Charles Donelan’s Favorite Stories of 2019

The Year in Review with Our Executive Arts Editor

Looking back at 2019 through the lens of the more than 140 pieces I wrote for the Indy this year, I’m grateful that I had the chance to talk to so many interesting people, to see everything I could, and to try to make sense of it all in these pages. Special thanks to those who shared their ideas and their stories with me, and to all the organizations — including this one! — that work so hard to keep the arts alive in our community.

The year began auspiciously at the Arts Fund with Cut and Paste, a brilliant show curated by Dug Uyesaka that documented Santa Barbara’s important place in the history of collage. UCSB Professor William Davies King was part of that group exhibition, and he followed it in the spring with a “Tree of LIFE” pop-up featuring his incredible collection of cereal boxes.

Beginning with the appearance of British author Rachel Cusk at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s “Parallel Stories” series in January, opportunities to hear from sagacious women proliferated. Glenn Close accepted her Modern Master Award from the SBIFF in 2019 and granted us a charming, insightful interview about her Academy Award–nominated performance in The Wife.

In a year when so many stories came out about women’s ongoing oppression, it was heartening to connect with those who have the power to lead and to heal. Barbara Hannigan did an exemplary job directing the Ojai Music Festival, and she set a new bar for what one may expect from a contemporary musician. Later in the summer, composer Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain delivered another compelling vision of the future of music at the crescendo of an exceptional Music Academy of the West season.

Ensemble Theatre Company founding director Joseph Hanreddy had a triumph at the New Vic with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and Westmont’s theater program once again used the downtown space for a delightful opera; this time it was The Magic Flute. At UCSB, the students in the Naked Shakes program mounted a splendid and moving production of The Winter’s Tale on the big stage in Hatlen Auditorium.

The UCSB Art, Design & Architecture Museum scored a hit with The Art of Carl Gustav Jung. Taking a rather different approach to connecting art and mental health, Claudia Borfiga and Matt Head staged My Friend Is Sad, a thoughtful and uplifting pop-up at the Arts Fund. The Atkinson Gallery at Santa Barbara City College, now under the direction of John Connelly, gave us Jane Mulfinger’s West Is South, an exploration of how disorienting geographic influences affect our perceptions of belonging. In Carpinteria, photographer Patricia Houghton Clarke hit the streets with Facing Ourselves, a humanistic portraiture project celebrating the resilience of community across all borders. 

Sara Miller McCune sponsored a visit from the artist/practitioners of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, and I was able to participate in a great workshop they gave for local teachers. The most popular story I wrote this year was another participation piece; this one was about passing a sailing certification course in Coastal Cruising through the Santa Barbara Sailing Center.

The bittersweet finale of Dianne Vapnek’s DANCEworks series at the Lobero gave me one of my favorite stories of the year, an interview with choreographer Doug Varone. Another interview that landed on the cover came in July, when I spoke with Brendon Benson and Jack White of the Raconteurs in advance of their show at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

This feature story about The Wolves at PCPA was probably my favorite thing I worked on this year. Thanks to photo editor supreme Paul Wellman for his excellent work on this piece. Any time I can illuminate the success of a deserving arts organization — as I also did here with a feature on the 60th anniversary of UCSB Arts & Lectures — I feel I am journalistically where I want to be.

In closing, let me mention two more unforgettable experiences that I owe to UCSB Arts & Lectures. Talking to composer Philip Glass felt like entering music history through the portal of a downtown New York loft. And the two two-night stands of the Danish String Quartet that took place in 2019, with night one of the second round at the Granada featuring the Danish National Girls’ Choir, combined to make the DSQ my pick for the year’s most mind-expanding musical visitors.

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