Smile Politely

Five things in arts this month: April 2021

Arts events are slowly beginning to bloom, both IRL and online. While it may be April Fools Day, these five offerings are seriously worth a look. We may not be where we’d like to be with in-person events yet, but let’s hear it for the artists and venues who have met the Zoom challenge with innovation, thoughtfulness, and lots of heart. As our college town grows nearer to the end of the spring semester, give a little extra love to all of the arts students who managed to create magic in the midst of mayhem.

The Here and Now

Promotional image for The Here and Now, an exhibit of work by Melinda McIntosh. Photo from the Springer Cultural Center website.

Photo from the Springer Cultural Center website.

When I think of en plein air painting, my mind bounces back and forth between two thoughts. First,  the promise of inspiration that comes from completion immersion in one’s subject. It resembles a Merchant Ivory film. Following closely on its tail is the awareness of just how many variables the painter must manage. And before I know it, my serene imaginary artist seems somewhat less serene. In truth, that less than serene artist is me. So it is with great humility and considerable awe that I approach the work of Melinda McIntosh, who makes it all look so easy. 

I am also pleased that McIntosh’s latest virtual exhibit, The Here and Now, is presented with so much care and depth by the Springer Cultural Center’s art gallery staff. From the he SCC’s gallery page, you can opt for the virtual walkthrough, McIntosh’s artist talk, or enjoy an intro to working en plein air from the artist herself. And don’t forget to check out the image gallery, and the artist statement and bio while you’re there. Stay tuned to the arts section for a full review of the exhibition.

The Here and Now
A virtual art exhibition featuring work by Melinda McIntosh
Through April 29th
View online

Studiodance II

Promtional image for Studiodance II with single dancer facing away from camera at an industrial location. Photo from Dance at Illinois Facebook page.

Photo from Dance at Illinois’ Facebook page

Way back in 2019, I sat just a few feet from the Studiodance II performers. I was swept up in their movements and their visions of contemporary dance performance. I scribbled furiously in the margins of my program. I laughed and cheered loudly. This week, what we watch may not be live, but that doesn’t mean it will be less than. Delivered in a dance film format, we’ll see the performers moving in their own environments, in what I expect to be powerful personal narratives. Throughout the pandemic, Dance at Illinois has been a leader in navigating new platforms and complex themes. I expect nothing less when I log on this week. Join the filmmakers for a pre-show talk on Zoom. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: take the time to give them some love on Zoom or on social media. It may not be the same as live applause, but it will be deeply appreciated. 

Studiodance II
April 2nd, 7 p.m. 
View online

Illinois Art + Design MFA Student Exhibition

Photo of Krannert Art Museum exterior at night. Photo from the Krannert Art Museum website.

Photo from the Krannert Art Museum website

Thanks to Krannert Art Museum’s visit-by-appointment options (which now includes additional hours from 5 to 7 p.m. every Thursday), Illinois Art+Design MFA candidates got the IRL installations they deserve. This group of emerging arts is rich in its range of voices, media, and thematic explorations. It’s been a helluva time to complete an MFA, but it is an important time to create, to heal through visual storytelling, and, perhaps, most of all, to take a deep dive into the chaos, upend what needs to be questioned, and inspire new narratives. 

Illinois Art+Design MFA Student Exhibition
Krannert Art Museum
500 E Peabody Ave, Champaign
April 3rd through 24th
Reserve your visit time here.

Tyehimba Jess, Poet in Residence for the Year of Creative Writers at Illinois

Promotional poster with photo of poet Tyehimba Jess. Image from the Humanities Research Institute at Illinois.

Photo from Humanities Research Institute at Illinois Facebook page.

Pulitzer Prize winning poet Tyehimba Jess is headed to C-U to help us celebrate National Poetry Month. As part of Illinois’ A Year of Creative Writers, Jess will offer two free virtual events, a craft talk on April 7th, and a reading on April 8th (the April 7th lunch “meeting” is for  undergraduates only). HRI shared that “Jess is the rare poet who bridges slam and academic poetry. His first collection, leadbelly, an exploration of the blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s life, was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and was voted one of the top three poetry books of the year by Black Issues Book Review.” A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that “the collection’s strength lies in its contradictory forms; from biography to lyric to hard-driving prose poem, boast to song, all are soaked in the rhythm and dialect of Southern blues and the demands of honoring one’s talent.” Jess’s second book Olio received the Pulitzer Prize.” Stay turned to the arts section for our upcoming interview with Jess himself.

Poet in Residence Tyehimba Jess
Presented as part of the Humanities Research Institute at Illinois’ A Year of Creative Writers
April 7th, Craft Talk, 4:30 p.m., free, online and open to the public
April 8th, Poetry Reading, 7 p.m., free, online and open to the public
Learn more or register here

She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms

Illustration of female warrior, sword in hand, facing off a monster at dusk. Image from the KCPA Facebook page.

Image from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Facebook page.

In Qui Nguyen’s powerful work, a young girl finds healing from the tragic death of her parents and sister by retracing her sister’s journey through the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons. Illinois Theatre’s virtual production, under the expert direction of Lisa Gaye Dixon, and, against the landscape devastating global tragedy, promises to be nothing short of powerful. These performances will surely embody of theatre’s inherent promise of catharsis.

These two-hour performances contain adult content. Performances will also be available to view on demand on Vimeo from April 30th through May 2nd. Closed captioning will be provided for on-demand viewing.

She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms
April 24th, 7:30 p.m.
April 25th, 3 p.m. 
Free Zoom event, registration required


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