Smile Politely

BEST Arts 2016

Running the BEST of articles mid-summer has always seemed a little arbitrary — it’s the end of what year? The fiscal year? The school year? The lease year? However, for me in ARTS, it is actually the end of my first year as editor for this specific reason; even though we knew I’d be taking over soon, the Editor-in-Chief thought it was BEST to have the exiting editor take the retrospective and let me take over during the slowest week of the year. It was well-done (maybe even the BEST editing decision?) and put me in prime position to co-write this year’s BEST along with Photo Editor Sam Logan. 

By now, most of you know that this article is highly biased, highly personal, and a little irreverant. Even still, it seems that historically, these BEST articles generate a lot of comments. And while I’m no stranger to a flame war and have taken my share of licks over the past year, I hope you’ll take this list as intended — in good humour — although I’m prepared for the tl;dr worst. 

To prepare you, though: there are artistic disciplines that were neglected. The choices this year ended up in the realms of theatre, visual art, and film. It just turned out that way, even though there were good local books, excellent demonstrations of dance, and symphonic pleasures. If you feel there was an outstanding entrant in those or any other artistic ventures, we would love to hear about it in the comments, and I’m sure you’ll tell us anyway. (RK)

So without any further excuses, apologies, or warnings —

Here are the BEST Arts 2016. 


BEST Trend in stage productions throughout C-U


This year we saw incredible growth throughout the theatre community of inclusion of people of all races and genders. Twin City Squared began specifically to offer more and better roles to women and people of color, which was crowned by the Ntozake Shange production. Illinois Theatre leaned toward old white dudes, but ended on a high note with In the Blood, directed by Lisa Gaye Dixon. The Celebration Company had 5 of 7 plays directed by women. This trend is amazing, and encouraging, and as C-U produces more contemporary shows, I can only hope we’ll continue to allow the stage to reflect the diversity of life around us.  (RK)

BEST Underground Art Scene

Basement Gallery

If your idea of an Art Gallery opening is an austere to the point of hostile white space with quiet people, maybe a cash bar with wine you don’t drink and cheese you don’t care to smell, then you need to keep your eyes peeled for the next Basement Gallery event. Meeting at the Blind Pig (OG) sets the tone, and when you arrive at the gallery, the atmosphere is more like a house party than anything else. Because only a few folks fit in the Basement at a time, the rest of the house is filled with music, video games, beers, and raucous conversation. Go. It’s a good time. (RK)

BEST film for social justice (shown locally)

Disturbing the Peace premiere at Ebertfest

Ebertfest has never premiered films; it’s not what Roger wanted to focus on. But that rule was broken this year for one of the most moving and affecting films I’ve seen, Disturbing the Peace, about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Taking its name from what protestors are charged with and imprisoned for, this documentary showed exactly what can happen when both sides of a conflict decide that the price of war is too high, and the only way forward is to put down weapons and use creative energy instead. It was more than fitting that Chaz gave everyone involved their own hanky. (RK)

BEST Literal and figurative use of sardines

Parkland Theatre’s Noises Off!

It all starts with a snack, made several times over, and appropriated by a handful of characters who maybe shouldn’t be where the fishes are. Metaphors pile up as those people run in and out of doors, stuffing themselves into hidey-holes where people may or may not already be. Mix in some spawning allusions, and you have the high point of the theatre season, at least for me. I have always been a sucker for a comedy. (RK)

BEST Shirtless season

Jace Jamison

Which brings us here, to Jace Jamison, who I saw in 4 plays this year, in various states of torso-coverage. The costume in Noises Off! was a shirt unbuttoned yet tucked in; of course being Zeus necessitates a toga; then he was a demon who is shirtless only when not wearing a nightie; and he rounded out the year by getting “30% dressed, 70% un-“ as a friend said after seeing American Idiot. I always enjoy his performances even though I’m too old to be swayed by cheesecaking, but he is known at my house as “Oh yeah, the shirtless guy?” and there may have been a chuckle about the fact that he didn’t appear in Fiddler…for some reason… (RK)

BEST New venue to discover and purchase quality local art

Urbana Art Expo

I am not a fan of the traditional art gallery and openings, but I am a big fan of unique and intriguing art. Even at a show where I know artists, I feel like an imposter, or that there are more important people for the artists to be speaking with. At the UAE, the unique aspect is that the expo is juried, so professionals have judged and curated what’s on offer, but no one is doing it from a profit-driven POV. The atmosphere is relaxed, inviting, and the artists were very willing to talk, some were creating on-scene, and the things to buy were beautiful. I’m really looking forward to the next one, in fall of 2016.  (RK)

BEST Return to the stage

The cast of Constellations

Constellations was a small show, with a unique script that demanded a lot emotionally from both its actors and its audience. For me, it delivered on a large scale, and with three primary reasons: its two actors and its director. Kay Bohannon Holley is the kind of woman that talents wants to work with, and it’s because of her that both Rachel Hejmanowski and Mathew Green decided to return to the stage after long hiatuses. I’m cautiously hopeful that this will prompt more appearances from all three in the future. (RK)

BEST Reporting on local artists

Jimena Oliver de la Cruz’s WorkSpace

Call it bad form to talk about our own publication, if you must, but I really want to take a moment to applaud the effort and results provided by local photographer Jimena Oliver de la Cruz. She pitched the WorkSpace series near the holidays, and we were going to have articles run 2x/month until she settled in, but she ran with it and has provided gorgeous photographs and great conversations with talented locals every single week for over three months. I have little to nothing to do with it, but when people talk to me about SP Arts, the praise I hear most often is about her column, and I happen to agree: this is the BEST thing SP Arts has going for it right now.  (RK)

BEST Unexpected cameo by a local actor  

Gary Ambler at C-U Adventures, Office Hours

You know what? I don’t care if it’s a spoiler – if you haven’t been to C-U Adventures by now to solve their original adventure scenario, then obviously you need a reason to go. That reason could be Gary Ambler. As a ghost. Flying over the Illini Union. Telling you exactly how many minutes you have before the world ends. I was surprised, and then delighted, and then slightly annoyed as we got to 15 minutes his tone got more urgent and worried. The entire experience is like being on an elaborate set, but instead of watching, you get to rifle through the set-dressing and find things like keys and clues and decoders and combination locks. And local actors speed you on your way. Thanks, Gary, I know I don’t have long left. Sheeeeeesh. (RK)

BEST Arts funding news

IMC’s Open Scene

I’ve lived the downtown of both our twin cities, and I’ve often pondered the differences, and the motivation behind these. An obvious answer is the liquor licensing philosophies; Urbana has strongly stated they are not interested in more bars. The answer seems to have come from an NEA grant to revitalize our downtown area through the arts, and through the IMC as a community center. I cannot wait to see what will happen, next year and long-term.  (RK)

BEST/WORST joke in a local film

28 inches later by Matt Wiley

It’s a horror film. A zombie apocalypse, in fact, and our protagonist gets it all on camera. Unfortunately, he’s in the hospital during the outbreak, so it’s basically ground 0 (patient 0?). Honestly, it’s a short film, so I can’t say much more. You should just watch it, but only if you like bad jokes. How bad? Embarrassingly bad. Awful bad. I mean, really, really bad. But for me, it comes back around again to good. Because I’m from the Midwest, and a thirteen year-old boy occupies one corner of my brain. (twss) 

Honestly, Matt Wiley’s youtube channel is one of the few subscriptions I actually check, and I’m rarely bored. (RK) 
BEST use of public space for art
Phil Strang: Keeping Urbana Strang
Phil Strang is a local glass painter who we’ve profiled in the past. Check out this article to read more about him and his art. But this isn’t about Strang’s art. It is about how he displayed it. Strang approached local business owners in Urbana and asked them to display his art and make it apart of a walking tour of the city. Art hung in windows, on walls, hidden amongst products. It was the perfect mix of artistic expression weaved through a cityscape while supporting local business. Hats off! (SL)

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