Friday Photo: Swimming Pool, Salvador Dalí

Dalí Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool, 1970, by Salvador Dalí, Port Lligat, Spain, June 2018


Happy #518Day!

Check out some of the great social media posts from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram celebrating the arts and culture of the 518 area code (more to be added as the day progresses):

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#TBT: Capital District Sings, 2011


Originally posted October 10, 2011: Capital District Sings at timesunion:

Capital District Sings brought together a bunch of choruses on Sunday afternoon at Proctors in Schenectady. Albany Pro Musica hosted the event that also featured Albany Gay Men’s Chorus, Chinese Community Center Chorus, Ne’imah Jewish Community Chorus, Electric City Chorus, Capital District Youth Chorale, Mendelssohn Club and the Octavo Singers.

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#518Day in the News

Happy-518DayThank you to The Daily Gazette and Saratogian for highlighting the #518Day social media campaign slated for Thursday, May 18

What is #518Day? Learn more about it on this page.


Federal Arts Funding Beyond ‘Piss Christ’

The short version: Bullies who favor guns over culture distort facts so they can gut federal arts funding; here are some facts.

The news
“The president’s budget would eliminate the NEA’s $148 million budget, the NEH’s $148 million budget and the CPB’s $445 million budget, as well as $230 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which supports libraries and museums across the country.”

— Washington Post

Here we go again. A GOP budget plan to ax arts funding. Right-wingers cheering it on, saying things like arts are elitist and that people who want arts should pay for it themselves . This all seems to be a reflection of a couple different ways of looking at the world: the libertarian one, in which everyone needs to do everything for themselves (except maybe national defense?); and a kind of anti-intellectualism in reference to culture that can be summed up as “if I don’t understand it, it must be elitist.”

I’m reminded of a story told by a former newspaper colleague who recounted a meeting with an adult person in public. That person, recognizing her from her photo in the newspaper, said something like, “You write those movie reviews, right? You must be a millionaire.”

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Big picture: Hope for Art and Arts Institutions

Times Union Studio shot of Entertainment Editor Michael Janairo for his upcoming Unwind “Big Picture” Arts Column, shot on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, in Albany, NY. (Luanne M. Ferris/Times Union)

Many discussions about the arts in crisis focus on the need for institutions to adapt. One report even suggests the arts are doing fine, it’s the institutions that are having problems.

But can you separate arts from arts institutions? And, if so, what would the arts look like? With those questions in mind, I visited Troy Night Out last month. This is what I saw.

At 71 Fourth St., the space that was once the Kismet Gallery, art hung on dingy walls, a DJ played tunes and art lovers mingled. It looked like a guerrilla street-art one-night happening, bringing life to an otherwise vacant space. The venue wasn’t even listed on the evening’s map.

The works of one of the highlighted artists, Chip Fasciana, were abstract blobs on fields of sombre colors, and one, with more geometric shapes, on a yellow field seemed to explode with movement. This, I thought, is what art without an institution looks like.

Then I remembered that Fasciana had recently had a piece honored as “the masterpiece” in the “Tomorrow’s Masters Today” exhibit at Albany Institute of History & Art, an institution that has been around since 1791.

So art institutions may be inescapable because they can legitimize an artist. But even art institutions may not be what we think they are. The Clement Art Gallery and Frame Shop, for example, is the kind of dual-purpose space that is not only common in the region, but also already satisfies the need for art institutions to adapt.

Of course, Kismet tried to the same thing, but it closed. What’s the difference? Where Kismet focused on giving young artists a chance, Clement often shows well-respected and veteran artists. For example, landscapes by Harry Orlyk, Len Tantillo and Robert Moylan were on the walls last month. The shop was also filled with picture frames, prints, paintings and even pages from mid-19th-century Harper’s Weeklys, suitable for framing, giving the space a staid elegance, where frames support the art.

At the Arts Center of the Capital Region, the main gallery was crammed with art hanging salon-style for its annual “Fence Show.” (Full disclosure: my wife and stepson have work in the show.) The show has been around for more than 40 years, and got its name when members hung work on the iron fence surrounding Washington Park, where the center was previously located.

Though that literal blurring of non-institution and institution may be gone, the gallery show retains that open spirit with a wild array of work in terms of subject, medium and quality. Any member of the arts center can have work in the show, and anyone can become a member for just $35.

But the show is also juried, which is what institutions do best: establish hierarchies. This year’s juror is Ian Berry, the director and curator of the Tang Museum at Skidmore College. He selects a limited number of works for the “Fence Select” show, which begins later this month. I recommend seeing the show while the vast array of art is still on the walls. That way, you can see what was selected and what wasn’t and ask: Why this piece instead of that one? Does it reflect an identifiable standard? Does it reflect Berry’s sensibilities?

One part of the show won’t change: the student division. This seems right. Youngsters in the early stages of their artistic lives shouldn’t be subject to the same hierarchies.

I’ve always enjoyed the student show, because the work often shows a wealth of imagination, and was intrigued by a portrait in which the face seemed cobbled together with red, green and blue. The artist, Ceili Conway of Bethlehem, has a couple paintings in the show. She said she’s taken classes at the center and has been making art since she was 3. She’ll be going into the seventh grade in the fall.

At her age, the family refrigerator is often the place where art gets displayed. A public display in an arts institution, however, lets students know that they, too, are engaged in a tradition like the artists around them.

“Ceili shows strong drawing ability for her age level,” said Caroline Corrigan, the education and exhibits manager at the center. She called one of her paintings “very brave, considering the challenging foreshortening of the face in the image. Not many artists (young or old) are willing to tackle that point of view.”

Ceili also showed deep insight when I asked her why she made art. Her answer is probably true for many people making art, and is one reason why there is hope for art — and arts institutions.

“You can kind of do anything you want,” Ceili said, adding, “It’s mostly how I express myself.”

Big Picture: The arts in our daily lives

Times Union Studio shot of Entertainment Editor Michael Janairo for his upcoming Unwind “Big Picture” Arts Column, shot on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, in Albany, NY. (Luanne M. Ferris/Times Union)

For two years now, I’ve had the privilege of working as the Times Union’s arts and entertainment editor.

The post offers a unique perspective on the ceaseless flow of TV, film, video games, classical music, pop music, jazz, visual arts, theater, opera, literature and festivals available to the Capital Region, as well as access to people who curate and create the cultural landscape — artists, administrators, publicists and audiences.

In this column, I want to add to the ongoing conversations about the arts in the Capital Region, and the conversations about the Capital Region in general. I believe too often the arts have been relegated to some fictional place outside daily life. I’ve often heard that the basic necessities are food, clothing and shelter, along with jobs to acquire those things and the laws to secure them. That kind of thinking, however, fails to value the basic necessity of the arts. The arts are the realizations of the imagination — of rich inner lives — which is crucial to what it means to be human.

My title “editor” doesn’t quite get to the heart of what I’m describing. A better word is culturalist.

By culturalist, I don’t mean the kind of -ist linked to a singular ideology (such as anarchist); rather, I see it as a mix of a profession (think dentist) and of someone who uses something (think guitarist).

Culture, however, is a weighty word. It has separate and distinct meanings in the realms of humanities and science: The culture of a city is quite different from the culture in a petri dish.

Or is it?

The culture of a community isn’t static. It is a living organism that requires care to thrive — or else it dies.

So if the Capital Region can be viewed as a petri dish, then what is its culture? I’m often asked that question when speaking with people outside the region. What I often say is the region is decentralized and has a bit of an identity crisis, meaning we have difficulty describing what it is (as opposed to what it is not).

Let me explain: We have no cultural center. Instead, we have great institutions in all directions such as Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown to the west; the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake to the north; Tanglewood in the Berkshires to the east; and Art Omi in Ghent to the south. The region’s four core counties, as well, have many major institutions such as SPAC in Saratoga, Proctors in Schenectady, EMPAC in Troy and The Egg in Albany.

Of course what I’ve named are just a few places, not an exhaustive list, and I apologize to all the worthy places I’ve left out. The point is that one defining characteristic of the Capital Region is that you need a car to explore the rich offerings of its wide geography.

The region’s identity crisis is perhaps best summed up by the nickname “Smallbany.” Sure, the Capital Region exists in the shadow of the huge metropolises of Boston and New York City. And Smallbany has self-effacing charm and it sounds accurate, especially when people realize they are linked by a lot less than six degrees of separation. But it unfortunately makes Albany seem like the center of things, when it isn’t.

The Capital Region’s identity crisis has manifested itself most recently in the online discussion about the Best of the Capital Region, especially in the arguments that pit local businesses against chain restaurants and stores. Some people have even expressed embarrassment over the presence of chains. (See for yourself at and read especially the comments about Best pizza and Best Italian restaurant.)

Why? People want the Capital Region to have a distinct culture and to think of themselves as unique. Any individual’s experiences are unique, but as a group placed together by circumstance and geography, it is difficult to stand out when we are already shaped by the might of the larger American culture.

The conversation about chain vs. local, however, is just one of the conversations going on now that help define our region — and ourselves. It is an ongoing conversation in which we can all take part. Join me.