A cultural renewal amidst challenging times.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Don’t tell anyone, but there’s been a cultural renaissance going on around these parts.
The Golden State Film Festival has been bringing in some of the most renowned filmmakers in the world to Monterey County, along with an intelligently programmed group of premieres, screenings of film classics. If you slipped downtown to the Golden Gate Theatre on any given day in the course of the (still ongoing) festivities, you might have heard Peter Bogdanovich’s Hollywood war stories or listened to director Alexander Payne explain why the studios wanted Tom Cruise – or Tom Hanks – not Matthew Broderick, as the male lead in Election.
THE FACT THAT THE CPA IS SURVIVING AT ALL THESE DAYS IS SOMETHING OF A MIRACLE.
And there’s still time to catch Under Our Skin, a (literally) penetrating documentary about Lyme disease by Northern California filmmaker Andy Abrahams; Julia, an indie movie about an alcoholic trying to salvage her life starring Tilda Swinton; Enlighten Up, a skeptic’s look at the yoga scene; and New Brow: Contemporary Underground Art by local director Tanem Davidson about the outsider art scene.
Kudos to Warren Dewey, owner of the Golden State Theatre since 2004 and his partner in crime, Steve Leiber, who runs an art house in Rhinebeck, N.Y., for having the guts and vision to pull this adventure off in the middle of a recession.
We wish more Monterey folks had shown up to take advantage of the offerings. But it was heartening to meet a Big Sur filmmaker who made the trip down to see animator Bill Plympton, and hear audience questions from a local woman who wanted advice on producing a film in India, and a CSUMB film major looking for tips.
But that’s not all – far from all.
Starting March 30, Carmel’s rejuvenated Center for Photographic Art will be hosting an iconic exhibition, People, Of and By Ansel Adams, with portraits of Georgia O’Keefe, Robinson Jeffers, Mary Austin, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston. The fact that CPA is surviving at all these days is something of a miracle and major props are due to the dedicated group of mostly volunteer staffers and board members who shepherded this local treasure through a harrowing crisis and are helping put it back on the road to recovery.
And, oh yes – the Monterey Museum of Art kicks off the celebration of its 50th anniversary with 50/fifty: 50 Gifts For the Next Fifty Years, an exhibition of “50 significant works of art given or promised to the Museum” that opens March 28. (See story, pg. 34).
We’ll be seeing even more MMA institution in April, when the Pacific Street galleries reopen with Made in Monterey, an exhibition of works from the permanent collection.
You prefer to bop? Check out the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Festival, April 3-5, featuring more than 50 youthful big bands and ensembles, with 47 finalists from California alone.
Apparently they haven’t got the word that jazz is dead and are ready to swing into spring.
But let’s not confine the arts scene to the cushier comforts of Monterey or Carmel.
There’s more going on in Salinas than the troubles recounted in our cover story this week.
Starting March 24, the National Steinbeck Center hosts Like Oil and Water, a photography show by Monterey County resident Juleen Johnson, who grew up in Alaska, about the legacy of the Exxon Valdez spill that occurred 20 years to the day the exhibition opens. Her show deals with this environmental tragedy through the prism of more recent work shot at local beaches.
Also at the Steinbeck Center, from April through June, are a series of events presented in collaboration with the Salinas Public Library. Salinas Stories takes locals and interested visitors time traveling with a program that couldn’t be more timely – “The New Deal – Revisiting The Depression: The Anniversary of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath” (April 4-5). They are also hosting seminars on Cesar Chavez, a showing of the documentary Bracero Stories and a “Memory Map” workshop where families can retrace their roots.
Sound boosterish? Sorry.
But I’m blown away by the multiplicity of options offered in the multi-tiered, multi-cultural constellation of communities that makes up Monterey County. The choices are not limited to mainstream institutions. There’s too much else going on from folks like the @risK Gallery, the Alternative Café, the Youth Arts Collective – or a basement bassist you haven’t heard of yet.
None of this is intended to deny the realities of the recession. The unemployment rate here recently hit 16 percent – the highest in 10 years. Times are definitely tough. But there’s hope in the air, too. At least this week.