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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

PCPA'5 Unfortunate Rebranding, OPB's New Arts Show, and Notes on Imago's Arts & Technology Panel

Posted by Alison Hallett on Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 12:13 PM

Some arts news for your Tuesday:

The Portland Center for the Performing Arts announced a massive rebranding yesterday: The five performance spaces managed by the organization (the Newmark, the Winnie, and the Brunish theater, which share one big building on Broadway, as well as the Keller and the Schnitz) will no longer collectively be known as PCPA; instead, per yesterday's press release, we're to call them "Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, or Portland’5."

...WHAT, WHAT?

Rebranding PCPA makes perfect sense—many people don't realize that there are five separate theaters under its umbrella—but this little "the 5 looks like an S" gimmick is a terrible idea. Am I literally supposed to say "Portland five centers for the arts"? Because that is not going to happen. I am going to continue to say "PCPA." Is the 5 sometimes a 5, but sometimes an S? How am I supposed to google "Portland'5"? (Try it; you get a five-day forecast.) Not to mention, Milepost5 already exists, so *that's* confusing. The new website is great. The new name—not so much.

• In happier news, Oregon Public Broadcasting announced yesterday that their new arts and culture show, hosted by April Baer, is in production now and will debut in the fall. It's called State of Wonder, which is also the name of a decent Ann Patchett novel, but never mind that. Baer is best known as an OPB reporter and the former local host of Morning Edition, but I recall being impressed with her hosting at a Live Wire! taping I attended a few years back. (Sidenote: Rereading that review, from 2008, really drives home how much *better* Live Wire! has gotten since then, in that I am no longer actively embarrassed by their jokes.) OPB bulking up its arts programming is great news for local arts organizations, who will likely see print arts coverage decline once the Oregonian's layoffs take effect.

Which brings us to...

• Last night's Technology and the Arts panel at Imago. It was, largely, a frustrating evening, during which arts writers, artistic directors, and a marketing director circled big questions about reaching new audiences, the value of criticism, and the future of arts coverage in Portland, without getting a chance to go too in-depth on any of those questions. A few moments stood out; these quotes are paraphrased.

Third Rail's Slayden Scott Yarborough on theater critics: "What I want from criticism is advocacy for the art form. I'm fine with getting raked over the coals—what I want is why."

He also raised what I thought was an interesting question, or at least I was interested that he phrased it so bluntly: "By pursuing new technologies, are we ignoring the people who establish the foundation of theater audiences?"

Oregon Arts Watch editor Barry Johnson continues to be one of Portland's most articulate and outspoken advocates for arts journalism: "The thing [arts journalists] share with all the theater companies is a desire for theater to succeed, because we believe that local culture is crucial... As long as we're talking about theater, we're not talking about Lindsay Lohan." (At this point someone on the panel—I forget who—tried to feign fashionable ignorance about what LiLo is up to, and was promptly corrected by the audience. It was funny.)

And soon-to-be-fired Oregonian critic Marty Hughley addressed the question that many people are wondering about: "It's not clear yet what the Oregonian theater coverage will be, where it will be, [who will be doing it]."

Personally, I was more interested in conversations I had with the Willamette Week's Rebecca Jacobson and Oregon Arts Watch's AL Adams before and after the panel than I was in the panel itself. But us broads were relegated to the kids table—er, the audience—last night, in more ways than one. You'd be forgiven, after that panel, for getting the idea that there are only three outlets in town that cover theater: Oregon Arts Watch, the Oregonian, and KBOO. (Jacobson did get a backhanded nod from Hughley, who noted that the WW used to have comprehensive theater listings, but he's not sure if they still do because he doesn't read it anymore.)

For all my complaints about the panel itself, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-attended it was: Apparently there's an appetite for these sorts of events, and I'd love to see more public conversations that dig into these questions with a tighter, more focused approach.

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