Random Acts of Art

News_Nancy_tripping over art_WITS students_Menil exhibit space

Reprinted from Culturemap.

What did you do this summer? I cleaned about 100 junk drawers in the process of selling my family home in Buffalo, NY., and found a gorgeous tabletop biography of Anna Pavlova. Just recently, I learned that my own ballet teacher, Kathleen Crofton, known as “Pavlova’s baby,” danced in her company during the 1920s. No way was I going to leave this treasure behind. My ballet roots run deep according to the contents of my junk drawers.

It’s no wonder that I’m called an arts evangelist; every other object I came across in my house seemed to have something to do with dance, music, theater, visual arts or literature. My life path left its mark in the remnants of my childhood home. From a reel-to-reel recording of Joan Sutherland singing Norma to a dusty collection of prints from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I literally grew up tripping over art.

All of this got me wondering, how do we attach to art?From a reel-to-reel recording of Joan Sutherland singing Norma to a dusty collection of prints from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I literally grew up tripping over art. All of this got me wondering, how do we attach to art?

Finnish choreographer Jorma Elocame to dance via ice hockey. Watching Houston Ballet perform his wild ride of a ballet ONE/end/ONE, I wondered what other movement practice inhabited his body. With Elo’s daredevil lifts, swooping contours and breathtakingly reckless partnering, hockey seems about right. I’m heading to see Elo’s piece again when Houston Ballet makes their big return to New York City at The Joyce on Oct. 11-14.

This weekend you can watch Houston Ballet principal Simon Ball dancing Jerome Robbins’ romantic classic, In the Night. Both Ball and Robbins came to dance by hanging around their sisters’ ballet classes. Aren’t you glad their mothers didn’t have anything else for them to do back then?

Robert Moody, a guest conductor for River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO), has a great story on becoming a musician. Moody is music director of the Winston-Salem Symphony in North Carolina. He did not grow up in a musical family at all, it was a prank that led him to the cello, when his 4rd grade girlfriend signed him up for a demonstration on string instruments as a joke.

“As a 9-year old, I had no idea how to explain any of that to a teacher, so instead, I just got up and went to the class. I started on the cello, and that is why I’m a musician today,” writes Moody in the ROCO program notes.

I attended the superb concert last season, and extend my personal thank you to his childhood girlfriend.

When Houston native Everette Harp performed at the Hobby Center as part of a Musiqa benefit, he mentioned growing up in a house with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Harp spoke honestly about what the impact of Davis’ seminal jazz album had on him.

Later in the evening, Ricky Polidore gave his now-famous speech on exposing kids to art. It’s a plea to keep arts in children’s lives as moving as Jane Weiner’s hilarious rant/dance called Salt, where she argues that art is as essential as salt for our subsistence. I have no trouble believing that some of Weiner and Polidore’s students will end up populating Houston’s future audience seats and stages.

Let’s hear it for the schools

Certainly schools play a huge role in the attachment process. Bravo to Todd Frazier and his cohorts over at Houston Arts Partners for making it easier for educators and arts organizations to connect. I’m looking forward to their conference next Tuesday at the MFAH, especially Musiqa chief Anthony Brandt’s talk, “Why Young Minds Need Art.”We can’t leave it all for the schools, arts organizations or even parents. Life unfolds more happenstance than that.

“I’m using brain science to put forth an argument that, I hope will be both clear and convincing,” says Brandt. “I’ve never worked harder to prepare a talk.”

Houston artists are making a difference in the city’s classrooms. It works best when, like Writers in the Schools (WITS), it’s not a passive experience. For example, this summer, young writers visited Houston Ballet to investigate everything from tutus to toe shoes. Writing is a form of attachment. WITS partners with numerous arts organizations, including The Menil, Art League Houston, Blaffer Art Museum, among others.

Yet, it’s too much of a burden to think that the school system is our sole exposure to the arts. We can’t leave it all for the schools, arts organizations or even parents. Life unfolds more happenstance than that.

An arts version of Pay It Forward

Perhaps we should go the way of BookCrossing, a practice of leaving a book in public places. How could we use that concept to bring art more into the world? We could leave a Houston Met class schedule, a pack of colored pencils, the Glassell School course catalog, a magazine folded to a enticing story, Matthew Dirst’s Grammy nominated CD, or a pair of Miller Outdoor Theatre tickets.

The Trey McIntyre Project has a blast dancing in the streets, cafes and shops of whatever city they happened to be visiting. Or imagine the delight of pedestrians watching a shoot from Jordan Matter’s Dancers Among us. He literally sneaks dance into the urban landscape. I’m just dying to trip over some of those mini figures in The Little People Project: abandoning little people on the street since 2006. What wonder!

If random acts of kindness work, why not random acts of art? Although can we hold on the flash mobs? Once they are on commercials, they are done for me.

As I was scurrying about my Buffalo house for one last look, I found a grand illuminated volume of William Blake’s poems and prints. Just before I stuffed it in my suitcase, I thought to myself, no, don’t take it, leave it for the next set of dwellers.

Years from now, I picture a young poet talking about finding this book his grandmother’s house. It could happen.

Now go leave some art out there for people to trip over.

Image: WITS students from St. Michael Catholic School take an exclusive tour of the Menil exhibit space and write about what they see. Photo by David A. Brown

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