Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: NEA's Survey on Arts Participation

Today, the National Endowment for the Arts provided an overview of the findings in a research study it was releasing.

The good: more artists are finding ways to use social media as a delivery mechanism for their creativity and more audiences are accessing the arts that way.

The bad: attendance is still eroding from live arts events.

The ugly: past loyal audience demographics are now also showing signs of declining attendance.

'Tis the season

Give an arts license plate this holiday season!
It's a tax deductible, charitable contribution now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Open Season

We're now at that time of year when many of our galleries and art centers are featuring or gearing up for non-curated shows featuring a grab-bag of artists. It would be snobby to put down these efforts just because of the inevitable inclusion of works by artists of little talent. Indeed, even within these oleos one can find the occasional gem or the pocket of work by a seasoned craftsman unafraid of being included in such a show. Saturday's opening at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art was a case in point--very high highs and very low lows. OCCCA's entrance gallery hit you right away with a superb, large wooden abstract sculpture plus a couple of conceptual art pieces that elicited amusement (even if they might have had more serious pretensions). But exploring the main gallery space was a bit jarring as you turn a corner from an intriguing, thoughtful piece to something the cat dragged in. It's certainly a democratic way to program an exhibition, and I suppose it's entirely appropriate to do this sort of thing once a year for all sorts of good reasons, but I much prefer the professionally curated shows.

I Won't Grow Up

All the skeptics in the world can't deny that Friday's opening of "Peter Pan" by OC's newest professional theater company, 3 D Theatricals, was an artistic success. So now they'll have to content themselves with wondering whether the moxie of the young people who founded this troupe extends to their ability to attract an audience in these challenging times. I certainly hope that it does and that they find a way to produce all 8 of their (mostly) announced 2010 season of (mostly) musical revivals. Their venue, the OC Pavilion, is certainly a class act--a lavishly renovated bank building in downtown Santa Ana spanning 8th Street between Broadway and Bush (across from the exquisite little all-redwood-interior Episcopal Church). The auditorium is intimate enough at 400+ seats, though the front row of banquettes suggests Vegas showroom more than regional theatre company. But the stage is filled with talent, Equity actors known to OC audiences, like Greg North and Tracy Lore, and tons of younger performers with bios already jam-packed with professional credits. The eye-popping dance numbers alone are worth the price of admission. So, a toast to 3 D and here's hoping for more to come!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hibernating with books

I'm usually up by 4 am, and our home is in some microclimate (facing north on a hillside in San Juan Capistrano) that brings us very chilly temperatures in the winter (we even get frost a couple of times each year).

So, I've found myself lighting the fireplace, throwing a blanket over my shoulders, heating some apple cider and cracking open a book more often this time of year. My immersion has carried over to my evenings after dinner--something rare from April through October when the Angels are playing almost nightly.

I had been to Borders recently to see if they had anything by the recently-anointed Nobel literature prize winner Herta Muller. They didn't; but I came across a book by last year's winner, J.M.G. LeClezio, a Frenchman who was born and grew up in Mauritius. It was called "Wandering Star," and I found the story compelling and his literary style wonderfully imagistic.

I moved on to a book I've had on my shelf for two years but was sort of dreading to read: "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," by Ilan Pappe, and Israeli scholar. The title says it all, and refers primarily to the period just prior to and including Israel's war of independence (1947-49)--though it goes on to point out how that continues to this day in a variety of ways. Very well-documented but very tough to accept.

As if the contrast between those two books wasn't enough, I began (and have almost completed) "Open," the new memoir by Andre Agassi. The tennis star tells his life story through the craft of Pulitzer Prize winning author J. R. Moehringer ("The Tender Bar"--an excellent read). "Open" is tough to take in a different way, but equally compelling to read.

I've stacked up a couple more I'll be working on once I finish "Open" today.

Winter does have its special pleasures.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tweet Me A Play!

You can't just dismiss this by saying "everyone's gotta have a gimmick."

It's more a sign of the times, and the capacity of quickly evolving social media to become the latest vehicle for artists to express themselves.

So, unless you're a Luddite, you've got to give Hunger Artists Theatre Company in Fullerton some credit for supplementing their Beyond Convention new play festival with an invitation to "tweeps" (aka: People on Twitter) to contribute their own 140 character dialogue (or monologue, I suppose)--minus the space for the "hash-tag" you need to enter, too, in order for your submission to appear on their radar screen: #beyondconvention. Not a lot of space for profundity, but Haiku devotees should have a field day.

Hunger Artists promises to perform semi-finalists each evening during their festival.

To see what's been submitted so far, go to and in the "Search" box, enter #beyondconvention

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shades of Ansel Adams: Gregory Hunter @ Reflective Image Gallery

The devotees of Ansel Adams are legion--and not just among those of us who own coffee table books or poster versions of his legendary photos of Yosemite.

They include many who emulate him in their own work as well, and the latest example of this at the Reflective Image Gallery is Gregory Hunter.

Barraged by images on the web, mostly produced by pocket digital cameras costing less than $200 and shot as quickly as possible, many people have lost the patience to absorb photographs, to study their detail, and to appreciate the powerful impact of compositions in black and white.
Similarly, few understand that far more time and effort goes into creating them than one could possibly imagine: scouting locations, selecting the right time of day, struggling with the elements.
And then...even after capturing images on film, the laborious process of printing an enlargement, coaxing the right amount of exposure on photographic paper, and engaging in a process of trial and error that consumes both time and materials, until perfection is achieved (or nearly) in the final print.

Gregory Hunter's images of Yosemite, Death Valley, Orange County seashore and other natural locations often produce puzzled first impressions--like abstract paintings or Rorschach blots. Upon further examination, the subject matter is clear; but whether reality appears slowly or in an instant, there is no doubt that its content is artistic.

The exhibition ends November 29th, and the gallery is open Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Admission is free and parking in front is ample and free.

Incidentally, an exhibition earlier this year featured another photographer inspired by Ansel Adams: Steve Dixon. But Reflective Image Gallery director Ludo Leideritz told me that the December exhibition is a juried show that will reflect a high degree of variety, and that two other upcoming exhibitions are also more eclectic in their subject matter--one depicts post-war Japan and the other contemporary Guatemala--and color photography joins the mix as well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Big weekend for classical music in OC

The Pacific Chorale opens its season; Pacific Symphony offers a program of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms with soloist Raymond Kobler, violin; two esteemed quartets are on tap: Emerson String Quartet and Szymanowski Quartet; violinist Cho-Liang Lin stars as part of the Philharmonic Society's Ancient Paths/Modern Voices Carnegie Hall China Festival; and the UCI Symphony performs.

Details at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Depressed rental market a boon for artists

Artists are taking over vacant commercial spaces in NYC at bargain-basement prices (at least temporarily). More in the NY Times.

Wanted: Next generation of arts donors

San Diegan's comments hold equally true for the OC:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Broadway Star Jenn Colella Wows at UCI Medal Dinner

UCI alumna Jenn Colella wowed hundreds in attendance at Saturday's UCI Medal Dinner with a Jason Robert Brown song she delivered on Broadway when she starred in "Urban Cowboy." I then had the pleasure of chatting with her since we were at the same table, and she's not only an incredible talent--but an utter delight. UCI Drama Dept. Chair Eli Simon says that her audition to get into UCI was unsurpassed. And Jenn says she's opening a show in NYC this week, but she made the trip because of her love for UCI and for Eli.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Participate Free in National Arts Journalism Summit!

On Friday, October 2, from 9am-1pm Pacific Time, you can view the live webcast of the first National Arts Journalism Summit by clicking the viewing mechanism below. For more information, and an overview of the agenda, click here. This event is a must for anyone who cares about the future of arts journalism!

Video chat rooms at Ustream

Monday, September 28, 2009

Midori w/Pacific Symphony & Botero at Bowers

My concept of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto was shaped when I was in college and bought a recording of David Oistrakh performing it--passionate, loud, emphatic, even bombastic. What a world of difference hearing the legendary Midori perform it with the PSO on Saturday night. It had passion tempered with delicacy, fireworks balanced by sweetness--nothing I had ever imagined the piece to be. The concert began with a short piece by PSO favorite composer Frank Ticheli (PSO commissioned it a number of years ago) and ended with the Brahms Symphony No. 1. This is not a Brahms piece I would choose to listen to--its first two movements are completely tedious to my ears, only beginning to perk up in the third, and with a fourth movement that begins to show why we should take it seriously. But it's a symphony that allows the conductor to show off certain principal players, and as such is justifiable for a season opening concert like this.

Botero's chubby people may now be cliche to many in the art world, but they continue to delight museum goers at the Bowers Museum which has just opened up the first major exhibition of his work in many years. Up close, the paintings are gargantuan, doubling or tripling the impact of his audacious convention--now in place for 50 years. But interestingly, the Columbian artist's works from 1959 show his penchant for large size canvases and larger-than-life figures while bathing them in an expressionistic color palate and with brush strokes suggesting pastels instead of oil. His sculptural pieces actually work the best in my estimation--here the large size figures deliver great beauty in form. Overall, Botero's works reflect a combination of traditional Latin American art themes (Day of the Dead) and locales (jungles thick with fruit) while delivering the classical knowledge he possessed from living in Spain and in Paris. There are hints of Picasso, Magritte and Leger, but ultimately Botero remains a one-of-a-kind artist.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Musical Chairs at NY Philharmonic

With all the hoopla over Gustavo Dudamel taking over the LA Phil, on the other coast another young(ish) man is making waves of his own in his first concerts as music director of the New York Philharmonic: Alan Gilbert. The son of two NY Phil musicians (one now retired), he is practically family to that ensemble, so perhaps his recent changes in seating the orchestra is welcomed more by the musicians that it might otherwise have been. It will be exciting to see if these two great orchestras become rivals in winning the hearts and minds of audiences and critics. Here's an article in the New York Times about it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Saturday's art openings

With each first Saturday night come two important gallery openings that coincide with the Santa Ana Artists Village Art Walk, and it's a good thing, too.

Art being sold on pedestrianized 3rd Street and in the historic Santora Building basement's galleries is really a mixed bag, and while the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) seems to manage to pull the rabbit of out the hat with its programming with a fairly high degree of consistency, it's really Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Art Center Gallery that almost always "wows" art lovers.

That was certainly the case again the other night, as CSUF's new show "F+" showcased the works of its faculty artists working in a variety of media. It was all quality stuff (you had to enjoy the double entendre of the show's title).

My personal favorites were two paintings by Joe Forkan, inspired by famous works of art: Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ and David's Death of Marat. They were not slavish reproductions, mind you, (nor were they parodies) but totally independent works that openly referenced the themes and structures of the originals in an indirect manner.

I was also very fond of Lawrence Yun's series of small watercolors of palm fronds. Some might consider them "tame" in contrast to other artists' works in the exhibit, but they went beyond decorative to achieve a zen-like serenity in their precision and composition.
Though it's hardly a genre that usually turns my head, Hala Swearingen's vivid fantasy scenes are so masterfully executed, I paused at each one to admire their fine detail.

The Grand Central Art Center Gallery also included a one-man show, occupying the better part of what is typically their shop. Entitled "Idiosyncratic Behavior," the paintings by Paul Torres are reminiscent of Reginald Marsh's mass-of-humanity beach scenes--only the people depicted are truly grotesque. This distorted view provoked me to snicker, as I'm sure it's intended to.

OCCCA's "Jecca+1" featured a prominent international artist's photography and video installations that were mostly comprised of still images, some static, some put into motion. One series found the beauty in automobile fuel cap assemblies. There was a disturbing video intended as a 9/11 memorial and an amusing upside-down video outside I.M. Pei's pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris. The companion artist's works seemed a total afterthought (Rob Mintz).
Before I headed to Santa Ana, I swung by The LAB's Artery exhibit space for a quick view of Terry Kim's works in a show entitled "Re-Inventing the Wheel" by this self-described "underground artist." Well he's got a highly-skilled illustrative hand and the paintings are less unconventional than you might expect.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Are the arts being asked to become a "tool of the state"?

The recent call for the nation's arts community to participate in the Obama administration's "United We Serve" effort has been embraced by many, vilified by some.

Before this began, Arts Orange County led a coordinated arts community-wide food drive last March. Recently the arts groups agreed that it should be repeated this winter. It provided a ton of food to the OC Food Bank, whose cubbard was nearly bare, so I'd have to say it helped a little and it showed that the arts community cared enough to do its part even though these same organizations are themselves finding it a real struggle to survive in these economic times.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

10th Annual Orange County Arts Awards

Wednesday, September 23 in the Samueli Theater at the Orange County Performing Arts Center
Complete information about our honorees and how to obtain tickets here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Italian Opera Festival in Dana Point?

Back in June I posted on the OC Register Arts Blog about a reception touting a new Italian Opera Festival being planned for Dana Point in 2010 as part of that city's "sister city" program and its growing effort to enhance its appeal as a tourist destination. Today, the OC Register reports that plans are moving along apace for this. Given the high costs of opera, the lack of an opera house in Dana Point, the loss of OC's opera company of longstanding last fall, and behind-the-scenes efforts to reintroduce operatic experiences in the county by various groups of opera lovers, it's really hard to know whether this venture will succeed. Certainly, we hope that opera won't be gone from Orange County for very long and wish them all well!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"100 Worst Album Covers"

That's the title of Fullerton Museum Center's new exhibition, curated by longtime OC music critic Jim Washburn. I ran into Jim and his wife Leslie last night at the Frances Gagnon & IntiIllimani concert at the Orange County Great Park, and Leslie emailed me the link to an article by Jim and a slideshow of 25 of his album cover picks on MSN CityGuide. I'm just terribly disappointed that I never owned any of them.

On the other hand, I did possess an album by Moondog--the true-to-life, towering, bearded, blind musician I used to see around Manhattan street corners in the 1970s dressed as a Viking (the music of this burly man was anomalous--he had a gentle, lighthearded, liliting singing style). His album cover for "Moondog 2" apparently didn't make Washburn's cut. Oh well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

GPS as cutting edge, interactive art medium?

This morning's New York Times carries a story of one intrepid jogger who has transformed his daily runs into creative exercises by using his GPS.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Register's Paul Hodgins: Why No Major Dance Company in the OC?

In his latest piece dealing with the ennui of Orange County's arts ecology, the Register's theater (and now dance) critic Paul Hodgins tackles the question of why this community lacks a major dance ensemble. But he doesn't stop there: he also suggests that the rest of the major arts players could do a better job of collaboration. (Actually, they are doing a lot of collaboration--just not with each other!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Will Rocco Landesman play in Peoria?

After denigrating the city as an arts backwater, the new NEA chair accepts an invitation to visit! (That's a mensch!) NYTimes report here.

Photo: Peoria Center for the Performing Arts

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In awe of IAM_ SHAKESPEARE on Twitter

I am in awe of IAM_SHAKESPEARE who is posting every Shakespeare work line-by-line on Twitter. Follow him at this link, and enjoy a new line every 10 minutes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Major Hurdle for OC's arts: Antipathy toward government funding

Orange County's historic antipathy toward government funding for the arts must change.
Right now the burden of supporting the arts has fallen on the shoulders of a small community of people who believe that arts and culture are important to a civilized society and to a creative and productive workforce.
But everyone who lives in Orange County has a vested interest in that, and studies have demonstrated again and again that a modest investment of government funding not only ensures that all residents contribute a fair share and receive in return greater access to the arts; it actually generates more than it costs in economic impact and tax revenue.
In other words, it’s not a handout – it more than pays for itself.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

OC choral group wins 2009 "Choir of the World" Award

The Westminster Chorus, a 45-voice young men's chorus under the direction of Justin Miller, founded in 2002, has been awarded the 2009 "Choir of the World" Pavarotti Trophy. in the International Competition held in Llangollen, Wales. They are the performing group of the Westminster, CA Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.


(For a related story in the OC Register, click here.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

OC's Hutchins Consort Muse Dies at 98

Carleen Hutchins, who revolutionized the craft of making stringed instruments, has died at age 98. The Orange County-based Hutchins Consort I've written about previously--"Octet Is Not (Just) a Crossword Puzzle Clue"--that used each of her half-octave stepped up violins, violas, cellos and basses, is the only performing group dedicated to preserving her legacy (though many prominent musicians have secured instruments from her).

Here is her obituary in the New York Times.

Local 88 @ The ARTery Gallery @ The LAB

Last night was also the opening of "Local 88," a group show by 17 local artists at The ARTery Gallery behind Urban Outfitters at The LAB Anti-Mall in SoBeCa on Bristol in Costa Mesa (do I really have to say all that or do you already know where this is?)
The ARTery is a series of corrugated metal container units which form surprisingly attractive and hip exhibit spaces. Its primary aesthetic emphasis is to provide a space for emerging young artists to exhibit their work. As such, the work varies widely in subject matter (and in quality) from show to show, but I've found that it's always worth a visit and it's so easily accessible, there's really no excuse not to drop by ('s near Memphis, a favorite watering hole and eatery that I alreayd have no excuse not to drop by).
Stephen Crout, The ARTery's director/curator, is an out-of-work young film artist for whom programming the gallery is a labor of love--and sometimes he even gets his ideas past SoBeCa owner Shaheen Sadeghi, and artist himself.
Most notable in the "Local 88" show is Krystie Sargent's skateboard art. But there's something for everyone in this show, which runs through August 30th.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

More Photography: Steve Dixon @ Reflective Image Studios

For a little over a year, a new gallery located a stone's throw from South Coast Plaza has been devoting itself to the art of photography, exhibiting the work of local and national artists. Ludo and Barbara Leideritz, themselves photographic artists, gathered together a number of Orange County's best art photographers and created an exhibit space in which to showcase the breadth of their work, Reflective Image Studios Gallery.

Last night, their latest exhibition, traditional black and white photography by artist Steve Dixon, debuted. Ludo Leideritz met Dixon at a photography workshop in Yosemite, where the ghost of Ansel Adams looms large. Dixon, a North Carolina news photographer shared with us the story of how he returned to art photography fairly recently and how it's been an arduous yet rewarding process of discovery.

The show is entitled, "Memories in Silver: Traditional Black and White Photographs," and it reminds us of the intense beauty that only black and white photos can truly deliver.

At the opening, however, I was reminded of the technical prowess that true photographers possess: questions of the artist from other photographers referenced the timing of exposures and f-stop settings, "dodging," multiple "burns" of prints and other techniques in the toolbox of experts--all a far cry from point-and-shoot digital snapshots taken from a cellphone.

Dixon spoke of re-learning patience--that it takes a long time to plan and set up a photograph, sometimes requiring multiple visits to the location, and that it is always time consuming to print effectively even the most artistic of shots.

Not only was it great to see that so many are still dedicated to real photography, but also to learn that Orange County's photographic community is especially robust--for instance, Ludo was well aware of the Hal Robert Myers exhibit at the Irvine Fine Arts Center and the Barbara Higgins exhibit at the Wyndham Hotel Gallery--both are photographers he knows and greatly respects. And he also knew of the Polaroid exhibit at Fullerton's Hibbleton Gallery.

4 important photographic shows running concurrently in Orange County is something worth celebrating.

"Memories in Silver" continues through September 30th, and the gallery is located at 211 E. Columbine Av., just north of MacArthur Blvd. and is open every weekend.

Exhibits @ Irvine Fine Arts Center

Attended last evening's openings at the Irvine Fine Arts Center...
"22 Degrees Below" is a truly compelling exhibition of photography, and though the images displayed are few in number, I lingered in awe of Hal Robert Myers' compositional eye and empathetic choice of subjects. It also served as a reminder that small digital images on our cameras or computers cannot hold a candle to real photographic images enlarged and printed.

There is a second, somewhat larger exhibition at Irvine Fine Arts Center: paintings by Paul Gardner. Abstract, mostly colorful works ranging from very small to room-dominating canvases, Gardner uses a thick transparent material reminiscent of Asian lacquer that makes his works seem more vivid.

Newly-confirmed NEA Chair Already Stirring the Pot

New NEA Chair Rocco Landesman's first interview after his confirmation signals that he's gonna stir the pot really good!
Quality over geographical equity will rule grantmaking
Congress will be pitched to appropriate very substantial increase
Congress will be pitched to reinstate funding for individual artists
And more.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"All the girls love Earl" posters plastering OC--A new Shepherd Fairey?

It's a big "whodunnit" according to the OC Register. (OC Register photo)

Today's Box Score: LA County Arts-$4.42 million, County of Orange Arts-$0.00

Today's LA Times reports that the County of Los Angeles trimmed 2% of its arts funding amidst the current economic pressures.

Guess what, the County of Orange implemented no cutbacks in arts funding this year!

That's because they already give nothing to the arts.

"Guess Who's Invited to the White House?"

Check out this provocative blogpost today about the need for the arts community to shift from a reactive to a proactive stance in advancing its goals nationally in light of a receptive new administration.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Art openings galore

Saturday was a busy evening for me.

First stop was Sharyn Case's for a party of "theatuh" people--mostly from the now-defunct Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company (RGTC) and fodder for the soon-to-debut Monkey Wrench Collective (MWC). MWC leader Dave Barton is putting together plans for one new production--of the Jacobean play The Revengers Tragedy (on Facebook over the weekend he was putting out a call for actors willing to "die" on stage), and a revival--of RGTC's production of the Mark Ravenhill play Shopping & Fucking. They are still seeking a venue at this point, with the likelihood of using a temporary industrial space in the Huntington Beach area until they solidify a longer-term location. Longtime RGTC actor Jay Fraley updated me on his plans to split his time between Laguna Beach and Austin, Texas where theatre is thriving (plus he has family in the Lone Star State).

Then it was off to Whittier Law School on Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, where Engard Arts has mounted a small group exhibition in the library foyer. It was well attended, but the cramped quarters and the "checkout counter" made it feel more like a shop than a gallery, which is not inconsistent with Engard's commercial nature.

I arrived at Santa Ana's Artists Village just when the crowds were peaking--the pedestrianized street was teeming with art lovers, street artists and performers, and the restaurants were full. After a cocktail at Lola Gaspar, I skipped past the Grand Central Art Center (I had already just been to their R. CRUMB UNDERGROUND exhibit opening) and headed across the street to the OC Center for Contemporary Art for Jeffrey Crussell's exhibit DIRECTIONS.
A year ago, Crussell invited a number of artists to participate in a project he called "DIRECTIONS"--in which each artist was required to embark upon a sort of creative magical mystery tour, following a set of 56 precise directions invented by Crussell, involving explicit dimensional parameters, scavenger hunt-like waystations they were to visit at specific times, and benchmark dates for the progressive delivery of their work.

How well did these artists "follow directions"? You'll have to see for yourself. As for me, I found some did better than others in freeing themselves from their traditional work and embracing the adventure of new directions. But it was a typically worthwhile visit to OCCCA for this to be sure.

Finally, I swung by The Artery in Costa Mesa on my way home. This exhibit space is comprised of some corrugated metal container units placed next to The LAB Anti-Mall on Bristol Street south of the I-405. The limitations of the space are actually rather liberating in a way, keeping the focus on the art. This one-night-only exhibit, "I Hate Everyone But You," seemed to have little to do with the attention-getting title. The show included the works of two artists, Tim Biskup and Matt Goldman.

Tim's work reminds me so much of 1950s era decorative art, but more vivid in its color palette and occasionally twisted in a way that suggests "Ren and Stimpy!" I found it hard to take my eyes off his neo/retro prints (silkscreens, I believe). Matt's also rooted in traditions: rock album covers of the 1970s, "Day of the Dead" imagery and Shepherd Fairey's work (Fairey's signature "Obey" face appeared verbatim in one of the prints). Some works were samples of his concert posters.

It was great ending the evening on such a refreshingly high artistic note!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

National Choreographers Initiative

I'm not a dance maven.

I've seen live performances by a number of well-known companies over the years (like New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Erick Hawkins, Toronto Dance Theatre).

I've attended some performances at Jacob's Pillow, the summer dance magnet in the Berkshires.

I even spent the better part of a day with Pilobolus founder Robby Barnett as he rehearsed that company's first-ever piece with spoken words--he actually invited me to select a section I liked best as the excerpt they would perform at the Connecticut Arts Awards event I was producing. attention span for dance is limited and my "vocabulary" in dance is non-existent.

So, it was with not a little dread that I accepted my friend Sophie's invitation to attend the showcase by National Choreographers Initiative at the Irvine Barclay Theatre last weekend.

NCI selects 4 choreographers from around the country, provides them with professional dancers for 3 weeks, and then showcases their works-in-progress at the end of that period.

Predictably, the two pieces that held my attention (first and last of the program) were set to appealing music and were less abstract than the other two. Nevertheless, even the other two works were interesting to see--even when my mind began to wander.

As a champion of new works in the theatre, I applaud NCI artistic director/founder Molly Lynch for her dedication to this process in the world of dance.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Free Art Walk Tonight & Important Openings

Tonight's Santa Ana Artists Village Art Walk (FREE) includes important exhibition openings at CSUF's Grand Central Art Gallery ("R. Crumb's Underground) (self-portrait, left) and OC Center for Contemporary Art ("LA to OC: Emphasis Extreme") only a block from one another. Take in also, in the Santora Building, OC Fine Arts' AvantGarden and other galleries. Hip dining adjacent at Lola Gaspar, Memphis and The Gypsy Den. Street performers, exhibitors make it a happening event. Spark-e! will be there, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

R u an ART LVR?

Check out my OC Register blogpost.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Back on the OC Register for 10 days

Paul Hodgins, OC Register's Theatre Critic, has asked me to fill in for him on their Arts Blog again while he's away. My first post was today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Arts Orgs: Don't Dumb Down to Survive!

That's what Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center in Washington DC is saying, but it's falling on deaf ears, as arts organizations are dumbing down their programming and slashing their marketing to survive the recession--he thinks the opposite is called for and speaks us in The Huffington Post today.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

[Not dead, only vacationing] "Justifying" art

While I was vacationing, I opted not to blog or tweet, so I'm sure you enjoyed the holiday from my rantings as much as I enjoyed being away.

But I'm ba-a-a-ck--and with a vengeance!

Today's New York Times had an article about the debut of PBS's "Nova" series premiere on the topic of "Musical Minds," based on Oliver Sacks' book.

While his intent is probably not to justify the value of music in society, it will inevitably add fuel to the fire of those who have all but given up hope that it is possible to make the case for the arts based on their intrinsic value. That is, there are too many people who will never buy into the "art for art's sake" argument, so let's demonstrate to them that the arts will put a man on Mars (i.e. art & music boost math & science skills).

I've never bought into that approach, but I do admit that it can be more quickly effective with some whom we believe will never "get it" than taking the time to really make them understand the power of the arts (or, better yet, providing them with a transforming arts experience).

So, when time is of the essence (and when isn't it?), I've "slummed" by taking that path of least resistance in speaking with people about why the arts are important.

Shame on me, but it was expedient. I hated doing it, though. It's not what the arts are about, but after a few generations during which our nation has failed to provide any arts education and limited arts exposure to schoolchildren, we shouldn't be surprised that leaders don't understand any of the basic vocabulary.

It's time to change that.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A secret hive of activity

My OC Register blogpost about Casa Romantica.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Throwing a monkey wrench into Monkey Wrench Collective's plans..

Read my OC Register blogpost:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SparkOC Selects Goldstar as Discount Ticket Partner

Arts Orange County's new SparkOC website is off to a great start, with nearly 300,000 visitors since its launch! At launch, we immediately began offering a half-price ticket marketplace, thanks to our sponsor Pacific Life Foundation, which we called "SparkTIX." Since then, many have urged us to join forces with the behemoth of arts & cultural events ticket discounting, Goldstar Events, and after discussion with its founder and CEO Jim McCarthy, we have now partnered with Goldstar to serve as SparkOC's official discount marketplace, which takes effect today!

Click here to browse current offers on Goldstar. Once you've decided on what to purchase, there is a simple, free registration required.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Today's OC Register Blogpost

Read it here.

Yesterday's Blogpost on Arts Journalism: Picked Up Today on Arts Journal

Arts Journal, the online digest of arts-related news and commentary from around the globe, selected my blogpost of yesterday on the topic of arts journalism for inclusion in their site today.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Aviation Art Contest Winners

by Janie Lee

by Yoo Kyung Na

by Jeremy Pan

Three Orange County students were 1st Place California State Winners in the 2009 International Aviation Art Contest conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration, Western-Pacific Region in cooperation with the County of Orange John Wayne Airport Arts Commission.

Janie Lee, age 14, the winner for Category III (Ages 14-17), and Yoo Kyung Na, age 12, the winner for Category II (Ages 10-13), both also won Second Place in the National Competition, and their art has moved on to the International Contest judging. Jeremy Pan, age 9, also won Third Place in the National Competition.

Presentations to the winners were made on May 12 at the Old Orange County Courthouse Museum in Santa Ana.

My OC Register Arts Blog today...

... is about the future of arts journalism:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

He's baaaa-aaaack!

I'm writing for the Orange County Register's Arts Blog while OCR's theatre critic Paul Hodgins is on vacation.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Fail better."

Colleague John Killacky, program officer for arts & culture at the San Francisco Foundation, blogged today about "Survival Strategies for the Arts."

I was delighted that he quoted Samuel Beckett's Worstward Ho:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

OCMA Director Dennis Szakacs On Access

In his introductory letter in the latest issue of Orange County Museum of Arts' newsletter, director Dennis Szakacs concludes with the following statement:
Access to artistic excellence for our families, public schools, and young adults
is not a luxury. It is fundamental to a culture that values creativity,
individualism, and entrepreneurship.
I couldn't have said it better!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Breaking News: Broadway Producer Appointed NEA Chairman

Broadway producer and theatre owner Rocco Landesman has been appointed to Chair the National Endowment for the Arts, according to this report in the New York Times.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is OC too square for cutting edge theater?

I ran into Dave Barton last week, the indefatigable co-founder of the once-formidable-but-now-disbanded Rude Guerrilla Theater Company in Santa Ana. I was curious to know how plans were going for his successor organization, The Monkey Wrench Collective, and he told me they are Long Beach-bound. Essentially, he believes there is more critical mass there for the kind of audience his work attracts and much more chance for press coverage in the larger LA county media market.

I was sad to hear that assessment, as I've seen the OC grow up quite a bit since I first landed here 22 years ago. I felt certain a small cutting edge company like Dave's could make a go of it.

Oh, well. Perhaps one of the other small companies will take up the cause.

Or maybe one of our presenting organizations will "import" a Monkey Wrench production from Long Beach.

(Facebookers who want to keep tabs on its progress should visit its group page here.)

To boldly go...

I wasn't a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie growing up with the original series, but over time, the franchise grew on me. The new generation of television versions acquired a certain sanctimonious quality I found startling in comparison to watching Captain Kirk's fistfights, and while Captain Jean-Luc Picard exuded the Zen of starship maintenance, I grew tired of where it and its successor series were leading me. The grittier Babylon 5 succeeded in grabbing my attention as the un-Trek--helped along by Claudia Christian, whom I later had my own adventure directing on stage (saving that story for later!).

Well, consider me brought back into the fold with the new Star Trek movie. Its remarkable evocation of the original series characters without resorting to camp and its action-packed willing-suspension-of-disbelief plot are a real shot-in-the-arm for this franchise.

Live long and prosper.

Lessons from Lincoln Center for Orange County?

This provocative New York Times review of the 50 year history of New York's Lincoln Center wonders out loud about the viability of the "performing arts center" concept today. Some of the issues are not dissimilar to those faced by the Orange County Performing Arts Center, yet our local business model is actually different from Lincoln Center's and is, perhaps, better positioned to adapt to the changing landscape of the performing arts.

Friday, May 8, 2009

2 OC Groups Win NEA Grants

The latest round of National Endowment for the Arts grants made awards to San Clemente's Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens and to the Garden Grove-based international organization, Guitar Foundation of America. The former received $5,000 for its readings series, which is regularly showcasing outstanding writers at this historic Ole Hanson mansion overlooking the sea. The latter received $7,500 for its continued work archiving important musical scores for classical guitar. Kudos to both organizations!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Not Dead - Only Resting

My apologies to Simon Brett for copping his title. (Brett is a British actor-turned-mystery-writer whose protagonist, a mostly unemployed actor, unwittingly finds himself in the middle of crimes that he's the only one capable of solving.)

The point being?

I've been remiss in keeping up with my posts here--lot's happening, but I won't bore you with my excuses.

Spark-e! subscribers got a taste of what I planned to post here--brief descriptions of the visual arts exhibitions I took in last weekend:

It's a rare treat to have the works of famed artist Georgia O'Keeffe visit the OC, and all the more so in the newly-opened exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art, entitled Illumination, which contrasts her work with three of her less well-known contemporaries, Agnes Pelton, Agnes Martin, and Florence Miller Pierce. They all explore abstraction in their paintings, even when the clear inspiration comes from the natural environment. Anyone familiar with O'Keeffe's works knows that she had a knack of transforming flowers and landscapes into broadly abstracted expressions--really wonderful. Thanks to OCMA's Karen Moss for organizing this exhibition. OCMA is also offering two video exhibits, and I couldn't take my eyes off some of these works. One was an ever-changing video projection on a box full of sand that adapted to the contours of each wavy dune. But perhaps the most exciting of all was the chance to sit in the H Box--an innovative traveling screening room, where I watched a city constructed and deconstructed in a sharp and imaginative video by Cao Fei, entitled The Birth of RMB City.)

At the Grand Central Art Center Gallery is a show that will amuse and amaze you, Allegedly: The Hugh Brown Chainsaw Collection. Artist Hugh Brown offers a sweeping history of modern art as he pays homage to some of its greatest purveyors--with the ironic twist of incorporating a chainsaw into each and everyone, like the Roy Lichtenstein parody pictured here. I was particularly enamored of the spin on Diane Arbus's famous 1962 photo of a boy with a hand grenade in his hand in Central Park in New York City--an eerily identical shot, but with a chainsaw, of course. This is another example of the imaginative programming we see in this California State University, Fullerton space in Santa Ana's Artists Village.

That evening happened to be the Santa Ana Art Walk night as well, and the pedestrian plaza in front of Grand Central Art Center was filled with performers, craftspeople and fine artists selling their works. The restaurants were packed: my favorite, Lola Gaspar; Memphis; and The Gypsy Den. Broadway was teeming with people checking out the shops & bars, and we joined many descending to the basement galleries in the ornate, historic Santora Building, including Avant Garden which features a collective of artists associated with OC Fine Arts.

Down the block, the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art is proving once again that the talents of its artistic collective can morph to whatever theme gets tossed their way, as in their latest show, Pretty:Disturbing.

@Space Gallery's show Apophenia brings new meaning to the term "rorschach test," with Jane Bauman's vividly colorful creations (see my earlier blogpost about it).

And at Soka University's Founders Hall, you'll find Mark Kirschner's extraordinary black & white photography of Manzanar. The austere beauty of high desert-meeting-mountains contrasts with the melancholy history of the internment of Japanese-Americans there during World War II.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

@SPACE Gallery's Current Show: Jane Bauman - APOPHENIA

It was perfect timing as I left the VSA opening at MainPlace and realized I was only a block away from @SPACE Gallery, so I dropped in for a peek and not only was its director Julie Perlin Lee there (with her new baby) but so was artist Jane Bauman, whose solo exhibit, "Apophenia," adorned the walls.

I'm really a fan of abstract art, and while not solely devoted to it, @SPACE Gallery seems to have a penchant for selecting some very buoyant non-representational works for display. Jane's was yet another example of this.
She shared with me the fact she was first moved some time ago by the "rorschach ink blot" works of the late Bruce Conner, which were in black and white. Jane told me "anyone who knows me, knows I like a lot of color," and so the works she created that appear in this exhibit are indeed quite colorful and unashamedly influenced by rorschach blots.
But if the idea of using the blot as a motif was quite a conscious decision, its ultimate proliferation as free standing enamel on vellum paintings was not. Jane actually enjoys painting on sheets of aluminum, and in one of her latest series of such works, she created the ink blots and then pressed them onto the aluminum plates which she then finished with hand painted images.
That produced her "aha" moment, when she realized the enamel on vellum blots possessed their own independent beauty, worthy of exploration.
Beauty is important to Jane, who is also a longtime professor of art at Coastline College, and while her work is abstract, she talked about how her Jesuit education instilled in her intellectual underpinnings to her artistic concepts. "Apophenia," she explained, is the term for "finding meaning in random data." I commented that the randomness of rorschach blots also embodies formal structure because of the mirror image from folding & blotting.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know."
--John Keats ("Ode on a Grecian Urn")


That's the new definition for the acronym VSA (formerly Very Special Arts of California at Orange County). It was shared with several hundred people who attended its 33rd Annual Very Special Arts Festival at Westfield MainPlace in Santa Ana today. The exhibition continues through May 10 throughout the mall and is part of the Imagination Celebration. The opening ceremonies included comments by William M. Habermehl, Orange County's Superintendent of Schools, and performances by some very special students and adult artists. One of the latter, Gracie Oliver, was especially moving in her rendition of a new, original song, called "Happiness." "Happiness is..." is the theme of this year's VSA Festival, and there was plenty to behold at this event.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare - Now Get Back in the Audition Line!

NPR's Morning Edition today reminded us that it's Shakespeare's birthday with a review of some popular expressions that have come from his plays. It was preceded by a story on unemployment among theatre actors, which you can listen to (or read the transcript) here.

Driving Miss Brown

Watching the first public performance of The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown in the Orange County Performing Arts Center's Samueli Theatre on Tuesday night, I could understand completely why its protagonist was feeling "driver's block."

Her overbearingly perfect parents and over-respectful perfect boyfriend matched perfectly her own over-managed perfect academic performance (she's a high school valedictorian en route to Columbia University). Her only flaw is her habitual failure to pass the driving exam to obtain her license--ironic though it might be for someone as smart as she, it's an apt metaphor, exploited to great effect by a mercurial friend urging her to drive on out of there to freedom.

This is a workshop production of a brand new musical that is as endearing as it is promising. It continues through May 3, and tickets are cheap enough to see it now and to return at the end of the run to see what changes its creators make (they are working daily on re-writes).

And it's the first foray by OCPAC into new works development, a worthy activity and a great first step.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

OC's Pulitzer Connections

Reports in the OC Register that both the music and drama Pulitzer Prize winners this year had OC connections is a reminder that our community is increasingly at the forefront of our nation's artistic accomplishments. Especially worth remembering in times like these.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Visionary Women

I attended two artistic experiences this weekend created by visionary women: When Nature Calls, a theatre piece by Josefina Lopez, at Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble (BOFTA), and The Woeful Maladies of Ennui Manor, choreographed by Jennifer Backhaus to music composed by Alan Terricciano, performed by Backhausdance at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

This was my second visit to BOFTA, and it was opening night for this series of monologues dealing with human nature and the natural world. Author Lopez is the writer of the popular film and stage play Real Women Have Curves, and after the performance, she sat with BOFTA's artistic director Sara Guerrero and co-artistic director Elsa Martinez Phillips, and took questions from the audience. As in many works where multiple characters are presented in solo scenes, I found myself preferring some over others, but there is no question that Lopez is an inspired writer who has mastered her craft. And she is immensely passionate and precise in speaking about her work.

I had not ever seen the work of Backhausdance, the eponymous company of Mission Viejo choreographer Jennifer Backhaus, and I was particularly intrigued by the mysterious photo employed in advertising the title piece in her spring concert. The program credits Edward Gorey as inspiration for The Woeful Maladies of Ennui Manor, and it certainly possessed that Edwardian-period feel in its sepia-toned costumes and in the behavioral customs of the dancers at play in an open field balanced by a broadleaf tree. It was not really macabre in the way of Gorey's work, but that didn't matter--it showed off to fine effect the skills of her company and Backhaus's own theatrical style of staging a narrative piece. Terricciano's music was the perfect accompaniment, particularly as played by the Robin Cox Ensemble.

Friday, April 17, 2009

SparkOC Honored by OC Supervisor John Moorlach

Orange County 2nd District Supervisor John Moorlach, center, with Shelley Hoss, President of the Orange County Community Foundation and "moi"

Dozens of artists, arts educators and arts leaders gathered for a reception in the lobby of South Coast Repertory's Folino Theater Center for a chance to rub elbows with Orange County's 2nd District Supervisor John Moorlach, as he presented a proclamation to Arts Orange County & the Orange County Community Foundation for their successful launch of The gregarious Moorlach, exhibited a theatrical flair well-suited to the venue, and was introduced by SCR's co-founder, Producing Artistic Director David Emmes, whom he's known for many years. Supervisor Moorlach confessed that he leaves his district to visit Laguna Beach art galleries on First Thursday's Art Walks since he's a huge fan of plein air painting and his wife is an artist who paints.

This was the fifth and final launch event in each OC Supervisorial district, that began with 5th District Supervisor Pat Bates at Mission San Juan Capistrano; 3rd District Supervisor Bill Campbell at the Irvine Barclay Theatre; 4th District Supervisor Chris Norby at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton; and 1st District Supervisor Janet Nguyen at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana.

A huge thank you to all the "supes" for helping celebrate the importance of our arts community, to ArtsOC Board member Roger Faubel for inviting them to join us, to the host arts venue leaders Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, Doug Rankin, Zoot Velasco, Peter Keller and Paula Tomei, to Dave Cross who gently serenaded us with his expert guitar work, and to Barbara Caruso who was our publicist.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"My Mother's Brief Affair" at South Coast Rep

Jenny O'Hara, right
her sister Jill, left
I was a Jenny O'Hara fan the moment I first saw her on stage, but that wasn't at last Friday night's opening of Richard Greenberg's play, My Mother's Brief Affair at SCR.
It actually took place 39 years ago, when she starred on Broadway as the ingenue Fran Kubelik who sings "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" in the Burt Bacharach/Neil Simon musical, Promises, Promises, based on the Billy Wilder film, The Apartment.
I didn't meet Jenny until the SCR opening, but I do know her sister, Jill, who originated the role in Promises, Promises on Broadway. (I wonder how many sisters in history have succeeded one another in the lead of a Broadway musical! Oh, the talent in THAT family!)
About 25 years ago, I produced two plays in which I cast Jill: The Impromptu of Outremont and Albertine, in Five Times--both by the renowned French Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay, both exquisite, and Jill inhabited the two roles with enormous elan.
So, I couldn't wait to chat with Jenny, who has just reactivated her theatre muscles after a long, successful career in television.
Anyone who saw My Mother's Brief Affair will tell you that Jenny's acting "chops" never atrophied--and, as they say in theatre parlance, "she chewed up the scenery."
As for Jill, Jenny tells me she migrated from the theatre to her first love, music.

State Arts Council Chair Malissa Shriver Visits the OC

Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, recently elected Chair of the California Arts Council, the volunteer body that oversees the state's arts agency, was honored by ArtsOC at a reception last week.
Malissa Shriver, center; ArtsOC Board President Darrel Anderson, right; "moi," left.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


An intriguing discussion today in the OC Register's Arts Blog between classical music critic Tim Mangan and a commenter about whether we value new forms more than new work in old forms.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


There is a marvelous new website called ArtBabble that compiles some really outstanding videos about art contributed by art museums around the country, including the site's host, the Indianapolis Museum of art. Had just enough time this morning to catch part of one video, "The Magnificent 11," which I recommend.

Unlike YouTube, you can't post your own videos--that can only be done by participating institutions, which include New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among the handful listed so far. I'm sure the list will grow as more museums and galleries around the world learn about ArtBabble.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"I Sing the Body Electric"

The Ray Bradbury title came to mind this morning as I reflected on Alan Terricciano's concert Saturday night and read in today's New York Times about conductor David Robertson's performance with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
First, Alan's concert featured mostly non-arboreal work--pieces commissioned or conceived for contemporary dance that, while often whimsical and quirky in nature, exhibited the high integrity of formal composition reflecting Alan's Yale & Eastman School of Music training, audibly influenced by modern American masters like Aaron Copland. Regarding "New Music for House Plants," back by popular demand, Alan credited John Cage as an influence but it also made me think of Harry Partch, one of the true iconoclasts in American music. "Plants" was more or less free form playing on cacti, flax, fruits and vegetables, with a few children's toys thrown in for good measure, after which the audience was invited to mount the stage and experiment with these "instruments."
But, you'll really have to read the story about David Robertson's impromptu stand-in performance in the Times.
The upshot of all of this?
There's music everywhere.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Shih Whiz! Beauty, Whimsy & Technology Mix

On my way home from the office yesterday, I swung by the Beall Center for Art+Technology at UC Irvine for the opening reception of the exhibition "EX-I-09" by Shih Chieh Huang, a Taipei-born, American-educated artist.

"Installations" are far from new in contemporary art, where spaces (or sections of rooms) are taken over entirely by a single piece or an entire artistic world, but Shih's works gives new meaning to the word--precisely because they must be plugged-in and they expand and contract, whether placed on the floor or suspended from the ceiling.

The lightheartedness of these sculptural mechanisms, inflating and deflating plastic bags and illuminated by colorful and ever-changing LED, neon and incandescent bulbs is an effective rejoinder to those critical of conceptual art on the basis of not "getting it" as well as to that brand of nihilists within the art "scene" who lack a sense of humor.

Shih's work is at once a beautiful and whimsical melding of the everyday with technological gadgetry, a sort of neo-Rube Goldberg, and while it's not without its irony--it just doesn't wallow in it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Music for House Plants

You've got to admit that's an intriguing title, so when UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts acting Dean Alan Terricciano told me about his composition being performed, I knew it would be a must-see. It takes place this Saturday night, and tickets are still available. Spark-e will be there for certain!

That's Alan performing the piece, which is scored for traditional instruments--and plants!