Art Works Podcast

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Photo by Joseph Blough

Saxophonist, composer and 2020 NEA Jazz Master

Saxophonist, composer and 2020 NEA Jazz Master Roscoe Mitchell is a musical seeker. He’s interested in sound and its colors. He is one of the most influential (and prolific) jazz musicians around who nonetheless says he has never been as excited or inspired as when I spoke with him in December 2019. And this from one of the original members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and one of the founders of the Art Ensemble of Chicago! Our interview was on my birthday—and it was the best present I could have received. Roscoe Mitchell—aside from being a fabulous musician--is an eloquent philosopher about music. Speaking with him was a true pleasure and I hope you’ll feel the same listening to this podcast.

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Courtesy of Amy Stolls

Director of Literary Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts' Literary Arts Director Amy Stolls joins me for a conversation about books that can see us through difficult times. From children's books to YA to short stories to novels...and oh yes, there's poetry too, we discuss the many ways books can bring the world to us as we shelter in place. Amy and I also talk about the almost magical power of books to open ourselves to imagined worlds in other universes and then intensely inhabit the perspective of a single human being in a barren landscape. And, Amy is known as the agency wit--so it's a fun podcast! The books we discussed are below:

Metropolitan Stories: A Novel by Christine Coulson

Culinaria Italy: Pasta Pesto Passion edited by Claudia Piras

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

Here by Richard McGuire

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

Severance by Ling Ma

At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

Barn 8 by Deb Olen Unferth

The Murderer's Ape by Jacob Wegelius

All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva

American Journal: Fifty poems for our Time, selected and introduced by Tracy K. Smith

 

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Photo courtesy of Charlotte Mangin

Documentary filmmaker

Unladylike 2020 is the brainchild of documentary filmmaker Charlotte Mangin. It's an innovative multimedia series about little known but extraordinary women at turn of the 20th century whose legacies we all benefit from today. There are 26 ten minute films that combine archival footage, diary entries, animation, and dynamic artwork (funded by the NEA). Narrated by actors Julianna Margulies and Lorraine Toussaint, Unladylike 2020 puts the biographies of women like aviator Bessie Coleman, politician Jeannette Rankin and actor Anna May Wong in their historical and social context. But they also include interviews with contemporary women who are the direct beneficiaries of these trailblazers' legacies. The series began on March 3--with a new episode dropping each week at Unladylike 2020 and PBS American Masters. Both websites are packed with information, so if you're home with the kids visit the websites. These films are perfect for family viewing, and they can open the door to thoughtful conversations. In this podcast, Charlotte Mangin takes us "backstage" and walks us through how Unladylike 2020 came to be. We talk about some of the women she chose, the innovative techniques she used to bring these women to life digitally and the joy of working with a team of women on stories about women.

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Photo courtesy of Anna Needham

Theater Artist and former NEA Intern

Anna Needham (Red Lake Anishinaabe) is an emerging theater artist, arts administrator, and a former NEA intern with Folk and Traditional Arts. Theater arts typically is an uneven career path (the performing arts aren’t exactly a reliable source of income). Add to the uncertainty Needham’s passion for and commitment to Native theater, and the road becomes that much more challenging. In this podcast, Needham tells us how she meets those challenges, and how she’s learned to become an advocate for the arts and for Native culture and rights.

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Photo by Kirsten Lara Getchell

Playwright

It may come as a surprise to discover that in the 2019-2020 season, (Shakespeare aside) Lauren Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America. She’s achieved this in no small part by putting women’s stories at the center of her work. And she doesn’t just create the lone female protagonist—she has women interacting with other women-- sharing dreams, hopes, disappointments and successes. Her protagonists who are smart, funny, and determined and if they’re involved with science—so much the better. Science is a topic Gunderson returns to again and again in her work. As Lauren said in our interview, “I think theater is made for the biggest questions we can manage, and science like religion, like the arts-- is the thing that says, “What are we doing here?” That literally was the question at the center of her play Silent Sky that was recently produced at Fords’ Theater in Washington DC (and partially funded by the NEA). Silent Sky is based on a turn of the century astronomer named Henrietta Leavitt, who worked at the Harvard Observatory. Although she is little-known, Leavitt’s work and discoveries are crucial to our current understanding of the stars and the universe. In this podcast, Lauren talks about Silent Sky, her adaption of Peter Pan (in which Wendy is an aspiring scientist), her love of theater and science, and most crucially, what changes when women take the center stage.

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Photo by Keith Bormuth

Television writer

Cord Jefferson began his career as a journalist, but six years ago he began writing for television. Since that time, he has put together a jaw-dropping resume—writing for shows like Succession, Master of None, The Good Place (for which he just received an NAACP Image Award) and the ground-breaking series Watchmen. Watchmen is a super-hero series set in an alternative world that nonetheless shares much of our racial history. In fact, the series opens with 1921’s Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma—where whites rioted and razed Greenwood, a prosperous black part of town, killing hundreds of African Americans and destroying the community. A bold way to begin a super-hero series—but then Watchmen is a smart and profound examination of African-American history and how it shapes our world today. In fact, the episode Jefferson wrote with showrunner Damon Lindelof has a character living out her grandfather’s memories of vicious racism in the 1930s. In this podcast, Jefferson takes us inside the writers’ room of Watchmen; we talk about Lindelof’s vision for the series and how the writers worked together to bring it to fruition. We also talk about the process of collaboration, world building, and weaving real history into a fantasy series. Jefferson is immensely talented and a great storyteller.

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Photo Courtesy of Trey Ellis

Filmmaker, writer, teacher

Filmmaker, writer, and teacher Trey Ellis knows how to tell a story—whatever the genre. He recently moved into documentary filmmaking, working with the acclaimed documentarian Peter Kunhardt on what became the award-winning King in the Wilderness. They joined forces again almost immediately for the documentary True Justice--about Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)-- which opened the 2019 AFI Docs Film Festival (a long-time National Endowment for the Arts grantee). The film looks at Stevenson’s work tackling death row appeals at EJI as well as his more recent work as a public historian. Stevenson is also responsible for both the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which commemorates the nearly 4,000 persons lynched in the south, and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which spotlights how the effects of slavery and Jim Crow reverberate through the criminal justice system today. In this podcast, Ellis talks about bringing Stevenson’s work to the screen, how his approach to filmmaking changes based on the visibility of his subject, and the ways in which his films have profoundly changed his life. He also discusses writing for screen versus for the stage and the challenges of teaching screenwriting in a quickly-changing media landscape.

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Photo courtesy of Nate Powell

Cartoonist and 2016 National Book Award winner

Cartoonist Nate Powell is the 2016 National Book Award co-winner for Young People’s Literature. He shared the prize with Rep John Lewis and Andrew Aydin for the graphic memoir/history March. March is a trilogy, and it tells the story of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis. From a very young age, John Lewis was involved in the fight for racial equality through non-violent action. As one of the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was present at pivotal moments in the struggle for civil rights, including lunch-counter sit-ins, freedom rides, Mississippi Freedom Summer and the March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In this week’s podcast, Nate Powell talks about how he captured those moments in cartoons, the challenges of representing figures who well-known like Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he grappled with portraying the horrifying violence endured by protestors in a medium so often occupied with super-heroes and super-villains. Nate is thoughtful, smart, and in love with cartooning. I learned a lot.

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Photo by Richard Kholer

Bassist and 2020 NEA Jazz Master

Bassist and 2020 NEA Jazz Master Reggie Workman is aptly named. The man might not have played with everyone in jazz, but he has come close. I don’t want this to turn into a list of Workman’s gigs, so I’ll just touch on some of the major ones: He was a member of both the John Coltrane Quartet playing in such legendary recordings as Live at the Village Vanguard, and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers during one of the band’s great line-ups. According to Reggie, Coltrane and Blakey were very different leaders: Coltrane gave his band a lot of freedom while Blakey knew exactly what he wanted. Because he could play any style of jazz from the American songbook to avant-garde, he became the go-to bassist for Blue Note Records backing folks from Abbey Lincoln to David Murray. He’s also led his own groups like the Reggie Workman Ensemble and performed in collaborative trios. In this wide-ranging conversation, Workman talks about what makes a good supporting artist and what he was looking for when he began his group. As professor at the New School for more than 30 years, Workman also talked about teaching and helping young musicians to understand “there are mistakes (in jazz),…but you have to be able to justify each note.” This music-filled podcast is a look at a fascinating artist.

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Photo by Adam Jahiel

Leatherworker and 2019 National Heritage Fellow

Leatherworker and 2019 National Heritage Fellow James F. Jackson creates sculpture by carving leather. Go to his website and check out his work—then listen to the podcast. You really have to see the complexity and beauty of his leatherwork to appreciate our conversation about it. With all his projects, James does the work from start to finish: he designs, cuts, carves, glues, sews, sometimes paints and finishes the leather. And while James has certainly created his share of saddles, he also uses leather as the material for unlikely forms like vessels or lamps or wall hangings. Listen to a gentle man from Sheridan, Wyoming discuss his art, his teaching leatherwork around the world, the significance of traditional arts, and the deep impact of the Sheridan style of carving on Japanese leatherworkers.

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