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“Surprise” Endowment Aids Benjamin ’86

Brent-BenjaminCollege development officers and museum executives alike know the fundraising challenges that face even the most successful institutions, so what awaited Brent Benjamin (MA ’86) at a recent meeting must have been a very pleasant surprise:

Barbara Taylor was at one of her last meetings as president of the art museum Board of Commissioners, the government body that runs the museum, when she stepped up to the podium and announced the [$21 million] donation, with little fanfare.

“In hindsight, I can tell you it was planned by Barbara,” Benjamin said. “But it was a shock and surprise to everyone in the room. It was a pretty exciting moment.

“I was speechless.”

Benjamin is the Director of the St. Louis Art Museum. More properly, because the gift is intended to fund his directorship, he is now, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the museum. Taylor is an important St. Louis area philanthropist. Her husband is the executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

The gift appears to be more than sufficient to cover Benjamin’s current $640,000 in total compensation, and will allow the museum greater flexibility in hiring Benjamin’s successor in the future. For now,

[t]he museum will annually take a percentage, depending on market earnings, to pay for the director’s salary and benefits. This year, the museum plans to harvest 4.5 percent, or about $945,000. The excess will go toward museum operations.

Benjamin said the news came so late in the year that the museum couldn’t budget for the money. But he imagines the dollars once spent on his position can now be “redeployed for other purposes.” He figured the total saving at about $1 million a year, making some things possible, he said, that would not have been possible before.

For instance, the museum would like a larger “virtual presence” online, he said. “And that comes at a price.”

Benjamin has been at the museum since 1999, and has had an impressive tenure, presiding over a large expansion that opened earlier this decade, and securing a number of terrific acquisitions and gifts, including the 2014 bequest of a $50M, 225-piece collection from the estate of the longtime publisher of The Sporting News. Benjamin has made the museum — along with Frank Uible III ’85’s ventures — must-dos for visitors to the Gateway to the West.

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Son of Hummon ’84 Poised for Breakthrough

Marcus Hummon ’84 has long been renowned as one of the finest – and most successful – Eph musicians. 2016 could be the year that Marcus’s son, Levi, emerges as a musical force in his own right. The Huffington Post recently named Levi Hummon as one of the “Top 20 Country Artists to Watch in 2016,” and Billboard Magazine likewise featured him in a recent list of “Nashville’s Future Stars.”

Levi and Marcus have already co-written songs together and performed together. Levi anticipates having his first radio single in 2016, as the lead-in to his first album release. Per Billboard, “they have written some songs together that he loves and that are likely to make his first album.”

Levi Hummon adds: “You’re going to have different stories. The main thing is just to tell your own story.”

Sadly, Levi’s story doesn’t include Williams, running instead through St. Petersburg, Florida, and Nashville’s Belmont University. But as a member of the Eph family, we can still celebrate his music.

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Eph-curated “Jewel City” opens at the DeYoung

jewelcity

Jim Ganz (MA ’88) is familiar to a generation of Ephs as a longtime curator at the Clark, who helped build the Clark’s photography collection and helped Williams College expand the photography offerings in the Art History program. Ganz is now in San Francisco as a curator of the Fine Arts Museums (i.e. the Legion of Honor and the de Young), where his new exhibit, “Jewel City,” has just opened to favorable reviewsand will run through January 10, 2016.

“Jewel City” revisits “one of the most ambitious art exhibitions ever presented in the United States, encompassing more than 11,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs,” which took place one hundred years ago in San Francisco as part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a 1915 World’s Fair that marked the re-emergence of San Francisco following the devastating 1906 earthquake (much as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 did following that city’s Great Fire).

In an interview for the exhibit’s opening, Ganz explains:

We’re trying to recapture in a way the feeling of seeing the art of the fair, something of the visitors’ experience. Putting people in front of the same works of art 100 years later is going to be kind of amazing.

Included among the 200+ works Ganz has reassembled for the de Young are artists such as Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Edvard Munch, and John Singer Sargent (“The Sketchers,” pictured here). Another particularly notable item is 50-foot-long mural — one of six displayed at the exhibition — entitled “Atlantic and Pacific,” which hasn’t been displayed in the ensuing century.

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If you live in San Francisco or will be visiting anytime soon, put “Jewel City” on your cultural to-do list.

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Praise for Canty ’04

CAITLIN-CANTY-RECKLESS-SKYLINE-DIGITAL-COVER-800x800-square-300x300NPR has compiled its useful midyear music highlights list, and Caitlin Canty ’04 makes the cut in the “Country/Americana” category:

Caitlin Canty, “Get Up”

The Vermont-born songwriter is going to feel right at home in Nashville if she can keep writing songs like this.

“Get Up” is the lead track off Canty’s Kickstarter-funded album “Reckless Skyline” (pictured above), but I’ve found “My Love For You Will Not Fade,” a few songs later, to be the song which keeps me hitting “replay.”

The album itself has received adulatory reviews. The San Francisco Chronicle:

“How can I belong to you and belong to me?” sings Caitlin Canty on “True,” a gorgeous lament from her new album, “Reckless Skyline.” The Vermont native with a casually devastating voice and unshakable poise is bound to be the next great Americana star — except nobody knows it yet. Recorded in just four days with money she raised on crowd-funding website Kickstarter, the 12 songs here sound wonderfully lived-in, with Canty’s easy way with folk, blues and country motifs driving standout songs… Canty is ready to be discovered.

Elmore Magazine:

She is a consummate songwriter who has collaborated with a number of different bands. This, her third full-length album release, is a fine collection of 12 songs that ranges from country ballads to dark blues and quiet folk. Ms. Canty’s voice is soft, sure and brings to mind Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch. That’s pretty good company to be a member of!

The opening cut, “Get Up,” is especially compelling and sets the tone for the entire set. It urges the listener to “knock the breath out of your madness / burn your photographs at the edges.” In other words, shake off the blues and self-pity and get back to living. Ms. Canty’s lyrics are sharp, clear, poetic and steeped in nature … The album closes with a whimsical waltz, “Cold Habit,” that lingers on in the mind long after the fade out.

Caitlin Canty possesses a rare and intelligent talent that has earned her growing respect and admiration. This beautiful album can only advance a career that deserves much greater renown

Absolute Punk:

Reckless Skyline, produced by acclaimed singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault, is a staggering work and arguably one of 2015’s first triumphant efforts. The disc vacillates between fiery rockers, howling blues cuts and earthen folk ballads. Anchored by her dulcet alto, Reckless Skyline is a master class in precision. To put it simply, if you’re a struggling singer-songwriter and you want to know how to do it better, study this album and dive in. It will level you…

Though she is a tried-and-true New Englander, Canty also spends time in both Nashville and Idaho and no song on the disc is more Idahoan than the sun-drenched and rustic “I Never.” Easily her best lyrical song of the dozen, “ I Never” is also her most personal and her most vulnerable. To put it simply, we listen to music for songs like “I Never”…

You may be familiar with Canty from two previous solo albums, a number of performances with Darlingside, or from Down Like Silver, her musical work with the talented Peter Bradley Adams (Eastmountainsouth). Like many Eph musicians, her time at Williams College laid the foundation for her musical success: in Canty’s case, she took a songwriting seminar one Winter Study at Williams, and her songwriting talents are the bedrock of Reckless Skyline, most of which is her own songwriting work.

The album is available on CD from Canty’s website through the link above, or for MP3 download at Amazon. And catch her live in Manhattan at the Rockwood Music Hall on August 5.

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On display at the MFA

Work from "Rikuzentakata," Naoya Hatakeyama, on display at the MFA

Work from “Rikuzentakata,” Naoya Hatakeyama, on display at the MFA

On exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is “In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11.” The show, depicting the enduring effects of Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami (previous Ephblog coverage, including of the visiting professor who weathered the quake on a bullet train, here), is curated by Anne Havinga (MA ’83), the museum’s senior curator of photography.

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The End of Red Molly

Official band press photo; credit: Whitney Kidder

Official band press photo; credit: Whitney Kidder

Four years after adding Molly Venter ’02 to its lineup, Red Molly is headed for a breakup, er, “indefinite hiatus.”

Venter replaced one of the band’s original members, and the folk/Americana band has enjoyed great success during her tenure. Last year’s “The Red Album” received high marks from critics , and rose to be the top album played by folk radio DJs in 2014.

Red Molly recently appeared on NPR’s Mountain Stage series of live concerts in the folk & American genres; a 30-minute recording of their performance is available for online streaming here.

I hope we’ll see more of Venter, who was a terrific singer/songwriter even before she joined Red Molly, but catch the group live while you can. Upcoming tour dates include Denver (next week), the DC area (appearances at two outdoor festivals on June 14 and the Hamilton downtown on July 2), and a close approach to Williamstown later in June with two shows in Saratoga Springs.

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Glenn Lowry ’76 Has a Yogi Berra Problem

Among Berra’s truest aphorisms was this: “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there any more.”

In a recent profile of Lowry, an “anonymous” fellow museum director observed:

People remember the ‘good old Modern’ when it was smaller and more intimate… People wanted MoMA to be the greatest museum in the world, and for everyone to want to go there. Now everyone wants to go, but people say it’s too crowded.

The anonymous director is referencing the barrage of recent criticism of Lowry: complaints by leading art commentators such as Richard Woodward (of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal) and Jerry Saltz (of New York Magazine) about the museum’s current Bjork show, it’s renovation/expansion plans, and it’s overall direction. These critics complain that MoMA has replaced the contemplation of serious art with a celebration of popular culture.

Lowry is engaged in some of the finest work in the liberal arts tradition – building bridges between the intellectual and the commonplace – and it’s refreshing to see him pushing back against the frivolous and elitist complaints:

We were never founded to be a club… [MoMA founding director Alfred] Barr talked about the museum being both popular and populist. Of course, 80 years ago it was a much smaller public… Modern art suddenly became hot. We are both a beneficiary of the newfound interest and a victim of people’s discomfort with that interest.

Before the trendy thing in art circles was to criticize Lowry as a populist, the conventional wisdom celebrated him for his success at MoMA. Lowry shares the credit with a supportive board and a talented staff, but after twenty years, there can be no doubt who has driven MoMA’s ascendancy over that time:

When I first arrived, we started thinking about the fact that we could build a seasonal programme that relied on the aggregate of exhibitions [rather than lone “blockbuster” shows]. If you get that right, you have a really robust audience, because you’re speaking to a lot of different people.

And Lowry cites his initiatives at MoMA beyond the gallery:

The [Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives in a Global Age Initiative] programme is pure scholarship and research that brings curators, artists, educators, critics, collectors and scholars from around the world to work with our staff… I come from a sufficiently academic background that I was interested in the idea of deep thinking with no expected outcomes. The end result is that our curators have a richer intellectual life, and that makes the institution more interesting.

Eight of the ten most visited shows in New York last year were at MoMA, and under Lowry’s leadership, its accomplishments have included staging numerous memorable shows, not just the numerical and fundraising successes often cited. So there won’t be much sympathy for the “Fire Glenn Lowry” movement here.

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First Lady’s Message to the Art Mafia

First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama was a featured speaker at the recent opening of the new, Renzo Piano-designed building at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Whitney Dedication Ceremony, as pictured on the Whitney's website

Whitney Dedication Ceremony, as pictured on the Whitney’s website

In her remarks, she suggested that art museums like the Whitney have done too little in the past to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged:

You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.  In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.  And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself.  So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this.

Mrs. Obama also praised the inaugural exhibition at the new Whitney building, America is Hard to See, for inviting broad participation:

[W]ith this inaugural exhibition, the Whitney is telling [all young people] that their story is part of the American story, and that they deserve to be seen.  And you’re sending that message not just with the art you display, but with the educational programming you run here.  You’re reaching out to kids from all backgrounds, exposing them to the arts, showing them that they have something to contribute.
One of those young people said this about the Whitney — and this is a quote we pulled — said, “Having gone through the program, I’ve felt like the museum is home to me.  Even if I’ve never been to a particular museum before, I just know how to be in [that] space.”

Another young person going through one of the programs said, “I could rise above the negativity I saw around me every day within my community.”  Because of the work that you do here, that’s the impact you’re having on kids every day.

I think that every cultural institution in this country should be doing this kind of outreach and engagement with our young people every single day.

Although the Whitney’s top curators are not (to my knowledge) Ephs, Mrs. Obama’s praise does highlight the work of its Chair of Education, Kathryn Potts ’89 and Coordinator of Public Programs, Emily Arensman (M.A. 2010).  Congratulations to Kathryn and Emily — and other Ephs at the Whitney, including Brianna Lowndes ’05 (Director of Membership and Annual Fund — and photographer, see here).

(Mrs. Obama’s remarks have stirred some debate.  Here, a New York NPR reporter considers “Museums as White Spaces.” Political writer Jon Gabriel and philosophy professor Rachel Lu question that conclusion here and here).

 

 

 

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Octet and Taylor Swift

During our week of good news, what could be better than the Octet performing a Taylor Swift medley?

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Octet – Save The Last Dance For Me

We need more videos at EphBlog. Who will post them?

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Another Christmas Song

Need help getting into the holiday spirit? Be sure check out Stephen Colbert’s Another Christmas Song … co-written by very clever Eph Adam Schlesinger ’89. The Christmas album won a Grammy for best comedy album:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'A Colbert Christmas: Another Christmas Song
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> Video Archive
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Midd Kidd

Last video of the summer (from me).

And, yes, I realize that this is not a Williams video. But it is excellent! What amazing quality. Surely we have some Williams students who could do just as well . . .

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Ephlats: Come On Eileen

More Williams singing groups ought to create videos outside of their concerts. Your families and friends would love them, and so would EphBlog!

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Sankofa

Good stuff. But how about some more recent dance videos, ideally put together with multiple camera angles?

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What a Feeling

Good stuff. Forward to 2:05 to see Morty dancing.

More students should create videos like this.

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Can’t Let Go of College A Capella Disorder

Still the funniest Eph video ever.

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Bill Ryan ’62: My Physics Final

Great story!

For all our faculty readers: What stories will your students remember 50 years from now?

That is the last Every Person Has a Story video. Did you like them? Should the College create more?

Since readers seem to like videos, I will continue the Tuesday/Thursday schedule for the rest of the summer. Suggestions welcome!

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Stuart Levy ’60 and Brother Jay (Wesleyan ’60): Trading Places

An interesting story . . .

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Williams Reunion Rangers Say “Thanks!”

Not an official part of the of the Every Person Has a Story project, but uploaded by the same person on YouTube. Apparently a “Video sent to 2006 Williams College Alumni Fund Donors,” presumably via e-mail.

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Tom Hayne ’59: Sleeping Outside

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John Burghardt ’61: My Dog Beats Bowdoin

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Sulgi Lim ’06: Wasabi

Sulgi has also kindly helped out EphBlog over the years. Many thanks!

With regards to her story, as my wife explains to my daughters, (Williams) men are (sometimes!) idiots . . .

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Gregg Peterson ’72: The Walk

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Jay Tarses ’61: Flunking Out

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Mike Glier ’75: Intimidation and Encouragement

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Harry Sheehy ’75: Gaudino Exam

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Isaac Nicholson ’11 and Mike Leon ’11

We published this storying of hijacking an admissions tour last year. But it is worth a second viewing!

Do readers like these videos? I think they are great fun. Comments welcome!

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Juan Baena ’06: My Father’s Dream

Big thanks to Juan for all the help he has provided to me/EphBlog over the years.

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Kendall James ’84: Birth of the Springstreeters

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Merce Blanchard ’55: Buster’ Takes One for Williams LAX

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