Michael Fabiano

Arts in the News: Women Ruled the 2017 Box Office, New NY Policy to Make Books Less Accessible for Inmates and more

March 5th, 2018
Time magazine cover honouring "The Silence Breakers" as collective Person of the Year. Clockwise from top: Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu and Isabel Pascual

Women Ruled the 2017 Box Office

For the first time in nearly fifty years, the three most popular films of the year all featured women in lead roles. In 2017, the top grossing films were Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Wonder Woman (starring Emma Watson, Daisy Ridley, and Gal Gadot, respectively). The last time the top three films of the year were fronted by women was back in 1958. BBC News’ Razia Iqbal points to the #MeToo campaign and the Weinstein scandal as not necessarily causing, but certainly coinciding with the success of women-led films. Though the success of the three films is significant, Igbal explains, other battles for gender equality in Hollywood have yet to be won: women have yet to get equal pay for equal work (it was recently revealed that Michelle Williams was paid less than $1,000 for work for which co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million). Additionally, only one woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has won an Oscar for Best Director (only four have ever been nominated). The groundbreaking popularity of women-led films in 2017 is certainly something to celebrate; hopefully 2018 will bring more gender-equality trends in Hollywood worth celebrating!

Results of the 2017 Bachtrack Classical Music Statistical Analysis

The Bachtrack classical music database tracks performance statistics, such as the composers and pieces with the most performances every year: in 2017, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart takes first place for composers, with Handel’s Messiah taking first as the most-performed work. For the last couple years, Mozart and Beethoven have been dominating the top two spots; J.S. Bach, however, seems to be narrowing the gap, potentially overtaking one of the two other music giants this year. Brahms, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky come in the next three places, respectively. The Bachtrack statisticians also measured how “patriotic” each country was in 2017, based on the correlation between the amount of a country’s music played outside that country and the amount of the same music played inside the country. For example, 6% of music by British composers is played worldwide, versus 13% played in Britain. The analysts point to a trend in the gender breakdown of concert conductors: in 2013, there was only one woman in the busiest one hundred concert conductors worldwide: there are now five. The trend has many thinking that in the next 5-10 years, the percentage of women conductors will keep increasing. An interesting review of the 2017 classical music world– we will have to wait and see what 2018 holds!

Cassette Tapes Making a (Small) Comeback?

Nielsen Media Research has released its annual “Music Year-End Report” for 2017 and found a surprising trend: sales of cassette tapes have increased, hitting their highest since 2012. Experts are pointing to nostalgic pop-culture hits to explain the trend: movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and television shows like Stranger Things are reviving interest in music and technology of decades past (particularly the 1980s). Tellingly, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks led cassette sales in 2017, with the Stranger Things, Volume 1 soundtrack as the third-best seller. Other popular cassette albums for 2017 reportedly include Eminem’s 2002 album The Eminem Show, Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, and Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus. Of course, despite whatever gains cassette sales made, these tapes remain a niche format. It certainly is fascinating how popular programs can inspire such nostalgia for a (largely forgotten) musical format!

New NY Policy to Make Books Less Accessible for Inmates
Later in 2018, New York state correctional institutions plan to make a change to their policy regarding inmate access to books and other deliveries: starting in the fall, there will be no package delivery for inmates except for items from a list of pre-approved venders. Only six vendors have been approved so far. The package ban will apply not only to clothes, fresh food, and household items, but also to books–a fact that has many critics worried about censorship concerns. Critics of the decision made by the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have pointed out that the first five vendors approved offered fewer than a hundred books for sale–nearly a quarter of which are coloring books. Since inmates will also lose access to shipments from family members, they won’t be able to get books that way either. DOCCS spokesperson reportedly recommended that friends and family members donate to prison libraries by way of nonprofits, rather than send books to individual prisoners; many of those very nonprofits, though, have openly condemned the new policy. Prisoners are not just attempting to access books for recreational reading–many inmates need textbooks for courses they are taking and, without access to the Internet, it can also be difficult to find sources for papers they are required to write. The sixth accounced approved vendor, Music by Mail, does offer some tens of thousands of book titles (for comparison, though, the New York Public Library system offers tens of millions). Other prison systems have reversed similar policies in the wake of public outcry–only time will tell what tell what will become of this one.

Arts in the News: Dogs to be Trained to Sniff Out Antiquities, Art Teacher in Utah Fired for Showing Students Nude Paintings and more.

February 19th, 2018

Canines are being trained to find antiquities

Dogs to be Trained to Sniff Out Antiquities

You may have encountered drug- or bomb-sniffing dogs at airports or train stations–but have you ever heard of a dog that can sniff out rare artefacts? Vets at the Penn Vet Working Dog Centre in Philadelphia will be trying to train dogs to do just that–teaching pups to sniff out illegally trafficked antiquities. The Centre will be working in partnership with the city’s Penn Museum and the non-profit organization Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research. As this is the first time dogs are being trained for this purpose, project leaders are unsure about success, but optimistic; archaeologist Michael Danti explains: “Terrorists, organised crime and common criminals are destroying archaeological sites on an industrial scale to cash in on illegal profits. That’s why we need to find out if we can train dogs to help.” After training, the dogs who are part of the project will start by sniffing for objects from the Fertile Crescent region of modern-day Syria and Iraq. Hopefully these precious canines are able to help catch criminals and ensure antiquities end up where they belong!

Art Teacher in Utah Fired for Showing Students Nude Paintings

An elementary school in Cache Valley, Utah fired an art teacher for showing students classical paintings containing nudity; the school claims students were made uncomfortable by the paintings–one parent even called the police, accusing the teacher of showing the students pornography. The teacher, Mateo Rueda, asked fifth and sixth grade students to select paintings from a box of postcards that would best exemplify the color study exercise they were doing in class. Among the paintings depicted on the postcards were “Iris Tree” by Modigliani, “Brown Odalisque” by Boucher, and “The Valpincon Bather” by Ingres. Rueda claims the postcards have been in the school library long before he started teaching there, and that he was unaware some of the paintings contained nudity. In a message to a parent, which was ultimately shared on Facebook, Rueda explains: “I explained to the whole class that art can sometimes show images that are not always comfortable at all, that art is better understood when placed in its proper context, that the human body is often portrayed in art, and that the images in the school collection are icons of art history and a patrimony of humanity.” Rueda allegedly encouraged the students to discuss any discomfort they felt about the paintings with their parents–which is when parents in turn proceeded to complain to the school (and police). Rueda was fired 4 days later. The local sheriff’s office has reportedly confiscated the postcards. Rueda maintains that he did nothing wrong but try to prepare students for what they would see in any art museum.

Studies Attempting to Gauge Theater’s Impact

Over the past couple decades, arts marketing has attempted to tailor principles from the field of marketing to the arts world, aiming for audience engagement and connection through targeted communication. Professor of Theater Management Anthony Rhine explores three new studies looking at how theater’s intrinsic value to audiences can be measured–and potentially tapped. First, a research project called Triple Play found that the age of audience members affected how they appreciate new plays. Audience members who are interested in new plays also tend to be those who are interested in post-performance discussions and talkbacks. Second, Suzanne Meeks and her colleagues conducted a study to understand how theater affects audience member’s psychological well-being at different stages, finding that younger people feel more engaged and stimulated by theater attendance than older people do (no doubt a surprising finding to many). Finally, a study Rhine himself did with Patrick M. Murnin examined people’s recollections of arts participation when they were young, compared with their arts participation as adults. They found that arts education is best achieved in conjunction with arts exposure–in other words, youth respond best to being taught about the arts when it involves some sort of firsthand exposure to the art. Their study suggests that arts exposure, education, and art-making engagement are all necessary to set a child on the path toward lifelong arts appreciation. Ultimately, as Rhine notes, these studies raise more questions than they answer, but they revive an important discussion of the value of art (specifically theater) to human beings! Certainly a discussion worth having.

Woman Allegedly Causes over $1M in Damages to Man’s Art Collection on First Date
Many people have gone on what they consider to be nightmarish first-dates. But a high-profile Texas attorney would probably argue his story takes the cake. Attorney Anthony Buzbee alleges that, during a first date on December 23rd, 29-year old Dallas court reporter Lindy Lou Layman destroyed over $1 million worth of his private art collection. Buzbee claims that Layman became intoxicated, proceeded to hide from him in his own $14 million mansion, and subsequently started attacking pieces of art when he tried to get her a ride home. He claims she tore three paintings from the wall, including two original Andy Warhol pieces, and pored liquid on them before throwing two sculptures across the room, destroying them. The two Warhols are said to be valued at $500,000 apiece, and the two sculptures worth $20,000 each. Layman’s lawyer has declined to comment, but she is out on bail. If Busbee’s accusations prove to be true, the situation certainly sets the bar pretty high for a bad first date! Hopefully the damanged artwork can somehow be repaired or restored.

Arts in the News: Putting Women’s Artwork in the Public Eye, A Symphony for the Streets and more.

February 5th, 2018
Conservators restore the work of Violante Siries Cerrotti, a 16th century artist from Florence.
Putting Women’s Artwork in the Public Eye

Florence has long been recognized as an international art hub–it was, after all, the “cradle of the Renaissance.” Now, the Uffizi, one of the city’s most famous museums, is once more trying to be a trailblazer in the art world. How? By giving women artists’ their due. The Uffizi’s director, Eike Schmidt, was inspired during a stint at the Minneapolis Institute of Art by the Guerilla Girls, a group of feminist art activists, who told him that though many museums have works by women artists, they’re kept in storage. Upon arriving at the Uffizi, Schmidt discovered that the museum is actually “the museum with the largest collection of works of arts by women before the 19th century.” But most of the paintings and pieces were in storage. In 2017, the Uffizi began to change that, holding the first in what is set to be a series of annual exhibitions devoted to women artists of the past. These exhibits will open every year at the beginning of March to coincide with International Women’s Day. Hopefully, museums around the world will follow the Uffizi’s example and get art by women out of the storage rooms and onto display!

A Symphony for the Streets

In Los Angeles, a group of professional musicians from various organizations comes together regularly for a less traditional purpose: “Street Symphony.” The organization brings together musicians from the LA Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale, and other professional musical organizations to work with the homeless, mentally ill, and incarcerated. Violinist Vijay Gupta founded Street Symphony in 2011–a man who wanted to put some real meaning behind the word “outreach,” which gets thrown around a lot in the classical music world. Gupta, the son of Indian immigrants, beat out more than 300 applicants to win a seat in the LA Philharmonic at the age of 19. In Los Angeles, he got to know a homeless musician and was soon performing at shelters, hospices, clinics, and prisons. Gupta ultimately founded Street Symphony with colleagues from the LA Philharmonic. Interactions with these vulnerable populations have changed the very way these musicians approach their art: when playing at the mental ward of a prison, a man reminded him that “Schumann…died in a place like this.” “That still gives me chills,” explains Gupta. “I’ll never play Schumann the same way again.” This year for the holidays, the Street Symphony ensemble played “We Need Darkness to See the Stars,” a choral-orchestral composition by Benjamin Shirley, who lived at a charitable institution on Skid Row for a couple years. What a truly inspiring group of musicians; it would be lovely to see more and more organizations like these in cities around the globe!


Singing Opera After Two Double Lung Transplants

For professional singers, their lungs are their livelihood. For many, a lung transplant may mean the end of a career. Not so for opera singer Charity Tillemann-Dick, who is still singing even after two double lung transplants. Tillemann-Dick was diagnosed at age 20 with pulmonary arterial hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs); her heart was more than three times larger than normal–but she couldn’t imagine her life without singing. She had her first lung transplant at 26; three years later, her body rejected the lungs, and she had another transplant. To celebrate the donor of her second transplant, Tillemann-Dick performed at the Cleveland Clinic with her friend Esperanza Tufani, the donor’s daughter. Tilleman-Dick expressed her gratitude, saying her donor “gives [her] voice.” She details her grueling medical journey in her new book, “Encore.” What a story of persistence and passion! Thankfully modern medicine was able to help Tillemann-Dick continue to pursue her dream.

Uproar as Met Museum Changes Price Policy
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has sparked anger from many in announcing that for the first time in nearly 50 years, it will be charging a set price for out-of-town patrons. Previously, the Met had a “pay-as-you-wish” admission policy; that all changes on March 1 of this year, when tourists will be charged a mandatory entrance fee ($25 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students). New York residents, as well as students from New Jersey and Connecticut, will be allowed to follow the previous pay-as-you-wish policy, provided they can show proof of residence. The price change will affect roughly a third of the Met’s annual visitors, according to the museum’s president and CEO, Daniel H. Weiss. The policy change will help cover daily operational demands, and bring the Met on the page with other museums around the world: “We are now the only major museum in the world that relies exclusively on a pure pay-as-you-wish system or that does not receive the majority of its funding from the government,” explains Weiss. Many are voicing their concerns about the change; art critic Roberta Smith explains: “If libraries started charging entrance fees there would be a great uproar. We don’t have to pay for access to publicly owned books, and we should have to pay to see art in museums whose nonprofit status is supported by our taxes.” Many are concerned the price change will prevent many tourists from being able to afford to visit the museum, making the museum’s art in effect inaccessible.

Arts in the News: Micro Museum, Hashtag Movement and more

January 18th, 2018

A Tiny Museum Trying to Make a Big Impact

Scientist Amanda Schochet and designer Charles Philipp are the minds behind the MICRO museum — a 6-foot installation meant to educate visitors and passersby about mollusks. There are currently five MICRO museums circulating in the New York City area; the latest was unveiled just at the end of 2017 at the Ronald McDonald House on the Upper East Side. Schochet and Philipp aim to “foster equal access to fundamental knowledge” by creating these MICRO museums, which can be found outside traditional museum settings and can run for limited times, like a month or a year. They’ve also partnered with the Brooklyn Public Library to create readings lists of weird and fascinating science stories. Schochet and Philipp are hoping to become the most-visited museum in the country within five years; based on current visitor statistics, they could achieve this with fewer than 100 units in circulation. They plan to debut a new MICRO museum core module every year, starting with the core sciences and moving onto math and art. The first MICRO museum physics edition, the Museum of Perpetual Motion, is set to launch in early February. Hopefully, these museums will help inspire and educate people young and old! It will certainly be fun to see how the project progresses over the next few years.

Asian-American Creatives Start Hashtag Movement
In order to amplify one another’s voices, Asian-American creatives are coming together for a hashtag campaign for the new year. The campaign involves actors, writers, filmmakers, and other artists all using the hashtag #AsAmCreatorRollCall. The social media campaign was launched by comics writer Greg Pak as a way for Asian-American creators to learn about and support one another. Pak posted a tweet on Twitter, asking all Asian-American creators: “What are you working on? Let’s all talk it up and support the hell out of each other in 2018! #AsAmCreatorRollCall.” The hashtag has a wealth of artists sharing their upcoming work or pieces in the process. Some bigger names, like blogger “Angry Asian Man,” writer Melissa Hung, and actor Yoshi Sudarso, have all chimed in with their own contributions. What a wonderful way for Asian-American artists to show solidarity and amplify one another’s talent and hard work!

It’s Time to Appreciate NBA Dancers

Most people don’t go to basketball games for the half-time shows or side acts. But as Gia Kourlas of The New York Times points out, the NBA is host to some of the best dancers around. She argues that dance troupes like the Brooklynettes and the Knicks City Dancers, who perform during the breaks between quarters of professional basketball games, are worth going to see in their own right. The Brooklynettes were established in 2012 and perform at Barclays Center in NYC; the Knicks City Dancers were established in 1991 and perform at Madison Square Garden. Each troupe has 20 dancers and performs at home games. Alyssa Quezada, the coach of the Knicks City Dancers, says the group’s goal is “to create a production–a show–in the middle of a basketball game.” These dancers face a unique challenge–unlike those performing on a traditional stage, they dance in an arena with 360-degree views. These dance troupes are beginning to attract higher-profile choreographers, like those who have worked on movies and “So You Think You Can Dance.” So next time you find yourself at a game, think twice before you use the quarter breaks as bathroom or snack breaks–you might be missing out on some incredible performances!

Phyllis Wheatley: A Poet You Should Know
Phyllis Wheatley was the first black person and one of the first women to publish a book in America–but few people have ever heard of her. A piece in Smithsonian Magazine provides some background on this amazing young woman who lived during the 18th century. The National Women’s History Museum writes that “slaveowners and abolitionists both read her work.” Wheatley was forcibly brought to Boston on a slave ship when she was about seven years old; historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. guesses she would have been a native Wolof speaker from the Senegambian coast of Africa. Wheatley was taught to read and write by the daughter of her slaveowners. She published her first poem at the age of 13; her poems often showed her pride in her African heritage and often revolved around religion. Her book, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was the first book on the record published by an African-American, and was read on both sides of the Atlantic. With its publication, Gates Jr. argues, she “became the most famous African on the face of the earth, the Oprah Winfrey of her time.” Wheatley died in poverty in 1784, ten years after she was freed. To learn more about this fascinating poet, read on <HERE>. Certainly more people should know the name “Phyllis Wheatley”!


Interview: Michael Fabiano on Faust

Limelight Magazine's Editor, Clive Paget, heads backstage to meet American tenor Michael Fabiano ahead of his appearance in David McVicar's production of Gounod's Faust, for Opera Australia.

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