for writers to receive all comments sent to their content online?) and, where sensible, make a point of writing back to every person who posts a comment. Writers will need to exercise their own judgment about this: There are a lot of nutters out there who are best ignored. But genuine comments should always receive a response, even if only an acknowledgement ie "thanks for your comments about my article. I'm glad you enjoyed it" or "thanks for weighing in on the issues raised in my blog post - I am taking your criticisms on board." The publication should also cultivate other ways to engage readers beyond comments. Organizing art tours and giveaways will help to create more experiential relationships with readers. Another fun feature might be to have a reader-generated online gallery where readers can take photos of themselves at arts events and post them on our website (instantly through multi-media messaging perhaps?) with comments about what they thought of the cultural experience.

10. Cultivate a stable of writers that includes career journalists with broad interests and (preferably) arts backgrounds, editorially-savvy career artists and a few famous names.

I like the idea of getting "behind the stage door" in order to give readers something deeper and more unusual than they might get from the standard approach of the "journalistic outsider." This essentially means collaborating with a mixture of: a) discerning and fearless professional arts journalists who aren't afraid to look under the hood at what's going on in cultural organizations, forage into the very farthest corners of the local arts landscape, and where possible, have practical experience in the arts themselves; and b) erudite career artists with good writing chops and the ability to take a step back from their work to see the bigger picture. Having more of an insider take will have to be managed very carefully from an ethical perspective. But I believe that if you get the right writers on board, the strategy will pay off in terms of the color and depth of the content we can offer readers.
May 4, 2010 8:12 AM | | Comments (0)
fox.jpegWhile researching my weekly Bay Area arts column for last Sunday's New York Times last week about Oakland's burgeoning arts scene, it came to my attention that while Oakland is flourishing in most areas of the arts and especially in the visual arts and music, its theatrical offerings are pitifully slim. Besides TheatreFIRST (which has after long travails found a home for itself at the Fox Theatre) and Woman's Will (which maintains both a San Francisco and Oakland address), there are, to my knowledge, no other professional theatre companies in the city.

Compare this to neighboring Berkeley. That city supports a plethora of large, medium-sized and small companies, including Berkeley Rep, Aurora, The Berkeley Playhouse, Shotgun Players, Impact and Central Works among many others.

I did't have time or space to explore the reasons for this in my column, though it's a subject that I'd be interested in revisiting in the coming weeks or months. But from the little I can deduce, it seems that it's difficult to find a satisfactory explanation for why theatre isn't happening as much in Oakland as it is in other parts of the Bay.

This seems especially strange given how many theatre artists live in the city. Brad Erickson, head of Theatre Bay Area, says that his organization's largest quotient of individual memberships come from Alameda County. This trend has been going on for several years now, he reports. Theatre people live in Oakland, but they clearly don't practice their art there.

I wonder if unfriendly real-estate companies might provide part of the answer? I seem to remember TheatreFIRST being chased out of one of its previous homes - a lovely, cozy and in many ways ideal space in the Old Oakland neighborhood downtown. If my memory isn't deceiving me, this might have been the result of the landlord wanting a higher paying tenant in the building. A high-end sport shoe retailer opened a short while after the theatre company moved out. Real estate companies might be more into the idea of unoccupied storefronts being used to display temporary art exhibitions. Visual art brightens up streets and has the potential to attract would-be tenants or buyers while making the real estate company look generous and community-minded. But theatre companies pose more issues such as insurance, permits to serve alcohol and disabled toilets.
May 3, 2010 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)

Me Elsewhere


About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by lies like truth in May 2010.

lies like truth: April 2010 is the previous archive.

lies like truth: June 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.