The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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    Classical Revolution Detroit helps classical music leap off the pedestal

    Feb. 5, 2016, 4:01 p.m., Posted by Rick Robinson

    Above: A CutTime Simfonica performance. Photo by Mark L. Brown.

    Rick Robinson is a Detroit classical bassist and founder of Classical Revolution Detroit.

    CutTime’s Knight Arts Challenge-winning project is to expand the ongoing Classical Revolution Detroit series to three events per month, each featuring our main ensemble, CutTime Simfonica, special guest musicians and musicians from the community. We adapt classical music–usually seen as stuffy, European and boring–to show another side to it that is instead fun, raw and personal. We’ve been able to reset the ideas of “classical,” particularly from an African-American viewpoint, as a universal tool for self-exploration, inspiring the average person to be curious about fine arts.

    CutTime began doing independent outreach in 1994 from within the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a group of eight. We reduced further to a smaller group in 2010 to fit in bars, clubs, restaurants and coffeehouses. Today we play familiar and lively symphonic works, getting the audience involved with items such as eggshakers and cowbells. Several community musicians have joined us to sight-read written music, poets have rhymed with us–a virtuoso beat-boxer even turned Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” into a viral video! All of these interactions add personal meaning, new context and pleasant emotional memories to the classical music experience.

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    Philadelphia Photo Arts Center examines Russian identity and fate through photos and poetry

    Feb. 5, 2016, 1:10 p.m., Posted by Chip Schwartz

    Above: Anzhelina Polonskaya with Nicholaes Muellner, installation view of “Two Birds.”

    Russia is a behemoth in our world, both politically and geographically. Oftentimes it is easy for Americans unfamiliar with the Eurasian giant to misunderstand or make assumptions about the culture and lifestyle of the many groups that comprise its population. One need not look much further than the lengthy Cold War or the current rocky relationship between the East and the West to see that there is often a great divide between the planet's great societies.

    In order to capture the spirit of contemporary Russia, and the ways that everyday people–especially marginalized groups–get by in an often rigid and conservative culture, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, a Knight Arts grantee, is highlighting the work of poet Anzhelina Polonskaya, artists Sasha Rudensky and Clemens Von Wedemeyer, and artist-curator Nicholas Muellner in an exhibit called “Fate Shifts Shapes.”

    Sasha Rudensky, “Snake Handlers.” Courtesy of Philadelphia Photo Arts Center.

    Based on the notion of the Russian compulsion to alter identity in the face of 'inexorable social forces,' the many photographs in the exhibit dissect elements of everyday life. The result is a collection of images that range from banal to bizarre. Take, for example, the first image visitors see upon entering: “Snake Handlers” by Sasha Rudensky. Three short-haired men in full-length black jumpsuits that resemble motorcycle jackets each help hold up a massive python. Without context, the scene could be a group of herpetologists at a zoo, or some type of performing group. Considering the matching outfits, it is unlikely that the trio are merely reptile enthusiasts or friends. There is an innate power projected by the subjects here, from their militaristic outfits to the way the deadly creature in their hands seems tame and controlled with no effort on the part of its handlers. Masculinity and mastery over nature are unbridled here, and the cultivation of these ideals seems at odds with the men's youthful, somewhat quizzical faces.

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    How Grass Stains grants foster diversity in South Florida art world

    Feb. 5, 2016, 10:07 a.m., Posted by Neil de la Flor

    Above: Hattie Mae Williams, Ana Mendez, Jenny Larsson, Stephan Koplowitz, Niurca Márquez, Agustina Woodgate, Marissa Alma Nick, Monica Lopez de Victoria.

    Lack of diversity in the arts isn't fiction. It's real, as most recently evidenced by the 2016 Oscar nominations. The Academy Awards controversy got me thinking: What are we, the Miami arts community, doing at the local level to foster diversity from the ground up?

    I posed this question to Pioneer Winter, director and founder of Grass Stains. This Knight-funded, site-specific performance initiative grants $5,000, plus logistical support and one-on-one mentoring, to South Florida-based choreographers and performance artists.

    “All six current artists are female,” Winter said of the Grass Stains cohort, adding that the selection process, “boiled down to the strength of their applications. While performance (especially dance) is saturated with women artists, more men hold positions of leadership. I'm happy these artist-leaders are women. Each of them is incredibly different, so this will make for intriguing and vastly disparate premieres.”

    The Grass Stains application process is open to anyone. Out of the 57 applicants, six women were chosen by three panelists—Mary Lisa Burns, a dance educator from New World School of Arts; choreographer Stephan Koplowitz; and gallerist Anthony Spinello. Based on the quality of their proposals, which included video samples and a written component, Jenny Larsson, Marissa Alma Nick, Hattie Mae Williams, Niurca Márquez, Ana Mendez and Agustina Woodgate (who is represented by Spinello), were awarded grants. 

    “We will continue to impartially select artists based upon their artistic rigor and honest interest in site-specific work,” said Winter. “The panel did a terrific job in sifting through many applications—sometimes by artists who had no true interest in site work, but saw only the commission fee. The artists selected are now part of a cohort that will continue to benefit from working with Grass Stains long after their projects are completed.”

    Among the selected artists are several Hispanic names, but Hattie Mae Williams, a well-known Miami-based artist, is the only black woman in the group.

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