Category Archives: Bob Hicks

Thursday scatter: of foxes and hen houses, etc.

An egg crisis is ravaging the hen house.

They’re disappearing.

And the foxes are shocked, shocked.

While the hens bemoan the loss of their little ones — several survivors have been running around crying that the sky is falling — the foxes have gathered the whole barnyard to declare that Something Must Be Done. Trust them: We Must Act Now.

The head fox has declared that the true victims are the foxes themselves, who have been cruelly deprived of their stockpile of eggs. To avert catastrophe, the foxes’ hoards must be replenished: The hens must lay 700 billion new eggs, right now. The farmer, blinking owlishly, agrees. One wise old fox, who yearns to live in the farm house, has declared that he will Suspend All Other Activities while he Helps Find a Solution. That solution will be found by foxes, and foxes alone. And the solution is that the Hens Will Provide.

Meanwhile, no omelettes this morning. And for music lovers, the rooster doesn’t much feel like crowing, either. Where’s Aesop when we need him? Where’s George Orwell?

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NEW GUY AT THE GUGGENHEIM: Those who can curate, curate. Those who can curate well, lead museums. At least, that’s the mini-trend among major museums in New York.

Following the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s appointment earlier this month of European tapestry curator Thomas P. Campbell to replace the venerated Philippe de Montebello as director, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has named Richard Armstrong, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, as the Guggenheim‘s next director.

Like Campbell, Armstrong rose in the ranks on the strength of his curatorial qualities, not his showmanship: His specialty is contemporary art, a good fit for the Goog. And the ever-busy Carol Vogel, in her report for the New York Times, suggests that after years of expansion in Bilbao, Venice, Berlin and (coming in 2013) Abu Dhabi, Armstrong and the Guggenheim are ready to shift their focus back to New York. Another good report comes from The Art Newspaper.

Is it possible that sober financial times are bringing more prudential museum leaders? De Montebello, of course, has combined prudence, measured daring and a brilliant commitment to the art for more than 30 years at the Met, following the mercurial reign of supershowman Thomas Hoving. At the Guggenheim, Armstrong will follow high-rolling Thomas Krens. And when the Portland Art Museum‘s Hoving-like director John Buchanan headed south to take over the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the museum board replaced him with Brian Ferriso and charged Ferriso to quiet the waters and keep things on an even keel.

The question is, will an even keel fill the cruise ship with customers? Is generating excitement gauche, or is it part of what a museum is about? To what extent does a museum exist for insiders, and to what extent does it have a duty to appeal to the general public?

These are uneasy times, and leading a major — or modest — museum is no easy task. To Armstrong, Campbell, Ferriso and their compatriots, then: Good luck, be wise, balance well, take risks, and don’t forget the public.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SOMEDAY: Someday Lounge, that is. The Old Town Portland night spot and hub for interesting alternative arts has turned two and is celebrating with a bunch of events this weekend. The one that catches our eye is the premiere of Pig Roast and Tank of Fish, a documentary about Portland’s Chinatown (which is more or less where the Someday coexists) to be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28. Here’s what the Lounge has to say:

Portlander Ivy Lin directed and produced Pig Roast & Tank of Fish. “I’ve always wondered why our Chinatown went from being the second largest in the U.S. to almost like a ghost town. It’s in the heart of downtown, with that beautiful gate and garden and nothing much else,” says Lin. “Earlier this year, 70 Asians showed up at a city council meeting to testify against the the siting of another homeless shelter on Block 25 in Chinatown. I was not even involved with the Chinese community then, but I was very moved and this event became the inspiration for this project.”

This documentary is the first-ever motion picture to acknowledge the history/legacy of Chinatown, Portland’s oldest neighborhood where the pioneers of many ethnic communities once called “home.” It includes some rarely seen footage of ongoing cultural/social activities behind closed doors…Chinatown is not dead!

See you there, Friends of Art Scatter.

Scatter, the new generation: On the right-brain revolution

The thing about pep rallies is, sometimes there really is something to cheer about. So it was Thursday night inside the Dolores Winningstad Theatre in downtown Portland, where a group no longer called Arts Partners gathered much of the local arts mob for a rebranding celebration — from now on, thanks to the Portland firm North, Arts Partners is The Right Brain Initiative.

What’s that mean?

For one thing, you’re going to have to finally get that right brain/left brain thing straight in your mind: left brain analytical, right brain intuitive. You can color-code it if that helps.

More importantly, it means that after many years of America’s public schools being pushed further and further into a “back to the basics” position that all too often amounts to deadening drudgery, creative thinking is pushing back. And considering the economic, cultural and environmental challenges of the 21st century, it’s pushing back just in time.

The RBI, which has been spearheaded by the Regional Arts & Cultural Council but has had lots of vital input from many other organizations and individuals (including some local government grants), has set itself a noble if daunting task — to incorporate arts programs “into the education of every K-8 student in the Portland metropolitan region’s school districts.” And the goal has a good kick-start. Beginning this winter, 20 schools will give the idea a test drive — two in the Gresham-Barlow district, six in North Clackamas, four in Hillsboro and eight in the Portland district. Programs will be put in place by Young Audiences of Oregon and Southwest Washington, which has many years’ experience bringing arts events into public schools.

Some good old-fashioned left-brain questions remain to be asked, and a lot of tough left-brain work needs to be done to bring this thing on-line. The point, after all, isn’t to kick analytical thinking out of the schools and substitute it with daydreams, but to teach kids how to fuse their thinking and use their whole brains: analysis and imagination working together. How do we learn? What is the purpose of learning? How do we engage our students in the excitement of discovery? How do we teach them to survive and thrive in a 21st century that demands adaptability and suppleness of thought?

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Thursday scatter: cool nicknames, a new guy at the Met

One of our favorite Portland writers, Fred Leeson, has a sweet cover story in the inPortland section of today’s Oregonian on Sweet Baby James Benton, the smooth-singing jazz guy who is one of the last links to the great old days of the city’s North Williams Avenue jazz scene.

That scene was pretty much wiped out, along with the thriving black neighborhood that nourished it, by the midcentury sweep of urban renewal that also obliterated the bustling working and ethnic neighborhoods of south downtown, which at least led to the terrific Lawrence Halprin fountains that will be celebrated this weekend.

But enough of the heavy stuff. What we’re thinking about now is cool nicknames (Benton was being called Sweet Baby James at least a decade before James Taylor wrote that unavoidable song).

Jazz and blues and pop music have ’em. Count Basie. Duke Ellington. King Oliver. (Do we detect a pattern here?) Big Mama Thornton. Wild Bill Haley. Doctor John.

Football has ’em. Crazy Legs Hirsch. Whizzer White (who whizzed all the way to the United States Supreme Court bench). Night Train Lane (who gets honorary musical billing, too: He was married to the great Dinah Washington).

Baseball has ’em. Three Finger Brown. Big Poison Waner. Little Poison Waner. Stan the Man Musial. Moose Skowron. Catfish Hunter. Blue Moon Odom. Nuke Laloosh. (We don’t count sportswriter inventions such as the execrable “Splendid Splinter” for Ted Williams, or even “The Bambino” for George Herman Ruth: “Babe” was quite enough.)

We confess to a longstanding if not deeply felt regret for our own un-nicknamedness. A few people in our youth called us Hopalong: Although it’s true we once created a whole Hopalong Cassidy comic book with a fresh storyline by carefully cutting apart several old Hoppy comics and rearranging the panels in a way that fit our desires, the monicker was tied more directly to our unorthodox running style, which included a couple of hops and a jump. And a few people, knowing both our middle name and our family roots in the rural South, refer to us as “Bobby Wayne.” But those aren’t real nicknames. They don’t stick.

So, the big question: How about you? Got a favorite nickname for a public or semi-public figure? (Arianna Huffington, it seems, has annointed Sarah Palin with “The Trojan Moose,” but we have a feeling the honoree should actually be willing to accept the honor.) Something you were tagged as a kid that has sadly (or not so sadly) drifted away? A name you’d really like to be known by, if only someone else would get the ball rolling? Hit that comment button. All of Art Scatter really, really wants to know.

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THE CHANGING OF THE GUARDS:

Big news at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which some of us consider one of the coolest spots on Earth. Thomas P. Campbell, a late horse in the running, has been selected to replace the venerable Philippe de Montebello as director and chief executive. Campbell is 46 and widely respected by those who know him; his specialty is European tapestries. Montebello is 72 and has run the Met, extremely well, for 31 years; he retires next year. With Campbell, the Met went in-house and chose someone with impeccable professional credentials — no sure thing in the go-go museum world, where directors, like college presidents, are often chosen more for their ability to haul in the bucks than for their artistic or academic chops. Of course, Campbell’s going to have to raise tons of money, too. Good luck! Carol Vogel has the story in the New York Times. Plus, a compelling analysis from the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Alexei Ratmansky, artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, is leaving Moscow for New York to become artist in residence at American Ballet Theater: The internationalization of the ballet world continues apace. Again, The Times has the report.

And up the freeway in Seattle, Gerard Schwarz has announced he’ll retire as music director of the Seattle Symphony in 2011. He’s 61 now and will have been at the helm in Seattle for 26 years , guiding the orchestra, among other achievements, into its splendid home at Benaroya Hall. His leavetaking will not exactly be met with wailing and gnashing of teeth by a number of orchestra members, who have chafed under his autocratic leadership. But others at the symphony are stout defenders, and he’s put this orchestra on the map. A lot of potential replacements are going to consider this a plum job. Reports from the Seattle Times and the New York Times.

BodyVox jumps for joy about its new home

While we’re all worrying about arts organizations going bust (let’s just hope there’s life and vitality in the Portland Jazz Festival yet) and arguing about whether the city needs a covered plaza as a gateway to the downtown arts district, let’s take time out for a spot of good news.

BodyVox has a new home.

OK, right now it’s a big old mostly empty warehouse with 1890s brick walls reminiscent of a 1970s restaurant rehab (Art Scatter happens to be fond of old brick walls and brawny posts and beams, if not necessarily hanging ferns). But Jamey Hampton, who runs the popular dance and movement troupe with his wife and fellow performer/choreographer Ashley Roland, says the space will be ready for the company’s spring show, and adds that the troupe’s architects, Portland’s BOORA, are estimating a complete makeover by next June. Well, maybe some of the office spaces won’t be quite done by then, Hampton says: Depends on the money.

Portland is a talk-big, think-small town, and that’s both bad and good. The bad part is that it supports its large organizations poorly and doesn’t really think, despite its sometimes fawning press notices, that it can play in the big leagues. The good part is that modest-sized organizations such as BodyVox have learned how to get the most bang for their buck and have an impact far beyond the size of their budgets. It’s a corrolary to our economic self-image: We define ourselves as a small-business-friendly city because we don’t have much in the way of big businesses, and then turn that into an advantage.

BodyVox’s new building, which it rolled out in a convivial tour/party late Monday afternoon, is at Northwest Northrup Street and 17th Avenue, a nice, relatively quiet urban stretch that’s tucked neatly between the Pearl District and the city’s more traditional Northwest neighborhoods. Easy to get to, relatively easy to find a parking space, and a mortgage, not a lease. Nice work if you can get it, and BodyVox did.

The building, which began life as Portland’s Wells Fargo building (the main space was for carriage storage, and there were also stables and a dormitory for the drivers) and more recently was the printing and publishing space for Corberry Press, came to BodyVox through Henry Hillman, the arts supporter, photographer, glass artist and owner of several properties. As Roland tells the story, Hillman had been advising BodyVox in its hunt for a new, bigger space, and kept pointing out the shortcomings of several possibilities: too small, not at street level, too hard to rehab. Finally, Hampton said, “Well, what about your building?” And Hillman said, “Hmmm.” Hillman keeps his glass studio next door, and as a bonus has a decent parking lot that BodyVox can use in the evenings.

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A bridge too far: Connecting Portland’s performance halls

“While you’re catching up on weekend papers,” our blogging compatriot Mighty Toy Cannon of Culture Shock writes, “I’d be interested in your comments on the Oregonian editorial regarding the renovation of the Schnitz and the possible enclosure of the Main Street Plaza (Saturday, August 30).”

As Mighty Toy points out, the editorial got lost not only by running on a Saturday but also because it was buried beneath the flurry of news about vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin (pre-grandma version) — and wasn’t that an artfully worded baby announcement, by the way.

The editorial’s gist is this: Even though most Portlanders could care less about the symphony and opera and ballet, these things are important to our economy and our sense of civic pride. The city’s most prominent performance space, downtown’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, is in need of big fixes — at least $10 million, maybe a lot more — partly because its acoustics are subpar, and it’s used 60 percent of the time by the Oregon Symphony, a group for which acoustics are exceedingly important.

So far so good. But then the editorial gets down to what really seems to excite its author: the possibility of reviving the idea of some sort of bridge between the Schnitz and the theater building that houses the Newmark and Dolores Winningstad theaters right across Main Street. It’s an idea that was part of the original 1982 blueprints for the Portland Center for the Performing Arts but was scrapped for financial reasons. And it would include permanently blocking off Main between Broadway and Park Avenue to create a plaza that would connect the two buildings.

“In the offing now,” the editorialist writes, “is an opportunity to finally connect the two buildings, to animate their too-often-dormant lobbies, to cleverly create downtown’s long-sought ‘gateway’ to its cultural district.”

OK, first a little history. When the performing arts center was being planned in the early 1980s, it was all to be built on land donated by Evans Products adjacent to Keller Auditorium, which was then known as Civic Auditorium. That plan would have created a Portland version of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — an arts cluster near downtown but not quite at its center. And except for the old Civic, all the halls would be built new, so the acoustics and seating would be up-to-date and you wouldn’t run into any of the surprises and compromises that go along with historical renovation. (The Schnitz at the time was known as the Paramount, and was a shabby onetime vaudeville and movie house that was being used for rock ‘n’ roll concerts.)

But downtown business and political interests pushed through a swap so the new center would be housed instead along a stretch of Broadway that had become run-down, creating an economic spur to help the center of the city out of its recession doldrums. The Paramount, with all of its problems, became the key player in the switch, and the city took over the block across from Main to build its two smaller theater spaces. Economically, the plan worked like a dream (for the business district, at least: the arts center itself, and the companies that used it, still suffer because the center’s financial structure covered only the costs of construction, with no regard for maintenance or operation).

Flash forward to 2008 and the latest push to create a “gateway” to the cultural district, which also includes the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Art Museum along the South Park Blocks. And forget for the moment the nasty realities about actually funding any sort of project, because that’s a subject far too complex for this post. As the Oregonian editorial stresses, it would require plenty of individual, corporate and foundation support in addition to tax money.

Continue reading A bridge too far: Connecting Portland’s performance halls

Pre-Labor Day Scatter: Red shoes, hot peppers, art scams

So here it is just hours before Labor Day (to be celebrated by much of America by a trip to the mall, where many people will be working for minimum wage or a skoosh over it) and this corner of Art Scatter is thinking about a few things.

Such as Josh White, who is playing on the stereo (we reveal our age by using such an antiquated term), who has just finished singing and playing “Strange Fruit” (if you think Biilie Holiday‘s astonishing version is the whole story, give this one a listen) and has moved on through his hilarious, haunting “One Meat Ball” and is now into his definitive “St. Louis Blues” and — hold it — a killer “Careless Love.”

And Art Scatter’s wife’s amazing ability with a dirty martini.

And the hot peppers of Hatch, New Mexico, where his 92-year-old father lived for two years in the 1920s, and one of which has entered a soup still simmering on the Art Scatter stove, and which (the town, not the pepper) this corner of Art Scatter did not visit on a recent eight-day trip to Santa Fe and environs, which experiences this corner of Art Scatter will discuss shortly. (A shout-out to Southwest Airlines, perhaps the last of the decent air carriers.)

And now Josh White is singing “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed,” and this corner of Art Scatter could almost die happy.

But not before recommending a few things.

Such as Alistair MacAulay’s excellent revisit to the 1948 Michael Powell/Emeric Pessenburger movie The Red Shoes, which Friend of Art Scatter First Class Martha Ullman West has recently promoted as one of the greatest movies of all time. If you’ve done what we often do on holiday weekends and let your newspaper sit untouched, do pick up your Sunday New York Times.

You’ll also find in your Sunday Times a wonderful story by J.D. Biersdorfer about a late 18th century art scam that pulled in the American painter Benjamin West and eventually other leading painters with its promise of revealing the secrets of the great Venetian ancients. It was, of course, a hoax, of P.T. Barnum proportions. A ruefully delightful tale.

Finally, check out Friend of Art Scatter D.K. Row’s challenge to the Portland art scene in the Sunday Oregonian, a piece bemoaning the city’s lack of a contemporary art center to goose the city’s art scene and push it into the national mainstream. We couldn’t agree more. The city that thinks it’s cool has a long way to go, and it’s lucky it has a few people like Row to speak the truth to its press-ageantry-lulled sense of self-satisfaction.

Happy Labor Day!

Portland Ballet: an invitation to the dance

“There are more good dancers in the world right now than there have ever been,” Christopher Stowell told me soon after he arrived in Portland a few years ago to take over Oregon Ballet Theatre.

He wasn’t talking about great dancers — those streaks of lightning and passion who come along every now and then and rearrange our assumptions about the possibilities of the human body. He meant good dancers: well-trained, devoted, flexible, athletic, intelligent, capable of realizing the complexities of a choreographic mind. And he was right.

God knows why. You don’t strike it rich as a dancer — in fact, even if you work for a modest-sized professional company, chances are you’re waiting tables or slinging drinks in your off-hours to help pay the rent. But dancing, which like acting was once considered not much more than a variation on the world’s oldest profession, has become an honorable goal, even a noble one. And even as dance companies are struggling to keep their audiences and pay their bills, they are flooded with aspiring young dancers eager to join their ranks.

You can see the evidence all over town — and all over most towns of any size. Something important and time-honored is going on, something that feels like the best parts of the old medieval guild system: Those who have mastered the skills are passing them along to the next generation of artisans.

Stowell brought Damara Bennett from San Francisco to run OBT’s school, which does triple duty: developing new dancers for the company, preparing dancers to go on to other companies and schools, providing training for amateurs who will become the backbone of the future’s dance audience. Sarah Slipper has once again brought together several leading choreographers and young dance professionals for her summer intensive Northwest Professional Dance Project. The highly competitive Jefferson Dancers high school company continues to scatter alumni into professional companies and elite college programs across the country.

And in a small but handsome studio in Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood, tucked between the farmers’ market and the feisty Three Square Grill, home of the flourishing Picklopolis culinary empire, The Portland Ballet continues to put its own spin on the city’s dance personality, quietly sending forth young dancers into the larger world. Founded under the name Pacific Artists Ballet in 2001 by husband-and-wife Nancy Davis and Jim Lane, Portland Ballet attaches “Academy and Youth Company” to the end of its name, and that’s a precise description: This is a school for young people who want to make dancing their profession.

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Misled on Beijing: The words that twist our tongues

(This is a reader-participation posting. You, too, can embarrass yourself thoroughly by fessing up to the words you’ve mispronounced, misconstrued or generally mistreated for most of your natural born days. Hit that comment button!)

Comes this, from the venerable Associated Press: Apparently the host city of the Michael Phelps Quadrennial Swimathon is Bay-JING, not Bay-ZHING.

Who knew?

Well, more than a billion Chinese citizens, for starters. And probably Richard Nixon, may he rest in semi-peace, and Henry Kissinger, who (I never thought I’d say a thing like this) might have been a handy fellow to have around to fend off the Russia-Georgia hot-war tiff that seems to have been made possible partly by American diplomatic and political miscues.

But not me, until the AP set me straight. And not the majority of our television talking heads. And maybe not you.

Some people seem to gravitate to the soft-z Bay-ZHING because it sounds, well, foreign and exotic, according to the AP. But that, the news service points out, is like saying New ZHER-zey: It just ain’t right. (And there’s nothing much exotic about New Jersey, although the views of Manhattan from West New York are pretty darned killer.)

So, the big question: What other words have we been mangling, misconstruing, mixing up? Which words in our private lexicons have meanings or pronunciations known only to us, even though we blissfully believe the rest of the English-speaking world is fully attuned to our singular and quaintly idiosyncratic interpretations?

Some years ago — oh, say when I was in my early 30s — a friend confessed that when she was a kid she thought the word “mis-led” was “MYZ-uld.” Heh-heh, I replied, and never let on that until that moment “misled” had MYZ-uld me completely. Oh, I knew about mis-led, and what it meant. But I was under the impression that there were two words: ordinary, garden variety mis-led, which was merely descriptive, and the beautiful MYZ-uld, which meant mis-led, but with nefarious purpose — a pirate word, a word signifying skulduggery. I miss it still.

I did better on ATH-ens, only tumbling to its true pronunciation in fourth- or fifth-grade world history, when the teacher got around to talking about Mt. Olympus and the Acropolis and other stuff I’d been reading and dreaming about for a few years. Trouble is, I’d only been reading about it, and in my little personal classical cosmos the great city of the ancient world was AY-thens, with a “th” like “the,” not like “therapy,” which I almost needed to deal with the disillusionment.

Sure, there are others. But why embarrass myself still more? Time for you to embarrass yourselves. Give us the lowdown on your badspeak. All of Art Scatterdom wants to know!

Warhol at Maryhill: Putting on a good face

High above the windy hollow of the Columbia River Gorge, Sitting Bull and Geronimo and Gen. George Armstrong Custer seem right at home.

And Andy Warhol? Surprisingly, him, too.

Warhol, the epitome of a certain sort of New York sophistication — a self-created phenomenon of the 20th century, pointing the way to the 21st — is the focus of a new show in the upper galleries of the Maryhill Museum of Art, “Andy Warhol and Other Famous Faces,” assembled from the contemporary print collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation.

The exhibit, with images mostly by Warhol plus a sprinkling of supporting pieces by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Red Grooms, Chuck Close, Jasper Johns and Jeff Koons, proves once again what has become a mass-culture commonplace: In a world of celebrity-soaked informational sameness, we are all from Manhattan, all from Iowa, all from the sparse deserts of the West. Red state or blue, right wing or left, Elvis and Marilyn and Campbell’s Tomato Soup have brought us together and made us alike — or at least, given us the same pop-cultural preoccupations.

Maryhill, one of the unlikeliest of American art museums, sits in a concrete castle on a high bluff on the Washington side of the Columbia River, about 100 miles east of Portland and well on the way to desert country: It’s practice territory for the Middle of Nowhere. The fortress was built as his residence by the visionary road engineer and agricultural utopian Sam Hill. (His Stonehenge replica, a World Wat I memorial, is nearby, and the next time you head for Vancouver, British Columbia, you should stop on the border at Peace Arch Park to take in another of his monuments, the International Peace Arch, which sits with one foot in Blaine, Washington, and the other in Surrey on the Canadian side. Both monuments are as clean-lined and populist as any of Warhol’s works, and a good deal more interactive.)

Hill’s mansion was transformed into a museum by three of his high-powered women friends, including Marie, Queen of Romania, who was related to the royal houses of both England and Russia. As a result its collections are heavy in memorabilia of the good queen’s life (including some furniture she designed), plus objects related to another benefactress, the great dancer Loie Fuller; a goodly amount of Rodin; a good sampling of Native American art; many fine Russian Orthodox icons; quirky attractions such as the French high-fashion stage scenes of Theatre de la Mode (even Jean Cocteau took part in this immediately post-World War II artistic attempt to give French haute couture a sorely needed economic kick-start); and an amusing, sometimes amazing sampling of international chess sets.

But the museum’s permanent fine-art holdings are largely romantic landscape, plus Victorian and American realist paintings. As a result, it relies largely on temporary shows for things a little closer to modern times.

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Why I quit my job: A teacher tells all

There are plenty of reasons to quit a job, even in a lousy economy like this one.

You just came into a healthy inheritance.

You married a millionaire.

You’re going back to school so you can get something that pays better than slinging coffee drinks.

Or, you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it any more.

That’s the one that finally made sense to Jennie Brown, a teacher at Sherwood Middle School in Portland’s southern suburbs, whose passion and specialty was teaching drama. Brown, you may recall, was the author and director of Higher Ground, a play about bullying at school, which she wrote based on extensive conversations with the kids in the show. It talked about bullying for all sorts of reasons: because kids are overweight, or don’t wear the “right” clothes, or they’re the “wrong” race, or maybe they’re gay, or … you get the picture.

At the last minute, parents of three kids (out of 52 involved) protested to Principal Anna Pittioni, who called the show off. That was in February. The kids themselves voted not to water down the script so they could take the stage in a censored version (some of them claimed the show already diluted the harsh realities of life in their blackboard jungle), and the Portland Center for the Performing Arts invited them to present the play as it was written in downtown Portland, where it was received enthusiastically.

But for Brown, it was the beginning of the end. Her relationship with Pittioni crumbled. She was investigated by the school board (at one point her school-issued computer was seized and her email messages scrutinized). She felt marked. And last week, with nothing else concrete on the horizon, she quit a job she had loved.

Just another day in the Nanny Dearest environs of the public schools, you might think. And indeed, a similar case sprang up a few months later, when Portland actor Wade Willis sued the Beaverton School District for $125,000 because, he said, administrators at Southpark High School had “harrassed, intimidated and humiliated” him to such an extent that he was forced to resign.

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