As we enter Women's History Month, I am pleased to share five things in arts which, in large part, highlight the contributions of women to their chosen fields. From the groundbreaking mixed media work of Bea Nettles to the virtual return of former Amasong director Kristina Boerger, there is much to inspire us, to make us feel less alone, and, help us move forward.
Artist Talk: Kelly White
Photo from Giertz Gallery Facebook page
You may know her as 40 North's executive director, and the force of nature behind so many of our beloved, and dearly missed, arts events. But this Thursday, you'll get to meet Kelly White the artist. White will be discussing "her artwork, including her oil on canvas paintings inspired by her love of art history and a trip to Europe to see many of the works she studied in person.:" Her luscious portraits capture the subject at unexpected moments, as if they were candid photographs. Honest, enigmatic, and completely captivating. White has taught art history at Parkland College and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Illinois, and this knowledge is sure to provide a fascinating perspective on the work she herself has created. If you have seen the passion Kelly White brings to local arts programming, just imagine what she can do in front of an easel. And while it may not be the same as an in-person artist talk, the online event will likely make up for the lack of live art with White's warm and enraging style.
Bea Nettles: Harvest of Memory
Bea Nettles, Star Lady, 1970. Photo from the Krannert Art Museum website
What can I say about a Bea Nettles retrospective in such a small space? Fresh off a my in-person visit to KAM and attendance at the two Zoom-based artist talks she gave, I find myself shying away from the details (there are so many wonderful ones, how could I choose?) and floating somewhere above in the clouds of big questions and big lessons. While this long-awaited exhibition was curtailed by COVID, like the artist herself, it proved scrappy and resilient. In this last month Nettles was a recurring subject in my social media circles. She inspired many of our local photographers, educators, and mixed media artists. For all of the doors she opened for us, and new techniqiues she employed, we see her as groundbreaking. But Nettles sees herself as just working with what she had in times of limited access and resources. Whether it be the stitching together of photos, or using "school supplies" to create books before she learned to bind, necessity was indeed the mother of her inventions. Even Nettles decision to foreground her own image in much of her was in fact a practical decision. She was the model that was always available and always ready to work.
It is a humbling to walk through display upon display of work, each documenting a different chapter in Nettles' life story. She did not shy away from the darker moments, the cancer, the loss, the fear. She showed up, albeit a bit less, and dug into the work of documenting and discovering. When Nettles was recently asked about her intentions for the work, she simply said she wanted to be honest and to encourage others to do so. The fact that Nettles continues evolve and to create in new ways (her most recent work is a mash-up of photography and poetry) is inspiring and exciting. She humbly challenges us to change the way we look at older artists, who, Nettles reminds us, never do retire.
Make a point to visit (or even revisit) this exhibition before it closes on Saturday. And while you're there, be sure to check out the School of Art+Design Faculty Exhibition.
Image from the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre Facebook page
Live theatre, and community theatre in particular, has been especially hard hit by the pandemic. Although it may still be a while before we return to our seats at the Station Theatre, I was excited to hear about this unique event. Together/Apart is billed as "a celebration of love (romantic, platonic, familial, etc.), laughter and hope, as a tribute to the one-year anniversary of sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic." Featuring a "variety of duet scenes, monologues, poems and songs" by new and longtime members of the Celebration Company, each performance will include a different lineup of performers.
Photos from the Baroque Artists of Champaign Urbana Facebook page
As a former member of Amasong, this writer jumped at the announcement that founding director Kristina Boerger would be making a virtual return to town thanks to the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana. In addition to Boerger's inspired conducting and arranging, one of the things I remember most about working with her was the steady influx of brilliant collaborators she brought into our programs. It therefore came as no surprise that she would return with friends, a stellar program, and a mission to do some good.
The program,'s title, "A Patient Enduring," is perhaps one of the most thoughtful descriptions of life during COVID that I have heard. Promotion materials for this fundraiser share that "These words from one of tonight's selections describe the condition of all of us who cherish live musical performance. Grateful to offer a simulacrum, tonight's performers emerge from isolation to share Medieval conductus and ballade, English lute song, and duets from the early Italian Baroque.
Boerger will be joined by soprano Sarah Brailey, the Artistic Director of the Handel Aria Competition, and co-host of the early music program Musica Antiqua on WORT 89.9FM. She is also a member of Beyond Artists, "a coalition of artists that donates a percentage of their concert fee to organizations they care about," and classical guitarist Brandon Acker, "a specialist on early plucked instruments such as the lute, baroque guitar and theorbo. His latest passion has been to run his successful Youtube channel which now has over 260,000 subscribers and 14 million views."
Photo from Dance at Illinois Facebook page
During the past near year of COVID living, it's easy to imagine the world standing still. Just as our awareness of friends, relatives, and coworkers has been reduced to poorly lit Zoom square. With spring on the horizon, it's time to witness movement, literal and metaphorical. Just as it's time to reinhabit our full physical selves. And I, for one, can't think of a better way to start than to tune into March Dance 2021.
In a recent announcement, Dance at Illinois has shared that "performances have been reshuffled and simultaneously reinvigorated." Featuring the work of of third-year MFA candidates in dance—Danzel Thompson-Stout, Roxane D’Orleans Juste, Rachel Rizzuto, and Jaylen De’Angelo Clay—March Dance 2021 "will present thesis works engaging ideas and social phenomena ranging from transformational hip hop choreography to future visions of ephemera, feminist critiques of television and movement, and multimedia expressions of Black identity and disability."
March Dance 2021 performances will be livestreamed "to a broad viewing audience and performed live for a small audience of students, staff, and faculty as part of the Dance at Illinois curriculum following university-approved COVID-19 safety guidelines."
Viewers should note that performances may contain adult content. Each performance will be followed by a talkback session with the entire event lasting approximately 40 minutes. Whether it's through the talkback sessions, or via Dance at Illinois' social media, do make sure to share some love for this graduating dancer-choreographers as they take on the evolving landscape of the performing arts in 2021.