Feature Stories

January 23, 2010

Joanne Shank doesn't remember the moment she realized that she wanted to create environmentally conscious art. A life-long lover of both nature and art, she can't imagine one without the other.

"I've always just enjoyed looking at nature as my resource for expression and inspiration," she says. "I've always enjoyed art, and I've always enjoyed nature, so I don't think there's a beginning point to either of those things in my life."

Shank is one of a number of Bloomington artists who have decided to work in environmentally sustainable ways. Whether artists choose to use recycled or organic materials or to create pieces that focus on environmental issues, the recent surge in interest in the green movement is a natural fit within the local arts community.

January 9, 2010

We live in an age of attacks on human and civil rights -- for instance, jailing people indefinitely without charging them with a crime and combating protestors violently, such as at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh a few months ago. People who dissent or engage in left-wing activism are right to worry about being charged with a crime despite not doing anything the Constitution doesn't allow.

To prepare activists for visits by federal law-enforcement agents, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has republished If an Agent Knocks, a 47-page booklet that it's distributing to the public free of charge. Originally published in 1989, the booklet was revised and updated this past September.

CCR describes its mission as follows. "The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization [and public interest law firm] committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change."

January 9, 2010

Editor's note: The following guest column was submitted by Ashley Fisher from the Bloomington Area Arts Council in response to criticisms leveled by local artists in The Bloomington Alternative and other local media.


Fallout from the past

The new (Bloomington Area Arts Council) Board's 10-month story starts with the realization at the beginning of 2009 that the organization was failing -- again. Sensing this, both Ashley Fisher and Rob Hanrahan, who had recently joined the BAAC -- Fisher as a new Board member in October 2008 and Hanrahan November 2008 as a fundraising consultant -- took up the challenge as President of the Board of Trustees and Executive Director respectively in March 2009 to address the long-term sustainability of the arts council, despite its weakened state at that time. Both believed that the organization could be transformed -- and still do.

November 28, 2009

Editor's note:A group of area artists have banded together to resist management changes and fee increases at the John Waldron Arts Center. On Nov. 23, they sent the following letter to Bloomington Area Arts Council Board President Ashley Fisher and Executive Director Rob Hanrahan.


Dear Ashley and Rob,

We the undersigned represent 21 performing arts organizations in Bloomington who have come together to form the Bloomington Performing Arts Coalition (B-PAC). The primary concern of our organization is the recent increase in the rental rates and fees of the Waldron Arts Center, a building donated to the BAAC by the City of Bloomington for use as a "community arts center."

October 31, 2009

Small Box, a new opera set in a death row visiting room, will have its world premiere in Bloomington next month. The opera will be performed for one night only on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

With music by Herman Whitfield III and a libretto by Bruce L. Pearson, the one-act, hour-long opera takes a serious look at the death penalty without arguing either for or against.

"The opera," Pearson said in a phone interview, "offers a fairly typical cross-section of those who find their way to death row." With Small Box he hopes to "make people think by presenting a realistic view of prison life." The raw material, Pearson said, "is from getting to know the guys on the row."

September 19, 2009

Music and culture critic Jessica Hopper -- consultant for the revered public radio show, This American Life and whose work is regularly featured in publications such as SPIN and LA Weekly -- indulged a diverse Boxcar Books audience on Aug. 28 with readings from her new book The Girls' Guide to Rocking.

A meaty manual on creating, recording and performing music, The Girls' Guide to Rocking is garnering across-the-board praise for its painstaking nuts-and-bolts approach to music and for its expediency to anyone -- not just the adolescent girls it targets -- interested in making it.

Though written in direct, accessible language, the book is impressive in its breadth and scope, and Hopper, a musician herself since age 15, explained that in writing it she drew from her own experiences. "I wrote this book on how to start a band and play and pursue your own interest in music, and a lot of it is culled from my own experiences from being a teenager in a band and growing up as a girl in a band."

September 5, 2009

The most insightful observation I've ever heard about the artist's life came from Alice Weaver, the legendary creator/proprietor of the Ferguson House in Nashville and one of the great characters I've known. The catalyst for her proclamation was my wife Judy's reaction to tourists viewing her artwork.

Among many other talents, Judy was an abstract painter. And in the fall of 1977, we opened a shop called Creations in Alice's Antique Alley, where we sold Judy's paintings, weavings and assorted creations, my photographs, our hand-made Colombian imports and a variety of other arts and crafts. Our next-door neighbor was The Paint Box, where saw blades painted with rural scenes sold all day long, day after day after day. The common refrain heard outside our adjoining doors: "Oh hon, look'it the saws!" Inside our shop: "Anybody could do that."

Nashville tourists were a little more accepting of photography as art in the late 1970s, but only marginally so. And despite our grasp of the culture we were involved with, reality was difficult to accept, even if we did get our share of positive reinforcement. Alice swept our bruised egos aside with a wave of her hand. "It doesn't matter whether people love or hate your work," she advised. "It's when they respond to it like it was skimmed milk that you're in trouble."

August 22, 2009

Moving to the country at age 23 drew me away from my roots and, simultaneously, deeper into them. My immediate family couldn't fathom why anyone would choose to live in an old "shack" on a narrow, twisty "highway" 15 minutes from town. But my first visual memory of rugged, verdant, Indiana topography is gazing upward from the back porch of one of my mother's relatives in the hills and hollers near Clinton. Her cousin was postmaster at Shepardsville for decades.

Besides, my grandma had lived in Brown County before moving to the country 10 miles east of Indianapolis, where she raised my mother and, along with my aunt and uncle, still lived in the fall of 1974. My fondest childhood memories are from the summers I spent there with my cousins picking jaw-stabbing sour apples off the trees (much to Grandma Scott's chagrin -- "Eat 'em off the ground!") and climbing trees and playing army along the trails in the one-acre patch of woods across the street.

My urban upbringing notwithstanding, I felt at home in that rickety little five-room house with a forest edge and trailhead just 30 feet from my kitchen door. When the trees were bare, motorists on State Road 446 caught their first view of Lake Monroe over my tin roof, the same one I saw out my kitchen window. They still do, though the house was replaced by a manufactured home post-Blizzard of '78, after we moved out.

August 8, 2009

Gay teens -- gay males, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people -- are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. For all youths, those aged 16-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death.

Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens. Young gay people in grades 7-12 are twice as likely as straight young people to plan suicide and four times more likely to make a suicide attempt that requires medical care.

Growing up gay is very, very difficult for most people. As Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America reports, gay teenagers are at high risk of developing mental illness because of the "hatred and prejudice that surround them, not because of their inherently gay or lesbian identity orientation." That is the crisis referred to in the book's title.

August 8, 2009

I have a trove of memories from the times I spent with Hilario Martinez in Colombia, the most vivid among them his reaction when I told him of news reports in 1975 that said some Americans were eating dog food. We were in a Chinese restaurant in Bogota, and the image so contradicted Hilario's preconceived notion of America as the land of plenty that he put his hands over his ears and shook his head "No!" while hunched over his plate slurping a spaghetti noodle.

Hilario lived in the Barrio Simon Bolivar in the steaming coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia, where I met him a year before and made him a partner in my nascent importing business. He had a wife, Teresa, and six kids, ranging in age from 18 to 7. He drove a 28-year-old bus and earned about 200 pesos a day -- $6 American -- and spent as much time under the bus making repairs as he did in the seat driving, maybe more. Six bucks was nothing, even by mid-1970s economic standards. It was enough to buy two wall hangings, wholesale.

The Martinez home had concrete floors, lawn chairs for furniture and three beds -- the oldest son Marcos had his own, the three girls shared, and mom and dad slept with the two little boys on the other. All of the roads in the barrio were dirt, with ruts in places that resembled four-wheel trails in the Jackson County woods. The windows were shuttered, with no glass or screen. The mosquitoes were god-awful.

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