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Arizona Performing And Visual Artists Innovate To Keep Audiences Engaged

By Tom Maxedon
Published: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, March 8, 2021 - 1:54pm

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Black Violin
Kev Marcus (featured) and Wil Baptiste are the duo Black Violin, a fusion classical and hip-hop group.

Kev Marcus and Wil Baptiste make up the duo Black Violin.

Marcus remembers fondly when they first began. “Our manager would be like, ‘I got these two black guys that are going to play violin in your club. It’s going to be amazing.' They would literally laugh us out the door,” he said.

“They’re like, ‘this is South Beach. This is dance clubs. What do you mean you’re going to play a violin?’” he recounted.

Black Violin is a fusion classical and hip-hop duo and perennial favorite who are returning to perform a concert at the Chandler Center for the Arts, sort of.

“The concert breaks down the stereotypes of what violin music is. It breaks down the stereotypes of what hip-hop is,” according to general manager of the Center, Michelle Mac Lennan.

She said the show is compelling for students and energizes them.

“It’s very electric. It’s a very high-produced, big visual. Even though it’s two guys playing violin, it’s got a lot of lights and sounds and definitely feels more like a hip-hop concert. Kids are up jamming and dancing," Mac Lennan said. 

But this year, kids will be jamming virtually as the Center is closed to indoor performances.

Marcus and Baptiste have created a 40-minute recording along with a Q&A session moderated by a student. 

The Black Violin show will be available online from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 and is free for Title 1 students who register via the center. There is a cost for those who don't qualify.

Title 1 is the largest federal aid program for public schools in the United States. Today, Title 1 is part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) but originated from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's “War on Poverty.”

How are other creatives populating space amid a pandemic when people are reluctant to show up in person?  

Laurie Nessel
"Golden Lancehead" by Laurie Nessel is on display at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum's new exhibition “Distanced but not Separated.”

“Of course, during these times we’ve had to pivot and figure out ways we can continue to engage the public and do some interesting things,” according to Tiffany Fairall, chief curator for Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum which has a new exhibition called, “Distanced but not Separated.”

The artwork will be on display in Mesa Arts Center’s theater windows for a safe viewing experience.

Fairall said, “Our different areas represent ceramics, metals, sculpture, painting, printmaking, drawing and the glass studio as well.”     

The exhibition contains artwork by 28 Arizona artists and runs until Jan. 3, 2021.

Business operators have been adapting as well. That includes brokers of fine arts.  

“It’s been quite difficult for small businesses of all kinds, let alone the arts, with people not being able to go out or afraid, I should say, to travel and experience the museums and galleries alike around the world,” according to Phil Koss, director of American Fine Art gallery in Scottsdale.

American Fine Art Gallery
A virtual reality headset used to remotely view art featured at American Fine Art Gallery in Scottsdale.

He said the gallery is using virtual reality headsets to connect to patrons.

It’s just one more way businesses who represent artists continually try to push the envelope to implement new ways of selling classic art.

“For instance,” said Koss, “let’s say you’re a big fan of Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell and you live in Tuskaloosa, OK. We would program the portfolio and send it to you where you’re actually in the gallery, in the viewing room with all of these pieces and you can select and go through them and look at each piece in all different ways — small, medium, large, different frames — with the clarity you would in the gallery.”   

He said VR technology provides a richer experience rather than viewing a two-dimensional website for instance.

The headsets are sent to patrons for free upon request and are supplied by a local company. 

Creatives and those that represent them continue to find new ways to remain relevant and keep audiences engaged in the age of COVID-19.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Michelle Mac Lennan's name.

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