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NEA in HR stimulus package; Nezhukumatathil a 2009 Fellow

The National Endowment for the Arts was included for a special, one time appropriation of $50 million as a part of the $819 billion economic stimulus package (AKA "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill") proposed by President Obama and the passed by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon, it was reported by the  NY Times, NPR, and several arts lobbying organizations on Thursday.
 
Few details are available are available as to the nature of the appropriation, save for that the NEA would target the money towards grants to artists and arts organizations, presumably those that are most severely affected by the loss of public and private funding as a result of the current economic downturn.
 
In a press release Information Regarding the Arts and Economic Stimulus  issued on Thursday,  the NEA stated that it has procedures in place  to distribute funds efficiently and quickly to artists, which make up 1.4 percent of the work force, and nonprofit arts organizations, which support 5.7 million jobs.

“Arts organizations have been hit enormously hard by the current recession,” said former NEA chairman Dana Gioia--who led the agency during the last six years of the Bush Administration--in the press release. “They've seen their support drop from corporations, foundations, and municipalities. This infusion of funds will help sustain them, their staffs, and the artists they employ.”
 
The $50 million appropriation for the NEA is not included in the current economic stimulus package under consideration before the US Senate, which is expected to debate and vote upon it beginning on Monday.
 
In other NEA news, Patrice Powell  has been appointed acting chairwoman of the organization by President Obama. She will succeed Gioia, who announced his intention to step down last September to return to his writing and literary criticism.  Powell, has in served in several NEA positions since 1991, most recently as deputy chairwoman for states, regions and, local arts agencies.  She will remain in the post until the president appoints a permanent chairperson later this year.
 
Another recent NEA announcement included good news for SUNY Fredonia based poet and associate professor of English Aimee Nezhukumatathil, a frequent contributor of poems to The News, whose two collections Miracle Fruit and At the Drive-In Volcano we reviewed in this space.
 
Ms. Nezhukumatathil has been named one of 42 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellows in poetry for 2009.  The designation, which provides $25,000 allocations to each recipient, is designed to encourage the creation of new works by allowing accomplished writers the time and means to write.  
 
An award-winning poet best known for her skillful balance of lightness and seriousness of tone and lush descriptions of exotic foods and landscapes, Nezhukumatathil regularly draws upon her Filipino and Malayali background to give a unique perspective on love, loss and the narrative traditions of her pan-Asian heritage.  Her debut collection Miracle Fruit, winner of the Tupelo Press First Book Prize in 2003, was also named ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year in poetry, co-winner of the Global Filipino Literary Award, and finalist for the Asian American Literary Award and the Glasgow Prize from Shenandoah magazine.

Her second book At the Drive-In Volcano, released in 2007, won the Balcones Prize,  an honor awarded each year for the most outstanding book of poetry by the Austin, Texas based Balcones Center.

A Chicago native, Nezhukumatathil spent her teen years in Western New York with her family, attending Gowanda Junior and Senior High School, before moving on to Ohio State University for her undergraduate and post graduate degrees.  She  was the 2005 recipient of the SUNY Fredonia Hagan Young Scholar Award, and also holds two SUNY-wide honors, the Drescher Award and Chancellor's Award for Scholarship and Creative Activities, for excellence in her record of publications, art production and performance.
 
--R.D. Pohl

Alleyway's curious home page

Here's a weird one. A visit to the Alleyway Theatre's Web site today, an editor pointed out, features a prominent if cryptic perplexing warning against the use of the phone company Vonage:

Untitled-1

It's always interesting to see theater companies using their resources to proselytize against communication companies, but this particular move strikes me as kind of bizarre, especially given that there's no further explanation.

An e-mail to Alleyway's Joyce Stilson cleared things up, to an extent. The phone company, she wrote, "put the theater through hell."

"The long and short of it was we were without service for almost 10 days and unable to do our box office stuff," Stilson wrote. "I was at first hesitant to have it on the webpage... Was afraid we might look like a crazy fanatic with an axe to grind. But then I thought about how we (also read as the little guy) got totally raked over the coals by one of the “big boys” and figured hey if we can make someone ask more questions before they sign up we would be doing them a huge favor."

You can certainly see where Stilson and Alleyway are coming from, but something makes me think that Vonage, thus spurned, isn't exactly quaking in its boots.

--Colin Dabkowski

Brandeis decision echoes through art world

Since Monday, the arts blogsphere has been in a bona fide furor over the decision by Brandeis University to sell its eminent collection of modern and contemporary art and to close its Rose Art Museum to raise money for the cash-strapped institution.

(Below is "Seated Woman," a 1917 piece by Max Weber, which is part of the Rose Art Museum permanent collection. The collection also includes significant pieces by Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.)

Permcollection2[1] Yesterday, Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz backtracked on the university's original announcement that it would "sell the collection" to say that it only intends to sell part of it. The school did not back away from its intention to shutter the Rose, however. Lots of people are looking at this as the art-world equivalent of hawking the family jewels.

The decision to sell a collection of which contains many modern masterpieces and a museum which contributes immesurably to the cultural and academic life of its parent institution and community simply to raise money is understandably coming under huge amounts of fire, both from bloggers and the mainstream press. Leading the charge online, as expected, is Washington D.C.-based blogger Tyler Green, a tireless critic of deaccessions for purposes other than acquiring new art. Joining him are Time's Richard Lacayo, the Boston Globe's Sebastian Smee and others to whom the idea of selling art to raise cash for a struggling institution is tantamount to denouncing its cultural importance. Count me in, on that point.

On the other side of things, Don Zaretsky at his Art Law Blog argues against characterizing the Brandeis move as "deaccessioning." He says that the decision is rather to close a museum and divest its collection and should avoid the stigma associated with more controversial art sales which, when done piecemeal (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, anyone?), raise more justified objections.

It'll be interesting to see -- after the firestorm that has erupted both online and in print -- how far the university is prepared to backtrack. My guess is, unfortunately, probably not that far.

--Colin Dabkowski

The other Scinta

St.louis Everyone knows the Scintas, Buffalo's world-renowned Las Vegas lounge act. But Buffalonians are more likely to be talking about the Scintas' cousin Frank Scinta, a distinguished choir director here.

Especially recently. Because Scinta's recent move from cozy, elegant little Blessed Sacrament Church to huge, historic St. Louis Church -- pictured at left -- was big news in Buffalo's church music community. Scinta, who also leads other choirs including the Canisius College Chorale, had directed the Blessed Sacrament Choir for years and had built it into a laudable ensemble. His surprise switch to St. Louis last month caused quite a bit of whispering in the pews.

Artsbeat caught up with Scinta to find out what was what. Did he take his choir with him? That was the first question we asked.

 "Things are in flux," Scinta said. "Some of the choir came to St. Louis and some stayed at Blessed Sacrament. We were welcomed by eight excellent St. Louis singers in the choir already. They welcomed us with tremendous warmth and generosity. We sang at the 12:30 service with not only 45 minutes of rehearsal, but only 45 minutes of knowing each other. Everything clicked so beautifully." Scinta laughed. "In the words of Bogart, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship."

Was Blessed Sacrament mad? Scinta said no. He said that for him, it was simply time for a change.

"I'd been at Blessed Sacrament for 33 years," he said. "I had been at St. Louis playing weddings there. And Father Sal Manganello, who is now the pastor at St. Louis, was at Blessed Sacrament for many years. He moved to St. Louis, and he put the bug in my ear. I said no about 50 times. I said, 'No, I'll retire from Blessed Sacrament." But the more I thought about it, the more I thought a move might be good for me. And it might be good for Blessed Sacrament. Someone new and younger will come in with new ideas, go in a new direction, and maybe inspire people."

Scinta carries his musical philosophy with him to St. Louis, which is famous because it is the oldest parish in Buffalo's Catholic diocese. "All music is worth it if it's done well, with the simplicity and beauty that it demands," he said. "When I left Blessed Sacrament, I thought, we've always been dedicated to the beauty of holiness. But as a musician, I have to say there's a holiness in beauty, too."

His strategy has changed, though, in one practical respect. That involves St. Louis' sky-high choir loft, to which the choir now must ascend via a long, steep staircase. "These are all amateur and volunteer singers," Scinta said. "It used to be that the only requirement was that you needed a pitch and a pulse. Now you need a pitch, a pulse, and a good pair of legs."

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Bolano, Kleinzahler among Critics Circle Award finalists

Natasha Wimmer's translation of the late Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano's 898 page unfinished masterpiece 2666 and Marilynne Robinson's Home, a parallel narrative to her Pulitzer Prize wining 2004 novel Gilead were among the five finalists for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction announced last Saturday night at Housing Works Bookstore in Manhattan.  Conspicuously missing from the list is Toni Morrison's novel A Mercy, a November release, which may have limited its chances with the NBCC selection panel.
 
2666--
a sprawling narrative in which four literary critics tracking the movements of a legendarily reclusive German author and a Black American journalist covering a Mexican boxing match converge and become caught up in the investigation of an unsolved (and ongoing) series of over 400 grisly serial murders of women in the fictionalized border city of Santa Teresa (actually Ciudad Juárez) across the Rio Grande from El Paso--is the most touted work of international fiction to have an impact on American readers since Orhan Pamuk's Snow (2004).  It is the final book Bolano worked on and completes his posthumous reclamation--he died in 2003 from liver disease at age 50--from exiled poète maudit and literary provocateur to arguably the most innovative Latin American writer since the "irrealists" Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar and the subsequent "magical realists" of El Boom
 
New Jersey born "loner/genius" August Kleinzahler--the recent recipient of a Lannan Foundation Literary Award--headed up the list of 2008 NBCC Award in Poetry finalists for his collection Sleeping It Off in Rapid City.  Among the other finalists are California based, first generation Chicano poet Juan Felipe Herrara, for his collection Half the World in Light, and Japanese born, Columbia University based Brenda Shaughnessy, whose Human Dark with Sugar has already received the Academy of American Poets' 2008 James Laughlin Award. 
 
Here is the complete list of finalists in each category, courtesy the National Book Critics Circle web site.  Winners in each category will be announced at the NCCC ceremony at The New School University’s Tishman Auditorium in Manhattan on March 12th.
   
Fiction


Roberto Bolaño, 2666, FSG
Marilynne Robinson, Home, FSG
Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project, Riverhead
M. Glenn Talyor, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, West Virginia University Press
Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kittredge, Random House


Poetry



August Kleinzahler, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, FSG
Juan Felipe Herrera, Half the World in Light, University of Arizona Press
Devin Johnston, Sources, Turtle Point Press
Pierre Martory, trans. by John Ashbery, The Landscapist, Sheep Meadow Press
Brenda Shaughnessy, Human Dark with Sugar, Copper Canyon Press

Criticism


Richard Brody, Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, Metropolitan Books
Vivian Gornick, The Men in My Life, Boston Review/MIT
Joel L. Kraemer, Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds, Doubleday
Reginald Shepherd, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry, University of Michigan Press
Seth Lerer, Children's Literature: A Reader's History: Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter, University of Chicago Press

Biography


Paula J. Giddings, Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching, Amistad
Steve Coll, The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in an American Century, Penguin Press
Patrick. French, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul, Knopf
Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, Norton
Brenda Wineapple, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Knopf

Autobiography


Rick Bass, Why I Came West, Houghton Mifflin
Helene Cooper, The House on Sugar Beach, Simon and Schuster
Honor Moore, The Bishop’s Daughter, W.W. Norton
Andrew X. Pham, The Eaves of Heaven, Harmony Books
Ariel Sabar, My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, Algonquin

Nonfiction



Dexter Filkins, The Forever War, Knopf
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War, Knopf
Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, Doubleday
Allan Lichtman, White Protestant Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press
George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, Oxford University Press 

--R.D. Pohl

253 years young

Requiem 

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert that I wrote about yesterday was a celebration of Mozart's birthday. Today is the actual day he was born, in Salzburg, 253 years ago.

So let's have some fun with him today.

The age of the Internet is wonderful where Mozart is concerned. There are all kinds of treasures out there for Mozart fans.

There is the site www.mozartportraits.com. Here you can browse through hundreds of portraits of Mozart, in categories including Authentic, Inauthentic and my favorite, Caricatures and Fantasy. ("Mozart with Guitar," anyone? It shows Mozart with a rock guitar.) This site is where I got the pictures I ran yesterday and also where I found the picture above, which is a 19th century glimpse of Mozart writing his Requiem.

Here is a cartoon on YouTube someone posted in a piano group on Yahoo! I look into every now and then. It is an Italian animator's interpretation of Mozart's beginner Piano Sonata K. 545. The performance is very good and the animation is a lot of fun.

Here is a version of the great G Minor Symphony that is darned funny.

One fan's site has a list of Mozart in the movies. Who knew that one of his quintets was played in "When Harry Met Sally"?

Mozart liked puzzles and numbers and word games and once he came up with a dice game that would let you write your own minuet.Play the game here. If anyone plays it let me know how it goes!

You can find clips on YouTube of Kenneth Branagh's creative take on "The Magic Flute." The opera is in English and set during World War I. Just for a taste of it here is the overture. I like how it brings out the dark -- terrifying, really -- side of a piece of music we tend to take for granted.

It is hard to top that so maybe I should stop here.

Wait! I can't! There is this one other video that my friend and fellow Mozart fan Art Russ, who works downtown at Phillips Lytle, just sent me. The two guitarists in this clip are amazing.

That is the great thing about Mozart.

The wonders never cease!

-- Mary Kunz Goldman




The Mozart mystique

Cartoon

Saturday night at the Buffalo Philharmonic's all-Mozart concert, I saw something you do not see every day at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Tattoos!

There were a lot of young people there. Not only a few big, excited-looking school groups -- kids heading for their seats with instruments in tow -- but also listeners in their 20s. There was one couple a few rows down from me I couldn't help noticing. They looked to be on a date, and the woman was wearing a black cocktail dress that showed all these tattoos. It made me smile. Other people I have talked to since the concert have also mentioned seeing a bigger proportion than usual of the younger set there. That is something to think about.

I have been wondering what it was about this concert that attracted this crowd. Unless the BPO was running some special I don't know about, it has to have been Mozart. Because I remember a similar situation a few years ago when the BPO did Mozart's Requiem. Like this weekend's concert, it was a big, uncompromising program. The dark, frightening Requiem presented an especially heavy challenge for the listener. But the kids turned out.

There must be a kind of brand recognition at work. Even if you know nothing about music, you have heard the name Mozart. People might not be able to hum you a particular melody and say "That's Mozart," but they know they have run into his music at one time or another, and they liked it. Maybe they saw "Amadeus." I have a million quibbles with that movie, but it did give you a big dose of his music, and maybe they remember it from that.

Haring Every generation's artists love Mozart. In the '80s, Keith Haring did a portrait of him (left). Maurice Sendak worked him into his children's books. Up above is a cartoon an artist named J.R. Dunster drew of Mozart a couple of years ago that I found on the Internet. You could find a hundred other examples.

Here is another thing. Because Mozart has infiltrated popular culture, people also do not feel intimidated by him. They approach his music without fear. I imagine there might be a bigger intimidation factor working against Beethoven or Bach or Brahms, who newbies might worry would be too heavy, too German, too something. But everyone sees Mozart as a human being. We see him as one of us.

And if you're in your teens or your 20s -- I loved Mozart already when I was that age -- you might also have it subconsciously filed away that Mozart died when he was not quite 36. You are listening to the music of a young man. I remember thinking about that when I was a kid.

Whatever the reason, Mozart's youth following is good news, because it is not as if we are talking about someone substandard, someone who is not the real thing. The kids who enjoy Mozart can congratulate themselves on their good taste. When you are hearing Mozart, you are hearing the best.

Note to the BPO: Give the people what they want!

As long as it's Mozart, what can it hurt?

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


 

Buffalo, the quartet capital

 Budapest

For today's Gusto, I had the fun of putting together a cover story on two esteemed string quartets -- the Penderecki Quartet and the Jupiter Quartet -- who are coming to Buffalo in the near future. The Jupiter Quartet is performing on the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series at 8 pm. Tuesday at Kleinhans Music Hall's Mary Seaton Room. And the Penderecki Quartet is playing the Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle at UB's Slee Hall on Feb. 6.

Working on the story, I found myself thinking about Buffalo's eminence in the string quartet world, and feeling very proud of our town. For chamber music fans -- and they are legion -- Buffalo is thought of with a kind of reverence. And with good reason!

Since 1955, when an endowment from Frederick and Alice Slee got the Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle rolling, Buffalo has enjoyed unique prestige in the chamber music world. In his book "Indivisible By Four," the memoir by Guarneri Quartet violinist Arnold Steinhardt, Steinhardt points out that we are the only city in the world where citizens get to hear all the Beethoven quartets, live, every single year. It is even more amazing when you consider the prestige the Slee cycle enjoys among musicians. String quartets consider an invitation to play on the cycle to be a great honor.

The Slee cycle led to our association with two legendary quartets, the Budapest Quartet and the Cleveland Quartet. Above is a picture of the Budapest Quartet, in residence at UB from 1955 to 1965.

ClippingAt left is a clipping I found while I was exploring UB history sites. What an impact the Slee bequest has had! The Budapest Quartet's musicians lived in Buffalo and became part of the fabric of the city. There are still people around who will tell you how cellist Mischa Schneider was witty and relaxed, while his brother and Budapest Quartet colleague Alexander, who played violin, was more uptight. That is what I have heard, anyway.

Here is something interesting I found in Wikipedia. When the Budapest Quartet was established in 1917 (the group went through several personnel changes over the decades) the musicians had four rules. They were: 1.) Disputes, whether musical or personal, were involved by a vote. In case of a tie, there would be no change. 2.) Musicians were not permitted to accept engagements outside of the group. 3.) All four players were paid equally. 5.) No wives or girlfriends at rehearsals.

The Beatles might have been together longer had they followed those rules, especially the last one!

The Budapest Quartet was in residence here from 1955 to 1965. Other revered groups followed in their footsteps. The Guarneri Quartet performed the cycle from 1967 to 1970. The Cleveland Quartet assumed the residency from 1971 through 1975. These incredibly distinguished musicians returned frequently in later years to perform all of a cycle, or parts of one. The series continues to attract the world's greatest chamber musicians, and the Buffalo Chamber Music Society concerts enjoy similar prestige.

What a feather in Buffalo's cap! This should be mentioned along with our architecture and our chicken wings as a reason our city is great.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Beyond/In 2010 wants you

OK, les artistes, it's time to kick it into gear. Beyond/In 2010, the ascendant biennial (which is brazenly skipping its regularly scheduled 2009 deployment in order to make a bigger splash next year) is officially seeking submissions. The mammoth affair, which in 2007 featured some serious quality work form more than 50 artists from Toronto to Syracuse, will take on a new life under the guidance of Bruce W. Ferguson, an adviser recruited by Albright-Knox Art GalleryDirector Louis Grachos to infuse the event with a certain international flavor and cachet. What exact form that will take is yet to be seen.

All aspiring biennial participants are instructed to visit beyondinwny.org for instructions on how to apply.

And for everyone else out there who is still trying to pronounce "biennial," the Albright-Knox is planning a serious panel discussion on the rising importance of biennials in general on Friday, Jan. 30. It will feature art world luminaries Francesco Bonami, director of the famed Whitney Biennial and with a resume that might not even fit on the Internet, as well as hyper-credentialed curators Anthony Bond, Charlotte Bagger Brandt and Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, all of whose various associations and directorships are as impressive as they are legion.

In her recent review of the first New Orleans Biennial, Prospect.1 (which I saw, and which largely rocked), the New York Times' Roberta Smith maligned biennials as a "virus." Other people think they're just spiffy. This panel discussion is sure to explore both sides of the issue. I'd put it down on my calendar if I were you.

--Colin Dabkowski

RLTP's latest video promo

Road Less Traveled Productions, in an effort to usher the under-100 population into its theater, has been posting video promo segments for its productions for more than a year now. The latest, for Darryl Schneider's romantic comedy "Twice Around," previewed in tomorrow's Gusto, is below:

Whaddaya think? Does this make you want to see the show? Cheesy as it is, it would probably work on me.

--Colin Dabkowski

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