Honoring the Arts

The Bohemian's 15th Annual Boho Awards

November 07, 2012
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We always were the types of people to pore over the fine print. Liner notes on album sleeves, closing credits at the end of movies, production notes buried in the back pages of a playbill—here in the Bohemian offices, we're more likely to be racking our brains over who served as key grip in a hit film than who played the starring role.

It's the same with covering the arts regionally, as we've done for over 30 years. Certain names will start popping up regularly in that fine print, and lodge themselves in our minds. People behind the soundboard, in the wings, running the lights or, as so often is the case, in a tiny closet of an office counting ticket stubs at the end of the night—these are the people who run the show but rarely get noticed.

Every year, for 15 years now, we take notice of these people. Our annual Boho Awards honor those who've made significant contributions to the arts in the North Bay, and not always with applause or recognition. These people include Olivia Everett, who's transformed the young arts scene in the Napa Valley; Peg Alford Pursell, who brings together writers with the power of words in Marin; Jill Plamann, who exhibits cutting-edge visual art at Healdsburg's Hammerfriar Gallery; Josh Windmiller, for whom organizing the ramshackle Americana scene is second nature; and Linda Bolt and the Kanbar Center, which has made the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center a hub of world-class arts in San Rafael.

The following profiles will tell you, the reader, a little bit about why we've chosen each honoree as a Boho Award recipient. But to truly understand the work performed by these dedicated people, we encourage readers to get out of the house and visit an opening, attend a chamber symphony or seek out a street festival. We live in an area incredibly robust for the arts, and it's a testament to this creative drive that we manage to keep finding deserving movers and shakers to celebrate in these pages year after year—even if we still don't always understand what it is the key grip does.

You can help us fete this year's Boho Award winners in a free soiree on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Christy's on the Square, Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa. Starting at 5:30pm, it'll feature food, drinks, winners, toasts, speeches, mingling, lingering and all things good and well with the world. Just like the arts are supposed to be.

See you there, and read on!

Gabe Meline, Editor

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On the Edge

Jill Plamann's Hammerfriar: time, space and the lawn stakes in between

By Rachel Dovey

In a town full of galleries selling still lifes and decorative vases, Jill Plamann's Hammerfriar stands out. Located near Healdsburg's railroad tracks in a vine-covered warehouse, the frame shop and gallery currently showcases a variety of installations featuring, among other things, living moss, lawn stakes and TVs suspended in feather-strewn birdcages. There's also a two-story sculpture in the entranceway that looks like a cross between a scorpion and an antique combine.

It's a contrast that the gallery's Windsor-dwelling owner is aware of.

"I'd like to educate people about this kind of art rather than paintings of vineyards," she says on a recent Monday afternoon at the gallery she opened in 2005. "There's a saying out there: 'In California, people choose work that decorates their home; in New York, they buy art.' That's of course a generalized statement, but it holds to be quite true."

There's not a speck of vineyard art to be found in Hammerfriar's five rooms. Instead, there are devastatingly beautiful Michael Garlington photos—one of a dark-haired woman cradling a fish, another of fellow-artist Laura Kimpton in a feather mask. There are also several Frank Miller panels, which draw the viewer through vast landscapes of what look like rusted metal bits—painted plastic in reality, hence the lawn stake—to either a sunlit horizon or a narrow window full of stars.

The exhibits aren't unified thematically, but Plamann, whose successful frame shop allows her to show artists she's drawn to rather than simply pieces that will sell, says there are several conceptual elements she repeatedly features.

"Usually the work will be dealing with humanity, very often time, the passage of time, and space," she says. "I'm really a spatial person myself. I see things up and down and all around, and I love that feeling in my brain, even to the point where the space between you and me—the invisible space—is really important to me."

Plamann moves her entire body while she speaks—rocking back and forth, throwing her hands outward and placing them on either side of her head. She looks away as she talks, as though she's visualizing her words in the invisible space just to her right. A conceptual artist herself, Plamann graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a degree in painting—and then never painted again.

Instead, she undertakes projects such as making a plaster cast of herself, painting it pink and mounting it, along with a suspended light box, it in front of three 12-foot-by-8-foot panels. She's often inspired by single sentences, which will prompt a creation session that she calls "going off into my wonderland until I get it."

She hasn't been able to do much work lately, she says, because the frame shop and gallery take up so much time. But with its evocative moss, feather and birdcage installations, Hammerfriar itself is an installation to be proud of.

BRIAN HOWLETT
  • Brian Howlett

Giving a Hoot

Josh Windmiller brings Americana talent together

By David Templeton

"The Hootenanny is kind of hard to explain," says Josh Windmiller, vocalist and guitarist for the folk-roots mashup band the Crux. "I like to call it a promotions project, but that just confuses some people. The Hootenanny, to me, is about promoting our local artists, primarily local musicians, primarily musicians that perform some kind of Americana genre, which is a broad genre. I help them in getting shows; I put the artists in contact with wineries and other organizations who are looking for artists, and I put on my own shows, some with my own band, and a lot of which end up being showcases of local musicians, but showcases put together in really interesting ways. Jam sessions are often a major part of it.

"Does that answer your question?"

Windmiller (née Stithem), laughs easily and often, frequently at himself. He knows how funny he sounds trying to describe the North Bay Hootenanny, which is more of a state of mind then an actual event or institution. Whatever it is, as the leading force behind it, Windmiller is using the Hootenanny to draw serious attention to the lively Americana scene in the North Bay. For this, we're happy to honor him with a Boho Award.

"Originally, I was just trying to put together some gigs for my band," Windmiller says. "Then I discovered, 'Hey! Wow! I really like doing the logistical parts of these shows, the promotions and the marketing, going on the radio and all that.' Pretty soon, I was putting on shows for other artists, trying to feed the bigger scene using the skills I'd picked up."

Before Windmiller knew it, he was a bona fide promoter. Operating under the name of the North Bay Hootenanny, a name he borrowed from an event at the Phoenix Theater several years ago, Windmiller has managed the music for the GranFondo bike festival and the Rivertown Revival in Petaluma. He organized Santa Rosa's Roots Americana series in Courthouse Square, and was one of the brains behind the recent Woody Guthrie centennial in Railroad Square. He's helmed several roots music events at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, and has been booking a weekly folk-roots showcase, the Pick Me Up Revue, at the Last Day Saloon.

After all this time, with all these events under his belt, with all of the many musicians he's brought together, Windmiller is still working on that simple explanation of what the Hootenanny is.

"I guess," he laughs, "it's just people. It's people sharing songs, musicians meeting each other and learning from each other. The Hootenanny isn't an event that happens and then is over; the Hootenanny goes on and on. It happens all the time, and it happens everywhere.

"The North Bay Hootenanny never ends."

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Feeding the Soul

The Kanbar Center heals and inspires

By David Templeton

"In tumultuous times, we need the arts to get through together," says Linda Bolt, director of the Kanbar Performing Arts Center at Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael. "The arts are healing, they touch our souls and teach us about ourselves. Music heals and inspires. Live concerts, live theater, live comedy—it brings people together into one room, and when people are together, that's when connections are made."

As director of the Kanbar Center, which produces a steady string of year-round arts events, concerts, exhibitions and celebrations, Bolt has a very clear goal.

"Our goal," she says, "is to make it easy for people to get out and see live performances, and to do that at a reasonable cost. It bothers me that so much art is experienced in front of a screen or with plugs in your ears. We're looking to bring people together, to share the arts together. The JCC is known for its fitness center and its pool. We've actually won awards for having the best pool in town, but for some reason, it's been a challenge to make our arts center as well-known as our fitness center.

"Gradually," she adds, "that's exactly what's beginning to happen. When people who come through for the first time," she laughs, "they almost always say, 'I had no idea all of this was here. I had no idea so much was happening right here in my neighborhood!'"

Working with a small team, Bolt's programming is a blend of everything, a deliberate attempt to celebrate different cultures through the arts, with a strong sense of social consciousness. In any given month, the Kanbar might host a bestselling author speaking on free speech, a troupe of standup comics or improv artists, a chamber orchestra or string quartet, or a touring world-music jam band.

"We intentionally program acts that feed your soul as well as your mind," Bolt says. "We look for programming that touches that happy spirit that only the arts can touch."

One of Kanbar's most popular offerings is its Summer Nights series, five consecutive weekend nights featuring outdoor concerts that appeal to adults, while creating an atmosphere also welcoming to families with children.

"This year was our strongest year," she says, acknowledging that it's a bit of a trick to pull off a concert where musicians play world-class music as children play on the jungle gym right across from the stage.

"What we do here," says Bolt, "is an expression of how the arts aren't just something we break away from our life to enjoy. The arts aren't just an important part of life—the arts are life."

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Words to Be Heard

Peg Alfor Pursell creates literary community

By Leilani Clark

Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein had one. So did Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. What exactly did these writers have in common, besides a tremendous talent with words? Well, they all had the support of a literary community. For Hemingway and Stein, it was the cadre that arose out of the Left Bank Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. For Forster and Woolf, it was the Bloomsbury Group. In the North Bay, thanks to Sausalito resident Peg Alford Pursell, a strong community has sprung up around a monthly reading series called Why There Are Words, held on the second Thursday of every month at Studio 333 in Sausalito.

Pursell's idea is simple: "A writer's words are meant to be heard, to be seen, to be alive in the world." It's a philosophy that infuses everything the South Carolina transplant does. Pursell curates and hosts Why There Are Words, providing a space for emerging and established writers to read before an audience of 65 to 120 people each month. She runs monthly writing workshops for writers of all skill levels out of her home in Sausalito. She participates enthusiastically in LitQuake, the annual San Francisco celebration of all things literary. In the midst of it all, Pursell hammers away at a novel, writes flash fiction and poetry, and acts as fiction editor for Prick of the Spindle, an online literary journal.

It's for all of these reasons that we are more than happy to honor Peg Alford Pursell with a 2012 Boho Award for her contributions to the North Bay arts community.

"Writing by nature is an isolated act," says Pursell. "It's solitary, and that's necessary. But it's important to have a writing community, and it's just part of my nature not to sit back and wait for things to happen."

After moving to Marin County four years ago, Pursell took action, creating Why There Are Words in 2010. The series features a mix of talent from the Bay Area and beyond. Craft and quality are two deciding factors in the curatorial process, says Pursell, who selects the seven to eight writers to appear each month. Local writers that have made the roster include Seré Prince Halverson, Joy Lanzendorfer, Daniel Coshnear, Stefanie Freele, Chris Cole, Albert Flynn DeSilver and Frances Lefkowitz.

"The WTAW philosophy is that good writing needs to be heard, always," says Pursell. It's also an opportunity to be part of a community that gives back, says the former public school teacher.

"It's very rewarding to create these opportunities, and to learn how much it means to people," Pursell says. "And that they're willing to do whatever they need to do to participate, to let me know how it's inspired them. That's a huge part of it for me."

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Taking Risks

Olivia Everett transforms Napa's arts scene

By Gabe Meline

Five years ago, while the majority of teenagers and twenty-somethings in Napa were complaining about there being not much to do in town, Olivia Everett decided to do something novel.

She went to meetings.

In fact, Everett, then 21, called for meetings—with city officials, with arts representatives, with young creative types and with just about anyone who she thought might be able to further the younger generation's involvement in the arts in the Napa Valley. Her friends had a dilapidated skatepark and the dwindling days of MySpace as entertainment. Everett thought they could do better.

She started a group, Wandering Rose, dedicated to the underground bands, zine makers, street artists and others who for years had been underappreciated in this sliver of wine country. In addition to running a robust online calendar, Wandering Rose birthed two major events: a Battle of the Bands for groups too loud to play at winetastings and the InDIYpendent Culture Fair showcasing art too edgy for most downtown galleries.

Because of Everett's long game in bringing disenfranchised artists together with city and county staff, Napa started to slowly turn around. To no one's surprise, Everett, now 26, was named the executive director of Arts Council Napa Valley, where she continues to champion the arts in all forms. For this, we're more than pleased to name her a Boho Award recipient this year.

"I had wanted to be a filmmaker when I was 12," says the Orinda-raised California native who, after graduating from Napa's Justin-Siena High School—where she worked on costumes and managed the stage for the theater department—and attending USC, lived briefly in Scotland. "Traveling in Europe had a big effect on me, traveling in small towns like Stratford-on-Avon and Bath that reminded me a lot of Napa. I loved this community, and I wanted to be a part of the community, and I felt like arts and culture had so much potential for growth and development here."

She adds, "I knew I wasn't the only one in our community who loved my hometown and wanted to be involved in the arts."

With the arts council, Everett has continued those goals on a larger scale. Arts education, cultural marketing and public art are the group's three main focuses now, taking advantage of the post-recession landscape of the county. This is evident in Art on First, a long-running program in which vacant storefronts on First Street in downtown Napa are transformed into temporary exhibits. High school artists, alternative art and works out of Napa's Slack Collective—recipients of a 2011 Boho Award—are included.

It's all part of Everett's open-minded outlook in supporting the full diversity of the arts, no matter how challenging. "If the arts council isn't willing to take risks," she asks, "who is?"

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