Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Liberal Arts has Moved

Hello, fellow arts lovers,

This is a quick note to inform you that Liberal Arts has a new home. 

on the new Madison Magazine website. 

Please visit this new site for artist interviews, performance previews and reviews, details on events and more.


Katie Vaughn
Associate Editor
Madison Magazine

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: "Church Basement Ladies" Serves Up Laughs

One of my favorite things about Midwesterners is our ability to poke fun at ourselves, to examine our quirks, habits and ways of living and not take it all too seriously.

If you also appreciate a healthy helping of good-natured, self-deprecating ribbing, I’d recommend checking out Church Basement Ladies, a lighthearted musical running at Overture Center through Sunday.

The show follows the four women who run the basement kitchen of a small-town Minnesota Lutheran church in the 1960s. Four scenes see the ladies through preparations for a lefse and lutefisk supper, a friend’s funeral, Easter morning and a wedding.

All the action takes place in the kitchen, which looks exactly like most church kitchens I’ve seen, from the mint-green walls to the accordion screen that can close the room off from the rest of the church.

The characters resonate, too, particularly Mrs. Snustad, the matriarch who ensures everything in her kitchen is just so. And Pastor Gunderson, played by William Christopher from M*A*S*H, is technically in charge but knows the kitchen is not his domain.

It’s these sorts of cultural accuracies that make Church Basement Ladies funny. And the songs follow in that vein. Early on, the women sing “The Pale Food Polka” and celebrate the Bible of their kitchen, “The Joy of Butter” cookbook. Later, they explain the differences between Lutherans and Catholics and grill the youngest of the group about the rules of church cooking—namely that lasagna is never served at funerals and casseroles only answer to the name “hotdish.”

But the musical isn’t all pokes at small-town life and the Midwestern dialect. There are a few poignant moments, such as when the pastor struggles to write a eulogy for his friend and when Mrs. Snustad reveals why she’s so resistant to change.

That said, audiences come to this play to laugh and they probably don’t leave disappointed. At last night’s show, the crowd absolutely howled anytime quirky Mavis dealt with hot flashes or other symptoms of menopause. In fact, how strongly the audience—most of whom probably experienced a church basement meal or two in the 1960s—connected to the play was a highlight of the evening.

The musical was such a hit last summer that Overture decided to bring it back for a limited run. Should this second helping prove popular? Oh, you betcha.

Church Basement Ladies runs through August 23 at Overture Center. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18–$35. For tickets or more information, call 258.4141 or visit

Photos courtesy of Overture Center.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Shared Vision

Working together on a project can be difficult. Each person brings his or her own skills, inspirations, goals and working styles, and sometimes combining them as a group can be a challenge.

Fortunately, that’s not what happened when Amy Newell, Rachel Davis and Lauren Garber Lake joined forces. Instead, the three printmakers combined their individual talents and styles to create a beautiful and poetic series of prints and collages.

The three were graduate school classmates in UW–Madison’s art department. Newell, an associate curator at Tandem Press, had collaborated with Garber Lake and Davis before, but the trio had never worked together on a project. They decided to pursue a group project and thought an arts residency at Edenfred would be the ideal place to do it.

“After hearing about Edenfred a few years ago, we had the idea to try and recreate our grad school experience,” Newell says. “There was a group of about ten of us who worked together in the studio, had classes together and held critique groups together. Everyone from this group had moved away from Madison but were always pining to come back. So we decided to apply to Edenfred as a group.”

The goal was for the group to create both independent and collaborative projects, but things didn’t work out exactly as planned.

“By the time we got our acceptance letter from Edenfred, two people were pregnant, one was getting married and a few others had backed out for a variety of reasons,” Newell says. “It was down to just me, Lauren and Rachel.”

The three spent two weeks last August and September at Edenfred. But before arriving, Davis, a Chicago artist, sent her partners the poem Giant Snail by Elizabeth Bishop, which would prove to be the project’s main inspiration.

“She thought it was so visually rich that it might make a good springboard for our collaborative work,” Newell says. “After reading the poem Lauren and I both agreed.”


Here is the poem:

Giant Snail
By Elizabeth Bishop

The rain has stopped. The waterfall will roar like that all
night. I have come out to take a walk and feed. My body—foot,
that is—is wet and cold and covered with sharp gravel. It is
white, the size of a dinner plate. I have set myself a goal, a
certain rock, but it may well be dawn before I get there.
Although I move ghostlike and my floating edges barely graze
the ground, I am heavy, heavy, heavy. My white muscles are
already tired. I give the impression of mysterious ease, but it is
only with the greatest effort of my will that I can rise above the
smallest stones and sticks. And I must not let myself be dis-
tracted by those rough spears of grass. Don’t touch them. Draw
back. Withdrawal is always best.
The rain has stopped. The waterfall makes such a noise! (And
what if I fall over it?) The mountains of black rock give off such
clouds of steam! Shiny streamers are hanging down their sides.
When this occurs, we have a saying that the Snail Gods have
come down in haste. I could never descend such steep escarp-
ments, much less dream of climbing them.
That toad was too big, too, like me. His eyes beseeched my
love. Our proportions horrify our neighbors.
Rest a minute; relax. Flattened to the ground, my body is like
a pallid, decomposing leaf. What’s that tapping on my shell?
Nothing. Let’s go on.
My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from
front to back, the wake of a ship, wax-white water, or a slowly
melting floe. I am cold, cold, cold as ice. My blind, white bull’s
head was a Cretan scare-head; degenerate, my four horns that
can't attack. The sides of my mouth are now my hands. They
press the earth and suck it hard. Ah, but I know my shell is
beautiful, and high, and glazed, and shining. I know it well,
although I have not seen it. Its curled white lip is of the finest
enamel. Inside, it is as smooth as silk, and I, I fill it to perfection.
My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark. I leave a lovely
opalescent ribbon: I know this.
But O! I am too big. I feel it. Pity me.
If and when I reach the rock, I shall go into a certain crack
there for the night. The waterfall below will vibrate through
my shell and body all night long. In that steady pulsing I can
rest. All night I shall be like a sleeping ear.


Since Newell, Davis and Garber Lake, a professor at the University of Florida, are all printmakers, they had common ground in working together. Yet each was able to incorporate her own aesthetic and technique into the project.

“We each have our own visual language and brought that, along with all of our tools and bags of tricks, to the studio,” Newell says. “We have looked at each others’ work for years and have a deep appreciation for each others imagery. I think if you are familiar with our individual work you can break down some of the collaborative images into ‘Lauren’s mark,’ ‘Amy’s mark,’ ‘Rachel’s mark,’ but I think their success is in the melding of our individual styles.”

The group’s collaborative prints and collages, as well as wood reliefs by Tandem Press printmaker Andy Rubin, are showcased through August 31 at Sundance Cinemas Madison. A special artists reception with poetry and music takes place tonight at 5:30 p.m.

Images courtesy of Amy Newell.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Keeping it Hot

If you’re bemoaning the fact that it’s August and summer is winding down, I don’t want to hear it! August in Madison is fantastic and absolutely summery thanks in part to two events held annually this month—and only this month.

Both Jazz at Five and Dane Dances are free weekly events open to the public. And both kick off this week, Jazz at Five today and Dane Dances on Friday.

Now in its sixteenth season, Jazz at Five is held, as you might expect, at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays on the 100 block of State Street, right where it meets the Capitol Square. The event offers two sets of live jazz music ranging in style and featuring local, regional and national performers.

Some listeners set up picnics at reserved tables, some bring or rent chairs and others simply stand and take in the music. Jazz at Five sets up a beer tent and other food and beverage vendors are on hand, too.

In case of rain, the concert takes place in Overture lobby, which is quite a nice setting as well. Decisions are made by 2 p.m.—call 310.4462 or tune in to WORT if the weather is questionable.

This season brings about:

The Francesca Johnson Quartet
This young Wisconsin jazz singer, who returned to Madison last year, has a voice that evokes the jazz tradition of the 1950s.
August 5, 5 p.m.

Mike Frost Project
Says Frost of his Chicago-based group, “We play straight-ahead jazz … Essentially we perform a modern-day version of an earlier style but in our own way.”
August 5, 6:30 p.m.

Tim Whalen Nonet
Innovative and unique, Whalen’s hard-swinging group plays with the intricacy of a big band but maintains the freedom of one much smaller.
August 12, 5 p.m.

Leo Sidran, Ben Sidran, Richard Davis, Joy Dragland and Louka Patenaude
This concert marks the first time these five Madison jazz legends, treasures and protégés perform together.
August 12, 6:30 p.m.

Seven Steps to Havana
This septet of international talent with musicians from Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia and America offers music combining salsa and jazz.
August 19, 5 p.m.

Jan Wheaton Quintet
Madison’s beloved jazz vocalist Wheaton credits Nancy Wilson, Billie Holiday and Roberta Flack among her influences.
August 26, 5 p.m.

Richie Cole
A master of the sax, Cole also has more than three thousand compositions and arrangements to his credit today.
August 26, 6:30 p.m.

For more information, call 310.4462 or visit

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Dane Dances is held Fridays at 5:30 p.m. on the rooftop of Monona Terrace. Here, all members of the community are invited to get together and boogie down to sounds spun by DJ Laurie Mlatawou and well-known bands.

Ethnic food vendors offer snacks and cocktails and the Lake Vista Café has a special menu for the event each week.

In the case of inclement weather, call 261.4000 after 2 p.m. for an alternative location (either inside Monona Terrace or the Alliant Energy Center).

Here’s what to expect this season:

Christopher’s Project
This rhythm and blues and contemporary jazz group has opened for such legendary acts as The Temptations and The Supremes.
August 7, 6 p.m.

Grupo Candela
This twelve-member band offers up dance-worthy music styles ranging from salsa to merengue to bachata.
August 7, 8 p.m.

Altered Five
Made up of five southern Wisconsin music veterans, this group performs an exciting brand of “rockin’ rhythm ‘n’ blues.”
August 14, 6 p.m.

In Black ‘N White
This popular group has gotten crowds up and dancing throughout the Midwest, including at Milwaukee’s Summerfest.
August 14, 6 p.m.

Primitive Culture
This local band offers a unique blend of funk, blues and tropical rhythms.
August 21, 6 p.m.

A versatile group from Illinois, BBI plays everything from Motown to R&B to classic rock and dance hits.
August 21, 8 p.m.

Que Flavor
Traditional Afro-Cuban dance grooves and other Latin music styles categorize this Madison favorite.
August 28, 6 p.m.

Eddie Butts
This longtime Milwaukee-based band mixes jazz, pop and R&B.
August 28, 8 p.m.

For more information, call 358.5894 or visit

Photos courtesy of Mark Barrett of the Steinway Piano Gallery and Dane Dances.