Art Hounds: Art that allows people to be seen (and heard)

Grocery Store Cart Disinfection Worker by Carolyn Olson.
Grocery store cart disinfection worker, essential worker portrait No. 13, by Carolyn Olson.
Courtesy of Carolyn Olson

Updated: 10:19 a.m.

Poet Connor Stratton shines the Art Hounds spotlight on “Beyond Bars,” the annual reading from the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. As with every year, the reading will feature poetry, stories and other creative work from incarcerated writers, often read by the writers’ friends and family. Unlike other years, the COVID-19-friendly format has created new possibilities for the writers to read their own work.

Saturday’s Zoom reading will include videos — recorded before the pandemic — of some writers reading their own work, which Stratton says is a first for the audience.

The videos are part of the Seen project by the Minnesota nonprofit We Are All Criminals.

Marlise Riffel of Virginia was inspired by the essential worker portraits by Duluth artist Carolyn Olson, who was first inspired to create pastel portraits of essential workers by her daughter, a grocery store cashier in the Twin Cities. The boldly colored portraits show masked bus drivers, hospital workers, sanitation workers and many more whose work keeps our communities running during the pandemic. Riffel loved both the subject and the visual impact of the colors. “When you walk into the First Stage Gallery,” Riffel said, “the walls are white, the floor is light, and they just jump off the wall at you. They’re very vivid.”

School Bus Driver, Essential Worker Portrait #42, by Carolyn Olson.
School bus driver, essential worker portrait No. 42, by Carolyn Olson.
Courtesy of Carolyn Olson

The exhibit at the Lyric Center for the Arts in Virginia runs through Nov. 7.

Opera singer Jack Swanson is looking forward to Minnesota’s contribution to the “Tales from a Safe Distance” opera series. They are short, coronavirus-related operas presented digitally by the Decameron Opera Coalition. An Opera Theatre — that’s the name of the Twin Cities-based opera company — premieres “The Sky Where You Are” on Friday at 7 p.m. The production is in English with English subtitles.

Written by Maria Thompson Corley with libretto by Jenny O’Connell, the opera takes on the subject of domestic abuse during quarantine. O’Connell collaborated with Women’s Advocates in St. Paul in creating the story.

One ticket purchases access to nine original short operas nationally. “The Sky Where You Are” is part of the third chapter, entitled “So Noble a Heart.” A ticket provides streaming access until Dec. 31.

Correction (Oct. 22, 2020): A previous version of this story had an incorrect name for the “Beyond Bars” annual reading event. This version is corrected and updated.

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