WLIW Arts Beat


WLIW Arts Beat - March 7, 2019

This WLIW Arts Beat episode looks at adult autism played out in theater; building bridges between religious beliefs; a recent visible storage area at Steinberg Museum at LIU Post; and an exhibit that simulates what life is like in the USA for undocumented immigrants..

AIRED: March 07, 2019 | 0:27:10



>> Coming up on this Edition

of "WLIW Arts Beat"...

a classic theater company

takes on new topics and issues.

>> 27 years ago,

these lovely ladies decided

to create a professional theater

that spoke to Judaism.

>> Paintings influenced

by a deep faith...

>> The purpose was, from the

very beginning, was to have this

as a forum for the dialogue

between the artist and the great

religious traditions.


>> A new cultural gem

for Long Island.

>> This is the museum's

response to that idea

that the public should

have access to our collections.

That was the original intent.

>> And an artist's lens

on the immigration system.

>> I was interested in making

a statement

that wasn't necessarily

documentary but had an emotional

or a feeling.


>> Stay with us for

"WLIW Arts Beat."

Funding for "WLIW Arts Beat" was

made possible by viewers like



Welcome to "WLIW Arts Beat."

I'm Diane Masciale.

The Jewish Ensemble Theatre

in West Bloomfield, Michigan,

has been working to create

socially conscious theater

for over 30 years.

In this segment, we look in on

a production that explores a man

with autism and his neighbor

working to break down barriers.


>> I have a date coming in

10 minutes.

You have 3.

>> To take what's

very natural, you know,

sort of getting to know somebody

and a first-time interaction

and what that looks like is

often difficult for most people,

and so to see this portrayed

through the lens of autism is

really what makes it striking.

>> 27 years ago,

these lovely ladies

decided to create a professional

theater that spoke to Judaism

and created JET,

and we sort have become

a theater of social conscience,

and we try and deal

with important issues.

>> Who are you?

>> Ever Montgomery from 4-C.

I mentioned that, but I know

from teaching that repetition

is helpful.

>> You're a teacher?

>> Typically, the sort of shows

that the JET chooses

to produce are generally

character-driven smaller pieces,

and I don't know

what an actor could ask

for more than a great character

and a great story.

>> Oh, I'm very lucky.

These are wonderful actors.

They're pro's pros,

and you couldn't ask

for a nicer group of people

to come in and know their stuff,

be extremely prepared,

smart questions, really put 100%

into it, and, most of all,

you believe that they are

the characters they become real.

They become them.

>> I couldn't teach you even if

I wanted to, okay?

I can lurch, I can wobble, but I

can't dance.

>> This play is called

"Dancing Lessons."

It follows two characters,

Senga Quinn, who is a Broadway

dancer and an actress,

and Ever Montgomery, who is a

professor of geosciences at the

New York Institute of Technology

who also has Asperger's,

and they are each sort

of dealing with their own issues

as they -- as they meet.

>> So, what kind of mandatory

social event is this?

>> An award dinner --

formal dress with with dancing


>> The JET Theatre staff

reached out to us

and thought that we would make

a good partner in terms

of getting the message out.

It's a great way to begin

to increase our awareness

generally and then of course

to bring attention

to the special issues that come

out of this type of production.

>> Go, New York Mets,

Jersey Giants.

>> Then why is their stadium in

New Jersey?

>> They didn't tell me.

>> Ever Montgomery --

as far as his placement

on the spectrum,

he is fairly high-functioning


Fortunately, the playwright

has clearly done

a lot of the work for us.

There are no shortage of notes

sort of throughout the script

that indicate focus,

eye contact.

>> You weren't asleep.

Your light was on.

>> How do you know?

>> I saw it from the sidewalk.

>> Thank God my character

has been in an accident

where her knee has been torn up

and she is in a brace.

And the issue is

she can't get it fixed

because she has this condition

called malignant hyperthermia

in which she has an allergic

reaction to anesthesia,

so she can't have surgery

of any kind, so she's stuck

being in a brace, which means

she can no longer dance,

so it's really caused

severe depression

and some addictions,

you know, the way

that we play it.

And then in her building,

she meets Ever, and he comes

to her for a dance lesson

because he has this mandatory

social event that he is going

to be recognized and he has

is obligated to do a dance.

And so that's just kind of

what happens, and it's about

their relationship

and how that grows.

>> It's a romantic comedy

with an incredible

amount of pathos,

and it's just a very sweet,

sweet story, so that, first

and foremost, and then the bonus

is, of course, it deals with

issues that really aren't talked

about in society a whole lot.

I think it's really important

to understand the world

is made up of a whole lot of

different people and everybody

has something to offer.

>> What strikes me most is that

it's, you know --

it's real life.

Individuals with autism

are in our community,

and the situations

that they're presented with and

challenged with every single day

need to be brought to the level

of awareness of most people.

And so I thought, you know,

what a great opportunity

to really demonstrate

the struggles both in sort of

a humorous but realistic manner.

And so that made it

very interesting to us

and I think will be

for our families, as well.

>> I'm sure you're right, but it

can't be slow.

A fast song --

the faster, the better.

>> Why is that?

>> I don't like to be touched.

>> I think it's really accurate.

I think the writer did

a really nice job of that.

Brian, who's such an amazing

actor, does such a great job

with the lack of eye contact,

you know, and the difficulty

with that and the proximity

to other people, and, you know,

the physical touch

and a lot of that tactile

and sensory issues are really

made into something in this show

which is very accurate, and the

level of, you know, how literal

he is in his thinking

and how that, you know, to a

neurotypical person like Senga,

that it doesn't make a lot of


>> There are no scores, okay?

It's about real life.

It's feeling other people's

emotions and seeing the world

like they do.

>> There's just a context

that's brought here that I think

allows for such a better

and -- and sort

of intimate understanding

of some of the challenges.

>> I hope that the audience

after they leave this play

will understand

Asperger's a little bit better

in terms of that level

of functioning on the spectrum.

And I guess just that it's such

a sweet and beautiful love story

and to see how people

kind of evolve and change.

I guess maybe if they leave

feeling that and maybe feeling

a little, you know --

it's a little heartwarming and


>> I hope that when they leave

the theater, "A," they will have

had a wonderful time and will

have had some type of a

catharsis and also a realization

of the fact that we're all

humans and everybody has value

and that we should all care

about one another.

>> Well, there's a line

in the play that my character,

Ever, has that I believe the

line is, "Change equals


And I think that the story,

at its core,

is you're watching two people

who are really

facing a big decision.

They're at a turning point

in their lives, and they're

both, in their own way,

terrified of what it could mean

to try and fail.

>> The answer to your question

can be found in the symmetry of

this equation --

change equals courage.

Nothing is possible without


Everything is possible with it.

Thank you.

>> To find out more about

JET Theatre, head to the

"WLIW Arts Beat" Web page.


Influenced by both religion

and a love of contemporary art,

painter Salma Arastu

uses her talents

to build religious bridges.

We visit St. Louis University's

Museum of Contemporary Religious

Art in Missouri

to view her exhibition.

Take a look.


>> The Museum of Contemporary

Religious Art is tucked away

in the heart of

St. Louis University's

main campus.

And though it's operated

by a Roman Catholic institution,

its scope is global and


>> It is the first interfaith

museum of contemporary art

in the world.

The purpose was, from the very

beginning, was to have this

as a forum for the dialogue

between the artist and

the great religious traditions.

And over the past 23 years,

we've been doing

amazing exhibitions, I think.

And this is one of the most

remarkable shows that we've had.

I think one of the most

beautiful, the top two

most beautiful, exhibitions

and we're very pleased to have

Salma's work here.

>> Raised as a Hindu,

she converted to Islam

when she married.

And so she brings a background

of diverse faith traditions

and experiences to her work.


>> So, I did my master's

in painting, and in Middle East,

I got exposure to Islamic arts,

which I had never done before --

exposure to calligraphy,

Arabic calligraphy, and these

really ornate designs around the


So I used to sit and copy

this line of Arabic calligraphy.

So that's how I think I arrived

where I am today.


>> The art of Arabic calligraphy

developed from Islamic tradition

forbidding the depiction of God,

Mohammed, and the prophets

in art.

Historically, verses from

the Koran have been rendered

in beautifully crafted

manuscripts -- works

that have inspired Salma.

>> Some of the greatest

conflicts, some of the most

brutal conflicts going on today,

are based over misunderstandings

and religious differences.

And Salma is a bridge-builder.

The other artists we've had

that tried to do the same thing,

but Salma is truly

a bridge-builder.

She wants us to understand

that we have more in common

than we have in differences.


>> When people look

at those manuscripts,

any non-Muslim, when he looks at

those manuscripts, he feels,

"Oh, this is Islam.

This is Koran."

And then they either shy away

or shrink back --

whatever the reason is.

But this is the mind-set,

you know, that this is Islam

when you look at those


So, I thought, "No,

I want to do it the way

God has trained me."

So I feel like my fine-art

techniques and fine-art

background and skills, you know,

and I've just started

these paintings.

So these painting actually say

the verses from the Koran,

but when a non-Muslim

looks at them,

he looks at it as a painting.

He comes close to read,

at least, what it says.

So you see the difference?

Like, it's not in high altar


It's in the public places.

So that was my intention --

to bring the beauty

and the positivity of Koran

into mainstream.

>> When I saw the work,

I don't know how to read Arabic


I don't understand it.

I just saw these wonderful

dynamic and elegant shapes,

and I thought, "This is good


It's not illustrative art.

It's good art."

And what she has done,

she's got a wonderful dialogue

with some of the most important

art movements of our day --

abstract expressionism, for one.

You have these very dramatic

gestural works here,

and that's how Salma paints.

And you also have

the color-field influences,

the color-field work sometimes

by Mark Rothko and others,

and there are up to 30

to 40 veils of paint

on these canvases.

The canvases in our space

hang like tapestries.

They are not stretched.

And there's

a slight air current here,

and there's always movement,

subtle movement, here.

But it has a liveliness to it

that a stretched, the fully

stretched, canvas would not


And so on an art history

and artistic platform alone,

these are very strong works.

But for those who can read

Arabic calligraphy,

there's more than that.

It leads them into prayers.

And there's a sense of peace

in these works.

>> So, I think these are

the beautiful verses

which not only speak to me,

they speak to each heart...

because it's from God

and it's this big.

He speaks to the whole of

humanity, and He's speaking to

the heart.

Some of them say that He is

with me.

"Don't worry. Don't fear.

He's with me."

Some of them say, like,

"Remember me.

I'll remember you."

It's from the words of Koran.

Like, always remember him.

It's so important.

There are some I tried to do

recently with the intention

of, again, bridging the gap.

And that is

when I hear so much

killing around,

you know, in the name of God

and in the name of religion,

so I created two pieces, which

is again a verse from Koran,

where Allah says

that if you kill one person,

it's like killing

the entire humanity.

And if you save one human,

it's like saving

the whole of humanity.

And, basically, I wanted to

project the positive side

of Islam in my work.

>> Her themes -- God is with us,

fear not, God is listening,

mercy for all.

These are all consoling works.

And while we have differences

among the major religious


we have so much in common.

And she is making a very

important contribution

at this time in our history.


>> Diversity is God's plan.

He created us from one pair

of male and female,

and He created nations

and tribes

so that you know each other

to learn from each other,

the good values that God

has taught to everybody.

So I really found

it very fascinating,

and then I see in the nature,

I see different birds,

different plants,

and we are so happy to see them.

But the human being's different.

We just don't accept them.

[ Chuckles ]


>> To find out more about

Salma Arastu, visit our

Web page.


Challenge yourself with this

"Arts Beat" fun fact.





In Nassau County, Long Island,

more than 4,000 pieces from the

Steinberg Museum of Art's

diverse permanent collection

are now displayed for

all to see.

Students, scholars, and

the general public

now have access

to works from pre-Columbian

sculpture to African textiles,

Chinese paintings

to contemporary arts.

We travel to LIU's Post campus

to explore their recently

completed visible storage space.

>> The primary mission

of Steinberg Museum of Art

is to offer the public

a space that consistently

explores the visual arts.

The museum has recently moved to

the B. Davis Schwartz Library,

and we are on the lower level

of that library.

And one of the things

that it allows us to do

is not just have the exhibition

space that you've seen

but also have a space for

our storage of our collection

that the public can also access.

The majority of our collection

is visible, and all of our

collection is in this room.

There's a lot of things

to consider

about the future of museums,

and, you know, reading long,

didactic panels doesn't smell

like the future of museums.

Trusting me to be the expert

always or a curator

to be the expert always

doesn't necessarily

feel like the future of museums.

One of the great criticisms of

museums is you put on display

something like

10% of your collection.

Well, where's the rest of it?

This is the museum's response to

that idea that the public should

have access to our

collections --

that was the original intent --

and they shouldn't only see it

through one person's lens.

There are visible storage spaces

at other institutions.

The Frances Young Tang Museum

at Skidmore College --

they have a beautiful

visible storage space.

And I wondered always,

long before this existed,

I wondered how could we

incorporate something like that

into our museum's life?

And opportunity presented itself

to make that possible.

The museum comes to the

LIU Post campus in 1972

with a purpose-built space in

the student union building,

Hillwood Commons.

So the original museum space

in Hillwood Commons was over

5,000 square feet,

and then the storage area

was just about 200 square feet.

And it was like a traditional

collection storage room.

There were cabinets

that were locked,

things that were closed.

Paintings were stored,

you know, nose to tail

so you couldn't really see

anything, and in moving it

over, one of my desires,

one of my true desires, was

that everything could be seen.

We discovered that we couldn't

just blow through the wall

and make this

a big, open exhibition space,

and we realized the forest of

steel that we're sitting in had

to remain.

We were a complete retrofit.

So we had some parameters

that we had to stick within.

For example, the height

of the ceilings -- we couldn't

bring in full panes of glass

that bridged large areas,

so our glass is smaller.

So there were

some spatial limitations

that informed design decisions.

Our collection overall

is designed to support

a liberal-arts education,

so it is quite eclectic

and quite broad.

So there's a huge breadth

in our collection.

My vision for how this space

will get used is

collaboratively, at first, with

faculty so that I can reach out

to a faculty member

and say, you know, "What is

your course material

about this semester?"

not just in the art department

but in all departments.

Having a collection like this

on Long Island

not only serves our students

but also the local community.

We're sort of a cultural gem

for Nassau County

that you don't have to trek all

the way into the city to see.

To learn more about

LIU's Steinberg Museum,

click on the link

on our Web page.

And now here's a look

at arts history.




And, finally, we take a look

at the impact

of the immigration system

through an artist's lens.

We go inside the

Museo de las Americas in Denver,

Colorado, to get the story.


But Douglas Menjivar witnessed

firsthand what happens in

immigrant detention facilities.

The El Salvador native

was held for two years

after being detained

by Immigration and Customs

Enforcement in Texas.

To further that purpose,

Menjivar joined Sin Huellas,

a group of activists

and artists.

Using detainees' stories

and an artist's eye,

they created "Detention Nation,"

which simulates what life

is like for undocumented

immigrants held,

many without due process,

at detainment facilities

in the United States.

>> These are actual people

that have been affected.

>> To remind visitors of that,

members of the collective,

like artist Delilah Montoya,

created ghost-like silhouettes

to represent detainees.

>> I was interested in making

a statement that wasn't

necessarily documentary

but had an emotion or a feeling

to it where it began to suggest

where the population was,

where the the detainees were in

that they're not here nor there.

They were kind of caught in

between the system itself.

>> Museo de las Americas

in Denver is the second venue in

the country to host the exhibit.

It immerses visitors

in the sights and sounds

of a detention center --

people wrapped in Mylar


the murmur of voices,

and doors clanking shut.

Everything is under


Museum curator Maruca Salazar

said the work

is meant to emphasize the impact

the immigration system

can have on people.

>> Ancient relationships

are very crucial

in migration patterns.

What might be erased

by -- by humans,

but they have been here

for thousands of years,

so we can really say

we have nothing to do or this

is not part of our culture

or this is not part of our

historical tradition or memory.

It is very much a part of us

and specifically here

in Colorado because Colorado

is like a migration pattern

as a place of transition

between the West and the East.

So right here at the center

of the of the country,

this is the place where we

really need to pay attention

to what's going on.

If you have never been

in detention center,

you truly experience the idea

of incarceration --

you know, one-tone floor,

you know, wire fences,

flashing cameras

picking up every movement that

you do.

All of those things impact

your psychologically, and so

when you leave here you feel

like you've been sitting

in a very oppressive space.

>> That oppressive treatment

still plagues former detainee

Douglas Menjivar.

He was sexually assaulted

twice in detention

and now suffers from P.T.S.D.

He described crowded conditions,

limited access to medical care,

and no privacy.

His account of the poor

conditions are echoed in letters

written by other detainees which

are included in the exhibit.

One even described it

as El Infierno, hell.

Menjivar's time in detention

was rife with uncertainty,

which he said is typical

for detainees.

He didn't know when his case

would be heard by a judge

or if he would be released.

One day a guard simply

presented him with a form

written in English.

Ultimately, he signed

the document and was released.

But why was he released?

>> It's a good question.

We don't know.

>> The former police officer

does know he's afraid to return

to his native El Salvador.

Since his release from

detention, he has secured a work

permit and is awaiting a hearing

with ICE.

>> That wraps it up for this

edition of "WLIW Arts Beat."

We'd like to hear what you think

about "WLIW Arts Beat," so like

us on Facebook, join the

conversation on Twitter, and

visit our Web page for features

and to watch episodes of the


We hope to see you next time.

I'm Diane Masciale.

Thank you for watching

"WLIW Arts Beat."

Funding for "WLIW Arts Beat" was

made possible by viewers like



  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv