Category Archives: Arts

The It List: Five Things to do in Berkeley this weekend

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GOODBYE TO THE OLD BERKELEY ART MUSEUM For 44 years, the Berkeley Art Museum at 2626 Bancroft Ave. has been a galvanizing force for culture in Berkeley and beyond. Many of the world’s greatest artists have performed or displayed their work there. But the Brutalist building designed by Mario Ciampi, and opened in 1970, is not seismically safe. It will close at the end of 2014 as BAM prepares for its move in early 2016 into a new 82,000-square foot home on Center Street designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. To celebrate the transition, BAM/PFA is throwing itself a goodbye party on Sunday called Let’s Go! A Farewell Revel. Starting at 11 a.m. and lasting until 5 p.m., the free celebration includes a create-your-own-museum art workshop, a dance battle by TURFinc, “vibrant vocals” from the women’s group, Kitka, a performance by pianist/composer Sarah Cahill of Gyorgy Ligeti’s 1962 composition “Poème symphonique” for 100 metronomes, and more. (Be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign in progress to record the acoustics of the building.) The day will end with a procession from the Bancroft building through the campus to the new structure at 2155 Center St. Luckily, the forecast calls for a mix of sun and clouds. During the year it is closed, BAM/PFA will put on mobile exhibits around town. The PFA will continue to show films at its current site on Bancroft, across the street from the art museum. … Continue reading »

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Chiura Obata: A story of resilience, a passion for Yosemite

A026066_DeathsGrave – Chiura Obata (1885–1975), Death's Grave Pass and Tenaya Peak, High Sierra, USA, 1930, Color woodcut, Private collection.
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When Kimi Hill was in her teens, just turning the corner on self-absorption and curious about her family’s history, her aging grandfather, artist/educator Chiura Obata, resorted to communicating exclusively in his native Japanese, a language she didn’t speak.

Cut off from Chiura Obata, the then 20-year-old Berkeley resident had little idea of the important role he played in art history, and particularly in the history of Japanese Americans in the Bay Area. Fortunately, Hill became the primary caretaker of her grandmother, Haruko Obata, for the nine years after Obata died in 1975.

Gradually, Hill got to know her grandfather through her grandmother’s stories and through his paintings, drawings, photographs, letters and documents. Seeking ever more intimate insights, she visited abstract connections: the memories of people who were strangers to her but had known her grandfather; reference materials in libraries and archives relating to his years as a respected, influential professor of art at UC Berkeley. She found the most profound answers and clues to her grandfather’s legacy in the beauty of natural settings Obata had cherished, like Yosemite National Park.

An exhibit, Yosemite: A Storied Landscape, running now through Jan. 25, 2015, at the California Historical Society in San Francisco, offers Bay Area residents the same opportunity. … Continue reading »

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How Quirky is Berkeley? From Lucky’s to Amoeba at 2455 Telegraph Avenue

1990 postcard from the collection of Tom Dalzell
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The quirky-looking building on the southeast corner of Telegraph and Haste, now Amoeba Music, has a colorful history that illustrates several chapters in Berkeley’s proud, independent history.

The building at 2455 Telegraph started life as Lucky’s Store No. 18.

It served the south campus neighborhood for several decades. In February 1964, the campus chapter of CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) took action against Lucky Store 18 in an effort to pressure Lucky into hiring African-Americans. The actions included picketing and the “shop-in,” in which nicely dressed CORE members filled shopping carts with groceries but then refused to pay for the groceries until Lucky ended its discriminatory practices.

After ten days of picketing and shop-ins, Lucky signed an agreement covering its Bay Area stores, promising to end racial discrimination in its hiring practices. Shortly after that, it closed Store No. 18 on Telegraph. They blamed a high degree of shoplifting on the decision to close, but it is difficult to believe that there wasn’t some degree of retaliation for the shop-ins.

The next business to open at 2455 Telegraph was the Espresso Forum, one of the first two espresso shops on Telegraph. … Continue reading »

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Kids get new perspective on plastic, make eco-art

Sean Keller, fourth-grade teacher at Jefferson School, fixing one of the eco-art panels.
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By Ann Krueger Spivack

While students in Sean Keller’s fourth-grade class at Jefferson School tie broken toys onto a wire mesh panel, Colleen Mahoney is talking about LEGOs. Mahoney nods to a red LEGO brick that one student picks up from a table.

“In 2012, 45.7 billion LEGO bricks were produced. That’s more than 5 million bricks every hour. Right now you could give every person on the planet eighty LEGOs and you’d still have LEGO bricks left over.”

Students stop working to listen to Mahoney, and it’s clear they’re considering how much plastic humans create on an hourly basis, and what this means for the planet. This lesson is a first step in teaching children about plastic, where it comes from and where it goes. Where plastic goes is of particular concern to Mahoney, the founder of A Kid By Nature, the nonprofit group sponsoring this lesson about plastic’s impact on the environment. Mahoney explains what motivates her to bring environmental projects such as this one into classrooms, without any cost to the schools. … Continue reading »

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Best Books of 2014: Chosen by local authors, Berkeleyside

Photo via Creative Commons
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Every year Berkeleyside puts together a list of the best books the editors have read. We generally ask local authors and literary-minded folk to contribute their picks. This year we decided to mimic the format used by The Guardian newspaper in Britain, and that meant asking everyone to limit their selections to two books apiece – a difficult task, we found. Here, then, is our selection of the Best Books of 2014.

Elizabeth Rosner: “Two books leap ahead of the herd”

Berkeley author Elizabeth Rosner published two books in 2014, including Electric City (named a Best Book of 2014 by NPR) and Gravity, a book of poems.

Two books leap ahead of the herd when I think about outstanding reading experiences this year.

The first is Karen Joy Fowler’s acclaimed novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, with its astonishingly original approach to the subject of familial love. Months after finishing the book, I can still recall the sensation of holding my breath while I turned the pages, hopeful and terrified and amused and devastated. This story broke my heart and blew my mind. In a very different but equally momentous way, I found myself profoundly affected by cover designer Peter Mendelsund’s book What We See When We Read. He offers an inspired “phenomenological” study of something that we readers both do and do not quite know about what is happening inside our brains, using examples from many of my favorite writers (Woolf, Tolstoy, Joyce, Kafka, and plenty of others). It’s a thrillingly visual and imaginative window into the mysterious and rapturous activity we call reading. … Continue reading »

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‘Our Town’ by the Shotgun Players in Berkeley is a winner

Sam Jackson in 'Our Town' by the Shotgun Players. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs
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In Our Town, three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author Thornton Wilder created a profound and intimate exploration into American life and death. And, although it was written over 76 years ago, the Shotgun Players’ version of the drama remains fresh and vibrant — still an important piece of American theater. Congratulations to the Shotgun Players and Director Susannah Martin for this winning production.

The Stage Manager (excellent Madeline H. D. Brown) serves as narrator and commentator. She explains that the first act opens in 1901 and follows the lives of the residents of tiny Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, where neighbors know each other, doors are never locked and horses are still the mode of transportation. We meet the Webb and the Gibbs families, particularly Emily Webb and George Gibbs. Both El Beh, as Emily, and Josh Schell, as George, are first-rate. … Continue reading »

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Sounds of Oaxaca: Pasatono Orquesta play Berkeley

Pasatono Orquesta
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The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca is a realm where indigenous culture continues to thrive in the 21st century. Rather than closing themselves off to outside currents, the Mixtecs, Zapotecs and other peoples of the region are constantly integrating new information, evolution that’s evident in Pasatono Orquesta, a fascinating nine-piece ensemble that makes its Bay Area debut at Freight & Salvage on Wednesday on a double bill with Cascada de Flores.

Championed by artists like vocalist Lila Downs, the intermittently Oaxaca-raised daughter of Mixtec cabaret singer Anita Sanchez, the band has compiled a vivid repertoire of tunes played by the Mixeteca orchestras that traveled the region in the middle decades of the 20th century. Sounds infiltrated from the north and south, and often hung around in Oaxaca long after they went out of fashion elsewhere, like the jaunty Charleston which figures in some Pasatono pieces. But Pasatono’s latest album, Maroma, is something of a departure. Drawing on the music that accompanies Oaxacan circuses, it’s an intoxicating mix of influences such as jazz, polka, chilena and cumbia. … Continue reading »

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‘The Babadook': Australian thriller aims to chill

The Babadook Movie (1)
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Happy Halloween!

Oh, I’m sorry – is my calendar off? Last week’s dabbling in the vampire genre must have got me into the seasonal mood a little late this year, because Australian thriller The Babadook is coming to Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, Dec. 12, primed to give you late October chills as the dead of winter approaches.

Director William Friedkin claimed recently that he’s “never seen a more terrifying movie” than The Babadook, and distributor IFC Films is giving that claim pride of place in its promotional material. Is it typical hyperbolic ballyhoo, or is Friedkin – whose legendary pea-soup epic The Exorcist never remotely scared me, at least not since its original TV ad campaign – on target?

Amelia (Essie Davis, who deserves an Oscar nomination – really!) is a widow taking care of her six-going-on-seven year old son Samuel (an equally fine Noah Wiseman, who can scream with the best of them) while working at a South Australia nursing home. She’s never recovered from her husband’s death, which occurred on the day Samuel was born: his birthday remains a dark spot on the family calendar, a time of mourning rather than celebration. … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Student volunteers serve low-income and homeless residents at the 2013 Holiday Meal. Photo courtesy of BUSD
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HOLIDAY MEAL Each year, dozens — and sometimes hundreds — of student volunteers come to school on a Saturday to serve the community’s homeless and low-income families a hot meal. With Bay Area housing in crisis, plenty of people could use the extra plate of food and holiday cheer this year. The annual Berkeley High Holiday Meal is Saturday, Dec. 13, and there’s still time to help. The event depends on donations — of food, funds, clothes, books, and toys. In past years they’ve collected thousands of pounds of canned goods. Fresh food donations will also be happily accepted on Friday, 4 p.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the main entrance to BHS on Milvia and Allston. Tax-deductible monetary donations are accepted in cash or as checks written to “BHS Student Activities” with “Holiday Meal” in the memo line. Email John Villavicencio johnvillavicencio@berkeley.net or (510) 644-8990 with questions. … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Head downtown Friday night to participate in the city's holiday tree lighting ritual. Photo: Youtube
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HOLIDAY TREE LIGHTING Thanksgiving is behind us, and the winter holidays are just around the corner. Downtown Berkeley is kicking off the season with its third annual Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration. It’s exactly what it sounds like — plus baked goods, holiday crafts for kids, and live music from the Berkeley Chamber Singers. Gather at the downtown BART Plaza on Friday, Dec. 5 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m to participate. Check in on Yelp for a free gift. Berkeleyside is a sponsor of the event. … Continue reading »

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‘Red Hot Patriot': The kick-ass wit of Molly Ivins at the Rep

At Berkeley Rep, two-time Tony and Academy Award nominee Kathleen Turner stars in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, a one-woman show about beloved journalist and satirist Molly Ivins.

Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
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Molly Ivins (1944-2007) was a beloved Texas newspaper columnist, political commentator, author and humorist. And her perspicacious wit comes through loud and clear, despite Kathleen Turner’s somewhat mixed performance in this one-woman show at the Berkeley Rep.

Ivins was famous for her bright and brash personality, her acerbic sharpness, her liberal leanings, and her continued amazement and amusement with the folly and foolhardiness of Republican politicians in general, and Texas Republican politicians in particular. She was the first to call our 43rd president, George W. Bush, “shrub.”

Early in her career, Ivins was hired by the New York Times (1976-1982), when it sought a writer who was not as staid and dull as its normal hires. Her two claims to fame there were her 1977 obituary of Elvis Presley, and her article about a “community chicken-killing festival” in New Mexico, which she referred to as a “gang-pluck.” … Continue reading »

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The Late L@TE: Terry Riley plays BAM/PFA as curtain falls

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Five years ago BAM/PFA launched L@TE, a music series curated by Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill that transformed the gallery space into a reverberant concert hall. Given Cahill’s commitment to performing and presenting new music in various forms and permutations it’s not surprising that she booked minimalist pioneer Terry Riley as the opening act. In a neat feat of closure, the pianist will be on hand again Friday for the final L@TE event as BAM/PFA makes its slow transition into its new building at Oxford and Center (which is slated to open in early 2016).

Still a creative force at 79, Riley will be joined by his son, guitarist and composer Gyan Riley, an important figure in his own right who released a beautiful improv-laced album last year, Eviyan Live (Victo), featuring the acoustic collective trio Eviyan with violinist/vocalist Iva Bittová and clarinetist (and former Berkeleyan) Evan Ziporyn. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’

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Is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Dec. 5) truly ‘the first Iranian vampire western’, as its promotional material claims? Sadly, no – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing, assuming you can forgive the untruthful tagline.

First, however, let’s take a brief moment to dissect that impressive piece of ballyhoo. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is actually an American film, not an Iranian one, and it is not a western, though it was filmed in Bakersfield. Thankfully, there is a vampire… but this is no ordinary bloodsucking saga, and anyone anticipating a routine horror movie is in for further disappointment. … Continue reading »

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