Monday, November 28, 2011

Nickel and Dimed Culture

  I don't talk much about lectures or philosophical discussions in this blog, but I fully endorse them as cultural events.  Your basic online dictionary defines culture as "The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively."  This definition perfectly fits my own internal designation of "culture,"--what I want to experience  more of and examine my engagement with.

  I do regard thoughtful, smart presentations and discussions as proof of intellectual achievement, (and therefore a part of the collective of culture as a whole) and accordingly, I was very interested in the panel discussion for NAU Theatre's staging of "Nickel and Dimed" that was held on Nov. 17.

The play is based on the book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. The story follows as the author takes minimum wage jobs, lives in hotels, and basically "tries to understand the hardships and financial difficulties of the working class in America."  Many at NAU remember reading the book 6-7 years ago as part of a one-campus/one-book type thing. 

  The panelists were chosen from various departments on campus and in the city, and included John Eastwood (Economics and Statistics, NAU);  David McIntire (Permanent Affordability Administrator, Housing Program, City of Flagstaff);  Jason Matteson (Dept. of Philosophy, NAU); and moderated by Constance DeVereaux, (Dept. of Humanities and coordinator of the Program in Arts and Cultural Management, NAU.)

  My friend and I liked the fact that they had a community member who works with low income housing present- especially since he could speak about living impoverished himself for a while.  I really liked the fact that one of the panelists was a single mom who practically raised her kids in the library while she was getting her PhD.  She talked about how being a mom is one of the biggest impacts on your earning potential.

  One of the most informative issues raised, however, was thinking about the ways in which we are institutionalized in poverty or in wealth.  For instance, my friend and I had an education and support from families.  We had a knowledge base of experience and parental wisdom, and general know-how that taught us how to make our clothes presentable for job interviews, pursue a degree to further our economic advantage, and invest our meager amounts of money in things that helped us get ahead.  We may be cash-poor, but we have resources.  A lot of people who are classified at the "extreme poverty" level don't know how to apply to college, get scholarships, or network.

  This whole conversation started me thinking about making culture more accessible in general.  This is a guess, but I would venture to say that a lot of people classified at the "extreme poverty" level are probably intimidated by "culture" and don't feel comfortable or welcome at art exhibits and museums,  classical music performances, or even a play.  Which probably means that many people that are affected by the issues of "Nickel and Dimed" won't be there to see it!  What a shame!  Art should be available to everyone--it's an essential part of the human experience.

  It's a vicious cycle and a huge cultural issue--and I am grateful that NAU Theatre is trying address the issue of poverty and bring attention to the problem.

"I hope that talking about what we can do as a community, dealing with working class issues, will bring better awareness to social issues of poverty that we're dealing with now," said Season Ellison, director of "Nickel and Dimed."

  By the way, there's still time to catch the play.  "Nickel and Dimed" will stage Nov. 30- Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. at the Studio Theatre.  (Call 928-523-5661 for tickets.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eternally Thankful for Beauty

Bruce Aiken and me, in front of one of my favorite pieces at "It's Elemental"--Ryan Lamfers: "A Feeling of Discontent."
It's Thanksgiving week.  What am I thankful for?  So many things...

I took a friend to the NAU Opera performance of "Albert Herring" last Saturday night.  I had an extra ticket, and put a call out on Facebook.  I was gratifyingly surprised that my friends were so responsive, and even had a little bit of competition over who got to go.  (I'm thankful that my peeps are cultured folk.)  Meghan and I went and had a taste of fine culture.  We agreed that it was long, and we are not conditioned to long stretches of entertainment (do we have cultural ADHD?) We also agreed that it was funny, the singers were fabulous (Emily Wells and Quentin Lee were especially excellent), and I was very thankful to experience the opera in its new space this year.  The Prochnow Auditorium is intimate and simple,  and had a classic beauty that enhanced what was onstage.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to experience challenging and enriching mediums such as opera.

I am also so happy and grateful for John "JT" Tannous of Flagstaff Cultural Partners for the energy and hard work he and his staff puts into making and maintaining a dynamic and thriving art scene in Flagstaff.  On Friday night I went to the Member's Preview of "It's Elemental."  It's always fun to go to art openings at the Cultural Center for the Arts and enjoy a consistently high-quality exhibit.  It's also a good place to see many of the most influential people in the arts in Flagstaff.

In my mind, one of those people is Bruce Aiken, an artist of international acclaim, best known for his Grand Canyon oil paintings.  Bruce is also a dedicated community member and advocate for the arts.  He has served on and led the City's Beautification and Public Arts Commission (BPAC) for 4-5 years, and has made tough, visionary decisions about how to spend money on artistic contributions that benefit the entire city.  He is fantastic role model for people young and old, because he cares about the arts and always encourages artists and creative individuals to recognize and develop their talents.

 I'm thankful and grateful for a job that literally requires me to stay connected with the art community.  I'm grateful for a community that gives me access to performances such as the NAU Opera production of "Albert Herring."  I'm grateful for friends who will go with me to all the concerts and experience it with an open heart and mind.  And I'm thankful for leaders who work hard to promote a vision of artistic excellence and who show us the way.

And finally, I'm thankful for beauty, and the ability to appreciate and treasure it.  It brings me infinite happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Another of my favorite pieces at "It's Elemental" by Bob Fain.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Modern Communication Enhances Classical Music

Fifth House Ensemble--Nov. 14 

Usually, I reserve Thursday-Saturday as my evenings to go out.  But there's something more intimate about a Monday night crowd.  It's like going to a film festival in a snowstorm, or getting last-minute directions to the evasive forest party.  If you go, you get the t-shirt.

That's how I felt last night when I went to the Horizons Concert Series performance of Fifth House Ensemble.  The crowd was small, but we were special.  We were watching something new, something bold--we were watching something develop before our eyes.  The Horizons Concert Series, organized by School of Music director Todd Sullivan, is meant to provide "mind-bending experiences that complement all else that happens in town, and make the musical opportunities and experiences deeper and wider."  The performance, "In Transit: #undercoverhero" was a musical exploration of "Tim," a young boy who experiences bullying.  His story included comic books, online chat rooms, Twitter, hashmarks and Mozart.  

My friends wavered between watching the narrative unfold on the screen to paying attention to the music.  It may have been a little distracting for musical purists--The music was at times a sound track; at other times it was the main character.  But the beauty of this performance was that Fifth House Ensemble (5HE) provided a world to step into.  Our everyday sensibilities of modern communications were engaged in ways that classical music doesn't usually do. For a young audience, In Transit transcended the classical music boundaries and engaged us in the performance, actually asking us to pull out our cell phones at the end of the evening! 

The finale was when we each texted and tweeted our own hopes and dreams for Tim.  The various texts from the audience were displayed on the screen as they arrived.  "I hope the meathead's bullying days are over."  "I hope Tim and the meathead become best friends for life!"  "I hope Fifth House comes back to Flagstaff."  (here's their Twitter page, to see more of the audience's remarks.)

The Horizons Concert Series can sometimes go under the radar because it's held on Monday nights.  Don't be fooled.  Sometimes the biggest things happen on the quietest evenings.

The next Horizons Concert Series will feature award-wining Elena Urioste, violin joining  Michael Brown, piano on Wed., Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m. at Ashurst Hall.

Individual tickets for the Horizons Concert Series are $20 for adults, $12.50 for seniors and NAU faculty and staff, free for NAU students with an ID and children. For tickets to all events, call 928-523-5661. For more information on the season, please visit

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vegas is an Art Museum

Looks like Dale Chihuly at Treasure Island?

I went to Vegas this weekend to celebrate my sister's birthday.  Even though it has a reputation for being tacky, Vegas actually has art oozing out of its pores.  There are street performers, art galleries, fabulous examples of architecture, and all kinds of art mediums; glass, sculpture, fashion, and tile-work are just a few things I admired.

I think what Vegas really suffers from is not enough "white space."  Just like any good designer will tell you, the eye needs some space to rest.  All the great art in Vegas can be hard to take in; the eye is working overtime!   Vegas is famous for sensory overload, but this time I noticed that it was an "art overload."

I can get overwhelmed at museums, not from walking around, but from visual fatigue.  So I tried my favorite museum strategy, and only carefully looked at the pieces of art that were visually attractive and compelling to me.  I didn't see everything, but I liked what I saw, and best of all, I remembered what I saw!

Fall leaves at the Bellagio.