Thursday, January 27, 2011

Physiognomies Electric

Physiognomies Electric

By Tom Wachunas

“I do, indeed, close my door at times and surrender myself to a book, but only because I can open the door again and see a human face looking at me.” – Martin Buber –

“A man finds room in the few square inches of his face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson –

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”
- Lauren Bacall –

For centuries, exposing the human condition has been a recurring subject in art – all the arts, certainly. In two-dimensional art, many artists have left us dark, sobering pictures of our inexhaustible propensity for hating and hurting each other. Others of course have delighted in skewering less threatening rituals and conventions of human behavior. Social commentary. Satire. Art with comedic bite.

Throughout the past eight or nine years, I’ve been impressed by the prolific output of Judi Krew the painter. She has settled into a distinctive, accessible pictorial language somewhere between affected realism and elaborate comic strip styling, and her subject matter is predominantly a sardonic woman’s-eye-view of women-eye-views of… life. Depicting scenes of the faux pas and foibles of contemporary social manners and habits, with an unabashedly bright palette, those paintings still seem a bit too light-weight and formulaic to me. As pure painting goes, I don’t see them as particularly visionary. Then again, Krew’s acrylic paintings are essentially caricatures, and they certainly do have a quirky if not endearing life of their own. And beneath their humor and dazzling hues is a sure-handed compositional mastery, along with considerably refined drawing skills.

Those qualities, then, of engaging composition (a face can be a vast terrain of varied shapes to arrange) and fluid drawing are, among others, front and center in her pastel portraits. There are 23 of them in her current show, called “Fascinating Faces from Interesting Places,” at Studio M in The Massillon Museum. The overall spirit of this exhibit is of a surrounding, vibrant conviviality. It’s not that all the faces rendered here suggest bouncy camaraderie so much as they collectively conjure the warmth that can come with encountering a diverse group of magnetic individuals.

Krew clearly enjoys observing people. Working from photographs she takes on the sly, her drawings manage to preserve a sense of candidness while expanding on the formal nuances that make up intriguing human countenances. For all of their “sketchiness,” accomplished via intricate overlays of gestural lines in variegated colors that practically crackle - there’s a crowd in every face - the drawings nonetheless have a sculpted dimensionality and spontaneity that lets them pop off the picture plane in a big way. Compared to the tight caricature approach of her satirical acrylic paintings, these pastel works exhibit a loose kind of naturalism. And beyond their astutely observed and translated physical expressions – a delightfully wild array of them - the visages vibrate with credible personality.

“Canton Jazz Festival,” for example, embodies all the impromptu verve and joviality you’d expect from a communal celebration of music. It’s a gleeful rendering, and I could almost hear a big melody being sung by the clearly energetic singer who nearly explodes from the picture plane. For that matter, you might call this whole show an electrifying song of many verses, each about the scintillating depths of expression in the human face.

Photo, courtesy Judi Krew: “Canton Jazz Festival,” pastel, on view in Studio M through February 20 at the Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon. Gallery hours Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. SUGGESTION – call ahead to confirm your visiting time, as sometimes private meetings are booked into Studio M (aka The Silk Room)…(330) 833 – 4061

Monday, January 24, 2011

Soaring Soloists: Hot Chops on a Cold Night

Soaring Soloists: Hot Chops on a Cold Night

By Tom Wachunas

In his greeting to the audience at the January 22 concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), Maestro Zimmermann spoke with his characteristically avuncular grace and endearing humor. He observed that he didn’t see himself as fitting certain conductor stereotypes to which some listeners may be predisposed – that of the stern, dour-faced taskmaster. There are more than a few performances, he reminded us, when the business at hand gives rise to what he hopes will be noticed as “a twinkle in my eye.” Billed as “Orchestra Showcase,” this concert was just such an occasion, as it featured stellar performances by three orchestra members in solo roles, and clearly demonstrated why Zimmermann, celebrating his 30th CSO season, called this group of astonishingly talented musicians “…truly first class in every way.”

The evening began with a rousing performance of Louis Joseph Herold’s “Overture to Zampa,” the comic opera about a nefarious pirate and his comeuppance. It’s a delightfully rambunctious work, full of richly varied orchestral textures and buoyant melodies, all of it delivered by the orchestra with crisp ebullience.

CSO principal violist Jessica Oudin brought a remarkable, compelling lyricism to her fluid performance of Max Bruch’s “Romance for Viola and Orchestra.” It is a notably sweet and compact work, composed in 1912 amid ‘modernist’ developments in the world of orchestral music. As such it is a testament to Bruch’s steadfast adherence to the waning Romantic era esthetic. Oudin’s playing, with its deep tonal warmth, was masterfully balanced with the orchestra, and a mesmerizing embodiment of poetic nostalgia. This was Oudin’s CSO solo debut and, interestingly if not sadly enough, we learned in Zimmermann’s opening comments that it comes on the heels of her signing on with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Similarly, after this season, CSO Concertmaster Nathan Olson will take on that position with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. So if his performance here of Bartok’s “Violin Concerto No. 1” was his CSO solo swansong at Umstattd Hall, it was an eminently breathtaking one. In the context of this program, which could rightfully be called ‘accessible’ orchestral music, including one of Bartok’s more mature works might stand out as comparatively too cerebral in its pungent tonalities. But this concerto (1907) was an earlier, transitional work, an unfinished love song still connected to late-Romantic era influences, along with some dissonant shadings as the composer was beginning to experiment with folk melodies indigenous to his native Hungary. So you could call its presence here the evening’s moment of gravitas, though certainly a gentle, even hypnotic one. In any event, Olson’s soulful performance of the work’s meandering key changes, along with its steadily nuanced and soaring flights into higher registers, was nothing short of riveting.

So too the flawless performance of Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto in A Major,” featuring CSO principal clarinetist Randy Klein. When played like it was here, Mozart’s abiding fascination with the clarinet, with all its remarkable subtleties of tone, became instantly clear. With effortless control of volume, and seamless negotiation of the work’s challenging and frolicsome scale runs, Klein sustained an enthralling, consistent spirit that breathed palpable joy into one of Mozart’s most piquant works.

He, like the entire orchestra, would shine again during the evening’s finale, the orchestrated arrangement of Liszt’s iconic “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” Finale? Call it an unleashing. Or a release of dramatic jubilance. No mere twinkle in the Maestro’s eye, this was an ecstatic, intense fire.

Next up in the CSO KeyBank MasterWorks series, a full opera performance of “The Barber of Seville” on Sunday, February 27 at Umstattd Hall (inside McKinley High School). Tickets available online at, or by phone at the ticket office, Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., (330) 452 – 2094. Or in person at the ticket office, located upstairs behind Cable Recital Hall in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N., in Canton.

Photo: “Three Musicians” by Pablo Picasso, 1921

Friday, January 21, 2011

Diary of a Mildly Anxious Constructivist

Diary of a Mildly Anxious Constructivist

By Tom Wachunas

Let’s start with a profile of Kevin Anderson, owner of Anderson Creative in downtown Canton. He’s the youngest of six kids, a daydreamer who failed art in high school and readily admits to having a hard time being human. Still, he manages his anxiety, loves his wife, and is amazed by his children. Even though he’s been broken and has needed to pawn stuff to survive, he acknowledges the wonderful people in his life and knows he is blessed, though he has work to do on his relationship with Jesus. Handy in the wood shop (aided no doubt by a love of geometry and trigonometry), he can fabricate anything but not fix everything and, after a hard day’s work, much prefers a bubble bath over a shower. He sees good satire and parody as High Art. And he wants us to know he’s not a snob, just introverted.

The wording of this assessment of the man is not of my making, though the order is. I gleaned it from the 30 dark blue T-shirts hanging in the west end of Anderson’s gallery. The shirts are one part – designated ‘Where I Live’ - of the current exhibit of his newest work. Each shirt is emblazoned with a white label bearing words in black Cambria font. Words that bare. You might call this part of the exhibit a variation on a theme of artist- wearing- heart- on - sleeve. A diary of sorts.

The show is called “Personal ‘Affects’”, with the subtitle, “New, Strangely Confessional Works.” As pointed out in the statement hanging on the wall, as well as on the gallery’s website, this is new territory for Anderson, and one that is, in his words, cathartic, liberating and awkward. As I read it, for him it’s awkward largely because he’s previously not been so forthcoming about either his Muse or his motives; cathartic and liberating because he gave himself permission to be so. For us it is, I think simply enough, intriguing and otherwise marvelous.

In the past, Anderson came to be known mostly for his impeccably crafted furniture pieces (some of which are on display here) that are both utilitarian household objects as well as delightfully personal, quirky sculptures. Their strange juxtapositions of textures and shapes brought to my mind the spirit of surrealist Rene Magritte. A similar visual sensibility is still evident in his new wall pieces, which are equally well-made vertical box constructions of wood, metal, and found props, and subtly reminiscent of small curio cabinets. Curious indeed. On one level they symbolize various mental and spiritual places where Anderson “dwells” or has dwelled – sometimes with anxiety or obsession - each with a title and accompanying statement about his being in those places. While not completely radical departures from his earlier body of work in a conceptual sense, they do present a distinctly evolved, sharpened focus on the contemplative and playful nature of his objects. Here we’re invited into a more intimate journey – that of the artist looking for a balance, or a peace. On the one hand there’s his ongoing passion for creating – an intensely private activity. On the other there’s his recognition of, and desire to sustain, what’s truly important in his life beyond art.

“Visually, I am drawn to the constructivist and postmodernist styles…,” Anderson tells us in his statement. No argument there, certainly. But when I consider the many ambiguities and negativities that are celebrated under the banner of “postmodernism,” it’s refreshing to see that Anderson’s new pieces are not dark, cryptic symbols of the postmodernist angst common in much of the art on the international scene. In fact his work is generously imbued with a spirit of self-deprecating humor. Anderson seems comfortable in his own skin. You’ll not find any heavy-handed apocalyptic declarations, impenetrable mysteries, or hopeless, suffering artist musings here. In his “Appropriate Emotional Armor,” for example, Anderson depicts his ‘house’ (life?) as a multi-storied fortress of sorts, though with controlled access. With whom will the artist share his inner life? Outside the shiny armored walls a little sign reads YOU! STAY OUT AND QUIT TALKING.

But the sign at the wooden user-friendly entrance reads BUT YOU! ARE AMAZING. WELCOME. PLEASE COME IN. I think he means us.

Photo, courtesy : “Appropriate Emotional Armor,” by Kevin Anderson, on view through January 29 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Ave. NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours Wednesday – Saturday 12:00 noon to 5 p.m.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Girl On Fire

Girl On Fire

By Tom Wachunas

The story of the musical “Funny Girl” (which premiered on Broadway, starring Barbra Streisand, in 1964) is that of the beloved comedienne, singer, and actress Fanny Brice, who rocketed to show business fame during the 1920s and 30s with the Ziegfeld Follies, along with radio hits and Broadway shows. So it’s something of a curious irony that the most noticeable shortcoming of the current North Canton Playhouse youth production of this musical is the orchestration. More precisely, the lack of it. While appreciating the space limitations of the mainstage auditorium, I still wonder if at least a quartet or trio could have somehow been accommodated. As it is, the solo piano accompaniment by Suzanne Meyers is certainly for the most part competent, but too often tones down the proceedings to the level of a recital rather than a full-out musical. So it’s really up to the performers on stage to carry the considerable weight and verve of the music (by Jule Styne with lyrics by Bob Merrill).

To be fair, this is a “youth version” and that often brings with it, understandably, varying levels of still-developing theatrical abilities. But Director Brenton Cochran has once again demonstrated his knack for identifying and polishing raw talent, and eliciting infectiously energetic performances. So while there are certainly some rough edges here, on the whole this very large cast (numbering 37 members) delivers a memorably invigorating evening.

Some of the most hilarious interludes are provided in scenes featuring Maria Richards as Mrs. Brice (Fanny’s mother), who delightfully captures the character’s wry Jewish humor, along with her poker-playing cronies, the eccentric and nosy Mrs. Strakosh, played by Sarah Jane Toy, and the loud, besotted Mrs. O’Malley, played to the hilt by Alexa Mittica. As the family friend and confidant Eddie, Brian Bruno is lithe and limber, with a solid singing voice and great sense of comedic timing. And in his authentic portrayal of real concern and perhaps latent longing for Fanny, I found myself rooting for him to win her hand. But that connection is made by one Nick Arnstein, the debonair gambler prone to shady business deals. In that role, Kirby Flowers is every bit the convincingly suave suitor and loving supporter of - and later a financial and emotional drain on - Fanny’s success, not to mention the failed marriage. For all of his impressive stage presence, though, his singing lacks consistent passion, so he’s a bit of a mismatch with the endearingly dominant character of Fanny.

Which brings us to the astonishing talents of Hannah Shepler. Did I just say ‘talents of’…? Make that …phenomenon. Talk about perfect casting, the diminutive Shepler doesn’t just play the role of Fanny so much as be possessed by it. In the process, somehow she has managed to morph into an uncanny if not haunting hybrid of Streisand’s vocal muscle and Liza Minnelli’s electrifying panache of old. Sure, her immersion in that sassy New York dialect can be so affected that her rapid-fire spoken lines are at times indecipherable, her singing occasionally too clipped when you expect a word or phrase ending to soar a little longer. But these flaws are easily corrected with continuing experience. At the tender age of 16, the irrepressible Shepler is nonetheless the heart and soul of this production, and a rising star in her own right. While she may yet be something of a diamond in the rough, many of her remarkable facets have already acquired a dazzling, fiery shine.

Photo, courtesy North Canton Playhouse: Hannah Sheppler is Fanny Brice, and Kirby Flowers is Nick Arnstein in the North Canton Playhouse production of “Funny Girl.” The musical runs through January 30 on the mainstage, located in Hoover High School, 525 7th Street NE in North Canton. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $10 for all ages. To order, call (330) 494 -1613, or visit

Monday, January 17, 2011

If the Shoe Fits

If the Shoe Fits

By Tom Wachunas

The program notes for the current Players Guild production of “Cinderella” are written by Amanda Medley, who also directed this adaptation by William Glennon. Her thoughts are disarmingly personal and optimistic. But it is an honest and welcome optimism in these jaded, angst-riddled times, sparked by what she calls “the power of dreaming” along with the message of hope and love that the classic story has instilled in her since childhood.

The Glennon adaptation, then, is clearly in harmony with how the tale has resonated with Medley. There are no unnecessary liberties taken in this version - nothing that twists the storyline too much, overly “modernizes” the already iconic characters, or in any way darkens the ending which is forever etched into our cultural memory. Yes, this is an evening of fine theatre tailored for children, right down to the delightfully colorful costumes – call them Rococo Psychedelic – by Susie Smith and Leslie DeStefano. But I think adults will sense a subtle shift in perspective. It’s as if the story were being told by a child who shares Cinderella’s view of the stepmother and sisters not as insurmountably evil monsters so much as insensitive, even silly pests.

The story is introduced here by The Jester, an adventuresome sprite from the Palace, well- played by David Burkhardt. He clearly has a heart for mischief and comedy. Early in the proceedings he meets Cinderella, whom he has dubbed The Lady of the Tubs as she’s fretting over the laundry. He tells Cinderella of her Fairy Godmother, played by Tawny Burkhardt who, with a wave of her wand, can change the weather and the stage lights. He also introduces her to fellow outdoorsman Sir Soapy Suds who is, unbeknownst to her at the time, The Prince, played by Kristopher Ray North. North’s most endearing moment comes late, during the Royal Ball as, smitten by the vision of a transformed Cinderella, he’s left genuinely tongue-tied and starry-eyed.

It is a lavish dose of bickering sibling shenanigans that gives this production much of its additional theatrical charm. Angela Reighard plays the older sister, Allison Merten the younger. Merten’s character is perky, fiercely competitive, and like her older sister, eager to please mother. But this baby of the family can’t seem to let a conversation go by without reminding anyone within earshot that her sister is a big fat toad. This of course leads to constant chasing about with ear-splitting shrieks, much to the delight of many children in the audience. Reighard’s portrayal of the ditzy older sister sizzles with quirky facial contortions and daffy double-takes. Both sisters seem hopelessly unable to absorb lessons in feminine etiquette, evidenced by their hilariously spastic curtsies and mangled attempts at sophisticated conversation. Meanwhile, Cheryl Henderson turns in a solid portrayal of their mother, alternately self-absorbed, doting, and exasperated, all the while presenting a cold heart to Cinderella, whom she constantly calls ‘cinder wench’ and ‘cinder maid.’

In that role, Cassandra Martin presents no real surprises, but then again, why mess with timeless enchantment? She’s convincingly sweet and vulnerable, yet faithful to her dream and tender to a fault. I admit to expecting a bit more dramatic urgency or tension between her and her stepmother, particularly at the conclusion, which seemed too cursory a moment of forgiveness. But it’s a minor shortcoming. What this play might lack in compelling “adult” drama is abundantly replaced by its unabashedly poignant embrace of youthful dreaming. In the end, it’s a warming invitation to walk, if only for a few hours, in kids’ shoes.

Photo: Cinderella by Maxfield Parrish. The Players Guild Theatre production of “Cinderella” runs through January 30 in the William G. Frye Theatre, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, Canton. Shows are at 7:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 adults, $12 ages 17 and younger. To order call (330) 453 – 7617 or visit

Friday, January 14, 2011

An Innate Eloquence

An Innate Eloquence

By Tom Wachunas

Of all the genres of representational painting, arguably none is more demanding of the artist, or universally appealing to viewers, than portraiture. It is a highly specialized skill, this translating of a convincing human likeness into paint on a flat surface. But what does that mean really? Is a portrait successful merely for its faithful recapitulation of the subject’s physical features? The best portraits invariably elicit our praise for how “lifelike” they are, but again, what does that entail? And is this specialized skill strictly an acquired one, only after an unspecified number of years lived in disciplined observation, refined through hard, repeated practice?

You could well apply that last question to mastering any painting genre, as most truly dedicated painters will tell you that theirs is an ever evolving, lifetime pursuit. But there is always a certain point in any artist’s journey when we recognize that he or she has “arrived,” which is to say their work clearly demonstrates a mature clarity of vision and singularity of skill. And I think the question is decidedly more pointed when it comes to mastering portraiture.

Then of course there is the notion of that sometimes mysterious, and certainly miraculous thing we call natural, inborn talent. Giftedness. Innate creativity. Sometimes that part of the equation is not always manifest at a young age. It’s not consciously acquired so much as simply recognized and, hopefully, developed. And sometimes it is indeed recognized and pursued early on. Enter young Heather Bullach.

A soon- to- be graduate of Malone University, her work is currently on view at Anderson Creative in her one-woman show called “Lineage:Women of Culture.” Her eight oil portraits are lovely and arresting evidence of a painter remarkably accomplished beyond her years. The authoritative, fluid confidence with which these images are executed is all the more astonishing when you consider the fact that, while drawing faces in other media is nothing new to Bullach (as seen in the exquisite Conte Crayon studies on paper that accompany some of the works here), technically her first oil portraits on canvas emerged just last April.

This is an edifying exhibit, too, for its thoughtful and informative presentation of the artist’s process and goals. Each painting is accompanied by a statement about the ethnic lineage of the woman we see in the portrait – the woman Bullach came to know and translate so eloquently into the challenging medium of oil paint. Several of the images appear to be simply brown underpaintings (based on photographs) for a finished color portrait (from live sittings), yet even in these Bullach has deftly provided, with commanding brushwork, sufficient detail to realize her stated desire of communicating the spirit of her subject.

And isn’t that, after all, the transcendent power of compelling portraiture? We understandably admire any painter’s technical expertise and dexterity in arranging lines, forms, and colors into reasonable and interesting facsimiles of outward reality. Bullach clearly offers that much. More rare are those truly extraordinary portrait painters who can somehow deliver the sense that we are seeing the ineffable essence of a person. Consider her among their ranks.

Photo, courtesy Heather Bullach: “Nadia” by Heather Bullach, oil on canvas, 2010, 24” x 24”, on view in “Lineage: Women of Culture” at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Through Feb.19, Gallery hours 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m., Wednesday - Saturday

Friday, January 7, 2011

Salon Superlative

Salon Superlative

By Tom Wachunas

In my last review of an exhibit by a group of artists under the collective name of “Art from the Salon” (at The Little Art Gallery, reviewed June 14, 2010), I ended on a note of assurance that whenever the group’s next show might be, it would be a thrilling one. I’m happy to report that it’s now (at Gallery 6000), and it most certainly is (thrilling).

But first, let’s recap a little history. This show consists of 12 artists working in a wide range of media. Several years ago, Nancy Stewart Matin was hosting regular work sessions, and exhibiting, with a group of fellow artists, and adopted the name “Watercolor Wizards.” That evolved into “Watermedia Wizards,” and then into their current and considerably more evolved incarnation. This “Salon” loosely conjures 15th - 19th century French “schools” (ateliers) that gathered in the private studios of accomplished master artists. There, teacher and students worked in an atmosphere of vigorous discipline and lively critique. This method of training artists would give rise to the 18th and 19th century Paris Salon exhibitions. While Matin doesn’t lord it over her group in the fashion of the atelier taskmasters of old, hers is nonetheless a facilitating presence meant to encourage, inspire, and otherwise prompt, even with suggested “assignments.” Make a work with colors you’ve never used before, for example.

Oh to be the proverbial fly on a wall in Matin’s home studio when she and her imaginative band of fecund spirits meet. What exactly transpires there that could make these artists turn out works as consistently engaging as these? Maybe something in their tea? Or is the wine particularly special? But seriously, this industrious collaborative has once again delivered a notably solid show. Matin is joined here by Cynthia Capestrain, Sharon Dulabaum, Russ Hench, Pam LaRocco, Ted Lawson, Judi Longacre, Nancy Michel, Sharon Noble, Lynn Weinstein, Gail Wetherell-Sack, and Kristine Wyler.

What’s most apparent among the watercolors and watercolor collages here – by Dulabaum, Lawson, Longacre, Matin, Michel, Noble, and Wyler - is alternately a bold experimentation with color, loose drawing, rich textures, and lavish brush energy. The same can be said of the acrylic paintings “Downeast” by Pam LaRocco and “Abstract Cityscape” by Lynn Weinstein. Their surfaces in particular have a marvelously visceral, sculpted quality. In the realm of more conventional representation, the masterful oil paintings by Dulabaum and Capestrain are nothing short of stunning - Capestrain’s “Lemons of Corsica” exquisitely succulent, Dulabaum’s portrait, “Beth,” wondrously sensitive and alive. The mixed media assemblages by Wetherell-Sack and Hench add another kind of resonance to the show with visions that vibrate somewhere between poetic whimsy and eloquent mystery. Wetherell- Sack’s “A Green Scene: Techno/Lime” is a surreal, electrifying digital-deco interior, and Hench’s “Untitled” is at once antique and thoroughly modern – a crystalline, coppery universe unto itself.

And so it is that while styles and content vary widely - from abstract to representational, from elegantly refined to spontaneous and raw - this is one show that exudes a warm, exciting joie d’vivre. It’s a fine start to the new year, and just the cure for those cold winter doldrums.

THE EXHIBIT OPENS WITH A RECEPTION ON WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.. PLEASE RSVP TO BECKY DEHART at (330) 244 – 3518, or The exhibit runs through March 21. Viewing hours past the opening reception are limited, so you may want to call in advance to confirm available times. Gallery 6000 is located in the University Center on the campus of Kent State University Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton.

Photo: Detail of “Untitled” mixed media assemblage by Russ Hench.

Monday, January 3, 2011

20/20 Futuresight?

20/20 Futuresight?

By Tom Wachunas

The front page article by Gayle Beck in The Repository issue of Sunday, January 2, posed a question, and then a surprising call to local action if ever there was one, starting with the headline, “What Is Stark 20/20?” The complex, decade-long project, named with the term for perfect vision, and the year 2020, seeks to determine “…your vision of progress as a community.” Further then, a mission statement: “The Repository and will facilitate community conversation and promote community action to make Stark County a measurably better place to live by the year 2020.” Accompanying the article was a form (“ballot”) wherein readers can submit their ideas by listing a topic of concern, specific issue to be addressed, description of the problem, and statistics surrounding the problem. The same form appeared again in the Monday issue of the Repository, and I suspect will appear in future issues.

All of this is very heartening news to those of us who feel that our hometown newspaper has been woefully silent when it comes to presenting truly substantive observations and analysis on the arts here in Stark County. Glorified press releases about art shows are no substitute for intelligent, educational, and inspiring commentary. The last time I ranted about this poverty of critical thinking in our paper was in a post titled “The Arts Are a Contact Sport,” from April 28, 2010. You can find it in the ARTWACH archives. I still stand by what I said then, so much so that it reads like it could have been written yesterday. Surely I can’t be alone in my assessment, or in my frustration with a paper that has consistently neglected elevating its readers’ grasp of Canton’s cultural profile outside the local sports and politics milieu.

My biggest fear in this regard is that what was true in April of 2010 (and in fact was true in 2009, 2008, 2007, etc. and through the 1990s) will still be so in 2020. I’m urging anyone reading this who is either a practicing artist (this of course includes visual, musical, or theatrical artists), or is in any way sympathetic to raising the level of arts awareness and meaningful dialogue in our community, to seriously consider participating in this ongoing project. Your involvement could go a long way toward sensitizing the public at large to the necessity and relevance of growing the arts not just in our immediate community venues, but also in nurturing sustainable arts curricula in ALL our schools.

You can e-mail letters to: Make sure you put “Stark 20/20” in the subject line. You can also e-mail Gayle Beck, editorial page editor, at or call her at (330) 580 – 8308, or post a question or comment to her new Stark 20/20 blog at

Write on.