Header image, FROM LEFT: Marilyn Keller, Bevin Victoria, Santi Elijah Holley, Arietta Ward
It's been a rough ... well, you know. During lockdown, after lockdown, and as we navigate our present limbo, art has provided us comfort and relief in some supremely uncomfortable times. That "us" includes plenty of people who are artists themselves, and we started thinking—which local artists have our favorite local artists been turning to in the last year and a half?
From the mouths of some of Portland's best and brightest themselves, here's a by-no-means complete list.
ESPERANZA SPALDING, musician
“Arietta Ward has a new record out from last year that somehow she completed in the pandemic. It’s so amazing. She’s doing this cultural work that is so profound, but it’s subtle, and not necessarily legible in a way that an arts funding institute would understand. When [Ward] does these performances, she’s a magnet who attracts a community of listeners who are ready to move and be up in the forcefield that she creates. I’ve seen her do this work with Dookie Green and the Dookie Jam series that used to happen at Dante’s, and it was similar. It’s so grassroots, and it’s so experiential, and if you don’t get it, it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to explain. But she curates restorative space every time she performs, and I come for that. I’ve been in town, and been like, ‘Etta, what are you doing? Where are you performing?’ and I’ll go to the Goodfoot and receive that restorative wash of her gift.”
JON RAYMOND, author/screenwriter
“I came upon the book Murder Ballads, by Santi Elijah Holley, by way of a good friend of mine, Santi Elijah Holley. [Part of the 33 1/3 series matching writers with influential LPs, it] offers his extended, learned take on the Nick Cave and Bad Seeds album of 1996, and by extension, the darker currents of American folkways in general. The musical history Holley excavates is fascinating and macabre, and passes through its digressions with constant, superbly organized clarity. Murder, dismemberment, Kylie Minogue, it’s all in there, beautifully synthesized, coolly but passionately described. The book had the misfortune to appear on the shelves in November 2020 and thus never received the public reception it deserved, but midquarantine it had the weird effect—for me, anyway—of contextualizing the current darkness in a way that kind of eased the pain. Death and madness is our brand, and some people, like Robert Johnson, Nick Cave, and Santi Holley, manage to make it into art.”
SARAH JANE HARDY, artistic director of Northwest Children's Theater
“What inspired me was seeing proof that art was still being made—that humans were still artists. I really do believe our creative instincts are a birthright, and the more we honor and invest in those instincts, the better off we all are. Turning local, I watched a lot of musicians stream on a variety of platforms: Marilyn Keller, Ezra Weiss, Jimmie Herrod, the Bylines. I also went hypernostalgic, which was really weird for me to realize: I’m not typically sentimental at all. But during the pandemic I was all about Bowie and early punk, and I followed a couple awesome photographers who photograph Liverpool—a place I haven’t thought about since I left over 25 years ago.”
EMILY RUNNING, choreographer/dancer/founder of Dance Wire
“Bevin Victoria is a quintessential artist. She’s a dancer, actor, and vocalist with a deep knowledge of each of her crafts, and I am constantly in awe of her multiple talents. She was a Dance Wire ambassador in 2019, and she’s been on my speed dial ever since. Every time I work with her or catch a glimpse of what she’s been up to, I’m inspired.”