My Culture Source story about Ann Arbor’s PowerArt! public art project

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L to R: “Legato,” Sophia Adeline Zhou; “People in the City,” Xiang Li; and “Pedestrian,” Tim Gralewski. (Photos by Allison Buck, courtesy of The Arts Alliance.

Ann Arbor has figured out a way to make the mundane beautiful while also supporting local artists.

How? By wrapping up drab traffic signal boxes in vinyl reproductions of locally produced artworks.

“They’re so pretty, but it also really makes the ones that aren’t decorated stick out more,” said Allison Buck, program director of The Arts Alliance, which proposed and oversees the project. “When you walk past a plain one, you think, ‘What about that one? And that one? Those should have art on them, too.’”

Phase two of Ann Arbor’s proposed three-phase public art initiative, called PowerArt!, ended in mid-July, covering 17 more signal boxes in artworks that were selected by a local jury composed of artists and community leaders (13), or by public online voting (4). The artists whose work was selected for PowerArt!’s second phase are: David Zinn, Tim Gralewski, Cathy Jacobs, Xiang Li, Thomas Rosenbaum, Bruce Worden, Sophia Adalaine Zhou, Parisa Ghaderi, K.A. Letts, Nawal Motawi, Mia Risberg, Bryan Oxender, Yiyi Zhang, Katharine Downie, Walter Griggs, Leslie Sobel, and Jill Stefanie Wagner. (Zinn, Rosenbaum, Zhou, and Letts had work selected for PowerArt!’s first phase as well.)

PowerArt!’s pilot phase began in May 2015, with eight boxes throughout downtown Ann Arbor receiving a makeover. Each PowerArt! artist—who must live, work, or attend school in Washtenaw County—received $1,450 per work. Organizers hope that in addition to highlighting local artists, the program will dissuade people from taping flyers to the boxes or tagging them with graffiti.  READ THE REST HERE

My Concentrate story on Girl Develop It – Ann Arbor

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.23.39 PM.pngAnn Arbor’s Cheryl Orosz was Detroit Country Day School’s first female student to earn a math/computer letter, and was once the only young woman in the school’s six-person computer competition club. A photo in her yearbook shows Orosz in front of a chalkboard, teaching her peers about hexadecimal math. For many, it would be obvious where her intellectual passion was destined to lead her.

But, like many women of her generation, Orosz found her professional aspirations (ie. her graduate studies at U-M) derailed by her personal life. Raising kids, no longer on the tech workforce track, she eventually found a part time position with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD).

“It was something I could do around school drop offs and school pick ups,” said Orosz.

It was at WISD that Orosz befriended a computer programmer who regularly attended Codemash, a conference that updates and educates developers on the latest tech trends and practices.

“While he was there,” Orosz says “he met Ronda (Bergman) and Julie (Cameron), who founded a chapter of Girl Develop It in Ann Arbor, and he said, ‘Cheryl, you need to talk to these ladies.'” READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of Penny Seats Theatre’s ‘Xanadu’

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Pennt Seats Theatre is now presenting “Xanadu” at the West Park band shell.

Sometimes, you actively avoid re-visiting the most beloved TV shows and movies of your youth, because you know in your gut that the adult, more critical version of yourself will see nothing but flaws.

Yet when a witty playwright like Douglas Carter Beane (“The Little Dog Laughed,” “Lysistrata Jones,” “As Bees in Honey Drown”) adapts one of your favorite childhood movies – Xanadu, now being staged by Penny Seats Theatre – you get the best of both worlds. Yes, Beane affectionately mocks the campy film musical’s laughable absurdity, but he also unabashedly grants us permission to re-visit it, as well as its still-appealing ‘80s score (by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar).

For those of you who, for some reason, didn’t hold a cassette recorder up to the TV as Xanadu played on your family’s jerry-rigged cable system – ahem – here’s the story: frustrated Venice Beach artist Sonny Malone (Matt Pecek) is about to give up when Kira (Paige Martin) rolls into his life on a pair of skates. She’s a muse, one of 9 Greek sister goddesses who inspire artists, so she guides Sonny toward his dream: a roller disco that’s also an arts showplace. Naturally.

But when Sonny becomes business partners with a rich, older man (Roy Sexton) from Kira’s past, and Kira’s jealous sisters (Allison Simmons and Kasey Donnelly) decide to intervene to bring the upstart down, Sonny’s roller disco dream hangs in the balance.

Penny Seats’s outdoor production (in West Park) struggled mightily with sound issues on opening night. The actors’ mics were hit-and-miss, which meant that some lines (and jokes) got lost; ensemble numbers, particularly near the beginning, never quite gelled, vocally; and the show’s band – situated on the West Park band shell stage, a good distance behind where the action unfolds (which may have been one source of the problem) – often sounded pretty rough and out of sync, shifting tempos and struggling to align with the performers. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp recap of author Kate DiCamillo’s talk at AADL

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Bestselling, award-winning author Kate DiCamillo drew a big crowd of readers, young and old, to AADL on Sunday, July 10, 2016. (Photo by Jenn McKee)

Bestselling, award-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux) drew a few hundred excited fans – clutching books as if they were treasures – to the Ann Arbor District Library’s Downtown Library on Sunday afternoon; and she not only read from her new novel Raymie Nightingale, but self-deprecatingly shared the reason for her “late start” as a writer.

“When I was in college, I had a professor who said to me, in my senior year, … ‘You have a certain facility with words. You should consider graduate school,’” said DiCamillo, dressed in sneakers, black jeans, and a black V-neck T-shirt, with a pink long sleeved shirt wrapped around her waist. “That’s exactly what he said, but I was 20 years old, and so, I heard something entirely different. I thought he was speaking to me in code, and that he was saying, ‘Wow. You are super-talented. I think that you’re probably the next Flannery O’Connor.’ So I thought, ‘Why should I bother with graduate school if I’m really talented? I’m just going to go be a writer.’ So what I did was, I used my mother’s JC Penney credit card and I got a black turtleneck, and then I was set to go. I just sat around, wearing the black turtleneck, looking bored and disdainful and having people go, ‘Oh, that’s Kate. She writes.’ I did that for 10 years. … You can dream all you want and have great story ideas in your head, but eventually, you’re going to have to sit down and figure out a way to do the work. And I didn’t figure that out until I was 30.”

DiCamillo’s now established her regimen, obviously, having published about 20 books over the course of 20 years. The author spoke about how a novel now generally takes a year and a half – working through 7-8 complete drafts – for her to write, and she advised aspiring writers to read as much as they can. But the suggestions didn’t end there. READ THE REST HERE

Things to do around Ann Arbor this week: see The Decemberists, Rita Coolidge, the Suffers, ‘Xanadu’ and more

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The Decemberists, presented by The Ark, play at the Michigan Theater on Tuesday, July 12.

The Decemberists at the Michigan Theater. Veteran Portland (OR) indie folk-rock quintet whose densely textured, rhythmically supple music draws freely on a wide range of idioms, from klezmer and Celtic music to prog rock and ’80s pop. Presented by The Ark. Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor. Tickets cost $35-$55, available in advance at, and 734-763-TKTS.

The Suffers at Sonic Lunch. Houston-based 10-piece R&B, soul, and rock ‘n’ soul band, featured on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Thursday at noon-1:30 p.m. (except as noted) at Liberty Plaza, E. Liberty at S. Division in Ann Arbor. Free.

Spinning Dot Theatre’s “A Mouth with Flame” at Carriage House Theatre. July 14-17. Korean artist Tae Hoon Yoo, aka Big Fire, presents his one-man multimedia that includes puppetry, music, and digital media. It weaves together dragon folklore, cultural and historical events, and personal stories. Geared toward families with kids ages 7-12. Thursday at 6 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., at Carriage House Theater, 541 Third St. in Ann Arbor. $10 (kids, $5) suggested donation. Continue reading

My Pulp review of Shakespeare in the Arb’s ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 3.31.20 PM.pngWhile watching Shakespeare in the Arb’s Saturday evening production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which wrapped up its run this past weekend, I realized that it’s kind of the Elizabethan drama ancestor of a famous Seinfeld episode called, “The Contest.”

Why? Because in both stories, four characters make a pledge to each other to suppress sexual desires (and its expression), and in both stories, they fail miserably – and pretty immediately.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, begins when Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Will Arnuk), decrees that he and three companions – Lords Berowne (Michael Shapiro), Dumaine (Nicholas Menagan), and Longaville (Jackson Tucker-Meyer) – will dedicate themselves to scholarly study for three years, sleeping little, fasting often, and abstaining from any contact with women, so as to not be distracted.

Shortly after signing the pact, though, Ferdinand’s reminded that the Princess of France (Clare Brennan) is on her way to Navarre, accompanied by three ladies-in-waiting: Rosaline (Amy Robbins), Maria (Rebecca Godwin), and Katherine (Maia Gersten). When the King greets the royal party to explain why they must make camp outside his court, he falls in love with the princess, of course, and his friends become smitten with her companions, leaving the men scrambling to convey their affections to the women while also hiding it from their compatriots.

Shakespeare in the Arb shows are always “traveling” productions, so instead of watching a series of set changes, the audience gets up and moves to a new part of Nichols Arboretum. This is a double-edged sword, of course, because while it gives the players a great variety of natural backdrops within which to play, the logistics of getting a couple hundred audience members from one area of the park to another – separating the ground-sitters up front from the chair-sitters behind – more than a half dozen times can bloat the show’s running time, compromise momentum, and grow unwieldy (audience members at Saturday’s performance seemed to get a smidge grumpier/more impatient with each transplant). READ THE REST HERE