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Photo by Mark Markley

2018 National Heritage Fellow

Chicana altarista and 2018 National Heritage Fellow Ofelia Esparza carries on and extends her family’s tradition of celebrating The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos by creating altars to honor deceased loved ones and create a bridge between the living and the dead. She brings an artist’s eye to this cultural practice: her altars are colorful, intricate multi-level structures embellished with photos, traditional food, flowers, as well as handmade and found ornaments that evoke ancestors and deceased relatives. She’s also been in the forefront of reclaiming this practice for the Chicana community in Los Angeles. In this podcast, Ofelia shares her stories of growing up in East LA and discusses the essential meaning at the heart of Dia de los Muertos which is to remember.

A man and a woman look towards the camera. The man hold a violin in his hand, a piano in the background.
Photo by Molly Haley

2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows

2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows Don and Cindy Roy are the embodiment of Franco-American musical tradition.  He is an outstanding fiddler and she backs him up with her wonderfully rhythmic piano playing and her pretty fabulous step-dancing.  They have been married and playing together for 38 years—giving audiences across the country a flavor of the Franco-American traditions they both grew up with—the music their grandparents played in the kitchen while family and friends gathered.  Their love for this music and the joy they take in it –and each other--is immediately apparent.   Meet the Roys and their music in this tuneful podcast.

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Director and cast of the documentary, Personal Statement

Director of the documentary Personal Statement Juliane Dressner and the cast students Karoline Jimenez, Christine Rodriguez, and Enoch Jemmott join me to talk about the film which documents the challenges New York public school students have when applying to college—especially when they are the first generation in their family to make the leap. There is a profound lack of college counselors in public schools which often leaves students on their own to negotiate applications, financial forms, and personal statements. But back in 2005, students themselves got together and created a peer counseling program where they can get the training to help not just themselves but their fellow students as well. Karoline, Christine and Enoch, although they’re facing challenges of their own and struggle with their own college possibilities, embrace their roles as peer counselors and pour their hearts and souls into helping their classmates succeed.

Dana Nachman and Don Hardy

Documentary filmmakers

Documentary filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy have co-directed the award-winning film Pick of the Litter. The litter in question are five Labrador Retrievers bred by Guide dogs for the Blind (or GBD) for the specific purpose of becoming service animals. The film follows a litter of puppies from birth to their graduation and assignment to a person who’s visually impaired…that is if the dog makes the cut. Not every pooch is cut out for the rigorous training in which intelligence and perspicacity is valued as much as experience…which also makes for risky documentary filmmaking. When Dana and Don began, they had no idea if any of the dogs would pass muster. Tune in and listen to Dana and Don share their experiences of centering a film on five principal subjects who can’t speak for themselves.

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Photo by Peter Schaaf

Composer, Conductor, Commentator

Let’s celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with a trip to Broadway! Bernstein only composed a handful of shows on Broadway, but he was a game-changer. From On the Town to West Side Story, Bernstein mixed genres and styles of music—incorporating jazz, blues, ragtime, Latin sounds-- mixing them with popular song traditions and the rhythms of the streets and then filtering it all through a classical voice. He was fluent in all languages of music and so created a music distinctly his own. Composer, conductor, and commentator Rob Kapilow takes us on a musical journey through Bernstein’s Broadway career. You may know Rob from the public radio program “What Makes It Great?” in which he takes listeners inside of music to explore that very question. Explore Bernstein’s Broadway music with Rob Kapilow (and me) in this week’s podcast!

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Chief Digital Officer of MIA Douglas Hegley and inventors Samantha Porter and Colin McFadden turn the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) into a puzzle room.

More and more museums are moving away from focusing entirely on the content of their collections to focusing on the experience of visiting a museum. Douglas Hegley at MIA had the idea reach out to the tech community and ask them to develop ideas for alternative ways to experience the museum. So MIA teamed up with 3M to create The 3M Art and Technology Award to do just that. Meanwhile founders of the Advanced Imaging Service for Objects and Spaces at the University of Minnesota, Sam Porter and Colin McFadden loved puzzle rooms-- places that create a challenge or mystery that a group of friends solve together by finding and deciphering clues usually within a specified period of time. Sam and Colin combined their expertise to create the app which won the 2018 award: “Riddle Mia This” which transforms MIA into a giant puzzle room. Douglas, Sam and Colin join me to talk about the how and why of it all.

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Sunni Fass and LuAnne Holladay

Executive director and former staff of The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival

The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival is turning 25 this year. So it seemed like a good time to talk with its executive director Sunni Fass and long-time staff member LuAnne Holladay about this one-of-a-kind festival.

Lotus is an urban event—turning streets in downtown Bloomington Indiana into a center for music, dance and visual arts for one weekend each September. The musicians come from all over the world—over the course of the festival’s history it has welcomed artists from over 120 countries-- and they reflect the great diversity of these cultures as well as appreciation and respect for their fellow-artists. In another music-filled podcast, Sunni and LuAnne talk about what it takes to put the festival together and the deep impact the festival has had on Bloomington and Southern Indiana.

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Photo by Sekou Luke

Singer, Educator, Conductor and Music Director, The Dessoff Choirs

Although he’s only in his early 30s, singer, educator, conductor and music director of The Dessoff Choirs Malcolm J. Merriweather has already made his mark on the world of choral music. It is his passion; and, his mission is to open singers to all its possibilities, students to it wide and varied paths, and audiences to its wonders. His mission is as simple as it is ambitious: “impacting the world through the gift of music.” And after speaking with him, I’m convinced he’s doing it. As you’ll discover in this week’s podcast, it’s hard to resist his love of voices joining together to make song…and, as you’ll hear, Malcolm himself is a brilliant baritone.

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Photo by John Abbott

2018 NEA Jazz Master

2018 NEA Jazz Master Todd Barkan is a man of many talents: impresario, club owner, producer, artistic programmer. But he would count chief among them his deep and abiding love for jazz and the musicians who create. Owner of the legendary Keystone Korner, Todd created a club where musicians ruled and audiences felt at home. In this music-filled podcast, he talks about that great San Francisco club and shares stories about his many friend-- jazz greats like Miles Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bobby Hutcherson and Sonny Rollins.

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Army's Artist in Residence

The US Army Artist in Residence SFC Juan Munoz might be the Army's best-kept secret. His job is to document through art the experiences of soldiers as they fulfill their duties both home and abroad. SFC Munoz deploys with troops for a month as a soldier/artist--expected to carry his weight and to document what he sees. SFC Munoz has an extraordinary amount of freedom: he chooses what to document and how to document it. In fact, when he was appointed, the army emphasized he was not creating propaganda but rather telling the stories of soldiers through art. In this week's podcast, we visit the studio of SFC Munoz at Fort Belvoir and learn about the role of the army's artists in residence.

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Photo by Maria Virginia Prieto Solis

2016 Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellow

2016 Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellow Artemio Posadas has spent his life keeping the musical tradition of son huasteco vibrant. Son huasteco is a rich and complicated musical tradition. Beginning in Northeastern Mexico in the late 19th century, it combines distinctive rhythms, musical solos—with the violin taking a major role, poetry and dance. Improvisation is key; but so is participation. This isn’t a tradition that separates musicians and audience, and the dancers feet provide beats and rhythms in response to the music. Artemio Posadas grew up with son huasteco , and he brought it with him when he moved to the Bay area in the 1970s teaching this tradition through the generations. In this music-filled podcast, we’ll hear Artemio talk about his love of son huasteco in all its multi-dimensionality. Posadas’ apprentice, musician and anthropologist Russell Rodriguez serves as interpreter.

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Photo courtesy of ilya Tovbis

Director, Washington Jewish Film Festival

The Washington Jewish Film Festival’s director Ilya Tovbis wants to open doors to Jewish life around the world. And for ten days, the Washington DC area is home to some 70 international films both documentaries and narratives from emerging and established directors. Ilya defines a “Jewish film” as a work with “ something deliberately to do with the Jewish experience, culture, history, which is a malleable concept.” Yet, he chooses not to aim the films at a Jewish audience exclusively. He wants the audience to be as diverse as the stories on the screen, which is neither quick nor easy. Now in its 28th year, the Washington Jewish Film Festival has established itself as a prestigious event for filmmakers. How then to reach out to the audience in its own backyard? That’s some of questions Ilya discusses in this podcast.

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Photo courtesy of Kiran Singh Sirah.

Folklorist, Poet, and President of the International Storytelling Center

Folklorist, Poet and President of the International Storytelling Center Kiran Singh Sirah is passionate about the power of stories.  He heads the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough Tennessee—the oldest festival of its kind in the world and a driving force behind the renaissance in storytelling.  Kiran talks about creating community through stories, the ability of story to transcend petty politics and connect us to what is essential.  His own story is pretty interesting: born in England to parents who had been expelled from their home in Uganda and grandparents who were part of the liberation movement in India.  He understands first-hand the ability of stories to translate cultures to each other.  We also hear a story from NEA National Heritage Fellow Sheila Kay Adams who can spin a tale with the best of them.

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Photo Courtesy of Folger Theatre

Actor

Actor Dria Brown talks about playing Joan in Bedlam’s almost postmodern production of George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan in DC’s Folger Theatre. It’s stripped down in every way: minimal sets and costumes and a cast of four; Dria plays Joan and only Joan; the other three actors juggle 26 roles. The rehearsals were interesting. We hear about her growing up in South Carolina, how time in her father’s church readied her for the role, and her desire to get the audience to engage with the performance.

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Healing and building community through art

The first part of this week’s podcast looks at Creative Forces : NEA Military Healing Initiative. NEA Chairman Jane Chu and others reflect on the power of art to heal physical and psychological trauma as well as strengthen families and build community. In part 2, Sebastian Junger discusses his book, Tribe—which looks at the profound sense of loss some combat veterans feel when they return from deployment, and the various ways that art and ritual can help them re-enter their communities.

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