Ten steps to arts enlightenment

Arts DEVOté puts his guru hat on and teaches the art of Chico to a new batch of followers

Photo Illustration by Kim Higman

Arts DEVOté is no real guru. His eyes and ears are definitely open to what is goin’ down around town, so he is kind of all-knowing—which is really more God-like than guru-ish when you think about it. But let’s not get carried away. We are merely exploring the arts scene in one secluded commune, er … community. So, make yourself comfortable, assume the Half Lotus and glide into the first of 10 steps toward Chico-arts enlightenment. And remember, return to the pages of the News & Review for weekly lessons and updates.

1. Festiveness is next to godliness

Oh, tiny grasshopper, you ask what strange land is this that you have flittered into? Why, this is one of the Top 10 (small) Art Towns in America (so sayeth the promoters of tourism, and travel author John Villani), and to this end the city celebrates with an annual month-long festival of arts saturation/celebration known as Artoberfest. Every scoop of creativity produced by every artist, thespian and musician in town is piled onto one giant ice-cream trough for all to gorge upon throughout the delicious month of October. The city’s marquee arts event is kicked off with Chico Palio, an all-day outdoor fair featuring the area’s many arts organizations and the racing of community-designed art horses.

Chico also has many other notable annual public art gatherings, including the multidiscipline Chico World Music Festival at Chico State in late September; the Open Studios tour of every single artist studio and gallery in Butte County during Artoberfest; Palais Idéal experimental music fest, also during Artoberfest; Ch-ECO Fest, a festival of environmental films in the spring; the CN&R-produced Chico Area Music Awards (CAMMIES) also in the spring, Kay Grace Theatre Festival (featuring Free Theater Day at local play houses) in June and Shakespeare in Park in downtown’s City Plaza during the summer.

2. See (with your eyes)

If you have the heart, and the discipline, take in the whole visual art scene in one shot by picking up the CN&R’s monthly gallery map and following along with one of the newspaper’s Art First Saturday art walks. Or, really go big during the expansive Open Studios tour in October (see step No. 1).

During your travels, Arts DEVOté recommends a couple of nonprofit public spaces—1078 Gallery and Chico Art Center—and two Chico State venues—University Art Gallery and Humanities Center Gallery—for unique, original art by the best regional and touring artists. Additionally, keep an eye on the various art dealer/galleries, like de Souza, Chico Paper Co., James Snidle Fine Arts and Avenue 9 Gallery.

For pure arts fun and energy though, no one beats the funky folks down at the Crux Artist Collective or the laid-back Sisk family and their 24 Hour Drive-by Gallery.

So sayeth the shepherd!

3. Mask rituals

All is one … with the Alliance of Chico Theaters, a nonprofit group devoted to the area theater scene—one of the most active communities south of Ashland, Ore.

The community theaters include Chico’s Blue Room Theatre, Chico Cabaret and Chico Theater Company. Downtown’s Blue Room is known for its contemporary and cutting-edge productions, such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Angels in America, and the Chico Theater Company is devoted to the classic Broadway musical (e.g. Grease, Sweeny Todd, etc.). Somewhere in between the two is the energetic Chico Cabaret, showcasing a wide variety of fun musical theater, comedy and drama shows like Forever Plaid and the company’s Halloween mainstay, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

<i>Wait Until Dark</i> at Chico Cabaret

Courtesy Of Chico Cabaret

Other area community theaters include the Ensemble Theatre of Chico (makers of summer’s Shakespeare in the Park), the new children’s theater, Theatre, ETC, as well as the Birdcage Theatre in Oroville and Paradise’s Theatre on the Ridge. There’s even another new company preparing to open shop any day now—the Rogue Theatre, featuring the Blue Room’s former company of players.

Chico’s big productions are mostly handled by the Chico State Theater Department, which puts on a dozen or so varied classics a school year—from Shakespeare to Shepard—including a big spring musical, plus the summer repertory Court Theatre program. Butte College’s Theater Department also puts on a big musical each semester in the Paradise Performing Arts Center.

4. Visit your knowledge house

In this university town, Chico State’s annual Kaleidoscope publication (available at University Box Office) is the most essential arts manual (next to the one in your hands, naturally) for guiding the Chico convert through the local arts terrain. The comprehensive guide to the university’s arts programming comes out at the beginning of the summer and highlights nearly every event sponsored by the school’s main arts providers: The School of the Arts, Chico Performances and the Humanities Center.

The School of the Arts facilitates most every student- or faculty-produced play, recital, concert or exhibition, ranging from the rockin’ funk of the popular gospel choir to the massive year-end musical in Laxson Auditorium.

Chico Performances is the busy production arm of University Public Events that has introduced Laxson audiences to Peking Acrobats, musicians of Western Africa (Baaba Maal, Tinariwen) and classic American performers such as Gillian Welch and Garrison Keillor. Performances for the 2007-08 season will include Steve Earle w/Allison Moorer, the Kung Fu Monks of Shaolin Warriors, and many more.

The Humanities Center brings together a plethora of different disciplines, including the University Film Series, Humanities Gallery art shows and a variety of academic symposia and guest speakers.

<i>Science of Sleep</i>

Not included in Kaleidoscope, but no less essential to Chico State’s arts programming is the righteous production team of A.S. Presents, which keeps college fun with free concerts in the Free Speech Area and an eclectic program of music and performing arts in the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium.

5. Go into the darkness and see the lights

Lightly flickering below the massive Hollywood tractor beam is one of Chico’s most revered institutions: its little art-house theater, The Pageant. This is where the independents, documentaries and funkiest Hollywood flicks hide. Plop down on the front-row couches with a box of the best popcorn in town and get inspired by something fresh and unique.

But don’t forget the often-overlooked University Film Series at Chico State, featuring classics, foreign films and documentaries on the Little Theatre screen every Tuesday night in Ayres Hall.

6. Shake your funky temple

You’re in a college town, so you’re likely going to do at least a little bit of booty dancing while here. If you require access to a wider range of expressive movement, however, Chico does have a couple of ballet companies (North Valley Ballet, Chico Community Ballet), a respected dance studio (Chico Creek Dance Centre), a hip-hop dance troupe (Full Force Hip-hop), plus all kinds of belly dancers and weekly classes in everything from Argentine tango to contra dancing.

Every spring, Chico Community Ballet and Chico Performances bring the whole shebang together on the Laxson Auditorium stage for the annual Keeping Dance Alive celebration.

Blue Room’s <i>Angels in America</i>

Courtesy Of Blue Room

7. Listen to the storyteller

Nearly every night in Chico, one scribe or another is reading something they wrote to an audience. Has Beans Café has three open mics a week (Thurs., Sun. and Wed.), Chico Poetree Slam slams every other Wednesday at 1078 Gallery, and both Barnes & Noble and Lyon Books regularly feature local and touring authors.

To get your serious word on, check out Chico State’s Writer’s Voice series, featuring poetry and fiction readings by visiting authors and Chico State professors, such as National Book Critics Circle award-winning poet Troy Jollimore.

8. Healing vibrations

This sonic dimension may be the domain of swami Mark Lore [see p.16], but it needs to be emphasized that music has great healing power. Bow your head and raise your fist! (Also, it’s likely that heathen Lore will forget to guide you to the century of tradition that Chico State’s North State Symphony has to offer: four full-orchestra performances from the stage of the majestic Laxson Auditorium.)

9. You are the Lizard King. You can do anything.

Arts DEVOté is not condoning that you experiment in the same manner as the original Lizard King, but do be mindful of your individual spirit. Chico is the ideal place to do your own thing. Hit an open mic, audition for a community theater production or start your own band. Kick down those doors of perception with your Vishuddha boots!

10. Clear your chakras

That was quite the spiritual workout. Now breathe. It’s time to recharge your muse. Read a book by Big Chico Creek in Bidwell Park. Ride your bike to a barbecue. Suck on a crystal.

And remember, the path to enlightenment is not a sprint. It is a marathon, and you are the road, and the runner, and the spectator, and the sports drink handed to you by you as you run across the surface of yourself toward Nirvana shouting to the city of Chico, “Here we are now! Entertain us!”

Peace be with you.