Local Art News
The intersection of Central and Lowry Avenues in northeast Minneapolis is bustling. On the northwest corner is a trifecta of local businesses: A bike shop, a cooperative brewery and a bakery, in buildings with eye-catching exteriors of rough-hewn wood and silvery porcelain bricks. The neighborhood grocery co-op is one block up the street.
This commercial stretch didn’t always look like this. In 2011, where these three businesses sit, there were two vacant buildings. The empty space was not uncommon along Central Avenue, a long corridor that was created to be the Main Street of the neighborhood, but that had suffered from decades of disinvestment. While a few businesses dotted the avenue, many other storefronts were neglected.
“A lot of people looked at it as too big to tackle,” explains Leslie Watson, who lives nearby.
In 2011, a group of dedicated neighbors came together to change that. In November of that year, five of them, including Watson, became the founding board of the Northeast Investment Cooperative, a first-of-its-kind in the U.S. cooperative engaged in buying and developing real estate. NEIC created a structure where any Minnesota resident could join the co-op for $1,000, and invest more through the purchase of different classes of nonvoting stock. The group began spreading the word to prospective members, and started looking for a building to buy.
One year later, NEIC had enough members to buy the two buildings on Central Avenue for cash. The co-op quickly sold one of the buildings to project partner Recovery Bike Shop, and after a gut renovation, which it funded with a 2 percent loan from the city and a loan from local Northeast Bank, it leased the other building to two young businesses that had struggled to find workable space elsewhere, Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Aki’s BreadHaus.
Today, NEIC’s impact spreads beyond the intersection of Central and Lowry. It’s catalyzed the creation of new jobs, engaged its more than 200 members in reimagining their neighborhood, and given residents a way to put their capital to work in their local economy.
“Collectively, that wealth will stay in our community,” says Watson. “If you want to take the long view, that’s the goal.”
While NEIC is unique in the U.S., similar investment cooperatives are sprouting up in Canada, where they’re aided by programs designed to help them grow, as well as favorable policies. Though the model is new, and small, it holds outsize potential for the many communities struggling with northeast Minneapolis’s familiar set of problems, from business districts languishing half-vacant, to essential commercial spaces being controlled by faraway landlords or big retail chains with no regard for neighborhood needs.
In the vacuum left by both traditional economic development and Wall Street’s approach to finance, community real estate investment cooperatives offer a glimpse of a better way to channel capital, with benefits that include new jobs in the neighborhood, strong incentives for people to shop locally, local sources for key goods, closer ties with neighbors, and a return on investment.
And it represents a way for these communities to do it themselves.
Several years before northeast Minneapolis got together to form NEIC, a similar initiative was sprouting up more than 1,200 miles away, in the town of Sangudo.
In 2005, Sangudo found out that the school district was planning to close the local high school. The small hamlet in rural Alberta, Canada, had long been draining people and businesses—“for 30 or 40 years, it was dying a slow death,” says Dan Ohler — but the specter of losing a school launched the community into crisis.
Ohler, who’s lived in Sangudo for about 20 years, got together with a handful of neighbors to begin looking at what they could do. Armed with a $50,000 grant from the Alberta Community and Cooperative Association, they began exploring different cooperative models, and soon realized that their vision was bigger than a single business.
“Sangudo was short of just about every product and service that you can imagine,” recalls Jeff Senger, a resident of Sangudo, in a video. “So we started asking ourselves the question, is there a way to create a cooperative that would be in the business of creating more cooperatives?”
To answer that question, Sangudo had to draw up its own blueprints. Alberta is rich in cooperatives, and Sangudo had some nearby references, like a town that had recently gotten together to purchase its own grain elevator. But the thing that they had in mind was different.
“We saw that what we could do was be the financial arm, or financial support, in a way that the bank can’t,” explains Ohler.
In May 2010, 22 founding members incorporated the Sangudo Opportunity Development Cooperative, with a basic structure of the one-member-one-vote cooperative principle, a membership share costing up to $1,000, and the option of additional investment up to $10,000. With this model, SODC raised $220,000 in member capital in its first day. Today, the co-op has grown to 29 members.
For its first project, SODC looked to what its town already had. The owner of the meatpacker in town had been trying to sell and retire, but struggling to find a buyer. SODC stepped in to buy the building, and two SODC members with butchering knowledge took over the business. The next year, the cooperative purchased a second building for project two, and helped a new business, a coffee shop, start up there.
For its third project, SODC raised capital to help Sangudo Custom Meat Packers match two government grants for an expansion. Today, the meat shop has purchased its building from the cooperative, grown from two employees under the previous owner to 14, and become an essential piece of the rural economy, processing animals from a wide surrounding area and selling the local meat to top restaurants in Edmonton. Now, four-and-a-half years after SODC incorporated, it’s purchased three lots to begin project four.Support helps the model spread
While the SODC has been growing Sangudo, it’s also inspired a new initiative dedicated to starting similar cooperatives throughout Alberta. After giving Sangudo its $50,000 seed grant, the Alberta Community and Cooperative Association kept its eyes on the town as it formed the SODC. Two years later, struck by Sangudo’s new model, the ACCA decided to launch a program, “Unleashing Local Capital,” to help other communities do the same thing.
Using a $1.26 million grant from the Alberta government’s Rural Alberta Development Fund, and $440,000 in investment from other sources, the ACCA invested in legal and accounting guidance to draft professional templates for the model, developed a guide to train communities interested in starting investment cooperatives of their own, and then helped those communities launch pilot projects.
“We realized that this was something pretty important for saving our rural communities,” says Ohler, who became the face of the program.
As it looked into ways to grow the model, the ACCA hit upon a way to channel Albertans’ savings into their local economy: It realized that investment cooperatives were eligible to be an investment option for Albertans with a self-directed retirement plan, and that the credit union Concentra Financial and the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation already had programs to help cooperatives access these plans.
The ACCA now explicitly frames its Unleashing Local Capital program as a way to get Albertans’ investments in retirement plans out of the Toronto Stock Exchange and into their local community.
“There’s plenty of money,” says Paul Cabaj, who runs the program, citing a figure that Albertans are on track to have $5 billion invested in registered retirement plans. “But none of it comes back.”
Like in the United States, even though self-directed retirement plans are available, only a small portion of Albertans have historically used them. “Self-directed retirement plans have always been around, but the ones who have taken advantage of them, it’s been 3 to 5 percent of the population,” says Cabaj, and only the people who are already comfortable navigating the financial system. Part of Cabaj’s work now is raising awareness about the tool, for both the cooperatives and their members.
Today there are seven Opportunity Development Cooperatives in Alberta, and five more are in the process of incorporating. Crucially, 90 percent of the funds raised so far have been through investments from self-directed retirement plans, Cabaj says. The ODCs are engaged in a range of projects, from a bakery, to a mechanic, to senior housing. One group is talking about starting a medical clinic.
As the model moves through the province, it also chips away at one of the biggest barriers to having more investment cooperatives — it lets people know that this is possible.
“It’s like a barn-raising for the 21st century,” says Cabaj. “This is how communities used to perform, but now it’s like an atrophied muscle. It’s painful at first, but it will get easier.”Grassroots approach has strengths and challenges
The Northeast Investment Cooperative and the Sangudo Opportunity Development Cooperative formed their models independent of the other, but the groups share a grassroots nature that has both aided their success and created its own hurdles. For both, a key strength has been the dual role that members play as not just investors but as customers, and a challenge has been the cooperatives’ reliance on the volunteer sweat of founding members.
For both investment cooperatives to get off the ground, the most essential resource wasn’t money. It was time.
Long before NEIC had purchased and rented out its buildings, it still had startup costs — the lawyer, the real estate broker, the architect — but the cooperative hadn’t been set up to pay for those things from the initial capital investment. In order to make it viable, the early members and the founding board pitched in their own skills for everything they could, from the website, to the project management, to the stacks of paperwork.
NEIC also got creative — some of the contractors who rehabbed the buildings became members of the coop, and were paid in nonvoting stock. Watson estimates that in the startup phase, there was always someone putting in 15 or 20 hours of volunteer work every week.
“I don’t think we could have done it differently, because we needed to say to people, ‘We’re not going to waste your money,” says Watson. “But for project two, we need to construct it so that there’s enough income from property number one. We can’t fund it forever on free labor.”
Ohler echoes her. In Sangudo, it took a close-knit group of dedicated neighbors to make SODC happen, and Ohler says that the same mix has been essential in other Alberta communities that have created active ODCs of their own. “You need a small, core group willing to put in the time, energy, and trust to get this going,” he says.
The flip side of being grassroots, though, is the sheer number of people involved in the cooperative, and the symbiotic relationship that forms between being an investor and being a customer. When the cooperative invests in a business, that business also gets a built-in group of regulars.
In Sangudo, that relationship was reinforced by the terms of the leases that the cooperative arranged with the businesses renting from it. With the meatpacker, for instance, the two agreed on a low monthly rent — “low enough that they could make it even in slow times,” says Ohler — plus a percentage of gross sales. With this set up, “The more we could support them, the more they would make, the more they could pay back to SODC,” explains Ohler. In giving themselves a financial stake in the meatpacker’s success, the cooperative members also gave the meatpacker loyal customers and marketers.
In Minneapolis, the three businesses in the two buildings that were first purchased by NEIC have all become successful on their own, but they count their 200-some landlords among their loyal following.
Watson was at one of the businesses, Aki’s BreadHaus, on opening day, and recalls that out of every 10 customers, eight were members of NEIC. “You run into very familiar faces,” she says. “Everybody just takes a lot of pride in what happened, and I know they go to the buildings in part because of that.”Policy to help investment co-ops spread
While the investment cooperatives that have formed in northeast Minneapolis and in Sangudo have relied primarily on the resources of the communities starting them, both initiatives have also benefited from favorable state and provincial policies. Building on these policies, and expanding them to other states, could open the way for this model to scale up and spread.
One of these is a securities exemption for cooperatives. In the laws of both Minnesota and Alberta, there’s an exemption that allows cooperatives to raise capital directly from their members, above and beyond the purchase of membership shares, without having to go through the complex and prohibitively expensive process of registering a securities offering.
In the United States, about half of states have laws allowing these exemptions for cooperatives that are raising money from members within the state, but the laws vary widely. Minnesota’s is among the most liberal, and is partly responsible for the state’s thriving cooperative sector, including the existence of the Northeast Investment Cooperative.
In Canada, the policy support goes even further. First, the ACCA provides essential technical assistance, and was able to build up its “Unleashing Local Capital” program through a government grant. Second, the country’s laws allow much broader access to self-directed retirement funds, both for investors to open that type of account and for them to then steer their savings toward local investment opportunities. Federal laws govern the retirement savings plans known as RRSPs, which are comparable to the U.S.’s IRAs, and they allow investors to hold within the RRSP several kinds of private capital investment, including funds for small business corporations, as long as the businesses are operating only in Canada.
In some Canadian provinces, notably Nova Scotia, the support goes even further through investment tax credits. Nova Scotia has created a program called the Community Economic Development Investment Funds, or CEDIF, that couples the self-directed RRSP option with a substantial tax credit of 35 percent for investment in local businesses, which is capped at $17,500 annually on a $50,000 investment. The program allows individuals to form pools of capital that they can then use to operate or invest in local for-profit businesses. Between 2000 and 2014, the program enabled Nova Scotians to invest $64 million in local businesses.
Though such a tax credit is generous, similar investment tax credits in fact already exist in several U.S. states. The difference is that those in the U.S. are designed mainly to benefit large companies in select sectors. Maine, for instance, grants a tax credit of 40 percent for wealthy accredited investors who put money into biotech and other advanced manufacturing businesses. It’s time that states reconfigure these credits to benefit middle- and low-income people and steer capital to growing locally owned businesses, particularly in economically marginalized communities.
To help the investment cooperative model spread, we need to do three pieces of the heavy lifting. First, more states should look at adopting securities exemptions for member investment in cooperatives, like Minnesota’s.
Second, coop organizations can look to the role played by the ACCA in Alberta, and provide training and support for this particular kind of cooperative, such as a library of legal and tax templates that investment coops can use to help them avoid having to reinvent the wheel on their own.
Third, policymakers and community leaders need to explore ways to steer more capital to these kinds of cooperatives. This could include making self-directed retirement plans more accessible, offering tax credits for local investments, and, in poor communities particularly, adding investment dollars from sources like public pension funds and community foundations.Bottom lines
While Minneapolis and Sangudo think about how their model can grow, they’re seeing the cooperatives build wealth in their communities through both direct and indirect returns on investment.
From the beginning, NEIC and SODC have both carefully considered the balance between achieving their community aims, and offering investors a return on their capital. This question is motivated as much by their individual projects as it is by questions about how to scale up, and how to turn their model into one of the building blocks of a new economy.
“You have to offer a return to people,” says Watson. “If we’re going to say, ‘We’re building an alternative economy, and here’s a different way to invest your money—but by the way, you’d be better off leaving it in a savings account at 0.2 percent interest,’ then you’re not going to get enough capital.”
As it focuses on expanding, NEIC has not yet paid a dividend, but it has structures in place to do so, as well as structures in place so that owners can capture a percentage of the properties’ appreciating value. For NEIC owners who have invested beyond their voting share, the coop aims to offer more, and to pay out those dividends first. “That’s a long-term strategy to make it a place not just for 600 people to come in at $1,000 each, but for people to do more,” says Watson. “We have to be able to prove that hypothesis before we can expect people to do it at scale.”
At the same time, NEIC is able to operate in a way that’s different from a corporation driven solely by profit, and that flexibility is a critical piece of what it brings to the neighborhood. When the cooperative’s board first looked at the buildings that they ended up buying, they ran some quick calculations to see what they’d be able to offer as a return. “The only thing that seemed to make it work was 2 percent, and our real estate broker just started laughing,” Watson remembers. “But we said, ‘Yeah, we’re OK with that.’”
In Sangudo, the SODC’s first two years brought with it strong returns; at the end of year one, Sangudo Custom Meat Packers generated a 6.3 percent return for the cooperative. Over the past two years, however, the co-op has restructured in order to become an option for self-directed retirement plans, and professional fees to lawyers and accountants have resulted in lower returns.
“That hurts, but we need to look at this in a much bigger way,” says Ohler. “It’s not an investment for the next year, or two years. This is a legacy, an investment for the next 20 years.”
That legacy is one aspect of the investment cooperatives’ indirect returns. In Sangudo, the meat shop has created a dozen new jobs, and the restaurant has hired at least five. The restaurant has become a hub of the community, where 40 people gather at breakfast time. The meatpacker serves farmers who come from miles around to process their livestock. While they’re in town, they pick up some stamps, or refill on gas.
In Minneapolis, many NEIC members are themselves business owners, and see NEIC as a force catalyzing a stronger commercial district that will also drive more business to them. The homeowners who are members know that the healthier the commercial corridor is, the more their homes are worth.
“I think when you work in social justice and economic justice, it’s not your first thought that you want to benefit the small business community, but actually the small business community is so important,” says Watson. “Any structure we can put in place that helps them be stronger and more resilient is good for all of us.”
Both cooperatives are looking ahead to what’s next in their communities. In Sangudo, SODC has purchased three plots of land for its next project, and is considering taking on new capacity to build affordable housing units on the property. In northeast Minneapolis, after a period to catch its breath, NEIC has hired a property manager, and is actively raising membership and capital so that it can buy another building and begin its next project.
Both also believe that the model they’ve created can populate out.
“Someday, 10 years from now, we want to have a convention of community investment cooperatives,” says Watson. “Right now, we’d be the only ones there.”
The post How neighbors are replacing blight with thriving local businesses appeared first on Crosscut.
* Denotes events that are $15 or less
The music is Handel. The story is kind of a classic: girl falls in love with a guy who is totally out of her league (She’s human; he’s the god Jupiter). The performances are wonderful (mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe in particular). But the jaw-dropper of a marvel are the set design and the costumes. Both are equally spectacular. Stark architectural backdrops. Giant video projections of clouds and faces and Earth. Costumes that hug a body and shoot out lasers from the fingertips. Said costumes were designed by Vita Tzykun who has outfitted Lady Gaga.
In this opera, a first-ever production for Seattle Opera, Tzykun outfits Iris (Amanda Forsythe) in a red leathery jumpsuit and she’s a cross between something in “The Matrix” and Judy Jetson. Loved it.
If you go: Semele, McCaw Hall, Through March 7 (Tickets start at $25) – F.D.
Three years after their debut album arrived on Earth, psychedelic futuristic electro-soul duo THEESatisfaction is back with their sophomore effort, EarthEE. The release show is at Neumos this week, and any human interested in the future of R&B, hip-hop and neosoul in Seattle is encouraged to attend.
THEESatisfaction is Stas and Cat, two Seattleites who came forth from the shadows of local rap group Shabazz Palaces’ acclaimed first record, Black Up. First came the tours with Shabazz, where they sang backup. Then Awe NaturalE, a critically lauded but too-often-ignored first effort. Its sound is avant-garde, and not always accessible. (It’s too busy expanding listeners’ minds and pushing musical boundaries.) But for many fans of the local hip-hop scene, this event has been a long time coming.
If you go: THEESatisfaction, Neumos, Feb. 26 ($12). 21+ — J.S.H.
Seven Ways to Get There
ACTLab, the new works incubator of ACT Theatre, unveils this week a new work about 7 men in group therapy. They, it would seem, have issues that need resolving. Helping the men find some resolution is a female therapist.
It’s billed as a comedy, based on a true story, written by the CEO of Aegis Living, the assisted-living company that has facilities throughout the Western U.S. Directed by John Langs.
If you go: Seven Ways to Get There, ACT’s Allen Theatre, Through March 15 (Tickets start at $60) – F.D.
Shredder Orpheus *
Ok, seriously, what’s not to love about a film with this title? And here’s how it’s billed: a skate rock opera, Seattle’s first and only (Aw, sigh, man). Robert McGinley, who helped found On The Boards, wrote, directed and starred (he shreds?!) in this 1989 film about a TV station that’s brainwashing the city of Seattle. McGinley will be in attendance at the screening.
Get there 30 minutes early for a performance by (OMG, another great name) the Subpoenaed Lemur Vocoder Orchestra featuring Korby Sears and others who can (apparently, if you believe their Facebook page) make music with a can of compressed air.
If you go: Shredder Orpheus, NWFF, 8 p.m. Feb. 27 ($11) – F.D.
Blood Squad: Slaycation *
I can think of few other ways I’d rather spend a weekend night, and no other theater show that I’d head out to at 10:30 p.m. Blood Squad approaches each new show with new energy, and in the two years I’ve been going, they’ve never made comedy horror improv feel tired.
They make me chuckle, snort, knee-slap, smirk knowingly at whoever I came with, profitably scrounge up a reference to 1994, gasp for breath, AND somehow always chill me. This show, inspired by European-travel-horror (think Hostel and the like), looks like great fodder for a fully improvised two-hour performance and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do.
If you go: Blood Squad: Slaycation, West of Lenin, Feb. 27 and 28 ($8 advance/ $10 at the door)- N.C.
2001: A Space Odyssey *
While it may not be new, 2001: A Space Odyssey feels like a new experience every time I watch it. I can’t always recall the order of the scenes, or sum up the plot with any finesse, but so many of the movie’s moments are burned into my memory.
The ultimate Stanley Kubrick film, this 1968 art piece transcends time, space, genre and plot. It’s a masterpiece, of course, best experienced on the big screen, where the soundtrack and the stunning cinematography can consume you, electrify you and haunt you as no other movie can. Head to SIFF on Saturday night, or Monday or Wednesday next week.
If you go: 2001: A Space Odyssey, SIFF Cinema , Feb. 27 through March 5 ($12)- N.C.
It was recently Kurt Cobain’s 48th birthday, so there were a lot of contemporary covers of Nirvana songs floating around the Internet and through the airwaves. The most interesting I discovered came from Kansas-based electronic innovator Kawehi. Her weapons of choice are a computer, a small midi keyboard and a sample pad. She uses these implements to layer loop sounds, often chopping and sampling her own voice for both melodic and percussive effects. The result sounds like a raw, organic brand of electronica that is also firmly rooted in lyrical content.
She’s most famous for her covers, videos for which are scattered hither thither and yon throughout YouTube. Her take on Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” is also well worth checking out. Kawehi plays with local chamber pop auteur Whitney Lyman at Barboza this week.
If you go: Kawehi, Barboza, Feb. 27 ($12). 21+ — J.S.H.
Community Day Festival: Indigenous Beauty
To help inaugurate its newest special exhibition, Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection, the Seattle Art Museum is throwing an all-day celebration, complete with hands-on craft opportunities, performances by Native artists and guided tours.
This new exhibit chronicles nearly 2,000 years of Native American history, featuring art from tribes across the country, and the art they’ve made during and after colonization. (The show was a Weekend List pick earlier this month). Get there early for this all-day festival — the first 500 attendees get into the galleries free.
If you go: Community Day Festival: Indigenous Beauty, Seattle Art Museum, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 28, All Ages (Free for the first 500 attendees; $19.50) — N.C.
The first thing I learned about musician Dan Smith (stage name Caribou) was that he had a PhD. He received his doctorate in mathematics in 2005 from London’s Imperial College. This tells one a great deal about his sound, or at least his approach to crafting music.
Both Caribou’s most recent LP, Our Love, and his previous 2010 release, Swim, explore club and house music with a pinpoint alacrity that only a star student of the hard sciences could bring to music. Smith puts the structure of a catchy hook under a microscope, retooling it and tweaking it on a (seemingly) subatomic level. The music on both these albums is both perfectly poppy and crisply nuanced, making them appealing when played through Friday night’s beefy sound system or Tuesday morning’s high quality headphones.
If you go: Caribou, The Showbox, March 4 ($24). All ages. – J.S.H.
The post The Weekend List: Luscious opera, THEESatisfaction’s latest, free entry at SAM appeared first on Crosscut.
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When my father was a small boy, his father, a Norwegian engineer, took him to see Roald Amundsen and his ship, the Maud, when it was docked in Seattle for repairs and supply for a polar expedition in 1921-2. Amundsen, the first to reach the South Pole, was a hero in the age of Antarctic and Arctic exploration, and the fact that he was a fellow Norwegian made my grandfather proud, and the visit impressed my father.
I thought of this when Reinhold Messner was in town recently. I had the chance to hear him speak at Town Hall, and didn’t want to miss the 20th century’s greatest mountaineer. Not only is he deserving of Amundsen-like status — he was the first climber to summit Mount Everest without using oxygen, and later the first to climb it solo. But he also exemplified an aspect of what Amundsen achieved over Robert Falcon Scott and others in the race to the South Pole: a kind of brutal, lean efficiency in getting the job done.
Messner was speaking at an event sponsored by Mountaineers Books on the occasion of their publishing his new book, My Life at the Limit, as part of the Legends & Lore series of mountaineering classics. Born in South Tyrol, Messner spoke in English with a heavy German accent — South Tyrol was once part of Austria and the Italian region is German-speaking. He is leonine with a large mass of brown hair and a graying beard. He looks like an adventurer should look: lean, large and built for the outdoors. His presence and ego are palpable.
Messner grew up climbing in the Dolomites, but in the 1960s and ’70s brought alpine climbing to Himalayan mountaineering, where the predominant approach had been the so-called “siege” mountaineering of big, heavily equipped, expensive expeditions. We know major expeditions well here in the Northwest, which has produced so many legendary mountaineers — some of whom were in attendance. Messner was introduced by Seattle’s Jim Wickwire, first American to summit K2, and interviewed on stage by Spokane’s John Roskelley. Jim and Dianne Whittaker and Northwest climbing legend Fred Beckey were in attendance. Old-school mountaineering was exemplified by the accomplishments just over 50 years ago by Jim Whittaker, REI employee No. 1, who led the first successful American climb of Everest in the spring of 1963. Such climbs resembled assaults — large teams of climbers, porters and sherpas — and featured lots of gear and supplies, especially bottles of oxygen.
I well remember when Whittaker returned from Everest, a national hero on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and recounted his adventures to the hometown public. My family went to hear him live at the old Palomar Theater. It was thrilling, like getting a firsthand account of a trip into space, in part because the climbers needed special breathing apparatuses. The scientific and medical consensus seemed to be that humans could not survive on mountaintops over 8,000 meters without supplemental oxygen carried in heavy steel tanks. Whittaker was like Alan Shepard and John Glenn — a Space Age adventurer whose accomplishments were the result of a combination of the right stuff and technology.
Messner pushed the envelope in a different way. He proved that climbers could undertake high-altitude climbing with well-honed and innovative skills, less gear, smaller teams and budgets, and no oxygen tanks. He successfully tackled all of the world’s 8,000 meter-plus peaks — including three in one year. He became a kind of lean, mean climbing machine and utterly transformed our perception of a mountaineer — from expedition leaders orchestrating an invasion with the help of Third World bearers to someone who was more of a loner, a maverick, a physical phenom. A near baby boomer (Messner was born in 1944), he exemplified a kind of long-haired, individualistic spirit that would rock the mountaineering establishment — combined with Germanic focus. Big mountaineering was no longer an endeavor that had to be run like NASA, but was open to the skilled individual — at least the supremely skilled and gifted individual.
Messner’s new book is essentially a long interview with the climber, and on stage he was engaging, showing slides and summarizing the phases of his career before sitting down to chat with Roskelley. Messner divided his career into four phases. The first, his beginnings climbing in the Alps; next, his conquest of the world’s tallest mountains; third, a post-climbing career of other expeditions, such as crossing Antarctica, the Gobi desert and Greenland on foot — and his current career building a series of mountaineering museums and serving a stint in the European Parliament. Messner lives in a South Tyrolean castle, and for all the risk he’s faced, his most serious climbing accident occurred in the 1990s when he fell off his castle wall and shattered his right heel. The extraordinary surgical repair of his foot did not end his adventuring, but he chose flatter terrain thereafter.
Messner mentioned some of his heroes, George Mallory, for one, the Brit who sought to be the first to climb Everest with partner Andrew Irvine in the 1920s — the two disappeared, though Mallory’s corpse was finally discovered 1999. This was the type of climbing Messner embraced, man against mountain. Messner also mentioned his admiration for Ernest Shackleton, the explorer most famous for surviving disaster in the Antarctic.
Messner says that climbers do not spend time enjoying nature or the views. Climbing requires intense concentration — endurance and focus on achieving the goal. He says he has always been driven to attempt the impossible, a goal much more than Mallory’s flippant answer to why he climbed a mountain, “Because it’s there.” For Messner, it’s an exercise in doing something that hasn’t been done before, and reaffirming his own life. National Geographic has described him as a man who made a career of “murdering the impossible.”
It’s when he comes down from the mountains, he says, that he feels most alive. To see wild flowers, to walk into a village, those are, he says, moments of “rebirth.”
The costs of climbing can be high. Messner’s brother, Gunther, died on a climb with him on Nanga Parabat, and Messner himself lost toes and multiple fingertips to frostbite. There have been failures along the way — not every Messner expedition has been a success — and inevitable clashes of wills and egos. Messner had a falling out, for example, with his companion on his trans-Antarctic trip, Arved Fuchs. His partner had horrible blisters and cracked feet from hauling his sled over ice. Messner wanted to go at a faster pace. His partner, he says, wanted to quit at the South Pole, but Messner said he knew that he himself wouldn’t make it without his partner, who was a better navigator and helped carry the expedition’s supplies, and so he pressed him on. They made it, but they no longer speak to one another and have clashed over who deserved credit for the success of the ordeal. Fuchs is not the first partner Messner has fallen out with, and even his friends have said the climber is thin-skinned about criticism. But his success also lies in a single-minded, selfish determination, and in his skill at being able to promote himself.
Mountaineering, like any specialized activity that puts life at risk and involves big egos, is rife with controversy and feuds. In the Q&A, John Roskelley brought some of these up — the Antarctic crossing, whether the claimed first Chinese ascent of Everest in 1960 ever took place (Messner says no), and whether Mallory and Irvine ever made it to the summit (they were last seen within about 1,000 feet, but Messner insists they didn’t have the gear to make the final stretch). The arguments are often detailed and personal, and involve those few who know the most because they’ve been there.
Roskelley teased Messner about his opinions on domestic life, asking him who wore the pants in his family (his wife, Sabine) and whether he mows the lawn (he didn’t seem to know what a lawn mower was). He leaves the running of the domestic front to his wife, including the child rearing. As to chores, “I suppose I’m more talented as a mountaineer,” he says. Messner has lived a big life and while he can tell you in great detail about how many kilometers per day are possible pulling a sled across an icepack, he won’t stoop to make a cup of coffee at home. “I can’t be bothered,” he says in his book. Roskelley, whose own mountaineering achievements have gained him world renown, seemed to want to poke the great man’s bubble, much like the interviewer in My Life at the Limit who doesn’t shy away from questioning Messner’s sometimes arrogant attitudes.
But the audience did not come to Town Hall to hear about Messner’s domestic life. I went to get a sense of the man, a historic figure. Messner, better than most mountaineers, is great at describing climbs, willing to dig a little deeper into himself, is not shy telling you what he thinks, and shows flashes of self-deprecating humor. I went to hear him speak because he “was there” in places I never will be. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
Newsweek: COCA Will Push Your Buttons — COCA is covered by Newsweek for Pushing the Boundaries of Art!
Soil Gallery: Pitch – Opening reception, 6 – 8 pm, Thursday, March 5, 2015 Exhibit runs March 5 – 29, 2015. Thursday – Sunday, 12 – 5 pm
“Did you hear that Pete Carroll has been named ambassador to the Vatican?”
“After Carroll’s goal-line call in the Super Bowl, President Obama figured Pete is the only man in America who could bring 20 million people spontaneously to their feet shouting, ‘Jesus Christ!’ ”
PEORIA, Arizona — If you’re still stressed from the Seahawks’ Super Bowl loss — or, worse, if you lost big money because of that dubious goal-line call — there’s a way to decompress and enter a kinder, gentler realm.
Enter, please, into the world of Mariners spring training here in Peoria.
Major League Baseball, unlike National Football League football, does not center around violence, booze and betting during an intense 16-game season and playoffs. Baseball remains our national pastime, a slower-paced family sport played over a 162-game season, prior to its playoffs, and relatively free of the on- and off-field “Look at Me” antics of NFL players, who are legends in their own minds. Those who love baseball, and can take or leave NFL football, might characterize pro football as barbarism, baseball as civilization.
The Mariners’ pitchers and catchers, along with a few position players here voluntarily, took the field Saturday morning in Peoria for their first official workout, although several had been here on their own earlier. It has been a warm, dry February in the Valley of the Sun and Saturday was another of those days. The complex playing fields and public areas were in superb condition with deep green grass, which had been fertilized and then watered daily. Most fans attending were senior citizens or families with children. Players took time to sign autographs and chat with the kids.
This will be Manager Lloyd McClendon’s second season leading the Mariners. Last year’s team came within one victory of the American League playoffs and, on paper, has improved in the offseason. But a key injury or two, an unexplained slump by a pitcher or hitter, or even an umpire’s mistaken call can shatter high hopes of February and March. Who would have predicted the Kansas City Royals as last year’s American League champs? Who foresaw the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers as also-rans?
You can point to a single most-damaging play, which kept the Mariners out of last year’s playoffs. It came in the 9th inning of a Mariners game in Texas. A routine ground ball went to rookie shortstop Brad Miller, whose short flip to second baseman Robinson Cano would end the game and give staff ace Felix Hernandez a victory. But Miller tossed the ball well over Cano’s head and lost the game both for the Mariners and Hernandez. It was devastating. The team required several days to get back in stride.
There were also disappointing late-season starts by Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the most consistent starting pitchers. There were injuries and illnesses suffered by outfielder Michael Saunders and first baseman Justin Smoak, both now wearing Toronto uniforms. There were the mid-season and pennant-race acquisitions by General Manager Jack Zduriencik — designated hitter Kendrys Morales, center fielder Austin Jackson and outfielder Chris Denorfia — all of which seemed positive at the time. But all three floundered and only Jackson remains, hopeful of returning to his prior form as a Detroit Tiger.
The 2015 edition of the Mariners is deeper at all positions than last year’s. Hernandez, Iwakuma, J.A. Happ (acquired from Toronto for Saunders), James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez will contest for the five starting pitching positions. Danny Hultzen, after a year lost to injury, is back to compete as well. Relief pitching also is deep.
Probably the most important addition to this year’s Mariners is Nelson Cruz, who led the American League in home runs last year. He will fill a previous black hole at designated hitter and play a corner outfield position as needed. He also is a hard-nosed competitor.
Third baseman Kyle Seager and second baseman Cano are proven all-stars. The initial starting outfield likely will include Dustin Ackley in left field, Jackson in center, and a right-field platoon of Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith. But also available will be Cruz and Rickie Weeks, a former all-star second baseman now available for utility duty. Another possibility will be James Jones, who flashed great speed and potential as a rookie last year but who still is raw both afield and at bat.
Mike Zunino is the starting catcher. Able backups are available when he needs a break.
The big question marks are at first base and shortstop. Logan Morrison displaced Smoak last season at first base and hit well down the stretch. But he is at best a journeyman fielder and no one knows if he will hit this season as he did last August and September. Miller and Chris Taylor will compete for the shortstop position. Both have potential to be major-league regulars. Miller is the better hitter; Taylor has a better glove. But can either deliver consistently over the course of a long season — and a pressurized pennant race?
Zduriencik had opportunities over the off-season to trade young talent for more established players at first base and shortstop. But the veterans were nearing the ends of their contracts and were not certain to re-sign after 2015. There are other possibilities if Morrison or Miller/Taylor fall short. Ketel Marte is a flashy young shortstop already at the Miller/Taylor level. Jesus Montero, the once ballyhooed catcher/hitting prospect, has reportedly cleaned up his act and is now a first baseman. Weeks and utility man Willie Bloomquist also can play first. And there are two blue-ribbon, hard-hitting young rookies, D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan, available to play first as well (or, for that matter, third base or a corner outfield position).
Clubhouse and on-field chemistry are important in baseball, a long-season sport in which the players take extended road trips and are constantly interacting. We’ll see how this season’s additions and subtractions affect that chemistry.
The atmosphere at the opening of spring training, among the pitchers and catchers, was upbeat and businesslike. No pitcher appeared to be suffering arm miseries, as several did last season. The workouts were brisk. Pitchers practiced fielding drills on four fields. Catchers practiced on another. Then they got together.Lloyd McClendon
I watched whatever drill McClendon was watching at any moment, wanting to see what he would see. Former fat-guy Montero showed up in impressive condition. I got a brief scare when Hultzen, coming back from arm surgery, made an awkward off-balance throw to first base during a drill. Pitching coach Rick Waits quickly beckoned him aside for some counsel. Hultzen appeared OK and threw normally thereafter.
This season’s new depth should give McClendon leeway to use his full roster in the most effective way, game to game. There will be enough talent on hand so that, barring multiple key injuries, he should be able to fill out a daily lineup card without fearing a drop-off from starters to bench players.
If you love baseball, this is a time of spiritual renewal. You can easily imagine yourself back in your growing-up and teenage years, running through a few drills before the coach took a real look at you at bat and in the field. There’s the thick grass, fresh lines drawn on the base paths, a manicured infield, sunny and pleasant early-spring weather, the familiar crack of bat meeting ball and the whap of ball meeting glove.
A Mariners’ World Series? Anything seems possible. The full roster is in camp this week. Exhibition games follow. Come on down and erase all memory of that Seahawks goal-line gaffe.
The post Mariners’ spring training: Will hopes be fulfilled? appeared first on Crosscut.
Back in 2008, a group of University of Washington students and preservationists rose up to oppose the demolition of the More Hall Annex on the UW campus. Otherwise known as the Nuclear Reactor Building, the annex is a very cool piece of architecture and history.
Built like a mid-century concrete cabana, the Nuke Building was the result of an unusual collaboration of the university’s top architectural talent of the 1960s — architects Wendell Lovett, Gene Zema and Daniel Streissguth. The trio designed a structure that could safely house a small “teaching reactor” for student nuclear engineers, but also included enough windows to make the secretive process of generating nuclear energy literally more transparent.
It was shedding light on what goes on in the bunker.
Architecture critic Lawrence Cheek tried to describe the building’s quirkiness in the Seattle P-I: “It’s the most bizarre and anomalous building on campus, a structure that vaguely resembles a ’60s swoop-roof diner with fins flying out from under the eaves — all executed in concrete. To some of us, it’s the bastard love child of Brutalism and Burger King.”
To others, it’s powerfully reflective of the 1960s’ hot-house era of science and engineering. It has stood as a kind of quiet, pioneering model of technology and innovation in the wake of Sputnik, not to mention a show of the UW’s own design talent. Still, the building is unused and unloved by the university. It planned to tear it down for new construction.
But, in 2009, the preservationists, led by then-grad student Abby Martin, pushed back on demo plans and got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places over the objections of the university. The UW subsequently shelved demolition plans, took down the white board, and the structure has remained standing and neglected since—the plaza around it looks to be used as a kind of outdoor smoking lounge with cigarette butts all over. Nevertheless, the building still awaits some kind of creative repurposing. Suggestions have included a museum devoted to Washington’s atomic era.
There is growing interest in preserving Cold War era structures and telling the tales of the Atomic Age. Late last year, for example, Congress approved the creation of a string of new National Park sites related to the Manhattan Project, including Hanford, Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. Hanford’s B Reactor is already a national landmark.
Now, however, the old UW demolition threat has returned. The university, in the midst of a construction boom, is hoping to build a new $100-million, 130,000 square-foot Computer Science Engineering facility on the site. (The project is called CSE II, an expansion of the Paul Allen Center across Stevens Way.)
The demand for computer science training is increasing, according to Rebecca Barnes, university architect and associate vice provost for campus planning. “Computer science grads are highly sought after,” she says, and there is strong support at the UW, from the Legislature and within the tech industry for expansion. Barnes says more undergrads with non-engineering majors are also expected to take classes in computer science and the new facility expands classroom space.
The More Hall Annex site, which is adjacent, is an attractive potential location for the new building, which could be connected to the Allen Center by a tunnel. LMN architects has been selected and the UW has asked the Legislature for $40 million for the project. The balance, some $60 million, would be raised from other sources.
That could very likely mean demolition of the historic structure. A State Environmental Policy Act Scoping Notice for the new project should be issued shortly, with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to follow. Those documents should lay out potential impacts on the building and evaluate the pros and cons of alternative sites. The public will have a chance to comment.
Members of the preservation community have been advocating that the old structure be preserved and possibly incorporated into a new building rather than be destroyed. The project is still in the very preliminary design phase.
Historic Seattle, the public non-profit heritage group that rescues and re-purposes historic properties, is advocating for the Nuclear Reactor Building. On Feb. 13, the group organized a preemptive, pre-Valentine’s Day “heart bombing” of the facility, designed to bring attention to the fact that the annex is again at risk.
Preservationists, students and some UW staff and faculty came to express their love for the building holding heart-shaped signs. “Dear More Hall Annex,” one read, “My Love for You is Concrete.” Others were equally pun-laden: “Radiating Love for Architecture,” “You Make Me React,” “It’s Hard to be Brutal-ist” and “UW Have a Heart.”Signs of Love: Historic Seattle’s heart-bombing of the Nuke Building. Credit: John Shea
Martin, who successfully applied for historic status on behalf of the Nuclear Reactor Building seven years ago, made a case for the importance of the structure. In it, she wrote, “Although memory is inconvenient, the physical repercussions of nuclear technology have been embedded in the modern world. The Nuclear Reactor Building, as a public nuclear structure, is an artifact of a period which it is our obligation to remember….”
As old Cold War tensions are revived (see Russian and the Ukraine), as the reality and legacy of nuclear power and weapons is still with us, as the relevance of remembering both the good and bad of technological innovation is greater than ever, especially on a campus that is increasingly devoted to advancing technology and engineering and the commercialization of it’s research, the Nuke Building has more to teach us than ever.
Chef Jay Blackinton, 26, of Orcas Island taught himself to cook by preparing large meals for his punk friends in Seattle. Now, he’s nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation – the Oscars for food. His restaurant, Hogstone’s Wood Oven, cooks food sourced exclusively from the island and is only two years old.
He raises his pigs, grows his vegetables and digs his clams. But he’s not sure exactly what to make of his newfound recognition.
To start, give me some background on how you got to where you are.
I grew up [on Orcas Island] off and on with my grandparents. Then I left home when I was 15. I decided I really needed to get off of the island and decided to strike out on my own and move to Seattle.
I got involved with the punk scene, just being a scumbag [Laughs]. Then I became a bike messenger and, while doing that, I started leaving in the summers to go back up to Orcas to work at Camp Orkila.
Eventually I got to the point with the city where I really had to move and get out of the city. A big reason for that was food in fact. I was, at the time, a vegan.
You were a vegan?
I was a very opinionated vegan [laughs]. Food has always been a big issue for me, more than just the enjoyment of eating it, but also the political food justice side of it. So I came to a point in all that philosophy where I realized that I really wanted to be a part of the food that I consumed.
In the city I was completely disconnected from that. I also realized that with the crappy vegan diet I had, there was no way I was ever going to keep in touch with all the ingredients in meat substitutes and whatever.Chef Jay Blackinton at his farm on Orcas Island. Credit: Andrew Plotsky
That’s interesting. When I think vegan, I think vegetable. But you think it’s more disconnected?
Absolutely. This might be something that will piss people off, but I kind of believe veganism to be an urban privilege. To be able to do that and be fully aware requires quite a bit of money and access. I wanted to be part of the food chain. I wanted to eat meat, but the requirement was that I had to kill it so I came here and I did.
What was it like to go from being a vegan to killing your first animal?
Oh my god. It was tough. To this day it hasn’t gotten easy. But it’s gotten to the point where when I kill an animal, I see that we too will eventually feed something, even if it’s just maggots and worms. It’s kind of a grim thought, but its brought me a lot of comfort.
Also, physically I feel awesome. I didn’t realize I felt so shitty for so long. The switch to meat wasn’t gradual at all and I felt alive.
Where did you learn to cook?
I’d made a lot of meals for a lot people before punk shows in Seattle, going dumpster diving. That’s how it continued for a long time. Then I moved out here and just kept going, reading and studying a lot. So I guess I’m self-taught, but I learned a lot from other people.
Talk about the beginning of your restaurant
It started as an underground thing we’d do every weekend at the farmer’s market. There got to be a bit of buzz around it and it got really busy. We loved it. We were picking food we’d grow on our farm. Then we thought, why don’t we just do this? We were already really busy, so why not just add something else on?
We were completely naïve. But we knew that and that was our strength. Then one day this spot came open that used to be a real estate office, then a pie shop that went out of business and we just jumped on it. We gathered $15,000, which is nothing, and started a restaurant. We’re still trying to figure it out.Jay Blackinton’s restaurant, Hogstone’s Wood Oven, at night. Credit: Andrew Plotsky
How would you describe the philosophy of Hogstone?
This is something I struggle with every time. We’re sort of trying to re-radicalize the phrase farm-to-table. It’s not something we ever use to describe what we do because it’s become such a marketing tool.
You go to the city and there’s all kinds of “farm-to-table” restaurants. But buying supplementary produce along with stuff from all over the place is not what I think of when I think of farm-to-table. We cook exclusively with what we have on the island. Recently we ran out of pork and that was it: no more meat.
So it’s hard to put into words, but I’d say our philosophy is to create a cuisine with what we have right here, right now. As opposed to farm-to-table, we call ourselves northwest agrarian cuisine.
Northwest agrarian cuisine. I like that. It sounds like a lot of work. What does it take to put a meal on the table?
Like I said, in our naiveté we still don’t really know what it takes to run a restaurant [laughs]. But ideally, I get up and work on the farm for a couple hours harvesting whatever we might need for the day and definitely forgetting like three things [laughs].
Then I go into town and hand off the ingredients to my sous chef Ryan and he starts getting things ready for the menu, which might change weekly or daily depending on what we have. While I’m menu planning or receiving deliveries, Tom will be out maintaining the farm. That’s one of the biggest questions is how we maintain a restaurant and farm and the answer is we divide and conquer. Everyday we’re trying to get more and more organized.
How many people do you have?
We have a really tiny team. At the restaurant, it’s just me and Ryan. With this nomination, we definitely have to beef up the kitchen. But from a financial standpoint, having a payroll at all is hard. Especially up here where everything is so seasonal. Everything closes in the winter. Like right now, we’re closed doing kitchen remodeling.
How did you find out about the nomination and what was your reaction?
Here’s the thing: I did nothing. I don’t think there’s anyway you can, like, pursue it. Someone out there nominated me, completely unbeknownst to me. I found out on the morning they announced it via Instagram [laughs].
Yeah. A friend of mine who’s a cook in New York tagged me in something on Instagram saying “Congratulations.”
I went and I looked and it was the James Beard Foundation’s Instagram feed and there was a picture of the medal. And I was like, “No way. What kind of bullshit is this?” [laughs]. But then I looked at their list and our name was there.
So what did you do?
It blew me on my ass [laughs]. I was out in the parking lot and I just sat down. I was dazed for a while and didn’t tell anyone. Then I called my mom and that was it. Then word got out, which has been really overwhelming. I’ve been getting a lot of congratulations, which is really nice, but it felt like, “How is it that we deserve this?” We’re rookies. Sure, what we’re doing is unique, but we’re not experts at this.
It must be crazy. Looking at the other local nominees in various categories, there’s Canlis, Wild Ginger, Ethan Stowell. Big names, you know? It must be a trip.
It’s totally nuts. Those are all people that have been around for a really long time. Being in the company of that … we’re definitely the lowest tier there. We’re the new kids and we’re feeling that.
But it’s also fun because there’s myself and Blaine Wetzel of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island. He won rising star last year and this year he’s nominated for best chef.
What does that say about the direction food’s going? You’re getting these nods and he’s getting these nods. I don’t see that happening twenty years ago.
No, definitely not. The islands are these harbors of really awesome ingredients and it just happens that there are people like myself and Blaine who recognize that this is something exceptional. Especially when you look at us exclusively using these things. The oysters on our menu are called “Oysters from 344 yards away.” The thing for us is we can say that. There are not many restaurants that can say the same thing.
I don’t see the Canlis chefs walking down to the ship canal and pulling up some oysters.
What do you eat when you’re not at the restaurant?
I mostly subsist off kale and potatoes. I try not to dive into our pork anymore because it’s for our customers [laughs]. I used to do more elaborate meals at home, but now it feels like we do that all day. I try really hard to eat with as much integrity as we cook in the restaurant, so I’m not a complete hypocrite.
Awesome. When do you find out if you won?
March 24th. And there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t tell people to go out and vote for us. I guess the first thing we need is to finish this kitchen and get open just in case someone from the foundation wants to come eat here [laughs].
Good luck, for sure.
The post Orcas vegan-turned-butcher ‘blown on his ass’ by James Beard nomination appeared first on Crosscut.
Stephen Kim’s troubles started in June 2009 after he exchanged a series of emails with Fox news reporter James Rosen. Kim, a State Department analyst, was concerned that ordinary Americans were not well informed about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, so he agreed to provide Rosen with confidential, but not top-secret, information. He violated the law, but he was no traitor. The Obama Administration didn’t see it that way.
The Surrender, a 23-minute film directed by Stephen Maing and co-produced by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) and writer Peter Maas (currently reporting for the website The Intercept), chronicles the last few days of Kim’s freedom. We see him packing up boxes and cancelling his cable and phone accounts. He says goodbye to his sister. Friends give him a going away party. One of them can’t believe that a country like the United States would do to any citizen what they are doing to Kim.
“Laws are like cobwebs; they catch the weak but the strong can break through and get away,” Kim says, and what he means by “the strong” are those with power, money and friends in high places. He isn’t one of the strong.
When the government charged Kim with violating the Espionage Act, a 100-year old statute, it did so not because the information he was disclosing was vital to national security — he wasn’t selling arms to ISIS or information to the Russians. Federal officials did it because they wanted to send a message: leaks of any kind, even in the interest of democracy, would not be tolerated. It’s the same message they continue to send to Ed Snowden, and the one they sent to the late Aaron Swartz who, while under federal indictment for data theft and facing up to 30 years in prison, committed suicide.
Stephen Kim considered throwing himself in front of a train. His recent marriage broke up, his life savings are depleted and he faced a 15-year sentence until the government offered him a deal: plead guilty and you’ll only do 13-months.
“His life has been in limbo the last four years,” says Kim’s sister, who we see waving goodbye to him the day before his sentence begins. Kim is one of 8 “leakers” charged by the Obama Administration under the Espionage Act. On July 7, 2014, three days after Independence Day, Stephen Kim reported to prison.
The post Viral Video: The federal government’s war on “leaker” Stephen Kim appeared first on Crosscut.
If you have the stomach for it, sitting through the three-hour, black-and-white Russian film, Hard to Be a God, may rank as one of your most unforgettable cinematic experiences. The last picture made by Aleksei German, considered the greatest Russian filmmaker after Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalker, Nostalgia), Hard To Be A God is a science-fiction movie caked in the eternal mud of a medieval epic.
German died in 2013 at the age of 74, having completed the movie after dreaming about it and working on it for his entire career. A one-of-a-kind film, it combines a daunting, unrelenting, uncompromising and anti-commercial personal vision with a thoroughly disgusting – but weirdly, rather awe-inspiring – aesthetic built on Muck (yes, with a capital M).
German deluges his sets with every conceivable bodily fluid. Piss, shit, vomit, blood, spit and snot (especially snot) are expelled into a ground consisting of ankle-deep mud, constantly watered by intermittent squalls of saturating rain. This mud runs like a virus through the alleyways and roads of a village perpetually locked in the Dark Ages, where bookworms and artists are tortured and lynched, women are treated like cattle, children are enslaved and nearly everyone seems to be sporting some kind of deformity or a leaking, open wound. The funny thing is, this village exists on a distant planet called Arkanar, where scientists from Earth have arrived to attempt to bring the inhabitants forward into the dawn of Enlightenment.
At least, that’s what the articles I’ve read about the movie tell me. Trying to figure this out simply by watching the film is nearly impossible. An off-screen narrator introduces us to Arkanar and to the main character, Don Rumata, an earthling masquerading as the son of a god, who appears to have given up on his mission to civilize the planet. Instead, he roams the village as a kind of tour guide, pitting his fawning acolytes against his skeptical adversaries, attempting to (I think) stop an impending massacre. Hard to Be a God is nearly impenetrable as a work of storytelling, but as the realization of a director’s imagined world, it is a masterpiece.
German’s mise en scène is precise and unwavering, not only clotted with the grime, filth and grotesque behavior of its villagers, but also with a pervasive atmosphere of ignorance and paranoia. It is both a hyper-realistic depiction of medieval wretchedness and a scathing allegory of modern Russian history, beginning with the Stalinist genocide and continuing right up into Putin’s current backward slide into dictatorship. Russia, the director seems to be saying, is a forever, fetid swamp of anti-intellectual brutishness.
All of this is captured with a handheld camera that stays so close to the action you can almost smell the stink, the foreground of the frame crowded with strands of hair, streams of sputum, bits of viscera, and the occasional leering face looking directly into the lens as if the camera is another person, recording Rumata on his desultory journey.
There is no doubt this movie is a slog, requiring patience and a strong grip on your gag reflex, but it’s also a supremely powerful work of immersive art, perfectly realized. While watching, keep this quote from Aleksei German in your mind: “I was never taught, hassled, or had my nose rubbed in shit by any director. I’m a nonprofessional, and that forces me at every stage to invent cinema – my own, the kind of cinema that interests me. One that’s somehow different from everybody else’s.”
If you go: Northwest Film Forum will screen the movie today through Monday. Tickets and times are here.
This review first appeared on the author’s blog, The Restless Critic.
Interview! We Talk About Music, Art, Life and How Destiny Won’t get the Best of Amazingly Talented Musician Wes Speight!
The Weekend List: Donald Byrd does Rogers & Hammerstein. NYC men in tutus. Cirque’s jaw-dropping acrobatics.
* Denotes events that are $15 or less
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
There are myriad reasons to go see this production. They include the tremendous voice that belongs to Laura Griffith (who plays steely millworker Julie Jordan); the antics of Eric Ankrim (a funny-but-rascally Jigger); and the way Brandon O’Neill (as Billy Bigelow) can balance being so full of himself and yet so vulnerable at the same time. His performance of “Soliloquy” is glorious.The Carnival Boy (Alex Crozier, left) and the company of Spectrum Dance Theatre in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo Credit: Tracy Martin
But it’s the choreography that made me think, Man, I could go see this again! Donald Byrd has remade Agnes de Mille’s classic choreography and he weaves in ballet with jazz, swing and even hip-hop, or at least that’s how I saw it.
His Spectrum dancers can be so damn joyful and so damn sexy and, in Act 2 (Madelyn Koch in “Down Here On a Beach, 15 years later”), so damn pretty. Then, of course, there’s how the story ends. I heard people weeping in the row in front of me, in the row in back of me and, I’ll admit, I choked up as well. It’s a beautiful show.
If you go: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, The 5th Avenue Theatre, Through March 1 (Tickets start at $29) – F.D.
Lucinda Parker/Michael T. Hensley *Lucinda Parker
acrylic on canvas
30″ x 60″
I stumbled onto this show when the weather was a dreary gray, but it’s just as suitable when the sky is oh, ribboned in pink. On the walls is a celebration of color: Lucinda Parker, one of the most formidable painters of our time, delivers a punch of graphical abstract landscapes.Michael T. Hensley
mixed media on panel
44″ x 48″
And Michael T. Hensley, a newer artist, offers up vibrant collages whipped up out of spray paint, crayons and even dirt. Anything that was at his disposal, Hensley explains in his artist statement.
Paired together, the artwork invites us to journey from the natural to the urban worlds and it just feels so perfectly Seattle.
If you go: Lucinda Parker/Michael T. Hensley, Linda Hodges Gallery, Through Feb. 28 (Free) – F.D.
Guest Chef Night at FareStart
Local non-profit FareStart does amazing work every day in its restaurant and job placement center in South Lake Union, giving homeless and disadvantaged people the needed training and skills to enter the food industry. On Guest Chef Thursdays, this magical institution is at its peak, hosting a local chef who works with students in the kitchen leading up to the three-course dinner.
On Thursday, look forward to Chef Matt Janke (of Lecosho and Matt’s in the Market), who’s been lending his time and expertise to FareStart for over 20 years. Janke’s Thursday menu is a seasonal celebration, showcasing winter vegetables in comfort food dishes — kale pesto pasta, pork belly-wrapped pork tenderloin, roasted baby beets with house-smoked Arctic Char. Not only is this night a great cause and experience, but it’s also one of the most affordable nights out at only $29.95. Mark your calendars for Chef Rachel Yang (behind Revel and Joule) on March 19th.
If you go: FareStart Guest Chef Night with Chef Matt Janke, FareStart, 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 19( $29.95) — NC
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Here’s a chance to see Swan Lake like you’ve probably never seen it before: performed entirely by men in pointe shoes and tutus (of course). The New York City-based TROCKS have been around for more than 40 years (the troupe, that is, not the dancers performing Friday in Tacoma; many are much, much younger). They’re funny, but to shrug them off as not possibly talented would be wrong. Très, très wrong.
If you go: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Tacoma’s Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, Feb. 20 (Tickets start at $29) – F.D.
Lunar New Year Celebration *
Celebrate Lunar New Year, and the diverse cultures, traditions and foods from across Asia by hanging out in the Chinatown International District on Saturday afternoon. The day marks the 5th annual $2 Food Walk, with dozens of restaurants (Dim Sum King, Tamarind Tree, Szechuan Noodle Bowl, among others) offering food specials.
Get there early enough to see one of the martial arts demonstrations, or stand in awe of the Taiko drumming, and then mosey around waving your Thomas Jeffersons and trying all the dumplings. If you know what’s good for you, head to the Tako Kyuuban booth for some takoyaki (an addictive Japanese street food that involves fried octopus, pickled ginger, and Japanese mayo).
If you go: Lunar New Year Celebration, Hing Hay Park (and throughout the ID), 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 21, All ages (FREE) — NC
Kurios | Cabinet of CuriositiesPhoto: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil
Picture a trapeze act: All that swinging; all that flying. But in this particular act, there is no trapeze. Just a guy with what’s got to be an amazing set of forearms, catching and throwing a woman through the air the way one might toss a piece of linguine to test if it’s done.
This was my first time seeing a Cirque du Soleil show and it’s just as jaw dropping as described. There’s a huge cast here (46) that’s absolutely mesmerizing because they juggle or contort or balance or yo yo or simply, exist. You try not to stare at one of the world’s teeniest women (a wee bit over 3 feet tall; she is unveiled “living” inside the stomach of one of the other characters). This show is a kind of Steampunk meets Tim Burton — totally otherworldly and a total delight.
If you go: Kurios | Cabinet of Curiosities, Marymoor Park in Redmond, Through March 22 (Adult prices start at $50) — F.D
The post The Weekend List: Donald Byrd does Rogers & Hammerstein. NYC men in tutus. Cirque’s jaw-dropping acrobatics. appeared first on Crosscut.