Arts galore

Another winning year for Chico’s growing fine-arts community

BREAKIN’ LEGS &amp; DELICATE SOULS From left, Matt Hammons as the title character in the Blue Room’s <i>Hedwig &amp; the Angry Inch</i>, artists Bob Howard and Jonathan Troxler as the Blessed Virgin and Baby Jesus, and one of the 31 Brazilian dancers from the Balé Folclorico de Bahia company on Chico State’s Laxson stage.

BREAKIN’ LEGS & DELICATE SOULS From left, Matt Hammons as the title character in the Blue Room’s Hedwig & the Angry Inch, artists Bob Howard and Jonathan Troxler as the Blessed Virgin and Baby Jesus, and one of the 31 Brazilian dancers from the Balé Folclorico de Bahia company on Chico State’s Laxson stage.

Photo By Tom Angel

As usual, the world of fine arts in Chico was as diverse as it was dispersed in 2004. Since the art is of course “in our nature,” as our Chamber of Commerce’s slogan goes, it’s only natural that independent pockets of creativity continually sprout and propagate on their own throughout the area.

In the visual arts, it’s pretty hard to beat the Chico Art Center’s annual Open Studios Tour—over 100 artists and their studios—for pure volume of local talent, but there were some more focused shows on a smaller scale that also impressed in 2004. The Chico State Humanities Center Gallery’s showings of University Art Gallery curator Jason Tannen’s photographs and the retrospective of theater professor Marty Gilbert’s 25 years of set designs were particularly impressive, as was Avenue 9’s showing of Land Wars: Photographer as Arbiter, documentary photographs of L.A.'s Chávez Ravine by Don Normark and Susan Silberberg-Peirce’s photos of threatened wilderness in Colorado.

But, for a pure goose-bump experience, you couldn’t beat Dovetail Design Gallery’s display of original works by Picasso, Rembrandt, Toulouse-Lautrec and dozens of other masters from the collection of locals Richard and Marion Frey. A rare display for out-of-the-way Chico.

Individual artists, from Jake Early and his insanely popular Chico Landmark and Bidwell Centennial silkscreen prints to Gangsta Rap Coloring Book creator Aye Jay Morano’s continued proliferation as a noted magazine and album cover illustrator, did well for themselves in 2004, while others, namely Jonathan Troxler and Bob Howard, had their two-man show of religious parody paintings forced off the Has Beans walls by a vocal contingent of Christians who missed the humor.

Three new art galleries were added to our 30-plus existing venues—deSouza, Avenue 9 and Ghostdance—as well the busy little front yard co-op the Den Art Collective.

New public art was also unveiled, with the Ancestor Gates in 20th Street Park, Mabrie Ormes and Scott Teeple’s “Wildflower Century” mural along the south Chico bike path, aerosol art projects in the Lindo Channel and alongside the train tracks and the Chico luminaries benches just beginning to pop up around downtown.

The performance side of our fine-arts town is where most of the action was, and if we were in the business of giving out awards for the most action-packed experiences on local stages, the Blue Room’s wisely chosen production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch would take the top prize (with Theater on the Ridge’s impeccable Noises Off and Chico State’s Chico Performances presentations of two frenetic touring productions—the Peking Acrobats and Brazil’s Balà Folclorico de Bahia—all close behind). The extended standing ovations and extended run of Hedwig has led to the Blue Room putting the consistently sold-out rock musical on its schedule for next spring as well.

Honorable mention has to go out to at least a handful of some this past year’s other great local productions: the Blue Room’s Stones in His Pockets, Red Herring and The Underpants; Chico Cabaret’s I Love You You’re Perfect, Now Change, The Bible and Rocky Horror Show; Butte College’s My Fair Lady; Shakespeare in the Park’s original Betty Rocket, Space Lawyer; Chico State’s School of the Arts’ Proof, The Summoning of Everyman and the Court Theatre production of Sam Shepard’s True West.

Chico is becoming so rich with local theater that the different companies have organized the Alliance of Chico Theaters, a cooperative effort seeking to boost Chico’s profile as theater destination.

Of course the Annies are still around, with Friends of the Arts’ Debra Lucero continuing to try to bring the town’s disparate entities into some focus.

Last, Chico lost many of its defining arts activists in 2004. Chico State theater pioneers Lloyd Jones and Larry Wismer both passed away, as did local sculptor Lowell Jones, and longtime producer and director and theater professor Randy Wonzong retired from the university.