September used to feel more momentous. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
This is my 15th September on this beat, as long as anyone else I found who served as an Azalea City arts editor. Like anyone else, nostalgia can tint my memory so I wonder about perceived differences between now and those nascent years.
Used to be, the Mobile Arts Council awards ceremony in the weeks around Labor Day was the bugle call to the starting gate. Its rapid growth after its 2004 inception was proof others loved it, too.
If the awards were the fanfare, then Thomas Harrison’s annual arts preview was the racing form. The early September special section of our then-daily newspaper was extensive and encouraging. Harrison supplied detailed listings from around the region, with special focus on Mobile’s approaching seasons of opera, ballet, symphony, chamber music, visual arts, theater, collegiate programs and more.
He emphasized Mobile’s arts world as uncommon. It’s uncommonly robust for a town this size, for National Medal of Arts recipients to appear regularly at the Saenger Theatre, and uncommon to have a seasoned opera company and chamber music society.
It’s uncommon chiefly because so few people make so much possible. Mobile’s arts community is tightly knit with the same names pitching in repeated efforts. I’ve often wondered if the average Mobilian is even fully aware of how much these people do to heighten our quality of life, to enhance the area’s allure and provide a basis to back up Mobilians’ self-image.
It’s hard to tell when you see folks bitch and balk at museum entrance or local theater tickets approaching $20, then turn around and pay three times that for football games or $150 to watch worn pop stars. That frustration is true elsewhere, too.
It’s as constant as change. Arts season previews, daily newspapers — they’ve disappeared from Mobile. The art awards have transformed into a midwinter gala on the cusp of Mobile’s Carnival season. Showcase on the Arts is gone but the Art Throwdown has arisen.
Arts Alive has wafted away but a monthly gallery stroll is as healthy as ever. The opera has changed venues but remains alive. The Mobile Museum of Art is vital and versatile. Alabama Contemporary Art Center celebrates 15 years — under one name or another — this fall.
New upstart theater troupe Company 11 is changing locales, for good reason. They need room, and the intimate space at the corner of Ann and Old Shell wouldn’t suffice. Their new spot is just a block away, in Bellingrath Hall at Central Presbyterian Church (1260 Dauphin St.).
Will they still be able to chase their goal of staging controversial plays? One Company 11 member said they were upfront with the church about their aims and all seems fine for now. That would mean “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche” is on track for Nov. 8-17.
Other changes have been a while in the making. Indications are the Gulf Coast Ethnic and Heritage Jazz Festival might reshape its annual midsummer appearances by eliminating the Saturday concert that has been its centerpiece for the last 20 years.
A mere handful of volunteers produce the fest and want to focus on the two-week Marcus Johnson Jazz Camp. Instead of a Saturday show, headlining-level stars might be hired to play with jazz campers at the camp’s closing recital.
The new structure is an attempt to address inconsistent attendance at the Saturday event. One well-versed concertgoer was overheard this year, stupefied how only a couple hundred folks were on hand while so many others let pass a chance to watch world-class performers for the monetary equivalent of a soup and salad.
In Kurt Weill’s “September Song,” an older suitor sings to a younger love interest. He tells her younger men have time to dawdle, but since his days are shorter he gets right to business. “One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”
What he says should apply to all. Do any of us have the luxury of refusing opportunity? You think you’ll catch a festival next year, but the stars don’t align again and the concerts become a relic. A life enhancement is lost.
When we support local arts we support our community. It’s another way we shape the world in which we live, how we tell our stories to those who would listen.
It makes the time we have left count for something. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so none of us has time for the waiting game.