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A Japanese Singing Competition Blooms In Colorado

January 24, 2015

Dancers performing at the 2015 Kohaku Uta Gassen in Denver (Photo: Chloe Veltman)

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At a Buddhist temple in downtown Denver, Junko Higdon is rehearsing a traditional song for one of the local Japanese community's biggest annual events.

Higdon is one of 30 amateur singers competing in two teams at this year's Kohaku Uta Gassen, which means, "red and white singing battle." "White is for the men, red is for the women and whoever gets the most points out the teams wins the trophy," she says.

Kohaku contests in the U.S., like the one held in Denver on Saturday, are spin-offs of a massive, annual singing event in Japan. Those competitions began shortly after World War II and spread to U.S. cities with large Japanese-American populations.

A Dying Tradition 

Japanese communities around the U.S. decided to replicate the original Kohaku, as a way to entertain first-generation immigrants, says Seiji Tanaka, who has been involved with the event since it started 40 years ago.

"This is a very traditional Japanese event," Tanaka says. "You don't have to leave Denver to enjoy one day [of] Japanese culture."

When many first-generation immigrants began to die years ago, Tanaka says most cities stopped producing the event. "We tried to continue to entertain ... but no audience," he says. "Just like fishing where no fish [are] there."

Although Denver has a Japanese population of fewer than 3,000, Tanaka felt an attachment to Kohaku, so he decided to change things up.

Finding a new generation of enthusiasts 

"We start finding new fish in the new generation people," he says.

The event now includes Japanese rock music, and English-language songs from musicals like Les Miserables.

The sing-off used to be the Denver event's biggest draw, but it now includes things like traditional Japanese dancing and Taiko drumming.

And it's also becoming more diverse.

Daniel Medina is one of the performers at this year's Kohaku. He met his band mate, lead singer Jin Kazama, on Craigslist.

"All of my Japanese knowledge came from video games of Final Fantasy," Medina says. "And then I just got lucky meeting Jin and getting to be surrounded by Japanese culture."

Tanaka says efforts to expand the event's offerings are paying off, but he's also nostalgic for the old days.

"Many older people cannot understand new pop-type music," Tanaka says. "But in order to keep going, we need to have that kind of balancing things."

And in order to keep Denver's Kohaku Uta Gassen going, Tanaka, 76, is now on the hunt for a successor.



This week from CPR’s Arts Bureau: Sundance-bound Denver filmmaker, 'Shark Tank' for artists & more
Colorado Public Radio

January 23, 2015

Filmmaker Daniel Junge with collaborator Davis Coombe (Photo: Corey Jones)

Check out this week's in-depth coverage of the Colorado culture scene from CPR's Arts Bureau:

Denver filmmaker Daniel Junge makes his long-awaited premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah with his new film “Being Evel.” CPR arts reporter Corey H. Jones explores the documentarian’s diverse film career.

Inspired by the hit ABC series “Shark Tank,” the Denver Foundation has a new, unconventional platform for grantmaking. The “Colorado Art Tank,” asks cultural organizations to pitch their ideas before a live audience.

Denver is seeking applications for its first-ever Youth Poet Laureate. CPR arts editor Chloe Veltman spoke with Ken Arkind, director of youth slam poetry organization Minor Disturbance, about what the new position will entail.

Back in the day, Caribou Ranch near Nederland was a recording hideout for stars like Elton John, rock band Chicago and singer/songwriter Joe Walsh. As the auction for the property nears, Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner spoke with music producer James Guercio, who built the studio, and bassist Kenny Passarelli. You can also watch videos of famous bands and musicians performing hit songs they recorded at Caribou Ranch.

Estes Park artists and creative businesses are working on forming a new art association called Estes Arts Presents in a bid to become a state-certified creative district.

Fort Collins native and Colorado State University graduate Duncan Ramsay was a producer for the animated short “The Dam Keeper,” which recently received an Academy Award nomination in the “Best Short Film (Animated)” category.

Four people have been charged in connection with last summer’s theft of Dale Chihuly artwork from the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

After 28 years, Denver cafe Paris on Platte made its final sale last Saturday. Colorado Matters producer Michael de Yoanna visited the popular spot for poets and musicians as it said au revoir.

CPR’s Corey H. Jones spoke with Rocky Mountain Deaf Theatre artistic director Nicki Runge about her Denver-based theater company and the upcoming Colorado Springs run of its original production “Six Woman in Search of a Perfect Play.”

In Denver-based performance troupe Curious Theatre’s latest show, “Charles Ives Take Me Home,” family tension is played out to the music of American modernist composer, drawing parallels between sport and art. Actors Dave Belden and Kate Berry performed a scene from the production in the CPR Performance Studio.

Chloe Veltman reports on a Japanese singing competition that's been a staple of the local Japanese cultural calendar for 40 years.

Arts happenings around Colorado this weekend: CPR’s Arts Bureau spotlights this weekend’s Colorado cultural happenings, including a cocktail and theater pairing in Longmont, an art exhibition exploring climate change in Boulder and more. CPR arts contributor Jeremy Brieske highlights the top upcoming events for Denver’s biennial celebration of fine art photography, Month of Photography (MoP).

 Coverage from CPR's Arts Bureau is now also available as a weekly podcast via iTunes and the NPR podcast directory.



This week from CPR’s Arts Bureau: Mural painting, songs from nature and more
Colorado Public Radio

January 9, 2015

Blackbird and the Storm at CPR (Photo: Michael Hughes)

This week's in-depth coverage of the Colorado culture scene from CPR's Arts Bureau. Read more and listen online here.

After presenting classical, jazz and world music concerts at Denver clubs and cabarets for years, music promoter Jim Bailey is bringing his unconventional programming to Boulder’s Dairy Center for the Arts. CPR arts editor Chloe Veltman spoke with Bailey about his passion for unusual sounds and rarely-heard works.

A federal judge did not halt a plan by world-famous artist Christo to hang nearly six miles of fabric over the Arkansas River. Now, members of Rags Over the River (ROAR), a nonprofit opposing the project, say they are considering an appeal.

Colorado Springs 98-year-old muralist Eric Bransby shows no signs of slowing down, as he works on a new project he hopes to install at Colorado College in time for his 100th birthday. CPR’s Chloe Veltman examined Bransby’s extensive career and dogged determination to pursue his art.

The melodies and rhythms of birds are both the inspiration and instrumentation for Boulder band Blackbird and The Storm’s latest album, “The Water is Rising.” Lead vocalist Marie-Juliette Bird talks with CPR’s Chloe Veltman about what makes her songs distinct from other compositions motivated by birdsong.

Following the closing of its blockbuster Dale Chihuly exhibition, the Denver Botanic Gardens unveiled a new permanent sculpture by the famed glass artist Tuesday. On Jan. 13, Denver art enthusiasts will get the chance to experience a movie version of an exhibition currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. CPR arts editor Chloe Veltman explores this emerging trend and if the Denver Art Museum intends to take part in it.

On Saturday, Colorado-based Americana troupe the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. CPR’s Ryan Warner spoke with founding member John McEuen about why the band made its home here.

Denver presented new noise regulations for Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, including restricted sound levels during the full length of shows, in response to residents’ continued complaints. CPR arts reporter Stephanie Wolf examined the key changes laid out by the city.

The Nevada-based Western Folklife Center announced the winners of its YouTube cowboy poetry competition on Tuesday. Watch videos of the emerging young poets carrying on cattlemen’s tradition of verse.

Arts happenings around Colorado this weekend: CPR’s Arts Bureau spotlights this weekend’s Colorado cultural events, including a play starring a near-life-size puppet of Hollywood actor Tommy Lee Jones and an ice-climbing gathering in Ouray.

Coverage from CPR's arts bureau is now also available as a weekly podcast via iTunes and the NPR podcast directory.



Would you go to a Denver theater to watch an art exhibit in NYC?
Colorado Public Radio

January 6, 2015

Henri Matisse (Photo: Carol Van Vechten,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Denver art lovers will get the opportunity on Jan. 13 to experience the movie version of a blockbuster exhibition currently at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The U.S. premiere of “Matisse from MoMA and Tate Modern,” is based on these museums’ joint, “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” show which runs through Feb. 10 in New York. The film is screening in several metro area theaters including Pavilions in downtown Denver, Lakewood’s Bel Mar cinema and the Regal River Point in Englewood.

It's part of an emerging trend. Arts lovers have become used to seeing stage plays, concert or opera at a movie theater over the past five years or so. 2.7 million people have watched one of UK’s National Theatre productions on the “National Theatre Live” program since its inception in 2009, according to its website.

Now, museums are stepping into the celluloid arena in the hopes of capturing a virtual audience for their largely site-specific work. But following a camera around a gallery isn’t as compelling as watching a performance on screen. For one thing, you can only linger on a painting or sculpture for as long as the film’s editor allows you to.

A virtual tour with behind-the-scenes information 

“Ninety-five percent of the audience can’t get to London or New York,” explained Phil Grabsky, the UK-based documentary filmmaker behind the Matisse film and other blockbuster exhibition-oriented movies such as “Manet: Portraying Life at the Royal Academy.”

Grabsky has been making art exhibition films since 2011. Movies like the one he made about Manet have been seen in 35 countries so far. Other exhibitions he’s brought to the screen have revolved around such artists as Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh. “The film provides an opportunity for them to share in these art works,” he said.

The “virtual tour” of the exhibit is then interwoven with behind-the-scenes information from curators and other experts as well as biographical and historical insights into the artist’s life and career. 

Denver Art Museum not planning to make its own films 

“Feature filmmaking, production and distribution is not a focus for the Denver Art Museum,” said Kristy Bassuener, the museum's associate director of communications and public affairs.

In recent years, the museum has been an originator of -- and a key touring stop for -- several blockbuster art shows.

The ongoing “Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century” is the most comprehensive exhibition ever produced by a museum centering on the famous jewelry house. And Denver was the only U.S. location to view 2012’s “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective,” the high-profile survey of the revered fashion designer.

The glitzy Cartier and Yves Saint Laurent shows are ripe for movie treatment inasmuch as they present big brand populist fare intended to appeal to audiences who wouldn’t normally consider attending museum exhibitions.

According to data provided by the Denver Art Museum’s marketing department, 20 percent of the people who attended the Yves Saint Laurent show were first-time visitors to the museum.

Yet Bassuener says the museum has no plans to collaborate with film production companies on the making and mainstream distribution of films about its exhibitions.

A more modest approach 

Although the museum will not be bringing its Cartier bling to multiplexes across the world anytime soon, it is exploring the medium of film as a means to complement its on-site programming in a more modest way.

“Our team has plans to highlight the local screenings in social media related to our own Matisse exhibition,” Bassuener said.

The museum’s “Matisse and Friends: Selected Masterworks from the National Gallery of Art” show runs through Feb. 8. And on Jan. 23, DAM will show “William Matthews: Drawn to Paint,” a documentary by filmmaker Amie Knox to coincide with the institution’s exhibition of Matthews’ work which runs through May 17.

The screening will take place on the museum’s premises, and excerpts from the film are already on view in the gallery. It also received an airing at the most recent Starz Film Festival late last year.

For now, the museum attempts to give the public a look inside its inner workings through its Behind the Scenes blog, which features visuals and staff commenting on exhibitions, conservation, collections and other process-oriented topics.

Elsewhere, museum films continue to grow 

But this online offering is a small effort compared to the massive undertaking of producing feature-length fine art documentaries and distributing them around the globe.

Through his production company Seventh Art Productions, Grabsky finances his projects like the Matisse film independently with loans and private investors. The budgets range from $300,000 to $400,000.

The museums give his team access to their galleries, processes and staff, Grabsy says, but they do not have any editorial or creative control over the finished product.

He does collaborate closely with art institutions when making his movies, and says he isn’t opposed to the idea of collaborating with DAM on a film down the line.

“Increasingly, galleries are coming to us about filming their big exhibitions,” Grabsky said. “Cinemas were initially resistant; why would someone come to a cinema to see an art exhibition? But now they understand the value for thousands of people who can’t get to the exhibitions.”

See the original story here.



This week from CPR’s Arts Bureau: Reflecting on a dynamic year in Colo. arts and culture
Colorado Public Radio

January 2, 2015

This week's in-depth coverage of the Colorado culture scene from CPR's arts bureau. Read more and listen online here.

CPR’s Arts Bureau recaps some of the year’s most significant cultural headlines across the state, including bring-your-own marijuana classical concerts, famed director Quentin Tarantino picking Telluride for his next film and two cities creating visions to integrate the arts into their communities.

Throughout 2014, Colorado Matters and Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store hosted interviews with some of the best authors in the state. Listen to a collection of favorite conversations from the year, including Denver author Peter Heller discussing his gripping novel “The Painter” and Antonya Nelson sharing her colorful short stories.

CPR Classical reflects on its favorites moments in the CPR Performance Studio of 2014, featuring guests such as The Dover Quartet string ensemble, Denver School of the Arts students and more.

Some of the state’s most beloved musicians shared their stories on Colorado Matters this past year. Listen to several favorite music interviews from songsmith Esme Patterson, bluegrass band Hot Rize and Denver cornet player Ron Miles.

OpenAir asks notable members of the Colorado arts scene, such as Neyla Pekarek of The Lumineers and DeVotchka’s Shawn King, to share their favorite tunes from 2014.

Arts happenings around Colorado this weekend: CPR’s Arts Bureau spotlights this weekend’s Colorado cultural events, including a husband and wife exhibition, theater created in 24 hours and more.

Coverage from CPR's arts bureau is now also available as a weekly podcast via iTunes and the NPR podcast directory.



For 98-Year-Old Artist, Every Mural Must 'Be A New Adventure'

Eric Bransby in his Colorado Springs studio (Photo: Nathaniel Minor)

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Eric Bransby is one of the last living links to the great age of American mural painting. He studied with one of this country's most famous muralists — Thomas Hart Benton — and went on to create his own murals in prominent buildings across the west.

The artist is now 98 and still painting.

At his Colorado Springs studio, Bransby attacks a drawing with tight, sharp strokes, a pastel pencil grasped between gnarled fingers. His studio is unheated, but he doesn't seem to notice the cold. He's completely engrossed in the image taking shape on his easel. It's a study for a new mural that he hopes to install at nearby Colorado College.

He says he draws between two and eight hours every day. "Drawing has been a continuous thing for me, like exercises for a musician," he says. "It's refreshing. I draw better. I paint better."

Drawing the human figure has been one of the few constants in the artist's patchwork career.

Bransby was born in 1916 in Auburn, NY. His father was a preacher who took the family to Pennsylvania and then Iowa. His parents didn't encourage his artistic pursuits.

During the Depression, his parents responded the following way when he demanded to be sent to art school: "Well he'll do one year and he'll come back so discouraged that we'll make something else out of him." "But that didn't happen," Bransby says. "I found heaven."

Bransby hitched a ride from Iowa to enroll in the Kansas City Art Institute in 1938. At the time, Thomas Hart Benton was one of the most famous artists of the era — though Bransby had never heard of him.

Under Benton, Bransby embarked upon a rigorous regimen of figure drawing and anatomy classes patterned after the European academies. Benton painted alongside his students and Bransby remembers him as a taskmaster. "With Benton, it was all business," he says. "You got in the studio and, by god, you worked like hell."

Things looked promising for the young artist. Benton included two Bransby paintings in a high-profile show in New York in 1941. The following year, Bransby painted his first professional mural for what was then called the Work Projects Administration.

Then he got drafted.

By day, he painted military murals at Camp Leavenworth, and after hours, he improvised a way to do his own work. "I'd go down and paint at night in the latrine because they'd leave the lights on down there," he says. "I was called the latrine painter."

After the war, abstract expressionism hit the art world. The human figure was displaced by drips, splashes and abstract forms.

"For that generation it was very difficult to make your way as a figurative painter," says Henry Adams, an art history professor at Case Western Reserve University. "A number of artists who had been very successful in the late years of the 1930s then suddenly found that the whole art world had changed."

Bransby and his family criss-crossed the country looking for work and grants.

In the late 1940s, he got a grant to study at Yale under the exacting European abstract artist Josef Albers. Bransby started to incorporate what he learned from his teacher into his figurative pieces.

"One of the things that makes his work unique is he combines that Renaissance-based figurative tradition with what he learned from Josef Albers," explains Blake Milteer, museum director at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, home to many of Bransby's works. "He combines figures with a dramatic sense of abstraction and of architecture, placing these figures in a shifting kind of space."

Though Bransby managed to successfully combine the old with the new, his passion for the human form — and for murals — never left him.

He says: "I thought about it quite a long time and I said 'Godammit, I'm going to draw the figure whether it's in favor or not. And if a wall comes along — I'm going to do it.'"

In the 1980s and '90s, Bransby's profile as a muralist rose again. He received commissions in Illinois and Colorado.

His stick-to-it-iveness impresses painter Sushe Felix, who has assisted Bransby on several mural projects. "I mean, here he is. He's 98 and he's still doing it," Felix says. "That was a really good lesson: To never give up. Keep trying. Keep growing."

Bransby's age has slowed him down; he gets around with the help of a walker and his hands shake when he paints.

But he's always got his eye on the next project.

"I try to make each mural a project that will somehow expand my abilities a little bit more," he says. "Everything has to be a new adventure."

He's hoping to finish his latest mural in time for his 100th birthday.



This week from CPR’s Arts Bureau: Global ‘Silent Night,' inspiration for atheists and more
Colorado Public Radio

December 26, 2014

University of Denver carilloneur Carol Jickling Lens (Photo: Chloe Veltman)

This week's in-depth coverage of the Colorado culture scene from CPR's arts bureau. Read and listen online here.

On Christmas Eve, “Silent Night” and other holiday hymns rang from the Williams Tower at the University of Denver (DU) as part of a worldwide performance to honor the Great War’s Christmas Truce. In anticipation of the commemorative event, CPR arts editor Chloe Veltman spoke with DU adjunct instructor and carillon player Carol Jickling Lens.

Boulder author Buzzy Jackson’s new book, “The Inspirational Atheist,” is a collection of motivational quotes for humanists, atheists, skeptics, agnostics and the spiritual-but-not-religious. She talked with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about why she felt compelled to create such a book.

Denver screenwriter Rick Ramage’s latest film, “Christmastime,” harkens back to the feel-good holiday flicks of the 1940s. The movie is in stark contrast to Ramage's previous horror and thriller scripts. CPR’s Chloe Veltman asked Ramage about what inspired him to forego his darker cinematic past and make a film with uplifting themes.

CPR remembered famous singer-songer Joe Cocker, who died Monday at his ranch in western Colorado. He was 70.

Arts happenings around Colorado this weekend: CPR’s Arts Bureau spotlighted this weekend’s Colorado cultural events, including an exhibition with artwork inspired by literature, a magic show with a touch of romance and comedy in Lone Tree and more.

Coverage from CPR's arts bureau is now also available as a weekly podcast via iTunes and the NPR podcast directory.