Michael Fabiano

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Arts in the News: Women in the arts, Ballet schools, 41$ for culture, Oscar-nominated documentary, Brushstrokes

March 3rd, 2017


National Museum of Women in the Arts Breaks Attendance Record
The same weekend that Washington, D.C. welcomed roughly half a million women for the Women’s March on Washington the weekend after President Trump’s Inauguration, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) reported its largest weekend attendance ever. The museum offered free admission to visitors the weekend of January 21st, even offering additionally programming geared toward marchers. Amy Mannarino, Director of Communications and Marketing for the NMWA, reported that the museum doubled its previous record for weekend attendance with free admission. She explained that “The crowd’s positive energy was palpable, and visitors filled all corners of the museum–enjoying art by women, chatting with friends, and enjoying free refreshments.” What an amazing celebration of women in the arts!

Rising Numbers for Ballet School for Boys
The London Boys Ballet School (LBBS) has reported a huge rise in pupil numbers–an encouraging trend considering that ballet is often stereotyped as a ‘feminine’ form of dance. James Cunliffe, the founder and director of LBBS, believes that prominent male dancers and television shows about ballet have played a significant role in helping to encourage boys to dance and not be embarrassed. He describes how things have changed in the past decades: “There have always been boys that have wanted to dance…There was a stigma attached to it, that ballet was all pink and tutus and just for girls. It was also embarrassing to go to a dance class and be the only boy. That has changed now. Boys are no longer embarrassed to like dance.” The LBBS had only 15 students when it opened in 2014–it now boasts more than 170. Cunliffe hopes that his own school will help further the snowball effect, encouraging even more boys to begin dancing. Hopefully we will continue to see the stigma around men who dance disappear, allowing children of any gender to pursue their passion for this art form.

$41 Million for Cultural and Arts Groups in NY
Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced $41 million in grants for cultural and arts organizations in the state of New York. The awards will support programs ranging from in-school arts education to famous cultural centers like Carnegie Hall. These New York State Council on the Arts grants are awarded in 16 different programs across all 62 counties in the state. This year, grant awardees include the Rochester Fringe Festival, the Just Buffalo Literary Center, and the Sculpture Space in Utica. It will be exciting to see the amazing things these arts and cultural groups are able to do with this money!

Celebrating the Outside in New Oscar-Nominated Documentary
Oscar-nominated film “Life, Animated,” directed by Roger Ross Williams, celebrates the inspiring story about a young man with autism. The film is a documentary, based on the life of Owen Suskind, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3 when he stopped speaking. Using what they called “affinity therapy,” Suskind’s parents were able to connect with their son by using the common language of Disney films. Owen’s father, Ron Suskind, wrote and published a book about their family’s journey, providing the jumping-off point for the new documentary. Director Williams explains that “This film was really about giving people like Owen–people that have been left behind, people that don’t have a voice–a voice.” He expounds on the importance of the documentary, admitting: “What I learned is that there’s a whole population of people–a growing population of people–living with autism, who have so much to offer the world, and we can learn so much from them.” Williams has said that he connected with Owen as he himself has always felt like an outsider as a black gay man. He is one of five black directors nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature category this year.

Brushstrokes May Reveal Brain Disorder
A new study from the University of Liverpool claims that paintings can help detect neurodegenerative disorders before they’ve been medically diagnosed. Alex Forsythe, the leading researcher, set out to determine whether changes in an artist’s brushstrokes over time could help signal dementia or other neurodegenerative disorders. After analyzing 2,092 paintings using fractal analysis (a technique that examines the complexity of repeating geometric patterns in a painting), she was able to see changes in the fractal complexity for artists like Salvador Dali and Norval Morrisseau (both believed to have had Parkinson’s) and de Kooning and James Brooks (both of whom had Alzheimer’s) over the course of their careers. Importantly, Forsythe claims to detect the change in fractal complexity in de Kooning’s paintings around when he was 40 years old–over 40 years before he was diagnosed by doctors. “The information seems to be like a footprint that artists leave in their art,” Forsythe explains. Some scientists take issue with the sample size in the study, as it encompasses works by only 7 artists; others believe fractal analysis itself is a problematic technique. Forsythe’s research has no doubt opened up an interesting direction for future research and, if she’s onto something, it certainly has major implications for spotting and diagnosing neurodegenerative disorders before any other symptoms appear. Art may say even more about the artist than previously thought!

Arts in the News: Shameful Holocaust Memorial selfies, new Mark Twain Fairy tale, America’s first opera company, Music heals, The ‘accidental’ basso, The Pilgrim

February 20th, 2017



‘Yolocaust’ Project Shames Holocaust Memorial Selfies

28-year-old Israeli-German writer and artist Shahak Shapira has embarked on a project called “Yolocaust” meant to bring attention to, and outright shame, the trend of visitors to Berlin taking selfies at the famous Holocaust Memorial. Shapira used social media to find twelve of what he found to be the most egregious examples of inappropriate pictures taken at the Berlin memorial; he subsequently posted these pictures to his website. As a user’s mouse hovers over each image, the original background of the grey stone grid disappears, replaced by a scene from the death camps. The juxtaposition of carefree tourists against these horrific images are, as one can imagine, disturbingly striking. “I felt like people needed to know what they were actually doing, or how others might interpret what they were doing,” explains Shapira. Many, including the New York architect who designed the memorial, Peter Eisenman, have been critical of Shapira’s project. Nonetheless, it certainly raises an important discussion about the proper etiquette around memorials and other symbolic works of art.

Never-Before-Published Mark Twain Fairy Tale

Later this year, a fairy tale written by famous American author Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) for his daughters in 1879 will be released. Publisher Penguin Random House explained in a press release that “Although Twain told his young daughters countless bedtime stories, made up on the spot as they requested them, these notes are believed to be the only ones he ever jotted down from those sessions.” The story, a fairy tale entitled “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine” is rumored to be a whimsical story; in published form, it will be accompanied by delicate watercolor illustrations by Erin Stead. It will certainly be exciting to see this forgotten story by a treasured author released to the public!

America’s First Opera Company Was All African-Americans

Unbeknownst to many, the first American opera company was born at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Washington, DC–the first all-black church in the nation’s capital–and consisted entirely of African Americans. In 1873, an Italian priest invited a white Spanish American veteran of the US Marine Band along with John Philip Sousa to teach an African American choir the French style of Opera Bouffe, effectively creating the first American opera company. A fascinating new podcast from Shelley Brown, a producer and former artistic director of a theater in Maryland, and Patrick Warfield, a professor of musicology at the University of Maryland, discusses this hidden American story. What a wonderful and important piece of American opera history!

Musicians’ Superior Reaction Times

A recent study from the University of Montreal suggests that musical individuals have faster reaction times than their non-musical counterparts, finding a link between playing an instrument and quick reactions to non-musical stimuli. The aim of the study was to investigate the relationship between playing a musical instrument and improving senses in a non-musical way. “We found significantly faster reaction times with musicians,” explains lead author Simon Landry. “These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory reaction times.” The results of the study by Landry and his colleages may have important implications for the medical field: they suggest that learning an instrument later in life could improve cognitive as well as motor functionality for elderly people. Yet another benefit of making music that scientists have confirmed!

The ‘Accidental’ Opera Star

Skeptics abound when it comes to the story of bass opera singer Morris Robinson, due to the incredibly unlikely–and unorthodox–career path that brought this man onto the stage. Aspiring to be a drummer at a young age, Robinson passed up music scholarships in favor of a free-ride to play football at a military college. He went on to work at a Fortune 500 company in regional sales of data storage. Then, at age 30, Robinson decided to attempt singing professionally, trying out for the chorus of “Aida” at the Boston Lyric Opera–the largest company in New England. He was cast in a solo role. Robinson is now 47 and has 18 years of major roles with A-list companies; he is currently onstage with the Los Angeles Opera for their production of Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” Robinson admits that he has achieved “a great professional life,” but adds that it is “Not one I quite planned, but I have zero complaints.” An inspiring and unlikely journey for a man who was clearly born to sing!

A Literary Magazine from Homeless Authors

Every Tuesday morning at 9:30, a group of people meet in the basement of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on Tremont Street in Boston; this “Writers Group,” as they’re called in the community, publishes a literaty magazine called “The Pilgrim.” The remarkable part of this story is that all of the contributing authors to The Pilgrim, the members of the Writers Group, are homeless. James Parker, who has been editing the literary magazine for the last five years, tells the amazing story of this publication and its unlikely contributors for Pacific Standard magazine. The Pilgrim just published its 41st issue; since 2011 it has featured the work of over 150 writers. Parker recounts the early days of the Writers Group and how The Pilgrim came to be. On its website, Parker explains that “Homelessness is a state of acute pilgrimage,” as people carry their loads–both spiritual and material–with them from doorways to shelters to curbs. Parker recounts the incredible story of the amazing human beings whose voices fill the pages of The Pilgrim–voices that often would not be heard, but have beautiful and profound things to say.

Requesting Book Recommendations

January 26th, 2017


Hi All:

As I posted in the first part of the year, one of my New Year’s intentions is to expand my reading out of my comfort zone.  Since I already read a lot of biographies and historical nonfiction, I am requesting recommendations outside of those genres.  Here’s what I would love to hear from you:

  • What is the best book you’ve ever read and why
  • What is one book that is changed the way you view the world
  • What are some great books to read on a plane or on a cross country road trip

Please comment here or on my Facebook page.


Access to Exercise

January 19th, 2017



Have you ever been chatting with someone about a workout class or the gym and they’ve immediately dismissed the idea because they “aren’t in shape enough” to go?  Or they responded to your invitation with something like, “I can go in a few weeks after I work my way up.”  When did every day fitness classes become inaccessible?  And how have we created an environment where people feel like you have to “work your way up” to attend a class or go to the gym?  Of course someone shouldn’t run a marathon without proper training, but this sentiment that popular fitness classes and gyms require a base or are inaccessible to the average person is problematic.  It’s especially problematic because 50% of adults in the US do not meet recommendations for physical activity (150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both).

The fitness industry is currently skyrocketing in terms of profits and growth.  Since 2008, membership to fitness clubs has grown by almost 20% and the overall industry has been growing by over 1 billion dollars a year ultimately generating 25.8 billion in revenue for 2015.  Related industries are also growing at a corresponding rate.  The athletic footwear industry generated over 17 billion in 2015 (an increase of 8% from the year prior) and Morgan Stanley predicts that the “athleisure” market will grow to over $83 billion in sales by 2020.

As Vox recently reported, although the exercise industry is booming due in party to the expansion of boutique facilities like Flywheel and SoulCycle, a staggering 45% of youth do not have access to parks, playground areas, community centers, or sidewalks and trails nearby where they live.  Less than 40% of adults live near a park.  And while boutique facilities are cropping up everywhere, many of them are out of reach for people who cannot afford to pay $34 per class.  Furthermore, the process of having to pay more to guarantee a spot in a class and the feeling of exclusion many describe only contribute to the issue of accessibility.

No one should feel exercise is available to only those who can afford to pay a lot of money.  All of this makes investing in public spaces, parks, biking and walking paths, community yoga studios, and programs like bikeshare of the utmost importance.  It’s also important to invest in public transportation and culture.  Studies have also shown that people who have access to public transportation are more likely to walk.  Free admission to museums is a great way to encourage people to leave their homes and spend a few hours walking around and getting exercise while viewing beautiful pieces of art.  Hopefully better access and a continued commitment to community spaces will lessen people’s feelings that people have to “work your way up” to exercise.


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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