In times of trouble, the New York Botanical Garden has been a place of asylum and peace for many.
The 250 acres of various gardens, the serene walks, the waterfall, old growth forest, LuEsther T. Mertz Library, greenhouses, Stone Mill, ponds and Zen water designs (the Native Plant Garden, one of my favorites) provide places to contemplate, restore, clear one’s mind and rejuvenate from the noise and chaos of our culture.
In keeping with our steadfast and wise Governor Cuomo’s phased approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NYBG has reopened carefully since July. They’ve accomplished this with timed-entrances, hand sanitizer stations everywhere and close monitoring of members and visitors along one-direction paths to provide 6 feet social distancing.
The bathrooms are meticulously disinfected as is the cafe which provides drinks and outdoor dining as does the Hudson Garden Grill. There is no indoor dining anywhere and the Hudson Garden Grill provides a few salads, wine, beer, cold drinks and snacks. You can sit at one of the tables under an umbrella and enjoy a light lunch viewing the beautiful pine trees, plantings and the seasonal gardens in the distance without fear of crowds, all tables separated from each other six feet or more.
Above all, one must visit the Garden with a mask. If one has symptoms of COVID: temperature, dry cough, body aches, digestive problems, difficulty breathing-94 oxygen level as tested by an oximeter, unusual rashes not typical of characteristic allergies, eczema, etc., in addition to cold-like flu symptoms) stay home, rest and recuperate. COVID requires not infecting others and taking care of oneself. The disease is deadly and social responsibility is an imperative when an infectious disease is easily spread in public. The Garden is a respite, but quarantine, rest, liquids, Elderberry, UMCKA and what the doctor prescribes is the only respite for COVID to avoid getting worse and having to be hospitalized.
I visited on Friday, September 25th at the last minute and found 10:30 A..M. available to visit Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and then go for a walk on the grounds. With a membership, one has free entrance to the Conservatory and parking passes are given.
The above pictures are what is happening around the Garden if you just plan to lift your spirits with a walk and not get involved in any other activities or go into the conservatory. The pictures below are the conservatory environs.
If you’ve run out of parking passes as I did, parking for members is discounted at $10.00 and that is well worth it. The visual beauty and healthfulness of the plants and gorgeous landscape with lovely, coordinated plantings is better than a sedative for one’s emotional state.
The Garden staff are preparing for the Kiku exhibit which takes place in the fall every year and coincides with fall activities like Pumpkin Weekend which they are already preparing. Both take place in October.
The Conservatory is monitored by following the path through all of the galleries in the Conservatory, from the Rainforest plantings, through the Desert plantings and the exhibition galleries.
One can also step outside to visit the Lotus and Water Lily Pond where one will see water plants, Lotus and a variety of Water Lilies.
Swimming amidst the plants are coy of various sizes. One old gentleman looks to be a few decades old and has grown to a renowned size.
There is also a frog whom I heard on a few visits to the Lotus and Water Lily Ponds hanging out in the vegetation. Two Lily Ponds are in the Courtyard in the center of the environs of the conservatory.
And there are frogs in the swampland and wild plants area of the Garden. I have heard them in the area of the Native Plant Garden.
I have also seen hummingbirds and cardinals in that area. The birds are as beautiful as the flowers that line the water features.
You will need a timed ticket to enter the Garden even if you do not go into the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. If you are a NYC resident, your entrance fee is discounted. If you go on Wednesdays, you may visit the Garden for free. Members may enter the grounds and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory for free.
For information and tickets go to the NYBG website. https://www.nybg.org/visit/admission/?keyword=NYCResidentZIPCheck
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New York Botanical Garden is Reopening The Outdoor Gardens and Collections to the General Public July 28
Today, The New York Botanical Garden announced its schedule to reopen the outdoor gardens and collections of its 250-acre site to the general public on Tuesday, 28 July. The process has been a gradual one as New York City achieves New York Forward’s Phase Four which is projected to begin 20 July. The Garden’s reopening plan is mindful of protocols that pertain to businesses and cultural institutions. It follows CDC guidelines regarding protecting visitors from COVID-19 transmission. The Garden’s protocols involve safety measures that encompass State and City requirements and OSHA requirements.
As a part of Appreciation Week July 21-26 the New York Botanical Garden is welcoming Garden Members and Bronx Healthcare Heroes from the eight public and private hospitals in the borough. Also included are Bronx Neighbors with “first access” and complimentary tickets for free admission. This reopening including “Appreciation Week” is contingent upon Governor Cuomo designating New York City as fulfilling the requirements for the Phase Four opening.
All visitors, including Members, must purchase or reserve timed-entry tickets in advance. All visitors must be wearing masks.
APPRECIATION WEEK REOPENING is from July 21, Tuesday – July 26, Sunday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. GET TICKETS BY CLICKING HERE
Through its Appreciation Week initiative, the Garden acknowledges its gratitude and recognizes the dedication, strength, and resilience of Bronx frontline health care workers and residents. These are the workers that residents remember daily around 7:00 pm with cheers, shouts and a clamor of pots and pans for their great sacrifice to help patients through the terrible journey of overcoming this virus which is still not understood. Complimentary admission for those groups will continue through September 13.
New Yorkers will be coming from all the boroughs to seek respite and renewal at NYBG. They have gone through a hellacious time (characterized by Governor Cuomo) these past months sacrificing under quarantine. Together, all New Yorkers were united, disciplined, smart, tough and loving as they confronted an unprecedented crises in their lifetimes and brought the highest COVID infection rate in the world to one of the lowest in the nation.
The Garden is the place to be in July. It is one of the most gorgeous, historic and extensive botanical gardens in the world. Not only is it an urban oasis, it is a cultural, living artifact which has become a moral imperative, a haven for every season, and a New York City treasure anchored in the Bronx. Currently the Garden landscape features vibrant daylilies, hydrangeas, water lilies, and lotuses among its one million plants. Walking paths and trails crisscross the Garden providing opportunities for discovery through encounters with nature.
FOR YOUR SAFETY
The Garden has a TIMED ENTRY. FACE COVERINGS ARE REQUIRED. There is SOCIAL DISTANCING.
There is CONTINUAL CLEANING AND DISINFECTING. There are DAILY STAFF HEALTH CHECKS.
Know Before You Go
- Reduced Garden capacity and amenities. For the safety of visitors and staff, NYBG closed indoor spaces and any collections where social distancing is not possible. Water fountains and bottle refill stations are deactivated. Please bring your own water, or purchase water at the Pine Tree Café.
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices. Garden staff are sanitizing surfaces such as tables, handrails, and door handles regularly.
- Sanitization stations. Hand sanitizer has been placed throughout the Garden. All visitors and staff must practice proper hand washing procedures.
- 250 acres to explore. Enjoy seasonal highlights in the Chilton Azalea Garden, Native Plant Garden, Perennial Garden, Conservatory Courtyards, Rockefeller Rose Garden, and most other outdoor collections and trails. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoe
- Grab-and-go food service only. Limited food and refreshments are offered for carry-out at the Pine Tree Café. Outdoor seating is available.
- NYBG Shop is open. The Garden has adjusted shopping and checkout processes to provide the safest possible experience.
- Mobility considerations. Wheelchair loans and the Tram Tour are suspended. If you require a mobility device, we ask that you bring your own.
An inherent risk of exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19) exists in any public space where people are present. People visiting The New York Botanical Garden do so at their own risk as to such exposure as well as other risks inherent to outdoor public spaces. We will continue to monitor state and city guidelines to inform the Garden’s operations.
For more information about the NYBG and the 28th JULY PUBLIC OPENING, CLICK HERE.
When playwright Rosary O’Neill was living in New York City, she was inspired to write Plane Love based on her own love relationship and the love relationship between Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. She mounted a number of successful readings of Plane Love at the National Arts Club, The Player’s Club, The Actor’s Studio and a few other venues. I attended a few of these readings and reviewed Plane Love which is an intriguing and beautifully written love story,
The New York Botanical Garden is conducting its next Facebook Watch Party, “Journey Through Spring II ” this week. The sequel to NYBG’s popular virtual walk through its spectacular Spring highlights takes place on Thursday, May 21, at 12 p.m. Look for the Facebook Watch Party: “Journey Through Spring II ”
For this event Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections narrates the most recent spring footage at the Garden. The video update is gorgeous as Todd chronicles the budding and blossoming throughout NYBG’s spectacular historic landscape from late April through mid-May.
The virtual walk features sweeping panoramic and aerial views across NYBG’s 250 acres and intimate close-ups of its magnificent gardens and collections. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in clusters of white and purple lilacs; lush peonies; late-spring perennials, grasses, and bulbs; and many more seasonal sensations during this Facebook Watch Party.
Todd Forrest is particularly suited to discussing the virtual walk. In his position he is responsible for the Horticulture Division’s programs and activities. He oversees the grounds, 50 gardens and living collections, horticultural exhibitions, and a staff of 80 managers, curators, gardeners, and community horticulturists. Forrest also advises on long-term strategy for the Garden’s 250-acre landscape.
As New York State works to align the economy with opening up safely during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, NYBG will do the same, always keeping in mind the safety of its patrons who, in the past, didn’t mind the crowds. Today, however, it’s all about stemming the outbreak of COVID-19 which took the US by surprise since the Pandemic Office was defunded and closed down in 2018. In addition to that tragedy, the personnel hired to monitor pandemics from the previous administration were fired. And the reports and informative Pandemic Bible that gave guidance on the steps to take if a pandemic ever broke out in China or Africa was shelved
One can only imagine how different things would be for this nation and globally 1) if the Pandemic Office had not be closed; 2)if the monitoring personnel had been kept on; 3) if the informational pandemic Bible not been disregarded. We would be enjoying the crowds at the Garden and relishing the Kusama: Cosmic Nature exhibit which was to run through the summer and now has been postponed until next year if possible.
New York was left with handling an influx of infected individuals coming from Europe, but it has been doing an excellent job of bending the curve to zero as the rest of the country deals with a rise in COVID-19 positive cases and increase in death rates. Thus, in light of the pandemic, New Yorkers are staying safe and NYBG remains closed. All in-person events, on-site programs and classes, and exhibitions have been suspended. The necessary action complies with public health guidelines issued by federal, state, and local governments and the CDC to support stringent efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and limit the unnecessary deaths exacerbated by a dilatory federal response that continues to this day.
However, we look upward and know we will return having learned important lessons to not repeat this unprecedented global crisis again. Looking to experts and science, the NYBG during this period is having essential staff continue to provide expert care for NYBG’s living collections as they maintain the operations of the Garden’s 250-acre landmark landscape.
Thankfully, though the Garden’s gates may be closed temporarily, the virtual gates provide all access. The Garden invites all globally and those near and far to check in online to the NYBG site to feel refreshed despite the news that COVID-19 rates nationwide are rising and many of the states are reopening without sufficient testing and contact tracing in place to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Fortunately, New York Governor Cuomo is making sure to hit target criteria to open up all aspects of the state but with wisdom and guidance so that New Yorkers will be safe during this challenging time.
Make sure to visit “Journey Through Spring II” to check how the Garden collections are blossoming and burgeoning during this Spring of 2020. The Watch Party is Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 12 p.m. on this link: https://www.facebook.com/events/703724287108198/ The virtual event will also be available on NYBG’s website nybg.org/nybg-at-home/.
Information about NYBG’s other virtual events and additional digital content is at this link.
As COVID-19 has prompted the Metropolitan Musuem to close its doors to its thousands of visitors on a slow day and stream daily content, we have a chance to look back at another time. It is a throwback to the past splendors of the Met and its 2018 Versailles exhibit captured in a Tribeca Film Festival offering. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, streamed online for press, fans and supporters. Tribeca Film Festival curtailed many of its events. However, they screened films in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which is perhaps worse than the French Revolution that felled the last of the French Kings (Louis XVI) and left the Palace of Versailles a shell of itself until later restoration.
Though I am a neophyte foodie, I had never heard of world renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi (cookbooks include Jerusalem, Plenty). Nor had I the time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during its “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/visitors-to-versailles.
The Metropolitan Museum enjoys featuring live events which bring important works to life. They attempt to ground them in the present by combining exhibits with other contemporary forms of expression. “Visitors to Versailles” was one such glorious presentation taking place in the Summer of 2018.
Though I missed attending the Versailles exhibit and particularly “The Feast of Versailles,” presented by Ottolenghi and his pastry chef collaborators, “all’s well that end’s well.” Laura Gabbert the documentarian known for city of Gold, No Impact Man and Sunset Story decided to do a quick and dirty film about Yotam Ottolenghi’s commission to create the “Feast of Versailles” giving us an inside look behind the scenes at how the “feast” portion of the exhibit came into being.
From start to finish, Gabbert chronicles the philosopher-foodie Ottolenghi at his home and his restaurant. We witness clips of him with restaurant colleagues tasting and refining desserts. We immediately get a sense of Ottolenghi’s expertise, congeniality and collaborative skills to perfect dishes to will please his clientele.
The filmmaker features brief interview clips o Ottolenghi describing how he works and how he responded to the Met’s commission of his culinary artistry. Then she the chronicles the chef’s visit to New York City from his home base in London and reviews meetings with Met Museum experts who assist him in his research of the culture, opulence and luxury of Versailles as the seat of world culture for over 100 years during the reign of the Sun Kings. Importantly, the Met experts discuss the types of foods that the king and his patrons enjoyed, gleaned from the records and from oil paintings of that time.
As Ottolenghi visits Versailles, Gabbart includes panoramic views of the glorious gardens and various salons and rooms including the “hall of mirrors” which she films as Ottolenghi comments. This section perhaps could have been added to; there is never enough photography of the incredible palace. However, film clips include the drawings, renderings and other works capturing the style of the palace dating back three hundred-fifty years.
From his readings, his discussions with the experts and his Versailles visit, Ottolenghi decides to review online a myriad of pastry chefs to assess whom he might best collaborate with who will convey his vision. It’s an important selection process. They will help him elucidate the ethos of Versailles though a contemporary lens. After visiting their websites and scrutinizing their “wares” online, he hones in on five visionary dessert chefs: Dinara Kasko, Janice Wong, Bompas & Parr, Ghaya Oliveira, and Dominique Ansel. All of these chefs are as diverse from each other as is the east from the west.
Ottolenghi’s research of French history and epicurean tradition, meetings, planning and contacts which have taken months are everything. Then Gabbert slows down her time frame and follows the pressure on the five chefs as they arrive at the Met to set up their displays and work their magic two days before the culinary event the “Feast of Versailles.”
These unique and renowned pastry chefs (creator of the “Cronut” Dominique Ansel, among others) have been guided with a light hand by Ottolenghi who has envisioned the evening as an emulation of French decadence that manifests spinning reflections into our own age. Months before the event, each pâtissier works to create a unique dessert inspired by the conceptualization of Versailles’ over-the-top dramatic grandeur. Chocolate sun kings to elaborate jellies, tarts to swans and topiaries — Gabbert reveals the artistry of the dessert chef and the challenges they confront fashioning their presentations in a formidable setting like the Met which is not outfitted as a culinary institute, indeed, far from it.
As the tension rises, the worst possible scenarios occur. The electrical circuit doesn’t work and it is a trial for the electricians to come up with a solution so that the “tornado” effect delivered by the special machine will spin with gusto. In another instance, the cake batter is not the right consistency because the ingredients in the US are different. The pastry chef tries numerous times with the help of an American expert who insists another ingredient should be added. The director wisely leaves the chef unmoored from her art, questioning how to correct the batter. Will she find a solution the day of the Feast?
Importantly, the “Feast” is a living paean to the court of the monarchy which daily was a staged scene that gave audience to artists, writers, reporters, foreign tourists and subjects who witnessed the rich splendor of the King’s residence, his dominance over his officials and his power as head of state. French cuisine then and now had a great impact on French society which continues into our modern day with cultivars like Julia Child, Eric Ripert, Dominique Ansel and more. One cannot examine a cookbook and not see French words used for process and product: i.e. saute, flambe, mousse, omelet, etc.
One theme that Gabbert explores is this idea that there is little privacy in the world of the Sun Kings who exposed themselves, perhaps too much, for it led to their downfall in the extremes of poverty and wealth. Today, Social Media is used to eliminate our privacy, but the uber wealthy manage to stay away from the public spotlight, where the Sun Kings sought it. The reputed richest in the world are not necessarily so; old wealth that dominates for centuries is unknown and uninvestigated, for good reason.
Another theme that the director alludes to briefly, which should have been elucidated at length, is the idea of excess, crass opulence and decadence. The director includes one shot of Donald Trump’s gold room and makes the analogy that such excess caves in on itself as did the French Monarchy. On a superficial level the “equivalence” seems to make sense. She needed to extrapolate about the parallels and reveal that past their superficiality, there is no parallel. The Sun Kings were far from frivolous and unlearned. Their culture developed over a century and the accoutrements they surrounded themselves with were priceless. The same does not abide for the dim comparative currently in the White House and the occupants’ crass nouveau riche sensibilities.
What may abide in this romp through Versailles and the lovely feast of extravagant and clever desserts is the theme that the draining wealth and riches it takes to sustain the luxurious materialism chokes off everything. Eventually, the debts pile up and the enemies threaten. Soon the borrowing becomes so great one is entailed with quid pro quos, not a way to remain autonomous. And then the revolution comes when there is not enough food to go around. The film is an interesting view of the days of glory during a time when new elites strive for similitude but fall so short, they don’t recognize their foibles and pretensions.
But Gabbert manages to tie the times vaguely together with the elaborate desserts and concepts of the grand master of the “Feast of Versailles,” Ottolenghi. And she infers gently that the sustainability of such excess is as mortal as its keepers. We recognize the fragility of excess more than ever in this COVID-19 global pandemic.
I screened and reviewed Banksy Most Wanted as a Tribeca Film Festival offering, which appears on https://blogcritics.org/ and in a longer review: https://caroleditosti.com/2020/04/29/banksy-most-wanted-a-tribeca-film-festival-review/
I enjoyed the film which raised questions about the confluence of Banky’s art and Banksy’ anonymity. Would his art have the power it does if his identity is disclosed? The film, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley delves into the Banksy myth and reality with a profound and in-depth portrait of a man who performs a great service to humanity which happens to be illegal. I had the opportunity after screening and writing the review to chat with directors via email about the film and how they arrived at their subject.
What inspired you to do a film about Banksy?
If you think of a Banksy piece, like the one he did in a bathroom during the lockdown for example. If the minute after you have seen it, you can imagine the man doing the stencil, because you know his face, his name, you know in which town the house is, you know that his wife and his 13-year-old son or daughter is probably behind the door.. it is immediately less fun.
When did both of you first learn about Banksy?
I had the opportunity to see Th McGowan Trilogy and review it on Blogcritics as an offering of The Origin Company’s 1st Irish Theater Festival 2014. Since then I have been in touch with Seamus Scanlon on social media and have kept up with his activities from time to time during posts. Finally, I caught up with him during the COVID-19 pandemic when we both had the time for me to interview him online via email.
Seamus, give the readers a bit of backstory about yourself.
My background is in science so I am a late convert to the arts. I am a first generation college goer in my family so gainful employment was the priority not frivolity (i.e. the creative arts). Science did appeal to me because it was definitive; equations and formulae were a great attraction for me. Also, my hand writing is appalling. I can’t even read it myself. I knew I would never be able to write papers or complete an analysis in college that a teacher could decipher.
Despite this, I recall playing a recording of Dylan Thomas reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Night and I was immediately affected by it although I did not let on because our school was an artistic black hole. (In 2018, the Japanese production of The McGowan Trilogy played this recording during the performance which was an amazing surprise for me. I felt I had come full circle!) In English class we also read the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh – a self taught genius raised in poverty in rural County Monaghan. This poetry stirred me and remained with me despite my selection of science to pursue for a career
My hometown of Galway is an artistic epicenter with the Tony Award winning Druid Theater Company; the Galway International Arts Festival and The Cúirt International Festival of Literature. Nora Barnacle (James Joyce’s wife) was born there and Lady Gregory (Yeats’ mentor and co-founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin) lived about 15 miles from Galway, Ireland. Galway county was the backdrop for Synge and Martin McDonagh. So there was no excuse for me not to be enamored of literature, but I just ignored it all. I was too timid to explore it.
How long did you work on the McGowan Trilogy?
Not very long. It was kick started by Nancy Manocherian’s Cell Theater Company Ltd (artistic director Kira Simring) who read a short play of mine Dancing at Lunacy and then staged it as part of the The Irish Cell event in March 2012. They then asked for a full play so I developed two other inter related one acts – The Long Wet Grass and Boys Swam Before Me. They were great to work with – two Jewish women interested in all things Irish. This was staged in Oct 2014 as part of the 1st Irish Theater Festival and was well received. The play was also published by Arlen House. Get a free digital copy here.
What experiences helped you frame the story?
I lived in Belfast for five years so I was exposed to the daily life of Army patrols, constantly hovering Army helicopters, riots, shootings, July 12th marches where the deep seated tribal differences are in full flow. Before living in Belfast I had been affected greatly by the Hunger Strike in Belfast where 7 IRA and 3 INLA political prisoners died. Hunger strikes in Ireland have a long tradition. They are doubly significant and symbolic in Ireland because of the Great Famine (1847) which killed 1.5 million and caused forced emigration of 1.5 million to the US. A therapist in Belfast treating ex gunmen (late teens and early twenties) who had killed for the ‘cause’ and were suffering major trauma after killing someone.
Where has it been produced since it premiered in the US?
After The Cell production in 2014, they brought it to Hastings (UK) to the Kino-Teatr owned by a devoted Russian Hibernophile, Olga Manonova. The same Summer it was staged in two venues in Galway, and in Westport’s Townhall.
The major surprise for me came in 2018. The McGowan Trilogy (in Japanese) play was staged in Japan (in Japanese) to full houses (the lead was a rising movie star so that helped!). I traveled to Tokyo to see it and it was an amazing experience. They were selling merchandise in the foyer so I felt like a rock star! Japan has an amazing richness of theater and other art forms.
In Ireland three amateur drama groups have staged parts of the Trilogy and the feed back is usually positive. Amateur drama in Ireland is a long standing cultural phenomenon.
In April 2020 a theater student, Molly Flanagan at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) was to direct The Long Wet Grass. I was very excited to see this but it had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 situation. Our mixed genre presentation Galway: The Good, the Bad, The Ugly at the New York Irish Center for April 23 had to be cancelled as well as an April performance at Lehman College.
In addition to The McGowan Trilogy, what are some of your successes over the years of which you are most proud?
Since 2016 I have self produced The Long Wet Grass at a number of locations such as Lehman College, City College Downtown, Art House, An Beal Bocht, Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and The New York Irish Center.
In February 2020 I collaborated on the immersive theater event Echoes of Calling with the Japanese dancer and choreographer Akiko Kitamura. If the COVID-19 restrictions lift in time this may be staged again in the Fall.
I worked on two film projects The Long Wet Grass (Ireland/USA, 2017) and The Butterfly Love Song (Ireland/USA, 2019) which was a new medium for me and challenging. I learned a lot – mainly that I should stick to play writing!
My first art form was fiction so I managed to have seven pieces published in Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder slot.
What projects do you have in the works?
My next full length play The Blood Flow Game is a sequel to The McGowan Trilogy and is due for publication shortly. The end game for all plays is to have them produced so that is my goal. I have had four table readings of it as part of that process. I thought after The McGowan Trilogy success in Japan I would be a hot prospect but that is not the case!!
The radio play script of The Butterfly Love Song was short listed in Ireland in 2020 and that was a great thrill for me. It was the first radio play I had written. The Cell Theater, where I started off with Dancing at Lunacy, is going to develop it in Fall 2020 as a radio play/podcast.
I have few short films in the works including Three-Nil, Move Baby, Recycle This and The Resurrection Love Song.
Have you been able to get around Covid 19 virtually as other playwrights and artists have done?
The Butterfly Love Song which premiered in NYC in October 2019 and was screened in Dublin in early March 2020 is now being screened offline by various film festivals so that is encouraging. Film lends itself to this more than any other artistic format. Watch the trailer and the full film free at Irish Film London.
What is the first thing you will do, once the medical profession and the government has a handle on Covid 19 and has decided that businesses can reopen along with bars and restaurants?
I am looking forward to getting back to job as a librarian at City College Downtown. It was set up by the Labor Unions in 1981. Many students are first time college goers (like myself), many are from blue collar backgrounds (like myself) so I have a natural affinity with these students. We offer BA, BS and MA programs. Classes run weekday evenings and Saturdays. We specialize in one-on-one advising from day one. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
I am pretty deaf so I can’t really hear anyone in a noisy café or bar. I write in cafés. My office in Galway – when I am home – is The Secret Garden where I accomplish a lot. I hope it is open by July or I will be in trouble.
I have no writing schedule or format or craft advice or a writing desk or writing techniques. I am probably the worst person to look at for guidance since I do not really know how I write etc. I did an MFA in City College in New York and that was very useful because I had writing deadlines so I had to produce.
You can update Seamus’ activities on his website at www.seamusscanlon.com
The “romantic” reality of the starving artist exploited by predatory promoters has been turned on its head by the graffiti artist, political activist and filmmaker Banksy. Over the past two decades Banksy has bested art dealers and beat them at their own game. In the process he has hyped up his own notoriety and sweetened his Robin-hood-like credibility by remaining anonymous to all. That is, all except the few sworn to secrecy who are privileged to be his inner circle.
Banksy Most Wanted, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley, is a Tribeca Film Festival offering that I screened recently. I enjoy that Banksy thrives on anonymity, travels the world and uses buildings as his canvases. He paints and stencils ironic hieroglyphs, insuring they are accessible to the multitudes who appreciate his stark images and socially important messages. Cleverly, rakishly he tantalizes and exploits art dealers who would traffic his work like vultures.
In their straight-shooting documentary Rouvier and Healey visit a multitude of locations. Using a mixture of video news clips and their own cinematography, they investigate the Banksy ethos with depth and humor. First, they chronicle his origins in Bristol, UK. Next, they trace his evolution from the 1990s. For then he painted by hand. Subsequently, he decided upon spray painting. With it he could cover more mileage. Therefore, upping the ante by preparing stencils in his studio beforehand, he left off labor intensity. Most probably, stenciling offered the ease and speed to get in and out of locations without detection.
More recently, Banksy’s evolution extends to outrageous, live installations. Irreverently, he painted a live elephant in Los Angeles riling animal rights activits. For the sheer cheek of it, he unleashed 200 rats in a London gallery. And with a nod to her sainthood, he embellished a portrait of Mother Teresa with the words “moisturize everyday.”
Identifying his most famous works in Bristol, London, Paris and New York, Rouvier and Healey relate the impact of these Banksys on the surrounding community. In one instance a town litigated a dealer who took “their Banksy” which had great significance to them. They refused to allow him to steal the honor of Banksy selecting Port Talbot, Wales as a site for his art.
To establish ownership the dealer purchased a garage wall with the Banksy located in Port Talbot, Wales. Subsequently, he removed it with cranes to carve the images from the concrete to auction them off. As a result, the town sued him. During the litigation he discovered the art’s value to the community. Indeed, they believed Banksy had chosen their town to bless with his work.
Interestingly, the court found that the town’s freeholder rights as a community superseded the dealer’s free-holder rights. This was a Banksy triumph for the little people and a gut-wrenching blow to the stomachs and wallets of art dealers everywhere.
The filmmakers explore a few of Banksy’s satiric, temporary art installations. For example, they revisit the 2008 Porta-Potty Stonehenge. With self-demeaning brio, Banksy dubbed it “A Pile Of Crap.” Likewise, the 2015 Dismaland Bemusement Park offered a tortured happy rides with macabre convolution. Dismaland was a “sinister twist” on Disneylands everywhere. Banksy described it as “a family theme park unsuitable for children.”
Additionally, the directors highlight his adventurous pranks. One of these incurred self-shredding the print “Girl With Balloon” at a Sotheby auction right after the banging gavel closed the purchase.
Throughout, the filmmakers question the Banksy ethos. His stenciled works increasingly find their way into areas of economic repression and cultural upheaval. Some appear in the West Bank. These, include the restored Walled Off Hotel positioned across the street from the Israeli-Palestinian West Bank barrier. All of them raise questions. Indeed, Banksy fans and critics alike interpret them as an addendum to his political activism. And they label him a postulate critic of the dominant powers who would prevent others from securing a viable place at the table of life.
With his works having become ubiquitous, Banksy globally imprints his perspective to sound the underlying truths of our reality. And his searing and irreverent statements against imperialism, capitalism, earth destruction, climate change, consumerism, poverty, corporate fascism, racism empower the viewer.
However, all is not anti-establishment. Occasionally, he counterbalances these themes and subjects with images of love, innocence and endurance. For the documentarians focus on how he makes his guerilla art a velvet weapon to war against killing and uplift peace. Furthermore, they reveal how his dichotomous images heighten the culture’s oblivion to their being accessories to enslaving and harming Third World Countries. With singularity and precision the directors emphasize how he employs juxtaposition in his creations. And they do justice to Banksy’s indictment of the West’s contributions to crimes against humanity in its greedy value of money over people.
Throughout the visual explication of Banksy’s subject matter and themes, the filmmakers delve into his message to the art world. Another lucid indictment emerges. For Banksy, great artistry moves beyond boundaries and walls of brick and mortar. It remains exclusive of hyped-up, artificiality and “Tulip mania” trends.
For this reason he has left the art world spinning in circles. As they chop up walls to obtain his works in the hope of making a bundle, he intentionally dislocates their obsession. Most recently, to thwart the rapacity of dealers, owners of buildings have become Banksy fans. They refuse to sell. Instead, they plexiglass their Banksys to protect them. With an irony of their own, they reinforce Banksy’s overarching instruction to street people. Art exists everywhere
Over the years Banksy has garnered himself and a beleaguered art world a delicious, capitalistic profit. Reputedly his worth totals up to a rumored $50 million. So, for those who admire his anti-capitalistic, anti-consumer spirit, think again. Perhaps, this anonymous rogue doth protest too much. However, the vital question remains.
Who is Banksy? For me peaking behind the anonymity becomes a crucial high point of the film. With incisive interviews, the directors weave in and out to explore three possible identities. And these they unravel, playing with the uncertainty of facts and details of “reliable” narrators. Afterward, they suggest a fourth possible Banksy.
Clearly, the directors love their subject. And they have done their homework. They’ve presented the diorama that his anonymity has served a charitable purpose . Yet, they’ve proven Banksy also serves his own interests.
Thanks to his anonymity, others have been able to claim his work, either legally or emotionally. And his fans love adding to his aura by fantasizing about who is hiding behind the name. These investigations reveal a novel perspective of the artist, his salient/sardonic world view, his links with the music scene and his entrepreneurial acumen. They also expose the importance of identity to art and society and our need to triumph over invisibility.
Through the testimonies of those who know him and have worked with him, but also of those who exploit him, hunt him down and claim him, Banksy Most Wanted paints a profound portrait of “one” of the foremost artists of our time. It concludes with the vitality of the spirit that channels through the group of artists that effect Banksys. And that makes all the difference in the world.
Banksy during the pandemic.
Apparently, Banksy is staying indoors following the UKs sheltering in place lockdown orders. However his famed mural “The Girl With A Pierced Eardrum” has received a COVID-19 update which includes a blue surgical mask.
First appearing on the side of a building in Bristol’s Harbourside in 2014, this Banksy spoofs Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring.” But the earring incorporates Banksy’s thoughtful wall selection, an outdoor security alarm. Banky’s “girl” sports not a “pearl,” but a ‘stretcher’ supplied by the security alarm.
Wild speculation deems Banksy broke the lockdown and sneaked out to spray paint his work to give a kick in the pants to those who will tour his graffiti most probably with masks and appropriate social distancing when Bristol “opens.” However, fans argue the COVID-19 mural can’t be by Banksy who usually reveals his works on his Instagram account.
For official COVID-19 works Banksy, on his account you will find rats running amuck and making themselves at home in his bathroom. It’s captioned: “My wife hates it when I work from home.” Banksy’s irreverence during this pandemic makes this Plague go down a bit easier. #Banksy
New York Botanical Garden is helping New Yorkers and global fans enjoy Spring in New York by maintaining social distancing during New York “Pause.” They have been holding online watch parties and have kept their virtual programming alive to involve those sheltering at home with interactive events and online classes that stream via YouTube.
While the Garden’s gates may be closed temporarily, their virtual gates are wide open. The Garden invites its community near and and far to stay connected during this challenging time. Earth Day 50 with NYBG at Home is one way to do that.
Each day the COVID 19 pandemic takes another swipe at the New York theater community as notifications of deaths (playwright Terrance McNally, actor Mark Blum, former Drama Desk President William Wolf) darkly bloom. Theaters will remain closed for the end of the month and most probably into the summer, if state and federal projections are to be believed. Thus, we wait and create and pray supporting each other with phone calls, emails, social media posts virtual presentations, meetings and parties on Zoom.
Show business folks have always helped one another. Currently, Brad Paisley, John Bon Jovi, Dolly Parton and other celebrities have stepped up donations. And beautiful financial flowers are burgeoning from GoFundMe campaigns springing up to support artists. Along with smaller operations, tried and true foundations like the Actor’s Fund and Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, Dramatists Guild, League of Professional Theatre Women and New York Women in Film and Television to name a few are available with support for their members and freelance artists.
Freelancers are especially hard hit. They do not number amongst the 6.5 million who have filed for unemployment insurance (the number was posted on the news this morning). Not having a regular paycheck but living gig to gig, they are the invisible casualties of this war against a deadly molecule that strikes through those who are asymptomatic and “healthy,” but who are carriers of the spread. Clearly, more needs to be done by those of means who love theater and are devastated that COVID 19 has slammed into New York.
On that note The Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Foundation has decided to create an uplifting way to distribute the funds for their 2020 Idea Award for Theatre. This spring, the foundation will offer up to 40 emergency grants of $2,500 each to playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists who have had a full professional production cancelled, closed, or indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 closures. A total of $100,000 will be distributed to theater writers.
Eligible playwrights, composers, lyricists, or librettists should apply at this link. Writers who have had a professional production canceled may submit their name and proof of a professional show’s closure. (“Professional,” in this case, is defined as LORT, Off Broadway, or Broadway). Each artist can submit only once. If there are more than 40 applicants, the Foundation will award grants by lottery, allowing them to give out the greatest amount of money directly into the pockets of the artists who have been most affected.
The submission deadline is April 14. The Foundation hopes to make funds available to artists as quickly as possible to forge a path to provide a bit of hope and relief and especially to guide others to do the same for artists in this unprecedented time.
The Bret Adams & Paul Reisch Foundation is a charitable foundation. Its mission is to give money to writers to write plays with ‘big ideas.’ This year, their ‘big idea’ is to help those “who have had productions cancelled,” said Bruce Ostler, V.P. and Board Member of The Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Foundation.
Ostler’s point is well taken and unfortunately, true when he affirms, “The economic model of theatre in the 21st century works much like it did in the 16th century, in that a playwright receives a percentage of the box office sales; without an audience, the box office receipts and royalty to playwrights dry up. In no uncertain terms, the business of theatre today has ground to a shocking halt due to the pandemic. Playwrights are not salaried workers and therefore are NOT eligible for unemployment for a cancelled production. That is the harsh reality of theatre today.”
Theatrical Agent Bret Adams and his partner Dr. Paul Reisch loved the theatre with great passion. As an agent, Bret shepherded the careers of many actors, writers and directors and designers, including Phylicia Rashad, Judy Kaye, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Sherman Helmsley, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Eve Arden, Christine Ebersole, Kathleen Marshall, Jayne Wyman, Andre DeShields, Kathy Bates, and more.
After Bret and Paul’s passing, in 2006 and 2015, their foundation was created at their bequest. The Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Foundation champions visionary playwrights and embraces diversity in all its forms. It especially encourages fresh perspectives – particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds – to create idea-driven new plays and musicals. These may include a variety of themes, i.e. science, history, politics and sexual orientation. For more information, visit www.BretnPaulFoundation.org.