Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Defend the Arts during Economic Crisis

It doesn't really matter what kind of economic state the country is in. Whether we're basking in the benefits of a dot com bubble or we're swimming against the tide of a tidal wave of economic loss, the cliche is that of the penniless poet, right? The starving artist? And the same may be true of arts organizations, or at least, that's the way we talk to one another as we see the organizations of our fellow artistic friends falter and close. So how do we talk to those who do not innately understand the value of the arts in order to protect the arts? It makes me think of Politicians are from Venus, Artists are from Mars. The newest defense-- a solid and logical one-- has its benefits, and only a few concerns.

Tying the arts to the economy is an eye-opener for those who are committed to the bottom line as the ultimate qualifier for success. When the owner of Prince of Pizza on Route 1 explains that hundreds of school children stop at Prince after morning matinees at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, and now, without NSMT, pizza would stand to lose profits... well, all of a sudden the arts make "cents." The phrase "dinner and theatre" is one of economic stimulus. And beyond the audience, theatres purchase textiles, lumber, lights, microphones, print and marketing, and on and on. And with regional organizations popping up to promote and foster the Creative Economy, suddenly Mars and Venus are speaking a common language.

But will we forget our language of origin? We still have an important message to convey, while we forage for what we need to survive. The arts are not a luxury, not an indulgence, not extra. Arts are the sustenance of our souls. It is the place where humans connect: emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, holistically. Music, theatre, dance, art, writing-- these endeavors challenge us to define our human existence, and to find connections across cultures, and within the individual. It does all that, and pays for the pizza.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Virtuoso Ukelele? Yup.

Ahhh, this is the kind of arts programming that makes me tick. And I think it's the freshness of program that audiences come out for. Jake Shimabukaru has been at the Firehouse in Newburyport before, so he's developed a cult following here just like anywhere. He impresses his audience with fingers on strings that can play anything. And play anything is what he does: jazz, blues, funk, classical, bluegrass, folk, flamenco, and rock. Jake’s mission is to show everyone that the ukulele is capable of so much more than only the traditional Hawaiian music many associate it. It makes an audience laugh, smile, shake heads, drop jaws, and applaud because they feel compelled to, not because they should.

Jake has performed with Diana Krall, Bobby McFerrin, John Hiatt, Victor Wooten, Les Paul, Stephen Bishop, John Craven, Hot Buttered Rum, Honolulu Symphony, Mista D of Nashville’s MuzikMafia, and more.

Run to get tickets in advance for this! June 24 at 7 & 9 pm.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rockport Chamber Music Festival

What is it about this coastal town that has drawn painters, sculptors, jewelry makers to its North of Boston nook? It is storybook picturesque, and when you add the boutiques and studios of so many types of artists, there's plenty of stim for the creative mind (and purse, of course). Then! Add some music to the mix-- not just any music, but perhaps the premiere chamber music festival in the country, now in its 28th season. The Rockport Chamber Music Festival is a biggie, so when you plan that day trip to Rockport, plan on purchasing a ticket to one of these amazing performances. This knock-out concert series under the leadership of Artistic Director and pianist David Deveau features classical to contemporary performances by internationally acclaimed musicians and ensembles. The Festival programs, noted for musical breadth, depth, and range, draw capacity audiences each season at the Rockport Art Association. You can take it in as a member of the audience, attend lectures, and there are family programs to bring the kiddos.

Rockport Art Association
12 Main Street
Rockport, MA 01966
Phone: 978-546-6604
Start Date: 06/04/2009
End Date: 07/02/2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

new artistic paths

I'm home on a Friday night, despite knowing my many options for culture. But sometimes a night of bad tv and facebook is a culture of a different kind, and satisfying still. Poking through facebook has proven to be productive-- at least for thinking. I've noticed a lot of murmurs about new artistic developments, from new performing arts center proposals to cool interdisciplinary work happening. I'm looking forward to what the future holds for arts events. Why? The needs of the audience have changed. We used to be "butts in seats," but now, we want to have our say-- vote for the American Idol, so to speak. And so arts programming must look beyond butts in seats, and engage us. How will your audience become part of the creative process? How will we engage with our audiences? How can we all participate, from the stage and from our seats? What a great time to turn the model upside down, try something new. Or is it old? Have we come full circle to the ancient Greek experience of the arts?!

I love the idea of taking theatre to the people, instead of begging people to come to the theatre-- performances taking place at a bus stop, in a cafeteria, in line at the grocery store; and poetry walls, where we all add our thoughts and words to some ongoing, collective expression; or kinetic sculptures, in which the observer becomes part of the artwork! We haven't simply sunk to casting our vote; no, we've raised our expectations. Artists have always wanted to express and connect. Finally, the audience is picking up the phone, answering the call, saying something back. Let's listen! Can't wait to see what events will pop up soon with juicy, interactive aspects. What are you planning?

Above: floating sculpture by Ken Reker

Salem plans first Arts Festival

It's hard to imagine that Salem, a city with such creativity, so rich with artisans and performers, has never had an Arts Festival before. But this is the first year for what is bound to become a fantastic tradition-- the Salem Arts Festival, planned by a great group of volunteers with Salem Main Streets, takes place June 5-7 with venues throughout downtown, including Old Town Hall. The schedule looks fantastic, but I'm particularly looking forward to soprano Rebecca Hains presenting a charming set of silly Gilbert & Sullivan arias Friday night at 8 pm. On Saturday at noon, Joey Mirabile, choreographer for Summer Theatre at Salem, offers a sneak-peak of the choreography for Footloose, at Salem State College this summer. And, he'll even teach you the dance steps! The weekend includes interactive art workshops for children, a juried exhibit, folk and jazz performances, ballet, artisan demos in a variety of boutiques across downtown. So much to do!! Check out details on their website, and plan to be in Salem for the festival, and everything else this fantastic city has to offer.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The best arts events you've been to?

Just wondering what has been the best performance/exhibit/presentation in the arts that you've attended North of Boston. (maybe in the last 3 years or so?) My faves have included Summer Theatre at Salem's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum last summer, with Peter Zachari as Pseudolus. (Bryan Kingsley Collins and Brianne Beatrice from Forum pictured above.) I also loved hearing Paula Robeson, perhaps the greatest living flute player today, perform with Symphony by the Sea. Of course, as I said in a previous post, I can't think of a better 4th of July than spending it listening to the Hillyer Festival Orchestra on Derby Wharf, watching fireworks over the silhouette of the Friendship. Oh! The best family event I attended was the Griffen Theatre's Christmas Carol on the Trolley, which took me and my nephews to various locations across Salem from the Crotchet's House to the graveyard of Scrooge's worst nightmare. Fabulous!! Anyways, I'd love to know what was top-notch according to you!

Coming up soon, Machine 475 at Gulu Gulu on Friday May 22, 8PM.
Combining electronic and acoustic rhythms with vocals, guitar, harp, sitar, digeridoo and theremin, Machine 475 are well known in the Salem and North Shore region, and are building quite a following in the Boston area. They have that futurist/retro combo sound, and it works!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Early Choral Music in a Sacred Space

-sigh- What is it about female voices in unison, singing the works of female composers, women in cloister? It feels naked-- even modern-- but the music I'm talking about is from as early as the 8th century. Maybe it's me, but I just find female monastic music mesmerizing. This performance is at the Grace Church on Essex Street in Salem, and the group is Clausura, a Boston group of vocalist and early instrumentalists who are devoted to exposing the works of these cloistered nuns from a long ago age when expressing themselves through music was forbidden. Most of their repertoire is early Italian baroque. And it happens on Mother's Day, MAy 10 at 7:30 pm-- I think I'm taking Mom to this one.

Get a preview and listen to their tracks:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hillyer Festival Orchestra in Marblehead

Dirk Hillyer is one of those musicians who just oozes musicality. And he oozes natural charm just as easily, a combo that makes for one fantastic pops conductor! The HFO formed in 1998, and has entertained the North Shore area with its perfect combination of light classical, big band, American standards and movie music ever since. You've probably seen them on Derby Wharf as part of the 4th of July celebration in Salem-- my favorite 4th of July experience, anywhere!

Their next performance is at Abbott Hall in Marblehead, a tribute to the Armed Forces with an "Across America" theme. Can you guess the songs from California to Virginia to Tennessee?

The concert is May 16, 7:30 pm. Tickets: 781-631-3515