Category Archives: Arts Access

 

Over these past months, it’s been inspiring to watch the Levitt network engage and support their communities during this challenging time. Nearly all permanent Levitt venues and Levitt AMP sites have presented virtual concerts featuring popular Levitt artists, including livestreaming virtual series and showcasing special archived Levitt footage, with more on the way. Today, we’re shining the light on the myriad ways permanent Levitt venues are expanding their programming beyond streaming free shows to inspire creativity, wellness and hope in their communities in 2020.

From sparking creative expression through virtual songwriting camps, to promoting holistic health and wellness through virtual yoga and cooking classes, to creating unexpected musical moments through pop-up concerts in neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic, the Levitt network is supporting their communities in new and particularly relevant ways. What’s more, they’re using their individual and collective voices to advocate for the larger music ecosystem, from helping musicians cover medical bills to saving independent music venues at risk of closing permanently due to financial hardships brought on by the pandemic.

Read on to learn more, and stay tuned for a future blog post on the creative ways Levitt AMP nonprofits have been engaging and supporting their communities during this time! Continue reading

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The penultimate performance of the 2020 Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series kicks off tonight! Co-presented by CREATE Portage County, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series, this live broadcast stars Minneapolis-based emcee Nur-D, whose lyrics span playful topics like geek culture and pro wrestling as well as complex social issues like racism and toxic masculinity. “He brings a wide perspective to his art,” says Greg Wright, executive director of CREATE. “Nur-D’s desire to make people re-think aspects of hip-hop music brings a layer to our programming we haven’t had before.” The show starts at 7pm ET / 4pm PT — catch the live stream on Facebook, or watch it over at levittamp.org/virtual at any time!

Re-framing the story of small-town living
Stevens Point is a small town in Central Wisconsin home to about 25,000 people. Located along a three-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River, the land, which belonged to the Menomonie people for over 14,000 years, became a vital stopping point for logging industry workers after European settlers colonized the area in the 1800s. As industrialization emerged in Wisconsin, paper mills and other logging-adjacent businesses flourished along the river, and Stevens Point, officially incorporated in 1868, eventually expanded into one of the region’s most robust communities.

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

Today, the town is known for its many local breweries, vibrant green spaces, strong arts scene, and emerging tech sector. The University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point, recognized statewide for its top-tier environmental science and fine arts programs, brings nearly 10,000 students to town each year and further invigorates community life with a wealth of activities.

While many other small communities in the region have experienced steep declines in both population and prosperity in recent decades, Stevens Point remains somewhat of an outlier. With a healthy economy and steadily increasing number of residents, the town has taken on an identity as a trendsetting, mold-breaking model for what life in a small Midwestern community can be. Diversity is also on the rise in Stevens Point, with frequent cross-cultural festivities celebrating the town’s Hmong and Latinx communities. Even so, the success of Stevens Point has mostly flown under the radar, and according to Wright, one of the goals of the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series has been to raise the town’s profile. “We really wanted to get the word out about our community,” says Wright. “People who are looking for a smaller place that feels more progressive, more vibrant, they can find that here. We can prove that it’s possible to live in a small community without sacrificing quality of life.”

Making community-wide investments to create change
CREATE Portage County, launched in 2015, exists to better the lives of community residents through investments in arts, culture and creativity. Placemaking and public art projects are a major component of the nonprofit’s work, as well as programs designed to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and connections between community members. Back in 2016, after one of CREATE’s board members interned at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the nonprofit presenter of the Levitt AMP Sheboygan Music Series, the idea to bring a Levitt AMP series to Stevens Point began to take shape. “We saw the Levitt AMP grant as an opportunity to both add some live music into our vibrant arts scene and get our name on the map,” says Wright. “We wanted to reframe the story around small towns and show that they can thrive in the 21st century if they invest in creativity.” With buy-in from the City of Stevens Point, as the parks and recreation department would be pivotal to presenting the outdoor music series, CREATE applied for a Levitt AMP grant in 2016 and presented the first ever Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series the following summer.

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

Providing a stunning view of both the Wisconsin River and downtown Stevens Point, the picturesque Pfiffner Pioneer Park was a clear choice of venue for the series. The park houses a band shell that was constructed in 1977 as a centennial project, though outside of a handful of performances from local acts each year, the facility saw relatively little use. Through a Levitt AMP series, organizers sought to realize the full potential of this space while bringing in a diverse array of artists that the community may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. The park is also easily accessible to residents across the city, with downtown Stevens Point within walking distance and the university just down the road, and reachable by just about all modes of transportation — a series of trails brings concertgoers to the park on foot or by bike, and a recently installed dock even allows residents to float over on boats. The park itself sits within the “Nortside” neighborhood, historically home to working class Polish immigrants, which has seen a resurgence in recent years spurred in part by the success of the series.

Wright describes a growing audience at Levitt AMP concerts each summer, with some performances drawing audiences of over 1,000. By booking college musicians as opening acts and intermission shows, an increasing number of attendees are students, helping to bridge the town and gown divide within the community. In addition to the music, CREATE has fostered a festival atmosphere on the lawn on concert nights that’s also become a platform for local businesses. “We bring arts activities, kids activities, good food, locally produced beverages…it’s a really relaxed and fun environment,” says Wright.

Overall, Wright believes the concert series has not only engaged the community and elevated the Stevens Point arts scene, but has also opened the door for profound growth within the community. “People are trusting in that culture change as a result of having a positive experience on the Levitt lawn,” says Wright. “We’ve been able to leverage that to make long-term, community-wide investments in inclusivity, in diversity, in creativity.”

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Keeping the community safe and connected
In March, as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in, CREATE Portage County quickly sprang into action to help keep the community safe. Utilizing the 3D printing facility at the organization’s IDEA center, CREATE began producing plastic face shields for medical workers, first responders, in-home care workers, and other frontline personnel. Word quickly spread through the town, and residents who owned personal 3D printers joined the effort, while partnerships with local manufacturers Worth Company and Gamber-Johnson helped expedite the assembly process. “At our peak, we had 23 printers running, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” recalls Wright. “We just cranked out as many as we could.” Through this community-wide effort, CREATE produced over 4,000 face shields, providing a critical boost to hospitals and clinics at a time when personal protective equipment was still in short supply. The project had a global impact as well — after sharing the schematics online, Wright learned that people in the UK, Japan and Germany were 3D-printing the same locally-designed face shields to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

In addition to helping the community stay physically protected from the virus, CREATE is also working to combat COVID-related loneliness. “One of our biggest concerns right now is the mental health toll of COVID-19,” says Wright. “Right now, it’s so important for people to still have access to social connectedness.” Following the success of several one-off concert livestreams in the spring, CREATE made the decision to bring the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series fully online this summer. The series, which is funded in part through a Levitt AMP Bridge Grant, began in July and includes seven live-streamed concerts, including tonight’s performance from Nur-D. Participants are encouraged to watch the performances outdoors in small, socially-distanced groups, bringing the spirit of Levitt concerts out of Pfiffner Pioneer Park and into the community. “You can take your speakers outside, bring your close friends and family, wear masks, order takeout, and create a mini Levitt lawn right at home!” says Wright.

Another goal of this year’s series is to provide paid performance opportunities for musicians who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. According to Wright, some of the artists booked for the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series hadn’t played a single show, virtual or otherwise, since March, with one artist reporting upwards of 100 of their concerts having been canceled. “We really wanted to make sure we honored our contracts and paid musicians,” says Wright. “It was important to us to do our part to support the arts economy.”

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Wright is especially excited for tonight’s concert with Nur-D, whose unique perspective and left-field lyricism are already making huge waves in the Midwest hip-hop scene. Originally from the Bronx and based out of the Twin Cities, Nur-D first stepped into the rap arena in 2018, and has since earned accolades such as the #1 spot on City Pages’ “Picked to Click” list. Sporting superhero sweatshirts, bowties and thick, square-rimmed glasses, Nur-D is a striking performer with an arsenal of hilarious and insightful rhymes at his disposal. “He’s a really intersectional performer,” describes Wright. “We’ve had hip-hop artists every year of our series, but the specific messaging in his music really fits the goals of Levitt AMP.” Catch Nur-D in action tonight as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, and experience the rest of the series over at levittamp.org/virtual!

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Legion Lake Park in Houston, Miss., the future site of the Levitt AMP Houston Music Series

The Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series continues tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT with a dynamic performance by husband and wife Americana/folk-indie duo Amy LaVere and Will Sexton, co-presented by the team behind the Levitt AMP Houston Music Series. No strangers to Levitt, LaVere and Sexton have graced the iconic Levitt Shell Memphis stage in their hometown multiple times. Recorded at the artists’ home, about two hours from Houston, Miss., tonight’s virtual concert will treat audiences to an intimate, eclectic and captivating evening of vocals, upright bass and guitar. Tune in at levittamp.org/virtual! Continue reading

Woonsocket's River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Woonsocket’s River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Friday night is almost upon us, and so is another virtual Levitt AMP concert! Co-presented by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley (NWBRV), tonight’s show is set to be a genre-spanning musical spectrum—headlined by Dominican-American salsa star EhShawnee, the concert also features acclaimed indigenous artist Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson, renowned djembe drummer Sidy Maiga, and treasured Rhode Island big band Steve Smith and the Naked Truth. This stacked lineup of local talent is sure to bring the rich array of Rhode Island’s music scene to the digital stage with style—watch from anywhere tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

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The view from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Vantage point from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Tonight, as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, experience an all-new show from indie roots group The Woodshedders, co-presented by West Virginia’s Jefferson County Parks and Recreation (JCPRC)! Dedicated to promoting health, well-being and the environment, JCPRC is a nonprofit component of the Jefferson County government and will present the Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series next summer. For tonight’s virtual concert, the series’ organizers are excited to present a home-grown band whose sound captures the unique spirit and flavor of their community. The Woodshedders blend vintage rock, honky-tonk, and Appalachian roots music to create an upbeat and modern take on the region’s musical traditions. “They have a real West Virginia feel to them when they play,” says Becki Zaglifa, JCPRC’s public relations specialist. Known for their fun, danceable live shows, The Woodshedders are a mainstay of the D.C. area music scene and have four albums of original music under their belts. Their performance for the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series was recorded live earlier this year at Chord B Brewing Company, and airs tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT. Tune in from anywhere at levittamp.org/virtual! 

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Tonight’s Levitt AMP virtual show brings the bright, buoyant sounds of Appalachia straight to you! Tune in to experience an incredible evening of music curated by the team behind the Levitt AMP Berea Music Series, including a performance by headlining act The Possum Queens. This all-female ‘Kentucky Old-Time’ quartet “got down the fiddle, rosined up the bow [and] dusted off the cobwebs” to record tonight’s lively virtual performance at Berea’s newly launched Rebel Rebel Studio and Lounge, a multi-use creative space co-founded by Levitt AMP Berea organizer Ali Blair with photographer Erica Chambers. The virtual concert will also feature local favorites Tyler Devall and Corey Shenk. Be sure to tune in at 8pm ET/5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

A small town with trailblazing roots

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Berea College students, faculty and staff joining 25,000 other demonstrators in the last phase of the March on Montgomery from Selma, Ala., on March 25, 1965; Photo courtesy of Berea College, Special Collections & Archives

Blair first crossed paths with The Possum Queens fiddler Anna Harrod at a local backyard bonfire, surrounded by the joyous live folk and bluegrass music of Berea College professors and student musicians. The trailblazing Berea College has shaped the surrounding community since it was founded in 1855 by minister and abolitionist John G. Fee, as the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. Fee and his colleagues put their lives on the line to remove barriers to higher education. Since 1892, the boldly inclusive institution has also provided a high-quality education to its students—many of whom are from underserved areas of Southern Appalachia—completely free of charge. Driven by the homegrown talent of students and their families, the school has developed a phenomenal artisan craft program, laying the groundwork for Berea’s wide-reaching reputation as the ‘Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky.’ Every year, lifelong learners flock to Berea from far and wide for the city’s summer ‘Festival of Learnshops’ and winter ‘Make it, take it, give it!”—both rooted in artisan craft workshops. Continue reading

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Left to right: Wildermiss, Charlie Wood, Carson McHone

May is here, and with it another round of virtual concerts from permanent Levitt venues! Following a full day of live-streaming during #GivingTuesdayNow, another fantastic batch of shows is on the horizon — read on to discover the artists Levitt venues are bringing to your screen this month. Continue reading

music lessons blog headerMusical instruments are a fantastic way to channel your creative energy while staying at home, but they’re most enjoyable (both for you and, ahem, those you live with) when you actually know how to play them. If you’ve been noodling around on that dusty guitar or keyboard for a few weeks, now is the perfect time to start taking lessons. Ads for celebrity-taught music classes on platforms like Masterclass have been highly visible across the internet lately, but there’s also a wealth of musical knowledge right in your community: local musicians! In addition to enriching your musical knowledge, taking lessons from a local artist is also an excellent way to support their wellbeing. 

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Left to right: Esme Patterson, Jenny and the Mexicats, Brainstory

Across the country, permanent Levitt venues and Levitt AMP grantees are taking to social media to broadcast virtual concerts you can enjoy  from home. While we all miss the in-person concert experience, these streams allow us to transcend the confines of geography and experience live music together in an entirely new way. We’ll continue to update this list of virtual Levitt concerts as more are added. Happy virtual concertgoing! Continue reading

Artmaking is proven to reduce stress levels, foster hope and build connection, so it’s no surprise that so many of us are embracing our ‘inner artist’ during this crisis. Creativity—in all its forms—can help make these challenging times more manageable. In a recent NPR interview, University of Alabama Birmingham neuroscience professor Christianne Strang explained that “creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world”—all of which are invaluable right now. Today we’re sharing a few heartwarming ways people are getting creative with physically distant communal artmaking. Continue reading