Oregon Shakespeare Nataki Garret Resigns, Grace Bumbry Passes, Exciting Work at Frieze: This Week in Black Art and Culture

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Nataki Garrett resigns. Shala Miller presents Genesis: Medley at Frieze New York. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art appoints Gamynne Guillotte as its chief education and community engagement officer. Pioneering opera star Grace Bumbry has died. Read more in This Week in Black Art and Culture. 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Nataki Garrett Resigns 

After four years serving as artistic director and stepping in as interim executive artistic director in January, Nataki Garrett is resigning from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). Her last day will be May 31, 2023. Board member Octavio Solis will step in to help oversee and support the artistic leadership team during this transitional phase. 

As the first Black female artistic director in OSF’s 88-year history, Garrett’s appointment was historic. Her work encompassed current and emerging technologies and media, reaching not only the stage but digital and film. 

Garrett, only the sixth artistic director for OSF, joined the company in August 2019. She played a critical role in guiding the organization through numerous transitions and crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the company to shut down shortly after the opening of the 2020 season, what would have been Garrett’s first full season. 

During the shutdown, she raised $19 million after successfully galvanizing a cohort of Oregon arts leaders to secure funding for the state’s performing arts organizations from the federal relief fund package and other fundraising efforts. She started a nationwide advocacy coalition for nonprofit theaters in 2020, the Professional Non-Profit Theater Coalition (PNTC), which provided access to $15 billion in SVOG (Shuttered Venues Operator Grants) relief funding. A champion for the arts, artists and the industry, Garrett testified twice before Congress on the need to support the creative economy. 

Artistically, Garrett conceived and launched an interactive and immersive digital platform, O!, which became all the more vital in live theater’s absence as a source of groundbreaking performance, art and discussion. Her OSF directing credits include How to Catch Creation (2019); Confederates (2022); The Cymbeline Project, Episode 4 (2022); and Romeo & Juliet (2023). 

Garrett came up with the idea for The Cymbeline Project, a multi-episode digital production of Shakespeare’s play. She also acted as executive producer for the Sundance Award-winning short film You Go Girl! She created Quills Fest, a public platform that brings together immersive technology and live performance and made OSF the hub of XR (extended reality) and theater confluence. Garrett was forced to hire a security team after receiving death threats, various forms of abuse and scathing op-eds in local newspapers as a result of her efforts to produce more diverse and current plays in place of the company’s seasons that were primarily Shakespeare-exclusive. 

“The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been profoundly affected by Nataki Garrett during her tenure as its sixth world-renowned artistic director to helm the organization,” Solis said. “Without her selfless commitment, we would not have weathered the brutal hits caused by the pandemic shutdown and the devastating fires of the last four years. During this time, she brought new faces, new blood and new perspectives, which served our company well and kept faith with its mission and core values. 

“We are actively conducting a search for an interim artistic director to ferry the company through the season, to which we are unwaveringly committed. In the meantime, we, the board, along with the staff, artists and audiences, offer our steadfast guidance and support to the company as the 2023 season opens.” 

“I am leaving with gratitude and great respect for the many talented people I have come to know and work with here at OSF, who work tirelessly to make sure the show must go on,” Garrett said. 

“I have always centered the work on our stages, both live and digital, as cultural justice, and I remain committed to ensuring the work of the theater expands our capacity for empathy and our world view. This season is a reflection of what I set out to do when I came to OSF: center the artists as thought leaders who transform culture. This version of OSF centers Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) work. We are a company of artists who know we are valued, are engaged with the work with ownership, and who value the company because they know the company values them. They deserve, and OSF deserves, the community’s ongoing support. 

“I remain hopeful that, despite the challenges still ahead for OSF and our industry as a whole, that the Festival will become a container for the future so that generations who come can continue OSF’s legacy of groundbreaking art making.”

Shala Miller Presents Genesis: Medley at Frieze New York

Artists Space, in collaboration with Frieze, presents Genesis: Medley, a performance by multidisciplinary artist, vocalist and writer Shala Miller (who uses personal pronouns they/them/their). Currently on view at Artists Space, the performance brings together a chorus of vocalists to tell the story of Obsidian’s becoming. Genesis is an extension of their years-long practice of building fictional worlds with an auto-ethnographic root. Currently on view at Artists Space, the performance brings together a chorus of vocalists to tell the story of Obsidian’s becoming. Obsidian is a fictional character who serves as a kind of alter ego for the artist, created at the beginning of this year to process their rage as a Black femme person. 

For this project, Miller works closely with director and composer Tariq Al-Sabir to reimagine the installation’s three-part soundtrack for live audiences, cultivating a musical arrangement and choreography that uses voice and echo as primary material. Utilizing autoethnography, song and the artist’s years-long practice of creating fictional worlds, the work is a meditation on desire, mourning, pleasure and pain. 

Shala Miller, also known by their stage name Freddie June, was born in Cleveland and raised by two Southerners named Al and Ruby. At 10 or 11 years old, Miller discovered quietude, the kind someone can be pushed into, and then was fooled into thinking that was where they should stay put. Since then, Miller has been trying to find their way out and find their way into an understanding of themself and their history using photography, video, writing and singing as an aid in this process. 

Miller earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017. She attended The New York Film Festival Artist Academy in 2019 and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris in 2016. Miller’s solo exhibitions at galleries include Lyles & King, New York in 2023 and CHART, New York in 2021. In 2022, Miller was included in Black Melancholia at The Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College and in Beneath Tongues, curated by Sable Elyse Smith, at the Swiss Institute, New York. In 2017, Miller was an artist-in-residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Madison, Maine.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Appoints Gamynne Guillotte in Chief Education Role

Gamynne Guillotte

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced the appointment of Gamynne Guillotte as the Leanne and George Roberts Chief Education and Community Engagement Officer. The position is an integral part of SFMOMA’s leadership team. It is responsible for anchoring the institution’s efforts to connect with a wide range of audiences through educational and public programs, in-gallery experiences, community partnerships and off-site collaborations. 

Guillotte brings two decades of experience working at the intersections of art, the built environment and public engagement, developing projects grounded in research and listening that address the changing needs of artists and the public. She joins SFMOMA from the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), where she most recently held the position of chief education officer. Prior to her tenure at the BMA, from 2006 to 2012, she was a designer and project manager at Narduli Studio in Los Angeles, an interdisciplinary design studio with commissions in public art and architecture. Previously, she oversaw education and public program initiatives at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House in Los Angeles. She will begin her new role on June 26, 2023. 

Guillotte’s appointment follows February’s announcement of Sheila Shin’s promotion to the newly created position of chief experience officer. As SFMOMA emerges from the challenges of the pandemic, it is placing significant emphasis on creating new opportunities to partner with community organizations, increasing access to free arts experiences at the museum and establishing spaces for gathering and socializing. In her new role, Guillotte will play a critical part in conceptualizing and realizing this vision. 

“Our work at SFMOMA is guided by a focus on hospitality, establishing a true sense of welcome from the inside out,” said Christopher Bedford, Helen and Charles Schwab Director of SFMOMA. “This requires new thinking and experimentation in exhibition and program development and in how we encourage participation among different audiences, both those new and returning to the museum. 

“Gamynne’s extensive experience and long history of developing projects that center a wide range of communities will be invaluable as we chart this new trajectory. She brings great passion, ingenuity and a belief in the profound impact that art can have on people of varying ages, experiences and backgrounds. I look forward to welcoming her to the team at SFMOMA.” 

“As a third-generation Californian, I am invested in the future of my home state, particularly as it pertains to livable cities,” said Guillotte. “I strongly believe that cultural institutions can and must play a key role in civic life. SFMOMA is an important part of the San Francisco arts ecology and in this new chapter, it has an opportunity to act as a convenor of innovative and inclusive engagements with artists and audiences from across the Bay Area and beyond. I look forward to joining the team in June and to creating new paths to deepen the museum’s connection and relevance to the many people it has the potential to engage.”

Pioneering Opera Star Grace Bumbry Dies at 86

Grace Bumbry, a trailblazing mezzo-soprano who was the first Black performer to appear at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, passed away at the age of 86. On Oct. 20, she suffered a stroke while en route from Vienna to New York to witness her induction into Opera America’s Opera Hall of Fame. 

Bumbry (born 1937 in St. Louis) was granted a scholarship to attend the St. Louis Institute of Music but was denied admission because she was Black.. After appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, offers from schools flooded in. Bumbry enrolled at Boston University, later transferring to Northwestern University, and finally moving to California to study with the legendary German soprano Lotte Lehmann at the Music Academy of the West. 

When her mother took her to see Marian Anderson perform, the American contralto who made history by becoming the first Black vocalist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1955, she found inspiration. Bumbry joined a group of notable Black opera singers, including Leontyne Price, Shirley Verrett, George Shirley and Reri Gr. At the Paris Opera, Bumbry made her operatic debut in 1960, singing the part of Amneris in Verdi’s Aida. Her popularity allowed her to perform at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, where she made history by being the first Black performer to perform at Richard Wagner’s birthplace. The following February, she accepted First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s invitation to perform for a state dinner at the White House. This event marked the first time an African American opera singer had ever performed in the White House.

What followed were debuts at Carnegie Hall, the Royal Opera in London and the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Bumbry made a comeback 10 years later for the James Levine 25th anniversary gala to perform Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix from Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila. Her final full opera at the Met was as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida on Nov. 3, 1986.

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