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ArtFest will stay put next year

The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture's  annual ArtFest event will stay put in Browne’s Addition in 2012.

Museum officials had pondered moving the art, food and music festival from Coeur d’Alene Park in Browne’s Addition to the larger Riverfront Park downtown.

The Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council viewed the prospect with alarm and called a meeting Wednesday night to voice concerns.

Forrest Rodgers, the MAC’s new executive director, talked to neighborhood representatives and said Thursday that ArtFest will remain at Coeur d’Alene Park next year.

‘Leonardo’ hits its mark

The final numbers are in for “Leonardo da Vinci: Man – Inventor – Genius.”

About 38,000 people attended this summer-long traveling exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC).

It came close to the museum’s attendance goals and more than met its financial goals, according to the people at the MAC.

The final week – the week before Labor Day – was particularly strong, attracting 6,500 people.

“There were lines out the front door and even out in the street,” said museum spokeswoman Rebecca Bishop.

The MAC would have liked to have broken the 40,000-visitor mark set by the “T. rex Named Sue” exhibit in 2007. However, the T. rex exhibit charged regular museum admission while the da Vinci exhibit had special (higher) pricing.

“Leonardo” was also a hit with schools. A total of 3,400 people visited as part of school groups.

The MAC also signed up 500 new members over the exhibit’s span.

MAC gets new executive director

Forrest B. Rodgers has been appointed the new executive director of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC).

Rodgers was most recently the director of the Central Washington University Foundation in Ellensburg.

From 2001 to 2007, he was the president and CEO of the privately funded High Desert Museum in Bend, Ore., which reversed a decline in paid attendance.

He will take over on Aug. 1 from Ron Rector, who is retiring.

It is, of course, too early to tell what Rodgers will mean to the MAC. Yet I can say that the MAC could do worse than emulate the High Desert Museum, one of the Northwest's best and most entertaining regional museums.

A Leonardo learning experience

Line I overheard on the bus last week: “That Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the MAC isn't even real! They want us to pay to see a bunch of fake stuff!”

OK, where should I begin?

First, get real. Did you truly expect the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) to have an original da Vinci painting? There are only about 16 da Vinci paintings in existence and unless your museum has the word “Louvre” in it's name, your chances of getting one is just about nil.

Second, most of the exhibit consists of large, wooden models of mechanical devices made from drawings in da Vinci's notebooks. You can call those “fakes,” I suppose, except there there is no such thing as an “original” of these devices. Da Vinci never made any.

Third, “fake” or not, you'll learn a heck of a lot about da Vinci, one of the most remarkable minds of all time. And isn't that the point?

Fourth, decades ago, I once saw the “Mona Lisa” on loan to the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Yeah, it was the real thing, all right, but the crowds were so enormous (500,000 in 27 days)  and the security was so tight I got about a one-second glimpse of it. We were whisked past it on moving walkway. The one I saw at the MAC was a fake — a digital reproduction — but I sure got a better look at the old girl.

Ben Mitchell’s art legacy at the MAC

I wrote an update for Wednesday's paper about the MAC's layoffs, which you can read here.

I would like to expand on Ben Mitchell's legacy as art curator at the MAC. I do not consider myself an authority on visual art, but I am nevertheless convinced that Mitchell did an outstanding job of honoring our region's cultural life. He is responsible for giving Harold Balazs the serious, comprehensive retrospective he so richly deserved. He worked hard on this for years, because — well, because our important artists must be given their due. 

He did the same for another local artist, Ruben Trejo, who was less well-known, but incredibly influential not just in the region but in the country.

And most recently, he introduced many of us to a Colfax artist, Timothy Ely, who was legendary among the cognoscenti, but had been relatively under-the-radar here.

And when Mitchell did exhibits like these, he went all the way. In the case of Balazs and Trejo, he even helped produce handsome coffee-table-sized art books which will enable their influence to continue to spread.

I do not blame the MAC for making the decision to lay him off. The MAC is stuck in an impossible financial position. The MAC was forced to make a decision it would never have made except under severe budget duress.

Yet I suspect that someday, and soon, we will look back on Mitchell's tenure as a remarkable age of art at the MAC, in which local artists got the shows, and the scholarly, intellectual respect, that they had earned.

MAC lays off senior curator of art

Ben Mitchell, the senior curator of art at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC), was laid off this week.

The museum had to make a five percent budget cut, after it barely escaped closure when the state budget was finalized.

One other position, was also cut, in the collections department, but I could not get confirmation of a name.

With staffing already cut to the bone — the museum's staffing was already down 40 percent over the last two years — finding any positions to cut was agonizing, according to Rebecca Bishop, the museum's marketing and communications director.

It came down to the fact that the museum felt it had “backup” in the area of art —  other staffers who can step in to do art exhibits. But don't expect to see as many art exhibits in the future.

Will the MAC be able to do exhibits of the caliber and scope of the Timothy Ely exhibit, the Ruben Trejo exhibit and the Harold Balazs exhibit, just to name three examples of Mitchell's exceptional work?

I'd say it's doubtful. Right now, we don't even know if the museum will even have the position of art curator.

I'll try to find more information next week. If anybody has any insight, please weigh in.

A sneak peek at ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ at the MAC

I just walked through “Leonardo da Vinci: Man – Inventor – Genius” while installers and curators readied it for a June 3 opening at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC), 2316 W. First.

Among the highlights:

  • A huge full-size reproduction of da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” and I mean huge: 15 feet tall by 28 feet wide.
  • A full-size reproduction of “Mona Lisa,” surprisingly compact at 27 inches by 22 inches.
  • A working model of da Vinci’s design for the “Screw of Archimedes” – a contraption that can crank water uphill.
  • A fearsome “Scythe Machine,” a chariot-like vehicle with whirling scythe blades to cut down enemies.

This exhibit, which will run all summer, ought to be a hit with kids and adults. Tickets are now on sale through TicketsWest outlets.

Please note that I said “reproductions” of the paintings. The originals are far too valuable and delicate to be hauled around the world. In the case of “Last Supper,” you’d have to uproot an entire Italian church. It’s painted on a wall in Milan.

Save the MAC with a beer and a doughnut

A bunch of Browne’s Addition restaurants and shops have initiated MAC Madness, in which you get a discount for writing a letter to your local legislator urging support for the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC), which is facing the possibility of closure due to state funding cuts.

 So the following places are partnering with the Save the MAC people to encourage a letter writing campaign for the month of March. Here are the deals you get:

The Elk, 1931 W. Pacific Ave.: $1 off drinks throughout the week when you write a letter (beginning March 6) Also, Sundays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., informal letter writing party.

 Italia Trattoria, 144 S. Cannon St.: Saturday and Sunday brunch, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., write a letter while you dine and they will treat you to an Italian doughnut with your a purchase of an entree.

The Avenue, 2001 W. Pacific Ave.: All day Wednesdays,  $1 off drinks with a letter; MAC Special is any two topping medium pizza for $10 (regularly $14) with a letter.

Tully's, 2001 W. Pacific Ave.: Seven days a week, receive 10 percent off any barista beverage that is accompanied by a letter. Browne's Addition location only.

Also, the Roberts Mansion, 1923 W. First Ave., is offering free tours on Friday, March 4, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (First Friday) if you write a letter to your legislator.

Letter templates, by the way, will be provided.

Hobo dinner on March 4

The Hillyard Heritage Museum Society is putting on its Hobo diiner on March 4 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The dinner is at St. Patricks, 2706 E. Queen Avenue. Tickets are $10, and $6 for children younger than 10.
Get your tickets at Greenburo (5220 N. Market Street) or at Hillyard Variety (5009 N. Market Street.

MAC attack turned partly back…

This one’s of interest mainly to readers in Spokane. From tomorrow’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ A controversial proposal to merge the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture with its Western Washington counterpart appears to be dead.

One of the state’s most powerful lawmakers said Thursday that the Senate will not be approving the plan, which was proposed in December as a cost-cutting move by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“The bill is on my desk. It’s not going to be introduced in the Senate,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

So it’s dead on arrival, a reporter asked.

“It is,” responded Brown.

The bad news: torpedoing the merger won’t necessarily shield the museum and its operations from state budget cuts. Gov. Chris Gregoire in December proposed cutting the MAC budget by $524,000 over the next two years, which is about a 13 percent cut. And the state’s budget picture is now believed to be much bleaker.

Stopping the merger, however, would keep the MAC as a distinct organization, separate from the Tacoma-based Washington State Historical Society.

Brown’s comments came on the same day that MAC officials were in Olympia, urging skeptical House lawmakers not to allow the merger or deep budget cuts.

“Simply saying that it’s going to be hard or that it would be impossible is falling on our deaf ears,” state Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, warned CEO Dennis Hession and development officer Lorna Walsh Thursday. “…We’re looking at just the most dire of budget circumstances.”

When Gregoire called for the $524,000 cut, state budget writers thought they faced a shortfall of