The most anticipated finale in recent history has finally arrived. See ya,’ 2020! Good riddance, right?
I get the sentiment, but before we boot a stressful year of goodbyes and solemn pauses, we best note there are things worth remembering, too. It started in standard fashion, after all.
Playwright Thomas Perez premiered the last of his “Society Shell” works lampooning Mobile’s confounding and counterintuitive social eccentricities. It concluded a trilogy decades in the making.
Alabama Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) got a new executive director in Elizabet Elliott. Her previous decade of grassroots organization, then successful efforts at the Mobile Museum of Art (MMoA) made her new position an easy choice.
Azalea City Center for the Arts impresario Chris Paragone unveiled his plans to build a new complex at the old Graf Dairy Farm at Sage and Dauphin, on Midtown’s western edge. His blueprints showed a facility perfect for multiple outfits like the Mobile Theatre Guild, Mobile Ballet and Mobile Opera, filling a sorely vacant niche. Fundraising during a global pandemic can prove challenging, though.
In early February, Mobile Arts Council’s (MAC) Arty Awards honored Eric Browne, RSVP of Mobile, Lynn Oldshue, Courtney Matthews, Daniel Mainwaring, Angela Trigg, Mary Elizabeth Kimbrough, Robert Holm, the Eastern Shore Art Center and Bill Barrick.
The Mobile Bay area was shocked by the deaths of a trio of cultural giants. Former arts writer Thomas Harrison set an unprecedented standard with his coverage of perhaps the area’s most artistically fertile period from 1998 to 2012. Writer Winston Groom’s character Forrest Gump became a household name when he was depicted in a 1994 film with Tom Hanks. Avant-garde multimedia artist Simeon Coxe’s passing stirred immediate international reaction.
Mobile Symphony Orchestra (MSO) welcomed a teen phenom in 17-year-old cellist Sujari Britt for what eventually turned out to be their season closer. They also bid adieu to General Manager and Director of Artistic Administration J.C. Barker, who became Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s new director.
In March, the story of the year — the global pandemic — toppled cultural dominoes. MSO, Mobile Chamber Music, Classical Ballet of Mobile, Mobile Ballet, Mobile Opera, the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed, community theaters, even museums and exhibit spaces canceled performances and locked doors. LoDa ArtWalk scaled back.
The Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival was canceled. Historic tours were paused. Downtown gallery SWAY closed.
The pandemic’s effect on this newspaper is obvious. This section and two others shrank and have yet to recover.
All that said, it’s worth cherishing our adaptability and the resilience shown in Mobile’s creative quarter. The Haunted Book Shop adjusted to the times with home delivery and curbside pickup of purchases.
Acting and dance classes moved to virtual connections. So did LoDa ArtWalk. Presentations followed suit, when outfits like Project Fighting Prawn, Joe Jefferson Players, Chickasaw Civic Theatre and Mobile Opera reshaped programming for online indulgence. MAC held their annual Arts Throwdown fundraiser through the same medium.
ACAC launched “Postcards from Quarantine,” a program meant to offer creative outlets to locals while raising money to assist others who were financially struggling.
MMoA educators repaired facemasks for first responders. The museum also postponed a long-awaited Gordon Parks photo exhibit to January, something you’ll read more about in this space soon.
The History Museum of Mobile forged ahead with its autumn premiere of “A History of Mobile in 22 Objects,” an inspired exhibit telling the most story with the fewest pieces possible. They folded in local historians, academicians and assorted experts to produce something that not only takes viewers on a journey but shows the insights provided by disciplined acumen and learned observation.
Excitement heightened in Plateau from the downrange effects of the 2019 confirmation that the slave schooner Clotilda’s wreckage was discovered in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Plans for a new museum facility, the Africatown Heritage House, and its 2021 opening were announced this year. In November, CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired a segment on the community founded by the ship’s human cargo.
In normal times, a lot of our arts organizations have slim and tenuous budgets that barely allow them to hang on by their nails. This year tried to flamenco on those fingertips. It was concerning.
Emotional needs went unsated. At a time when it seemed we craved arts most — to distract, comfort and connect us — they seemed most distant.
Ultimately, the temporary distance doesn’t matter. As long as our desire for the arts thrives, they exist. Obscured, sure, but still alive. Kindle those embers; they’ll flame again.
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