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The Art World After COVID and After the Murder of George Floyd. In Poem and Prose.

You can’t say much about the art world
That can’t also be said about the world.
Both are being hurled into a trajectory
New, untested, unimagined until now.

Like Charlie Brown, you have to face
Adversity with philosophy, insanity
With unity. Like the bard said, you
Gotta be tough. It helps to be in
Fighting shape when the weather
Gets this rough, this windy, this in-
Dependent-bookstore-spindly. Songs
Of canaries dot the landscape in rhyme
With each other as they slide towards the
Rapid decline. Some have resources, some
Have hope, some have enough dope for two
More days if they’re lucky, three if they’re not.

I had a studio in a gallery, Gallerie Soleil, in the
2000’s, teaching myself to paint after a print-
Making major and a stint as an art director
For local TV. This last frisky decade came to
A close on my own public studio & gallery,
Homegrown Press, where the occasional
Blocks were carved, prints were printed,
But mainly I painted paintings, trying to
Keep them all real enough while selling
Enough to keep the doors open, always
Hoping someone would walk through in
Time to pay my rent for me, with no new
Enemies, and as often as not it has worked,
But only online, social media sharing my work,
Connecting with and selling to souls from coast
To coast, Sight unseen, not laying my eyes on them,
Nor theirs on my pieces, except in an email, but my doors
Stayed open, if only for the occasional critique by the home-
Less (Old School was almost always right, and in fact, the piece
Of mine that upset him so, never sold, and it cost me my studio,
That and the virus that took all the restaurants and bars and my
Sweet buddy Carleton), but the main reason I kept that open sign
On the door, to welcome the occasional child/artist that would
Would walk in with a donut and a sibling, parents looking around
The crazy place with its murals and messes and giant rough easels.
The parents would raise a skeptical eyebrow at each other, or they

Would register nothing at all, but sometimes a child’s eye would rove
The gallery and the noise, the brushes and rollers and ink, and I could
See on their face the look that says “I have found my people. I could
Maybe do this.” And I would reply to them with a corresponding
Expression on my face, “If you want to, you should. It’s good.”
Maybe Old School was right about my piece, “Rat King.” And
Maybe he wasn’t. Time will tell. For now, I have carried all
Of my belongings home, one old truck full at a time, all
By myself, during quarantine, easels and tables, inks
And my press, books, magazines, slabs of old marble
And plywood and carved blocks, carving tools, brayers
And brushes, nails, screws, tools, lightbulbs and big ideas.

What didn’t fit in my music room, with the drums, guitars and
Keyboard, was relegated to the basement, where just last week
I had to go through it all again when our basement flooded, saving
Boxes of framed prints and canvas and paper. I had planes flying in
The air, in the clouds, then they were grounded and I had to retrofit
A tiny airport, and try to fling them aloft again. I’ve had help. Oh yes,
I have had help. Unemployment paid the back rent I owed on my now
Defunct studio. My wife has a good job as a medical administrator. We
Will be fine, there are many people in much more dire straits than are
We. And now that restaurants are decimated, and sports television
Echoes only its innocent past, people sit at home and have time
To watch as the world turns and the edges of cities burn, and
Our children empty into the streets to demand racial justice,
Racial equality, an end to the crushing status quo, and they
Can see much more clearly than we ever have, we are
All just people. The system is getting a much needed
Overhaul. The world is crushed and compacted and
The people try to hold on, much like the art world.

And, much like the art world, I imagine that the
Upper echelons will continue to be just a little
More bullet-proof than those creative folks
On the ground, in the trenches, making do.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

2020 marks 10 years that Homegrown Press Studio & Gallery has been located on North Limestone at 6th Street, in Lexington’s NoLi district. 2020 also marks 30 years since I met my wife and organized my gypsy screen-printing endeavor into Homegrown Press. There was to be a celebration September 24th, my late father’s 76th birthday. My band (okay, my son’s band) was to make their debut on the little wooden stage, and I would have new paintings, block prints and T-shirts for the occasion.

Instead, faint murmurings of distant illness gave way to a couple weeks of social distancing which have, in turn, become a new way of life. And death. People stopped buying paintings (not forever). Coronavirus ended my much-needed lunch dates with artists, writers, and misfits, and took our sweet friend Carleton. Then fate took two more friends to whom I owed much more than was owed to me.

The regular stress and anxiety of studio overhead became too much when compounded with grief, loss and uncertainty. I had been putting together a modest 13 x 18 foot music studio in our house, a place for our band to practice, maybe cut demos. It would now have to do double (triple?) duty. I gave notice to my NoLi landlord and brought home everything from Homegrown: press, stand, inking table, easels, drafting table, filing cabinets, canvases, paint, brushes, ink, paper, frames, tools, lamps, carved blocks, uncarved blocks, knives, pencils, pens.

It has taken a few months to find a place for everything, but I have successfully integrated the printmaking and painting equipment into the music studio without disturbing the band’s footprint too awful much. I’ve had to get creative. I am now back to painting, working on a couple of promised commissions, and some surreal little paintings for my nieces and nephew in Oregon, whom I miss. Songs and poems are popping out occasionally, but the space to paint in is limited, and my paintings have become too expensive for most of the people I know. Times change, and it is time to get back to the drawing board. Or the carving table.

For the first time in the 20 years that I have been learning how to paint, I will again be working in reductive method block printing. While more physically and mentally taxing than painting, it will be a more democratic endeavor, and more affordable. Multiple prints of each design will be made, and the number produced in each edition will be limited, since the block is destroyed during the reductive process. I will miss having a public studio space, but the main reason I had an open sign on the door was so kids whose families happened to wander over from the donut shop could see an artist just being an artist. I really could have used that example as a kid.

Like I said, times change. Human beings can be very adaptable when circumstances demand it. And circumstance is knocking. It knows we are home. Coronavirus. Unemployment. Stress. Fear. Loneliness. Then George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Marching. Signs. Fires. Smoke. And marching out of that smoke and into the light? The many thousands of protesters who, day after day and week after week, are taking back the power, in dogged pursuit of justice, truth, and unity. I acknowledge this is a crisis for individuals who have lost loved ones, jobs, businesses. But what we are seeing is the beginning of a huge recalculation. The timing is horrible. The timing is perfect.

The world is preparing to get a little more creative. I am not really familiar enough with the art world at large to be able to respond to the Last Days of the Art World article by Jerry Saltz in any substantive way, other than to say what it has been like for me. I hope every artist and arts organization that operates from the heart can survive and thrive, from the largest museums to the weirdest little galleries, studios, venues. I have been shaken from my particular tree, and like a squirrel, I only hope to land with a little dignity. Time will tell. And Black Lives Matter.

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Dmitry Strakovsky: The Art World After COVID – The Last Days of the [Centralized] Art World.

We’ve asked a number of people to write brief reaction pieces to art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent piece in Vulture,“The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One”. The writers were also asked to comment about the effects the virus and resulting mitigation steps have had on their work. We will be publishing these pieces over the next several months.

Image courtesy of Dmitry Strakovsky

The art world that Jerry Saltz is mourning in the Vulture is one that outsiders don’t really experience. To be fair, it is quite welcoming but rather hard to find or to keep up with. Its threads connect the world’s political and commercial centers via the paths of global capital – most of these intersect in New York. I “heart” the city but I also recognize a certain myopia that it fosters whenever we talk about art. For example, the previous catastrophic events that the author refers to reflect the contractions in the market for contemporary art. These are not felt particularly strongly outside of the commercial gallery nexus; a feature absent from the landscape of most American cities, to say nothing of rural areas. New York, LA, sometimes Chicago, sometimes Houston, Miami once a year, that is where the art world lives. It is beautiful! It is amazing! It is full of my favorite people. It is also absolutely crippled by its own economics.

Saltz’s assessment that the finances are concentrated “in the hands of a lucky, mostly white 1500 people” is spot on. This is precisely what has been leading the trend of ever-increasing centralization: smaller commercial galleries going out of business and larger galleries getting significantly larger, also mentioned in the article. It is an unsustainable arms race that involves moderate expansions in the rosters of artists and gargantuan growth in the amount of real estate a gallery has to occupy to try to keep up. Consequently, it is increasingly complicated for an artist not represented by a mega-gallery to gain access to financial resources needed to produce their art. Major museum and other large public-venue-type shows by living artists without commercial gallery representation are virtually non-existent in the United States.

The art world, much like the rest of the economy, is overly centralized. We are stuck in the endless loop of complaint that there is not enough money for art and bemoaning the fact that the market, back to the 1500 people mentioned above, is ruining the art world. This was an unsustainable scenario before the COVID-19 outbreak and the current pandemic is just accelerating the destructive process.

Now, after nodding my head to yet another denizen of the art world pointing to the obvious issues without providing any real solutions, I would like to simply say that chasing the same group of rich collectors around the globe is probably not a way forward. We need to expand the audience in a meaningful way; embrace contemporary technologies beyond the corporate fold of Instagram and try to see what “scales up” in the cultural sphere.

It must be noted that the idea of scale can be incredibly destructive: fast-food franchises give us scale but not necessarily a pleasant dining experience. Pushed to its extreme “scale” is simply another way to refer to bland monoculture. However, if we are careful, we can use the software development tools and marketing solutions of the internet age to make connections to new audiences and expand the base of participants in our cultural experiments. This brings me to a project that I care deeply about: a non-profit that I helped to start about three years ago.

Infinite Industries is a project designed from the beginning to try to expand the audience for contemporary culture in general. When the virus hit, the focus of what we do hadn’t really changed: provide a unified platform for cultural producers to distribute information about their events. It is a pretty funky mix of technocratic and idealistic approaches: provide a single comprehensive platform but make it free and easily hackable so others can use it. We needed to make technical adjustments on the fly but we are a small volunteer tech team (BIG Shoutout to Chris Wininger and Matthew Gidcomb!) so we could pivot very fast.

Art, theater, dance, music worlds are super welcoming places but we constantly fail at getting information out about what we do to the rest of the world. The simple truth is that unless one is judiciously looking on Facebook, and is friends with all the right people, and is subscribed to at least a couple of listservs, they are not going to find much about what is happening in a town even as relatively small as Lexington. In order for us to thrive, we have to expand the audience. We have to be more visible! We have to be more vital! We have to diversify the sources of eyeballs and cash!

The art world and, by extension, a larger culturally active world that I would love to see on the other side of the pandemic is one that embraces technology to create resilient and decentralized networks that are open to an ever-increasing number of patrons.

Top image photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash

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Stuart Horodner: The Art World After COVID

We’ve asked a number of people to write brief reaction pieces to art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent piece in Vulture, “The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One”. The writers were also asked to comment about the effects the virus and resulting mitigation steps have had on their work. We will be publishing these pieces over the next several months.

How has COVID 19 impacted what you do?

The spread of the virus and all the precautions around it led to the obvious decision to close the UK Art Museum until such time that it is safe to return. The staff and I are working from home, doing research and creating online offerings that provide the robust flavor of what we normally do, if not the actual taste. We meet via Zoom and FaceTime, and the longer our seclusion lasts, the more these gridded conversations keep the connection between us and remind us of our shared commitment to a life in the arts.

In a recent article for The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz wrote about the theatre in these days of quarantine: “I hope it doesn’t sound too prematurely elegiac to say that one of the things I miss about going to the theatre is the going: leaving home, travelling, with a sense of purpose, to a specific place at an appointed hour. I miss threading my way through the obstacle course of Times Square, secretly proud of my agility. And I miss being part of an audience, one soul among many. I even miss the infuriating madness of other people.”(1)

I can relate. Not being able to feel each distinct part of the work day – from driving to the university, dealing with the day’s tasks, eating lunch in the break room, and having face-to-face encounters with students, faculty, staff, and the public who’ve come to see an exhibition, attend a lecture or a tour, or participate in a workshop or Family Day activity – is disorienting and depressing. We are planners and presenters, and this gives us a sense of purpose and pride. Not being able to know for certain when to arrange for the installation of new exhibitions, or book travel for exhibiting artists or guest speakers, is maddening. Oh, to be back in the happy days of listening to visitors complain about the lack of parking or scrambling to get ready for an opening reception!

As I write this, government officials and university leadership are making budget calculations and projecting the possibility of phased returns in the future. While we wait for a clear sense of how this will work, my mind goes to the belief that I’ve maintained since adolescence – that art is meaningful and transformative, giving us insights into ourselves and others. While we can’t have the real thing right now, there is something satisfying about delivering a few weekly social media items that can engage the homebound art lover. The museum has a modified Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament going that pits artworks from our permanent collection against each other, asking viewers to vote on their favorites, as well as writing prompts for parents and teachers using current and recent exhibitions, and staff reflections on their own wondrous objects, which is a teaser for the upcoming Cabinet of Wonder exhibition.

How do you see post-COVID 19 practice?

This period puts in even starker relief the vulnerabilities that organizations of all sizes understand about their situation. A small and scrappy art center knows the struggle of paying staff what they are worth, and the value of each grant, membership, and annual fund donation. A venerable encyclopedic museum with millions of annual visitors knows the challenges of securing major sponsorships and the mind-numbing protocols of crowd control. I’m reminded of a comment by artist Xu Bing: “My viewpoint is that wherever you live, you will face that place’s problems. If you have problems then you have art.” (2)

None of us could have imagined that a pandemic would put a total stop to our publicness. That was not in anybody’s strategic plan. But if problems yield art, then our collective creativity now and in the future will figure out appropriate ways of being.

When I interviewed for the directorship of the UK Art Museum in the spring of 2014, I told everyone I encountered that great university museums do three things in this order: they are a valuable asset on campus, offering faculty and students varied exhibits and programs that can be linked to syllabi and various learning outcomes; they are beloved in their communities as a destination for art lovers of all ages and backgrounds; and they contribute to the field, establishing a solid reputation for rigor, experimentation, and relevance.

University museums are often poised to take risks, and I’m thinking of several past and present directors and curators that I’ve respected for years, who have each steered their institutions with passion and clarity. They’ve worked in good times and bad, dealt with questions of appropriate scale, diversity, and inclusion in hiring practices and collection management, and economic uncertainty. A quick list includes Ian Berry at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery (Skidmore College), Barry Blinderman at the University Galleries (Illinois State University), Andrea Barnwell Brownlee at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Susanne Ghez at the Renaissance Society (University of Chicago), Ann Philbin at the Hammer Museum (UCLA), Larry Rinder at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives, and Simone Wicha and Veronica Roberts at the Blanton Museum of Art (University of Texas at Austin), to name a few.

Artist Tony Tasset standing next to his Mood Sculpture, installed near the UK Student Center, but relocated this past winter to the front of the UK Art Museum. Photograph by Alan Rideout.

The post-COVID environment will demand that we are secure in being open and can be especially clear about our values and deliverables. What lessons did we learn that can be brought from this curious limbo condition to the first phase of a “new normal?” How can we prioritize our endeavors as we face likely budget cuts and audience anxieties about occupying cultural spaces? Which platforms and what tone will be most effective in communicating the significance of our work into the future?

I’m thinking a lot about the exhibition planned for fall called This is America*, coinciding with the 2020 presidential election. It was conceived to examine aspects of history, citizenry, faith, race, sexuality, dignity, power, and struggle today. How can it not be altered to address, in some way, the precautions we are taking, from hand washing to social distancing? It was always meant to challenge viewers to sort out their knowledge of, and feelings about, our country. Will visitors want to be challenged after months of isolation and anxiety?

How do you respond to Jerry Saltz’s recent article, The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One? (3)

I agree with him that the inequalities in the system which were obvious before will be even more so. I’m not interested in making predictions right now. Everyone has their version of the glory days and there have been war stories at every level of the artworld for decades. I will save mine for another day.

There will be changes, as always. Artists, galleries, critics, collectors, and institutions are never static. I remember Leon Golub telling me: “There are three things: your work, your livelihood, and your personal life. If any two are going well at the same time consider yourself lucky.” (4)

Given the current situation, we might need to be content with one good thing. We are all in the big “we’ll see.” But we are in good company.

  1. Alexandra Schwartz, “Screen Time: Performers on lockdown turn to their smartphones,” The New Yorker, pp 75-77, April 6, 2020.
  2. Xu Bing, in Letters to a Young Artist, Peter Nesbett, Shelley Bancroft, and Sarah Andress, eds. (New York: Darte Publishing, 2006), 15.
  3. Jerry Saltz, “The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One,” New York (Apr 2, 2020), https://www.vulture.com/2020/04/how-the-coronavirus-will-transform-the-art-world.html, accessed April 16, 2020.
  4. Leon Golub, conversation with the author, October 15, 1999.

Top image photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

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John Brooks: The Art World After COVID

We’ve asked a number of people to write brief reaction pieces to art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent piece in Vulture,“The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One”. The writers were also asked to comment about the effects the virus and resulting mitigation steps have had on their work. We will be publishing these pieces over the next several months.

On February 28th, Quappi Projects opened an exhibition featuring nineteen artists from around the nation and world. Two days later, I flew to New York to exhibit at SPRING/BREAK during Armory week. I was in the city for eleven days; the New York fairs were well attended, but with each successive day the mood grew more worrisome. I left the city shortly before the quarantine began. After returning to Louisville, I honored a handful of appointments at the gallery until Governor Beshear’s directive to shutter all non-essential businesses. Our opening reception was well attended, but it is disappointing for both the artists involved and the viewing public that the show has been seen by so few people. This, however, seems a small concern when lives are at risk.

The current exhibition was scheduled to close April 10th, but will hang indefinitely for the time being. That sounds contradictory, but with no way to know what is to come, planning is impossible. Our next exhibition has been cancelled. The artist’s concept had a meaningful tie-in to the Derby and with its postponement we can’t simply wait for reopening. Moving forward, the rest of the schedule is up in the air. While I do feel utterly unmoored by the current reality, there is positivity in even the idea of future exhibitions. I am holding on to that hope.

Regarding my own painting practice, I still have studio access. Traveling there requires only a short drive, after which I work in isolation. It seems safe and I have spent a few days each week painting.

Photo by John Brooks of woman viewing Dorthea Lange exhibition at MoMA.

None of us know what the post-COVID landscape will look like – any prediction is just conjecture – but something will unfold. Saltz writes that Chef David Chang expects 90 percent of restaurants to close and “surmises the food world will return to the pre-internet days of the 1990s.” I can’t speak to that industry, but with regard to ours, a return to the “pre-internet” era is simply inconceivable. The internet and social media have connected us in previously unimaginable ways, and there is no disengaging from that. I have developed immensely rewarding relationships with so many artists – mostly young, mostly queer – and we support each other professionally and personally; this has felt even more meaningful throughout this collectively endured isolation.

Saltz is right that this crisis could exacerbate inequalities between winners and losers. “Losing” may now be synonymous with nonexistence. Those of us who have been functioning – and surviving – outside the art world’s uppermost echelons must continue to support each other however we can. As we always have, artists and gallerists will advocate for our position in a culture that often sees us as extraneous, but perhaps a greater appreciation for our contributions will emerge since so many have turned to the arts for solace. After this period of societal crisis and existential introspection, I hope more value and attention will be placed on complex work in lieu of the clever, flippant, and depthless. Undoubtedly, art and artists will adapt, abide. Collectors, too.

Top photo by CDC on Unsplash

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Heuser transcript

Tom: So, we’re talking about music here obviously. What was it about music that it became your life’s work? Was it your family? Was it maybe a performance that you experienced, a teacher that you had?

Thomas: Great. Yes. It’s been part of my life since as far back as I can remember. You know having a musical household, definitely my parents are responsible for an introduction to music and encouraging my musical studies and career. And, I think that after, you know, this early exposure at home it did end up being the teachers that I was able to work with who inspired this kind of lifelong appreciation and the pursuit of the career.

I remember some early piano teachers growing up in St. Louis who really inspired me to, you know, pursue harder and harder repertoire, more and more serious studies. And eventually by the time I was choosing a career and having to make these big decisions it was clear to me that music was the only way to go. And, these days I say to young people if you can imagine yourself doing anything besides music, you should probably do it because it’s such a tough career to build. But, evidently I picked the right one for me and I’ve been very fortunate to have a career built around music. As you know it’s not an easy undertaking.

Tom: Is the piano your instrument of choice?

Thomas: That’s right. Yeah. I was a Piano undergraduate major and I’m now sort of “artist formerly known as pianist.” It’s something that I like to keep up for social engagements and you know sort of impromptu performances. But, no, I’m leaving that to the classical pianist these days.

Tom: So, how does one make that transition from a musician to conductor?

Thomas: Sure. It’s always an interesting thing and there’s really no set path. I would say that each conductor finds his or her own way – especially these days – to make it on to the podium with an orchestra.

For me, it was through composing that I found out about conducting. I was writing in high school some Broadway shows and then original classical compositions in college that I had a chance to direct myself and I realized that what is so wonderful about conducting is that it’s a collaborative musical exercise. There are other people involved that you get a chance to coach and work with musicians on musical expression and ideas. And, that really meant for me sort of a breakthrough, whereas I had been in a practice room as a piano player very much a solo enterprise and suddenly this wonderful world of conducting meant that I had other people to work with and that suited me.

So, it was through my own writing and performing that I finally had a chance to try conducting and it was a great fit for me.

Tom: What is the most exciting thing to you about the program that you’re going to be conducting here in Lexington?

Thomas: Oh, it’s a wonderful program, a big program, lots of music to enjoy. I think there are many, many specials components of this program. The concert is called Home, and that’s largely because of the music of Julia Perry.

Julia Perry was born in 1920’s in Lexington, so it was her home. She lived there for I think the first ten years or so of her life before moving to Akron, Ohio and then, having a long career in Europe. I shouldn’t say a long career, an extensive career with notable teachers like (Luigi) Dallapiccola and Nadia Boulanger, but anyway, having this career that was actually cut relatively short due to health issues for her.

But, one of the most notable early African-American women composers whose music is still performed today; it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore her works that are relatively unperformed. That kicks off a performance of the Stravinsky violin concerto, one the most technical works for the solo violin in the repertoire, a wonderful chance to work with Stefan (Jackiw) whom I’ve not worked with before. We have some things in common though. His parents are both physicists, mine are both biologists, so I can’t wait to touch base with him on what that means.

But, of course the big bulk of the program is Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony and it’s one of the most passionate works of Tchaikovsky, his last symphony, his last work. He actually conducted the premiere just a week or so before he passed away, incredibly emotional and significant because of its autobiographical nature for Tchaikovsky. And it’s just incredibly passionate music that showcases the orchestra and as a guest conductor as a music director finalist, it will provide so much opportunity to work with the musicians to get to know the musicians of Lexington Philharmonic and bring this incredible music to life. I can’t wait.

Tom: Thomas, if you were pressed to describe your musical personality, what would you say?

Thomas: [Laughs] That’s a good question. Again, when I think about conductors, it’s such an individual art. You know there’s as many different styles of conducting and personalities as there are conductors I would say. Generally speaking, I would say I’m a traditional type of conductor in the sense that I love the classics, I love the core repertoire which I think still resonates with audiences; Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mozart, you know the names that are familiar to us. But, traditional also in the sense that I think our programming needs to incorporate contemporary voices.

That was always true that symphonies were responsible for promoting the artistic voices of our time and of the day and I’m traditional in that sense too where  I think that the great works need to have a balance of the voices of the living composers and that is in a sense traditional. So, again, I do lean on the great repertoire and try to pepper in some works by living composers. That would be my programming personality.

Tom: We only have just a little bit of time left and I want to be sure to talk to you about your vision of the future for classical music. What do you think needs to happen to keep present audiences engaged while also working to attract new younger audiences? For example, are you open to exploring roles for other genres?

Thomas: Absolutely. Well, it’s one of the most important issues facing the industry today. I am a firm believer that there’s still a hunger for excellence in the communities of audiences, that whether they’re coming to the symphony for the first time or they’ve been coming for generations, there is always this desire for something extraordinary to happen on the stage and that needs to be the vision for the future still. There needs to always be that focus on quality and excellence.

And then, you get into accessibility of your programming, how is it marketed? Are there popular shows mixed in with the classical shows? I think the Lexington Philharmonic does a beautiful job of that, of having a balance of programs that are meant to appeal to the subscription base versus the first time audiences and younger audiences.

The younger audiences will eventually come to a place where they have the time and means to enjoy season tickets for a symphony orchestra and so, we’ll always see younger people coming on. I don’t think it’s a dying art form by any means. But, my vision is always to keep the focus on the quality and to make the musicians realized that that is our mission: not to just present programs designed to attract audiences, but to always be doing our musical best.

Tom: In your experience, what do you think an orchestra does for the life of a community?

Thomas: Many things and especially when you think about the education enrichment of the culture. There’s so much behind the scenes going on with an orchestra like Lexington Philharmonic; classroom visits by the musicians, education programs designed for families with young people, so there’s, you know, an introduction to the art form going on at the organizational level.

But then, there’s also what the symphony does for the bigger picture of what is our community by having a symphony orchestra? At a high level that speaks volumes for the kind of financial commitment of the community the kind of support for the arts that exists in the community. So people looking from the outside will say look at what we have, look at what cultural entities we have. And the symphony orchestra is always in my mind, the peak of those entities. It’s always the one that is sort of carrying the beacon of the cultural excellence in the community.

So, as the conductor, that’s your role, you’re a critical leader for engaging the community, setting the tone for the approachability of the organization, the personality, and for the musicians too, they want to have a conductor and partner on the podium who they trust and believe in and can get behind. So, we do a lot as a symphony orchestra for the life of any community.

Tom: One last very quick question. I’m just very curious. What has you excited about Lexington, Kentucky and thinking that, hmm, that’s a place where I would like to bring my family to live?

Thomas: Oh, it’s a fabulous community. We have a few ties. I’m from Missouri as I mentioned, St. Louis. And, my wife actually grew up in Hart County, Kentucky, so we’ve spent much time there.  Her folks still live down there, so great friends in the community. I also went to school in the Midwest, so I know a few musicians in the orchestra. So, that connection is still very strong for us.

I just think it’s a wonderful part of the world. You have Shakertown, you know obviously the university provides a wonderful community in and of itself. So Lexington has a lot to offer. And conducting is definitely go where the job takes you kind of lifestyle and I think you could do a lot worse than a town like Lexington.

Tom: Thomas Heuser, candidate for conductor of the Lexington Philharmonic. Thanks so much, Thomas.

Thomas: Thank you very much, Tom.

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Kaiser transcript

Tom: Let’s begin by asking you to share with us all of the things that have to be taken into consideration when you’re looking for that right person. What are you looking for in this conductor?

Allison: Well, we’re looking for someone who has excellent musical ability, musicality. We’re looking for someone who is a phenomenal communicator – both a communicator through the music that this individual will be leading and a communicator one-on-one with individuals and other organizations that we will want to collaborate and partner with.

The individual has to be absolutely passionate about the role of music in a vibrant community. And, as we know, Lexington is a very special community when it comes to music. We’re very rich in all genres of music, so we’ll be looking at someone who can help us to build bridges between all the different genres too.

Tom: So, this should be a person who’s comfortable with being the face of LexPhil, getting out of the community…

Allison: Absolutely.

Tom: Meeting people, talking to people?

Allison: Absolutely. So, yes, we’re looking for someone who has excellent on-podium skills and excellent off-podium skills.

Tom: What’s your vision about growing your audience?

Allison: The Philharmonic, especially the work that’s been done over the last ten years, is very well-positioned to be looking at growing the audience. As you probably know nothing happens quickly in the world of orchestras. It’s a large organization with a lot of moving parts and to get parts aligned and moving in the same direction can take some time. But, over the course of the last ten years under Scott’s direction, we made tremendous strides in developing a much more diverse repertoire and helping our existing audience understand the excitement and the joy of exploring unknown repertoire.

And so, we will be on the artistic side looking at our new music director and conductor to continue that forward momentum and also helping us to learn new and better ways to build bridges better communication with the community with other music forms and other art forms, so that we can become more of a nucleus and less of an isolated organization, but more of a nucleus to build community through the arts and through shared audiences with other art forms.

Tom: Getting back to the search process. This is one intense process and you’re down to six finalists.

Allison: Yes.

Tom: It’s going to happen over the entire season.

Allison: Yes.

Tom: Tell us about it. How is it structured?

Allison: Okay. So, we have each conductor finalist coming in to conduct one of our season series concerts, and we call those concerts cycles. And so, they will arrive, they’ll spend just a little bit, they’ll each spend about eight days with us and from the moment that  they – we give them a rest the night that they get in, but then every day is packed with meetings, tours of the Bluegrass area, meetings with our various boards of directors.

So, for example, we have the Society Board which is the operating arm, we have the Foundation Board which is our endowment arm, and we have our Guild Board. They will all be meeting with each candidate. Our staff will be meeting with each candidate in a one – staff and conductor candidate situation.

We will be having a reception, for example, during the day to invite community leaders, political leaders, and donors to come meet the candidate. After the concert, there will be an open invitation to everybody in the audience to come meet the candidate and ask questions. Then, the search committee will have a one-on-one meeting with each candidate the day after each concert. And, we’ll conclude the whole week of activities with a fundraising opportunity where individuals will open up their homes to allow us to use that as a fundraising opportunity for people to come and meet the candidate.

So, we’re trying to do everything from broad and wide open to fundraising with each candidate. And, we feel like that’s important because we need to see how each candidate reacts in those different situations and how they react in a rapid fire situation where we have just one activity and event. Every night is filled with rehearsal, so that part of their stay with us, their evenings will be consumed with meeting the guest artist, talking with our musicians. Our musicians will have one-on-one meetings with each candidate. I believe it’s toward the middle of the week, so not the first rehearsal, but later in the rehearsal process.

So, we will be also gathering feedback from every one of these groups that meet with each candidate to provide to the search committee to help them to make their decision.

Tom: I sure do hope these folks have built in a couple of days off after this.

Allison: I hope so too. [Laughs] We do try and give them eight hours in which to sleep, but not a whole lot more.

Tom: So, your season opener will be conducted by one of the finalists, Thomas Heuser, and we’ll be talking with Thomas in just a few minutes. And, this concert is coming up on Saturday, the 21st. And, the program features a piece with a very local connection. Tell us about Julia Perry.

Kaiser: Yes. Julia Perry was one of the early American female composers. And, we are so honored to be able to open our season with one of her works. I think that, again, as we talk about how we want to not just grow audience, but also grow our community’s connection and awareness of the realm of orchestral music that this is an excellent way to open the season.

Her work is a beautiful work. She is one of the unsung masters of composition, and we’re very honored to have this opportunity. And as you have probably noticed, we are also featuring a female composer to open each program throughout the season. So, we feel like it’s a really good opportunity for us to take a fairly bold step forward in making sure that we do everything that we can to help our community and our audience members understand the depth and breadth of what is out there and available through orchestral music.

Tom: Is it coincidence or is there a connection with the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment?

Allison: Well, I think there is connection and there’s been of course a lot of attention drawn to the role of women in leadership and in politics especially over the last few years. And, we feel that it’s time that we draw that attention to the world of female leaders in composition as well.

Tom:  So, I mentioned Thomas Heuser. Who are the other finalists?

Allison: Okay. After Thomas visits with us, we will have Akiko Fujimoto. And then, following Akiko’s visit with us, we will have Kelly Corcoran and then, Enrico Lopez-Yañez, then Julia Tai and then Keitaro Harada in May.

Tom: And, when do you hope to have a decision made and ready for announcement?

Allison: This summer. We won’t really be able to get into any type of decision-making until we’ve had an experience with each one of the candidates and our search committee will then have to sift through and digest all of the feedback that we’ll be gathering on each candidate.

Tom: So, for you and for your general manager, Sarah Thrall, and everybody at LexPhil this is going to be one intense, busy year.

Allison: It is. But, we’re so excited about it because it gives us a phenomenal opportunity to open up a part of our organizational thinking to a much broader community. Most people would say that the inner workings of an orchestra is not something that they’re familiar with, we want to bring all that up to the surface and make it much more transparent and invite people into that process with us.

Tom: Wonderful. Allison Kaiser, Executive Director of the Lexington Philharmonic LexPhil. And, we thank you so much, Allison.

Allison: Thank you, Tom.

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Arts Tasting Menu

A handcut tasting of cultural delicacies from Lexington, the region, and beyond.

Although summer is waning, things are heating up in the visual arts across the region. Three not-to-be-missed exhibitions.

Appetizer

Interwoven: Joan Snyder, Judy Ledgerwood, Crystal Gregory. University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington. September 14th to December 9th, 2019.

An exciting exhibition of work by three women artists, including UK SAVS faculty member Crystal Gregory. Snyder’s evocative, dense work include markings, floral references, and writing. Ledgerwood’s colorful paintings reference craft and ornamental traditions. And Gregory embeds weaving with nontraditional materials such as metal and concrete.

Judy Ledgerwood, Pretty Monster, 2015, oil and metallic oil on canvas.

Entree

KMAC Triennial: Crown of Rays. KMAC Museum, Louisville. August 24th to December 1st, 2019.

This first triennial exhibition at KMAC sought submissions from artists who spent formative years in Kentucky. The group of twenty artists in this exhibition were culled from over two-hundred submitting artists and selected by a jury headed up by KMAC Curator, Joey Yates. The Triennial reflects the diversity of practice by Kentucky artists ranging from traditional artworks in weaving and painting to works in sound and video. UnderMain will have a review of this important exhibition this fall.

Dessert

Robert Colescott: Art and Race Matters. Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. September 20, 2019 thru January 12, 2020.

This first comprehensive retrospective of the work of Robert Colescott, who died in 2009, brings the often controversial work of this artist who explored below the surface notions of race, diversity, stereotypes, and identity. An important exhibition coming in the midst of our heated national conversation about these matters.

Robert Colescott, Sleeping Beauty, 2002, acrylic on canvas.

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Essay Invitation: That Special Tree

Welcome to the UnderMain Invitational Essay Series! In celebration of Tree Week 2019  we invite you to write a short story or poem about that special tree of your childhood, your past, or in your life today. Why was it your “go to” tree? What species was it? How does it make you feel to recall it? What has become of it? The possible angles are limited only by experience and imagination. 

Please limit the word count to 500. UnderMain reserves an editorial prerogative to ensure that our content is a comfortable fit with community standards.

We can illustrate with stock photos (see Tom Martin’s There was this tree…), with a source-credited digital image of your own, or with your drawing (check out Christine Huskisson’s Twelve Trees.)

We’ll publish your essay on UnderMain so that you can share it (maybe with long-lost childhood friends who also recall that special tree and have stories of their own to contribute).

Check out this conversation for this week’s edition of Eastern Standard on WEKU with Tree Week core team members Bridget Abernathy and Heather Wilson:

Tell us about that special tree in your childhood!

Submit your essay to tom@under-main.com

Thank you and enjoy!

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