Category Archives: Article of the Week

#StaffChat: A Critical Look at THIS IS MODERN ART

Staff Chat posts feature articles and news that the C1 team discusses as part of our weekly all-staff meeting. We’d love to hear your thoughts too — hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!


This week’s Staff Chat will focus on the conversation around the play This is Modern Art (Based on True Events), a Steppenwolf for Young Adults production co-written by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval. We’re looking at two reviews of the play and a few articles that examine the critical reception of the piece:

Kelly O'Sullivan (from left), J. Salome Martinez Jr., Jerry MacKinnon and Jessie D. Prez in the Steppenwolf Young Adults production of "This Is Modern Art." (Photo: Michael Courier)

Kelly O’Sullivan (from left), J. Salome Martinez Jr., Jerry MacKinnon and Jessie D. Prez in the Steppenwolf Young Adults production of “This Is Modern Art.” (Photo: Michael Courier)

The play, inspired by a real incident, follows a group of Chicago teens who decide to cover the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing in graffiti art. In their reviews, critics Jones and Weiss briefly touch on the artistic aspects of the play (which they seem to praise), but spend most of their columns taking the show to task for its portrayal of graffiti artists. From Jones:

But here is what “This is Modern Art” barely even mentions: Graffiti comes at a price. It can be invasive, self-important and disrespectful of the property of others — and plenty of struggling folks have had to clean graffiti off something they own or love. Graffiti can be inartful, for goodness sake. More importantly yet, graffiti had the effect of making people feel unsafe in the city. It terrified people. It was only when public officials declared themselves determined to wipe it out that cities finally came back to life, with broad benefits.

You wanna go back to riding public transportation in New York or Chicago in the 1980s? I do not. You do not have to be conservative or somehow not down with youth to think it reprehensible that these issues do not have a place in a show for schools that is quite staggeringly one-sided.

Weiss continues this line of thought in her review, though she takes it even further, stating:

This play is a wildly wrong-headed and potentially damaging work — one that fails to call “vandalism” by its name, and rationalizes and attempts to justify that vandalism in the most irresponsible ways. It also trades in all the destructive, sanctimonious talk about minority teens invariably being shut out of opportunities and earmarked for prison in a way that only reinforces stereotypes and negative destinies. Counterproductive in the extreme, it deepens and solidifies racial and class divisions and a sense of hopelessness among those who need to dwell on possibility.

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The Writing Life x3: Creating a Diverse World

In this blog post, writer Patrick Gabridge talks about the need for white writers to specify the race of the characters in their plays and how the racial make-up of theatre companies make just as powerful a statement, if not moreso, about diversity in theatre. Read the article here.

Community Partnerships Between Arts & Non-Arts Organizations

We’ve been researching a metric ton of literature on community/arts partnerships for the last few weeks, and we think we’ve finally found some good material.

Here are two reports.

The first one is called Arts & Non-Arts Partnerships: Opportunities, Challenges, and Strategies.
It addresses:
– Mutual Benefits of Community Partnerships
– The Connections of Non-arts Organizations to the Arts
– Partnership Assets Can Also Be Liabilities
– Understanding the Risks
– Types of Partnership Risks

The second item is Partnership as an Art Form: What Works and What Doesn’t in Nonprofit Arts Partnerships. We recommend in particular the section called “Part I: How to Think About Partnerships,” and can be found on numbered pages 9-12 (pages 10-13 of the pdf file).

These readings provide some background to the how and why of arts & community partnerships, and can lend guidance on how theatres might think about possible collaborations for individual plays, or season initiatives.

“Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit”

Nicholas Powers recounts his visit to the Kara Walker exhibit at the old Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, NY. His outburst had to do with how visitors treated the artwork featured at the exhibit and his anger at the lack of curation or education regarding the artwork. Read his account here.

Here’s an interview with Kara Walker regarding the exhibit.

Here’s an interview about the “We Are Here” event that took place at the Domino Sugar Factory.

This is an interview featuring Robert Shelton, a man who worked at the Domino Sugar Factory for 20 years and chose to volunteer at the exhibit.

HowlRound: Antipermanence: An Argument for Increased Infrastructural Ephemerality in America’s Nonprofit Theaters

On HowlRound, theatre artist Annah Feinberg wrote an essay piece called Antipermanence: An Argument for Increased Infrastructural Ephemerality in America’s Nonprofit Theatres. In this essay, Feinberg states that the downfall of nonprofit theatre comes from an increased importance on job security and sustenance. In addition, she argues that the original idea that the nonprofit theatre movement was founded on is largely economically unfeasible in the long term. Read the entire essay here.