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

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!

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