Everything’s coming up virtual roses

I MARRIED INTO A FAMILY THAT DID ITS ROSE FESTIVAL GOOD AND PROPER. Among other things, that meant (or had meant, before my time) building floats and driving them along the parade routes, squinting to see through all the decorations shrouding the actual vehicle so you didn’t slam into the float in front of you: serious insidery stuff. For years, especially when our kids were young, my wife packed some snacks on the morning of the Grand Floral Parade and we dutifully nailed down a sidewalk spot so we could smile and wave as 76 trombones and various other instruments of civic horn-tooting trotted brassily past. One rain-drenched year the carnival grounds at Tom McCall Waterfront Park were so hog-wallow thick with mud that when I got home I promptly threw my slime-soaked shoes into the garbage. Another year a friend who was visiting from out of town scored some seats for us along the parade route in front of the downtown hotel where she was staying and we found ourselves in the midst of an exuberant group from Pendleton who were there to cheer their rodeo queen and princesses as they strutted their horses proudly down the boulevard. (“My daughter asked which horse she could ride in the parade,” one proud fellow wearing a “Rodeo Champion” jacket said, “and I told her, ‘Any horse you want’.”) Caught up in the excitement, we cheered lustily along with them, and became honorary Pendletonians for a day.

An Afghani dancer from the troupe Dance Inspired at last summer’s second Beaverton Night Market celebration of immigrant cultures, in The Round. Photo: Joe Cantrell

From the 2013 Rose Festival: Fanfare for Cotton Candy. Photo: K.B. Dixon

Catching the fireworks over the Willamette at last year’s Waterfront Blues Festival. Photo: Joe Cantrell
One thing we’ve learned, or been reminded of, by the Covid-19 crisis and its attendant shutdowns is that people crave gathering in groups. Choose your own gathering, from church to shopping malls to mosh pits to museums to Pickathons to Burning Man to football stadiums: We like to do things together, and we get antsy when we can’t. Late last year ArtsWatch began laying plans to cover a multitude of festivals and community celebrations in 2020. Some were specifically arts-oriented: the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chamber Music Northwest (which kicks off a five-part series of interviews and recordings on All Classical Portland radio at 7 p.m. tonight, May 21), the Waterfront Blues Festival, Siletz Bay Music Festival, Oregon Bach Festival, Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, Aquilon Music Festival, and several others. Other festivals fell into both broader and narrower categories, from Beaverton’s Night Markets celebrating immigrant communities and La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival to Fourth of July parades in small towns like Gleneden Beach and cultural festivals in Greek churches and Polish Halls and Hillsboro’s Oaxacan-style La Guelaguetza en Oregon fest. These are places where creative cultural traditions flow and grow. As the great Scotsman Bobby Burns so wryly noted, the best-laid plans of mice and men … 

From county fairs to grand bacchanalias like the Rose Festival and the Oregon Country Fair, festival culture weaves Oregon’s rural and urban traditions together in a mutual mash note of boosterism, business opportunity, escapist adventure, and cultural pride. Small-town people flock to the city for the Big Parade. City people escape to the small towns for celebrations on a more personal or idiosyncratic scale, like the hellzapoppin’ Hells Canyon Mule Days in Enterprise. I can remember the growing excitement when I was a boy in a small Northwest town and the carney was ready to roll in to the Old Settlers Picnic grounds, bringing with it an alluring taste of the Outside World and the lesson of a sometimes literal shakedown, when a ride might dangle you upside down from on high and any spare change in your pocket might tumble to the ground. (Sometimes the carney also could scare the living daylights out of you, a reality Ray Bradbury cannily captured in his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes.)

This year’s Rose Festival, which was to have opened on Friday and run through June 7, is the city’s 113th, and all of the big events – the three parades, the massive carnival sprawl along the downtown waterfront – are kaput, victims of the pandemic. In their place is something called Parading in Place. “This Friday we will have a virtual Opening Night ceremony with some exclusive music from Hit machine and a virtual fireworks show,” festival spokesman Rich Jarvis said in an email exchange. “Then Saturday more than 200 private homes and properties will start to show off their creative side by decorating their own porches, landscape or rose gardens for display from May 23 to May 30. Dignitaries from the Rose Festival plan to drive around the Portland neighborhoods to recognize and show appreciation for keeping the rosy community spirit alive. We have also asked people to create a mini-float out of or the same size of a shoebox, send us a photo or video and we will compose them into a virtual online parade. We have already seen some really cool entries come in.” And there you have it – or virtually have it. There is also a full Court of Princesses, Jarvis pointed out, from which a queen will be crowned to rule over Rosaria until a successor is selected in 2021.

Still, what’s a reign without a parade? To remind us of what the Rose Festival is supposed to look like, photographer K.B. Dixon marched through his files and emerged with a gallery of images from Rose Festivals Past, which you can see in his ArtsWatch photo essay Rose Festival: A fond look back. Curl up with your favorite screen and get your fresh cotton candy here! 


Keith Haring, “Ignorance = Fear,” 1989
BUT SERIOUSLY, FRIENDS: WHERE ARE WE HEADING? Even where we’ve been, we’re not quite sure: Emerging research suggests that a national shutdown just a week before it began might have saved 36,000 lives, and a shutdown two weeks earlier might have slashed the death totals by a stunning 83 percent. We can’t go back again, of course. But our writers and editors have been thinking about how we go forward:

PATRICK COLLIER: NOT ANOTHER PRETTY PICTURE. Collier, the artist and critic, looks at the art world’s future, and what he sees is not a pretty picture. Indeed, it’s tragic, he suggests, “because despite the clarion call that ‘we are all in this together,’ the massive amount of virtual exposure also serves to highlight an ongoing crisis for the arts and artists: There remains a surplus to the demand. The economy of scale has become so much worse that I’m afraid no amount of patronage will remedy that which was already tenuous at best.”

STARTING OVER: THE VALUE OF CRISIS. Societies change, ArtsWatch Executive Editor Barry Johnson writes, and the arts are at the center of both the societies and the change. His argument winds through the works of the late culture critic Raymond Williams, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, and the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. It even takes a ramble through recent human history, from the Middle Ages on. “Rivers change course,” Johnson writes. “They dry up and disappear completely. They duck under ice sheets. The ecosystem the river supports (or once supported) changes. And humans can change it completely: Just visit the banks of the Willamette River as it flows through Portland.”


Louanne Moldovan, caffeined up and ready to roll with another “Actor’s Nightmare” podcast.

STAGE FRIGHTS AND PODCASTS. When things go wrong onstage, they can go very wrong. Like getting lockjaw in the middle of a speech. Or making an entrance two acts too early. Or having your very proper costume slip off your shoulders and just keep slipping down. Actors hate these moments, and love to talk about them afterwards, and that’s the nub of The Actor’s Nightmare, Portland actor/writer/producer/director Louanne Moldovan’s series of podcast interviews and tale-swapping that seems an ideal antidote for people suffering withdrawal because the theaters are shut down. I talked with Moldovan from a discreet social distance and got the lowdown on the series, which is subtitled “REAL HORROR stories from THE STAGE.”

The Actor’s Nightmare is one of a few good online or on-air performance shows you might like to check out. Here are three others, in case you haven’t tuned in yet:

Adventures in Artslandia: Portland stage and musical star Susannah Mars chats via podcast with local and visiting performers. In recent weeks her guests have included playwrights Will Eno and Larissa Fasthorse, composer Kenji Bunch, and jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore.

Stage and Studio. Dmae Roberts’ long-running interview show on community radio KBOO 90.7 FM is still one of the best places to check in on the Portland performance scene. Roberts, the veteran actor, director, producer, playwright, memoirist, and multiple Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, is an excellent interviewer and host who regularly talks with the people who create the art, and whose reports are timely and news-driven. Early this month she hosted me in the virtual studio, and we talked about arts in the time of coronavirus. A week later she hosted Laura Lo Forti, co-director of Vanport Mosaic, which leads to …

The Vanport Mosaic 2020 Virtual Festival. The festival, which commemorates the Memorial Day 1948 flooding and destruction of the wartime city that was built on and around what’s now Delta Park in north Portland, ordinarily has live performances, exhibitions, and special events. This year it exists entirely online, with live-streamed attractions continuing through May 30: See the full schedule here. This is a good weekend coming up, with the fine Pakistani American artist Sabina Haque‘s “participatory installation” (UN) Belonging; Dmae Roberts’ own piece Harvest for her theater company Media Rites’ The – Ism Project, rewritten “to address the return of exclusion and yellow peril fear amid COVID-19 pandemic fears”; and ANNICA / Impermanence, a videotaped dance work by the Vietnamese-born choreographer/dancer Minh Tran and his company.


 THE DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR A 2020 GOVERNOR’S ARTS AWARD IS FAST APPROACHING – it’s 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 26 – and the Oregon Arts Commission, which administers the awards, would like to see an uptick in nominations. The Governor’s Awards were established in 1977, and so far have honored 148 artists or arts supporters. Do you fit the bill? Awards are considered in a dozen categories: Individuals; Artists; Performers; Arts organizations; Communities; Corporations/ businesses; Philanthropists; Arts Advocates; Arts Educators/scholars; Arts Administrators; Arts Volunteers/leaders in the arts; and a new category, Virtual Arts Engagement, which, as the arts commission’s Carrie Kikel puts it, “allows for recognition of artists, organizations or others who have excelled at engaging Oregonians through online arts events and resources – something that has kept many of us sane during these strange times.”

See details and how to apply at the link above. If not you, who?


Alex Ever, juggling jars and teaching kids online via ArtSpark how to make natural dyes. Photo courtesy Lane Arts Council. 

A LITTLE ARTSPARK IN EUGENE. “As Covid-19 shuttered schools across Oregon, limiting access to in-person learning of core curriculum and electives alike, arts organizations like Lane Arts Council pivoted on a dime, reinventing program delivery models to meet the changing needs of students in Lane County,” Rachael Carnes writes for ArtsWatch. The result? ArtSpark Online, a virtual series available to kids in all 16 school districts in Lane County, offering do-at-home arts skills in everything from making natural dyes to creating sock puppets and learning how to draw bugs and bones.

BATTLE OF THE PARK BLOCKS. Fred Leeson, the Portland architectural historian and former longtime newspaper reporter, writes on his Building on History website of an underreported move to make significant changes in the city’s South Park Blocks, which stretch like a ribbon of green refuge just a block west of the main downtown thoroughfare on Broadway. You can find information on Portland Parks & Recreation’s master plan for revisions here.

THE IRONIC ALLURE OF CORPORATE CHIC. Chaz Bear’s fictional company, Corporate Solutions, generates lots of buzz, merchandise, and even some paintings: Sebastian Zinn delves into the ideas behind the musician and artist’s multifaceted work.

MUSICWATCH WEEKLY: WELCOME TO DIGITAL HEAVEN. Music editor and columnist Matthew Neil Andrews declares that we’ve been toggling between two extremes – digital overkill and “some truly next-level hermit action in the form of baking, yoga, quilting, meditation, prayer, journaling, self-reflection, self-recording, and the simple joy of sitting and catching up on all those books you’ve been meaning to read since, like, the eighties.” Then he discovers some first-class recordings by Oregon musicians and decides it’s not such a bad thing to “hermit like a champ with Oregon’s virtualocal superstars.”

MUSICWATCH WEEKLY: O BRAVE NEW WORLD. In which our Mr. Andrews continues the musical dialectic with all sorts of pertinent propositions, “unpack(ing) the reality sandwich and lay(ing) the groundwork for our digital decalogue.”

ARTFUL SOLUTIONS TO FOSTER COMMUNITY. Sebastian Zinn takes a close look at artist Dana Lynn Louis’s large-scale installations, which are “altering the way viewers perceive and experience space” – including her latest project, Ripple Effect, with which she’s “enhanced an all too familiar feature of urban life, a chain-link fence, with printed photographs of water and sky.”

ALAN AYCKBOURN: ‘STREAMING JUST ISN’T THEATRE.’ The celebrated British playwright tells BBC News that live-streamed theater just isn’t the same thing – what’s special about the theater, he says, is lost onscreen. So he’s taken an old script off the shelf and is turning it into a radio play: “There wasn’t too much visual action, there were no vicars running around with no trousers on.” Ayckbourn specializes in highly stylized social farce, a brand of theater that can look artificial on film, although the television comedy series Frasier managed it brilliantly – but then, it was shot for television. 

WELCOME TO THE GOON DOCKS, VIRTUALLY. It’s the 35th anniversary of the cult movie classic Goonies, and Astoria and the Oregon Coast, where it was filmed, were geared up for a big birthday bash. The party’s still happening, Lori Tobias reports – but in virtual space. Join in: The treasure awaits.

Corey Feldman (from left), Sean Astin, Ke Huy Quan, and Jeff Cohen starred as the pirate-treasure-hunting heroes of “The Goonies,” filmed largely in Astoria and along the Oregon Coast.


“What a business this is of a portrait painter – you bring him a potato and expect he will paint you a peach.” 

– John Singer Sargent, as quoted by Gerald Stiebel in Missives from the Art World, May 17, 2020

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