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54 minutes | 4 months ago
Vol. IV | Ep. 7 – Sarah Tiedemann
Sarah Tiedemann, is Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music and a flute and piccolo player with the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra. We talked about how she and other artists are getting through the pandemic; what non-Portlanders should know about our hometown; and how predominantly white arts organizations can help tell the stories of marginalized communities in an ethical way. Episode photo by Jacob Wade. Sarah Tiedemann, photo by Ashley Courter. About Sarah Tiedemann Sarah Tiedemann currently serves as Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music and Second Flute/Piccolo of the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra. She has performed across North America, Europe, Australia and China with groups including the Swedish Radio Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Norrköping Symphony, Oregon Symphony, and Boston Philharmonic, and at festivals including Chamber Music Northwest, the Britt Festival, the Astoria Music Festival, and the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP). A contemporary music specialist, Sarah has appeared with Third Angle, Cascadia Composers, Northwest New Music, and Boston’s Callithumpian Consort, and her world premiere performance of Derek Jacoby’s Flute Concerto was broadcast internationally on WGBH’s Art of the States. Episode Transcript Introduction Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick, this is Volume IV, episode 7. ^^^^^^ By now you’ve seen the pictures and the videos of the mob of insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol on January 6th. This insurrection represented the consequences of four years of lies climaxing with a final big lie, that the election was stolen. And it proves that the anger and hate that the President has been stoking wasn’t just harmless posturing. The racism, anti-semitism, and xenophobia that the mob openly displayed is bad enough. Attempting to undermine a free and fair election is bad enough. But for the president and his allies in congress to encourage insurrection is unthinkable and inexcusable for public officials who are sworn to uphold the constitution. The fallout from this event will rightly take much of the nation’s attention for the coming days and weeks, but as the heat of this moment fades, we’ll be left with the same questions as always—in my life, with the resources that I have as an artist, what should I do now? I know that sometimes I think about the work I’m doing—this podcast, my music, my work as a nonprofit leader—and it feels very inadequate compared to the problems the world faces. Something that has helped me in moments like this, and is helping me now, is to remember the core values that I try to embody in all of my work. If you’ve never tried to write yours down, I encourage you to do so, it’s a difficult but worthwhile endeavor. Here are values I wrote down about this podcast about a year ago: Be creative, be supportive, be honest, and take a stand. For me, having a set of core values gives me a foundation on which to build my artistic practice and to integrate it the rest of my life. It reaffirms that principles matter during this unprincipled time. With this podcast I hope that I can help listeners to see their own work with new eyes, to take it seriously, and to use the power that they have as an artist to build momentum for positive change. ^^^^^ My guest this episode is Sarah Tiedemann, who is Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music and and flute and piccolo player with the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra. We talked about how she and other artists are getting through the pandemic; what non-Portlanders should know about our hometown; and how predominantly white arts organizations can help tell the stories of marginalized communities in an ethical way. I’ve admired many of the projects she has developed as the Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music here in Portland, and it was fun to talk shop about the details. But I thought that her perspective on politics, informed by experience as a campaign staffer, was particularly informative for a More Devotedly episode. A core part of her political identity is as a political moderate. I thought that was a little surprising given that she also said that she quote “has no problem with socialism” unquote. I think it means that she holds some policy views far to the left of a Blue Dog Democrat like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin for instance, but sees herself more interested to work with the Joes Manchin of our world than to disown them. Her story about her father’s views changing near the end of his life are a vivid illustration of that. I’m a lot like Sarah in that way, and I see my role as an interviewer on this podcast like that as well. I’m trying to understand how people see the world. I wouldn’t always approach a problem in the same way they might, but I think it’s incredibly valuable to have deep conversations with the goal to explain and understand the values of different individuals who represent diverse range of communities in unique ways. We talked before the storming of the Capitol and as I listen back to the interview now, I’ve had to reconsider the conversation in the context of this question—in the face of this kind of rage, what can artists do? I think Sarah offers some compelling answers to that question that may guide you forward. Or, maybe you’ll hear something that you think is complete nonsense. Either way, I hope that you’ll hold to your own principles, express your ideas with honesty and integrity, and move forward in a way that makes our world a better place. Here’s the episode. Interview Douglas Detrick: [00:00:00] Sarah Tiedemann, welcome to More Devotedly. Let’s just start with the way I’ve been starting with most of my guests over the last six, seven months is just that, you know, general check-in with you about how you’re doing as we’re going through this pandemic. Sarah Tiedemann: I’m actually doing pretty well. I’m an introvert. I think a lot of us who are artists are closet introverts. We seem very extroverted when we’re performing and then that it’s not actually the case. Douglas Detrick: Yes, I can, I can relate. Sarah Tiedemann: So I like keeping to myself. I like working from home. yeah, I’m doing pretty well. And, and my favorite thing is kind of having a new box to work from, and then figuring out how to work around it, or dissolve it as it were. So I’m doing pretty well. My husband plays with the Oregon symphony, so they’re off right now. And he’s actually, he loves woodworking. So he is now working for a really good company that builds like fancy decks and fences and he’s outside. And so, yeah, we’re, we’re doing things a little differently, but. [00:01:00] All things considered. We’re doing quite well. Douglas Detrick: I have to ask about that. Does he see that as a temporary move to be doing woodworking? Sarah Tiedemann: he really likes it. Obviously. He also really likes playing the trombone. So when the symphony goes back, I think he’ll be really excited about that. We have 116 year old house, and so there are always lots of projects at home, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps it up, at least as a side hustle. Douglas Detrick: Sure. Yeah. some of those folks that are like, Oh, I’m getting this other job in woodworking or whatever. And, you know, they had this kind of side hustle maybe that they had developed just in their spare time for some people that’s like. Oh, happy like side thing, and it’s going to be a temporary thing. I think for other folks it’s going to be, it’s going to be a permanent shift. Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah, I think so. And I know for myself, you know, it’s, I don’t know if you’re finding this, but it’s extremely difficult to motivate oneself to practice. You’re not going to be doing it so [00:02:00] much and playing so much in front of people. So I really, my interest is kind of shifted as I’ve gotten more into the audio and video editing, which is not necessarily my favorite thing to do, but my interest in like installations and electronic music has been growing some, looking at taking some classes to kind of expand that side of my skillset. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I’ve seen some of the video projects that Third Angle has produced and that’s been really interesting. I can relate. I’ve been doing more audio and video production too, because that’s how, my organization is delivering artists projects to our audience right now. And it’s been interesting because there’ve been things that I thought turned out really well. And I was like, Oh, that sounds pretty good. And I produced the whole thing, and then there are others that they were like, Oh, that didn’t turn out so well, and that has everything to do with my inexperience. And so that’s been cool. And I, you know, so it’s interesting to hear that from you as well. But I, I wish you luck kind of pursuing those new interests. I always think that like whenever there is something that [00:03:00] expands our universe, and that can just be, you know, mentally or whatever, but whenever one of the things get bigger, that can be a great thing. Though, I think that it’s also important to recognize that for a lot of people, this will shrink their world, and it’ll take a long time to recover from that. And that’s something we need to keep in mind. Sarah Tiedemann: One thing that I’ve been feeling in all of this is that I don’t want to do a less satisfying version of what I would have done in person. I don’t personally, enjoy playing on live streams so much. So I’m trying not to make myself do that just for my own artistic wellbeing. And I know some people love watching them and I know some people are just over looking at a screen for anything. But kind of setting that as a boundary for myself has made me be more creative. Like they did this John Luther Adams video concert in air quotes. But it involved a pretty elaborate, video production to [00:04:00] accompany this, electronic, acoustic and electronic bass that he had written, And that made it feel like a different animal. And we also filmed the different pieces from different angles in the venue. So it wasn’t just looking at the stage. so yeah, finding the opportunities in all of this I think is important and actually kind of rewarding. And I think that’ll get carried forward a little bit into our future. Part 2 Douglas Detrick: Why don’t we move on and talk a bit about portland. Three or four months ago, it was kind of planning on what I would try to be doing with this podcast over, the months leading up to the election. I had a lot of ideas. Some of them were very [00:05:00] complicated and I ended up going for the simpler one which was just to interview a lot of people in Portland. Because Portland was also in the news, kind of at a national level. Right. So, and there’s been, you know, Portland has always been this place where. There’s a really strong kind of left-wing activist, community that has been here for decades. And, and that continues today and that’s, and we definitely are seeing that now over the last few months and even up to right now. And we can maybe talk about that a little bit, but so then it’s also, you know, kind of that reputation has also been this kind of like symbolic thing for like a lot of people. You know, right-wing folks that are looking at Portland and thinking of it as this like socialist trash heap, you know, and like, and when in reality it’s like, well, yeah, there’s that and there’s all this other stuff too. And, and so, you know, of course I think it was a little bit in reaction to that. I wanted to just kind of talk to people here in Portland and, and give Portland [00:06:00] artists as many opportunities as I could to tell people who maybe aren’t here. what Portland is really like, you know, from your perspective in your words. And so I thought I would, you know, extend that opportunity to you and just see if you could kind of comment on that, you know, living through Portland as this place, that’s kind of has this spotlight on it, that it’s kind of a bad faith arguments about what this place is really like. how would you describe it in your own words to say like what Portland is really like for you? Sarah Tiedemann: Well, I actually grew up in Hillsboro in the eighties. So, I’ve seen many iterations of Portland, I think. And there are definite threads that have run through all of those decades. an interest in environmentalism, kind of this free spirited, independent open-mindedness, That takes shape in very different ways. When I was a kid, that looked sort of different and I wasn’t in Portland [00:07:00] proper, so that probably looked even more different than the suburbs, which were sort of not rural back then, but on the outskirts of the suburbs, for sure. Douglas Detrick: So Hillsboro is a, suburban Washington County and which is, you know, kind of a suburb to what Northwest of Portland, right. Or Sarah Tiedemann: Sometimes Douglas Detrick: Yeah, Sarah Tiedemann: West Northwest something. Douglas Detrick: have that information, but anyway, but that’s just a little context for folks who don’t know. Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah. And it had, I think there are a hundred thousand people who live there now, and it was, you know, 25,000 people when I was a kid and there were few stoplights and big fields between Hillsboro and Portland. So, that area was definitely more conservative. I grew up Republican. My family actually wasn’t, much to their chagrin. I decided I was very Republican for awhile. And then I lived in, in Sweden, in my mid twenties. So I’ve kind of seen both sides of the political spectrum and I think those both exist here even [00:08:00] now. People seeing Portland from afar, I think get some, different ideas about what it’s like, because the artists here who are producing music, TV shows like Portlandia, that a lot of the more visible people tend to be more liberal. And then the news obviously wants to make everything look very dramatic all the time. So, it looks like there are some extreme left-wing socialist –I don’t have a problem with socialism actually, but, far left-wing folks. And then there are far, far right wing folks and those people are definitely here. I consider myself. Sort of moderate in the way I think. It’s very Oregonian or I’m somewhere in between a green party member and a libertarian. And I think that’s sort of in the spirit of Oregon, you know, we were the first, I think we, we passed the first bottle deposit bill [00:09:00] here. Our beaches are public lands because they declared them a highway to prevent them from becoming privatized. So we’re independent minded. I think that trickles into the arts, but you know, we’re just a bunch of normal people, who I think are maybe more committed to taking care of other people, in a lot of ways and, and especially the environment, but, you know, we have the same stuff going on here as everywhere. We have homelessness problems and people on both sides who are arguing with each other. And it’s just a hard time for everybody, but it’s not as extreme here as people think. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s, that’s certainly like the first response is like I mean, come on people it’s like, we’re all just like people walking around here, you know, maybe there are like, more folks that we would consider on the left wing here, and maybe they’re a little stronger, a little more active and a little more organized, but that happens [00:10:00] everywhere. I mean, there’s, there’s a, there’s a tradition of that anywhere you in any certainly any city. And I think that, you know, there’s also a very, there’s a strong tradition of right-wing activism too, but I wonder, you know, if you kind of then go deeper than that and you think about, okay, like that’s my first response,it’s like everybody calm down. Things are not like nearly as dramatic. There’s not a, there’s not a war going on on the streets of Portland by any means. Yeah. if you look deeper at Portland and kind of down to like individual folks that, you know, and organizations that are at work here, what are some trends that you see and how, how are people reacting to that dynamic of misperceptions about Portland, perhaps, how are people actually behaving here? Sarah Tiedemann: One thing that I think is, is an interesting thing to look at. Obviously I’m an artist, so the artistic side of things interests me, but, I think it’s sort of, a microcosmic example, in the arts community. I see a lot of them were, I guess, niche [00:11:00] areas of the arts collaborating a lot, finding points of intersection, whether that’s visual arts and music or dance, but even, even just within different genres, I see more points of intersection and I think that’s sort of trickling up, into the larger art groups over time. and I think that kind of Idea of an independent groundswell that then influences what’s happening at the upper levels of our government, of our arts organizations, of our, you know, other community organizations. I think that’s one of the defining factors in what makes Oregon, Oregon, and particularly Portland, cause obviously this is my main base of knowledge. Douglas Detrick: right. Sure. It’s always got a hard to compare to other places that we just don’t know. And then there’s also that, that media lens that. You know, it kind of [00:12:00] comes down to what people decide is worth covering and what’s not. And, and so, so often worthy things go unnoticed. Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah, exactly. And I think, arts organizations, have sort of taken it upon ourselves to fill in a lot of those gaps. I know growing up in Hillsboro, you know, which is, I think 20 miles West I had no idea of a lot of the things that were happening in Portland, I think I, and a lot of white people and a lot of suburban people were sort of blissfully unaware of the challenges people were facing throughout Oregon and, and in the city. Like, I didn’t know, growing up that my idea that Oregon was such an inclusive place because you know, we’re in the North and slavery was never illegal here, but it was actually illegal to be a black person and live here. And that has progressed into its own different forms. At [00:13:00] this point, you know, we had, we’ve had red lining. We’ve had just general racism. I mean, I grew up in the eighties when the skinheads were hanging out downtown and you know, we’re as an organization at Third Angle, we’re trying to raise awareness about that for people who’ve grown up here. And also for all these new people who are moving to the area who have no idea what’s happened here before, who just think they’re, they’re embarking on their journey to liberal mecca. So we’re doing this large scale, for us it’s huge, chamber opera that we’ve commissioned from Darrell grant, who’s an amazing local jazz pianist and composer. And that, that has gotten bumped that was supposed to happen last April and it’s rescheduled for next fall. And we’re making some adjustments to make sure that that can happen. But It’s chance for us to shine a light on redlining and gentrification and, and what the black experience is like, [00:14:00] particularly in our town. But I think it will translate outside the area. And, you know, that’s the kind of trickle up idea that I’m talking about. You know, the awareness I think, is coming from people committing to giving a platform to others who, who might have stories that haven’t been told before. Part 3Douglas Detrick: let’s talk more about that. So to give a little bit of context on this project it’s one I’ve been really interested in since you guys announced it, Like a year ago, more than a year ago, and hopefully you’ll get to do it this spring. But this is so as you said a chamber opera by Darrell grant with libretto by Anis Mojgani, right? so it’s a chamber opera about the Albina neighborhood in Portland. Can you give a little more about that? Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s funny. We went to Darrell, wanting to work with him and we said, Darrell, [00:15:00] do an opera. And he said, absolutely not. Why would I do that? And then thought about it a little more. And you know, he’s sort of up for anything. So The, the Genesis of this project has a lot of, it’s been driven by him and, and his desire to sort of take ownership of this art form that has traditionally been very white and European. And he is working with a libretto by Anis Mojgani, as you mentioned who has Oregon’s poet Laureate. And we have a wonderful. Director Alexander Gideon. And so, you know, we have an all black creative team which I, I don’t recall that happening in Portland much ever. And we’re, we’re doing this show in the neighborhood that is about it includes a cast of four black vocalists. All with very, very different voice types. You know, we have jazz influenced [00:16:00] people and then we have a singer who’s performed in the Met with more of an operatic background. We have, you know, someone who can kind of sing anything who does gospel like a boss. So there are sort of different parts of the black experience present in this, there are different representations of music that is meaningful to the black community. And, you know, we want this to connect with the folks in the neighborhood. We do want, obviously the white people who might not know about the situation to become more familiar with the community that’s been affected and also with why we have responsibilities moving forward. But for context, a little bit more, the Albina neighborhood is in North Portland. And we had really, we as a community prior to me, me being around, but Portlanders Had some really horrible redlining practices and in the black community was really centered in this [00:17:00] neighborhood. And they’ve kind of been shoved around as the neighborhood has gotten more, I hate this word, but in also in air quotes, desirable for white people moving in who have really driven up property rates . There’ve been instances of housing there sort of being Repossessed by the state, you know, declared a loss and then families are kicked out of their homes. And there was a large section of the neighborhood torn down for an interstate project, which is also where they put the big stadium or the, my beloved Portland Trailblazers play. So I think a lot of people here are like, I was historically where they have no idea what’s gone on. They, they don’t understand what’s still going on, I would say. And we just really, we want people to feel heard. And you know, we are a largely white organization. We really diversified [00:18:00] our, our roster of artists lately, but we also just, it’s important to us that we make space for other people to tell their stories without inserting ourselves too much. So we’re handling a lot of the production and we’re definitely giving input, you know. Third Angle, like one of the main things we can contribute is just our experience in creating these kinds of big outside of the box events, productions multidisciplinary collaborations, all that. So we just want to help. We want to help make the world better. Douglas Detrick: I have a couple of questions that I wanted to ask you about that. I heard a little bit of some actual feedback that you’ve gotten so far, you can talk about that, that would be great. And take that the next step further and just talk about, as a kind of predominantly white organization and and you’re handling this story, that’s about the black experience in Portland and one that’s especially traumatic and, and How, you know, what what’s, what’s your responsibility there. [00:19:00] And, why are you doing it? Is there a wrong way to do it? Is there a right way to do it? What have you learned so far? I think whatever, you know, whatever comes to you right now, as, as things that are worth sharing, I would love to hear that. Sarah Tiedemann: Well, I think the wrong way to do it would be to just decide what we think the problems are and how they should be fixed and artistically what that looks like and not do enough listening in the process which is why we’re excited to work with the creative team that we’re working with. we’ve also been having Listening sessions these kind ofstorytelling sessions where we’ve been out in the community at the, like the Martin Luther King junior school with neighborhood members talking about their experiences growing up there and living there and going through this whole gentrification process. So I think, listening is sort of at the root of all of our world’s problems right now. And this is just another example of, of a place where it’s important. By and large, [00:20:00] the response we’ve received has been really positive. I think there will always be people on you know, both sides of this who are going to be wary. Our black communities stories have not been told and not been told in their own voices. And so I can understand any wariness about a largely white organization or historically I would say largely white Organization telling those stories and what that’s going to look like. And you know, is this another case of like white people owning our experience and benefiting from it? And then on the other side, you know, there will always be people who don’t think that things like, I hate the saying, but our identity politics should be in the arts and we should just be making music and we should butt out of everything else . Though we’re, a new music organization, so we always say, if we don’t get at least a few complaints about [00:21:00] every show we put on, we did it wrong. If anybody complains great, there will always be people I think, who are not satisfied with how we do things like this, even when we’re really trying. And I think. You know, that’s a really important I would say impediment to a lot of the work that needs to be done. I know I, as a white person get very paranoid about making the problems worse about upsetting people. I just don’t like to upset people in general. And I think white people can tend to view the black community as this monolith and think, well, I’m trying this and I’m working really hard. And people are mad at me and telling me I’m doing it wrong. Well, yeah, some people are gonna think, whatever you do is wrong and some people are gonna love it. And. At the end of the day, you just have to listen a lot and, and live by your own conscience. And I [00:22:00] think if you’re listening enough, then that conscience gets more and more informed. But it’s always going to be a process of upsetting some people, listening before you make the art and also listening after you make the art to places where people didn’t feel represented or didn’t feel, I don’t know. It just didn’t like what you did. And then learning from that for the next project, there’s never going to be some point where we get to the goalposts and okay, we are making art that is woke and everybody loves it. And everybody’s happy with us. This is just not how any of this works. Part 4 Douglas Detrick: a project that my organization, Portland jazz composers ensemble did a couple of years ago and we, we had that experience where we were working with us kind of a story [00:23:00] from Oregon’s African-American history. And as we had our very first opportunity to have a public event, which was a kind of a forum with our mostly black artistic team. And there was one person who was, you know, she was directly connected to the story. And had been there. She was part of it, lived through it. And, but had also done a lot of research to kind of try to document it, and at first she was very unhappy with the fact that we were approaching this project. And I think she was very mistrustful at first. And it’s a very long story that I can’t, I can’t even begin to tell all of it right now. But what ended up happening at the very end of the project is that she actually became part of the project and that was, that was great. And I think it was the right thing to do that we kind of brought her in, but it did kind of alienate another black person that was [00:24:00] involved with the project who then felt pushed out . because they were two black people that were both very connected to the story in a personal way, and had both done tons of work to document it and to kind of bring that story to the wider, you know, kind of both statewide and national attention. And it was really hard. It was the hardest situation I had ever dealt with. I mean, the only one that comes close is what we’re going through now where I’m kind of dealing with things that I’ve have been super challenging. But so I guess, I guess what it brought to mind for me when you, when you were talking about this idea of listening, is that probably, you know, and, and I would, I would agree that I learned the same lesson that like. Just because you’re trying to do this work, isn’t automatically enough. I think you have to work really hard to establish a set of principles that you’re working from. It’s like, well, why are we doing this? And as that criticism comes in, or even that praise comes in, it’s like, well, are [00:25:00] they praising us for the the, good reasons that we tried to do this? Are they criticizing us for having abandoned those principles that we, that we are trying to honor? Have we been clear about what those principles are? You know, I think I learned that, that, you know, all of those things I worked at were happening all at the same time. And it was really hard to understand, you know, what was going on and why, and it took a long time. And, and, and as I look back on it now, there are still times when I’m like, I, I still don’t understand. I still didn’t get it. I didn’t get it then I only get it a little bit more now. And I, you know, I’m, I’ve tried my best to understand what happened and why and why people were upset or why people were happy or whatever. So I don’t know. I guess all I’m saying is that, that lesson of like you’re going to be dealing with That really complex range of reactions and you have that balance between individuals who see the thing in a certain way, and you also have this balance between what’s [00:26:00] significant to a community that has some common viewpoints about why this particular story is significant, and then you also have that That further lens of, of perhaps you know, some people use this term, the white gaze to, to talk about like how, how white people look at it at a, at a story from an, a community that they’re not, you know, a part of. And, and they have their own values about what this meant and why it was important and how the story should be told. So. I after me saying all of that, I mean, I, I guess I’ll be, I’ll be really curious to see what you guys do with it and I’m, I’m excited about it. And I don’t know, did my bloviating over here. Did that bring up any more ideas that you wanted to talk about to kind of wrap up this topic? Sarah Tiedemann: It was some really quality bloviating. Yeah, it does. You know, it reminds me that a lot of this work is listening to all these different voices. And some, some of those voices are upset [00:27:00] voices, which like, if you haven’t been listened to for generations or forever in this country, yeah. You’re going to be upset. We might say things in a certain way. You might have strong feelings and that’s all totally reasonable. So I feel like the work isn’t that someone is going to say something and that’s going to be the thing and you listen to it and then nobody gets mad at you. It’s more a matter of listening to a lot of different voices and being in a lot of different circumstances and sort of steeping in that. My husband is actually a Buddhist he’s in this particular corner of Buddhism, I think it’s called Jodo shinshu where it’s a lot of the the more like farmers and, and the, the common folk in Japan. And it’s less about the, you know, the sort of Zen side of Buddhism, the meditating. It almost looks like a regular [00:28:00] church service when you go to their Sunday services. When the minister there speaks the idea is that he’ll ” perfume in the air” with this ideology and, that resonates with me when it comes to this kind of work too. Like, you’re just letting, letting all these different voices, perfume the air and you’re absorbing. even when somebody is not saying some key phrase that changes your life, you’re just starting to get it, you know? Douglas Detrick: Yeah, well, it’s, it’s a complicated perfume, Sarah Tiedemann: Yes, Douglas Detrick: but I think there’s that idea of, of, of that. You’ve brought up a couple of times and that, that, that story, that analogy really brings out. And that’s just this idea of like, it takes a long time. All these competing viewpoints take time to kind of soak in. And to make sense you know, cause I, I can certainly say that as, as I was getting into that project that I mentioned and for any fans [00:29:00] of PJCE, this was our from Maxwell to Vanport project. So I and I’m, I’m trying, I’m keeping the name, the specific names of folks out of it, just because it, it was a complicated and there are folks that are not happy to this day about it. But I do remember that as I started encountering this, this perfume it was like I had an intensely emotional reaction, like that, that had like several stages of like, you know, that the seven stages, I suppose, like I had, I had anger, I had denial, I had acceptance. I had all those things and, and, Sometimes it’d be like three in the morning that I’m having these things happen. So, so, yeah. So just what you said about this, this idea of this perfume, that’s kind of something that is very complicated, it’s in the air and, but, but at the same time, you have to expose yourself to it and you have to take the time that it takes to kind of sort it out and to really become familiar with it. Sarah Tiedemann: I think there’s this idea where if you’re [00:30:00] doing something good and doing something that’s guided by your moral compass and, and your desire to make people’s lives better and do the right thing that you should feel good. Like, you know, if I make a donation to somebody, I feel good afterward, it might be generous, but I’m going to, I’m going to get some, some good feels about it. And this is work where you can really try so hard and just feel like a total failure at the end of it, you know? So I think that can be shocking when you feel like you’re doing something good. And then somebody is just mad at you because of it. On the other hand, I think that’s also a symptom of whiteness is this idea that we should feel okay all the time. You know, if somebody’s family home was taken away a few generations ago and you know, Their, their [00:31:00] wealth, their life experience, all that has now been affected. They probably don’t feel that great. And at some point I realized that part of this is an emotional form of reparations where like, I don’t get to feel okay when they don’t. I think that’s the hardest part of the work to wrap your head around is that you can be doing the right thing and it doesn’t end up being the right thing in the moment, but you tried and you get better for the next time. And so you’re part of this process that is still a bigger picture, right thing. Douglas Detrick: As a white person, that’s engaging in this work and, trying to be involved in these stories, I think it could be very justified to say we should not be involved in the telling of these stories. And, you know, I think that that’s, that’s justified. I think there’s a reasonable logic behind that. That makes, that makes a lot of sense. but then I think at the same time [00:32:00] if by trying and, and sometimes failing or, or doing both at the same time, which is more, more, more like what really happens in the real world with everything. I mean, on the whole, it, to me, it’s like, it seems like if we can, you know, as, as white folks who are involved in this work and trying to use the platform that we have in the arts to bring these stories out, to put you know, in this case we’re talking about African-American artists, if we can put them in the driver’s seats and empower them to make decisions that pertain to this work, then on balance, it seems like a good thing to do. and yes, that struggle of like, trying to understand whether this is a success or a failure. And to what degree of each of those things at the same time is happening is a good thing to engage in. Like it’s a, it’s a worthwhile activity, I guess, what’s kind of in my mind is there are some folks who say, we just shouldn’t do this. We [00:33:00] shouldn’t try. And that’s something I disagree with. we should try. And I think we should try do it as well as we can. And I think, I think this, this idea of this perfume that you’ve talked about is a very helpful analogy. Actually. I think we shouldn’t expect that we do it right. The first time we shouldn’t expect to receive unmitigated praise about it all the time. And we should expect to struggle. Of course then at the same time, it’s like, well, of course, I’m going to say, I should do this because I’ve done it a lot. And I’ve, I’ve tried and I’ve, and I’ve failed and I’ve had, have made mistakes, but So, I don’t know. I guess that’s all I’m getting at is just this idea of like, you know, on balance, I would say we should try. And, and I, and it seems like you would agree with that. And that we should learn from our mistakes and that we should try to do better. Sarah Tiedemann: I think, I think there are a few different aspects to this. Cause I have had the same debate with myself and wrestled with this a lot. I think we, as humans, as individuals owe it [00:34:00] to ourselves, to, and to our community to learn about these things. And, you know, I’m an artist. So I learned through creating art. So personally for me to figure out a situation, I have to be artistically involved in it to some extent, to really wrap my head around it. I think also by and large, the white organizations tend to have more resources available in some cases. And I think we have an obligation to utilize those resources, to make space for other people to tell their stories. I hate this, but I think. In many instances, white people who might be more averse to learning, listen to other white people better. And I, I think as white people, one of our obligations [00:35:00] is to make sure we’re bringing other white folks along on the journey and, you know, taking responsibility for helping people learn. And hopefully in that process, they realize that they should be listening to members of the black community or the Latinx community or whoever. But sometimes man, those initial steps, you just you’re so caught up in where you are yourself, that it takes someone who you think is similar to you to kind of push you along a little bit at the beginning. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I completely agree with that. I mean, I think, you know, if you have your I don’t know, like your, your cousin who’s, you know, deep in the Fox news right-wing media bubble maybe their cousin doesn’t matter that much in their calculation of what’s important, but. It, maybe it matters more than somebody they don’t know. So it’s like, I tend to take this very personal lens, like, the people that I know personally who are listening, who I’m like, Oh, you know, I [00:36:00] think this person might, dare say, might need to hear this. Might really benefit from hearing this particular interview. Sarah Tiedemann: For me, part of, part of viewing myself in many ways as a moderate. I’m very pragmatic about all this in many ways and in ways that can offend people. I’m careful about the language I choose. Like I, I get worried about people saying defund the police, first of all, because the term sounds not like it means what it actually means, but really it should be re allocate resources that are currently allocated to the police, but that’s not as catchy I get that. But in trying to find ways to communicate things in a way that people will hear, you know, there’s this argument that that’s tone policing. I almost always go with the mindset, what are we trying to get here? That’s just the direction I come from. And I think a lot of other people come from there’s this idea that if you use practical [00:37:00] language, that is not in line with maybe the term that a community has invented itself, that you’re you’re tone policing. And I just always want to err, on the side of living by what are we trying to get here? Instead of am I expressing myself how I want to, and I get why people come from the other direction, but man. It’s sometimes it feels like the world wants us to make progress through our anger. And I see anger more as a catalyst and not necessarily as the way you convince anybody that there is more out there than what they currently believe, or maybe want to believe. Douglas Detrick: Yeah, it’s more of a tool for solidarity than for persuasion. Sarah Tiedemann: exactly. Douglas Detrick: Well, I, you know, I’ve been using the term, re-imagined the police, which I don’t know [00:38:00] if that’s I don’t know if there’s any camp that would endorse that, but I’m more interested in persuasion, I suppose, but, but also, you know, kind of just building this kind of solidarity around the arts as a, as a positive tool, I suppose, for, for making change. I’ve tried to just be more specific and concrete about, well, you know, these are proposals that kind of fit under the umbrella of defund the police, but, to me, what I would rather see is a re-imagined police force. But then at the same time, it’s another vague term that doesn’t really mean anything. So it’s more Sarah Tiedemann: Well, most, most things that include three words at the end of the day are fairly vague. but also catchy. So that’s how that happens I think. My feeling on this is that there are certain people in the world who are a lost cause when it comes to trying to work against racism, trying to learn, to see everyone is as equal and being willing to do [00:39:00] what needs to be done to also make life equitable. Certain people are lost cause. There are certain malignant narcissist in the world who shall remain nameless, who probably aren’t going to come around. But the general populous, you just never know who might come around. I mean, I saw an interview the other day. What is that, what is that religious organization who pick it’s all the funerals? Douglas Detrick: Westboro or. Sarah Tiedemann: Yes. I saw an interview with a former Westboro Baptist member. Who had totally come around and was like, God, this is awful. I was totally indoctrinated. So, you know, people have value at humans even when they are not exercising that value to be kind to other people. I just don’t like writing people off with few exceptions maybe, but I don’t know. And I think in the arts. [00:40:00] We have a really unique opportunity. It’s kind of that, perfuming the air idea again, where we can reach people maybe while they’re just enjoying the music, you know, like there’s, there’s a higher lesson in there, but also it’s really nice to listen to. Or if not, sometimes we do things that aren’t and I enjoy those too. But I was just, I don’t like the idea that, we have to interact with people from a position of expressing our anger so that they should feel shame. That doesn’t feel productive to me. It feels like a thing that feels good in the moment maybe, and, and doesn’t feel good in the long run. And I have had some people get so angry with me because of that position. I had people tell me you should disown folks, you know, in your family or in your friend group or whoever, because obviously they must be bad [00:41:00] people. For holding political opinions or racist opinions or what have you. I, and I feel like that, I mean, this, I’m not saying anything new, but that polarizes us in ways that are not productive. And I look back at myself in high school… oh, high school Sarah, if I could shake her a little bit… I had this boyfriend. Who was, very conservative. And in like 10th grade, would say just the most offensive things in, in our world history class or whatever it was. And I would say things cause I knew he was going to be into it. And then we’d like sneak out at lunch and make out in the stairwell. So I mean, you know, but that, that version of Sarah. I would hope people wouldn’t have thought was irredeemable. Douglas Detrick: I think no one is [00:42:00] beyond redemption. But it has to be earned. People have to be honest. And I think to me, it extends to the police. If we say all cops are bastards. That is to me, it’s like, it’s, well, it’s just wrong because I think that police officer can, can be redeemed and can, can atone for mistakes. Because I, I think if we want to make progress, we have to bring people in rather than pushing them away. I would say that like in the arts where we’re kind of in, like, we’re in the understanding business, we’re in the redemption business. Weird things like that can happen where people come around and people change their minds. And to me, that’s what we’re doing. Like that’s what, where that’s what we’re here for. Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah. I, I mean, I grew up with just the, the most racist father. I mean Oh, the things that came out of his mouth. Well, he was also super fun and playe basketball with me and, you know, it was hilarious and all kinds of good things, but man, I just had so much trouble being around him. And he actually like [00:43:00] the last, I want to say couple of months of his life, all of a sudden he figured it out and he was lovely. I think if I had written him off, like people are encouraging others to do now, I wouldn’t have seen that, and maybe been maybe even part of encouraging that. But I also look back and the, the way I was able to keep him in my life and still live my own values is by having boundaries skills. And I think Americans tend to lack those. No, I grew up Northwest nice, so I understand. But you know, when he would say awful things, I would just say, I’m not going to listen to that. Do you want me to stay here? I’m like hanging out with you, but if you’re going to start that I’m going to leave and he would usually stop. And if he was still on a tear about something, I would say, okay, I’m leaving now and get out. I always used to hear people talk about boundaries and not really understand what they [00:44:00] are. They’re just telling people what you’ll put up with and you don’t have to do it like an asshole. I don’t know how you can say asshole in your podcast, but you can, you can. You don’t even have to have an affect. You can just say, I’m not interested in that kind of conversation right now. And that’s that. And you don’t have to, you don’t have to yell at people. I don’t know. That’s not very artistic. It’s not really an artistic conversation, but I guess it’s the same thing in the arts. You can just say things and, and not yell them at people. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I think we, we kind of, we kind of soften the gates a little bit. We’re not, we’re not tearing down the gates. I think we’re, we’re kind of kind of perfuming the air around the gatekeepers, perhaps all the many various ones with their own gates of different, you know, cities, whatever. So for that pained analogy. Well, Sarah, I think we should probably wrap it up now. But I, [00:45:00] it was really, really great to get into this with you. And and, and just kind of getting to talk about what you’re doing with Third Angle and as a political being and a musical being yourself was really interesting. And thanks so much for sharing all of that with me and, and the folks who listen. Sarah Tiedemann: My pleasure. Thanks for having me Douglas Detrick: Absolutely. Good. Outro Thanks so much Sarah and the Third Angle New Music team. I took a break from producing episodes for a while. Things have been very busy getting my kids through distance learning at home, with work and everything else happening right now. But I’m glad to bring this conversation to you as well as an update on the show. You might have noticed that all the music on this volume of episodes was created using glass objects, along with mallets and fingers and knitting needles and my breath to set them vibrating. I chose this material because of it’s acoustic properties for sure—it can be a powerfully resonant substance but also very ethereal—but also because of the symbolism connected to the ways we use glass in our daily lives today, its history going back to antiquity and prehistory. Glass is a fragile substance to be sure, and when it breaks the edges can be dangerous. But yet, we continue to surround ourselves with it thanks to its versatility and the relative ease with which we can produce it, either with new material or melting down old glass to remake it. Early on, my thoughts were more focused on glass as a fragile material, but now, as we turn to a new chapter in our history as a nation, I see glass as a symbol of our renewal. The old shards of our past will always be with us, but that doesn’t mean we can make something new with them too. Taking that idea further, I’ll be working on an EP of songs inspired by glass and glassmaking that I hope to finish over the coming months. You’ll be hearing about it. Until then, I’m thankful to all of my guests over this volume of episodes—Joni, Joy, Suba, Onry, Andre and Jeff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your stories! Unless some burning idea comes up that demands another episode, this will be the last of Volume IV. I’ll keep you up to date on what’s coming next. Be sure to follow the show on Instagram and Facebook, and if you aren’t on the show’s email list, head on over to moredevotedly.com and sign up. You’ll hear about new episodes and other big announcements, and get a few thoughts of mine that aren’t included in the episodes, like a behind the scenes of my own mind. That sounds enticing doesn’t it? You’ve been listening to More Devotedly. I produced this interview and created the music here in Portland, OR. [Portland sound] What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?
48 minutes | 7 months ago
Vol. IV | Ep. 6 – Joni Renee Whitworth and Future Prairie
Joni Renee Whitworth, who uses they/them pronouns, is a poet and the executive director of Future Prairie, “a queer creative studio and non-profit artist collective.” We talked about how their organization has changed course during the pandemic, what the value of a nonprofit dedicated to marginalized artists is, and how an arts organizer finds space and time for their own work as they support the work of others. See Future Prairie’s fundraiser for Onry’s Livin’ in the Light project here, and listen back to Onry’s interview here. About Joni Renee Whitworth Joni Renee Whitworth is a poet and community organizer from rural Oregon. They have performed at The Moth, the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, and the Museum of Contemporary Art alongside Marina Abramovic. Whitworth served as the inaugural Artist in Residence at Portland Parks and Recreation, Poet in Residence for Oregon State University’s Trillium Project, and 2020 Queer Hero for the Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest. Their work is sponsored by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Regional Arts and Culture Council, Oregon Cultural Trust, City of Beaverton, Mellon Foundation, Bodecker Foundation, Collins Foundation, Literary Arts, All Classical Portland Radio, Oregon Community Foundation, Prosper Portland, Portland Area Theatre Alliance, Jeremy Wilson Foundation, Portland Art Museum, and Multnomah County Cultural Coalition. Their writing explores themes of nature, future, family, and the neurodivergent body, and has appeared in Lambda Literary, Tin House, Oregon Humanities, Proximity Magazine, Seventeen Magazine, Eclectica, Pivot, SWWIM, Smeuse, Superstition Review, xoJane, Inverted Syntax, Unearthed Literary Journal, Sinister Wisdom, Dime Show Review, and The Write Launch. Episode Transcript Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume IV, episode 6. ^^^^^^ As I speak, we’re just a few weeks from the 2020 election. Maybe you’ve already voted, but if you haven’t, I hope you have a plan to vote, and that you’ll vote Biden/Harris, and for Democrats down the ticket. Why? There are a lot of reasons, and I hope you’ve got your own. One reason that you can take with you after listening to this conversation is that the community of marginalized artists that my guest Joni Renee Whitworth serves, and the many other Americans like them, will have a shot at a much better future than under a Republican president and a Republican Senate. With Democrats in power, we won’t have perfect solutions to our problems, we won’t have perfect government, we won’t have perfect representation, we won’t have a government that hasn’t made mistakes in the past. But we will have a government that at least recognizes that the freedoms that Americans believe in aren’t afforded equally to queer people, people with disabilities, people of color, and poor people, and that we have the will and the capacity for a more equitable future. Joni Renee Whitworth, who uses they/them pronouns, is a poet and the executive director of Future Prairie, “a queer creative studio and non-profit artist collective.” We talked about how their organization has changed course during the pandemic, what the value of a nonprofit dedicated to marginalized artists is, and how an arts organizer finds space and time for their own work as they support the work of others. I was struck by a moment where Joni describes seeing queer people in a historic photo, saying that the level of “freedom” she sees in their eyes is a way to understand equality for marginalized people. Sometimes progressives and moderate Democrats talk too little about freedom, we cede that territory to conservatives. But we shouldn’t, and artists can show the reason why. In our plays, in our music, in our sculpture, in our poems, we can show how life could be. We can show that freedom is for everyone, and that freedom is complicated and messy, but it’s importance is fundamental. We’re only a shadow of ourselves without it, but with it, we are powerful. I’m inspired by how Joni has been showing that future in her work and by helping a community of artists to realize their own versions of it. Here’s the episode. Interview Part 1 Douglas Detrick: Joni Renee Whitworth, thanks so much for joining me on More Devotedly. I’m very excited to talk to you. I think, we have some things in common, both being arts organizers, and being people that do our own creative work as well. So first off, just welcome. And thanks for being here. Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah, thank you so much. I’m really happy to be here. Douglas Detrick: I would love for you to kind of just talk about what you do in your own words and introduce yourself to the listeners. Joni Renee Whitworth: Sure. Yeah. My name is Joni Renee Whitworth, and I was born in Portland, but I grew up out in rural, Oregon on a farm, a Christmas tree farm, actually. And, mine developed a lot of my art practice out there. Um, I was closely connected with some of the performing arts groups in Yamhill County, Willamette Valley, all around twick Minville, um, even in Sheraton out towards the coast and, um, Develop myself as an artist, primarily as a writer and as a poet. And then when I was a teenager, I moved around a lot. Um, I left home when I was, uh, just turning 16 and, uh, went to live in Tel Aviv, Israel, and I was in a band and I traveled around the middle East working for a nonprofit. And then when I came back, I didn’t want to the farm, but I would have come home to was gone. We lost the farm and the recession. So there wasn’t really a place to land in Portland anymore, so, or an Oregon anymore. So I, uh, ended up going to LA and becoming an arts organizer down there, South of LA done, but in Santa Ana, which is in orange County. And then eventually decided to move back to Portland where I continued my personal art practice, but also got a little more involved in the community organizing side of the arts and eventually founded my nonprofit, which is called Future Prairie. And we can talk more about that. It was originally the intention behind it was originally quite narrow in scope. It was supposed to be an artist collective of just queer artists. Um, but it grew into a lot more than that. Douglas Detrick: I’ve seen video, of some of the, shows that you guys did, kind of multidisciplinary shows and, and of course, you know, COVID-19 has, hit. Could you tell about, what kind of things have changed how have you guys responded to the situation? Joni Renee Whitworth: So originally our main production that we worked on for Future Prairie was a seasonal live show. And it took place on the Equinox and the solstices. So summer, fall, winter, all that. And then we would put together, um, kind of a show around a certain theme, often having to do with that seasonal shift. So we would come together and build a community alter and have different performances and, um, not only artistic performance, but also guest lecturers. Um, In the style of a Chautauqua, which is an old format of gathering that was not only aesthetic, but also educational. And originally often also had, spiritual or religious aspects, ours didn’t, but I do think any time queer people are coming together to make and share community and make and share art, it can somewhat spiritual experience interested in kind of exploring that, um, outside of a religious context. So with COVID, you know, obviously we had to cancel the live shows and we’re not able to gather in person. And it’s kind of funny that we actually had our largest show ever, um, both, you know, largest in terms of it was in the biggest venue we’ve ever had. It was a huge, huge historic space downtown. and also our biggest audience we’ve ever had. And then immediately right after that was when quarantine hit. So. For awhile. I was testing out a few different formats of things. We did a couple zoom shows. We had zoom kind of workshops. And then we also did a show and tell, which is really cute. Or people just showed up and showed what they had been working on artistically from home. But ultimately I think that is not the way forward for us. Um, it’s just not as meaningful the engagement isn’t quite there. Um, and we don’t have the production facilities or equipment to really pull something off that is you know, a high aesthetic value to the quality that I would really prefer to see. So I think for now, I’m not going to pursue that. Luckily we have a couple of other things we can do that are easy to make for free or very cheap, which is a podcast that kind of features local Portland artists. And some online content like short films, but I think it sounds like after speaking to them, most people agree that making little short films is probably the way forward, no matter what form of art they’re actually doing, whether it’s dance or poetry or whatever else. Douglas Detrick: Why did you think that. Joni Renee Whitworth: Well, I asked around a lot. I, I I’ve asked, you know, obviously the artists themselves who are in the collective, but also I’ve really reached out to my friends and mentors. I’ve been really fortunate to connect with some older mentors in, uh, community organizing and art spaces. And. And just try to get their advice and, you know, try to be candid with them and say, the zoom thing is not, it that’s just not where it’s at for us. It’s not, it’s not cathartic. Um, I don’t know. I hope that people can continue to innovate on that art form and, and, and find a way to have catharsis in that experience. But, uh, I’ve been attending things left and right throughout quarantine, and I haven’t experienced that feeling yet. So, um, So I think the reason it was informed by somebody that I spoke with over the Portland art museum, who works on their Northwest film center. And she kind of said, you know, I’ve looked through your work, your work as a poet and all that and everything else you’re up to. And I really think you might want to consider short films. Film as the only industry that has any money for artists. And it’s the easiest to share online. It’s easiest to consume for free, and it’s a format where you can ultimately control the quality of your output. Part 2 Douglas Detrick: as the quarantine has gone on and you know, that we went through that kind of early stage of, and by we, I mean, like, Everybody, kind of went through this early stage of like, Oh, I got to live stream everything. Um, and you know, I’m a musician, so there were lots of musicians, like, you know, streaming a concert every night from their bedroom. Um, which is cool. Uh, but it was never appealing to me. I never really haven’t done it yet. And I’m not really going to, um, I’ve kind of instead gone more towards just. I, you know, I had to get a little bit more gear, but, you know, kind of just setting up things so that I could produce at home and, and produce recordings that I felt good about. Um, and making a podcast is, has been a big thing. So, I just released an episode, um, featuring an interview with Onry, who I know is involved in the organization. And, um, his, uh, living in the light project is, future Prairie’s. you know, big thing right now. and so, Joni Renee Whitworth: We have our main, our main, main project of the year. Yeah. Douglas Detrick: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s a big project. I mean, I’ve noticed that, you know, there’s a music video, which is really beautiful. and, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the documentary. Um, and so, you know, feature Perry is doing a fundraiser for that. Um, and I’ll, you know, that, that link is in the episode with Onry and it’ll be in this one as well. So I’d definitely encourage folks to go support there. It’d be great to see that. Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah, thanks a lot. Thanks for saying that. Douglas Detrick: yeah, absolutely. Joni Renee Whitworth: need all the help we can get Douglas Detrick: Sure. Yeah, it’s a big, it takes a village as they say, but, um, I wanted to ask you just, you know, about that project in particular, what, you know, what was compelling to you about that and why did you feel it was a good fit for Future Prairie? Joni Renee Whitworth: well, for a number of reasons. It’s interesting. So he’s, he’s a close personal friend of mine and, uh, I think we’ve been kind of going back and forth for a while and you know, and this is even pre quarantine, you know, what should we make? How can we take our art to the next level? We got, we had a few different ideas of like maybe going around and having him sing, uh, he’s an opera singer. So we thought maybe he could walk through the forest and the Gorge and like sing opera at trees. And then I can like put my poetry on top of it, or maybe I could write a book and then he could like sing the poems or kind of thinking of all these different ways that we can collaborate. And then, after quarantine started when the black lives matter protest started up, he ended up actually taking on a bit of a leadership role in that environment and leading some of, you know, leading songs basically at protests. And so, It was interesting because we had already been having conversations for months and months about, you know, his work as a marginalized performer. And if it would be interesting to somehow do some kind of documentation of his experiences of racism and the industry that he’d experienced. And all of a sudden there was this cultural moment that just happened to come along when we had already been investing so many hours into it. those conversations. So it just seemed like a more appropriate way to spend our time and attention. And I think he gave everybody on the cast and the crew, you know, an opportunity to devote themselves to something that actually felt meaningful. when they’d been, not just cooped up in their homes and, and really wanting to create something, but also really wanting to dedicate themselves to supporting the movement in a meaningful way. You know, I think when you ask a starving artist to donate $5 to a cause, it’s quite an ask you know, more and more, I’m just really questioning if that model is even the right model. and that might sound hypocritical right cause I’m still running that crowdfunding campaign for our project, but, but I don’t think it’s the right model, ultimately. And I don’t think we should be soliciting donations from our direct immediate community when the community that we serve is marginalized performers. Um, almost all of whom are working class or below the poverty line to bring it back. I think. All of those people involved in our collective were so, so hungry for something to contribute to where you could actually contribute your, your actual talent, you know? So for designers to be able to design for, you know, lighting people, to be able to bring out the perfect light. I mean, that music video is so beautiful. And one of, one of the things I love about it is the incredible lighting and the sound quality. So, um, I think that’s why I just was a perfect confluence, moments and, and, and the cultural timing was right. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I mean, something that can make something so much more powerful is when there’s that perfect match between, I suppose the message and the moment. the way that, that has been put together, I think it has a lot of that, that quality to it, which is really exciting and has been really interesting to talk about, with Onry. Part 3 You said something really fascinating that I want to follow up on, and that was about this idea of how do we do these fundraisers that we do? it’s a big issue. And I, I, you know, I, I follow this, um, Oh gosh, I’m blanking on the name of it now, but it’s kind of this trying to put forward this philosophy of community-based fundraising rather than, like hunger games, fundraising. That’s like more competitive and, and kind of reinforcing Joni Renee Whitworth: Hierarchies. The one that I’m involved with, I wonder if it’s the same one. So I’m involved with one called community centric fundraising, and they’ve, they’re starting up like the Portland chapter and all that. Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s great. I mean, it’s really a good conversations are happening in there. Douglas Detrick: Yeah, absolutely. Well then, you know, I think it, you know, one thing that’s interesting is I think so often what we run into is like, You know, folks that are, uh, you know, connected to the artists and they’re connected to the work and maybe they’re artists themselves. And then they get into being arts organizers, and administrators, they find is that, the money comes from. You know, the folks who have money, which is in our society is so often, you know, older, white people. so then kind of what inevitably, and maybe not, maybe it’s not inevitable, but what often happens is that, you know, then the value of the, of the values of the art tend to be shaped a little bit by that when, you know, maybe the people that are making the art are not necessarily older, wealthy white people, and often are not. So I, you know, just hearing you kind of grapple with that a little bit and just in your own work in your own community is really interesting. And I’m, and I’m just curious if you feel like, you know, what is, do you have a, I mean, I’m not, I’m not expecting to have all this worked out, cause this is hard stuff, but, um, you know, what thoughts do you have about addressing that problem for future Prairie? Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah, it’s a big one. I mean, as much as, I mean, I would love to radically reimagine how arts and culture are funded in the future. Um, it’s been pretty wild to see when this, federal CARES money comes down and is fully dispersed and distributed throughout the state through different community organizations and also just through the city itself, there have been a few opportunities this year to apply for grants. including one that came out through the Oregon cultural trust and some of the organizations speaking to have been saying, yeah, these COVID grants. Are way, way more money than we ever would have gotten before, you know, before COVID and, um, it’s, I mean, it’s just kind of funny and sad, right? Cause that’s, I wish we didn’t have to go through such a catastrophe to get the resources that we actually need. all the systems that I grew up believing in have fallen apart within my lifetime. So far, it’s like, this is, you know, going to be the second recession that I’ll have lived through. So, why not leverage that opportunity to make something entirely new? if we know that the system is not serving Anyone appropriately, why not come together and build an entirely new cultural network? especially when I think about these big, big funders, like Meyer Memorial trust or, um, yeah, the OCT or, um, what other ones are there? Multnomah County, cultural coalition. They, they get so bang that I think they’re quite disconnected from their actual on the ground audience and the average working artists. Has barely even heard of these organizations much less as the grant writing experience to understand how to apply for a grant. So I’d love to see, um, maybe just more, um, field workers. And I know that’s a lot to ask for because every employee is an expense, you know, but just people who can be paying to engage with the community and share resources and teach people how to write grants if we do want to stay with the grant making and grant giving model or work together to figure out a new, better model. I know RACC is what going through that regional arts and culture council they have changed up their grant structure quite a bit, um, especially through the development of the new Catalyst grant, which is only three grand. It’s very easy to apply for. It’s pretty easy to win one, and the idea is that it’s a catalyst. To getting your art making practice off the ground and running. And then, you know, later you’ll be qualified to apply for bigger and harder grants. So I love that. I mean, three grand is a very small amount of money when it comes to, you know, a major artistic endeavor, but it’s a huge amount of money to an emerging artist. Douglas Detrick: that makes sense. And, and I think you’re right that, like, I think that, um, so often grant makers sometimes and sometimes major donors as well, they kind of forget. Because they’re dealing with very large amounts of money. They sometimes forget how, um, Impactful these grants can be. And, and, and that causes two weird things to happen. Like one is like, it’s way too hard to get those first grants. Like the, you know, the, your very first one, um, you know, it’s very elusive because people just don’t understand the process. They don’t there there’s so many bars barriers to entry. And then on the other side of it, um, The more experienced, um, organizations that just happen to be small. And I, I run one of them. Um, you know, we work, I have to work really hard to get like a $3,000 grant or less. Um, and it’s just punishing, and, and it’s tough because I, you know, you want there to be some accountability, but at the same time, it’s like, if there’s too much accountability, we end up just punishing the people that we’re trying to help. Joni Renee Whitworth: yeah, it also becomes a bit patronizing as well. I mean, I think I understand that that model of thinking of like, we’re going to have check-ins every week and we need screenshots and PDFs of every single receipt. And, um, and then at the end you need to like do all these public performances. I think that there probably was a time and place for that, but it does feel at least in 2020. A little condescending. Like we don’t have to ask a struggling artist to prove that they’re struggling. We can assume if they live in the city of Portland in 2020, they’re probably struggling. So, so in a way, it kind of removes some of the burden of proof from the artist and it becomes truly more of a gift. it allows a grants agency back to the artists who say, you probably know how to spend this money. and I mean, I can think of some examples, but even just for Future Prairie like so many times I’ll bring one of the people in our collective in for some kind of art meeting and then find out that they haven’t had a good meal that day. Right. So, you know, is it a valid or an invalid expense to use Future Prairie funds to buy them supper? Um, I think maybe based on our original charter, as we wrote it in the beginning of January 2018, probably that would not have been a valid expense, but as it is now, I’m way more interested in some type of model of community caretaking, where we could say our goal is to support you as an artist. So if you need a paintbrush, we can pay for that. And if you need breakfast, we can pay for that too. Douglas Detrick: that makes total sense. That sounds completely saying to me in a really good way. Joni Renee Whitworth: Totally. Yeah. I would love to see if there’s some type of a, you know, a gift, a gift economy, or, um, some, some type of a non market economics where we can give each other different forms of exchange, and, and trust each other. To know that there might be some type of immediate or future rewards. Well, maybe, maybe the reward is just that the artist continues to exist and is able to create art. You know, that that has an intrinsic reward. Part 3 Douglas Detrick: well, Joni, one of the things that I’m working on, kind of with this group of episodes that I’m doing right now is I wanted to talk to as many artists in Portland as I could, that kind of represent difference in all kinds of different ways. Um, you know, in the work they do in the communities they work with. And, also about their identity as a, as a human being. what I wanted to do is to, give all of these artists a chance to talk about Portland right now. because Portland is in the news, right? And so what I wanted to do is ask you, how do you see Portland right now, um, in this moment? Um, and that can mean, you know, whatever that means to you. I’m just curious to, to hear you talk about this place, at this moment, in your words, and to share that with the audience. Joni Renee Whitworth: It’s tough. You know, I read, I read that New York times article about how, if everyone’s going to be worked from home forever, uh, people who live in cities are kind of questioning why do I live here? Right. And so it’s kind of this predicted, or maybe it’s already happening secondary urban flight. And I think that that will probably happen for most of the, um, tech class, you know, ability to move out too beautiful piece of land, work on the internet and make tons of money, but not have high expenses. It seems like a fine reason to change up your living circumstance. But, um, it’s funny, even though I was born in Portland, I haven’t really lived here full time. I didn’t live here full time until closer to 2013. So I’d say I’ve only, I really, really considered myself a resident of, truly of downtown for seven years. And guess it’s early to say, but I think no matter what happens with the election or jobs, I mean, I’ve already lost jobs cause of COVID and found other ones and, whatever comes along, I don’t anticipate wanting to leave Portland. Um, and I think about somebody like Chloe Eudaly certainly somewhat controversial character, i know that she’s not perfect and not everybody agrees with her politics, but you know, she does care a lot about the arts. And when I see what she goes through to protect and defend the community and artists in particular, I dunno, I just feel really inspired by what she is able to get done. And then also frightened by the severity of the hate and the mean comments and the online hazing that are directed towards her. So I guess I’m not bringing it up ideally to like, hold her on a pedestal or as a hero, but I’m just thinking about, okay, here’s a real Portlander, you know, she, she ran Reading Frenzy for years and years and years. She, she is truly from this community. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. And now Portland city counselor for the, and for anyone that may not be familiar, right? Joni Renee Whitworth: So I think about that in terms of like, if we’re going to live here, what is our responsibility to the community? You know, if we do choose to say, how can we stay engaged in and make sure that it’s a healthy, safe, relatively happy place to live and a place to create. And I do think artists play a huge, huge role in, in all of those, functions of a of a healthy, happy city. Not just in making little cute things, to look at , you know, During the Nutcracker that’s her seat. No, but I think we can maybe move beyond that now. Douglas Detrick: and as far as kind of following that thread of, of like making Portland a better place to be, Future Prairie began and, and will continue to be, you know, a home for artists that kind of represent marginalized communities. And I wanted to ask you, you know, another question about that, like for, for folks who maybe, you know, and I would count myself among this group of people that, you know, I’m, I’m a jazz musician, which maybe, um, puts me in a certain category of marginalization. Um, but I’m, I’m joking about that. But, um, For folks who don’t maybe share that and don’t maybe have that personal experience of, of, of feeling what that’s like, on a daily basis, he value and what’s the reason and, and why were you compelled to create this home for these artists that you’re working with? Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah. we’ll see where it really goes long term. I mean, for now so much of the community, the community conversations in the arena tend to center almost making exclusionary spaces or spaces that are just for people of some certain groups, so they can come together and share space and time and values maybe. And then ideally, you know, if they’re artists create something that could be maybe shared more broadly, but I guess I do wonder, like, what is the value of that beyond that, that, that first level… Like, for example, the first ever Vietnamese American author just got nominated to the board of the Pulitzer prize. So, you know, that’s, that’s never happened before. It’s, it’s the first kind of representation, um, in that space. And I think that’s pretty much where we’re at. Across all marginalized identities and in almost all art forms is there’s still many opportunities to be the first, you know, there’s the first best-selling young adult, trans, uh, fiction book recently, I forget the title of it, but you know, there’s so many opportunities to be the first, this or that along the lines of your marginalization and your identity. So that’s great that, you know, working through that is already been a know decades, long project. And I imagine it won’t be completed any time soon, but I do like to think about the longterm future and what will it look like after that? Will it be that we’re just integrated? Will it be that we’re globalized? Will we have a true commonality of like a shared value system or will it be like we’re seeing in the political conversation where. more polarized and divided than ever. So I guess, yeah, you saw the value of it. for now I think the value is just that I live in Portland and I know these people and their suffering, and I’m interested in creating space for them to share their art and money. Basically finding, hunting down money and distributing it so they can continue to make their art that’s the immediate need, but I don’t think. It is the 50 year plan. It’s just a five year plan. Douglas Detrick: Hmm. that’s a great reason to be doing that certainly in the short term. and, that may be the reason in the longterm. Hopefully not though. things I think are, are moving more in the direction of. You know, like a greater acceptance of difference, um, and understanding that not everyone is going to be the same and that that’s okay. and definitely that we stop punishing people for being different, in all these different ways. so yeah, it was actually really interesting to hear you talk about like, okay, what’s the 50 year vision of this and I, and I totally get that. We don’t know what that’s gonna look like. Um, But it’s the right thing to be thinking about. I think if you looked 50 years in the past, like, you know, we were looking at around 1970, if think my math is correct there. So I mean, and you know, I wasn’t even alive. So, somebody’s, looking ahead and 50 years into the future and they saw the way things are now and they’d be like, The things we did here mattered. they did change the trajectory, somewhat, and then created this realization that there is a lot more work to do and that we need, we needed to work much harder, to, change the way we see our culture and, and to make it a welcoming and accepting culture. I think it’s really interesting and informative and inspiring how you are looking further into the future and looking around you right now and saying, what are we doing? And you know, how can we move forward in a better way? Joni Renee Whitworth: Absolutely. And, and I wish if, if anything, I wish it were more linear, but in fact, I think it’s not linear at all. Um, and I’ll give you an example, you know, Yeah. So, within my lifetime, the, the kind of queer narrative is that didn’t have gay marriage and now we do. So we’re very lucky and we should be thankful and grateful and all these things. And we didn’t used to be able to have all these rights and now we do, but you know, the more I’ve looked into longer-term histories and more studies, especially even just recently, I took a class on queer Russian history. You know, Russia now is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be queer. But, um, I actually saw with my own eyes, real photographs from a history professor of queer parties, visibly, blatantly, explicitly queer parties, uh, from the, you know, the beginning of the 19 hundreds. And the freedom that I witnessed in those photos is. At least on par with what we have here in Portland today. And, you know, I mean, for me to kind of assume, or, you know, project maybe onto just seeing a few photos, but, and hearing a few stories, but I, I think just what I saw and the comfort in those people’s eyes, I would say, I know trans people today in the city of Portland, who would not feel that much comfort and freedom walking down Burnside. No. So that makes me think a lot of these linear narratives that we’ve learned are not true. And there is a bit of a burden on us to investigate what is true and, have a little bit more like a broader picture for the rights that we want. instead of being like. You know, Oh, thank you for finally handing us gay marriage, which you know? Yeah. And like, I, you know, I worked on the Oregon United for marriage campaign, so it’s not that I don’t think it’s meaningful, but I, I don’t want to be painted into a corner of having to say thank you for something that should be, um, a spiritual right. A human right. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. Wow. That’s really fascinating. Um, this idea of just, getting that much from a photograph. I mean, it’s, it’s interesting as a historical document. but I think that, that, the way that it kind of draws a parallel to Portland in 2020 is fascinating. Um, and, and the example you give of, of, where there’s not that same level of acceptance for trans people, that’s a great example that kind of defeats that linear narrative where we say, Oh yeah, there’s a straight line from, you know, like we like what we were talking about 50 years in the past, there’s a straight line from 1970 to 2020, and it goes straight up and it’s going to go straight up in the future. And, and I think what we’ve seen with, the president right now, I think we’ve seen how fragile. Those things can be and how that the straight line is not at all inevitable. that’s one of the reasons why I just wanted to engage artists, um, to talk a bit about. Political and cultural ideas and, and how their work kind of connects to that because it’s, I just want us to be involved in the conversation, as a community and, and the way that you put that made that really clear. And so, so thank you for doing that. Joni Renee Whitworth: Absolutely my pleasure. I mean, I couldn’t agree more. I think artists have a hugely vital role to play and, you know, they, they’re so good at dreaming and scheming, but you know, that’s our, that’s our slogan. The mantra of future Prairie is keep dreaming and scheming. And, you know, I say that all the time, almost texting it to people and that’s, that’s our best gift. You know, our ability to create on a dime, to help imagine and envision what the future might be. It’s such a privilege. It’s such a gift. And I also think it’s our responsibility. Um, that word is really, really controversial. So not all artists like when I use it, but to share, share, and give back and create, against the, the violence and the degradation of this year, creatives are tasked with generating an equal and opposite response. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. And even though many of them are coming from a position of disadvantage in having to do that. But, but I agree with you that, that I hope that we can. I think that we must, and it’s hard. It’s really hard. That’s I think that’s the thing I’ve, I’ve learned. it’s like a, you know, I spent a couple of hours phone banking a weekend or two ago. And I was like, Oh, this, this, this is hard. Um, and you know, so, but, and then also just putting, putting those emotions into the work as well is really challenging too. Part 4 Before I move on, I had just one more question. I want to ask you, And that was about the first time I saw you perform. to kind of set this up a bit, um, as I’ve gotten, you know, kind of further and further into being an arts organizer and a fundraiser and all the things that it has taken to, you know, help my organization grow and, and to try to do more, to build the arts infrastructure here for the jazz musicians that I work with. As I’ve gone through that process of, of kind of learning new skills and all the things that have nothing to do with the original kind of reason that I got into it, which was to just play music and write music. I’m a composer as well. And so there’s this conflict of being an organizer and also being an artist yourself, um, that it’s just, it’s just very difficult to be able to do both effectively. Um, cause they both demand so much time and energy and dedication. Um, and so, uh, you know, so it just reminds me that I, I saw you, I think it was at the risk reward, um, festival, and I think it was, Oh, I think a year or two ago. Um, Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah, a couple summers ago. Douglas Detrick: And I, and I saw you perform, uh, it was kind of a solo performance piece. and you know, one thing. I’ve talked a little bit about on this podcast is that I’m the father of an autistic son and, you know, for him, it’s, it’s just been, it’s been such this amazing experience. and we have a neurotypical daughter as well, and she has, she has her own challenges, um, both for us as parents and, navigating our family as it is. Um, But, you know, one, one thing that, um, you as an adult autistic artists, um, putting your own experiences and also bringing in, some history of, the challenges and mistreatment that autistic people have faced. Over time, finding a way to put that into this piece. And there was like music and dance and all these things in storytelling. And I, found it just super memorable, and, and also really powerful for me, in my role as a father. and so I just wanted to say that. I loved it, and it would be fun. Um, if you could maybe tell the audience a little bit about it and just talk about your own work and, How’s it going kind of, despite you know, that tension between being an organizer who is supporting a whole community of artists and also being an artist yourself and, you know, still needing to find time and space for your own work. Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks for saying that. Yeah, that, that piece is really close to me. It’s uh, definitely still in progress as it, as I performed it, then it was a 20 minute, um, solo show. Um, basically a short play called self-defense and, um, it is about, um, Autistic experiences, autistic history and just neurodiverse, divergent thinking patterns. And it kind of plays with some of these themes of, self-defense. when a woman or a femme presenting person goes to take what we would consider a self defense class or a workshop you’re most often learning about physical moves and jabs that you can do in case a bad guy runs out of the night and grabs you off the street. I actually, I, when I, I first took, when I thought, Oh, there’s something to this. There’s something really interesting here that. we’re not talking about the actual thing, but we’re kind of circling around it. And so I actually took a bunch more. I took a bunch of self defense classes from a bunch of different people to explore this idea. And, um, my piece kind of talks about how the things that autistic people need to defend themselves against or not. Those, the likelihood of getting snatched off the street in broad daylight in the city of Portland is quite low, especially for me as a white person. Like my whiteness protects me a bit there as well. That’s another privilege, but it is very likely that an autistic person will be exposed to systemic abuse or medical abuse. unfortunately, you know, shortly after kids get their diagnosis often at a very young age, They are put on life-altering mind-altering addictive drugs immediately, with very little consultation for other options. And so, yeah, the piece talks a little bit about that and I loved it as it was performed. Then I think that there is an opportunity to develop the work further. I hope it gets some, maybe a book or, um, God, I guess a short film. I don’t, I don’t really want to be a filmmaker, but I feel like I have to, you know, because I don’t, I don’t know anything about film, but… Douglas Detrick: …you can learn. Joni Renee Whitworth: I could learn, you know, some, some way to, um, to share these ideas more broadly and to develop the work. So it’s a bit more, um, I dunno, concise and stronger. So that’s kind of where that piece is that, but in terms of your question about balancing, um, it’s been extremely challenging. I don’t, I don’t think there has been a balance really this year. I feel like I’m working harder and longer than ever with so many rejections and failures. I try to cherish and celebrate each of the wins when however I can. I always, I always, always, always post. And social media when I am denied a grant or a contest or a writing publication, and also when I’m accepted, because I think it’s really important for us to share those without any shame. I have no, no shame about the denials and no excessive bragging feelings about the acceptances. You know, I think we have to normalize the hustle of that, of that game and working as an artist, um, I mean, obviously I don’t even work as an artist full time. I have a normal nine to five job in addition to future Prairie. In terms of balancing the community work and the personal work, I, I hope, you know, when we find ourselves in good community with great artists and real friends, often those people will circle back to you and say, Hey. It’s time for you to work on your art now. You mentioned this piece that you want to create. When are you going to do that? Do you have time this weekend? Can we just sit down and work on it together? Um, that’s been the only way I’ve been able to make even the tiniest shred of progress this year. Douglas Detrick: I can relate to a lot of those things. Yeah. I think it’s great that you kind of share the, share the rejections and share the, successes. It’s it’s it’s cool. I tend to like, Not share either. And then, and then like all of a sudden it’s like, Oh, I had this grant and now I have this performance and nobody’s heard about it. So, anyway, but I, there, you know, there was something else that you said that I thought was really interesting as well. And that was, you know, just this idea of this complexity of this idea of the straight line, you know, from point a to point B here, we didn’t have this thing and now we have it and isn’t life great. Um, and that’s not real life. but I think that so often the best way for people to understand that complexity of real life and like, you know, even if there is that success, like, you know, we use that example of, you know, now we do have gay marriage and, and that’s, that’s wonderful. Of course. But like at the same time that we still have all these other things that are still big problems and, you know, like in, you know, and I’ll just use the example. Let’s say, you know, if you read it, if you, if you wrote a book or if you read a novel or you’re at a play, um, and you have this character of, you know, maybe it’s an autistic character and, you know, it’s like, as you create this, this person, um, living in a world that maybe very much like the real world, um, That’s that opportunity for that complexity to be kind of walking and talking and speaking to a reader, to an audience, in a way that, you know, just the data on a page, no matter how well it’s produced and how well it’s presented and how well it’s interpreted for an audience it’s just not the same as when you have like this. You know, this character that we care about, staring at you, you know, either from, you know, from the screen of your short film that you don’t want to make, um, or from the pages of your book. that to me is such an opportunity that we have as artists. And, you know, so I, I suppose that something I hope for, with the podcast is that we, we remind artists of that power and, and we. And we remember how important it is and that it’s there and we can use it. And here’s what we can use it for. Um, and this conversation with you, I think it’s been really informative. I think folks will learn a lot about, you know, maybe some things they haven’t thought of and, and, um, and just some great examples of things that you’re doing. Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks for saying that. And I totally agree it’s, uh, especially when you think of an, in all writing, but especially in play reading, there’s the traditional three act structure of like, you’re learning about the characters and then there’s a rising action and some kind of climax and, and inclusion and, um, more and more I’m. I know that that story format is so familiar and the hero’s journey and all that, it feels so good because it’s so familiar. But I am just wondering if there’s any opportunity to mess with that and try to expand it to something that feels more true to me, which is, you know, you think something is sorted out and 10 years later, it’s still haunting you or you, You have some certain feeling for someone and you know, years later you see them again. And it feels exactly the same as if it were on the same day. You know, things, opportunities to play with time, time, and emotion and structure are limitless in poetry. And I think that that’s why I try to identify myself first and foremost as a poet, because there’s so much freedom to be had there. Douglas Detrick: Freedom that word that you used to describe that photograph? is, yeah. I mean, if we can, you know, if there can be more of that freedom, we’ll be in a very good place. Joni Renee Whitworth: Absolutely. Absolutely Douglas Detrick: Cool. Well, Jo we can wrap it up there. There’s obviously a lot more we can do that. I hope we’ll get more chances to talk in the future and hopefully in person someday. Um, but, but thank you so much for, for talking with me about all this and, and sharing all of that with the audience. Um, I appreciate it. And thank you so much. Joni Renee Whitworth: Yeah, absolutely. My pleasure. And thank you. Outro Thanks so much to you, Joni. Learn more about Future Prairie at https://www.futureprairie.com/. If you listen back to episode 4 of this volume featuring Onry and his Livin in the Light project that Future Prairie is sponsoring, you’ll know that this organization is doing some ambitious and important work. You can help them out by donating some dollars or sharing the GoFundMe campaign. Go to GoFundme.com and search for “Black Opera at Portland Protests,” or follow the link on the episode page at moredevotedly.com. If you value the conversations you hear on More Devotedly, I want to encourage you to give the show a five star rating and glowingly positive review on your podcast app, and then tell a friend about the show. You can also join the show email list at moredevotedly.com or follow on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I produced this episode and composed the music here in Portland, Oregon. What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?
24 minutes | 7 months ago
Vol. IV | Ep. 5 – Joy Harjo on Repatriation
I spoke to Joy Harjo, chair of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Board of Directors and the Poet Laureate of the United States, about the repatriation of the Yale Union building in Portland, Oregon to her organization, about her role as Poet Laureate in a toxic time in American politics, and how she found her voice through poetry and music. Header image by Karen Kuehn. About Joy Harjo Joy Harjo. Image: Melissa Lukenbaugh Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019. The author of nine books of poetry, several plays and children’s books, and a memoir, Crazy Brave, her many honors include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, a PEN USA Literary Award, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writers’ Award, a Rasmuson US Artist Fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Harjo is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow. Episode Transcript Douglas Detrick: Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume IV, episode 5. ^^^^^ In July the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation announced that beginning in 2021 ownership of the Yale Union building, located in Portland, Oregon’s inner southeast, would be transferred to the Native Arts and Culture Foundation, and the Yale Union organization will dissolve. At the heart of this transfer is the idea of repatriation, a reversal of the land theft that Indigenous Americans were systematically victimized by from first contact with European colonizers all the way to the present. Recognition of those transgressions is important, but the transfer shows that there are meaningful ways to heal some of those wounds that go beyond words. This land transfer will be an incredible investment in indigenous artists for years to come, and that will benefit all Portlanders. As a nonprofit leader myself, I’m also struck by how this story shows that a nonprofit’s mission can be more important than its very existence. Nonprofits are so often chronically under-funded, but still burdened with high, often unreasonable expectations from funders. That fight just to exist becomes a mission all on its own. But it’s important to remember that’s not why we got into this work. Sometimes there may be a very good reason for an organization to no longer exist. Yale Union, an organization that is “led by a desire to support artists, propose new modes of production, and stimulate the ongoing public discourse around art,” decided that it could best pursue that mission by giving its most central asset to a native-led organization. It’s a remarkable recognition that even a mission that an organization has held dear for more than years as Yale Union had in this case, isn’t necessarily the only mission that matters. To learn more about the transfer and to talk about what it will mean for Native Arts and Culture Foundation, I spoke to Joy Harjo, who is the chair of the organization’s Board of Directors, and the Poet Laureate of the United States. We talked about this historic repatriation, about her role as Poet Laureate in a toxic time in American politics, and how she found her voice through poetry and music. ^^^^^ Douglas Detrick: joy Harjo thank you so much for being on More Devotedly. There’s been some exciting news the Yale union building in Portland, Oregon was transferred to the native arts and cultures foundation. and you are the chair of the board of directors with that organization. and I just wanted to start with the most important thing. In your view. why is this significant? Joy Harjo: I think it’s very significant on so many levels. I don’t know, in the, you know, even in US nonprofit history, if there’s ever been a building donated to an indigenous or native arts organization. I think this is the first. but it’s so exciting about what it means for local native arts, as well as national and maybe even international. you know, there’s, there’s so much that can happen there in terms of, shows and, um, meetings, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s endless, you know, the possibilities of what, what could, what could have happened there, because I feel that a building it has quite a history, but you know, it’s it’s really become a kind of community arts place. Douglas Detrick: Yeah, absolutely. And so that will, you know, that trajectory will kind of continue. the origination of Portland was, you know, there, there were native people that were living in that area of course. Um, and so this, this idea of repatriating, recognizing that debt and giving back, you know, in this way is like you said, I can’t find another example of it happening in this way. Joy Harjo: I was just thinking of how this becomes an example of repatriation. And I wish I had thought of it the other night when I was asked a question about repatriation for indigenous peoples. And this is a perfect example of how repatriation happens. Douglas Detrick: What is something to you that is particularly exciting about this opportunity, you know, maybe for the artists that might have access to this space or perhaps for the organization. Joy Harjo: I think of art is a coming together place, you know, even a work of art, whether it’s, uh, a performance or some kind of, you know, event, live event or music or painting or sculpture that brings people together, you know, with ideas. And sometimes, you know, when, I mean the pandemic clears, you know, into a physical, a space to experience together. So this building certainly is emblematic, but it’s a very real space and with different kinds of spaces in it for all kinds of collaborations and events to take place. Douglas Detrick: Do you have any, any thoughts about perhaps why this moment? it’s a very difficult time. It’s a time of change. It’s, there’s pain. There’s also rebirth kind of all of these things are happening right now and this thing among them. And I’m curious, does it take any, special significance for this to be happening right now, in this moment? Joy Harjo: Well, in these kinds of moments of immense social transformation, we’re challenged, we’re being challenged. We’ve been challenged utterly on so many levels, you know, the earth changes, climate change, governmental shift and, and chaos the arts have always been those places. They’re almost like transformer stations think of a piece of art or even a art movements, or even places like black mountain Institute, you know, black mountain, for instance, as they become transformers of culture, transformers in times of shifts. So I see the building has the potential to work like that, to be a place, almost like a transformer station to engender the production and the sharing of what is going to emerge from these times that we’re all in. Because fresh art blooms from these times of great challenge, just like in a fire, then there’s these fires that have been going on too. Is that out of the ashes, we’ll see green emerge and in the ashes, will feed, you know, will feed the earth and feed the plants. Douglas Detrick: And you mentioned part of the excitement of this event is that it sets an example. And so I wanted to kind of follow up on that again. You know, this is what could be the first of, of, you know, more types of transfers of, of property of capital in the future. And, What of this do you think is a model, you know, what do you think other organizations, or perhaps other folks that have a building that they, you know, that they might be able to give to an organization? what do you think there is to learn from this? Joy Harjo: as you were speaking, I was thinking way back to the late sixties when. You know, the Alcatraz prison was just sitting there. And I think it had been written into that contract or there was something that had, you know, it’s, uh, I don’t recall right now it’s something in a federal law that, actually it was written in it. Natives could use that or a takeover, you know, use it after, and then the government blocked that. But I like the idea of repatriation. I mean, there’s so many different kinds of moves and shifts that can happen with repatriation. there’s so much could happen there. It’s ultimately about sharing, you know, or giving back. Douglas Detrick: as we’re talking a bit about what’s happening right now and some people are struggling to make sense of the moment. Some people that are looking to see what they can do to pursue their, ideals and, and changes that they would like to see. Um, there are also people that are, opportunistically capitalizing on, on divisions and things that are becoming even more intense during this time. And so you are the poet Laureate of the United States and, I wanted to ask you about, you know, how do you see your role as Poet Laureate in a moment like this? Joy Harjo: my position, it’s an honorary position, I see it as a service position. So I represent poetry and make, um, you know, help make the public aware of poetry. And it’s certainly times like this that we need what poetry provides, you know, an inspiration. Um, ways to speak that are not, polarized and ways to speak and be, you know, past the rhetoric and the hate to bring people together and to celebrate, you know, to celebrate poetry and the contributions of poets. So, you know, it certainly being a poet Laureate during this time has been, it’s been a little strange because one, we can’t go anywhere right. By, by video. We’re, we’re limited And even politically we become limited you know, it’s, it’s, it’s such a strange time. Um, so like any poet, like any artist, you know, we have a responsibility to be truth tellers. And to keep our eyes, our ears, our hearts, our minds on a way to keep moving forward, to inspire. To inspire cohesion and connection in a time in which, there were attempts to divide us, to destroy and to steal. I mean, that’s, that’s at the core of what’s going on. What’s at the core is an immense greed and a disrespect and disregard for other people, for the earth for the, sacredness of life. Mm. Douglas Detrick: this is a question you can answer or not, you mentioned, um, climate change while the president has disregarded climate change. as an artist, you. You speak your mind. And so I’m, I’m just curious how at Liberty do you feel in this position um, kind of in this moment and how does that relate to that interest in trying to bring people together? Joy Harjo: I was told that I can put anything in a poem. in during this pandemic. I have been writing a memoir, but ,it’s sort of like looking back and looking at, you know, Going through generations and seeing how indigenous people have been through pandemics. We’ve been to major, you know, land theft, attempts to destroy us in culture and sort of like with the, the whole world’s going through right now. And so I’m able to comment and move in that, in that form and that format and that forum, the book will be out next fall. It’s called poet warrior, a call for love and justice. So that’s how I’m maneuvering. Trying to keep eternity in mind because these things change. They will change. And, you know, it’s important that everyone, you know, that we all get out to vote. It’s important that we all have our voices that we speak and that we are heard and that we trust what we’re seeing, that we’re seeing, what we’re seeing. Yeah. Yeah. We know we trust that we’re here, what we’re hearing and not to be fooled by fake news and the attempts to, to divide and to destroy. Part 2 Douglas Detrick: hearing those things from you about, poetry and as well for you music, giving a voice, I’m getting an opportunity to express oneself. I wanted to ask you about how you got into doing what you do as a poet and as a musician and, how did poetry and how did words and how did music create that opportunity for you to find a voice, to express that. And then to use that, to bring people together. Joy Harjo: I came to poetry through my mother’s song writing and she loved poetry. And, uh, but I walked away from music when I was in junior high and for a number of reasons that I talk about in my new memoir and, and, um, I started writing poetry when I was like in my mid twenties and I didn’t start playing music until I was in my almost 40. I got my band Joy Harjo and poetic justice together. All of my band, they always native attorneys. So poetic justice. Was it good? Was it good name? It’s a good name for the band, but, and then I’ve had other bands and it’s like, I usually call it, uh, Aerodynamics a R R O w dynamics, band and play with, you know, whoever I pulled together, but I played a lot with Larry Mitchell and, and, um, a core group, Robert Mueller, Howard bass and so on. Douglas Detrick: so this was something that I read in an article with NPR, but you mentioned a story that I think that I believe is also in the memoir as well. So you mentioned a story about listening to miles Davis . my ears perked up a lot to that too, because I’m, I’m a jazz musician and a trumpet player kind of in my, well, almost a previous life, because now I’m producing a podcast and creating a lot of music kind of electronically and not playing the trumpet as much as I used to. But, um, for me, it spoke to me a lot because of that experience with was very similar for me that listening to miles Davis and his, just his attitude towards music and the way he played the trumpet and the way he led his groups was really inspirational for me. Um, and you know, I was just, I was just curious about that inspiration in particular, or maybe if there are others that are, you know, feeling perhaps more significant right now? Joy Harjo: Well, I remember getting to hear Gil Scott Heron years ago in Santa Fe, and I thought, well, he’s doing kind of, what I want to do is poetry and music. And I’ve been recording a new album with, Barrett Martin and, um, I finally, I feel like this album is in the pocket It’s like finally, you know, there’s the poetry, there’s the music. There’s, since they’re singing, I play sax. It’s very jazzy and yet very it’s just what I I’ve always done my own thing. But miles. Of course, I, I have a little story. It’s at the beginning of my last memoir and crazy brave how I had a trans one of those transcendent moments when I was before I could really speak very well. And I was listening to the radio. We were driving somewhere in the car and it was miles Davis’s horn. And it was, I don’t know, I say transcend that. Why talk about it? You know, I tried to describe it in that little piece I wrote, but I’ve always been deeply moved by jazz. I grew up with my mother is a singer and wrote songs and we had country swing musicians at our home and I heard her saying, so I grew up in that kind of atmosphere And then when I came to music later on and it was like, Oh my gosh, I’m too old, and it’s like, I couldn’t listen to them. It’s like becoming a poet, you know, people, I was not encouraged to become a poet at all. It’s like, you have kids, how are you going to make the, with all of that? And, um, you know, I started playing sax when I was almost 40. But I, love the music. What I love about jazz is that it enables me to travel in a way that, and there’s a way to travel and improv in it that it’s unlike any other kind of music that you can improv. I mean, country swing is the best of it is it is, um, you know, It’s thick with improv the same with a lot of middle Eastern music and so on. But I, you know, and I want to add that our Southeastern native people are part of the origin story of jazz and blues. Douglas Detrick: I would love to hear more about that. Joy Harjo: Congo Square was, uh, a Muskogeean village. Then you don’t know, you know, that stories left out. So after I get this memoir out and then this album, my project before I disappear to paint again, is a musical, had a musical that tells that story through a young band in Tulsa. Douglas Detrick: Oh, wow. Has that been premiered yet? Joy Harjo: No. No. I kind of go into revisions as soon as I. Get all this other stuff in. Douglas Detrick: Great. I would love to hear more about that. It sounds like a fascinating connection. I find that, um, you know, and, and jazz history, just like in most, you know, most views of history that people have, and I’m sure poetry is similar, that there is kind of a, you know, there becomes like a prevailing narrative that most people just kind of accept without thinking about it. And. And there’s almost always more to the story. So you know, just revealing that part of history. Um, you know, both for jazz, but also, you know, with indigenous people is, is, is great to hear. Part 3 As you were talking about your mother, there was just one last thing that I wanted to ask you before we go. And that was, just this idea of standing on the shoulders of giants. this lineage that we all, you know, you might have it by blood, like you have with your mother and you might have it just by an experience like you have with miles Davis, I would say. was really curious about your mother and about how, how did she pave the way for you? Do you feel that she did, how did that happen? And you know, what, what do you feel? Is there. Joy Harjo: Well, she gave up a lot of that. She wound up, she was writing when I was really small, she was in, there were just two children. She wound up with four children. She was recording demos. Ernie fields, who was, um, you know, he had a big jazz band. He took one of her songs and did a cover of it. You know, she was thick in the business and then, one of her songs got stolen and. I don’t know which one it was, but it became a Johnny Mathis hit. I’m not saying he stole it. It’s just that somebody stole it and people would get songs and, you know, shop ’em to people. Douglas Detrick: yeah. Joy Harjo: So, she had children, she had two more children. She wound up in a divorce and you know, her music or music fell away. I have an, I have a folder of songs that she wrote on, on the backs of envelopes and she always said, I can always recognize a hit. Douglas Detrick: Hmm. Yeah. It must’ve been devastating for her to hear it. I’m sure she heard it on the radio or eventually, you know. Joy Harjo: I think about that though. And I think about, um, yeah, because she was sending out to music, Publishers that, you know, in the backs of magazines. So sending, just sending her work out like that, which is not a good idea for anybody out there. Keep that in mind. Yeah. Two I’m even saying yes, keep it, you know, because without getting it without copywriting, I didn’t even then, you know, it gets tricky. Douglas Detrick: well, joy, I have really appreciated talking to you. that idea of, passing on a legacy and, building for the future finding ways for more people to find their voice. and especially for indigenous folks, um, you know, and, and your mother did that for you and in some ways, and, and, and ACF native arts and cultures foundation. We’ll be doing that even more in Portland. And I’m, I’m really looking forward to that. I run a arts, nonprofit in Portland as well, Portland jazz composers ensemble. And so, yeah. So I’m looking forward to seeing. Kind of the growth with NACF in Portland and just excited for them to be, I mean, I guess they’re coming across the river from Vancouver, but, uh, you know, to come a little closer to us here. So I appreciate that. And I’m excited, very excited for it and very inspired to hear about this news and, and yeah. Joy Harjo: Well, I look forward to seeing you at the opening whenever, you know, the physical opening, whenever that might be. Douglas Detrick: Yeah, absolutely. I’m on the email list with NACS, so I’m sure I’ll hear about it and hopefully it can be there in person and maybe we can meet in person someday when the apocalypse is over and, and all that. So. Okay. Great. But, well, thank you joy. I really appreciate your time and thank you so much. Okay. Thank you. Thank you. Bye. Bye . Outro Douglas Detrick: Thanks so much, Joy. Folks, we’re just about one month away from the 2020 elections. Are you registered to vote? Do you have a plan to vote so you’re safe and your vote is counted? It’s time to cast your vote in the most important election ever for every issue that progressives care about. Please vote Biden/Harris, and Democrats up and down the ticket so we can restore our democracy and make this country work for everyone. Make sure you are subscribed to this podcast on your podcast app to hear the next episode, an interview with Joni Renee Whitworth, a poet and Executive Director of the queer arts organization Future Prairie. We’re on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google podcasts and anywhere that fine podcasts are distributed. You can hear from me a little bit more often via social media, search for more devotedly in facebook, instagram and twitter, and you can join my email list at moredevotedly.com. I’m Douglas Detrick and I produced this episode and composed and performed the music right here in Portland, Oregon. What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it More Devotedly?
39 minutes | 7 months ago
Vol. IV | Ep. 4 – Onry and Livin’ in the Light
Amidst the struggles of the pandemic and racial justice protests in Portland, Onry has taken the opportunity to clarify his priorities, taking his creative future in his own hands. Onry is a singer, dancer, actor, and pianist based in Portland, Oregon. He’s one of very few Black professional classical singers here. When the pandemic hit, Onry went outside to find places to sing, to keep his voice strong, and that led to some experiences that inspired his new project, a documentary and studio recording project called Livin’ in the Light. You can see a beautiful music video that’s part of the project at moredevotedly.com, as well as a link to a fundraiser that’s still in progress. We talk about how the experiences he’s had during this time showed Onry that it was time to step into his own light, and to show how others can do the same in their own way. You can support the project here: www.gofundme.com/f/blackopera and learn more at https://www.futureprairie.com/. Header photo by Wesley Lapointe. Livin’ in the Light Music Video PSU National Anthem Video About Onry Onry studied music in Ukraine and Moldova and has performed throughout the US and Europe. He’s toured with Lyle Lovett, been a soloist with The Maui Chamber Orchestra and Oregon Symphony, and performed with American Repertory Theater and Portland Opera Company. Some of his notable performances include the Black Clown, Madame Butterfly, Sanctuaries, African American requiem, Show Boat, Carmen, Faust, The Big Night, La Traviata, Pirates of Penzance, and Hairspray. Onry is a member of the artist collective Future Prairie and serves on the board of African American Requiem with the Oregon Symphony. He is also on the Arts and Music Board of Kings School in Seattle, Washington, and the board of Active Space, a creative studio for people of color in Portland, Oregon. Outside of music, Onry enjoys community organizing work, philosophy, linguistics, traveling, tea, collecting vinyl records, and spending quality time with friends and family. Episode Transcript Douglas Detrick: Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume IV, episode 4. ^^^^^ The pandemic and the economic downturn, the ongoing struggle for racial justice, the wildfires and hazardous air quality, all of that has created profoundly challenging circumstances here in Portland, Oregon. As I looked out the window at a yellow haze and felt the discomfort in my chest just breathing air in my home, 2020 felt even more apocalyptic than it already was. Amidst that struggle, Emmanuelle Henreid who goes by Onry, spelled O-N-R-Y, has taken the opportunity to clarify his priorities, and to take his creative future in his own hands. Onry is a singer, dancer, actor, and pianist based in Portland, Oregon. He’s one of very few Black professional classical singers here. When the pandemic hit, Onry went outside to find places to sing, to keep his voice strong, and that led to some experiences that got him thinking—Why is it that some people cheer when they hear him sing? Why do others call security? Those experiences and others that we talk about led to his new project, a documentary and studio recording project called Livin’ in the Light. You can see a beautiful music video that’s part of the project at moredevotedly.com, as well as a link to a fundraiser that’s still in progress. We talk about how the experiences he’s had during this time showed Onry that it was time to step into his own light, and to show how others can do the same in their own way. And quickly, before we get to the interview, I want to say thank you to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a hero of mine and so many others. If you’re feeling sad to lose Ruth, please don’t despair. Instead, make sure you’re registered to vote, and then make a plan to vote Biden/Harris, and for Democrats down the ticket. Let’s take the White House and the Senate, and we can move forward with rebuilding America so that’s it better for folks like Onry, and for folks like you and like me. Here’s the episode. Interview Douglas Detrick: And, you prefer to be called Onry? Onry: Yes, that is my actually it’s… Would you like to know the story? So, I decided to go by the name Onry. It’s a name that my professors called me, uh, in school. And it was just a beautiful way for me to receive others as well as calling other people by their last names as well. So it was just kind of like Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Onry, you know, it was just this kind of a beautiful connection. And, and so as of recent, two weeks ago, my brother actually passed away. Douglas Detrick: I’m sorry. Onry: Um, and so this far I have had two brothers pass away and my father has passed away as well. And I realized that I’m the only male to carry on the name. And so I thought it was extremely fitting, just right after I decided to kind of go by Onry and carry that name. That is my legacy. That is the name that I’m going to, have go out for generations and the next generation. So it’s the question of what is your legacy going to be as something that I’m quite conscientious of these days. It’s a time filled with a lot of various highs and various lows, and extreme highs and extreme lows. But nonetheless, a good time to be alive. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to hear about your brothers and your father. Um, you’ve mentioned high highs and low lows and, um, you know, I think this, this project definitely represents that. This is a huge kind of body of work. And I’d love for you to kind of tell everybody what is involved, give us that, you know, how are you doing right now? It’s kind of a good question to start with. Onry: Yes. Well, um, right now I’m, I’m thriving. I’m living in a space of gratitude. I know that I’m not alone, that I have the ancestors with me that have walked before me, I have other individuals in the community of Portland and also in LA, in New York and, in Australia that are all supporting me a hundred percent. And so, um, in this process, I know that I’m not alone and that it’s a very, very good space to be in. Let’s just start with the project. So currently I am working on this beautiful, many pieces of work. Uh, one of them being an EP which is an extended play about 35 minutes long. It is filled with classical music as well as, contemporary alternative music, kind of like a radio head. So we think of like, if, If Beethoven, Aretha Franklin, the Mississippi mass choir and Sam Smith all got together and created a project, it would be this project of Onry. and so it’s, it’s this really, really beautiful exploration of my personal experience in Portland and bringing these worlds together in a very intentional way and also very educational way. So we have the EP and that EP is also going to be based around the five senses. And so we have currently Olo fragrances that has come and partnered with us. I’ve curated my own fragrance for the song living in the light. Um, we have, uh, chocolatier coming on board. And the reason why I created this was because I didn’t know when the next time we’re all going to be able to gather. And so it’s important that we see music and we see art in a very visual way, but also in taste and in touch and scent and smelling. And so all of these senses create an feeling and it’s all curated by me. And so it’s really important that people are able to experience what I was thinking and the process and the time that I was feeling the song. I think that that individuals will be able to connect with the album little bit more closely as their own and to me as an artist, I’m not as far off as they think, right? So it’s a very, very personal experience that’s that’s coming forth. And then we have this beautiful documentary based on me being an artist, during COVID, thriving, and then all of a sudden losing almost everything. And not knowing how certain bills are going to maybe be paid, uh, losing about 25 or $24,000 in work. And about 26, 25 gigs as well. And the process only in like one month or so. And, and then having to rediscover who I was and who I am, the process of COVID I think a lot of us realize without our work, without our professions, we were questioned who we are and what do we do then? And during all of this time, I kind of realized, you know, if I lose all of my titles and if I lose everything that I’m doing, who am I as a person? Well, I enjoy singing and I know that I’ll find my narrative through the voice. And so I began to go out into the streets and begin to sing. And, there are some people on balconies that applauded and it was amazing. And then there were individuals, uh, who were like police and security who pulled me over for, for singing and stop me for singing. and we just kind of begin to go about explaining the shame in that process and then writing this documentary . And then from that point, One morning, I met this gal and sing this national Anthem and kind of go on and just continue my days. And then a few days later, I’m singing, singing at the waterfront during the protest and leading the protest. And all of a sudden, all these different things are happening. I’m continuing to do the documentary. And then I get this phone call later on, which is this video it’s, it’s great. We love this video from Portland state university. It gets a phone call and they say, we love this, this performance. And I say it, uh, I haven’t performed in quite some time or at least the performances that you’ve probably seen. and I knew that there were not referring to the performance at the protest. And so I’m thinking of what performances it’s and they sent me a link and it is, it says commencement ceremony of class of 2020 PSU. And I thought to myself, Oh no. And it was this girl that shows up on a screen and I thought, Oh God, I’ve done it now. There’s a lot of things I’ve landed into, but hopefully this is, you know, not going to be one that ruins my career or something of that nature, or to be known as that guy. and then I started to receive really interesting feedback that people really touched by the experience. I didn’t know this girl. and it was something that, that is just kind of my nature. if you have someone who’s singing and song, you go and enjoy them. And if you feel that to sing with them, you ask if that’s okay, cause we believe in consent and then if it’s a yes and we create music together and then we just let it live there, that it live and breathe in that moment. And then we just kind of let it go. Douglas Detrick: And could you kind of describe what happened in that for folks that may not have seen it? I’m sure they’re all going to go check it out now. Onry: Yeah. So if you, if you look up national Anthem, or even on reliving in the light, um, you’ll see both, uh, both videos. Uh, you’ll see, this video of Madison singing the national Anthem. Perhaps if you look it up on it, I think the ABC, clip will come up and so you’ll see madison singing the national Anthem, then all of a sudden I come up and join her. And in that moment, if we just kind of take a step back from the video of you, pause it, I’m walking down the street, headed to get a breakfast burrito. And from that breakfast burrito, I hear this voice. And it’s just kind of soaring within the park blocks and I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, finally, someone else has it. Someone else is singing in the streets, aside from myself, because it’s not that I enjoy singing in the streets. It’s the fact that everything is closed and I’m a professional opera singer and a professional vocalist. And I have nowhere else to sing because I’m not allowed to sing in doors. My voice is too loud. The outdoors is the only space. Finally, I see someone else’s caught on and I see this. girl whose kind of got this this small little camera crew with her as if she’s doing like a tik tok or something, or, you know, maybe doing like a class project. Cause it’s on campus. And I’m like, yeah, why not just sing together? It’s okay. And so I see her singing and I walk past and this voice inside me is like, you should ask her to sing. Yes, no, yes, no. Yes. Uh, I don’t know. And uh, then I just, you know, something in me stopped and said the least that she can do is say no. And so, uh, and if she says yes, then, then hopefully you don’t screw up in the process. And so I just said, okay, cool. So I took her, I turned around, I asked, I said, Hey, um, do you mind if I sing with you a single, the Portland opera company? And, and she just kind of paused and was like, yeah, absolutely. Camera’s turned on. And then I sang, I gave them my, my Instagram handle. I was like, well, I don’t think this will probably go anywhere. It’s probably a project or a school project or something, but if you want to send me something and he was saying, contact, feel free. Here’s my Instagram handle. And then continued on. And so what you see is actually me leaving the scene. And so, uh, what you’ll see is this me joining in song and then singing and literally just leading afterwards. Douglas Detrick: There’s no way that she would have known necessarily… Onry: …who I was or anything and anyone for that matter. I mean, I’ve done, I’ve done a lot of work in, in my past, but, but in general, I think that I just said, you know, this, this is my voice. It’s not about our names. Cause at this point we’re in, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, everyone’s lost their titles. Right. Um, and so all that matters is who you are at the very moment. You are it. And at that moment, I was just a willing soul wanting to simply sing along with this individual. And it happened. And then a month later I got this strange phone call. Okay. And the numbers begin to escalate and escalate and. Then you witnessed the documentary began to grow from there. Part 2 A day or two after I got done filming for the BBC news, then the building that we’re currently in right now, uh, I was racially profiled and a friend of mine was racially profiled coming into the building. Uh, there are about four black men that were in the space. And again, the police go by Portland police go by. And they stop. They see my friend going into the building at night and then they begin to put on their lights and call in for more police to come because they believe that this individual clearly does not belong in this space. And so at that moment, again, there was, I knew that this experience just getting ready to escalate very quickly. If I didn’t do something about it. And so we’re all sitting, trying to figure out what to do, because we know that there’s four black men inside of this beautiful space. For some reason, in certain people’s minds, black men don’t belong in beautiful spaces at night or during a pandemic. so the cops are waiting outside. I go and see, I go up to about all 40 windows or 40 or 50 windows. And then I begin to lift all of those windows very quickly. And as I lifted them, I began to sing opera to my fullest capacity. And all of a sudden people were walking by, started looking up and the police pause their conversations start looking up. And I did this, this wave as yes, I see you up here and I’m creating beautiful art. Do you want to go listen or should you go get back down to the protest? Cause that’s where you’re needed right now. Douglas Detrick: What happened Onry: And within seconds they waved back and they left. And at that moment, I realized that high art disarms and for some reason, within the white American culture really afraid to, to harm beautiful high art. We’ll harm art that maybe is hip hop at any moment that I would have turned in any hip hop music, or I would have turned on any jazz. I would have turned on something else we would have been dragged out of the space because of the protest happening less than a mile away. but. The document you need us to say, I don’t want to give away too much, but the documentary shares upon these really personal, beautiful stories that happen and kind of allow for us to think, about what, what is happening in Portland. Why do we believe in the way that we believe? And what is the overall message? And in that the overall message is once we stop running this race, We finally begin to win. And sometimes when we, when we run a race in life, we run the race of others. We run the race that is not necessarily our course. And therefore we fail to see who we are in the process. And so, um, for many POC like myself and Portland, I’ve been running a race, here in Portland. That was not necessarily my own. I’ve been doing music and opera spaces. I’ve been doing music in gospel spaces. Maybe I’m not, well, I was definitely classical enough and then maybe I was gospel enough, but these worlds, uh, or even in the Slavic community, uh, I was just slightly Russian enough, but not fully Russian. Right. Um, and so Douglas Detrick: you, you spent some time Onry: and Ukraine. Douglas Detrick: in Ukraine as part of your training was Onry: Yeah. And so The idea is you are enough of this thing, but just not fully it, uh, and even in the classical world, yeah, you may have the voice may have this, but you have to look a certain way. You have to be a certain height or stature or skin color in order to get this specific role. You might sound great. But if you don’t necessarily look the part, then you don’t get the part. And so the question, that I kind of had to come to at this point, during the hearing COVID was, uh, what is your race? How do you live in your light and not the light of others? Douglas Detrick: And what are you you’re using the word race as a. Kind of as a metaphor for a path that you’re Onry: Yes. The path. Yes. how do you stay in your lane and protect your own lane that you have? And, this far I’m discovering and shedding light upon what that lane is, both musically, artistically, and also with my voice as a public speaker. and it’s, it’s coming along just all right. Part 3 Douglas Detrick: this time is one of a lot of pain and suffering for so many people, but I think that your experience of, you know, in that time of pain, in that time of suffering, that your purpose is clarified. The word you used, you know, what, what is the race I’m running? Um, is. Is clarified. And I think that’s been a fairly common experience. I’d say I share it to some, to some degree. I’m Onry: Everyone does. It’s a human thing. It’s not about a race thing. I think it’s once we find that we begin to stop, uh, living in the light or the perspective of others. And we begin to really see ourselves and you’ll, you’ll witness this in the music video, you’ll your witness. There’s a race. This guy is running for some reason and this film and it looks great. I resonate with this for some reason. And then he stops and then he looks. Why does he stop? Why is he looking? I think he knows that I’m looking at him and it’s, it’s a little bit uncomfortable towards the end. And then there’s a question that’s there is, do you see me because I’m beginning to see myself right now and this race that I’m running is actually not my own. I choose to not live in the light of others. I choose to live and to see and respect myself and the mom that I begin to see me, that also tells me and enlightens me what I deserve in life. What jobs do I deserve? What neighborhoods, what quality of life do I deserve to have when I begin to see me and how do I teach others? How to love me in the process. Yeah, Douglas Detrick: I think you’re right. And I love that you kind of recognize the broadness and I always hesitate to use the word universal because few things in human experience are universal. it’s something that is perhaps approaching universality, you know, is that idea of your purpose, your, your goals, your real values, what’s actually essential to what you are and what you’re doing. Those are clarified in a time like this, the fact that you are a black man and having this experience and then putting it forward to be recognized, you know, it’s significant as well, but, um, yeah. I’m sure. Yeah. Onry: Um, it’s actually really interesting, um, in the process of creating the film, I thought about, you know, going the direction of, well, why don’t we just like make this a little less universal and about me and this experience. I know that this is what it means to me, but like, how about we add in another model? How about we create this thing and the team kind of pause? And I said, you know, I actually envisioned it just solely being you and, and this. It’s really like, it’s powerful, it’s strong. And I thought, no, that is the most vain thing that anyone could ever do. I’m not going to be the only person in this music video that is not me. Uh, and then I began to kind of shake and tremble and fear the same exact way and sensation that I felt when protests started. And I had this sensation of. This is what the world is going to think of me. I should not go out and protest, or they’re doing this in the name of, of black people and they, they they’re they’re they, me, me, me, me, me, I don’t know. And then I realized, wait a second, it’s not about you. and I thought, okay, it’s time to go. And so just as I created this film on January, we shot on. The 3rd of July. And at that moment I decided I have to, to follow that, that fear thing, that’s going to be my navigator. And so at the end of that meeting, I said, okay guys, Andy raised everything that I just said, we’re going to have the video be just me. I’m going to follow the intention of fear, being my guide in this process, knowing that it’s not actually fear, but it’s, it’s vulnerability. It is power it’s authenticity. And. That is actually what we need during this time. We don’t need another music video. We don’t need another song. We don’t need another BookBub beat bop, let’s dance. And like, yeah, it’s really, really cool to have that, but we need music that begins to process the soul work that the average individual is not able to do for themselves in the workspace or at their, in their home space. As an artist and musician, I am commissioned during this time to do that work, to do the soul work. And so in order to do that soul work, I have to look and reflect within my own self what that is first. And as you see me on film processing my own soul work beginning to see my myself for the first time. On film in this way, this is, it becomes very, very powerful. And I want to add to this, this film that we created was not, funded by any corporation or any music company. There was no, we raised money solely on our own through you, the listener. Okay. I do not have a label behind me. I do not have anything. I’m completely a hundred percent independent. Um, and it is the listener who says, yes, I choose to give to this because I see this individual putting light and beauty into the world. And so that’s, that’s what happened. And hopefully there will be a company or a record label or something that we’ll assume backup the next, video, which is going to be exciting. Cause we have a new song coming very soon. The idea is we’re solely creating this out of love. Uh, that music video was, has a worth an in donation of almost $300,000 or a little more, a little bit over $300,000. Uh, within the works and the cameras that we used and the time spent and, um, the individuals on, on board, yes. Many of them did get paid. Um, but a lot of people just said, I want to be a part just because of the love of it. And I believe that there needs to be a revolution in music, and that is what you’re currently creating right now. so that is. The commission of mine and I, I find it very, very important. Part 4 Douglas Detrick: something that I find really important and that I see in. The music video that’s that is out now because the documentary is not out yet, correct? I mean, I think one, you know, one thing in the arts that we must do is to show rather than tell, cause you can, say this is coming from love, but then if you don’t show that that is true, you know, and there are a lot of ways to do that, but I think that, you know, That vulnerability that you were talking about and, you know, you felt some fear about putting yourself forward in that way, uh, that, that I’m hearing and, Onry: I’m still a black male living in Portland. Douglas Detrick: sure. Onry: And at any moment for the feds to, you know, to talk to anyone or something like that, like, I, I don’t live in a crazy beautiful house. I don’t drive a really, really great car. I’m just an average guy. Uh, who’s just trying to do the work. Douglas Detrick: Right. Onry: Um, and even if I did have any ounce of fame or anything of that nature, If you saw my little Ford focus, you’d be like, now that guy is definitely definitely average. But I mean, but it’s, I realize that in, in even explaining that narrative, it is not about the car you drive. It is not about the house you live in. Is that has nothing to do with, um, gaging deep power and impact that you have, uh, and the impact that you have on the soul. And also clarity. And so I think when we, when we educate through these lenses of beginning to claim your own identity and who you are, and realizing that there’s celebration and authenticity, and difference, and yeah, there’s, there’s, there’s celebration in that. And there’s love in that space. And so you’ll find your place, you’ll find your people, you’ll find your community. We’re here, we’re here for you, you know, and you’ll come back home when you, when you choose to. Douglas Detrick: It seems like there’s a moment of transition in there for you where you are. You know, like the first step is to recognize those, those things like that fear of stepping forward into a certain way. And then, but then there’s the next step of taking responsibility for that and saying, this is what I’m doing and yes, I’m going to continue doing it. I mean, if you, if you don’t realize what you’re doing, if you don’t think about it carefully enough to see that perhaps that’s what’s going on. On this podcast, I just put out this. piece that I wrote that’s, I’d say it’s about 40 minutes long. I was like, I can’t believe how much I wrote about this, but like when the pandemic started, I started building a stone patio and kind of a small retaining wall in my backyard or that I’ve wanted to do for like forever. Um, and like, it’s like, well, my weekends are, are pretty clear now. So I think I can, yeah, it was, I, I, I feel fortunate to have been able to do it, but I mean, one thing is, as I was trying to write about it, I just kept going and going and going and was feeling just like, this is going terribly. And so I asked a friend of mine, who’s a great writer and editor, and she looked at it and she’s like, you know, what’s really happening here is you are sharing your perspective of what you are learning as you’re doing this project and the things that are going on in the world at the same time, you know, George Floyd, the protests are happening. I was going to protest for the first time. Um, and like, Wrapping my head about what that was like and what it meant for me. And why did I feel, challenged by that, you know, personally, and maybe not so much ideologically, it’s more about like, I just feel, discomfort personally. and so that this essay just coming back to that, it was like, she’s like, what you need to do is take responsibility for your thinking here. It’s like, , there are times when you say, you know, somebody could think of this or like, you know, it’s, it’s maybe natural to assume this. And she’s like, no, it’s like, you need to say what you think. Um, and even if you aren’t sure, or even if, maybe you feel uncomfortable, what you’re saying, say that too. Yeah. But like, it’s, it’s like, what’s, what’s happening here and what’s, what’s worth doing about this is that you are recognizing your, your limitations. You’re maybe recognizing your own strengths and you’re taking responsibility for that. And going ahead, despite those downsides. but eventually with her help, I got through it. Thanks Lara. If you’re listening. but it seems like there’s, an important part of that for you too in this project. Where just saying here’s, what’s really important about this. And here’s what I’m worried about. You know, like there are risks to this professionally, personally, personal safety, things like that, you know, and, and, and decided to go ahead and, and, and it’s beautiful that all the people that were helping, you know, decided to take that step with you, I think is really inspiring. Onry: I will say I have a very supportive team for sure, and I couldn’t do any of this work without them, especially my manager, Jonie, shout out to, to you. But I will also say that there is an immense amount of turmoil that happens. I realized, I wake up black, I go to sleep black. I’m a die black. I live in this black body. And often times individuals do not see who I am beyond the color of my skin. They don’t see, are not willing to see the character that is beyond my actual skin. And because of that, it feels like fire sometimes on my skin, if I feel anxiety inside an internally because of it. Not to say that it’s not beautiful because I think that we’ve done a really, really great job in this film, living in light, depicting what it is to live in this beautiful body. And I’m not 250 pounds of muscle. I’m not this time. All crazy, dude. I’m just this like slender athlete dude is normal guy, uh, simply trying to create art, right? And, sometimes Well, I’ll just say in the process of creating this and also even protesting, I spent about two and a half days in bed, weeping, weeping, the death of George Floyd, weeping, the death of Breonna Taylor, weeping, my loss of security. The idea that you are no longer able to hide in America as a black male, you can’t hide under certain labels. These individuals could potentially becoming for you who do not like you, you were seen as a threat. What do you do at night now? Is it okay for you to drive to, you know, the outskirts of Portland? Is it okay for you to go to Hillsboro after a certain time of night? You know? there was a curfew that we had during that time as well. I’m not sure if you remember that. Um, and so there were a lot of individuals who were pulled out of their car who were taken to jail. Right. Douglas Detrick: Alright. Onry: And a lot of those individuals who were taken in jail were not white individuals. There are black bodies, um, being made an example of, and, and in that I did not want to go down that route. I have tried almost 30 years of my life, trying to figure out how to be safe. And when someone says, Hey, just go ahead, go be safe, be safe. When you go outside, I’ve been doing this my whole entire. Life, and there’s nothing else I can do now. Who’s going to look out for me. And so to go through that process and to go through that emerging space of saying, you know, what, if I’m going to do this, I have to do it a hundred percent. If I’m going to lead that I have to do it for the kids and the youth that come before me. There has to be a change. Change has to come. Even if that means I put my body on the line, even if that means that I put my voice on the line and I pray and hope that the ancestors are with me in the process in a very, very real way. Uh, and so have you followed me on Instagram at mr. Owner underscore owned, re O N R Y. You’ll see video footage of me singing at the protest. and there was an experiencing for the NAACP recently where, the president of the NAACP came up to me and he said, you know, the ancestors were with you when you were born. And that surgery room, they were all gathered around. They knew that one day which is going to be that day that I was singing for them, that they would begin to sing through me that day. And so all of my experiences were in preparation for that moment. And so they knew at the beginning of birth who I was, and that there’ll be grooming me to this point of leadership. And then the moment of leadership begin to sing through me as I emptied myself out. And truly, as I emptied myself out, there is a point in one of the videos that you’ll see where my voice travels extremely far. And if you were there in person, it almost traveled about six blocks. Yes. I had a microphone, but. Usually you have a microphone travels about one or two, right? It doesn’t travel almost six. And to hear my voice ricochet off of all of these buildings and the wind kind of belongs with these trees, I kind of witnessed like, this is not normal. I am not alone. There’s something greater than I do this moment. That’s that I’m experiencing. And there’s a certain level of faith and a certain level of hope. That I have to continue to do in order to, to reach this destination. I’m now on the path and race of my own. Douglas Detrick: Onry, thank you so much. This is a really fun conversation and I appreciate all that you shared about it. it’s very generous of you to share that. And I appreciate it. And thanks so much. Onry: Thank you. yeah, if you want to continue to support, feel free to go to, both our Instagrams of living in light film. And then also, mr. Onry living in the light and, and you can also look up the music video and support the song on YouTube, living in the light. and if at any moment that you choose to, look at our, go-fund me feel free to, to give to that as well. It is going to be connected in our living in the light, Instagram you’ll be able to find it Douglas Detrick: Thank you, Onry. I really appreciate it. Onry: Thank you. ^^^^^ Thanks so much to you, Onry, and also to Joni Renee Whitworth for helping make this interview and the project possible. Make sure you check out the music video and the fundraiser for Livin’ in the Light, you can find links at moredevotedly.com. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll also sign up for our email list. You can also follow the show on instagram, twitter and facebook, and if you value the conversations and music you hear on More Devotedly, please tell a friend, and rate and review the show so the audience can continue grow. I’m Douglas Detrick and I produced this episode and composed and performed the music right here in Portland, Oregon. What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?
40 minutes | 8 months ago
Vol. IV | Ep. 3 – Subashini Ganesan
Subashini Ganesan is a dancer and choreographer, the founder and Executive Director of New Expressive Works, and Portland, Oregon’s Creative Laureate since 2018. Suba is a humble, even bashful leader. She made it clear many times that she doesn’t see herself as a hero, but I’ll say that she’s a hero of mine because of her swift and compassionate action during this crisis, and several years of deft and authentic leadership she’s provided to the Portland arts community. We talked about her role as Creative Laureate, the process of distributing this aid money from the Oregon State Legislature, and about the social justice movement taking place in Portland right now. Photo by Intisar Abioto. About Subashini Ganesan Subashini Ganesan in conversation with Douglas Detrick at Peninsula Park in Portland, OR. Photo by Douglas Detrick. Subashini Ganesan is an artist, arts administrator, and the Creative Laureate of Portland. As an artist, Ganesan founded Natya Leela Academy where she choreographs and performs potent and universally relevant expressions in Bharathatyam. Since 2008 has received multiple Regional Arts & Culture Council Grants. She often collaborates with local choreographers like Mike Barber (Founder, Ten Tiny Dances) and Michelle Fujii (UNIT SOUZOU). Her works are often showcased at local & regional festivals including PICA’s annual Time-Based Art Festival, Conduit’s Dance+, Ten Tiny Dances Beaverton, NW Folk Life Festival, & the Salem Library’s “World of Music.” She is the founder and Executive Director of New Expressive Works. Episode Transcript Intro Douglas Detrick: Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume IV, episode 3. Subashini Ganesan, or Suba for short, is a dancer and choreographer, as well as the founder and Executive Director of New Expressive Works, a nonprofit organization and arts venue that seeks to make ALL cultural genres equally visible, highlight the excellence of different artistic processes, and maintain fully accessible practice and performance spaces. She is also Portland, Oregon’s Creative Laureate since 2018. This role, like many other things here, is unique to Portland, as far as I’ve been able to tell. In it she works in collaboration with city government and arts commissions to more effectively interface with Portland’s diverse creative class, among other things.. An early initiative she worked on was to conduct a survey of how Portland artists were using physical space in the city with a particular focus on affordability. Later in her tenure, when pandemic-related closures took hold in Portland, Suba worked with arts leaders and philanthropists to raise over $170,000 for direct cash aid to artists. Suba is a humble, even bashful leader. She made it clear many times that she doesn’t see herself as a hero, but I’ll say that she’s a hero of mine. Her leadership during this incredibly difficult time has been inspirational. At times that I’ve been feeling paralyzed by the difficulty of the situation we’re in, Suba has assembled coalitions that have taken concrete action to make it better. A big thank you to Suba and all the other arts leaders who have been working hard to get this community through this crisis suffering as little damage as possible. I wanted to talk to her now because of the role she took in helping state, county, and city arts commissions make the distribution of $50 million of federal COVID aid money more equitable. As an organizer whose organization’s future depends so much right now on accessing aid money, I can say that the extra work she and others from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition to clarify the process for accessing this aid money was super helpful for me. I’m sure it was to many others as well. She and I met at Peninsula Park in Portland to have this conversation, and you’ll hear sounds of folks riding by on bicycles, a chorus of crows, and even a well-timed car alarm. We talked about her role as Creative Laureate, the process of distributing this aid money from the Oregon State Legislature, and about the social justice movement taking place in Portland right now. Here’s the episode. Interview Douglas Detrick: Welcome, Suba, to More Devotedly. Subashini Ganesan: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m excited. Douglas Detrick: Cool. Well, could you start by kind of introducing yourself? Subashini Ganesan: Great. thanks for having me Douglas. So I wear many hats as you know, my primary foundational hat I guess is that I’m a dancer, a choreographer and an artistic director. My foundation is in an art form dance form called Bharatanatyam, which is a South Indian classical dance form. It’s from the state of Tamil Nadu, and it’s considered to be 2,500 years old. And of course it has evolved. Right. I always say that what I’m dancing right now is not a cultural representation of an ancient past it’s, it’s a evolution of, of the floor as any form evolves. So that’s really my foundational identity. If you will. I also run new expressive works. I founded it in 2012 and the mission of new expressive works really is to support, celebrate, and provide as much visibility as possible for independent performing artists in our city. it has grown to region and country and sometimes international art is, but really it’s about how can we provide affordable space for performing artists to make work, to incubate, to, show work in whatever form, whether it’s a formal performance or just a showing and teach classes and workshops. Whatever is needed for an individual artists in this moment in their trajectory. And, in 2018, I was honored to be designated as Portland’s second Creative Laureate. Douglas Detrick: You were the second. I thought you were the first. Oh okay . Subashini Ganesan: we’ll talk Douglas Detrick: we’ll talk about that Yeah Subashini Ganesan: And my role in our community both as an artist and an arts advocate, I’m super grateful that it’s continued to grow. I been sitting on the board of the Miller foundation for a couple of years and actually it’s nice to be in peninsula park because I also just recently became a board member with the parks foundation. So it’s lovely to connect and collaborate on all these different levels. Douglas Detrick: Yeah Well let’s talk about the creative Laureate position. So I thought you were the first but you’re the second, how have you conceived of that role and what even is that. Subashini Ganesan: Absolutely So as I understand it mayor Sam Adams designated this position. you know we all know Sam Adams in so many different ways but when he was the mayor of our city and I was Beginning to become more and more active in Portland toward the tail end of his mayor mayorship mayor hood, and I’m quite an important advocate for arts and culture right in our city. And he conceived of and designated this position. Of course as Portland loves to be it is it was the first Ever designation of creative Laureate of any city in the country perhaps the world. and cause we are used to poet laureates right Not creative Lloyds. and so Julie Keefe are you familiar with Julie Keefe she is an important artist photographer but really it’s not in that box of what we might think of as photography. There’s a lot of storytelling huge huge investment in young people’s ability to speak about themselves through Photography. And then how do you take that into text And what does storytelling mean What does what is identity, emotions… so Julie Keefe and has been in Portland for a very long time and has contributed not just in the arts world but in terms of community, community building. I know that Julie’s had a lot of relationships with the Skanner news when it was much more elevated years Douglas Detrick: Yeah I think I’ve read about that in particular Yeah Subashini Ganesan: Yeah And and so Julie was our first creative Laureate and Julie held on to the position and and then after Sam Adams we had mayor Charlie Hills and Julie kept the position. And I know that Julie was in it for about maybe five years cause it was 2012, 2017, And at that point we have mayor Ted Wheeler in and commissioner Nick fish is the arts Portfolio holder and I’m Julian Nick decided that it was time to look for a new creative Laureate. And you know application process and interviews. And here we are. I mean I’m really grateful It’s it’s really both a huge honor to be recognized in this way because I know that our city has so many important Community leaders in the arts and culture world. So to have this position is huge and also to be able to do advocacy work visibility work, relationship building collaborative things you know stirring the pot all of it, all of it. And in terms of job description I will say that I’m again very lucky to have had and continue to have support to build the project as we go. one of the hopes is when the next Creative Laureate goes out for application process again–because it would be nice to keep having new voices right, More ways to represent our advocacy– there is a desire to build somewhat of a mandate so that people know what they’re entering into. And then keep the mandate as a core and build newness, with the new creative Laureate so that they can also bring their artistry their advocacy their point of view and their excitement to the position so that it keeps becoming a thing where we’re highlighting not just art forms but also the ways that artists conceive of what civic engagement means. Douglas Detrick: Well it’s a bit like you know you might think of like an an opera role or a theater role or a dance role where you know the first person to have it kind of defines it in a certain way. And then it becomes the job of the next person that does it too bring their own voice to it. And and maybe and there’s that dance between kind of honoring the tradition that’s there and also putting your own stamp on it. I mean I think both things are really important so I think that’s been interesting. What would you say that you have approached it a little bit differently. Subashini Ganesan: You mean in relationship to how Julie approached it or you know there there are lots of differences but one thing that we always have to remember is when we think about civic engagement we have to remember the players. So when Julie was designated the resources and the tools that Julie can could use were very different from what I what I have right now. You know the the ecosystem the arts ecosystem has changed so much. So Julie’s role I know Julie spent a lot of time doing community engagement work working with youth and that is that something that she continues to do, right. I don’t want to reduce the stress at that time but we we were in a space where arts and culture had Venues and opportunities and a much larger donor and funding base. So when I show up in 2018 I pretty much dove into what was important at that time which was venue closures, affordability, where art is going to be able to make work, And show work. So I think each of us were able to get involved in that now that we were in and the now has as you know that question of affordability and survivor mode that Not just artists but arts organizations have continued to have to maintain unfortunately has only grown. It’s not all bleak, right, I don’t like to say that the picture is bleak. Absolutely not. We’ve got amazing stuff going on and we have to recognize that a lot of shift where it requires us to feel more and more concerned. And then we’ve got COVID. And then we’re working through an very important social justice movement. so all of these markers have influenced how I approach the work. Part 2 Douglas Detrick: So folks heard my interview with Jeff Hawthorne. We talked about this appropriation from the Oregon state legislature of about $50 million that is coming from the federal government through the cares act one of the COVID relief bills and that was passed through Congress. so basically what’s happened is that and we talked about this before so I’ll just do a brief recap here but okay I’m the state legislator kind of earmarked about $50 million of that Whatever the total amount is to go to performing arts venues and organizations that are struggling to stay up float and pay bills and meet obligations that they have. so Jeff and I talked a lot about the broad structure of this and just how it was working how it came to be you know especially from that advocacy perspective which he knows so much about. So I wanted to talk to you a bit about the equity piece of it now that the money’s there and now that it’s being distributed, you did quite a lot of work trying to just spread the word about what These things were and help people navigate what was a fairly complex application. Subashini Ganesan: So this is interesting because I’ve had conversations especially about the cares act with so many different community members. You know the one thing that I keep coming back to is because our democracy is what it is and the systems that have been created Are what they are and as we continue to work with those systems we find out what these systems really are. So the best way I would say to understand why these cares act monies came so fast and we’re decided what feels like at the last moment. And it perhaps the most inconvenient time for most artists Leaders and artists because August is that time where we say Oh my goodness can we finally take four days off before September hits Right. so there’s there’s been a lot of discussion about timing and you know the equity of the timing and what if people don’t even get the information until the application due date is gone. but I would say you know this is where squares and what is that the thing about trying to get us Douglas Detrick: a square peg peg in a round Subashini Ganesan: yes there we go you know having grown up in Singapore, I know these sayings but I always get them all mixed up. It’s kind of funny. And it’s kind of a running joke with some of my friends. So here’s a CARES Act that’s really geared towards small businesses And what the government knows of small businesses number one and number two it’s really in the mode of disaster relief fund, right. So it’s like what they would do for hurricane disasters. And So disaster stuff is often messy, right? It’s super super short term. And the regulations, for most non-bureaucratic human beings makes no sense. Douglas Detrick: Yeah totally Subashini Ganesan: So this framing is not to say anything about lack of equity, right, that’s not what I’m saying. But I’m just kind of approaching it in that manner of if we just looked at the system, it’s it’s so Frazzled to start with. Douglas Detrick: Yeah and it’s it’s like it begins from a place that’s already challenging unless you have experience with it you know and have been through it. Subashini Ganesan: Well and even if you do, right, every disaster relief every every moment calls for something different. And and in that in that spirit of responding to the current moment it could add more complications then not, right? So and then now we come to this particular bill. So $50 million 24 of those million dollars we’re just itemized as numbers right by legislators to seven of the largest arts organizations in our state. And the important thing to think about here is these venues And when we say venues it’s a very confusing thing you know from an arts and culture perspective what is a venue? Well it’s it’s a place where Performances happen is how I understand it was defined for that list, right? So it’s performance venues. So it’s not venues that teach classes. It’s not venues where you have community gatherings. It’s not in terms of that flexibility It’s where performances happen. And the reasoning behind it of course is those were the first ones to close because of crowds. Douglas Detrick: Right. Subashini Ganesan: And those will probably be the ones that might open last you know with your sports events. And then the rest of the money the 26 million is the competitive dollars. Douglas Detrick: Hmm Yeah Subashini Ganesan: So therein was this confusion of why did some folks make the list where you’re just getting checks. How did they come up with the numbers for certain organizations. I just want to say all of this is in the spirit of Goodwill and goodness and innovation and this attempt at creating sustainability, right? Because no other state in the country has passed such a bill. So we got to take a moment and celebrate and say yay, Right? We gotta we gotta get excited about that. And there were some very keen lobbyists and keen advocates who really pushed the agenda forward. So that is important. And at the same time we’ve got this question of well why did some venues And some venues as they’re defined and then some arts organizations performance spaces get money in that first load and why didn’t others. And then why does everybody else have to go through a competitive process when these folks mysteriously got money. Douglas Detrick: Right? Subashini Ganesan: So you’re starting to see that Those are the questions of inclusivity accessibility. Where’s the equity in it, but where is even the information accessibility? so that all happens in July, right? And then early August we’ve got Oregon arts commission, Oregon culture trust, and business Oregon under which Oregon arts, OCT and OAC function. so that’s our state structure. And Oregon culture trusts OCT is responsible for helping this competitive process for the rest of that $26 million And that was the application that I partnered with you know OCT and the Multnomah County cultural coalition and the regional arts and culture council to really get the word out. And some of our private foundations. And really you know from where I am I’m not paid to do any of this work. So what I can do is reach out to partners and say here’s an opportunity for us to make this as accessible as possible given these restrictions right Restrictions of time restrictions of language, don’t just mean language I E it’s an English. the language of it for some people they’re like this is not English. Douglas Detrick: Right I understand Subashini Ganesan: and so All of these points where we need to capture or even organizations who feel Oh well I’m too small. No one’s going to pay attention to me. And yet these are small organizations that impact not just that particular arts and culture community they serve but they are part of the larger ecosystem of our community. so that was really the push in the last what was it I can’t even It feels like a lifetime ago only at the beginning of August, right? yeah where there was there was the understanding that the applications were going to come out and you know again I just have to say I can’t do any of this work if people didn’t say yes let’s partner. Yes We’ll work through the weekends. Yes We have to. This is important. Especially in these times where I keep hearing about individuals saying that they are making a change while others aren’t. I speak about larger leadership in our spheres these days I feel like it’s always important to say yes one individual can sort of call out the need but it takes so much work with so many people and so many organizations that we have to keep celebrating that collaborative partnership And not just focus on the leader who apparently made everything happen if you get my drift. Douglas Detrick: I do, Yes. it’s a great problem to have that we have this problem of what do we do with this money and Subashini Ganesan: Thank you for saying that because the we is a question. Who are the we and who’s at the table. And the thing is what we I believe as as I don’t know who the we is at this point but let’s say we’re I think as a whole our communities of leaders are very good at saying we’d like to bring in focus groups of the folks we know who are underrepresented. Please speak to us We will listen to you We will record what you say. We’ll write this up and we’ll build a statement. But what do you do with those listening sessions, Right? And and great So I feel good that I’ve heard what you’ve had to say. Oh what I have deemed underrepresented artists or arts organization. Right That’s that that’s the silence that that’s important to think about. And so in this case that’s the struggle, right? How do we even get people to the table to apply? Because the folks who are making decisions might actually not know the impact or that these communities are both underrepresented and are important. I find that word really hard underrepresented but I use it because it somehow makes the synapses connect. I wish we would have a better term because it just it’s just… Douglas Detrick: well term terms are hard Subashini Ganesan: is this too hierarchical You know Douglas Detrick: And it’s but they also changed so much over time and and like You know Yeah So it’s Subashini Ganesan: That could be a whole Douglas Detrick: built in Yeah I know Right Subashini Ganesan: so so the folks at the table who are making decisions you’ve got folks at the table who are invited by the decision makers to say their piece And then the the power difference between those who are being heard and those who are hearing them because the ones who are hearing them are making the decisions because they’re the ones who are speaking in these focus groups are not invited to make decisions together, Right? So cause you can’t change our legislative Constitution like that just can’t be done. so those are just questions, right? These are these are things that we need to think about for how we move forward. what happens next Because great We’ve got some relief funds but that’s like phase zero, right? What’s what’s phase two three four no one two three four. Like what are we going to do for the next three years, Or as some people are saying five or seven years, As we find the steps to come back up in a way but also come back into another vibrant rich world. Douglas Detrick: That’s hopefully better than Subashini Ganesan: Right Douglas Detrick: what we had Yeah Part 3 Portland is in the news right now, Right? you know I wanted to start The conversation by saying like if you were talking to somebody who’s not in the city with us and they’re hearing these things and they maybe they’re hearing what the president says And then and then they’re hearing what other people say to say that the president is completely wrong or or that he’s like taking a tiny bit of truth and blowing it way out of proportion. But I you know I just want to ask you your just your view of being here and with your perspective that’s pretty unique about you know in your role as creative Laureate and as a dancer as an artist what are you seeing here and how would you describe Portland in this moment to somebody who’s not here Subashini Ganesan: I I think about a long sense of history right What Portland is working through right now which is very important protests to call out what needs to change. the things that happen because protests happen. And how everybody paints occurrences in the way that best suits them. Especially when it becomes political. it’s not the first time that I’ve had to Witness or be part of something like this. I I’ve been having many many memories back to I think 2000 or 2001. it was the year after the WTO IMF conferences, which happened first in Seattle and the protest there, And then the next year it was in DC And I was working in DC in In an organization And we had sent folks to the Seattle protests and then I was part of the DC protests. And it’s the same thing Right You know there’s one maybe not one square mile It was a little bit bigger maybe like five square miles that is involved in in action And in in all the things that people call Rioting and protests and all the loaded things that come with that imagery. And then the rest of DC is just sort of living their lives as they are. Douglas Detrick: Yeah Very much like we are in Subashini Ganesan: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, I go back to that personal experience and then I look at other historical things across our timeline both in America and across the world that you know this is how people Choose to do business in that political realm, or in sensationalistic press world. And and really we’ve had a few friends call and and we say well we are on the other side of the river. This is where this is going on. Douglas Detrick: Right Subashini Ganesan: But it’s not to say everything is fine in Portland except I mean that’s the part that’s very important for me is it’s not to magnify I the lack of unrest. For me it’s to say yes it’s happening geographically in the spot and reminding people why it’s happening. Because that’s the problem that I’m seeing is the kind of constant attempt to Forget why people continue to show up what Eight weeks Nine weeks Yeah After George Floyd’s killing, Right? And that we have Another one in Kenosha Wisconsin last week you know so I was watching I forget who or what I was watching but somebody said look After Kenosha this person was speaking four days later and people say okay well what do you want us to do? And his response was because this was on news And he says no we already told you what we wanted you to do. we’ve been telling you over years right Hundreds of years, And we told you very clearly When George Floyd happened. So don’t keep coming back to us asking for what you need because you know what we need. And and I think that is what I speak about when I think of you know yes There are lots of people living their lives in the way that quarantine has made them live, and we have I have to amplify the importance of the work that’s being done. Because I keep getting stressed out about how it devolves into this discussion of property damage and disruption and forgetting what the cause is. And you know because I live in Portland I know that graffiti is something that Is new maybe street art is new I mean it shouldn’t be but having lived on the East coast and seeing beautiful street art for all the time I’ve lived in America, even those things of well when is that going to change, No! we need to accept the philosophy and also the philosophy of what’s happening And the humanity that we need to come to terms with our humanity I mean me as an individual the humanity of the folks who are saying Hey you’re not why are you not seeing us as humans. You know that’s really important And and this is you know I’m just going to close with this because this is something I’ve really been thinking about for the last few weeks. We can see love and we can see beauty and we can see some of those manifestations outside of humans right Nature animals We can see relationships we can see community behavior. I’m not convinced that we can see hatred outside of humans. We made this up we made hate out of fear out of anger I don’t know out of what. So I’m not I am not convinced that it is reflected in anything outside of humans. So there’s so many things that we’ve made up that we’ve said huh It doesn’t work Let’s get rid of it. So, hatred. Douglas Detrick: Why is hatred not obsolete at this point in our in our history it kind of is what you’re is what you’re saying but. Subashini Ganesan: Well I’m saying why can’t we get rid of it. It’s not reflected anywhere else I’m not convinced. I mean maybe some of your listeners will say Oh no there is hatred amongst those Marine you know algae down in I don’t know. so if it’s manmade which I believe it is And it perhaps is made out of fear out of out of the need to keep power the need to keep our our boundaries to keep the system going we got to do it And I’m saying all of that because all of that to me is relevant when it comes to the discussion about Portland and the way things are being represented or misrepresented. Yeah Douglas Detrick: Yeah Well I yeah I mean I think that there’s definitely an idea of you know, people need to do what they need to do for themselves now to feed their families too Get along as human beings you know. living things compete for the same resources at times and where we but then we take that competition and we say no those other that other group of people whoever we choose to make into that other group you know that we we take that to the next level. We take that that tendency for competition perhaps and turn that into something that we call hatred and it becomes like this political driver And Subashini Ganesan: It’s one version but I will push back a little bit you know the slaves weren’t competing for anything Douglas Detrick: that’s true Subashini Ganesan: you know native American folks in in the indigenous folks in this country we’re not competing for anything. It’s really it’s sometimes It’s not sometimes most of the times I think when it comes to this level of conditioned hatred it’s just this construct. It’s a construct that I am better and you’re not. And because I’m better I’m more powerful and I’ve drawn these lines, I’ve drawn these boundaries, I’ve drawn these lines on the sand And and I will do everything I can to prevent you from crossing it. Or if you cross it there will be really dire consequences. And and I mean I’m I’m speaking of kind of hatred not I mean yes you go to the Galapagos islands Yes You see that survival of the fittest you see the finches and some make it some don’t. That’s you know that’s super Darwinian and that’s that’s animal, Right? I don’t I’m not convinced it’s hatred. Douglas Detrick: Exactly Well I think that’s because say what I’m saying is that that’s not hatred. Right We’ve we’ve yeah What we’ve done is we’ve said cause I I would maybe say that like when I use the word competition I’m saying like I think that the slaves did fight When they could there were some times but most of the time in 99% of cases they were they did not have the opportunity to and so there there are those examples but but but I think that the point is that I’m struggling to make here is hatred has to do with power. Subashini Ganesan: Well Yeah And hatred has to do with fear but my but let me just keep saying that the fighting back is historical events. My question is Why do certain people have to keep fighting back. Douglas Detrick: I see Yeah Right That’s important And yeah Subashini Ganesan: No no And I think that that’s what I want to really kind of keep impressing upon us is why does certain communities always have to fight for their rights. And let’s pay attention to the conditions that make it So. Because there’s a whole community of folks who keep pushing their power And I you know that’s where my curiosity is. And and I and that’s not it’s not all hatred but it’s this desire for comfort is this desire for structure but all of it comes from a place of human human making. So can we can we not deconstruct it? Can we not disrupt it? Because we actually have the power each one of us does. So why not. Douglas Detrick: Right Subashini Ganesan: You know and I get I guess I get a little heady about these things. Douglas Detrick: It is Yeah I mean it’s Subashini Ganesan: And it’s important I think it’s it goes along hand in hand with action and and the raising of voices. Douglas Detrick: it’s A fairly anthropological way to see it But I think that but you’re just trying to approach it I think I’m taking that perspective as a beginning point but to say like but look here here is hate and here is hate and here is hate and it looks like I don’t know housing discrimination it looks like police brutality these Subashini Ganesan: lining It looks like voter suppression It looks like less trees in neighborhoods that are made up of people of color and that means they live in hotter and less hygienic I mean less climate friendly places I mean it looks like a lot of things that are pretty insidious. And yeah and we can change it and why not? And I think that’s what I keep coming back to as that’s what’s going on right now in Portland. And don’t just focus on all the things that are comfortable to focus on. Douglas Detrick: Yeah The things that Subashini Ganesan: that you want to like or you want to hate And don’t just focus on all the you know the placards, right? Focus on the meaning and focus on why this has to happen now. Douglas Detrick: Yeah Subashini Ganesan: And I’m not saying this out to everybody right I’m asking myself these questions. Like it’s important that I keep saying that you know I’m not I’m not just telling everybody to do this I do this every day. I mean we talk about anti racist work, I feel Strongly that it has to be a daily practice. People have so many different kinds of daily practices and we need to hold this as a daily practice. Because there is no enlightenment. You know there is no Nirvana. We’re not going to walk away from the Samsara of if you will you can’t call anti-racism Samsara. And for those who don’t know, samsara is a Buddhist term of suffering and this idea of having to move out of suffering anti racist work is work that we got to keep doing. Like we don’t become like it’s not like you’ve taken a course and you’ve become anti-racist, right? It’s a do It’s the daily work Douglas Detrick: right You are what you repeatedly do. Subashini Ganesan: Yeah It’s not liberation It’s not moksha, You know it’s not all those fancy lovely things that we want. Hmm It’s it’s gotta be something we keep doing because every every moment is going to call for something else for us to do. Douglas Detrick: Absolutely Well let’s let’s end it there I think we’re you’re laughing and smiling right now so that’s probably a good place to stop. But Suba thank you so much for talking with me about these issues. when people ask why do I do this podcast It’s like I just enjoy having these conversations and putting a microphone in somebody’s face as a way of focusing that energy in a way that that I learn a lot. it becomes really interesting is because you you see people thinking in real time as they’re talking and trying to make sense of what they’re thinking And that’s just hard. I mean it’s it’s a hard thing to do. so I appreciate you going through that with me and Thanks for being on the podcast. Subashini Ganesan: Thank you so much This has been great. I really appreciate it. Thanks for thanks for having a conversation. That’s important. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. Happy to do it. Subashini Ganesan: Thank you. Outro Thanks so much to you, Suba. Learn more about Subashini Ganesan at moredevotedly.com or at the website of New Expressive Works, studiotwozoomtopia.com. If you enjoy the conversations you’re hearing on this podcast, please tell a friend about the show. You can also rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Please join our join or mailing list at moredevotedly.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I’m Douglas Detrick, and I produced this episode, and composed and performed the music here in Portland, Oregon. What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?
33 minutes | 8 months ago
Vol. IV | Ep. 2 – Andre Middleton and Friends of Noise
Andre Middleton is Executive Director of Friends of Noise, a nonprofit seeking to foster healing and growth for the creative youth in our community via the arts. They do so by creating opportunities for young people not just to perform, but also to learn the technical and business side of music, with a focus on creating a safe space for BIPOC youth. Andre talks about Friends of Noise and how the pandemic and protests in Portland have changed how that organization is approaching its work. About Andre Middleton Andre Middleton is a native New Yorker that moved to Portland to attend college. He has many ties to the arts and music scene via friendships that stretch back for at least 2 decades. He is the Executive Director of Friends of Noise. Andre is a community activist on issues of inclusion and equity and a community connector within the arts. He produces Friends of Noise Presents: a weekly hour of radio curated by youth DJs Monday’s 2-3 on XRAY.fm. He’s on the Board of Directors for the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, where he hopes to have a profound impact on their efforts to connect and share current and challenging art within a broad cross section of our fair city. André also serves on the Portland Parks and Recreation Budget Advisory Board as well as on Literary Arts Youth Advisory Committee. Andre Middleton Episode Transcript Douglas Detrick: Andre, welcome to more devotedly. Glad to have you on here and looking forward to this conversation. I thought it would be great for you to kind of introduce yourself and friends of noise and what you’re working on. Andre Middleton: Thanks Douglas, I really appreciate your invitation. My name is Andre Middleton. I’m one of the founding members and current executive director of a nonprofit here in Portland, Oregon called Friends of Noise. Our mission is to facilitate healthy growth for creative youth through performance, through professional development workshops and by hopefully finding them paid gigs, even though they’re minors. Douglas Detrick: Why was it young people, especially, that you wanted to work with in this way? Andre Middleton: Well, back in 2015, I was working at the regional arts and culture council and I was in charge of producing a community engagement event called the happening, which was a state of the state for the music industry. While RACC provides a lot of resources to a variety of artists, independent musicians were just under the radar. You know what I mean? They provided general operating support to like, to the symphony, but if you were just, you know, like guitars playing at a honky-tonk or, you know, a hip hop artist playing in a basement, there wasn’t much access to RACC’s resources, so yeah. When I produced this, event, I have a big background in live music in the context of being a fan. I was going to clubs when I was 16 and 17 back in New York. When I moved out here, I enjoyed going to places like, you know, pine street and Sityracon and La Luna. So. You know, having a vibrant and thriving, independent music scene was important to me. And at the time I had a 13 year old young girl and I realized I can’t go see shows that I’d like to see with her. You know, the venues that were accessible that were pretty much all ages at the time. We’re you know, large things happening at like the motor center or Memorial Coliseum, you know, it was much harder to have, you know, her join me at a small venue in town because of OCC regulations. So, that was kind of the Genesis. So yeah. I, since I was running this event, I got to pick the topics and I got to pick them. Yeah. The, the speakers. So I kind of, you know, slid this in say, Hey, let’s talk about, the lack of all-ages spaces here in Portland. Because about six months prior, there was a very popular all-ages spot called backspace, right. Downtown, small, easy to get to and they had closed down. And I don’t want to say through no fault of their own is gotta know all the details, but I think a large part. Yeah, that was, the fire Marshall had instituted some new policy regarding sprinkler systems and that actually had a detrimental impact on a variety of clubs, not just this one in particular. Douglas Detrick: Right. And there’s also been the, unreinforced masonry. Regulation that’s been happening lately that, music, Portland has been talking a lot about. Andre Middleton: In a big part of that in all fairness is, is that, you know, like many cities across the country, the arts entertainment infrastructure is usually in the heart of downtown, you know, and that’s where their buildings are. You know, the buildings closer to the river, you know, the ability, the buildings closer to commerce. I look forward to a day where there’s more arts infrastructure in the surrounding communities. Portland is an example where there’s Hillsboro, where there’s Montavilla, where that’s North Portland, where there’s Kerns. and I think, you know, that you’re right, that’s going to be expensive and retrofitting or building new buildings. And I think that’s something, unfortunately, as a nation we’re wrestling with, how do we, how do we support, infrastructure building, whether it’s, you know, bridges, roads, you know, and the like. Douglas Detrick: Sure of course. Do you kind of see that approach maybe of like letting a thousand flowers, bloom as being kind of a more effective way to encourage youth artists and other independent artists. Andre Middleton: Oh, I do a hundred percent. you know, when we started friends of noise, our immediate aspiration was to get some sort of venue and we couldn’t afford it. So put a pin in that and we became much more of an itinerant operation. So we bought all of our gear to be mobile and we taught our young people how to use it so that they could use it in their community. So we’ve put shows in Portland, all over Portland from St. John’s to be Beaverton to Gresham. And that’s really been a help for us cause we’ve been able to connect with lots of different audiences. A big part of what we do also is teach the young people how to produce their own shows. Back to your thousand flowers, I think that’s hopefully the future. There’s where by teaching kids, how to run a PA, how to book a band. maybe we can go back to that, you know? 1960s, 70s garage band aesthetic, where people are putting on shows in their neighborhoods and their people are coming to see them. And maybe we could just expand on that a little bit by, not forcing people to have, to either take public transportation or do with parking, to come all the way downtown to see art and especially art that reflects their community. Douglas Detrick: Right. You know, it’s interesting that we hear that we’re kind of approaching the subject in this way now, because I was the reason I wanted to talk to you at this moment was because I saw that this petition that you had put out, that was about, trying to direct some of, some of the money that’s been allocated by the state which came from the federal government as coronavirus relief, to earmark some of that money to create a venue. That’s kind of meant specifically as a home for young BIPOC folks that are, involved in the arts. First I’ll ask you maybe if you’re feeling like there’s any traction there. And then also like maybe let’s skip that step too and let’s say you can wave a magic wand and you instantly have enough money in the bank account to create this venue and you can do whatever you want. I’m curious would you still do that? Andre Middleton: The answer to the first part of your question, we did, we still have, and we did get some traction out of that effort. Due to my naivete I didn’t realize that the money from the federal government had to be used on and pandemic related shortcomings. And it could not be put in escrow or put into a bucket for future use. So the money has to be used by venues who, you know, have lost ticket sales and we’re still paying rent and utilities and insurance. And that money has to be used by December, 2020. So we totally understand why that didn’t work out for us, but yeah, what it did do, and I appreciate you bringing it up. Start a conversation around the lack of diversity in the venues in that are currently here in Portland, that lack of diversity in the employees that they ended up hiring and nurturing and developing, you know, I mean right now to become a booker or a talent buyer at pretty much any club in the country, you’ve got to start somewhere and that first start might be running security. And then the next start might be becoming a grip and be unloading and doing all that kind of stuff. And then, you know, or it might be because you’re a bartender and you’re in a band and you know, someone goes on tour and there’s an opening. By and large, BIPOC people are not integrated into that flow. Into, that pipeline of sorts. So, to answer the second question, yes. If I did have, you know, a pot of golden end of the rainbow. Yes. Our goal is to build a venue that is more than a venue, but it really is a community based arts center that realizes the value in developing youth on their path to adulthood in a way that gives them opportunities into a music ecosystem that hasn’t done a very good job of that. So, when we started Friends of Noise, the grand vision was at the time to become roommates with a variety of other arts musicians, you know, could be dance. It could be theater, it could be poetry. And we had hoped that this space would have a very modular aspect to it. So, you know, we’d have a black box or a white box theater, and any bit of art could be in that space. That’s still the goal that is still asks. But now we’re looking at it. Hmm. You know, if we’re teaching these young people how to run sound, and if we’re teaching them how to book and we’re teaching them how to do graphics and promotion, how are we formalizing their processes? Right. They can take those living skills and they can take those career building skills to other people and say, yes, I’ve been doing sound for friends for the past three years. I’ve got that experience. Yeah. For a lot of young people, they get that experience at a college. You know, they go off to college and they form, you know, they get on the radio station or they form theater, but there are a lot of kids were going to a college of that, of that with those kind of resources right now, isn’t in the cards for them. So how are we filling in that gap? how are we creating that opportunity and giving them really hands on experience at the same time and paying them? since we’re a nonprofit, we raise money from grants, from fundraisers and donations, and, it’s a point of pride that we pay all of our musicians and all of our sound engineers. For their time and you know, I re living wage, you know, they’re all, most of them are teenagers, but you know, it’s our aspiration that, you know, if they’re earning, you know, 50, 60, maybe a hundred bucks a show from us, that when they are in their mid to late twenties and, you know, playing a cafe or coffee shop, they say, no, you have to pay me because I’ve been getting paid for friends of noise since I was 16. Part 2 Douglas Detrick: How has your work changed during this time? You know, with the pandemic, then of course also, as the black lives matter movement has come to the forefront again. And, and I’m curious, like how has that changed the world, both kind of for you and the folks you’re working with. And then also, you know, the young people that you’re working with as well. Andre Middleton: At the beginning of the pandemic, it was, there was a lot of panic going around. you know, the last show that we did, it was on March 4th. and we called it March sadness, you know, who are prophetic, that would be, and that was produced by, you know, three youth bands. You just said “Andre we need, we want to put on a show” and we did it. And you know, who, who knew that would be the last one done in awhile? a side project of what we do is that we actually produce events for other people. And we are actually contracted by the trailblazers and by mercy Corps to provide sound and artists to perform at some events of theirs. So that was money. In fact, one of the checks was already mailed and we turned, turn that back. So we lost from revenue and exposure for our young people. For the first, you know, March and April, I didn’t do a whole lot. we have a radio show on x-ray FM whenever our local radio stations. And I was still doing that show. And that show is actually programmed by teenagers themselves where they’re the DJs. So that was something that we were still doing. And I thought about how do I expand on this? You know, how do I figure out a way of, making this bigger? So we started actually, Co-hosting with teenagers via zoom, where they would submit a playlist. And I would interview them as we listened to their songs in between their songs. So that was kind of an expansion. So, that was a work around because x-ray FM has some very specific training that they want their DJs to go through. I E you know, FCC and, you know, working their board and stuff like that. And since we couldn’t get into the studio because of the pandemic, I ended up being technically the producer and the youth was my guest. So that was something we started doing. And that was a lot of fun. last year we worked with another local nonprofit called city repair, and, we were looking for a way of activating young people creatively and, issue oriented activism. And, we were actually going and a couple of grants to do a almost like a teen Ted talk event that we had from mid June, where we were going to, you know, take over a space, most likely a, you know, a school auditorium or something and have young people speak and talk about what their issues. And they didn’t have poetry and live music that had to go online. So we actually a website that is a hub for people to submit, you know, their poems, their music, their videos, talking about issues that are important to them. We ended up doing several youth curated Zoom panels where we had, you know, four or five young people talking about issues. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. Andre Middleton: and then I expanded our radio show again, where we would invite some of those youth speakers to be on the radio, where it was a much more pointed and focused conversation, not just about the music. Douglas Detrick: Oh, I see. Yeah. Andre Middleton: So that was a lot of fun. Douglas Detrick: I think back to myself as a, as a young person and, I can, I can remember being certainly having frustrations with, with what I saw, you know, like maybe my parent’s generation about how, how they were run were running the world, basically. And, and, but I also don’t remember, Really, I still, I mean, honestly I do this podcast, but I still struggle with like, talking about this stuff and, and, and putting that into words. Cause I have, you know, I have frustrations, but like, and I have issues that I care about, but it’s still really hard, you know, even though I have tried to do better and to learn to talk about these issues more. So I guess I’m wondering, you know, the reason I say that is because I’m, I’m just curious about what you’ve seen with these young folks talking about these issues that are important to them. And then how, how does that affect their thinking and how does it impact their lives? Andre Middleton: It’s a tough question I, take an invisible hand approach to work with the people that I work with. you know, my aspiration goal is really just to amplify their voices. And so there’s very little consensus building there’s very little, compliant, demand of compliance or editorial from me. I pretty much give them equipment and say, Hey, this is yours. Run with it, do what you want with it. So, what I have observed and that’s, you know, from that vantage point is them taking ownership of their narratives in ways, like you said, that that has we, I don’t think we’ve seen to the degree that we have it now, you know, granted, you know, we’re old enough to have seen the advent of the internet. We’re old enough to have seen the creation of social media. but we are, they’re slowly starting to see, you know, what are the, you know, secondary, third, fourth layers and tertiary, you know, outcomes of these new ways of communicating and sharing information. I’ll admit that, you know, when we started Friends of Noise, a big goal was it was how do we get kids off their screens and into physical space where they’re bouncing off each other and they’re sharing ideas and they’re seeing each other, not just through a little screen. And it was a bit depressing that suddenly everybody’s doing live streaming and everybody’s doing zoom calls and we were unable to maintain that connection. But in a weird way, I think that it’s allowed young people to maybe hear themselves a little outside of the din of social media, you know, at least what we’ve been doing, you know? So, for example, you know, one of our first, Speak up, Sing out. And that was the series of young people where we would interview them. we had a 15, 17 and a 19 year old. And, it was so wonderful to see these three different ages in three different places of their academic careers. So to speak, you know, one person in the middle of high school, one person is a senior and one person who had graduated and was just had just finished their first year of college. And it was great to see them vibe together, you know, you know, there, it was a multiethnic. they, you know, had some different issues, but it was great to hear, you know, the 18 year old talk about, you know, economics and radical protesting. And then to hear the, the, you know, the younger one, talk about how music was so important to her as she was finding her voice. So I love that. What we’ve been able to do is start to make connections between young people and, you know, having them get real affirmation, that’s different than a, like, You know, it’s different than, you know, a button that’s pressed, but to see the affirmation come from being able to look someone in the eye and to hear their voice and to see that smile and to see that kind of aha moment. So I’m really happy their friends there’s going to have been able to on a smaller scale now because of the pandemic continue to make those connections between the people we work with. Part 3 Douglas Detrick: This kind of group of episodes that I’m working on now, is about Portland. Portland has been in the news lately. you know, I, I’ve been talking to some of my friends who, you know, who live in Chicago, who live in New York, live in LA. you mentioned that you were from New York. And so I was just curious, like how long have you been in Portland? Kind of briefly. And what brought you here? Andre Middleton: I was a latchkey kid growing up and my mom would send me to summer camps every summer to get me out of the city. And that developed a love of greenery. I love nature. I love the, for the environment. I have A brother and sister, aunt and uncle, who lived in Oregon when I was in my teens. So I would come out here and spend summers with them as well, and just fell in love with Oregon. I remember going to the country fair at 14 years old and no idea what I was walking into, but, you know, I was open to it. You know, I’m a pretty free, willing, open person. And, when I, it was time for me to go to college. I said, I want to go to Oregon, you know, Well, I didn’t want to stay in the East coast. I felt like I wanted to go somewhere that it was far enough away that. I wasn’t going to have the capacity or the abilities to run home, just to do laundry. And I’d seen a lot of people in my cohort when things got a little tough, you know, there were a bus trip home or Amtrak ride home. So I wanted that separation. And, so yeah, so I moved out here. I lived with my uncle for about maybe a six months to a year. Then I moved downtown, went to Portland state, you know, Bopped around between different jobs, you know, not having a real clear plan, just learning from life and, you know, trying to make, do as best I could. And then I discovered Marylhurst university and I found a super eight film camera, and that led into the arts and I’ve been fully ensconced in the arts ever since. And, For a spell there. I got my advanced degree in becoming a teacher. So I became a teacher for the visually impaired. And that brought in working with young people that brought in working with people with disabilities and understanding how, you know, we all have something to contribute. We just need, you know, accommodation. Yeah, no, just right now I wear something right now wear glasses because my vision has gone bad. it doesn’t make me disabled, but by certain measures, Neither are they. So how do we create accommodation? And that’s why, you know, I think friends of noise has been a perfect landing spot for me because it has allowed me to draw upon the many different facets that brought me to Portland. And it’s allowing me to thrive in working with young people and making accomodations for them. I’m working towards a artistic ecosystem that includes them and values them. so that’s a little of my backstory. Douglas Detrick: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a beautiful story. Helping build that up for, for other young people so they can have access to some of that. And I think that’s really great. Andre Middleton: I think it’s also powerful that I’m a black man and that I, am demonstrating and modeling for them. No matter their race, no matter their gender, no matter their orientation that, you know, We’re not a boogeyman. We’re not what pop culture has deemed us to be. So for me, that’s an important part of this also, you know, it’s great to not just provide, you know, the technical issues and the, and you know, this is an XLR cable versus this is this cable, but for them to see me represent as well, this is a caring, human being who is really here just to serve and just to support. I think that’s something that too many young people don’t get to see. So I’m really proud about that as well. Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I mean, I, I grew up in a mostly white suburb type community around here in Portland and, for me seeing black men in, enroll as like the one that you’re in. I found that a bit through the arts, you know, I found that a bit in the jazz community. You know, not a lot, but, but I think it was definitely important for me as a young person and, you know, to see that, you know, just because kind of my immediate surroundings, were all folks that looked like me. You know, that was, it’s very comfortable, obviously, but then also to go out into a wider world, you know, into, you know, for me as a young person, it was with jazz music, and kind of some of the educational things, like some jazz camps and other things where I, you know, got to see that bigger representation. So that was, that was a big thing for me too. And I think, you know, sometimes we, we talk about how. You know, a more diverse representation in the arts or in any other field is, is great for people of color. And that’s true. It’s also great for me, you know, as, as a white person, as a young person growing up, I think it’s good for everybody. So, you know, I think that’s, that’s a really important part and I’m glad you added that. Part 4 Well, I wanted to ask you one more question, to kind of, you know, bring this conversation to a close and that, is, About Portland itself. you know, like if you’re thinking about somebody who, is not here in the city with us, What would you tell them about Portland, about what makes it, what it is and, and, you know, maybe what needs to change about it in order for it to come, you know, become that better version of itself that a lot of people are hoping to see here. Andre Middleton: Interesting. if I had known, Oregon’s history in the context of race of how there were sundown law as an and other laws that allowed the beating of black people, until they left the state. I don’t know if I would have moved here if I had known that when I was a younger person, you know, if I had known that, you know, the city council here was dominated by, you know, white men almost clearly into the mid eighties. If not nineties, I don’t know if I would have moved here. you know, coming from a place like New York where, you know, Jews and Gentiles and Asian Americans and immigrants were everywhere. Portland is a very homogenized city and I attribute that to its youth. You know, Portland is a very young town in relative to the other cities. And I don’t mean young being that, you know, it wasn’t made or wasn’t incorporated until much later, but it wasn’t pressed to evolve because of their laws that prevented diversity. And at diversity, like you said earlier, spurs different ideas is a catalyst for different thoughts and of growth. So. I think in contrast right now, Portland is going through some of those growing pains is growing pains and necessary, and there’s growing pains may mean more crime. The growing pains may mean, you know, a redistribution of wealth and resources. Those growing pains are going to mean louder voices, but those things have to happen. You know, like I said, I grew up in a city where Stonewall was a riot. It was a right. And because of that riot, men and women and people of all genders are getting closer and closer and closer to equality. you know, tenement laws and labor laws, were a byproduct of people fighting and people being in unions in big cities who are, you know, fighting for the rights of their children, not to have to work in sweat shops. Those things happen in big cities. And, Portland is. Getting there in having to deal with these issues in a way that hasn’t dealt before, because they were able to, you know, use things like the urban growth boundary, you know, and they were able to use, you know, certain, you know, redlining laws and able to use, you know, how they provided education resources in ways. That definitely kept a lot of people out of those conversations. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love this city, you know? I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that I had something to contribute and I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could have started friends of noise anywhere else. You know, I mean, big cities have entrenched interests. You know, they have, you know, community, you are very protective and can be very insular and, you know, very racist in their own ways. You know, I grew up not far from Howard beach where, you know, black people were killed and, you know, no one heard about it until, you know, it was too late, you know, or, you know, so having said that, while Portland is far from perfect, I think that it’s youthfulness gives it the opportunity to grow. Does that make sense? So it’s almost like, you know, it’s like, there’s a lot of room to grow, you know, it is not so ensconced, it is not, you know, the infrastructure is not so baked in that there isn’t room to grow. And, I feel honored and blessed to be a part of that growth. I mean, look at someone like, you know, Cameron Whitten or Rokaya Adams. There are so many black and Brown people in Portland who are making a difference on their own terms and they are not perpetually looking at a white gaze for support or for advocacy, but they’re saying, Hey, how do we do this? How do we create this new system that is going to serve our community? Because the old systems haven’t been doing it very well for, for years. So I feel honored to be a part of that development of a, how can we do it better and how can we, you know, make a difference in how can we pass on a legacy that. Is not colorblind, but is a more inclusive the other way. So let me put it this way in other way. I think that the current black lives matter movement. Has an opportunity to share the power and privilege that they have right now. And I understand that they haven’t had this power and privilege in the past, asked and at times, you know, whenever we do get power and privilege, you want to hold onto it. And because we don’t know what’s going to dissipate, you don’t know when the attention is going to turn another direction, but there are issues that black people, minorities, you know, people of color have been the Canary in the coal mines to some degree. I think that if we can harness this energy harnish its power harness this, you know, moment, I think we can advocate for things that’ll benefit our brethren, no matter their race, no matter their creed, no matter their color. And whether that’s talking about universal health care, whether it’s talking about, you know, living wages, whether it’s talking about demilitarizing or defunding the police, those are going to have impacts across the board. And. I’m thrilled that a lot of black people have them Mike now, and I’m not saying they need to relinquish to Mike. They don’t, I’m not saying I need to give up. I love that space, but I am hoping that there is a way that, that they can, you know, harken back to where Martin Luther King was before he was killed with looking at it as what’s the people’s movement. And how did we share that power of acknowledging the injustice, acknowledging the oppression, but realizing that we’re not the only ones who are being oppressed. We’re not the only ones who were being subject to injustice. And if we can have some real structural change, it’s going to benefit a lot of people and it could be real transformational. Douglas Detrick: Hmm. Yeah, I agree with all of that mean. I think that, I think that one of the things, that I’ve learned is that as we, you know, and, and here’s like a really tiny example of just like, when we make a arts event, more accessible, you know, for folks maybe who will have disabilities, like it becomes more accessible for everybody. Right. And I think I’ve, I’ve seen that happen. Like when we, you know, when I’ve done that with my organization and I’ve seen other organizations do some of that work and make some of those improvements to what they’re doing it’s like, it’s better for everybody. It’s like, why, why aren’t we doing this before? You know, and I think that as we talk about racial justice and we talk about, inclusion and how power is kind of wielded and what it accomplishes here in Portland. I mean, I think that’s, that’s a super important part of it that, you know, that, openness and that inclusion is going to be good for everybody. and so I, yeah, I completely agree with that. And. And it’s, it’s great to see you doing that you know, with friends of noise, kind of at that, that really early level with, with, young, with young people, young artists and people that are interested in like the, you know, the technical side of, of music and the arts. So, so keep doing it and, and, and best of luck. And where can people learn more about the organization and how can they, how can they contact you and get involved? Andre Middleton: I appreciate that. Well, we have a website www friends of noise.org. it’s actually in the process of being rebuilt right now. So the current one is little underloved because I’ve been so focusing on the redesign, all of our core information is there. we’re on Facebook, we’re on Twitter. We’re on, Instagram and it’s always just friends of noise, usually one word, we’re on the radio xray FM every Monday from two to three. You can hear youth DJs talking and playing music if they want to share with people. also, right now we’re doing a concert series at some local parks that are socially distanced and people to wear masks. And we’ve got some PPEs and cleaning supplies. that’s every Sunday from three to five. And you can usually find information about that weekly on our Instagram and on our Facebook page. Douglas Detrick: Andre, thank you so much. I really appreciate talking with you. It’s been, it’s been fun and best of luck with all of the things that you’re doing. Andre Middleton: Douglas, thank you so much for having me. It was really great conversation. Outro Douglas Detrick: Thanks so much, Andre. Be sure to visit Friends of Noise’s brand new website. It’s looking really nice and gives you all the information about this great nonprofit organization, including how to get involved and how to donate. If you appreciate the conversations you’re hearing on More Devotedly, please subscribe, give it a five star rating on your podcast app, and tell a friend about it. You can also head over to moredevotedly.com to learn more Andre and all of my guests and join the More Devotedly email list. We’re also on instagram, twitter and facebook. I produced this episode and composed and performed the music right here in Portland, Oregon. What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?
32 minutes | 8 months ago
Vol. IV | Ep. 1 – Jeff Hawthorne
The Oregon state legislature recently made a huge investment in the Oregon arts community—$50 Million dollars from the federal CARES act will be designated to keep arts businesses and organizations afloat through December 2020 as public health restrictions keep venues and organizations shuttered. Arts advocate and consultant Jeff Hawthorne talks about how this monumental investment came to be, and how arts advocacy works, and his view of how Portland responded to the presence of federal agents at racial justice protests here. Jeff Hawthorne Links mentioned in this episode. Jeff Hawthorne’s website. Americans for the Arts Action Fund. Oregon’s Cultural Advocacy Coalition. Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council. “Oregon lawmakers approve $50 million lifeline for struggling arts and culture organizations” from the Oregonian, July 14, 2020. Black Resilience Fund – an emergency fund dedicated to healing and resilience by providing immediate resources to Black Portlanders. Episode Transcript Douglas Detrick: Welcome to More Devotedly. This is Volume IV, episode 1. Someone else is focused on Portland as well, the President of the United States. Just a few days ago, a caravan of trucks full of Pro-Trump demonstrators drove through downtown Portland, firing paintball guns and spraying mace on BLM protesters. By the end of the night, one of them was killed. This was just a few days after a 17 year-old shot and killed two people in Kenosha, WI who were protesting for justice for Jacob Blake, a black man who was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police just days before that. I want to be absolutely clear that the violence we are seeing in Kenosha and Portland is not acceptable. I condemn these killings absolutely. This is a time when we need calm, steady leadership focused on de-escalating tensions, but the President is actually encouraging his supporters in this behavior along with a chorus of voices from right-wing media because he thinks it will help him win reelection. For all of you that are concerned about the situation here in Portland—and you’re right to be concerned—please don’t be fooled. This situation is not a result of the largely peaceful protests that have been going on for more than three months here. Rather, it is the result of a small minority of extremists who are trying to push the situation out of control. Portlanders want peace, of course, but we also want an end to police brutality, we want to make life better for our Black and Brown residents, and we want our city to be a place where peaceful demonstrations can take place without fear of being physically attacked. As I launch Volume IV with this episode, here’s what I’m trying to achieve. As the president tries to push a false narrative about Portland and then some of his followers storm the city and try to make that narrative into reality, I want to talk with as many artists here to show what this city is really like. We have a beautiful, diverse, and thriving arts scene here that makes our city a great place to be. I want you to meet some of the artists and organizers that make that possible. My guest is Jeff Hawthorne, a freelance arts advocate and consultant. We talked about how the Oregon state legislature recently made a huge investment in the Oregon arts community—$50 Million dollars from the federal CARES act will be designated to keep arts businesses and organizations afloat during this time of struggle. Jeff told me about how this monumental investment came to be, and how advocacy works in a crisis situation like this one, and in more normal times as well. He also weighs in what’s happening in Portland right now, though this interview was recorded about two weeks ago. At a moment when government at the local and federal level is struggling to meet the challenges of this moment, or depending on who you ask, isn’t even trying to do the right thing, my conversation with Jeff shows an example of government working. Reasonable people can definitely disagree about whether this was the right thing to do, but at least we are seeing action to support an industry that is vital to making Oregon a great place to live. Here’s the episode. Interview Douglas Detrick: Jeff Hawthorne, thank you so much for joining me on more devotedly. let’s just jump straight to talking about what has happened and why we’re talking here today. So my understanding—and tell me where I might be wrong—is that part of the money that was part of some of the first coronavirus relief bills that’s coming to the state of Oregon. Basically, coalition of the arts community in general, pushed to have some of that money earmarked specifically for the arts community and Oregon. it’s around $50 million, I think. Is that about right? Could you take it from there and kind of give us an overview of what this actually looks like? Jeff Hawthorne: Sure. and thanks for having me. yeah. So on, on June 14th, the joint emergency board, which is a group of legislators who make decisions, in times of emergency, when the full legislature isn’t in session, and they are the group that has been tasked with distributing the state’s, Corona virus relief money from the federal government. and just did step back for a minute. federal government approved significant funding for States and local jurisdictions through the cares act that they approved earlier in the spring. And this money is really intended to help local communities, you know, respond to Corona virus, including, you know, supporting their health infrastructure, testing, contract tracing, but also to support businesses in their communities who have been significantly impacted, by the pandemic. And so, the state, the joint emergency board has been discussing for several months, how to invest their share of that money. And on June 14th, The joint emergency board approved a $50 million, which is one of the largest allocations of any state, for its arts and culture community. And so that package, which has $50 million specifically includes, about $9.68 million. For live music and performing arts venues that are forced to be closed because of a COVID-19 and the governor’s stay at home orders, and social distancing requirements that are really difficult to do in a live music or performing arts venue. Another 14.3, $6 million for seven of the largest arts institutions in the state of Oregon, including the Oregon Shakespeare festival in Ashland and the Oregon symphony in Portland. And then, an additional 25.98 million, almost $26 million for lots and lots of other arts organizations, venues, fairs, and festivals across the state of Oregon that are really having a hard time. And that money is about to be distributed by the Oregon cultural trust. We are really grateful to see that the legislature, I saw the impact of the pandemic on our arts and culture community and realize how important it was to provide some emergency relief to help them see it through. Douglas Detrick: I don’t know if it came from you, but I got to notice probably through one of my board members actually, with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, which I’m the executive director of that organization. and so I kind of got this notice about like, Hey everybody, we would love to have your, you know, add your voice to this discussion. And so we answered that kind of a lot of our board members did individually and I did kind of on behalf of the organization , I have to say that I’m like, “there’s no way this is going to happen.” Right. I mean, that was my, that was my honest feeling. did you have that, thought as well, like no way it’s going to happen, but we should try anyway. Or were you more optimistic than I am perhaps? Jeff Hawthorne: I understand the pessimism because of that, how difficult it seems to be to secure, funding for arts and culture, at the state. Level, in local communities and at the federal level, it’s been hard over the years to convince, elected officials and government agencies to fund, artists and the cultural sector. But we all know how important this sector is. And so when, When co had happened. I think there was, an understanding that we, as a sector, I had a really strong case to make about, the importance of our sector. the importance of arts and culture, especially in times like these, where we’re going through a lot of national trauma, not only with COVID, but with, The murder of George Floyd and all of the black lives matter protests. And that we rely on artists and arts organizations, to bring us together and to make sense of everything that’s going on. And in addition to that, collectively our economic impact is, is very significant. you know, we, as a sector generate a lot of money for the state of Oregon. Through all of the commerce that happens when people attend an event. So it felt to many of us like legislators. I understand, The devastating impact of having to be closed and being left without any revenue to pay the bills, to pay the rent, to pay workers. And certainly, a lot of arts workers have been laid off during this pandemic, but, You know, groups started reaching out pretty early on to the governor’s office, to their state, senators and representatives to let them know that it was going to be very difficult for them to stay open. Long enough to outlive the pandemic without emergency state support. one of the first efforts that began right away was with, Jim Vorenberg of the independent venue coalition, and he really rounded up, privately owned, independent. Live music, venues and other places where people go for it, live entertainment. And with that group of people to build a case about how important these bu
44 minutes | 9 months ago
Vol. III | Ep. 6 – Stone Work
A sound-rich essay with original music about how building with stone is like building a society where all Americans have the opportunity to create resilient communities, free from police violence. Musician and podcaster Douglas Detrick shares what he has learned about stone wall building amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd in Portland, OR and elsewhere. A close-up view of the stone retaining wall I built this summer. Episode Intro Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume III, episode 6. This episode took a long time to create, and as you listen I think you’ll understand why. I wrote it to try to help myself make sense of some of the ideas and feelings being expressed by so many different people in response to the killing of George Floyd. It was a wildly emotional time, and I needed a constructive way to work through that. This will be the last episode of Volume III. In Volume IV I’m going to be taking a close look at my home town, Portland, Oregon. You might have heard about us lately because of the protests going on at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, and the federal agents that the president deployed to quell those protests. I wanted to talk to as many artists and arts organizers as I could here to show what Portland is really like, and how artists here are responding to the pandemic, to the movement for Black lives, and the elections coming up in November. That’ll be coming up soon, but for now, I hope that you find something in this episode to help make sense of this difficult time, and to find your place in it. Here’s the episode. Essay About a decade ago I watched Rivers and Tides, a 2001 documentary by Thomas Riedelsheimer about the British artist Andy Goldsworthy. I loved the impermanent, temporal artworks Goldsworthy made with stone, wood, water, leaves, and soil that he found wherever he was working. I loved watching this artist talk so earnestly about his fragile, beautiful, impractical art. Goldsworthy’s work showed a way to find a balance between the childlike, and the adult. He followed his own internal motivations like a child while he also did the work of an adult artist who must communicate with an audience. I was in my early twenties when I saw the documentary, the question of what kind of grownup I was going to be was on my mind, even if subconsciously. The stone wall he designed for the Storm King Art Center was my favorite part. It’s a dry stone wall, meaning that it’s constructed with just the weight of the stone holding it together, without any mortar or cement. Rather than the straight wall I expected, it weaves serpentine through trees, slinks down a hill and disappears into a pond. It looks alive. In a moment from the film he stands apart from a team of stout “wallers” as he called them, talking about the skills required to build walls like these, and how he stays out of their way out of respect for that skill. I was taken by the skill on display, and also for this artist’s respect for it. It was a way to be an adult that I was still learning—listening, watching, being still and paying attention even when you want to act, to do something. I was more of a “learn by failing” person then, and I still am today. Since I saw that film, I have wanted to build a wall like that myself. When the COVID-19 quarantine began here in Portland, Oregon, I still had a job, and suddenly my weekends were clear. I had drawn plans for a wall, patio and a garden more than a year before that and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally do it had arrived. I went out into my backyard and started digging the foundation. ^^^^^ Humans have built walls for millenia to attract wild animals and to corral domesticated animals, to create shelter for family, state and worship. We lay a solid, thick foundation; we place large stones as a frame, and smaller stones to fill in the spaces and steady the large ones; we build narrower towards the top so the wall doesn’t topple; we repair the walls when necessary, and we have done so on every continent centuries before the age of European colonialism began. Usually, walls are practical, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also symbolic. A well-tended wall or fence on a farm is a symbol of pride and productivity. A wall on the grounds of a sculpture garden like Storm King Art Center, is a symbol of the dignity, beauty and vitality of practicality. A wall in my backyard is a symbol of curiosity, discovery and family connection. When I started digging in my backyard a few months ago, I was hoping I could build something good, a positive memory that would compete against the waking nightmare of the pandemic for me and for my kids as well. It seemed like a plan with a solid foundation. It may still be so. But from the time I took my first shovelful of Willamette Valley clay out of the ground, things have changed. The pandemic is resurgent as states reopen and the public health and economic responses are blocked by the Republican party. Our democracy is under incredible stress and people are suffering. This was never going to be a happy time, but it’s gone far worse than I feared. For that reason, I’m disappointed in America, in us. And against that backdrop, George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by a white police officer as Floyd and many onlookers begged for his life. The officer wasn’t concerned about Floyd’s life, and he wasn’t concerned about being disciplined for what he was doing, at least that’s what I think after watching the video. What I see is someone who felt perfectly secure in what he was doing. The only thing that can provide that kind of security is a system that overwhelmingly protects police officers no matter how egregious their abuses of power. The stones at the foundation of that system, our American policing culture, were laid a long time ago, and they have worked for decades in the way Chauvin and others thought they should. Will that system continue to function? Will that wall crumble? I believe that it should. But if dismantling that system is our goal, we need to understand how a wall is torn down, and how new ones are built.a Building a wall in my backyard does nothing to change the situation outside my backyard. But stories are like stones—we stack them up until a pile of rocks becomes a structure. Trying to understand how stone walls work and have worked over centuries has taught me something that I think is worth sharing. The difficulty of trying to put those lessons into words has taught me even more. A stone wall tells about where we’ve been as a species, and it can tell us where we can go in the future. ^^^^^ As I’ve been making this wall and patio, I’m trying not for perfection, but adequacy—I hope the wall won’t topple as my sister sits on it while eating potato salad, I hope my dad won’t trip on the corner of a stone that sticks up a few millimeters higher than its comrades. Those stones may be in great shape decades from now, but if I can get a few years without any injuries, I’ll be happy. Just in case it’s not clear by now, I’m not a stone mason, I just play one on this podcast. I’m at about a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of competency with this, and how did I get there? I took a deep dive into stone masonry videos on YouTube. The Car Talk guys on NPR used to tell a joke—who knows less? One guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or two guys that don’t know what they’re talking about? Idiocy reflects idiocy, like two big dumb mirrors pointed at each other, never ending. And there’s no bigger mirror held up to the human condition than YouTube. We are documented there in our totality. Narcissism, bullying, pseudo science. But as weird and sometimes harmful a place as YouTube has been and is thankfully somewhat less so now, it is also a wonderful place. After all, I could learn to knit a sweater. Me. A sweater. I’m not going to though, I’m more into stone walls for some reason. It turned out that I could learn a lot on YouTube. ^^^^^ Most of the videos offered simple, step-by-step instructions with some hints about problems to avoid, and what tools and materials you need as a backyard do-it-yourselfer. Some were clearly DIY folks like me, who weren’t experts but had fun making a patio or a wall and a video about making a patio or a wall. And there were some master wallers that had built businesses in the same way they built their walls, stone by stone. I learned that stone wall building was about self-reliance, attention to detail, preparation and execution. There were also some videos about the history of stone wall building. Dry stone walls and other structures have been built for millenia by people across the world. Centuries-old walls delineate pastures in European and American farms, but also Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza were all built with dry stone. Anywhere stone is easily available, humans have built with it. It turned out that stone wall making is about history, heritage, and connection to place. I learned there were proper ratios of width and height to observe and building a temporary frame and using string to mark the outline of the wall in the air helps you maintain them. I had to measure my imagined wall and patio and calculate how much gravel and stone to order. I ordered too little the first time of course. Math isn’t my best subject. It turned out that stone masonry is about calculation, planning, and data. I learned words from English speaking walling traditions like “hearting“ which are the small stones packed between the bigger stones, filling the space between the outer faces of the wall.
43 minutes | a year ago
Vol. III | Ep. 5 – Michelle Fujii
Taiko artist and co-director of Unit Souzou Michelle Fujii’s “Constant State of Otherness” was set to tour the country and then was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak. She talks with Douglas Detrick about “otherness” in American culture and what she learned by exploring this concept in a large-scale work for her taiko company. This episode was sponsored by Vanport Mosaic. Featured image credit: Ed Schmidt Michelle Fujii (photo by Joni Shimabukuro) Transcript Introduction Douglas Detrick: Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume III, episode 5. ^^^^^ My guest, Michelle Fujii, is a taiko artist and co-Director of Unit Souzou, a Portland-based performance ensemble that makes “creative, imaginative works while honoring the history and roots of the taiko art form.” She has a degree in ethnomusicology from UCLA, and was awarded a Bunkacho fellowship from the Japanese government to study with Japan’s foremost traditional folk dance troupe, Warabi-za. I’ve found her to be an incredibly generous partner in conversation, helping me to understand how the forces she feels inside herself and those she sees working in our society pushed her to create Constant State of Otherness, her latest taiko piece that was set to tour the country and then was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak. She made the piece to be a healing space for those who have been hurt by othering, especially Asian and Asian American people, and as Unit Souzou says, to “share the universality of those feelings with the ultimate goal of fostering empathy in increasingly divided communities.” That goal puts Michelle’s work into a deep alignment with that of Vanport Mosaic, the sponsors of this episode. Vanport Mosaic is an interdisciplinary arts and humanities festival in Portland, Oregon whose mission is to “amplify, honor, present, and preserve the silenced histories that surround us in order to understand our present, and create a future where we all belong.” I’m incredibly honored to be a part of it, and I encourage you to learn more about this wonderful organization at vanportmosaic.org. Vanport was a company town built to house World War II shipyard workers in 1942 north of Portland, Oregon. The town, like all of Oregon then and now, had a majority of white residents, but it was also home to Oregon’s largest population of black and brown people at the time. It was a place of refuge and opportunity especially for African Americans who came in search of better paying jobs and to escape Jim Crow oppression in the American South. Despite its problems, Vanport was a place where the American dream had a toehold. But that came to an end when a dike broke and the Columbia River flooded the town on May 30, 1948, destroying it in a matter of minutes, leaving more than 17,000 people homeless. It was a terrible day for everyone at Vanport, but the crisis was especially acute for African Americans, who were barred from living in all of Portland except for a single North Portland neighborhood. They were seen as a nuisance, and rather than memorializing the event in Portland’s lore and identity, the story was largely forgotten, often actively suppressed. I’m honored to be a part of Vanport Mosaic because it has created so many opportunities for a diverse group of Portlanders to reclaim that history. As we weather this pandemic together, I want the Portland of the future to be a more welcoming home for all of its residents. I hope this conversation will make a small contribution to that goal. Who belongs, or “Who gets to be American,” is the question that inspired the 2020 Vanport Mosaic festival and this conversation as well. American-ness a lens through which we can measure otherness. For Michelle, as a Japanese American who makes and performs taiko, she says she often feels too Japanese for some, and too American for others. For her, otherness and othering has proven to be a profoundly negative force in her life and in the lives of people she interviewed for the project, but through that same process she also found strength in her uniqueness, and a way to connect with others. Just like with all my guests this volume, we spoke via video chat. When we spoke, Michelle had come to terms with having to cancel an entire tour for this project, and other profound loss that this pandemic has caused for her and for all of us. This conversation took place in the context of the growing realization that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the poorest Americans who are overwhelmingly people of color, a notable increase in harassment of Asian Americans thanks to the president’s calling this the “chinese virus,” and an embarrassing failure of the federal government to provide coherent, proactive leadership that could save lives and speed our economic recovery. Despite that, this was a satisfying, informative and encouraging conversation. So, grab your quarantine beverage of choice, keep on with your lockdown chore of the moment, or put in your earbuds as you walk your dog who just loves having you around so much, and enjoy. Here’s the episode. Interview Transcript Douglas Detrick: let’s just first begin with a personal check in, about how you’re doing as the pandemic is going on. Michelle Fujii: Yeah. Well, I think my answer has shifted through time. Right now I feel like I’m, I’m treading water and finally able to have some time to breathe. I wouldn’t have said that maybe two weeks ago where, it just felt, really just in crisis mode and leading to Halt or pause, postpone counsel. I wear many hats as I’m the director of Unit Souzou. And it wasn’t so easy to, have to make all of these changes. And so it took me, okay, about four weeks, four to five weeks to really kind of get everything a little bit settled and response. And, now I’m looking forward, Sort of like settling into this new normal. So that’s how I am right now. Douglas Detrick: You had a tour booked, premiere performances were happening in Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. a whole tour booked and all of it was canceled. Michelle Fujii: Literally, I woke up today and I was like, Oh, I’m at home still. it’s May 4th right now, or three days ago. May 1st we were going to debut our whole, theatrical show. So it just sort of feels weird right now. I’m living in a calendar of realizing another reality that could have been scheduled. but then now living in what I am. so it’s sometimes weird to have to vacillate between the two. Like when I woke up, I got confused. Like, why am I doing? Oh yes, here I am again.? Constant State of Otherness Douglas Detrick: constant state of otherness was, this larger project that you conceived of and have been working on for several years. Would you give an overview of what that project was about? Michelle Fujii: So constant state of otherness, was a personal rumination. that hit me post 2016 election. it was a pretty, Tumultuous time. I think in our country, I think many people would understand what I speak of. And, a lot of, a lot of things were happening and especially a lot of things were being said. And, from some of these words, specifically in our political Circles and realms . There was all this sort of rhetoric, and all, all this conversation surrounding race that was pretty disturbing and continues to be. But what started happening to me is that I, I personally got retriggered into remembering and, I was starting to retrigger into my childhood and remember, the first kind of moments in which I felt different or other or, kind of weird or strange just because of me standing and being who I was. And, and that was really hard, of course, to grow up in, and then constantly be aware of. And of course, as you grow up, there are certain things that continue to, I guess, get normalized or you just get used to. But, what happened in, 2016 was that the re triggering. Sort of had me see clearly that these are things that before I just said, it’s okay don’t worry about it. Oh, that just happens all the time. And here. How many times I may have said that out in my lifetime and realize that actually that didn’t need to be something that I just. Accepted that this doesn’t, and that not everyone has had to accept, right. That for my life and the way that I’m perceived, that was something that was it, a survival tactic, but to also realize that I wasn’t the only one. Right. And that, that there are many stories and many others. I mean, my family included that just sort of is putting up with it. And I wanted to really investigate that because as I was getting retriggered, I was starting to feel very emotional and wanted to see where that was going. I ended up creatively, Going into my own art form and just started to like excavate these experiences and realize that there was so much more that was just continuing to get unpacked as well as, starting to hear stories, or I started to ask for stories, I should say. And as I was, Looking inside. I was also asking outside and realizing that there are so many people living with this otherness had their own mechanisms for survival, but that potentially we’re all living with it invisibly and to create a show that could actually represent it, tell these stories. And also, Potentially have other people realize what some of us have lived with, you know. The show actually also illuminated upon universality. So regardless of who you were, what we also found out is that many people, almost all, everyone has lived with some sort of otherness in their life. what we also started to hear is
38 minutes | a year ago
Vol. III | Ep. 4 – “The Seamstress Loves the Wolfboy” by Megan Savage
In this short story by Megan Savage, The Seamstress asks her fiance The Wolfboy for a big favor, and has to accept the consequences that result. As people all over the world are forced to make choices with profound consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Seamstress Loves The Wolfboy is a opportunity to consider the choices we make for love. This is the first audio fiction episode from More Devotedly podcast. Narration by Rosalie Purvis, music, sound design, and production by Douglas Detrick, illustration by Lettie Jane Rennekamp. Illustration by Lettie Jane Rennekamp. Episode Transcript Douglas Detrick: Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume III, episode 4. As people all over the world are forced to make choices with profound consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Seamstress Loves The Wolfboy is an opportunity to consider the choices we make for love. This is the first piece of fiction I’ve produced for the podcast, and I’m really excited for you to hear it. There’s a brief interview with the author so be sure to stick around for that. Without further ado, here is The Seamstress Loves The Wolfboy, by Megan Savage, narrated by Rosalie Purvis, an illustration by Lettie Jane Rennekamp that you can see on our website, and music by yours truly. Here’s the story. The Seamstress Loves The Wolfboy Narration by Rosalie Purvis: Pivot: Leaving the needle in the fabric, turn the material being stitched in a new direction. This is done when stitching around a corner. – Simplicity Sewing Book, Simplicity Patterns Co. Inc., 1965 The month before the seamstress is scheduled to marry the Wolf Boy, she becomes unbearably curious about the man beneath the hair. Although her love for the Wolf Boy is built on a foundation of two souls keeping pleasant company regardless of physical appearances, the truth is, the seamstress deals in material goods, makes her livelihood trading in visual commodities, and that is how she finds herself, sitting next to the Wolf Boy on their train ride to Chicago, where he will meet her family, running her fingers through the hair on the back of his hand, and imagining how she might ask him to shave, only once, not forever, for the sake of her love. “Do you remember the night you asked me to marry you?” she asks. Outside the window, the Midwest rolls by, cornfield upon cornfield, blanched by winter. The Wolf Boy turns to her. His eyes, which she has always thought resembled bits of amber, faintly glowing, in the dark cave of his face, today strike her as being more like a dog’s, watery and full of need. “How could I forget?” he effuses. “The lights of the big top never looked so magical as when you said yes.” “Well, do you remember how you asked me?” “Down on one knee, of course, in the middle of the ring.” His eyes crinkle as he speaks. His fine, aristocratic nose crinkles too, soft black hair shifting across the bridge, while his pink smile stretches warmly, fully, across his human face. “I had you paraded out on the back of an elephant, you jewel of a woman who hides like a pomegranate seed underneath the fruit’s rough skin.” The seamstress blushes and tugs the seam of her skirt over her hip’s full rise, pats it down, and then smoothes her own frizzed hair into place. She asks again, “do you remember what you said?” The wolf boy shakes his great, soft head. “I only remember you never looked so beautiful as the moment you said yes, when I knew you were mine for eternity.” The seamstress sighs and wonders how she will ever express, to someone whose life never resembled anything remotely utilitarian, a need she considers at heart immensely practical. Back in Arizona, in her sewing room bedroom, she stitches through mornings and afternoons. She sews sequins and rick-rack onto cheap cotton and nylon from the remainder bins at Bolt of Blue. She stitches under windows that puncture paneled walls with rectangles of open space. She stitches through thin light that filters onto her fabric. It’s true, what her fiancé says. She removes herself from glory. Her costumes outfit trapeze artists and strong men, tumblers and even a bear, but her own life is calloused from the back end of the needle. What drew her to the Wolf Boy in the first place was the fact that he didn’t hide, even though he was ugly, so much uglier than she. His soul, she felt, was a beautiful bird. Now she cannot get the bird to alight. She searches for her image reflected in his eye. “You asked me if I ever thought I could marry someone as strange as you.” The Wolf Boy feigns incredulity, sends a searching gaze around the train as if to spot the person she’s mistaken him for. “I? Strange?” His action draws attention to himself again. A boy across the aisle gapes, an all-day sucker hanging from his mouth. The seamstress notices and sticks her tongue out. “Do you remember in that story, that O’Henry story,” she tries. “That couple about to be married? How they want to do something so, beautiful, for each other that they changed themselves completely? Remember? She sells her hair, her long lustrous hair, to buy him a watch-chain and he sells his watch, his antique heirloom watch, to buy her a brush?” “I don’t remember, no, but all right.” “It’s just, I want to know the man I’m marrying.” “I’m not connecting the dots.” “It would be a big thing, I’m asking, a wedding present.” “You want a brush? For your beautiful hair” The Wolf Boy’s leans his head towards her, reaches his hands into her scalp so that she tingles. Behind him, out the window, a factory releases sooty clouds into the sky. Everything darkens then lightens as land rolls by again. It begins to snow and the train windows blur with condensation. The Seamstress exhales but cannot see her breath. “I want to see what you look like,” she says. “Under the hair. Just once, not forever. I love you as you are. You know that I do. I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known. And it’s because of that, I want to see you.” He looks away, presses his face to the window. When he turns back the hair on his right cheek is damp. “You want me to shave before I meet your parents so they are not embarrassed of me.” “No, no.” His body stiffens, recedes slightly from her side. “Whenever you want,” she says, “after. Just once.” “Let me think about it.” They fall silent. She takes his hand into hers, places it on her lap. As has become her habit, she draws the hair on the back of his hand around her fingers, begins weaving it into tiny braids. When he does it, it surprises her. That evening they dined with her parents, ate the roast chicken her mother prepared. She left the Wolf Boy talking with her father, telling tales of his childhood in Mexico, how he moved to the city from his rural farm when the drought killed everyone’s maize, how he lived with his family in a shantytown until the circus came to call. He speaks in vagueries, focusing on the here and now. She has learned what he is leaving out. In bed, she read Andersen’s fables, and fell asleep dreaming of the talking nightingales who sing like tiny glass bells. When she awakens in the middle of the night, it is to a man sneaking into her bed. An unfamiliar man, skin soft as pureed pumpkin. She feels the ridges of his face in the dark, kisses his soft soft lips. She feels her own skin vibrate with an unfamiliar charge. She allows herself to be entered by this stranger, calmly accepts that this is the last time she will ever love a normal man again. The next morning they go to the Thanksgiving Day Parade. In the car, her parents compliment her on the fine features of her mate, ask whether he plans to have his hair surgically removed. “I love your daughter,” is all the Wolf Boy will say. They watch the floats drift down the avenue, wind through skyscrapers icy and foreboding. A turkey with a pilgrim hat bounces along in a ridiculous red vest. The wind picks up, and they pull their wool coats tight around their bodies, huddle together for warmth. “You’ll love Arizona,” she tells her parents, “when you come for the wedding. So much more temperate.” The spectacle of the parade is much larger than the modest circus where the seamstress makes her living, but she likes her little spectacle better. “You are more interesting than all of this,” she tells her fiancé, slipping her bare hand into his already-stubbling palm. “I forgot to ask,” she adds, “can I keep the hair?” He sneezes on the train ride back, once and then again, and then many times, wetly. By the time they hit Utah, he’s feverish. He looks blemished, like a spayed dog shaved for surgery, patchy hair covering his face and arms. He shivers and sweats by turns, and though the train is packed with passengers voyaging home, they have several seats to themselves. S
47 minutes | a year ago
Vol. III | Ep. 3 – Margaret Bullock and “New Deal Art in the Northwest”
Margaret Bullock’s new book “New Deal Art in the Northwest: The WPA and Beyond” is the first comprehensive study of this chapter of United States political and arts history. She and Douglas Detrick talked about how the programs worked and what they produced, how they affected communities, and how our community’s response to the COVID-19 crisis will be similar, and how it could be different. The book is available from the publisher University of Washington Press, the Tacoma Art Museum store, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Douglas Detrick (left) and Margaret Bullock as they spoke, holding copies of “New Deal Art in the Northwest: The WPA and Beyond.” Episode Transcript Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume III of More Devotedly, and we’re looking at how artists are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The United States now has by far the most documented cases of COVID-19 compared to any country in the world, and now over 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance. Fortunately, we are beginning to see the rate of new infections plateau. This is really positive news, but we have a long way to go before we can think of this crisis as over. I interviewed my guest, Margaret Bullock, Interim Chief Curator and Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions at the Tacoma Art Museum, just after Washington governor Jay Inslee ordered businesses closed. It was early in the crisis, though in reality, not much has changed several weeks later. We’re still completely in the dark about how long this will last, and what damage will be done to our lives and livelihoods. Margaret’s new book “New Deal Art in the Northwest: The WPA and Beyond” is the first comprehensive look at what the New Deal arts programs looked in the Pacific Northwest, how they affected arts communities here, and how the programs compare to the arts funding structures we have in place today. If you aren’t familiar with the New Deal, I encourage you to look up some trustworthy information, but in brief, the New Deal was a numerous and diverse group of programs and legislation launched by the Franklin Roosevelt administration beginning in 1933 as a way to put unemployed Americans back to work during the Great Depression. As Margaret says in the interview, there were very few professional artists in the 1930’s compared to today. The arts weren’t considered by most people to be legitimate work at that time. However, several arts programs were launched to employ artists of all disciplines. The programs launched the careers of many artists, and lent a new legitimacy to their work. And thankfully, the artists of the New Deal, like photographer Dorothea Lange gave us an incredible body of documentation of this time of crisis in the United States. Artists played an incredibly consequential role in helping us understand and give meaning to what could otherwise seem like a senseless tragedy for generations of Americans since. And it was a time that the federal government played a pivotal role as well. The New Deal art programs succeeded in many of their goals, like employing people with artistic backgrounds, preserving their skills, and giving Americans access to arts experiences in their everyday lives in their own communities. But it fell short in some important ways as well, since the programs often excluded artists of color despite those artists having great need. Unemployment during the Great Depression peaked at above 20%. We don’t have official unemployment numbers for April yet, but the 22 million Americans who filed for unemployment so far constitute about 13% of the workforce. And some economists predict that unemployment could go as high as 25% in the months to come. We’re on the brink of what could be the worst employment crisis ever to hit the United States and the only thing that I think we can be sure of at this point is that this country will not emerge unchanged. But how will we change? The New Deal and the legislative innovation that made it possible can teach us some lessons for the kind of change we need now. In some ways, the New Deal was a blunt instrument. In 2020, we could do a more efficient job of putting money in the hands of people who need it. But in terms of the raw money that needs to be injected into the economy right now, we don’t just need a New Deal, we need three of them, or more. A decisive, pro-active response from the government will be critical. Margaret and I talk about the New Deal arts programs during the Great Depression, and how the recovery from our current crisis will look different, but how the arts will still play a vital role in documenting the pandemic, and in imagining a better future after it’s over. Here’s the interview. Transcript Doug Detrick: how are you doing Margaret? Margaret Bullock: I’m pretty much doing like everybody. There’s moments where I feel I’m okay and then I get really kind of disoriented and, I would really love to, like everyone, know when it’s, when it’s over. you know, even if it’s a ways out, you know, so that sort of thing. But trying to keep busy and keep things moving and stay sane like everybody else. Doug Detrick: That’s exactly how I feel. I really just wished that I knew when things were going to be over, you know. Margaret Bullock: We’ve been trying to do all of this contingency planning, but you know, it’s impossible. It’s sort of like, well, it’s a two month, three month, four month, five month closure. It’s really hard to tell how to plan, you know, what are you planning for within the landmarks of course shift, radically depending on which version you’re looking at. So I think everybody’s trying to get some control over it that way. Doug Detrick: Yeah, of course. That’s the one thing we don’t have. so Tacoma art museum has been closed for a little while. What have you seen about how people in the arts community kind of more broadly, you know, and that can be just art supporters, artists themselves, how are you seeing this community respond to this situation? Margaret Bullock: Well, I suspect it’s like everywhere. There’s a lot of variety, but I’m here, you know, it hit us pretty hard, pretty quickly, early on for the U S in Seattle in particular. I was amazed with the speed with which a number of the local and state arts organizations started responding. It was almost immediate in terms of changing up the ways they were handling grants or offering different support programs for artists or just to get money into the hands of institutions so that they could pay their staffs or continue their grant funding. So that’s been amazing to see. it’s also, of course, lots and lots of people suddenly in a world of hurt, lots of artists, as you know, well live sort of day to day and job to job and have multiple jobs going or multiple gigs lined up and they’re just seeing cancellation after cancellation. So. they too are struggling with that sort of, when does it end? How long does this go on? And, what does this mean for me going forward? I’ve seen a number of wonderful online things happening though to people just trying to keep creating and keep that energy going. despite this crisis. Kamekichi Tokita (1897–1948) “Backyard” Part I Doug Detrick: since you have spent all this time focused on the visual art that was happening as part of the new deal, could you kind of give us an outline of the projects that were funded and what kinds of things were they, and when was this happening? Margaret Bullock: Sure. So there were four programs for the arts, for the visual arts in particular, and they’re government programs, so they love acronyms of all kinds. So they all have initials and they all sort of sound the same. So the first one was called the public works of art project, or the PWAP. And, that was really a short term pilot project that was just to see could this work and how might it work? And it was started right at the end of 1933 in December of 1933. And the idea was really just to get money into the hands of artists as quickly as possible. So some of the initiatives were simply to go to an artist and ask to buy something in their studio that was already done or something they were almost finished with. But then there were also commissions for specific works. Artists hired onto projects where you might not expect them to be. For example, say the highway department was building a new road. They’d have an artist designed the new road signs, you know, anything that he could do to sort of get the money out there. And it’s amazing how fast it’s they authorize the program and literally the next day there are people working in hiring artists to work. It was incredible how fast they were able to get it to go. And it runs for just under five months or so. It ends around April, beginning of may of 1934. And it’s so successful, they go ahead and almost immediately decide on another program, and there’s two that kind of run parallel and end up merging together. So, there’s one called the treasury relief art project, or the TRAP of, it’s usually called kind of generally. and that one was specifically for the decoration of public buildings. There was a lot of construction of new post offices and courthouses and government office buildings as part of the new deal programs. And so this was really the origin of that idea of the 1% for art allotment that you would take 1% of your construction budget and use it to p
17 minutes | a year ago
Vol. III | Ep. 2 – Unicorn Tractor: Quarantine with Kids
As medical personnel and other essential workers continue on despite the risks to their health, families with kids are staying home, like my family has been doing for four weeks now. On this episode, I share my family’s experiences and some audio I created with my kids on this lighthearted episode of More Devotedly. A drawing my son made of how the coronavirus is affecting his personal world, and the world outside as well. Episode Transcript Doug: 1, 2, 3… Kids: Welcome to More Devotedly! Doug: This is Volume III, Episode two, Unicorn Tractor: Quarantine with Kids. ^^^^^ Doug: Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are continuing to rise, as are deaths from the disease. Hospitals continue to be pushed to the limit, and the workers still allowed or required to work, not just medical personnel, but grocery store workers and others, continue on despite risks to their own health. For my family here in Portland, Oregon, this is our fourth week of social distancing. Being able to stay home is indeed a privilege, but it hasn’t always felt that way. As the fight against this disease rages on outside our home, I’m continuing to work from my home office, while my wife is managing the distance learning curriculum for our almost 7 year-old as Portland Public Schools are closed, all the while trying to keep our 5 year-old occupied. Even those of us who liked the quiet at first are probably starting to get bored. But, for those of us quarantining with kids, bored isn’t part of the picture. On this episode, I wanted to share some audio that I made with my kids as a way of talking about how parent-artists are making their way through this crisis. If you’re hoping that we artist-parents have any magical solutions for you, I’m sorry to say that you’ll be disappointed. We’re struggling with this just like everyone else. But, on this episode, I wanted to put the struggle aside for a few minutes, and look at how the arts are a source of joy. I’m really thankful for all of the creative patterns we had established with our kids before this pandemic started. We’ve kept a healthy supply of markers, crayons, colored pencils, watercolor paint, washable paint, paint sticks, scrap paper, scrap fabric, scissors, hot glue, cold glue, and a big tub of odds and ends like milk jug caps, odd buttons, and other things we saved from the trash can for art projects. We always thought that these projects could be an escape from homework and other life stressors, but we never knew that they would come in handy during a public health crisis. Even though I’m mostly working the number of hours I normally would for my job, we’ve been making a lot of changes to our routine, trying to build in more time for distance learning, and more time for me to be with the kids so mom can take a break. It’s been helping some. During some of that dad time, I showed my son how to make a recording of himself playing my digital piano. He played a recording back for me and started telling me the story that he imagined as he heard his own music played back to him. So you guys, I couldn’t resist. I recorded the music into my computer, then recorded him telling the story as he listened to the music through headphones. It sounded like this. Son: There’s a tractor, full of unicorns. It is traveling to the musical. It is so relaxing. It is cool. They reach a bee field. The unicorns get mad. That unicorns do not like bees. It is really loud. There are lots of bees. Really loud, lots of bees. So many bees. The unicorns do not like it. Then there’s lots of bees. So many bees. And the tractor… Then there’s lots of fireflies and the tractor goes on. Then they traveled back to another musical. Then the bees crash into the tractor. Doug: Do you want to say the end? Son: And the unicorns are safe. Doug: That was so…relaxing. He made up both the music and the story in just about 5 minutes. He doesn’t usually do things quickly, so this was a big surprise to me. I wanted to ask him some questions about the story, and also about social distancing and the pandemic and everything else. So I did an interview with the artist. I have some questions. I’m curious. Why did you want to fill up a tractor with unicorns in your story? Son: Uh, I think it’s because my sister really, really, really, likes unicorns. Doug: Do you think those are her favorite animals? Son: Yes. She loves them. Doug: What is a bee field? Son: Uh, it’s, it’s like a field that, that’s full of beehives and flowers. Doug: Okay. Why are musicals so relaxing? That’s my next question. Son: It’s, it’s because they’re, they’re, they, they sound so good. Doug: Good. Is there anything else that you want anyone else to know about that story? Son: So, yes. Doug: What do you want them to know about this story? Son: Uh, I really want them to know about how I made the tractor and how I’m actually, how I made the fireflies. Doug: So here I got him a pair of headphones and set him up on the digital piano. Okay. Now if you play, can you hear it? Son: Yes. Doug: Okay. Alright, so then show us how, how does the attractor music sound? Son: Uh, it, it sounds kind of like how the tractor in Wisconsin sounds. Doug: Oh, on, on grandpa’s farm in Wisconsin. Yes. Yeah. How about the fireflies? What do they sound like? Son: And then you go all the way to the other one at the other side of the appliance. Doug: How does that sound? Son: And that’s what the fireflies sound like. Doug: Yes. All right, cool. Anything else you want to tell people about your piece? Son: I have written it because it’s pretty cool. Cool. Doug: How do you feel about having to stay home all the time with the coronavirus going on? Son: Pretty good because then I got to make this an add some… Oops. To add some voice to it. Doug: Yeah. Cool. Well, I really liked the story too. I’m glad you made it. Son: Yes, me too. It was really fun to make it cool. Doug: All right. Want to say good bye? Son: Good bye. Doug: Ok, I’m biased of course, but that was cute, right? And yes, the story we heard just a minute ago was also cute, ridiculously so. But this quarantine business hasn’t been all cute. He said that he likes being home because he got to make that story, and he really means it. School has been tough for my son. He’s autistic, so even though he’s doing ok in school academically, the social skills that are required of a first grader are a huge challenge. Staying home with teacher mom is actually a relief. The other challenging thing is that the stress of the situation with the outbreak comes out in unexpected ways. He’s broken out in tears at random times out of fear of the virus, and he’s drawn some pictures of germs and hospitals and coffins and giant arms with giant boxing gloves punching New York City that are a way for him to process a lot of scary information. Making stories and music has been a welcome distraction and stress reliever. Now, just like with everything else, when my daughter sees her older brother do something, she wants to do it too. Here’s her story. Daughter: Giants. Come out to fight the match, but the giant’s win. Next day the giants come out, the fairies, the fairies win instead. So it’s time for them to battle! Stars. It’s night now. Yeah… Constellations and stars. So good. I love this place best. Kinda like… Giants again. It’s morning. It’s very loud. Until the fairies won. Doug: Is that the end? Daughter: Yep. Doug: And there you have it. I had some questions. I’m sure you do too. Can you tell me about the giants? What are they like? Daughter: They’re made out of boulders and rocks. Doug: Oh, I see. But they have like faces and bodies and they’re really big. Are they mean? And then tell me about the fairies. What are the fairies like? Daughter: Fairies are very tiny and as tiny as ants for the giants. Doug: Are they nice fairies? Yeah. Yeah. Really nice fairies. And then what are the fairies do to the giants? How do they win? Him: The fairies shoot fifty four gazillion bullets at the giant. Doug: Oh my gosh. That’s a lot of bullets. Him: And then rocks that made the giants fell apart and then giants were dead. Doug: Oh my gosh. Okay enough with the softball questions. So Jane, how do you feel about being home so much? Because of the coronavirus? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it neither good or bad? Is it boring? Do you miss your friends? Daughter: It’s very bad. Doug: Why is it very bad? Daughter: Because it makes people very sick. yeah. Doug: No, that’s true. I know. That’s why we have to be really careful and that’s why we’re staying home and so that hopefully people who could get hurt by the disease don’t, don’t catch it. I didn’t edit that part at all. When she’s in a good mood, she’ll answer questions right away usually, but it took a long time to get her to talk about the coronavirus quarantine has been hard for her too, probably harder than for my son. When the schools closed here, it was just a few days before spring break was supposed to start. So now as the extended spring break is ending and my son’s school is starting at distance learning program officially this week, he has homework now, even though he doesn’t want to do it, she can’t help but to be insanely jealous that he has it at all. Sh
35 minutes | a year ago
Vol. III | Ep. 1 – Sam and Lisa Adams, Meara McLoughlin
Sam and Lisa Adams, of the band Sama Dams, were about to embark on a five-week tour in Europe as the coronavirus outbreak took hold there and here at home in the United States. Meara McLoughlin, Executive Director of Music Portland, collected data on lost income from nearly one thousand musicians that helped to quantify the economic damage the outbreak was doing to musicians in Oregon helped to shape the response of Oregon’s congressional delegation. Hear their responses to this tragedy, and what they’re doing to help their communities move forward. Episode Transcript Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned lives upside down all over the world, and if it hasn’t touched your life yet, it probably will soon. We’ve seen hospitals overwhelmed, thousands of deaths, and here in the United States we’ve exceeded 150,000 confirmed infections, with that number sure to grow. The first real data about the economic fallout from the virus in the US came in last week. Unemployment claims in just one week numbered over three million, dwarfing the previous record by orders of magnitude. In that context, what can artists do? At first, we cancelled everything. But that’s not a solution. The real questions are, how do we recover from this? How do we emerge stronger as a community? And how can artists contribute to their communities? We addressed the idea of belonging in Volume I, and climate change in Volume II. Now, in Volume III, because it’s hard to talk about anything else right now, we’re going to look deeply at the arts and artists during a pandemic. I’ll share what I’ve learned about how artists and arts organizations are taking action to help each other and their neighbors and families, how they’ve responded to public health emergencies in the past, and how we can respond to emergencies in the future. I know that everyone is feeling very weary of hearing bad news over and over again, I am too. So, I’ll be looking for ways to see this crisis from unexpected angles. I won’t be sugarcoating it, because I know you’re weary of that too. But since many of us have a little more time on our hands than usual, let’s use it to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we could be as a community of artists and arts supporters. My guests in this episode, Sam and Lisa Adams and Meara McLoughlin, offer some ideas about how artists can affect their communities and ways they can influence the way that government responds. This Volume III, episode 1. ^^^^^ Sam and Lisa Adams, along with drummer Micah Hummel, are Sama Dams, one of my favorite rock bands from the Portland, Oregon community. I talked to Lisa and Sam about the tour they had planned in Europe for March and April. Yup, they cancelled it. We talked over the phone about how this crisis hit them, and what they’re doing to do next. Sam and Lisa Adams of Sama Dams Not Gonna Lie by Sama Dams Doug: You guys had to cancel your tour to Europe. tell me what has happened and what did you have planned? Sam: Well, we were going to go on a five week tour of Europe. we were going to go to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. we had promotion paid for a van, airplane tickets, and we had paid for a lot of merchandise to sell as well. Once this Corona virus thing kind of started, we were watching it sort of develop in Italy and we started having a bad feeling that this is not going to go away. my mom had called me worried that I was still going to go to Germany and, you know, within the hour, Trump issued his, uh, travel ban on Europe pretty much. So, that kind of sealed the deal. Lisa: We were actually about to play a show. We were there for loading. I think it was what, Wednesday, the 11th of March when the travel ban went into effect and it just kind of felt like all the plans that we had been making for the last year just dissipated. Like all that work kind of gone. Yeah. So, and then also to have that, the show, there are some good friends that were there, but everybody was just, I mean, every time you turn your head to hear what somebody was talking about, everybody was talking about coronavirus. So yeah, it seemed like within the span of, you know, a few days, everybody’s lives have just been dramatically changed. And. it’s meant kind of, reframing. a lot of the purchases that we’ve made and kind of trying to think quickly on our feet for ways that we can still sell things to people and still give people access to music. thank goodness for the internet because like I, I don’t really know what we would do right now if we didn’t have that, as some source of income. Sam: Honestly, I’m, pretty happy with just the general sort of sense of community, even online that I see. it’s been inspiring and it’s been a great comfort to know that we’re not doomed. Doug: was curious when you said you were about to play a show you were loading in, where were you Sam: at Lisa: The Fixin’ To, to up in North Portland. Our friend Ali put on the ides of March Fest. It was actually, uh, an interesting chance to connect with the owner of fixing to, and just talk with them a little bit too about what all of this had done to their business, and just the reality of being a small business owner, particularly somebody who relies on people coming to your venue or coming to your space to purchase things. And, It opened my eyes to the importance of community spaces and venues and, um, how this is, hurting those communities as well, you know. Doug: You can lose people in this time. you can also lose businesses and hopefully will, Cut down as much as possible the number of people that we lose, of course. but then all that economic damage you know, it could mean that we come out of this with half as many venues. Sam: It’s really discouraging, but there’s a lot of untapped space here. We can make things happen if we work together. like for instance, the local Eagles lodge. that’s a venue that’s been tapped before, but has kind of gone by the wayside a little bit in recent times. But, that could be a space that could become more regular. if we make it known that we’re having a hard time, I think a lot of businesses might open their doors. Doug: And how about, you Lisa? are you feeling optimistic at all? Are you feeling like there are some bright sides to this? Lisa: Yeah, it kind of comes and goes. I think the more that I start to think about the financial implications of what’s happened over the last two weeks, that’s the thing that really starts to worry me because. I think this is shown how fragile a place like Portland is financially. We have a lot of small business infrastructures, and I think in Portland , people do like to have creative output. So that means a lot of times they’re dividing their time between their business and between their creative endeavors. so naturally what that means is you may be bringing in a little bit less, , but enjoying the creative elements of your life a little bit more. And now that it seems like both of those have gone down with right hook and a left uppercut. It just kinda makes me realize how delicate. financial infrastructure is. So I think also because I’ve seen so many people asking for money and, voicing their need for financial support. it seems like there has to be some immediate response from the government. and the swifter it is, the better. I’m also thinking a lot about. How the state, how Oregon has gone at , the rent and eviction legislation. I know they’ve been trying to push through and say nobody’s going to get evicted. And then there’s also a lot of people who are really concerned about the people who are the property owners. in order for this to really work, it seems like we have to wipe the slate totally clean and just put the economy on hold. I think that seems to be the only way forward because if you have people who owe people money and it’s just stacking up, what’s the incentive to, what’s the incentive to stay and what’s the incentive to try to dig your way out Sam: are you saying drop all debt? Lisa: Well, I guess that’s kind of what I’m thinking. It’s almost just like you have to, there has to be some immediate and kind of very intense response soon because I don’t see how this gets any better. I just feel like we’ve got to have, economic answers that kind of level the playing field. we’re lucky enough that when our tour got canceled, we were still able to go back to work. I work as a teacher, so I’ve been doing video lessons. Sam’s been doing video lessons. I also had a longterm sub job with Portland public that I was able to get back. Sam’s been fixing pianos. Doug: Lisa, that example that you gave of, you know, this idea that I heard as well of nobody can be evicted during this time. but then if, people are not paying rent, and then let’s say the owner of the building doesn’t have extra cash that they can live without that income for awhile. Then the buildings get foreclosed. Like, then you have to relieve that too. You have to put that on hold too. So it would be, it’d be like a really profound legislative response that, in normal times, that kind of thing would be pretty near impossible. , but in a crisis like this, we have an opportunity to try some of these new things and fix some of these really big problems. Folks who are doing gig work,
15 minutes | a year ago
Vol. II | Ep. 4 – Epilogue
Wrapping up Volume II, our mini-season centered on climate change. Douglas Detrick writes about what he’s learned about how artists can effectively address climate change in their work, and how it matters to all of us as we struggle with this global crisis. Photos in this post by Tim Keenan-Burgess and Kim Gumbel. Douglas Detrick (left) and Stephanie McCollough in rehearsal for the Volume II live performance, February 1 and 2, 2020. Hey there More Devotedly listeners. This episode is a wrap-up to Volume II, a mini-season of three episodes and a live performance on the theme of climate change. I wrote most of this episode before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States. My family is doing fine, and I hope that you and your loved ones are able to stay safe and ride out this crisis. Before we get into the epilogue for Volume II, I wanted to let you all know I’m working on producing a special episode about the coronavirus outbreak and I’d like to hear from you. Have you or someone you know found a creative way to address this crisis? If so, you can call (503) 454-6274 and leave a message for me. You can also write or send a voice memo by email to email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you. ^^^^^ Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. In this second volume of the show, we’ve been talking, thinking and making work about climate change. This crisis that we face is vast and complicated, and after this episode is finished, the crisis will remain unsolved. We know that for sure, but I hope we have learned about a few more things that we can be certain of as a community of artists and arts supporters. I’ll get into what I think those things are. But, for now I just want to thank all of you for sticking with me this far into this journey. I’ve been hearing kind words from many of you about the show, and it’s a real privilege to have access to your pretty little ears. Thanks for that honor, I hope that you’ll continue to find something here that makes your life better. Here’s the episode. ^^^^^ This volume began with an idea suggested by the first guest, Stephanie McCollough. As she and I began talking about creating something together that would respond to climate change, she wanted us to do so from the perspective of the heart, the emotional response to this situation. To begin, we asked ourselves some questions. How do we feel about this situation? In the face of all the scientific facts of the problem, do our feelings matter at all? And once we’ve sorted out what our feelings are, what the hell do we do with them? That became the focus of all of the interviews I conducted for this volume. And I found that you and I and the three artists I talked to have a lot in common—we’re angry, and sad, and disappointed, and overwhelmed, and some of us feel broken. The despair that many of us feel is real, and it’s obvious, like an open wound. But I found we’re ready also to make ourselves whole again. We’re ready to use our creativity as a tool to heal ourselves and others, and to draw a map to the sustainable future that we need. We don’t know which poem we write or song that we sing will inspire the next treaty maker or carbon sequestering scientist, but we know that the potential is there everytime we put a new idea into the world. We are wounded, but we’re determined to exert our power. Here’s what I’ve learned about how we can do it. Stephanie McCollough (left) and Douglas Detrick performing “Look Though, Look.” In episode one of Volume II, Stephanie McCollough showed that your feelings matter. Yes, we have ever-growing mountains of scientific data, but data doesn’t take action in the real world. Only people can do that. And only the people who have distilled their emotions into a focused strategy will be effective. I had a conversation with an artist who had written a new piece for Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, where I’m the Executive Director. Their piece was a response to psychological trauma, which they had dealt with personally, as well as professionally in their work at a shelter. I remember doing some research before we talked to try to get a better idea of what “trauma” actually was, but I couldn’t find a written definition that made much sense to me. In the interview, as we talked about this question, I realized that I really wasn’t getting it. they tried to explain to me, but I think it was pretty clear to both of us that it wasn’t working. It certainly wasn’t their fault, though. I didn’t understand the difference between bad experiences and bad memories, which we all have had, and trauma. I’m still no expert on this topic, but I’ve learned since then that trauma is something that takes you out of control of your mental state, of your emotions, maybe even of your whole life. Someone experiencing trauma can try to avoid situations that trigger them, but no one can do so forever. Eventually, you have to take back control, using as many tools as possible to achieve that, like therapy, medication, life changes and more. Comparing trauma of this type to our country’s response to climate change is imperfect, I acknowledge that, and I don’t mean to diminish the psychological traumas that people face every day. But my conversation with Stephanie about climate change made me feel that many of us are traumatized by the worsening effects of climate change and the ongoing resistance to taking meaningful action to mitigate them. We’re exhausted by all of it. That exhaustion leads to despair, and despair leads to a kind of trauma. But, we can’t allow ourselves to be traumatized, we have to take control of our emotions. That means feeling them, understanding them, and putting them to work for us. I’ve learned a lot since that conversation a few years ago, and I’ve experienced that out-of-control feeling in my own life since then as well. It’s real. And the work it takes to address it is hard. Making this podcast, doing these creative projects, that’s been part of how I address it in my own life, even though sometimes the work causes even more stress. I’m still figuring this all out, but I still think it’s worth doing. As I listen back to my conversation with Stephanie, I hear that process happening in real time, and I saw it happening as we performed together back in February. That’s the work for me. I hope that it was helpful to you as it was to Stephanie and I. Taking a bow, a showing of hands. But how do we take control of our emotions? In episode 3, Craig Santos Perez’s example shows that one way artists can address that issue is to rely on the emotional safety net that has always been available—our families, friends, and communities, in whatever form that’s meaningful to you. Over and over again, Craig talked about his culture, his family, his students, and fellow activists that he has connected with as he talks about the emotional impacts of climate change. It’s clear that Craig has made a serious effort to integrate his personal life, family life, academic and activist work into a cohesive whole. In Praise Song for Oceania, Craig puts gorgeous invocations of his own Pacific Islander heritage alongside a detailed listing of problems facing the ocean right now. The problems as he describes them in the poem with this langguage—”Praise your capacity to survive our trawling boats taking from your collapsing depths”—and the solutions—”praise your sanctuaries and no-take zones”—live alongside each other in all their wonkish detail, moving back and forth from a scientific, policy perspective to a view of the ocean that stretches back into time immemorial. We can place ourselves in the scientific discussion of climate in this way, making our own stories relevant in an otherwise abstract debate. However, Craig’s example also shows how important balance is. Without an anchor dropped into the global, shared facts and realities of the issue, it would be hard for all but a tiny audience of people to relate to the poem. Without that anchor, you can lose the audience, but importantly, I think there’s also a risk of losing the poet. If we expect all of our artist-activists to put themselves into their work in such a way that exposes them to the unmitigated gaze of the audience, we risk driving people away from doing this work. And then we’d be back to just the numbers, just the reports, just the graphs and charts, important though they are. So, artists and audiences, look for balance, respect the personal, respect the private. Look for work that respects the depth of the problem, but also respects the depths of your own soul and that of your audiences. Douglas Detrick (left) and Joe Kye performing “The Bear in the Room.” EM Lewis’s play Magellanica, that we talked about in episode two, isn’t directly about climate change, but the example of this play teaches one of the most important things that I learned over the course of making this volume— that we artists need to imagine solutions. In Magellanica, Ellen brings the audience into a deep intimacy with a team of researchers who are taking on a struggle with the elements, a global environmental crisis, and each other’s distrust as they do their research in Antarctica. She shows how human beings can confront all of these issues and still reach a successful solution, as we really did do in 1988 with the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement that has reversed the growth of the hole in the ozone layer. Through all of the struggle these characters endure, we know that their efforts were worth it. Of all the tools we have at our disposal, our
37 minutes | a year ago
Vol. II | Ep. 3 – Craig Santos Perez
Douglas Detrick talks with Craig Santos Perez about climate change from his perspective as a Pacific Islander and the stories that continue to inspire him to work for a more sustainable future for all of us. Craig Santos Perez Links to media mentioned in the episode “Praise Song for Oceania” by Craig Santos Perez and Justyn Ah Chong Learn more about Justyn Ah Chong at his website. Habitat Threshold, Craig’s latest book of poetry, available March 19th, 2020. Buy it on Amazon or from the publisher, Omnidawn Publishing. Episode Transcript Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. We look at climate change from another angle in this third episode of volume II, this time at the ocean and people who live their lives close to it. We’ve been working together these last few episodes, you, the guests and I, towards developing an intimate, personal language that will help us address this global crisis, to learn to talk about our own emotional reality when it comes to climate change, and how artists are participating in that process. It’s not something that is ever finished, certainly not in just a few conversations, but I hope that some of you have made some progress. I have, and I feel more empowered than I used to feel about this particular issue, thanks to Stephanie McCollough, EM Lewis, and my next guest, Craig Santos Perez. Introduction Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guam. He is a poet, scholar, educator, and political activist, often focusing on environmental issues from a Pacific Islander perspective. He now lives on the island of Oahu where he teaches literature at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. As I started this podcast, I began by interviewing personal friends, artists whose work I felt fit the mission of the show, and who I knew would do me the favor of helping me through the beginning stages of a new project. However, Craig and I didn’t know each other before this interview, and in fact, we still haven’t met in person. I interviewed him over the phone, with a recording engineer capturing his end of the conversation in Hawaii. As I broaden the number of artists who appear on this show, part of that work has been to expand my reach geographically, and to interview artists that I didn’t know personally. There are artists all over the world taking a stand on issues, and I’m looking forward to introducing you to more of them. I became aware of Craig’s work through the Artists and Climate Change blog, which I highly recommend. Find a link for it on the episode page at moredevotedly.com. On the post about Craig, written by Susan Hoffman Fishman, I saw a film featuring Craig’s poetry that was produced by filmmaker Justyn Ah Chong. Be sure to head to moredevotedly.com to see the whole thing, but let me share some of the audio with you now. [Praise Song for Oceania audio] This poem provides such an eloquent example of how artists can mix the personal and the political. Climate change and all the related issues that affect the ocean are complicated—even though the carbon dioxide and methane emissions that cause the warming are understood, curbing those emissions in a just and responsible way aren’t simple or easy. And as we struggle, we all have jobs and families and all kinds of other things to worry about. We all want to rise to meet this issue, yet we are all distracted by the things human beings are always distracted by. And here in the United States, our political system fails over and over again to address this problem and so many others. We need a solution to fix a broken world, and all we have to do it is a broken system. Yes, we’re a mess, but the mess is all we have. I love how Craig has brought so much dignity to both the ocean and to the person who looks out on it. It asks the reader to consider the ocean in a different way with every stanza, shifting the perspective from the historical to the political to the anthropological to the personal as he floats from one idea to the next. It respects the bottomlessness of the ocean itself, the complexity of the issues that face it, and the layered lives of the people who address them. We talked about that poem and about Craig’s own experiences waking up to climate change while living in Hawaii, how his indigenous heritage informs his work, and how those of us who don’t live on an island in the Pacific ocean can learn to understand the ocean more like he does. Here’s the episode. Interview Part I Doug: Talk about how you got to be where you are teaching, writing and activism in terms of climate change. Craig: Sure. Well, I was born on the Western Pacific Island of Guam and raised there till I was 15 years old. And then my family decided to migrate to California, which is where I finished high school, completed college and did graduate degrees in creative writing and ethnic studies. And during my time as a graduate student, is when I really became involved in activism related to Pacific Islanders and the environment. And so from that time, I started writing poetry about themes of environmental justice and climate change. And so that was kind of where it begun. And I kind of experienced the power of poetry and literature to help raise awareness about environmental issues in the Pacific and the importance of them bringing that message to pacific Islander communities as well as the larger environmental movement in the U.S. Doug: and then now you teach at the university of Hawaii, is that correct? Craig: Yes. So for the past nine years, I’ve been a professor at the university of Hawaii. Uh, I teach in the English department, specializing in Pacific Islander literature, creative writing and environmental poetry. Doug: you’ve talked quite a bit about how, your indigenous identity has been important to you, you know, in all these roles that you’re playing, in teaching in, activism, and in writing. And, um, curious what you can share about that perspective and what do you think that that brings to your work, you know, perhaps that you wouldn’t have otherwise? Craig: Well, in my culture, we’re taught that the lands and the waters are, the source of all life and that we have a ancestral and genealogical connection to place. And so. You know, when we think about our relationship to place, it’s more our relationship to family or to our elders. And so we’re taught from a young age to treat the environment with respect and care and reverence. And, you know, when we do take from the environment, like, food or, wood to build canoes or houses and so on, you know, we only take what we need. We’re taught kind of from an early age to, to live as sustainably as possible. And of course, growing up on a small Island where we’re very connected to the land and the ocean, and dependent on, you know, the natural environment. And so that indigenous belief, which is common in many cultures. You know, has really informed my writing and my activism . To try to embody those of values of sustainability, in my work and in my teaching. Doug: one of your pieces that we talked about was a praise song for Oceania. So, how do you relate to the ocean, you know, from this perspective? And how do you feel that it has informed the poetry? Craig: Well, the ocean has always been, in my culture, considered the source of all life. And it is where, you know, my ancestors navigated across , so it’s also a space of, movement, space of, sustenance. You know, where we harvest fish from, you know, and of course, also a place of recreation where, where we swim and dive, you know, so the ocean, you know, has always been an everyday part of, of my life growing up in Guam, but also a deep source of, mythology. And so, when I write about the ocean, I tried to capture all its complexities as home, but also as horizon. And so in the poem you mentioned praise song for Oceania. I try to, sing the praises of all the things that the ocean has provided not only my own people, but you know, peoples around the world. And then to also think about the threats and harms that the humans have caused to the ocean. And so try to bring all that together in terms of thinking about the ocean as a space of both trauma, but also hope and healing. Doug: Yeah. It’s certainly like trauma from, the loss that’s already happening and, even more loss in the future. Craig: Yes. So I read about things like, you know, like military testing in the oceans, deep sea mining, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, you know, the collapsing of fish populations. So there are so many threats to the ocean. And, humans around the world rely on the ocean for, food, and for, their economies. And so I think it’s an important issue that, you know, everyone needs to be aware of because even if you lived, you know, in a landlocked continent, you’ll still be impacted by changes in the far away ocean. Doug: I went to the beach a lot as a kid and it was always a really important place for me. I loved to go into the ocean and, and to see the ocean and all that. though my perspective is not the same. I was curious if there’s one thing you could think about, in terms of how you relate to the ocean as a person who lives in Hawaii, somebody who was born on Guam, and who has lived in California, to live in an Island in the Pacific, I think is a much different experience. And I’m wondering if there’s a way you can think about, to share that experience with people that, don’t have it personally. Craig: Definitely. I think many people who don’t h
41 minutes | a year ago
Vol. II | Ep. 2 – EM Lewis
EM Lewis and Douglas Detrick discuss Lewis’s play Magellanica, where a team of scientists studying the hole in the ozone layer at a research station in Antarctica confront environmental crisis, geopolitical conflict, and interpersonal struggle. Though not directly about climate change, the play shows that human beings can work together on a global scale to forestall environmental crises. Magellanica Photo by Russel J. Young. That’s a real question of the now in which we find ourselves—this divided, polarized moment of anger and division and fear-mongering by a lot of people at the top—is that question of empathy. Do we want to put a wall beyond which we don’t care? Or do we say no, those are people like us, connected to us on the same small blue planet as us, and that we’re in it together.EM Lewis Episode Intro Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume II, and we’re talking, thinking, and making work about climate change. Just last weekend we wrapped up the live performance for Volume II. It was an amazing experience. Thanks so much to Lara, Joe, Stephanie, Kim and Happi for making it a really successful show. Look out for pictures, video, and audio coming your way soon on our website, facebook, and instagram. EM Lewis EM Lewis, or Ellen as she asked me to call her, is a playwright, opera librettist, and teacher living in Monitor, OR. I traveled to Ellen’s home in this rural town to talk with her about her play Magellanica, where a team of scientists studies the hole in the ozone layer at a research station in Antarctica in the winter of 1986-87. I have to tell you that I haven’t seen the play myself. I missed the world premiere in January and February of 2018, but based on what I’ve learned about the play, it was an epic experience—adventure, love stories, magical realism, history and politics all wrapped into five and a half hours of drama, with three intermissions and a dinner break. Like bingeing a tv series all in one day, in real life with a room full of real people, and a dinner break. The inconvenience of having to wear real pants to leave your couch is a fair tradeoff, don’t you think? The story takes place against the backdrop of a world somewhat reminiscent of the one we live in now. It was a time of relative economic prosperity; Ronald Reagan, a different sort of Republican president who made the transition from acting to politics was in office; the Vietnam War was over, but the tension of the Cold War continued; Black Americans and other people of color remained victims of discrimination of all kinds, but the Civil Rights movement as a powerful, active force in American life was in the past. Like now, it was a time of relative calm, when conservative politics were dominant, and importantly, when scientists were warning the world about impending environmental crisis. Just as with any time in the past, things are different today despite any similarities. But, when it comes to Magellanica, there’s one difference that matters. When scientists warned the world that the use of CFC’s was causing the hole in the ozone layer in 1986, the world took decisive action. Climate change is a much more serious and complex problem, but instead of unified action, we Americans are fractured into stasis. I wish that we were debating the merits of the Republican and the Democratic approaches to fighting climate change, but instead today’s Republican party finds it advantageous to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, blocking any action that might address it. We’ve always had disagreements. But today we have a debate where one side doesn’t acknowledge reality. In that kind of debate, it’s hard to feel like you aren’t going crazy. In that kind of debate, it’s hard to keep fighting without getting lost in frustration, anger or disappointment. It’s hard just to keep paying attention. Magellanica isn’t directly about climate change, but as audiences watch an international team wrestle with Cold War politics and the extreme difficulty of living at the South Pole as they do their scientific work, we can’t help but compare their reality to our own. Like these characters are stuck in the research station, we are stuck on Earth, and we are stuck in this political conflict, without any possibility to leave. And despite our differences, the problem only grows worse. As we talk about Magellanica, we talk about humanity’s capacity for cooperation. We talk about the emotional states of these characters, and how Ellen’s own emotional reality when it comes to climate change has influenced her work in this play and elsewhere. We talked about the emotional distress of living in today’s fractured culture, but we also talked about family, gardening, adventure, and discovery. We recognize that we aren’t beyond hope, and we talk about how artists can imagine a world where solutions are possible. Here’s the episode. Interview Ellen: Magellanica is a five and a half hour long play that is about eight people, scientists and engineers who go to the darkest, coldest, most dangerous place on earth, the South pole in Antarctica in 1986 to find out why there is a hole in the sky. And that is a poetic way of putting the hole in the ozone layer that was discovered in 1985 86. And in that time period, they were trying to figure out what happened? Why did it happen? Is this a human created circumstance and what does it mean for humanity on this planet. Doug: I mean, you’re using that poetic language, a hole in the sky, but it was a very real thing. Right. You know, and so, and that hole is still there, but it’s actually shrinking now. Ellen: Truly the hole in the ozone layer was a success story in human collaboration and intervention to a problem that had been created by our use of CFCs. And they had been in a lot of wondrous and fabulous products that had been created in the 50s like refrigerators and air conditioning units that really helped people a lot. However, some of the chemicals that they were using to do this refrigeration, they were rupturing the ozone layer of our planet, which is part of the protective covering of our planet that keeps some of the bad sunrays from getting to us. Doug: Well, there’s a parallel there too, to , you know, fossil fuels are incredibly useful. Ellen: Yes. Doug: And, you know, especially compared to, well, I don’t know, grass energy, what do we have a horse in a pasture, eating grass and then powering things in that way. But so fossil fuels then became this incredible source of energy, those portable, um, very powerful. Ellen: Absolutely. And that’s what makes it complex problem requiring complex solutions. Part of what I explored in Magellanica was how many different people from different countries around the world needed to be solved by people working together. that is a similar place where we find ourselves today with climate change and the use of fossil fuels is it can’t be fixed by just one country. We do have to work together. It’s a global problem requiring global solutions. Doug: One of the things that is different when we compare the ozone layer, to climate change, by comparison, it was relatively easy to stop using CFCs. That global agreement was embodied in the Montreal protocol, right? Yes. And so Ellen: protocol, Doug: that was the only thing that was signed on by every country. Ellen: Isn’t that shocking but exciting that it happened. And I think part of that successful working together, that successful recognition of a problem, and buy-in that we could work together to solve it is what Magellanic wants to help us posit for the place we find ourselves now is that we have worked together before for the good of all of us. And we can do it again. We can do it again. I want to believe that we can do it again. Yeah, Doug: it’s, it’s, it is certainly possible and I hope we’ll get there too. When did you finish the play? Ellen: February and March of 2017 was the world premier of the play in Portland at artists repertory theater. I started the play about 10 years ago and it took me about five years to write. It’s in five parts, so it was about an hour apart and it’s a five and a half hour long play. So it was a substantial amount of research. So that means that I finished the first draft of it about five years ago. Uh, it went on to have a couple of readings and development in a couple of places. Timeline theater in Chicago gave me a wonderful workshop that helped enormously as I was trying to grapple with the amount of research that was doing versus the human stories that were carrying the play. Doug: Sure. Yeah. Ellen: because. It’s not an essay. It’s not a science book. It’s a story. It’s an adventure story with life and death circumstances and mysteries to be solved and love stories and music. It is all of those things with all of this science and politics and history roiling around inside of it. Doug: it’s not just the length of the program. There’s also a big cast, right? Yeah. Lots of, Ellen: a cast of eight, which is not small. It has at least eight different languages represented, including Norwegian, Bulgarian, French, Russian. Chinese. Oh. Because there’s a very international cast. And the designers were also really challenged because they needed to create both Antarctica during the winter, the eight and a half months of winter when these characters are going to be locked into the South pole research station. So the vast cold whiteness of Antarctica and the cramped, da
41 minutes | a year ago
Vol. II | Ep. 1 – Stephanie McCollough
We know the facts about climate change. But do we know how we feel about climate change? Stephanie McCollough is a dancer and visual artist based in Portland, OR. She and I talked about climate change through the lens of our own emotional experiences with this global crisis—how did we feel when we first understood how serious climate was? What are the emotions that lead to stasis? What emotions lead to action? What would be required to start a global emotional transition from stasis to change? Get your tickets for our second live event here. Douglas will perform with dancer Stephanie McCollough, writer/performer Lara Messersmith-Glavin, and violinist/looper Joe Kye. Stephanie McCollough with Douglas Detrick. Photo by Nina Lee Johnson. About Stephanie McCollough Stephanie McCollough is a visual artist and dancer. Through her work she strives to express truth of feeling through minimal and precise emotive gestures, yielding an intimate and specific emotional experience for the audience. She studied ballet, jazz, and modern dance as a child and adolescent, and she is currently a student of Flamenco and Argentine Tango. She studied Communication Design at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and works as a graphic designer in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and two cats. Episode Transcript Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume II of this podcast, and we’re talking, thinking, and making work about climate change. More about that soon, but first I want to invite you to join us on February 1st at 5:30 and 9:00 pm, and February 2nd at 1 and 5:30 pm at Shout House in Portland, OR to experience the second live performance of this project. It’s going to be a really special performance, you guys. Be there, ok? Get tickets and all the information at moredevotedly.com. Here’s the episode. Intro A lot of you remember the 90’s. Do you remember the food pyramid? Grains on the bottom, fruits and vegetables on the next level up, meat and dairy above that, and those exaltant, royal, kingly “fats, oils and sweets” at the top? I love me some fats, oils and sweets. I may be making too much of this, but when I think back to that model, which the USDA first released in 1992 when I was in 2nd grade, I wonder if helped to shape my view of this planet. I and many other Americans have seen the Earth as a solid foundation on which to build our lives. It always has been—after all, it made us who we are, on a genomic, evolutionary level. We’ve seen ourselves sitting comfortably at the top of a pyramid, with the Earth humbly, silently holding us up. But maybe this world is more like a circus. What if we’re actually walking on tightrope, and the Earth isn’t a rock-solid pedestal, but a safety net? With climate change gripping us ever tighter, we’re seeing the natural systems that we’ve depended on for millenia seem not so dependable anymore. These natural systems, these natural safety nets, could they ever fall away? We know now that they could. And they are. You know what I’m talking about—the droughts, the hottest temperatures on record, the storms, the wildfires—these are the signs pointing to catastrophe in the not so distant future. How does that make you feel? In the face of a problem with global complexity, the tools we have as individuals are feeble—we have our lightswitches to turn off when we leave the room, we have our thermostats to turn down, we have our recycling bins to wheel to our curbs, we have our cars and airplanes that we can ride less. But none of those are enough. These days we know a lot about what’s happening as the climate warms. There’s so much data that it can make it seem like how we feel about the climate change crisis is irrelevant. But for most people, those of us who aren’t climate scientists, heads of state, or corporate CEO’s, our emotions are pretty much all we have. How does that make you feel? I feel broken apart. My emotions are at odds with each other. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m resentful, and I’m also in awe of some of the leaders who have emerged in this movement, like Greta Thunburg, and I’m excited about a possible future where more people are empowered to meet their needs with energy that isn’t killing future generations. The best possible versions of our future can only be realized with decisive action. And broken human beings can’t take action. Only human beings who have made themselves whole will make a difference. My friend Stephanie McCollough is a dancer, as well as a visual artist and graphic designer. The conversation you’re about to hear was the starting point in creating a piece of dance and music called Look though, Look. The piece and the conversation are inspired by the answers to three questions: How did you feel when you first understood how bad climate change could really be?What are feelings that lead to stasis? What are feelings that lead to action?What needs to happen to start an emotional transformation from stasis to action? Personally? Globally? Stephanie and I are not climate science experts. You’ll figure that out real quick. We’re just two regular people that wanted to do something with the emotions that have been collecting in our bodies as the reality of this crisis becomes more and more apparent. And since we’re both artists, we made art. Not just to soothe our own anxiety, but to help others soothe theirs, and to collect themselves again. As long as we are paralyzed by fear, we can’t do anything constructive. With the piece we developed, we wanted to construct a different reality with our work, even if it is largely one of the imagination. But then as I picture all of you, as a community of artists, I want to tell you that we have power in this moment to shape ideas, to build solidarity, to fortify each other as we jump into this fight together. In Volume II of More Devotedly, we’ll be approaching climate change using the tools that we all have, our emotions. You don’t know all of the scientific data about climate change, but you know enough to have a feeling about it. Let’s look this crisis in the face, let’s feel everything we can about it, and let’s make ourselves whole. There’s some spicy language in the interview, so if there are any impressionable children, climate denying billionaires, Republican members of congress or current Presidents of the United States in the room with you, please cover their precious little ears. As the kids say, or at least they did when I was a kid, things are gonna get really real in here. You’ve been warned. Now, as Stephanie says in this interview, it’s time for some “fucking fortitude.” Here we go. Interview Doug: How did you feel when you first understood how bad climate change could really be? Stephanie: I remember feeling like, like a bottom dropped out. I was young ish. I was probably fifth or sixth grade, you know, the school I was going to had us start doing some projects on this shit. And am I allowed to cuss ? Doug: Yes. Stephanie: Okay. Doug: yes, please. Stephanie: good. And, and I was like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. It was basically this feeling of everything has to stop. And why is nobody doing anything immediately right this second, I remember it feeling very harrowing. I mean, I could go on and on about that. It was like existential dread that 10. You don’t really have the capacity for that kind of paradigm shift, you know? So that’s when you start building your defense mechanism to then live in society as it is. Right? Doug: Right. Yeah. Stephanie: The world is not what you thought it was. And trusting the structure of that which is holding the society together. Is a lie, but you still have to fucking go to school tomorrow. You know, and you can’t, but laugh at it like it. I mean, it’s just, it’s just so bleak. And, and I wonder if many people have had these experiences where, where it’s like you have that aha moment in your science class or wherever. Because our society doesn’t do a great job at teaching kids how to deal with big emotions or teaching anybody how to deal with big emotions, you know? Then where, where do you put that? Right? Doug: where would you say that you do you put that what, what do you think that that stowed itself away in your 10 year old brain? Stephanie: That’s a really good question. it’s, sometimes it came out as some self-righteousness, you know, like yelling at kids for littering and things like that. it came out in a, in a desire to learn how to do better for myself, even though I, you know, when you’re young, you don’t have much agency. it certainly affected how I started making decisions as an adult. , maybe in, some self-loathing, as I became an adult and started seeing the decisions that I, you know, throwing things away or, you know, little things like that that don’t have real consequence one way or the other necessarily, but just like this constant sense of guilt. Doug: a 10 year old, any kid kind of just, they trust their parents, that we, we know what’s best and we have their their best interests, as our own. and this is one of those cases where. There’s this overwhelming obvious, instance where we’re not living up to that. Stephanie: Yeah. And it’s like, it’s nebulous too, because it wasn’t, I never was like, my parents are doing this. It was like this overarching feeling of like the fabric of society is a sham. without the language to really put that together and understanding th
15 minutes | 2 years ago
Vol. I | Ep. 5 – Epilogue
Wrapping up Volume I, and looking ahead to Volume II. I learned a lot while creating Volume I. It was a fun process, a whirlwind of work and planning, and a surprisingly fulfilling range of experiences. I’m feeling very good about this project. I’m glad you’re here with me. Thanks so much to my guests. Joe KyeKunu BearchumAnna Fritz (L) and Paul Susi Transcript Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. I put together this brief epilogue to talk about what I learned through the process of producing volume one, and also to talk about what’s coming up in volume two and beyond. As I’ve said, I don’t see myself as an expert on any of the issues we’ll discuss here. My goal is to learn along with you, to try to talk out loud about what we learn, and to build a community around that process. I want that process to inspire my own creative work and some of yours too. All together we can make a bigger impact on our society as a broad community of artists. You’re ready, right? I know you are! Let’s go. ^^^^^ In Volume I of More Devotedly, we thought about this question—who belongs here? Belonging is hard to measure. It’s hard to measure because it’s complicated, and the experience of it, or the absence of it, is subjective—it’s different for every person. The most important thing I learned is that even though it’s hard to talk about, belonging is very, very real. Belonging in the United States has always been important, even before the United States became a nation. But from the days when some of us fought over the idea of belonging to the British empire, even while some others like enslaved or native people probably felt more like pawns in a game of geopolitical chess, belonging has been central to our politics, to our culture, and to our arts. Today, it’s no less important, and no less powerful, but it is much more complicated. Belonging can be defined in a lot of ways. We can see it through the macro-issues of American life, like politics, economics, race, or religion, where we battle over our collective understanding of the American story. And it can be intimate and personal where we search for connection to our neighbors, our families, and even to ourselves. All of these different views of the same idea are important, and after talking to the guests on the podcast in volume one, I found that artists can address all of them at the same time. As we talked about how that happens, I was reminded about the real-world consequences of the subtle emotional landscape we all move through in our lives, as we reconcile our personal struggles with national ones. For each of the artists that I interviewed, finding that balance, between the personal and the political, was a fundamental concern of their creative work. For Joe Kye on episode two, it was clear that his inability to speak English set him apart from his schoolmates in his first years in the United States. But even when he conquered that particular barrier, the boundaries that separated him from his classmates late on Yale didn’t disappear, they changed. A sense of belonging isn’t built out of a single thing, but is the sum total of many factors, some of which are obvious and some that aren’t. Some of them can be consciously overcome, like learning a language. But, like in Joe’s example, he was only able to address others by changing his own perspective, and asserting his own view of belonging in contrast to what we felt was imposed on him by others. He used a beautiful and simple metaphor to describe that process. If there’s a given stereotype of who you are based on what you look like, there are a series of different options. You can go with that, and laugh at those jokes, and say “yeah, I am blank.” There’s a rebellious phase, which is still a response to the oppressive stereotype. Then, I think, now at this phase in my life, there’s a part of me that’s saying “no, I love science. Science is cool.” Let me empty all the apples in my basket, and then before I put them back, just observe each one. Do I like this apple? Is this me? And once I’ve accepted internally that this is how I define myself, then I put it back.Joe Kye, Vol. I | Ep. 2 The inmates in Oregon prisons that Anna Fritz and Paul Susi talked about in episode four did something similar. As those men and women signed up to see a play that had the potential to stir up some powerful emotions, they took the risk of showing weakness in an environment that doesn’t allow for it. By showing up, they show they deserve the chance to take that risk. They reaffirm their sense of belonging. Watching them do this, Anna and Paul went through their own journey as well. Paul Susi: In a way, there’s real power and safety in saying “I don’t know what’s going to happen in ten years to that guy who saw this thing and was really moved. It’s not for me to know. It’s not for me that they are experiencing these things. Douglas Detrick: That’s the contradiction of it. We do these things because we think they’re important, and yet you can’t tell the person how to receive what you’ve given. It’s a leap of faith. It’s showing up for the work, doing it with everything you’ve got, and letting it go.Anna Fritz, Vol. I | Ep. 4 These interviews reminded me how important representation is in building a sense of belonging. To review in case you aren’t familiar with this concept, representation is the perception that we have collectively and individually of which people are exercising power in the world. Who is making decisions in our government? Who is creating the media that tell our stories? Who holds jobs that pay well enough to build wealth and support families? As we answer those questions, we can make judgements about whether or not the people we see in those positions of power are a representative sample of our population at large, or if they are a group of people who had access to power because their parents did. The arts give us an incredible opportunity to build a more diverse representation of our world with everyone in it. For Kunu Bearchum, increasing representation of indigenous people isn’t just something he’s watching for, it’s something he’s trying to create in the community around him. His music and films are concerned with elevating indigenous perspectives, asserting that these views and the people who hold them belong in our thoughts and conversations. And I recently learned this from a super awesome native elder and olympian Billy Mills. What we need is inspiration, and inspiration is a natural resource. It’s something that humans create. We can create inspiration for other human beings. And that inspiration, that well of inspiration, was taken away from Indian Country.Kunu Bearchum, Vol. I | Ep. 3 The arts can be a vital tool in making all this happen. So, if you are an artist of any discipline, or if you’re a supporter or appreciator of the arts, you hold a special power. Through that mysterious magic of creativity and performance, we can change the way the audience sees power at work in our world. And that makes a better, more equitable future much closer to reality. ^^^^^ That’s what I learned about the arts and belonging in volume one. But I learned a few things about the project itself as well. The rollout of the project—including launching the website, creating the visual brand, choosing and interviewing the first guests, remembering how to produce podcasts after some time away, and getting music ready for the first live event—didn’t go exactly according to plan. The opportunity to launch the project at our October 6th event came up, and I decided to go ahead, kind of at the last minute. Up to that point, I was planning to launch in January, so I had to work super fast to make it happen. That meant doing all of the things I just mentioned much more rapidly than I would have liked, but it was probably a good thing to just start. I tend to defeat my own goals by letting my anxieties crowd out my convictions. So with a personal project like this, it was good to just start, and think about it later. Because of that short timeline, I started out with personal friends of mine who I could call and interview on short notice. So, the artists that I interviewed skewed more towards musicians who live here in Portland. As the show continues, I’ll be casting a wider net in terms of artistic practice, approach to politics, and geography, and will continue to cultivate a diverse range of perspectives in as many ways as possible, including socioeconomic background, gender, race and ethnicity. I’m also hoping that the next volume of the project will have more opportunities for you all to hear not just from me and my guests, but also to hear and be heard by each other. I’ll make it a goal to engage more with you all online in an effort to get more feedback from you both on the content and the quality of the project. One question that comes to mind in that department—do you all feel that Facebook is a good medium to encourage those discussions? With Facebook’s new policy to not fact check political ads as the 2020 election heats up, things are gonna get real ugly on there. Tell me what you think about that question, on Facebook for now, and on instagram. But you can also email me at douglas at moredevotedly dot com. ^^^^^ Now that Volume One is wrapped up, I’m getting very excited about the next one. I’m especially excited to tell you about an opportunity to be a part of Volume Two, as we talk about climate change. I’ll be performing collaborative pieces created with violinist
47 minutes | 2 years ago
Vol. I | Ep. 4 — Anna Fritz and Paul Susi
Cellist and singer-songwriter Anna Fritz and actor Paul Susi performed a play called An Iliad in prisons across Oregon in 2018. Even though this project was exhausting and difficult in many ways, they found the experience to be deeply satisfying in a way they didn’t expect. The project was sponsored by Northwest Classical Theater Collaborative. See this article from The Oregonian for more information and a short video of the performance. I think that doing work like this could easily get spun as doing a service. And it is. It’s bringing something beautiful and meaningful to people who are denied beauty and meaningful connection in their day-to-day lives. But what I’m struck by is how deeply I was fed by the experience.Anna Fritz Anna Fritz and Paul Susi Even as we finish up volume one of More Devotedly, volume two is already taking shape. We’ve now confirmed that we’ll be presenting our second live event as part of the Portland, OR Fertile Ground Festival on February 1st and 2nd. Join our mailing list to get the details as they’re released. We’ll be performing three pieces, with poet and performer Lara Messersmith-Glavin, dancer and choreographer Stephanie McCullough, and Joe Kye on violin, who you met on episode two. This show will offer a candid emotional perspective—the perspective we usually don’t take seriously, the perspective we never trust when things get tough—on the theme of volume two, climate change. Introduction In Volume One of More Devotedly, we’re thinking about this question—who belongs here? When I lived in New York City from 2010 to 2013, I took a part-time job tutoring kids who were struggling in school. All of my students lived fairly close to where I lived, around 190th street in The Bronx, in a mostly black and latino neighborhood. I took short bus rides up and down Webster Avenue to get to their apartment buildings, and when I got there I did my best to teach them math and reading. Entering into these spaces, the homes of mostly poor, mostly immigrant families of color—was like a journey into a different universe for me. As a white person from the suburbs of Portland, OR, my entire experience of New York was defined by culture shock. This job was a heightened, concentrated dose, and it sometimes left me feeling queasy and anxious. Though I was there to do something positive, I didn’t feel at all up to the task. I didn’t belong, even my stomach knew it. Two of my students were twin siblings who lived in a public housing complex. One of them seemed to have an undiagnosed learning disability. I spent time with this first grader just counting and recognizing numbers. Her brother just seemed bored. Timing him with a stopwatch as he did his worksheets usually got him motivated. He used to make cartoonish “fast noises” with his mouth as he did the problems. But I rarely felt uncomfortable inside the apartments of my students. It was the coming and going that was hard. One day, as I took an elevator down from the twin’s floor in the public housing building, a man who was riding down with his son warned me not to step in the puddle of urine on the floor. Because this building was at least 20 stories tall, the elevators were essential. Everyone had to use them every day, and I couldn’t understand why someone would do this. But to this man and his son, the piss on the floor was just a fact of life. I remember thinking how glad I was to be leaving the building. At the same time, I was sorry those twins had to stay. In a minute, you’ll hear my conversation with cellist and composer Anna Fritz and actor Paul Susi. They performed a play based on Homer’s ancient epic called An Iliad in prisons across Oregon in 2018. They’re remounting the play for another tour of performances right now in the fall of 2019 which you can learn more about at moredevotedly.com. Their audiences, men and women who slept every night in places worse than the housing projects in The Bronx, taught them something similar to what I learned about these kids and their families—that despite some really tough circumstances and deep systemic disadvantages, these were smart, kind people who have the same needs and the same dreams as everyone else. Just like everyone else, they deserve to have a safe place to live, equal opportunity to education and dignified work, and to have experiences with the arts. For people who don’t know it, The Bronx and places like it have reputations as a terrible places to live. When President Trump tweeted about Baltimore as a “disgusting” place, he reinforced that stereotype. Yes, there are some serious problems there, but on the whole, The Bronx is an amazingly diverse and industrious place. I met so many incredible people there who taught me a lot about what it means to do good work, raise a family, and create vibrant communities. Most people think the same about prisons, that they’re terrible places to be, hell on earth with bars and chains. And in a lot of ways, yes, that’s true. It would be foolish and disrespectful to say otherwise. But, even if the living conditions in a place are bad, the people who live there are not worthless. Of all the things I’ve learned through these experiences, this has been the most important. If we allow negative stereotypes about a place to form our opinions about the people who live there, it makes it easier to ignore the real problems that we could solve with a good faith legislative process. Artists have the power to spread positive ideas. Let’s elevate artists who are doing that work. One last thing. Through the whole interview, we never once talked about the crimes that these inmates may or may not have been guilty of. We also didn’t really discuss the injustices that are built into the American justice system. We began with a more basic assumption—that no matter what they may have done, or what circumstances pushed them towards those acts and the punishments they received—they still belong. They are still human beings who deserve to experience the arts, and they can be trusted to deal with both the positive and negative emotions that the arts can set free. They still belong, and they are still worthy of redemption. Transcript Due to unfortunate technical problems, we’re unable to post a transcript of this episode’s interview at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience. Credits This episode was produced by Douglas Detrick. Music was composed and performed by Douglas Detrick. Ticking stopwatch sound was created by SuzanneSoundCreations and used by permission under the Creative Commons Attribution license.
39 minutes | 2 years ago
Vol. I | Ep. 3 — Kunu Bearchum
In Indian Country, what we need is inspiration. And inspiration is a natural resource, it’s something that humans create.Kunu Bearchum Kunu Bearchum, (Northern Cheyenne/Ho Chunk nation) talks about how he found a way to express his experience as an indigenous person in the United States by applying the ethic of the warrior to his artistic practice. Kunu Bearchum Links to media mentioned in this episode. Kunu’s video “So Precious” is embedded here, and you can see it on his website. Stream and buy “Through the Battle Smoke” on Kunu’s bandcamp page. Introduction In Volume One of More Devotedly, we’re thinking about this question—who belongs here? Kunu Bearchum, (Northern Cheyenne/Ho Chunk nation) is a hip hop and video artist based in Portland, OR. We talked about how he found a way to express his experience as an indigenous person in the United States through music and video, by applying the ethic of the warrior to his artistic practice. To Kunu, a warrior isn’t just a soldier. A warrior is someone who is of service to their community in whatever way they are able. We talk about the indigenous concept of the warrior and how it relates to a song Kunu has just released called “Through the Battle Smoke.” We also talk about one of Kunu’s heroes, John Trudell, who was a leader of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Alcatraz, the former island prison in the San Francisco bay, from 1969 to 1971. This occupation achieved its most fundamental goal, to bring national and international attention to the discrimination that many native Americans were suffering from at the time. It set in motion a big shift in public opinion about native americans among non-indigenous people, but also gave momentum to a reawakening of pride in native culture among native Americans. I don’t promote violent protest, but it’s important to understand that this kind of protest has a long history. Think back to the barricades in the streets of Paris during the French Revolution to see what I mean. More relevant to contemporary American politics are the right-wing protesters that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 who used the same tactic in service of a similar strategy. Though I don’t see those right wing activists as fitting this definition, occupations like this have been a tool that the powerless have used to assert their views throughout the history of human civilization. Kunu’s song “Through the Battle Smoke” is a soundtrack to that struggle, and draws on his experience as a water protector at the Standing Rock protests. He steps in as an artist to give both an emotional and conceptual framework to that struggle, to show how we can think of and feel about these contemporary warriors. He touches both the eternal and the contemporary in the song, and that’s what inspired me to introduce his work to all of you. Last, we talked about the representation of native people in government and in society more broadly. Shows of strength, like protest, or a display of artistic prowess, or just the quiet presence of native people doing their jobs, makes an important statement to young native people—that you can be a musician, a filmmaker, a doctor, or a member of congress. Correction: In the interview, I incorrectly said that the two native American women elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, Sharice Davids (Ho Chunk) of Kansas and Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) of New Mexico, were the first ever native Americans in congress. In fact, they are the first Native women to serve in Congress, though it’s still a remarkable achievement. Sorry for the mistake. This episode was produced by me, Douglas Detrick, in Portland, OR. I couldn’t have done any of this without help from my wife Jenny, and from my partner in projects, Kim Gumbel. Lindsy Jordan Kretchun created the More Devotedly logo. I composed the introduction and interstitial music. The other music you heard was by my guest, Kunu Bearchum, and by my super talented kids. Keep up with More Devotedly If you want to keep up on what’s happening here at More Devotedly, you can join our mailing list, you can join our facebook group, like our facebook page, or follow us on instagram. Just search More Devotedly on all those platforms. And I know you hear this all the time on the podcasts you listen to, but a big way you can help us is by leaving a review on the show’s apple podcast page. Even better, you can share the podcast with your friends and threaten them with an abrupt end to your relationship if they don’t listen. Seriously. Full Transcript This is a full transcript of the episode edited for accuracy to the best of our ability. [00:00:00] Kunu: [00:00:00] So my name is Kunu Bearchum. I’m a Performing Artist based in Portland, Oregon. I’m Northern Cheyenne and Ho-Chunk Nation. Those are my tribal identities and connections, but I’m also German. My mom was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. So through that I have dual citizenship. I’ve been learning to try to introduce myself in that way. I see these like elder native folks that you know, they like say I’m from here and I’m from there and these are my connections. So. [00:00:32]Doug: [00:00:32] So that’s something that you’ve been kind of cultivating. [00:00:35] Kunu: [00:00:35] Yeah, and it’s something that I you know, I’ve seen my whole life the old schoolers, you know, the elders who introduced themselves, they like introduced their mother’s side, their father’s side, their Clans. A lot of the times they would introduce themselves in their language and then after that was done, They would introduce themselves in English. I have a friend who works in Seattle who’s also [00:01:00] Northern Cheyenne and I’ve been like hitting them up on like a man. Like how do you introduce yourself again? Like what was the what was the wording? you know, I feel like I’m stepping into that realm, you know as like, a man that’s getting older and like wanting to get you know connected to my roots. Like I feel like that is a really important aspect of indigenous culture. [00:01:21]Doug: [00:01:21] you told me about how you had performed at a school and you had your son with you like in a sling, right? So you’re yeah 18 months old is your son… [00:01:30]Kunu: [00:01:30] It’s so cool to like see like a little human being and just be like you’re half of me and half of her and that’s really cool and like this universe existed without you and now it exists with you and you’re going to make your mark, and whatever you do. It’s going to be so amazing. [00:01:46]Doug: [00:01:46] congratulations. I’m really happy for you. [00:01:48] Kunu: [00:01:48] Yep. Yep. Shout out to ASA sky and Shoshanna Holman. That’s uh, baby mama mother of my child, my wifey, [00:02:00] super amazing partner, and then our baby Asa Sky. Shout out!I. How did you become an artist? [00:02:06] [00:02:06]Doug: [00:02:06] Let’s start talking bit about your tell about your music and also you do video production as well. So could you kind of just give us a overview of kind of the things that you do and then just tell me about how you got where you are now. [00:02:19] Kunu: [00:02:19] Yeah. All right, so I was always an extroverted little kid, and it’s like when my mom would go out shopping like I’d be chopping it up with like whoever like, you know, the butcher the cashier like, my mom was like. Where the hell’d you learn this from like I didn’t teach you how to like just go and do this. And so like I felt like I was always an extrovert growing up and then, just being so amazed by storytelling. You know, like I had traditional storytelling in my life as a kid, but then when I saw it like visually and started watching awesome movies. The whole time I was like thinking I was like, like this is super dope, but there’s a cameraman and there’s like [00:03:00] there’s like a boom operator. So yeah, I mean, I was just always into entertaining. Creating storylines and then knowing that one day this is what I wanted to do. [00:03:10] Doug: [00:03:10] Hmm. [00:03:10] Kunu: [00:03:10] But then to kind of fast forward a bit when I was in Middle School, was in this really cool place. I was Northern New Mexico. I mean it was like, you know, you would call like a quote-unquote ghetto school, you know underserved population. like was lucky enough to have a really supportive family around me. But this is just where I went to school. There was a lot of suicide, you know gang violence in middle school, which is insane for me to think about right now, There was a lot of depression and poverty. [00:03:41]so the Santa Fe Community College came out to our school and did this after school program where they you know, just put like kind of like a sign-up sheet. Like do you want to do a PSA against drugs and alcohol in and like the classic stuff, you know teen pregnancy, [00:04:00] suicide, which was really big in our community at that time. There were several kids that passed away by their own doing you know, and that’s just all out of hopelessness. [00:04:08] But out of all of that I was able to get into this after-school program. And we you know, like wrote a script we like made music like it was really really bad music and like a funny little you know, Skit that we wrote up but that was my first taste of that. I forget what program that was, but shout out to them for changing a lot of people’s lives in a good way and then now fast forward, you know, 17 years later like I’m doing the same thing here in Portla
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