It may seem a little odd to put the words “poetry” and “gunfire” together, but Chris Green has accomplished that 100 times over.
An English professor at DePaul University, Green has organized what might be called a poetic assault on assault rifles — as well as the other weapons that have made Chicago one of the most violent municipalities in America.
Chicago and mayhem are hardly strangers, of course. It hasn’t been that many years ago when gangsters like Al Capone were doing their part to keep the Second City’s body count elevated.
The current carnage is different, however. Murders are now carried out not on orders from the local mafia don, but for a wide variety of reasons — including, apparently, just for the hell of it. Even worse, many of those in the path of these bullets have been just ordinary people (including a disturbing number of children) cut down by collateral damage.
Hence, “American Gun.” I’ll let Chris Green explain:
“‘American Gun: A Poem by 100 Chicagoans’ is a collective response to the individual suffering behind the statistics. I asked one-hundred poets from across the city to take turns writing a communal poem about Chicago’s gun violence. The poets range in age, gender, race, ethnicity, and poetic experience. Such well-known poets as Ed Hirsch, Haki Madhubuti, Ed Roberson, Marc Smith, Ana Castillo, and Kevin Coval write with teen poets from the South and West sides . . . many from the group Young Chicago Authors, but also young poets from Chicago’s alternative high schools, where statistically, students experience the most gun violence in the city.
“The poem is a pantoum, a poetic form where every line is repeated twice. I chose this form because its structure of repeating lines mirrors the semi-automatic firing of a weapon and also the seemingly endless cycle of shootings in Chicago.”
The art of transcending art
These are not your grandparents’ art museums.
By that, I mean they are not just temples dedicated almost solely to the straight-faced worship of painting, sculpture and other art forms. Those tended to be somewhat static, an interconnected series of rooms lined with paintings or crafted objects. You went there, dutifully marched around one quadrangle after another, and spoke in whispers.
Which was fine. At some point, however, it occurred to a lot of art museums across the U.S. that they were missing out on some exciting possibilities. The problem with the old order was that there was little to invite patrons back for a repeat visit — at least not until a fresh exhibit was added to the mix.
That was then. This is now, at least for institutions such as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, colloquially known as Mass MoCA.
From the museum’s Website: “MASS MoCA is one of the world’s liveliest centers for making and enjoying today’s most evocative art. With vast galleries and a stunning collection of indoor and outdoor performing arts venues, MASS MoCA is able to embrace all forms of art: music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, theater, and new, boundary-crossing works of art that defy easy classification. Much of the work we show in our light-filled spaces, on our technically sophisticated stages, and within our lovely network of late 19th-century courtyards is made here during extended fabrication and rehearsal residencies that bring hundreds of the world’s most brilliant and innovative artists to North Adams all year round.
“We thrive on helping artists make work that is fresh, forward-looking, and engaging of the mind, body, and spirit…but we also believe that both our guest artists and audiences should enjoy their time with us. Our campus features free parking, affordably priced cafés, a full-service restaurant, delicious ice cream, great coffee, and an innovative microbrewery that spotlights locally malted grains and hops grown in our own Berkshire valley.”
A microbrewery inside an art museum? Really? And whoever heard of viewing art at a place with a “campus”?
The Delaware Art Museum is another example. This spring featured a modern dance performance/workshop in the museum’s sculpture garden. a Juneteenth festival and a Summer Solstice walk around the museum’s outdoor labyrinth. Oh, and you can also catch a drive-in movie in Parking Lot B, most recently “Dazed and Confused” and “The Dead Poets’ Society.”
And these are just a few examples. As it turns out, most art museums are also natural places to stage lectures, conferences, and concerts. Many have auditoriums, or at least large viewing rooms, and they generally offer generous on-site parking.
So check them out. You never know what you might find.
Let’s not forget the local talent
The old-style museums mentioned above didn’t always pay sufficient respect to the artists working in their midst. Indeed, that Biblical reference to “prophets without honor in their native land” often applies to cultural institutions. If an artist lives and creates art just a few miles away, according to this frequent but usually unspoken prejudice, their work has to be second-rate. Otherwise, they’d be in New York by now.
The Montgomery Museum of Fine Art in Alabama’s capital city is different, however — perhaps because it was originally founded by local artists.
Twice a month, Local Artists Live provides a behind-the-scenes look into the creative processes and spaces of Montgomery artists. These are broadcast on the MMFA’s Instagram at 10 AM on select Saturdays each month, presented by the artists themselves.
ArtTalk offers artists constructive feedback and camaraderie with peers from across the community.
The MMFA also offers studio classes for a variety of learners, from new artists as young as three years old, up to adults seasoned in creative experiences. According to the museum Website: “If you have a passion for art education and are interested in teaching at the MMFA, please send us your resume and a brief introduction.”
Finally, the Museum co-hosts a juried biennial exhibition of contemporary art with the membership of the Montgomery Art Guild (MAG), an organization of local artists in the River Region. MAG membership is open to all working artists with the payment of an annual membership fee.
That sounds like a good blueprint for other museums everywhere
These diehards keep marching on
Performing in a high school or college marching band is a lot like being on the football team — it’s an all-consuming activity at the time, but there isn’t much opportunity to carry on with it after graduation.
Or so I thought, until I heard from an old friend, Susan Schlossberg, who had moved from Roanoke, VA to Sarasota, FLA. Susan played clarinet in the University of Georgia marching band and saw no reason to put her instrument away. That naturally led her into the embrace of the St. Petersburg Area Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band.
“Every homecoming game,” she said in an e-mail, “UGA invites the band alumni to perform the pre-game show. It is such a thrill and rush to march in front of 98,000 people, so when I moved to Sarasota, friends from UGA (who actually were responsible for starting the alumni homecoming pre-game show) encouraged me to participate (in Second Time Around). It’s a blast. I never stopped playing clarinet and performed in local community bands all these years. I played in the 1983 Sugar Bowl (as well as the ‘84 Cotton Bowl).”
From the Second time Arounders Website:
“The Greater St. Petersburg Area Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band was founded in 1983. The idea came about when William (Bill) Findeison (pronounced Fin-Die Son) a music store owner, was having a conversation with Herb Melloney the Executive Director of the St. Petersburg, Florida Festival of States. Bill was looking for an innovative way to advertise his store during the festival. Herb was sure that a float of some kind was not the right answer for Bill. After a while the question came up, ‘what happens to all those kids who played a musical instrument in their high school and college bands after they graduate? Would they like a chance to march in a parade one more time?
“An advertisement was placed in the local newspaper announcing that anyone who played in a high school, college, or military band and would like to do it one more time, were asked to meet at a local high school for a rehearsal. About 60 musicians showed up along with some auxiliary to round out the group. Bill passed out the marching music, just two tunes, and held a rehearsal for two hours. At the end of the rehearsal Bill asked that everyone pass in their music and he would have two new tunes next week. This first group had exceeded expectations as to what the quality of the group would be. Thus, the Rounders were born and have been exceeding expectations ever since.
“The ‘Rounder Band has extended its performances from just two parades, to stand-up concerts and field show exhibitions. The ‘Rounder ranks have swollen from the first 60 members to over 400. The members range in age from 18 to over 80. Members have met their spouses, had children, and at times there have been three generations of a family participating in the band at the same time.
“In 1994 The ‘Rounders took their very first trip to participate in the Portland Oregon Rose Festival, and since then, the band has packed their bags for appearances in the San Antonio Fiesta Celebration, the St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin, Ireland in 2001, Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada, Washington DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival, Savannah, Georgia for their St. Patrick’s Day Celebration and two appearances in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in New York City.
“Over the years the ‘Rounders have been recognized for its size, the multiple generations of its members, and most importantly, the quality of the musicians. The band only meets for about seven weeks a year, with six weeks of rehearsal and a week of performances. Then, the members go back to the daily routine of their lives, until the ‘Rounders meet again.
“There are no tryouts to be a member of the ‘Rounders, just prior experience and a willingness to attend the rehearsals and performances. Some ‘Rounders travel up to three and four hours each week for the opportunity to participate in the band. We love it when someone on the sidelines decides to join the group moving from passive observer to active participant, looking for the opportunity to do it all “a second time around.”
Here’s an inspiring story on blind poet Anne-Chadwell Humphries.