*NOTE: Header image is not the painting discussed in the podcast due to copyright laws.*
On this edition of the Arts and Culture podcast for The News Feed, Even Hughes and Patrick Cunningham discuss an article from the New York Times about a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that recently sold at auction for $41.9 million. The piece titled “Warrior” from 1982 depicts African American men’s struggles in a white-dominated world.
This edition of the podcast also discusses how the sale of the piece hopefully is a sign that the art market is rebounding after a drop during the COVID-19 pandemic, as written about in an article from ArtNews.com. Stretching beyond the art market, Evan and Patrick discuss how this is also hopefully a sign for a revival of art museums and work for artists, as the end of COVID is hopefully in sight.
Zapata and Quiroz-Haden talk about how organizations are doing what they can to keep business and morale high even when the only options are to appreciate the arts virtually or 6ft apart. With virtual concerts, social distanced rehearsals and outdoor performances becoming more popular during the pandemic, it’s safe to say that while performing arts events have taken a hit due to the Coronavirus, they are finding ways to spread creativity to the community regardless.
Millions stream music daily, and the preferences of music platforms are seemingly never ending. Two streaming services have continually held high ratings over time– Spotify and Apple Music. The question remains though, which is best?
Each platform offers similar plans in regard to pricing, with options set to best meet user needs. Many of the differences come to light when comparing access to music, new music discovery, and options for things outside of music like podcasts.
In this edition of the Arts and Culture podcast, The News Feed’s Madison Storm and Jillian Smith debate which streaming platform they think is best and why.
The performing arts world has drastically adapted in response to Covid-19. On a local level, Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts has moved all of its fall events online, except for the Progeny Film Festival which has physical and online options for viewing selected films.
Coronavirus complications have resulted in different creative ways for Virginia Tech artists to share their craft, one of which being an audio play called “The Cretans.” This audio drama surrounding ancient Greek myth will be presented online in three different parts early October.
Other online events include film screenings, artist lectures, and concerts that range from celebrating the 250th birthday of Beethoven to local ensemble performances.
The Moss Arts Center also has an online season with a variety of events that feature artists from their homes and performances through Zoom. However, the Moss Arts Center galleries will be open Sept. 10 for the public to view various art installations while proper protection and sanitation precautions are taken.
With a brand new decade on the horizon, it’s difficult not to notice how much downtown Blacksburg has changed over time. This past year alone, Hokies mourned the losses of Sycamore Deli, Poor Billy’s and Big Al’s. Countless more venues have faded from memory over time and there’s no telling which establishment could be next on the chopping block.
That being said, there is still one venue in Blacksburg that has managed to stand the test of time: the Lyric Theatre. The self-proclaimed Heart of Blacksburg is easy to spot on College Ave. thanks to its iconic architecture — a 1930s blend of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial Revival.
“The Theatre first opened in 1909 as a small storefront silent movie house,” stated Susan Mattingly, Executive Director for the Lyric Theatre. “As films became more popular, the Theatre moved three times and this is the fourth location. When it [the current building] opened in 1930, it was only the third theatre in the state of Virginia built for talking pictures.”
The advent of home film distribution forced the Lyric to go dark in 1989. Not long after, the Lyric Council was formed with the intention of restoring the theatre to its former glory. In 1998, the Lyric reopened as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
Today, the Lyric still stands proud on College Avenue. It boasts a wide variety of shows for Hokies and townies to attend.
“We are a movie house first, but we like to think of the Lyric as more of a community center,” stated James Arthur, General Manager of the Lyric. “In addition to movies, we host concerts. We host all sorts of special events for the community.”
A statue that was recently revealed in Times Square has been notable for the controversy related to Confederate statues based in Richmond, Virginia. As the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond has been home to statues and monuments directly affiliated with the Confederacy for years.
In this episode we will discuss the ongoing controversy and the importance of remembering history, and learning from it. The ability to have conversations with architects and sculptors also allow for a more well-rounded discussion. Being able to understand the truth, and learn from difficulties in the nation’s history, will help Americans move forward. Modern statues are only the beginning of an ongoing effort to keep Americans informed, and be given the ability to learn from history.
The Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts will be kicking off the new season with the opening of “How I Learned to Drive”.
Written by Paula Vogel, the play tells the story of a young woman who reflects on the trauma of her childhood abuse and her journey to womanhood. According to RAINN statistics, every nine minutes a child is sexually assaulted.
Director Susanna Rinehart says “Paula Vogel is asking us to sit with the complexity of what these kinds of relationships and situations that are lives find us in are both to live through, experience, and recover from the lasting impacts. That speaks to me…but even more I know it speaks to far too many people.” Rinehart said she’s always been faithful to using theatre at its best, where it helps bring people together.
Opening night will conclude the long journey of pre-production the show has been under since last fall. Rinehart said she’s both relieved and excited to see her work with the cast and crew come alive on the stage but warns viewers that it won’t be an easy one to watch.
Rinehart explains, “Not just the actors or me but the stage management team have had moments of all bursting into tears at the same moment and not necessarily the moments we would’ve predicted.”
81 percent of women will experience some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following their assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Rinehart hopes viewers will understand that healing from trauma is an ongoing fight for the victim.
“This play is so stunning in how it theatricalizes the psychological truth of what it is to be a victim because the very nature of the play is fragmented memory, an adult woman who is trying to put together the pieces of these events is determined to find some level of liberation, healing or freedom from that history,” says Rinehart.
She hopes the show will spark a conversation that carries beyond the bounds of the stage.
The ornate decor of this house is often noticed by a passerby. The ruby and jade exterior and Queen Anne and Victorian style architecture certainly stand out. However, not many people are aware of its historical significance.
In the 1750s, a man named Samuel Black purchased 600 acres of land in Blacksburg. He passed this land down from generation to generation until eventually, only one member of the Black family remained in the state. Alexander Black, a successful businessman and the creator of Blacksburg’s original 16 squares, built this extravagant home in 1897 with a certain creative vision in mind.
“He wanted to let people know that you could be prosperous here in Blacksburg,” explained Rhonda Morgan, Executive Director of the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation.
Today, the house functions as a museum and cultural center. Morgan is the heart and soul of the museum. She is passionate about Blacksburg’s history and works tirelessly to preserve it.
The Cultural Foundation functions as a non-profit. According to the Blacksburg Museum website, its mission is “to preserve, interpret and promote Blacksburg’s history, art, and cultural heritage.” Through fundraising efforts and active donors, the foundation is working hard to raise funds for the complete restoration of the Alexander Black House. The second floor of the building is currently under construction.
The museum’s exhibits are constantly changing and always have an emphasis on history or culture, as well as the community. “A lot of what we do is support local artists,” said Morgan. “That’s musicians, performing artists, writers, as well as visual artists.”
The Alexander Black House has become a gathering place for members of the community. Local businesses and organizations are also able to rent out the space to host meetings, events, weddings, etc.
Many people are drawn to the house simply because of its eclectic design, but Lori Jones, the Museum Educator, hopes to make a lasting impression on every visitor that steps inside. “I want people to stop in and ask questions,” she said. “There’s so much to say about this house and the history. All people have to do is ask.”
The popularity of the Alexander Black House is continuing to grow. TripAdvisor even ranked it among the “Top 15 Things To Do in Blacksburg” for 2019. It’s convenient location on Draper road, which runs parallel to Main street, also entices visitors who are interested in learning more about Blacksburg’s cultural heritage and history.
Admission is always free to the public and The Color Project by local artist, Darcy Meeker, is currently on display. The brightly colored artwork and sculptures outside gives the house adds even more curb appeal than before.
Blacksburg, Va., May 7- Rhonda Morgan- As the Executive Director of the BM&CF, Rhonda is committed to keeping Blacksburg’s cultural history alive. Photo: Madi Praver
Blacksburg, Va., May 7- Queen Anne & Victorian Style- The Alexander Black house is not like any other in the area. It’s unique architecture and design makes it stand out amongst the rest. Photo: Madi Praver
Blacksburg, Va., May 7- Plans for renovation- The Museum is currently working on some exciting second floor renovations. Renovations are expected to be completed this year. Photo: Madi Praver
Since 2007, the two-semester Wood Enterprise Institute (W.E.I.) course at Virginia Tech has been providing students with a hands-on entrepreneurial experience to design, create, market, and sell a wooden product through their own business. According to the W.E.I. website, the course is organized as a 501(c)(3) student owned-business which operates in the Innovation & Design Laboratory and Classroom in the Brooks Forest Products Center at Virginia Tech.
The first semester of the course involves brainstorming ideas of a product to develop, conducting market research, and creating a business plan. During this time, students must present their product idea and have their business plan approved by the board, which includes students from the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, many of whom have already taken the class.
Jimmy Atkinson, a member of the 2018-2019 W.E.I. course said market research was the most challenging aspect for his team. “I think that was one of the areas we fell short in, we did not do enough market research to see how many of these [custom dog bowl holders] we were going to sell,” said Atkinson. Currently, his team has sold 25 dog bowl holders out of their goal to sell 80.
Development, production, marketing, and sales are the main areas of focus during the second semester. The team must take their final design and begin marketing the product, followed by taking orders from customers to fulfill their production goal and shipping the final product out.
Dr. Earl Kline, Director of W.E.I., said some of the most unique products he’s seen are also those that have not had the most successful business. “The more complex a product is, the more costly it is, and to try to find a customer that is going to pay you back for that cost isn’t the easiest thing to do,” said Kline.
The College of Natural Resources and Environment reports that nearly 150 students have participated in the course since it came to fruition, generating over $47,000 in revenue, which goes directly back into the course to supply funding for future teams.
While actors have their time in the limelight performing for an attentive audience, there are other workers whom the audience rarely sees.
In Squires Studio Theatre at Virginia Tech, they work behind the curtains, under the stage floor and 30 feet above the actors’ heads to make sure the show goes on. These technicians and designers use their skills in lighting, costuming, sound, carpentry and more to create a world that captivates the audience. But the cost is visibility.
“People who typically work behind the scenes are very much people who work thankless jobs,” said Chris Russo, Technical Supervisor for Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts. “It does take the right kind of person to understand that you may never get the same kind of appreciation [as actors] for what you’ve been doing for the production.”
According to end-of-season statistics assembled by The Broadway League, over 13 million people, the highest number ever recorded, attended Broadway shows in the 2017 to 2018 season. Though theater’s popularity grows, a number of technicians and designers still feel unseen by audiences – but Russo says that is how it should be.
“Part of the illusion is presenting something to an audience so that they are taken out of reality and taken into another world,” said Russo. “That means, yes, some people behind the scenes have to be in black, and they can’t be seen.”
The technicians themselves may not be seen, but their work is an integral part of creating an immersive experience for the audience. Erika Koekkoek, Master Electrician for the School of Performing Arts’ production of “As You Like It,” refers to such work as “[creating] the magic.”
“As a technician, I can make it snow on stage. I can make a sunset on stage,” said Koekkoek. “I can do so many things that help add to the magic of live theatre, and it awes me every time I do it.”
A study from Data USA says that the theater workforce has a growth rate of 2.1 percent. Despite this growth, a Georgetown University study identifies theater arts as one of the lowest-paying college majors, with a median annual income of $45,000, according to U.S. Census data.
Prospects for backstage workers aren’t all bad, though. A Forbes article recognized two electricians and a carpenter at Carnegie Hall who each made approximately $400,000 in one year.
High salaries are not typical for backstage work, but technicians and designers are not deterred. Though the behind-the-scenes workers themselves will stay out of the limelight, Russo says that he takes pride in his work and the process of creating the final product.
“Take the journey, get to the destination and say, ‘What’s the next challenge?’” said Russo. “And that’s the fun – that’s the joy of my job.”
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Scene Shop: Sets, props and other elements for theatrical productions are put together in the scene shop, which is located behind Squires Studio Theatre. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Measuring Metal: Students learn skills for set-building and other projects, including metalworking. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Learning the Saw: The supervisor of the scene shop teaches a group of students how to use the cold cut saw. This saw is used to cut metal, and it sprays a water-based coolant to keep the metal from overheating while in use. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Using the Saw: A student uses the cold cut saw for the first time.
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Doing Repairs: The stage is set for the production. A group of technicians is fixing the revolving set piece in the center of the stage. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Headsets: Communication between technicians, managers and directors is vital for the show to run smoothly. Headsets are used as this line of communication. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Revolving Set Piece: The piece, constructed by Chris Russo and students, is made from metal bars and is powered by a small motor. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Command Center: The revolving set piece on stage is operated at this work station directly under the stage. The operator has a headset to communicate with other technicians for timing, as well as a monitor showing a live feed of the stage. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Costume Changes: A schedule hangs outside the dressing rooms for reference by the costuming department. It outlines each costume change, its time and the clothing to change. Photo: Lizzy Street
Blacksburg, Va., April 19 – Lighting: Lighting instruments hang from the catwalk, which is 30 feet above the stage. These lamps are maintained by Erika Koekkoek, the Master Electrician. Photo: Lizzy Street