Saturday, January 31, 2009

Percent for Art

For a number of years, some local governments around the country have mandated "percent for art" laws that require developers to set aside 1% of their project cost for public art to be incorporated into their building, placed outside of it or deposited into a fund for art to be placed elsewhere in their community.

Now, there's been a call for one percent of the Federal economic stimulus package to be spent for art: art jobs, art in public works projects, arts education, arts in the workplace, and more. An online petition is getting media attention to communicate this to the Senate as they deliberate on their task of revising the package passed by the House last week.

If you feel strongly about this, I hope you'll take this opportunity to communicate to Senators Boxer and Feinstein and sign the petition.

I'll be speaking more about public art programs here in the future as well as the famed Federal Arts Project of the 1930s that left a legacy of great art for our nation.

Friday, January 30, 2009

OC Supervisor Bill Campbell Celebrates SparkOC Launch

On January 28, at the Irvine Barclay Theater, Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell (right) presented a proclamation honoring the launch of to Shelley Hoss, President of the Orange County Community Foundation and me at an event attended by artists and arts organization leaders from the Third District, which he represents.

Seeing the World Through Water-colored Glasses

Last night, I attended the opening reception for "The Good Life," an exhibition of 1930s-era watercolors by California artists in The Irvine Museum, whose doyenne, Joan Irvine Smith, stood imposingly at the door to greet arriving guests in her red jacket and beret. I felt certain that the cane in her right hand was less for leaning upon than to complete her ensemble, especially since nobody would accuse Mrs. Smith of lacking the ability to whack down any obstacle in her way.

Lest the impression lingers that this museum is solely a gallery for her personal collection, "The Good Life" showcases works owned by Mark and Janet Hilbert. (Joan Irvine Smith may have cornered the market on California impressionist works, but there are still enough out there for others to collect.)

Joan touted the timeliness of this exhibit, suggesting that it was no coincidence that she chose to display Great Depression art during the current economic meltdown, and was obviously relishing compliments about the show and about her periodic e-mail letters broadcasting her outspoken political opinions on the last presidential administration and on local matters.

Jean Stern, the museum's Executive Director, stood by her side and helped welcome guests to the exhibition, which was packed with visitors. Among them: Jeffrey Frisch, curator of the John Wayne Airport Arts Program with his wife (I'll speak of my own connection to that program another day).

But I plan to return to the Irvine Museum on a calmer day when I don't have to fight the crowd to engage in a leisurely viewing experience.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stimulating the Stimulus

Americans for the Arts reports that the economic stimulus package passed by the House yesterday included $50 million in recovery funds to be distributed by the National Endowment for the Arts.

However, those funds have not been included in the draft economic stimulust package the Senate will be considering, so efforts continue apace to make that happen. Although California's Senators Boxer and Feinstein have been strong supporters of the arts in the past, if you feel strongly about this issue, you should make your views known to them right away.

The Americans for the Arts makes it easy for you to do on this page, where you simply enter your ZIP code and they provide ready made letters to your representatives that you need only sign and they will email on your behalf.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Class Act

I'm referring, of course, to the talented students performing in tonight's "Opera Fusion" of the OC High School of the Arts--in the orchestra and chorus and as solo singers and violinist. Augmented by professionals, they were also joined by students from Chapman University's music conservatory--I ran into Bill Hall, their dean, who couldn't have been more proud to have his students take part.

But the "class act" I'm also referring to is Robin Follman, the indefatigable (I've always loved that word but rarely met people whom it accurately described) grand dame of OCHSA (official title: Artistic Director) and acclaimed opera singer in her own right (and if you had any doubts about that, she allowed herself just one aria, belting to the rafters a selection from Wagner's Tannheuser. It certainly gave everyone a sense of the caliber of education the young singers are receiving there), who organized the evening (supported by board members, staff members, donors, and several hundred of their best friends & family members). Ralph Opacic, the school's President was elated by the response, and its Board Chairman Jerry Mandel was positively effusive about the role OCHSA is playing in developing young talent.

So, opera lives in the OC--in a different format, perhaps, for the time being.

But when the program showcased selections from David DiChiera's own opera Cyrano, in tribute to the Opera Pacific founder who was present, it was one of those breathtaking moments that suggests the company isn't dead--only resting.

And opera booster extraordinaire, Martin Hubbard, told me tonight he's certain, OC will eventually see a new company emerge from the ashes of Opera Pacific.

Read more about the event in Tim Mangan's classical music blog in the OC Register Arts Blog.

My "Sushi"spicions Are Confirmed!

My January 17 OC Register guest blog about "Sushi-gate" (how Jeremy Piven's departure from the Broadway revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow was really a blessing in disguise for the producers from a marketing standpoint) now is validated as a blessing in disguise from an artistic perspective by New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley today.

Monday, January 26, 2009

OC's Biggest Little Theater Gets Blue

Most people who know the Orange County Performing Arts Center think about its 3,000 seat hall that imports Broadway touring productions or the gleaming new concert hall that seats under 2,000.

But tucked behind the concert hall is the cozy, wood paneled Samueli Theatre, a "black box" in theatre parlance (meaning there is no fixed seating) that accommodates a few hundred, depending upon its configuration.

The Samueli Theatre is host to OCPAC's jazz and cabaret series, begun several years ago in their Founders Hall--a rehearsal room behind the large Segerstrom Hall that was converted to this use. With the opening of the Samueli, the Center now has a more suitable venue for performances like these.

Saturday night at the Samueli I took in the Blue Note tour that pianist Bill Charlap conceived, assembling jazz notables Ravi Coltraine, tenor sax, (yes, the son of the great John Coltrane) and Nicholas Payton, trumpet, along with four other accomplished musicians in tribute to the 70th anniversary of the Blue Note record label. The 75 minute set I attended showcased classics of jazz innovation--that's to say Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock with a tip of the hat to Thelonious Monk in the encore. No jazz retreads of Tin Pan Alley on this program--this was for the true jazz aficianado.

Even if you missed it, here's a link to more information, including an article and an NPR interview with Bill Charlap.

Next on the Jazz Series is Stefon Harris on April 3-4.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama & the Arts: Provocative Newsweek Essay

I highly recommend this--recommended to me by the California Arts Council's ArtBeat.

Milli Vanilli & Yitzhak Perlman/Yo-Yo Ma?

Heard this story last night: all of the inaugural performances were broadcast live except for the classical quartet. I had certainly wondered about all of the performers struggling with the cold's effect on their voices & instruments. Now we know how one group handled it!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Your Cell Phone Photo Could Be ART!

This just in from the Beall Center for Art + Technology at the University of California, Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts:

The public is invited to send photos taken on their cell phones so that they can be incorporated into Cell Tango, a large-scale work of art that is currently on view at the Beall Center for Art + Technology.

Those interested in participating should email their cell phone images to, along with two to five text tags or keywords (separated by spaces or commas) that describe each photo's visual.

A database will sort the photos by their tags and custom visualization software will retrieve the data, which then projects a cluster of images into an enormous display at the Beall Center's Main Gallery. The artwork is constantly changing and evolving, depending on the images contributed by participants, who can be anywhere in the world, as long as they are within reach of cellular transmission and reception.

How contemporary art pushes people's buttons

View my interview with Karen Moss of the Orange County Museum of Art here:
1/21/09 Arts and Culture OC - "Real Orange" - KOCE-TV

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Economy: Large vs. Small Arts Organizations Having Different Experiences

Since November, Arts Orange County has been "taking the temperature" of the local arts community in a variety of ways: online surveys of arts leaders, arts marketers and arts fund raisers; gatherings of those same groups; informal conversations with artists and gallery owners.

Interestingly, the most resilient among these seem to be the small arts organizations. That shouldn't be surprising, though, since few have the resources to pay any staff--almost entirely reliant upon volunteer artists and management, live off earned revenues from admissions or other service fees--almost entirely lacking a philanthropic base, and whether they are organizations of longstanding or "emerging" groups, are quite used to living hand-to-mouth. Few have aspirations to grow beyond their "comfort" level, though all would like more people to experience their work.

More than a dozen small theatre organizations were represented at the meeting we held last Saturday, including Rude Guerilla, which announced last week it will split into two companies after this season. Lest you fear that it's a death-knell for that organization, we were reassured to learn that it's grown too large to serve different artistic visions within a single production company, and this will actually allow both new theatres to spread their wings.

The announcement of layoffs at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, our community's largest arts institution, should also not be surprising. It's a multi-million dollar budget organization that relies heavily on philanthropic support to make up the gap that earned income cannot fill in professional arts organizations. Many of the job reductions will be accomplished by not filling vacant positions, and their dedicated staff will pick up the slack--the same approach that sizable organizations and businesses all over the country must take in these times.

Ultimately, it's worth remembering that it's a lot easier to quickly maneuver a surf board than it is to turn the Queen Mary.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


All right, I'm hopping on the bandwagon with this. You can do so, too, at:
I just hope Robbie Conal never gets ahold of my face with one of his "Art Attacks"!

Was Bush as bad for political theatre as they say Obama will be for political comedy?

A commentary in today's Guardian (UK) asserts that theatre-makers' antipathy to W made for some mighty uninteresting political theatre over the past eight years, including the best known play of the bunch, Stuff Happens.

Of course, the flip side is that many others believe the high points of political comedy experienced during the Bush years (e.g. The Daily Show, Colbert Report and SNL) will not be seen again during the Obama White House.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My OC Register Arts Blog today...

is about Rude Guerilla Theatre Company.

Pushing Buttons

Next week, I'm interviewing Karen Moss of the Orange County Museum of Art on KOCE-TV's Arts and Culture OC segment on "Real Orange." I plan to talk with her about OCMA's California Biennial Exhibition, which typically showcases a wide spectrum of work by the most cutting edge contemporary artists--"in your face" stuff that's often shocking but that I also find quite amusing (even if others don't).

So I couldn't have been more delighted than to read in today's New York Times about a new artwork commissioned by the Czech Republic to celebrate its first rotating presidency of the European Union--a scathingly satirical piece that is being called a "hoax." The fact that they hired a well-known "bad boy" to create it--yet didn't expect something so outrageous--doesn't exactly reflect very well on them. But the artist, David Cerny, took full advantage of the opportunity to make a bold statement--and to gleefully embarrass those who commissioned him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My OC Register Arts Blog today... titled "Will theatres follow orchestras in multiple posts for artistic directors?"--a musing based on the announcement of Bartlett Sher's appointment as Resident Director at Lincoln Center Theatre while stating he won't step down from the Artistic Directorship at Seattle's Intiman Theatre.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My OC Register Arts Blog today... about director Tom O'Horgan, whose death was reported by The New York Times.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Octet" is Not (Just) a Crossword Puzzle Clue

Tonight's free concert in the lovely 120 year old Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana showcased the up-and-coming Hutchins Consort, an octet of violins custom-built to play each octave according to the research of luthier Carleen Hutchins, now 97 and living in New Hampshire. The Consort owns the only two sets of these violins in use today, while the others are housed in museums around the world. In the world of entertainment, it's said you've "gotta have a gimmick," and there's no question that this ensemble has carved out a unique niche, but success depends upon talent--and that's in abundance in this group that is based both in Corona del Mar and Encinitas. They play a full schedule around Orange County and in San Diego, so don't lament that you missed tonight's performance, which included an original work by one of the Consort's members, a Tschaikovky work and what for many was the highlight of the evening, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. (I love that piece, but remember being told once by a famous conductor I knew that he disdained it but felt obliged to program it as one of the few modern American pieces acceptable to symphony orchestra audiences--and that was BEFORE it became popularized as the theme music from the film Platoon!). All of the music the Consort played had to be specially arranged for their unusual instrumentation. The full house at the church tonight received the performance warmly and was rewarded with an encore--a tango, no less. An inventive chamber music group like this has attracted an enthusiastic audience in our community and recently won national attention, receiving an NEA grant to boot.

Until next time...


Gallery hopping

Last night I made it to three contemporary art openings at Orange County galleries, beginning with my first visit to @Space Gallery adjacent to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. After that, it was off to Laguna Beach for the debut of a new gallery, Art Projekts on Forest Avenue, and to an opening at the new location of the Peter Blake Gallery two blocks away. (You can view images of the works of the artists mentioned at the galleries' website links. Sorry, but Art Projekts doesn't yet have its website created.)

@Space Gallery has been open for a couple of years and is attracting attention for well-curated choices of artists representing a broad spectrum of contemporary art. That's not surprising, since its director, Julie Perlin Lee, also serves as a full-time curator at the Bowers Museum where she was responsible for the current exhibition of works from their outstanding quilts collection. The current two-artist show features paintings by Anthony Gordon and David Michael Lee, and the exhibit runs through March 7-- a month longer than @Space Gallery's typical shows, due to another important new "exhibition" Julie is presenting in a few weeks--her first child! Both artists were on hand and spoke succinctly about what inspires them and the techniques they use, each pursuing different visions and styles--yet Julie's decision to juxtapose them reflects a keen eye for certain contrasting and complementary aspects to their work. 2202 N. Main St., Santa Ana. 714.835.3730.

I came to the Art Projekts opening at the invitation of sculptor Christopher Schulz, whose work I was not only familiar with but had commissioned previously (for the small bronze statuettes we presented to notables at our Laguna Playhouse galas). Interestingly, only one of his bronzes was on display in the gallery--instead, it was a treat to see several new paintings of his, representing open road panoramas dominated by skies that dwarf the applications of Lesney (later known as Matchbox) toy cars, thereby retaining a scultural element to his work. Owners Sanja Simidzija and Laurie Swenson welcomed me. Besides, Chris Schulz, seven other artists were displayed: Michael Kessler a past Krasner-Pollack Award winner who creates colorful 3D abstracts; William Catling, a ceramist employing found objects and human figures; Father Bill Moore, a priest who paints compelling abstract geometric images; Lissa Rankin, using the encaustic medium; Carolina Sardi, whose framed wall pieces are composed of sculptural steel elements; Daniel Watts, an abstract painter; and E. Gennadia, the sole traditionalist in the show, working in pastels. 266 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach. 949.376.1122.

I've known Peter Blake for a long time, and he has one of the most respected "eyes" for contemporary art among Orange County's dozens of gallery owners. For many years his gallery was on Coast Highway near the Laguna Art Museum, but he recently moved to Ocean Avenue across from City Hall. I'd been meaning to pay him a call--particularly after seeing him at the 2008 California Biennial opening at the Orange County Museum of Art. I ran into Marion Meyer, another prominent Laguna Beach gallery owner, at the Art Projekts opening, and she mentioned that Peter's gallery had an opening last night as well, so I walked the three blocks over to check it out.

The current Peter Blake Gallery showing adds two abstract artists with minimalist influences (Ruth Pastine and Gregg Renfrow) to a carryover show of two representational artists documenting a heritage heading toward extinction (Jorg Dubin and Geoffrey Krueger). Pastine, a New York transplant to Ojai, avowedly maintains that she's been true to her singular, minimalist aesthetic in her work throughout her career, exploring subtle gradations of a mostly muted color palette (except for one bold red painting on display). Renfrow is also fascinated by gradations, but embraces a more kaleidoscopic approach to color and more delineated changes. Dubin is a well-known Laguna Beach artist, represented in many collections, museum exhibitions, and is a favorite of Peter Blake. The subject of his latest works on display is the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station--and how the abandoned buildings and derelict runways are being reclaimed by the land. Krueger is focused on lone remaining stands of eucalyptus trees against the changing Orange County landscape. 435 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach. 949.376.9994.

While the evening proved to be a veritable smorgasbord of styles and themes, it demonstrated a sophisticated spectrum of contemporary art being produced by Orange County artists or curated by Orange County gallery owners.

Until next time...


Friday, January 9, 2009


Just back from tonight's Pacific Symphony concert, which blended some good old fashioned Latin-American machismo with the musical refinement of Vienna. I'm talking about Carlos Kalmar, the guest conductor who's a Uruguayan born to Austrian parents and now is music director of the Oregon Symphony, living there and in Vienna.

Alison called his program "muscular" (I used a less delicate term.): Mozart's Prague Symphony--my least favorite of the evening, but probably just a warm-up for the main courses: Janacek's Taras Bulba--an audacious cacophony of aggressive melodies, section solos, and panoramic themes evocative of the best film scores--plus Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 delivered with all due flamboyance by the 31 year old British wunderkind Freddy Kempf. Enescu's popular Romanian Rhapsody was the finale, putting the orchestra through its paces as an oversized Gypsy wedding band.

Kalmar's hair length rivals PSO music director Carl St. Clair's, and he delivered a charming and humorous survey of the program before conducting the Janacek piece.

For me, the Janacek was a revelation--not only as a piece of music I'd never heard by a composer I've mostly ignored, but as a vehicle that displayed the orchestra in all its glory, an ensemble of quite amazing virtuosity.

There's another performance Saturday night. Run don't walk to it.

Until next time...


PS--a surprise bonus treat was Lori Loftus showcasing the new 4,300 pipe Gillespie organ as a curtain call!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

6 OC Organizations Win First Round 2009 NEA Grants

Arts Orange County extends its congratulations to the six Orange County organizations tapped to receive grants totaling $132,500 from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009 first round awards

Below is a list of OC grantees. Click here for the complete NEA media release:

Hi Hopes Identity Discovery Foundation (aka Hope University)
$10,000 CATEGORY: Challenge America FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Challenge America
To support Beau Monde Float, a multimedia performance collaboration between artist collective MLuM and adults with developmental disabilities affiliated with the foundation. The piece will be developed through a series of workshops with topics including music composition, design, and dance.

Hutchins Consort
Corona del Mar, CA $7,500 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Music
To support concerts for violin octet with educational activities, including an open dress rehearsal, master classes, and lecture demonstrations. The program will feature performances on the eight scaled violins of the violin octet designed and built by luthier Dr. Carleen Hutchins.

Irvine Barclay Theatre Operating Co.
Irvine, CA $20,000 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Presenting
To support the eighth annual New World Flamenco Festival at The Barclay. Presentations will feature flamenco dancers and musicians, and activities will include workshops, meet-the-artist events, and film screenings.

Pacific Chorale
Santa Ana, CA $10,000 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Music To support Fanfare for a New Era, a performance project celebrating the inaugural year of the new C. B. Fisk organ in the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The chorus will be joined by French composer and organist Thierry Escaich in an American premiere performance of his Three Motets

Pacific Symphony
Santa Ana, CA $45,000 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Music To support Hollywood's Golden Age, an American composers festival. Programming will feature music by composers Erich Korngold, Miklos Rozsa, and Bernard Herrmann, as well as the premiere of a commissioned work by James Newton Howard.

South Coast Repertory, Inc.
Costa Mesa, CA $40,000 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Theater
To support a workshop and world premiere of You, Nero, a new comedy developed by award-winning playwright Amy Freed. Sharon Ott will direct the production, with accompanying educational and outreach activities.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pausing to Take Stock

On my personal blog, I wrote today about the British playwrights Harold Pinter and Adrian Mitchell, both of whom I'd met and both of whom passed away within days of each other.