Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S8 E25 | FULL EPISODE

"Human Impact," "The Cake," and more

In the new exhibition, “Human Impact: Stories of the Opioid Epidemic” at The Fuller Craft Museum, artists explore the consequences of the opioid crisis through the lens of those who have been deeply impacted and offer messages of courage and recovery. Then, “The Cake,” a play that delves into real-life issues around religion, commerce, and same-sex marriage. Plus “Ancient Nubia Now” at the MFA.

AIRED: January 17, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

artists take on the opioid epidemic.

>> It has to be the most painful, intense interaction

I've ever had in my life.

>> BOWEN: Then, a show ripped from the headlines and the oven:

The Cake and same-sex marriage.

>> What happens when you go, "Oh,

"these beliefs I'm supposed to have cannot hold,

because of this individual for whom I care a great deal"?

It, it changes issues entirely.

>> BOWEN: Plus, the art of ancient Nubia.

>> It's to enter a story of another of the great adventures

in the human enterprise of civilization.

>> BOWEN: And confessions of a house painter.

>> I'm fascinated with buildings from a certain era, um,

at least in this country--

late 1800s to the turn of the century,

to, say, the 1930s.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, in the first nine months of 2019,

more than 1,400 people in Massachusetts died

of an opioid-related overdose.

While the death rate has dropped slightly,

it's still a pervasive part of our lives,

which is why the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton

decided it had to take action.

Solemnly standing at the center of this exhibition,

a pillar of poppies.

>> 3,600, to be exact. >> BOWEN: Why 3,600?

>> Each one represents 200 individuals

who have died due to opioid-related complications.

>> BOWEN: This is one of 11 pieces

commissioned forHuman Impact,

a show conceived by the Fuller Craft Museum

to address the opioid-overdose epidemic.

How difficult was it to, to choose the group here?

>> Oh, it was really, really tough.

I mean, with over 70 artists that were submitting,

and all different types of media and expression.

>> BOWEN: Beth McLaughlin is the museum's chief curator

and, perhaps, activist.

Troubled by the thousands of opioid-related overdoses

that have placed New England above the national average,

she decided the museum had to act.

What place does a museum have in this conversation?

>> Well, I think museums, um, just by their charter,

are responsible for reflecting society in which we live.

>> BOWEN: So she put out a call to artists

to address the crisis.

Here, their responses range from tender teardrops

to veritable crime scenes.

>> Each of the pills has this decal

that has the name of a man that passed

and his birth date and his death date.

It's almost like an epitaph, um, on a gravestone.

>> BOWEN: Some but not all of the artists featured here

already had personal connections to addiction.

But to give them direct insight into the opioid epidemic

before they made these works,

the Fuller connected the artists

with people directly impacted by the crisis,

including family members who've lost loved ones.

>> Just having somebody listen to their story is so important.

>> BOWEN: Gabrielle Peruccio

is with High Point Treatment Center,

one of the organizations that facilitated artists

getting an unfettered look at the cost of addiction.

>> They just need that right opportunity

and that right moment

to be able to share their story.

And it takes a lot of courage to be able to do that.

>> It has to be the most painful, intense interaction

I've ever had in my life.

>> BOWEN: Jodi Colella is the artist who made the poppy piece,

a sculpture she created after meeting a woman

who lost her 36-year-old son Dale in 2017

to an opioid overdose.

>> I was with her for almost two hours,

and I really uttered maybe five words.

The whole time was her describing to me

every phase of what she went through,

and all the anguish and frustration and shame

and confusion and then loss.

>> BOWEN: Colella created this 12-foot-tall sculpture

to stand as a memorial.

The poppies are made from donated clothing,

including Dale's.

But at the center of each, there is darkness.

>> The black is a black plush velvet,

which is meant to be funerary.

The clothing is very vibrant--

lives, when they were alive.

And the centers are hollow

to represent the void and what we've lost.

>> BOWEN: But found in vivid remembrance here.

>> (gasps)

You're getting married?

>> I am!

(both laughing and cheering)

>> I didn't even know you were seeing somebody.

Why didn't you say something?

>> Oh, I just didn't. (chuckles nervously)

>> BOWEN: That's a scene fromThe Cake,

now playing at Lyric Stage Company.

It's inspired by the true story

of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake

for a same-sex couple.

But the play adds a key ingredient to the mix:

the lesbian who requests the cake

is the baker's beloved family friend.

The drama explores a clash

between the baker's faith and her love for her friend.

Courtney O'Connor, you're the director ofThe Cake.

>> Yes. >> BOWEN: Karen MacDonald,

starring inThe Cake, thank you both for joining us.

>> Thank you for having us. >> You're welcome.

Nice to be here.

>> BOWEN: Let me start with you, Courtney.

Tell us, this is... it feels, like, ripped from the headlines.

Many people might remember the case that made it

all the way to the Supreme Court

in 2018... >> Yep.

>> BOWEN: About a baker

and a same-sex-marriage issue. >> Yep.

>> BOWEN: So, how does this track

with what happened in real life?

>> That is dealing with a very public issue, right?

And, and people who don't know each other,

just a baker and a customer.

But this is about Della

and what happens when someone she loves comes

and says, "Oh, by the way,

"I want you to bake my wedding cake,

but I am a lesbian."

And so it's, it's really looking

at the private and the individual side

of a very large public issue.

>> BOWEN: And how, how does that change it?

To, to be so private?

>> It takes it from being people that we can have ideas about,

and, and stereotypes and just concepts about,

and it changes them into people that we grow to care about

and to have really strong connections with.

I mean, Della, the character that Karen plays, is the baker.

And I think that a lot of, of people would look at her

and say, "Oh, she's against the gay marriage.

We, we don't like her, we're against her."

>> Well, you had every right to tell them no.

>> I told them that I have a very full month, and I do.

I got two christening cakes,

and I like to take my time with those.

And it's Halloween, so I do my pumpkins.

It is a very full month.

>> Because we get to know her, because we get to see

what's going on in her personal journey,

we gain empathy for her.

And, you know, I mean, I keep saying,

if we're not torn by the end of this,

if, if we don't love Della a little bit by the end of this,

there's something wrong.

>> BOWEN: Well, Karen, how do you see Della?

What... how can... first of all, explain to us

how we can find somebody

who would refuse to make a cake

for someone she knows and seems to care deeply for?

>> What happens to her is,

this girl who she's been like a surrogate mom to,

whose mother, in fact, has passed away

about five years ago,

this young woman comes home,

first of all, announces that she's gay--

Della never knew this-- introduces her fiancée,

and then comes the issue of the cake.

So I think, actually, I would say for Della,

rather than refusing, she's treading water,

trying to say, "I got to think about this,

I got to think about this, I got to think about this."

>> BOWEN: The reservation being a religious foundation?

>> Well, I think what she's confronting is

that she is a person of faith, um...

And what happens when you've been told some larger concept,

but until it's a person who you love standing in front of you,

then all of a sudden you have to deal

with the issue in a different way, right?

>> BOWEN: Which is so interesting, right?

Because it isn't this most issues?

They're, they're one thing up here,

they're one thing up here in headlines,

or if we see politicians espousing them

or people with, on a big religious platform

espousing them.

But when it's brought down here,

to people you know,

I assume that's what you're conveying here as director

with that strife, that...

It's something different when it's in your own space.

>> Absolutely, it's, it's when you're...

You know, so much of religion is prescribed, right?

And, and the opening monologue of the piece

is Della talking about, the number-one mistake

that people make in baking

is not following the recipe.

>> What you have to do

is really, truly follow the directions.

I don't really care if your eggs were ever caged

or if they ever went to the movies.

I'm talking about the fat, buddy-- full fat.

You got to.

>> And religion for so many people, in this case, right?

Prescribes, "This is the path that we're supposed to take."

What happens when you go, "Oh,

"these steps that I'm supposed to take,

"these choices that I'm supposed to make,

"these beliefs I'm supposed to have

"cannot hold because of this individual

for whom I care a great deal"?

It, it changes issues entirely, it changes them completely.

>> And it works the other way in the play, as well.

Because the young woman who... one of the brides, Jenny...

Her fiancée is a young woman named Macy,

who, you know, had a very different kind of growing up,

not in the South, urban.

She's African-American, so she's had particular struggles

that someone like my character doesn't understand,

because she's not African-American.

But it's also true that Macy makes judgments about me.

>> What's this one for?

It's very elaborate. >> Oh, that's a Noah's Ark cake.

It's for a baptism for my goddaughter on Sunday.

I made the little critters out of marzipan.

You see, you got your elephants, you got your orangutans,

you got your giraffes.

>> Where are the dinosaurs? >> Oh?

>> BOWEN: At the beginning of the play,

do you, Karen, feel the audience--

especially in a place as intimate as the Lyric--

do you feel the audience's judgment

as you're there onstage?

I know we're talking to you before the play has opened,

but I know you've been in this situation

with your myriad roles before.

>> Well, I think, yeah, sure, you do sometimes feel

like the audience is disapproving of you

or finding you funny, because this play is...

The story is also told

with a great deal of humor. >> Mm-hmm.

>> So it does feel like the audience is,

I'm sure that they will be, like...

(grumbling)

I mean, we are in Massachusetts, after all.

The lucky guy is...

It is a woman.

A very beautiful, black woman.

Not that I have a problem with that--

you know I don't see color. >> Oh, I don't care...

>> BOWEN: What kind of background do you, do you...

Either are given or are you doing for this character?

I have talked to so many actors

who will invent entire backgrounds.

Are you of that ilk? >> Yeah, I...

I think it's helpful, always, to me

to try to figure out, what's her day like,

and what does she do, and where does she buy her clothes,

and how did she get interested in being a baker?

And, um... I mean, as far as the actual baking thing,

thank God for YouTube-- I've been watching, it's endless.

Like, it's like I have nightmares about making rosettes

with, you know... >> It's true.

>> And piping cakes and layers of cakes balancing,

and all that stuff is there for you to find out.

>> BOWEN: Courtney, you're in a, a leadership role right now

at the Lyric Stage Company, too. >> Yes.

>> BOWEN: So, I wonder, when you're doing a piece like this,

even though it is intimate, it is incredibly topical.

And what you see as the role of theater in, in going there,

as opposed to something that might be sheer entertainment

or a sheer classic, but being part of the conversation.

>> We live in a culture that's really big on the idea of--

and I kind of hate the term-- but cancel culture.

Of just, "Oh, I disagree with you.

"You're cut out, you're gone,

I pay no more attention."

And I think that one of the things that theater can do

is provide us a platform where that's not possible.

I mean, I guess, I suppose

you could get up and leave the theater,

but if you stay, if you go on this journey with us,

you still might come out at the end disagreeing with them.

You still might come out saying,

"I don't believe what they're saying,

I don't agree with what they're saying,"

but you have gone

at least a little bit on the road with them.

If we can't have the conversations

with people who disagree with us,

if we can't talk with people

and start to see things from different perspectives,

then I think we're in a lot more trouble

than we, than we know.

>> BOWEN: Well, Courtney O'Connor, Karen MacDonald,

thank you so much for being here.

>> Thank you, Jared. >> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: You can have your cake and some youth symphony, too.

It's time now for Arts This Week.

Monday, honor Martin Luther King Day

with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Their free concert includes spirituals, freedom songs,

and an audience sing-along.

How do you like your spiders?

Cobwebs are the crux

ofThe Art and Design of Spider Silk.

See it Tuesday at the RISD Museum.

Just when you thought you were done with family holidays,

Passover veers from comic to heart-wrenching

inWe All Fall Down.

See the Huntington Theatre Company show Wednesday.

Thursday, Actors' Shakespeare Project

offersA Bright Half Life.

The play chronicles a lifelong lesbian relationship

and the highs and lows of coupledom.

The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes

is about and stars people with intellectual disabilities.

Catch it at the Emerson Paramount Center Friday.

Next, this is the last weekend to seeAncient Nubia Now

at the Museum of Fine Arts.

In this story we first brought you in November,

the MFA takes us deep inside Nubia,

into its culture, art, and a civilization

that has long been in Egypt's shadow.

In 1916, Museum of Fine Arts Egyptologist George Reisner

was among the first archaeologists

to excavate Kerma, an ancient city located in Nubia--

what is now Southern Egypt and Sudan.

What he discovered was a treasure trove left by Nubians.

>> What they give us is an early lesson,

which is to be agents of ourselves,

and to realize ourselves through art, culture, politics,

through the expressive means.

>> BOWEN: What Reisner and the MFA team gathered

over the next 20 years of excavation

became the largest collection of Nubian artifacts

outside the region.

>> He in... literally invented the method

of archaeological documentation.

His meticulous photography, 40,000 glass negatives.

And thanks to that, we can reconstruct

what he... what he did.

>> BOWEN: Rita Freed is the curator ofAncient Nubia Now,

which offers more than 3,000 years worth of Nubian artifacts.

>> What we're trying to do is to, to show you

just how remarkable these objects are.

How sophisticated they are,

how advanced the technology was.

>> BOWEN: Edmund Barry Gaither is the director

of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists,

an MFA partner.

>> When you come to the end,

you have an appreciation of the beauty and aesthetics,

of the fine craftsmanship,

of the rich variety of kinds of things that were made.

>> BOWEN: They're pieces that show us

how ancient civilizations lived,

and from the artifacts discovered in tombs,

how they wanted to be remembered.

From the ceramics of Kerma,

to the spectacular jewelry of the Nubian king Piankhi,

to the mysterious sculptures of its capital, Meroe.

>> These beautiful, tulip-shaped beakers

that are a combination of black and red in the same vessel.

There's a statue that's about five feet tall.

A beautiful example of a Nubian king,

perfectly clothed, and adorned with his cap crown.

We have beautiful necklaces,

large-scale inlays from temple walls.

It's really amazing to us how they did it,

because it would be hard to reproduce that today.

>> BOWEN: But what's just as fascinating about these objects

is what we don't know about them.

>> We only wish that the Nubians had left information

in their own words for us, as the Egyptians did.

They left us no writing.

>> BOWEN: Most of what was written down

about Nubian civilizations

came from neighboring Egypt.

Today, the MFA acknowledges

that archaeologists, including Reisner,

looked at Nubia with racial prejudice.

>> When he saw the amazing material

that came out of these sites,

he concluded-- at Kerma, for example--

that this material was too good

to have been made by black Africans.

It must be Egyptian.

>> BOWEN: One of the goals of the exhibition, Freed says,

is not only to highlight the treasures,

but also to set the record straight

on Nubia's place in history.

>> You see a progression,

the development of the different styles

that we identify as Nubian.

In some cases, they're very similar to Egyptian.

They take what they want and mold it in their own way.

>> What an exhibition like this does is,

it provides well-defined historical brick

in a wall that is itself much bigger.

>> BOWEN: Edmund Barry Gaither also says the exhibition

feels like a family reunion.

>> It is, at a personal level,

a, a little bit like visiting how you imagine your

great-great-great-great-great- grandfathers and mothers.

At another level, it's to enter a story

of another of the great adventures

in the human enterprise of civilization.

>> BOWEN: Here, the MFA distances itself

from the racist narrative of its forebears.

Nubia no longer lives in the shadow of Egypt,

but as an equal civilization that rose, conquered,

and created on its own terms.

>> These people, at every point,

had a sense of participation

in the world of their times.

They were not victims.

They were not bystanders.

They had interests,

and they acted to realize those interests.

>> BOWEN: Next, we visit artist David Hinchen,

who has a thing for real estate.

He's drawn to historic houses,

rendering architectural marvels

from New York's Hudson Valley to Boston.

>> I'm fascinated with buildings from a certain era, um,

at least in this country--

late 1800s to the turn of the century

to, say, the 1930s, pre-war buildings.

Just the craftsmanship and the role that they played

in, in beautifying and making communities unique and special.

People took great pride in building them,

in creating downtowns, creating cities.

They were a source of community pride

that doesn't exist in the same way today.

I've always drawn since I was a kid,

and I came from a family of artists.

My grandmother and mother were both artists,

and we had a close family friend, Elden Rowland,

who spent summers with us at Cape Cod.

And every, every summer, he had a different technique

that he'd be trying out, and, and we'd all join in.

He encouraged the kids-- me, especially-- to be involved.

So, it was just kind of a natural part

of my family's life.

I never thought I'd do it for a career,

but things happen.

Being an artist, you either win the lottery

or you, you struggle.

There's very few artists in between

that are working, middle-class artists that make a living.

So, it was kind of instilled in me at a young age

that it wasn't something that I would do for a career.

So I went to school for...

I studied political science and philosophy,

and then I went to graduate school

and was working on my PhD,

probably to become a college professor.

But I was living in New York City

and going to Columbia at the time,

and, and I started, I started doing artwork

as a part-time job.

I was sick of being a waiter,

and I thought, "Well, I have this ability."

And, and I marketed it,

and I did a lot of work for, for local realtors

and developers and things like that,

mainly pen-and-ink.

For years, I did nothing but pen-and-ink drawings.

And then I started thinking,

"Well, kind of the next step is to start painting."

Selling and the business side of it

is, has always interested me.

And I think that that's been a key

to me being able to make a living as an artist.

The majority of my business is commissioned artwork.

I do a lot of paintings of historic houses

throughout the Hudson Valley, Westchester County,

the New York metro area--

also the Boston area, I do a lot of work there.

Painting the scenes of Albany and local scenes

is more of kind of a, more of the, more of the side business.

I never planned on moving to Albany,

but when I did, I was really taken by,

for such a small city, a state capital,

how monumental it was architecturally,

and, and from a pretty wide period of time.

There was some really great examples

from various different periods.

Living in Albany,

I drive and walk around the city on a daily basis,

so I can appreciate things

from different angles, different lights,

different seasons,

and different, just, I get different takes

on, on a certain subject.

And, and a lot of times,

it's not just a particular building--

it is a streetscape,

it is the proximity of, of one building to another

and, and how they relate to each other.

Occasionally, I'll do a period piece.

I recently did a, a painting

of the Albany waterfront before 787,

and it showed the lagoon with the Albany Yacht Club

and just the New York Central Railroad bridge,

and it was a whole different setting.

And I used old photographs from the 1930s.

As I said earlier, I...

It was more happenstance that I ended up in Albany,

but, but something kind of unexpected happened

once I was here.

And living in a community of this size,

and being involved in local organizations,

gave me an opportunity to really become part of a community

in a way that I never had before,

and connect with other artists,

and connect with, with customers, too.

People often, often look at my artwork,

and they're impressed by how I make Albany look,

or the Capital Region look.

They, they say, "You make it look so beautiful,"

as if I've enhanced it.

Well, maybe I've enhanced the setting,

but, but that's the reality that I see.

And, uh, and people respond.

And some people that aren't particularly familiar with,

with the Capitol steps or Downtown Albany views,

and they might not right off the bat recognize a scene,

and ask me, you know, where in Europe that is,

and something like that.

And, uh, and then I tell them where it is,

and they, they pause, and...

And I think for a moment, they may realize

that we have some really great beauty

and some, some...

A wonderful architectural legacy right here

that a lot of people don't fully appreciate.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

A quick programming note.

If you're watching Friday,

you may have noticed we're on a bit earlier.

It's a temporary move,

and we'll be back at our 8:30 time slot on February 28.

In the meantime, we'll be back in two weeks

talking with visionary director Diane Paulus,

whose latest subject is the visionary Gloria Steinem.

Plus, a reunion of paintings by Jacob Lawrence

that reveal his interpretation of the American Revolution.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

And, as always, you can visit us online at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

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