The Steinbeck Center is a nucleus of culture in Salinas, a reflection of its city’s evolving histories and essential values. In the next few months, the Steinbeck Center will host a plethora of events and programs, from Aztec dancers to young essayists, that show just how dynamic that cultural character is.
“We can do a lot of things,” says Executive Director Colleen Bailey. No kidding. Here are some of them.
John Steinbeck’s Birthday Celebration
Sunday, Feb. 24, 11am-4pm.
He would have been 111 years old (on Feb. 27). So Steinbeck may have been a little old to fully engage the storytelling and crafts, the Jeanne Robinson Dance Arts team or the Yaocuauhtli Aztec dancers, the art workshops and docent led tours (in English and Spanish), the new music premiers by Youth Orchestra Salinas, the iPhone photos exhibit of Mission San Juan Bautista, or the food and birthday cake. But he surely would have loved the community spirit of it. And that it’s free for locals – nearly 500 of whom came last year.
First Friday / City Arts: Salinas’ Visual Heritage
Friday, March 1, 5-8pm.
The center is an anchor for Friday’s monthly art walk that often has more art than walkers, and it’s a fruitful destination because it’s free, with plenty to see. And hear. Today that’s Eric Bosler, photography professor at Hartnell College, who talks at 5:30pm about the city of Salinas’ collection of public art from the 1960s to the ’80s. At 6:30pm, Patrice Vecchione and Kat Meads talk about being writers, and the importance of Place in what they write. The evening ends with the Monterey Flute Choir.
A Musical Celebration of the Life and Times of John Steinbeck
Sunday, March 3, 2-4pm.
This is a full-on music festival, a shared program of Santa Cruz’s Big Read featuring The Grapes of Wrath, but branching into myriad directions.
“It’s a musical homage,” explains the center’s Elizabeth Welden-Smith, curator of Education and Public Programs. “Music played or popular when The Grapes of Wrath was written.”
There are five groups with short sets: The Dust Bowl Band play Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie; Celina Gutierrez performs Latino/Latina songs like “Besame Mucho;” The Bob Burnett Trio goes Broadway with Rodgers & Hammerstein; The Eleazar Cortes Trio performs Mexican Revolution corrido “La Adelita;” and Back in Time with the Martan Mann Trio gets jazzy on “Mood Indigo” and “In the Mood.”
NBC journalist Damian Trujillo
Friday, March 8, 5:30-10pm.
NBC Bay Area reporter Damian Trujillo’s day will start at 9:30am with a talk to fifth graders from the Alisal School District at Sherwood Hall, then a visit to Alisal High for another talk. The Steinbeck Center event will screen part of the documentary From the Fields: An American Journey, about his life – from a family of 10 who came to the States under the Bracero Program – followed by a dinner, talk and a reception fundraiser.
Pacific Gardens Benefit
Saturday, March 9, 6-9pm
This is also a fundraiser. For three years, the center has explored, in art, film, talks and readings, the Salinas and Salinas Valley’s Japanese, Chinese and Filipino communities. The center has earned the trust to serve as an archive of their stories across media.
“Like a library,” Bailey says.
Now they’re meeting with members of those communities to build a permanent exhibit space in the courtyard outside the main rotunda. One possible feature of the Tomas Ancona-designed space, says Bailey, is a reflecting pool with stepping stones that play audio recordings of stories. This $75 fundraiser of Asian food, wine and Taiko drumming takes steps toward that future exhibit.
Steinbeck Young Authors 10th Annual Day of Writing
Monday, March 11.
Teachers in Monterey County who sign on are given a Steinbeck Center curriculum for middle school students – this year it’s Steinbeck novel The Red Pony. The students write essays; the teachers select two strong essayists for the Day of Writing; writing coaches from the community help them refine their essays (on March 11, volunteers wanted); and judges choose the winning works. It culminates with an award ceremony at CSUMB’s World Theater, and all essays are published in the Gabilan Journal.
Beauty and the Beast
Saturday, April 6, 2pm. Sherwood Hall.
“All of these events really focus on home,” Bailey says. “Which is important to what Steinbeck wrote about. The exception is Beauty and the Beast, which I think kids will delight in.” So it’s just fun. There are two performances by State Street Ballet of the 1740 French story, Welden-Smith says: The one in the morning for 3,000 school children. The 2pm performance is for everyone, even kids who think they’re going to sing along to “Be Our Guest.”
“It’s set to music by Tchaikovsky,” Welden-Smith says. “Even though State Street is using traditional music, it’s… just as compelling as the Disney cartoon.”
Saturday, April 20, 6:30pm. Sherwood Hall.
This showcase presented by the Steinbeck Center works like a jam session of culture. Local musicians, poets and artists are invited to contact founders Adela Castillo or Jose Alejandro Moran to come together with artists from Texas, Nevada and Mexico in what Welden-Smith calls an “art fair,” revolving around stage performances. It takes place mostly in Spanish, though its language of the human voice and music and dance doesn’t need much translation.
• In the blitz of cool music and events, big and small, of the revitalized Golden State Theatre, the venue logged its first sellout this past weekend with the comedy show by George Lopez, according to GST general manager Scott Grover.
• Last month’s announcement of E. Michael Whittington’s sudden vacancy of the executive director position at Monterey Museum of Art stirred up a dust cloud of speculation in its wake. Though the museum’s announcement included gracious quotes from both President of the Board of Trustees Melissa Burnett and Whittington, the speed with which it happened and the dearth of elaboration had some wondering if the parting was amicable. Well, one part of the mystery became apparent with the official announcement (not by MMA) about what Whittington is doing – he’s been named President and CEO of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, to begin April 8.
• Steinbeck is revered here, verily. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salinas, at its 10am Sunday (Feb. 24) service, will conduct “A Steinbeck Liturgy” in honor of the writer’s birthday (Feb. 27), in the church where he attended Sunday school, sang in the choir and served as acolyte. St. Paul’s draws parallels between Steinbeck’s words and the “King James Bible… a profoundly Christian moral vision,” as well as the church’s “commitment to social justice.” A Bach organ fugue will open the service, followed by passages from Psalm that were read at Steinbeck’s funeral in 1968 (“The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved; he uttered his voice, the earth melted”); excerpts from East of Eden and his acceptance speech of the 1962 Nobel Prize; a blessing from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson (“Bright is the ring of words/ When the right man rings them”); sermons, prayers and the breaking of bread – this is church, after all. And you thought the National Steinbeck Center was the only house of worship of Steinbeck.
• Last Sunday, the Junior Youth Orchestra and Honors Orchestra of Youth Music Monterey County, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, soprano Rebecca Davis, tenor Ben Gulley, and violinist Peter Mellinger, led by Music Director and Conductor Farkhad Khudyev, treated a family-oriented Sunset Center audience to an afternoon of delight and depth. The Junior Youth Orchestra reportedly performed admirably (I did not see them, unfortunately) pieces from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Verdi’s overture to Nabucco. Before the second part of the program, Khudyev talked about Beethoven’s overture to his only opera, Leonore: “When Beethoven is joyful, the whole planet is dancing.” Then they unfurled the sumptuous, rumbling, radiant piece. Violinist Mellinger, who seemed shy, nailed a work by Max Bruch, backed by the Honors Orchestra which he also serves as concertmaster. And the singers sounded glorious on popular arias from Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini. Youth is not wasted on the young; neither, here, was talent.