Michael Fabiano

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”!

Arts in the News: A Monument of Banned Books, a Woman Translates Homer and more

December 27th, 2017
A Monument of Banned Books
This past summer, Argentinian artist Marta Minujín used her creativity to make a statement about censorship and political repression. Minujín, 74, used 100,000 copies of banned books to create a full-size replica of the Greek Parthenon on a site in Kassel, Germany, where Nazis once burned some 2,000 books in 1933. With the help of students from Kassel University, Minujín identified over 170 books that were at one point (or are currently) banned in countries around the world–she then used copies of these books, secured with plastic sheeting, to cover a steel-based replica of the iconic Athenian temple. Among the books included are the Harry Potter series, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984. Minujín explains that the piece, titled “The Parthenon of Books,” is meant to symbolize resistance to political repression. Check out some photos of the strunning structure <HERE>.

Service Dog Disrupts ‘Cats’ Performance

Theatergoers to a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” were treated to an extra level of excitement when an audience member’s service dog ran after one of the performers. The dog allegedly “got away from its owner and ran after [the character] Bombalurina,” during the opening number. To everyone’s relief, an usher intervened, guiding the dog back to its owner. A spokesperson for the show confirmed the incident, noting that, “In the storied history of ‘Cats,’ this is the first time one of the actual cats was involved in an incident with a dog. We’re pleased to report that no animals or humans were harmed in the dust-up, and the performance continued without a hitch.” In other “Cats” news, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is set to publish his autobiography, “Unmasked,” in spring of 2018.

Sleeping Woman Screams When Awoken by Drum at Orchestra Performance

Sometimes the soothing music and warm atmosphere in a performance hall can make audience members a bit sleepy–but usually any such incidences go unnoticed. Unfortunately for one woman attending a performance of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” by the North State Symphony in Redding, California, her snooze became apparent to everyone present when she was startled awake by the sudden boom of a bass drum and screamed loudly over the music. Luckily, the scream didn’t seem to bother any of the musicians in the orchestra, as they and the conductor, Scott Seaton, only smiled at the unscripted shriek. Seaton posted a video of the moment to YouTube, followed up by a tweeting on Twitter: “Yes, Stravinsky can still be a surprise over a century later!” Though everyone laughed off the interruption, it may stand as a cautionary tale for anyone who tends to get a little dozey at performances!

When a Woman Translates Homer

Emily Wilson, a professor classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, has become the first woman to translate Homer’s Odyssey. Wilson’s new translation is written in plain, contemporary language and reportedly lays bare some of the inequalities between characters and gender nuances that have been long-overlooked by translators before her. Wilson herself explains: “the question of who matters [in the story] is actually central to what the text is about….Female translators often stand at a critical distance when approaching authors who are not only male, but also deeply embedded in a canon that has for many centuries been imagined as belonging to men.” Wilson has purposefully chosen to make certain aspects of the epic poem more visible, rather than glossing over them; for example, the inequities in the main character’s marriage and the presence of slaves in their household (earlier translators have opted for euphemisms like “chambermaid” or “nurse”). In her translation, Wilson aims to not only offer a new version of the poem, but a new way of thinking about the story in the context of gender and power relationship today. What a fascinating new take on a classic tale!

Arts in the News: A City-Wide Dance Festival, the Secret of the Pyramids and more

December 18th, 2017

A City-Wide Dance Festival

For an entire weekend in October, the city of Chicago became host to a multi-day, multi-venue dance festival called “Elevate Chicago Dance.” Presented by the Chicago Dancemakers Forum (CDF), the festival aimed to highlight Chicago dance and increase the visibility of established artists in the city across a range of genres and disciplines. For 15 years, CDF has supported independent artists through grants and artistic development programs. Some of the highlights from the Elevate program included a late-night showing of Khecari’s audience immersion and Zephyr Dance’s site-specific “Valise 13” which uses the Defibrillator Gallery’s creepier spaces. One piece even features the mixing of dance with needlecraft. The one-of-a-kind festival served as a sort of dance buffet, allowing Chicagoans a glimpse inside the artistic processes of some of the city’s emerging dancers. Unlike other dance festivals, Elevate did not pressure artists to present a finished, polished product. CDF executive director Ginger Farley explains: “It’s more about everyone thinking: how can we look at what we’re doing and what we have, and with those things, elevate one another and the field?” Surely people in other cities would love to see similar festivals put on in their own hometowns. What an amazing event, supporting and promoting local artists!

Ancient Papyrus Reveals the Secret of the Pyramids

For centuries, people have puzzled over the mystery of how the ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid of Giza. The oldest and only survivor of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the pyramid was built over a 20-year-old period using locally-sourced limestone and granite and was used as a tomb for Pharaoh Khufu. Now, an ancient papyrus seems to have revealed the complex infrastructure created by builders to complete the architectural marvel. Written on ancient papyrus, the scroll was authored by an overseer and provides the only first-hand account on record of the building of the pyramids. It indicates that the Egyptians used a system of wooden boats, ropes, and canals, along with thousands of workers, to transport the 170,000 tonnes of limestone along the Nile. A fascinating insight into an age-old mystery, illuminating how some of the most stunning architecture of the ancient world was brought to life.

Mental Health Toll on Musicians

A new report being called a “game changing” study, published by the charity Help Musicians UK, explores how the working conditions within the music community can impact individuals’ well-being. Drawing from in-depth interviews with 26 musicians working in various musical genres, including opera, dance, and musical theater, the study emphasizes how the “precariousness and insecurity” of a career in music can be psychologically damaging, resulting in “constant stress” around finding work and financial stability. Additionally, the reality that many musicians are self-employed can result in feelings of isolation, especially when dealing with mental health problems. The report also points to the pressure put on relationships with family, friends, and partners, as well as problems with bullying, discrimination, and abuse in the profession. In the wake of the report, Help Musicians UK has made three specific policy recommendations to help address the factors impacting musicians’ mental health: first, to embed discussions of mental health awareness into music education; second, to create a code of best practice to demonstrate organizational awareness of these issues in the industry; and third, to ensure mental health support services for musicians are affordable and accessible. Hopefully, this report and the recommendations of Help Musicians UK can lead to positive change and increased wellness in the music community.

A Look into Kazakhstan’s Trophy City

Architects from around the world have bid and contributed to the architectural fantasy envisioned by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first president of Kazakhstan. In a treatise on architecture and city planning, Nazarbayev argues that “Like people, cities have destinies. Each has a name and an individual biography of its own, a character which cannot be confused with that of any other place on earth.” The Kazakhstan president has spent the last two decades building a city-sized monument in the middle of the Asian steppe– it includes a shopping mall (the biggest tent in the world), a rollercoaster, an artificial beach (with sand imported from the Maldives), a silver pyramid (conceived as a meeting place for world religions), a presidential palace (modelled on the White house but 8 times larger), a gold mirror-glass gateway, a polished grey egg (to house national archives), and a golden orb observation tower. Japan’s Kisho Kurakawa conjured up the cosmic masterplan for the city, though much of his original design has been ignored. Other well-known architects like Italy’s Manfredi Nicoletti have contributed to the components that stand today. The city (to which Nazarbayev is continually adding) is a source of much controversy–with half of the Kazakhstan population living on roughly $70 a month, the extravagant project has drawn intense criticism. One Kazakhstan school teacher explains: “The Kazakh people are now very angry. We are proud that the Expo is here, but the leaders of our country have spent far too much money on it, trying to show off to the world.” To learn more about the controversial project and see some of the incredible buildings, both completed and proposed, read on <HERE>.


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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