The Bay Area is a hub of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the globe to live, work and create. We highlight some of the offerings here.
Freebie of the week: Among the things the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art does to help support Bay Area artists is stage the annual SECA Awards, which help both emerging artists and arts fans. The award is named for an auxiliary of the museum, the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art, founded in 1961. Interestingly, some reports note it initially was for men only (this changed in a few years). In any event, its role was to create a better connection between the museum and Bay Area artists, and the SECA Awards are part of that. The awards have been granted each year since 1967 to an artist or group of artists who display appreciable talent and artistic development but have not yet garnered much recognition. Each winner is granted an exhibition at SFMOMA an accompanying catalog and a cash prize. The best part, as far as arts fans are concerned, is that the exhibits are on view for free. This year’s winners are Binta Ayofemi, Maria A. Guzmán Capron, Cathy Lu, Marcel Pardo Ariza and Gregory Rick. Each artist gets a gallery with which to display site-specific works. Ayofemi’s installation deals with such concepts as Black abstract art and Black joy; Capron’s sculptures merge human figures with more abstract forms; Lu’s clay creations, as SFMOMA puts it, combine “long-nailed hands and corner-store fruits”; Ariza displays portraits of Bay Area transgender leaders that mimic Catholic altarpieces; and Rick’s complex abstract paintings tackle race issues. The works are all on the museum’s second-floor galleries through May 29. More information is at www.sfmoma.org.
Game on: Casinos are a pervasive and widely publicized form of revenue for Native American reservations, but the dark side of the arrangements – including crippling gambling addiction – doesn’t get a lot of attention. “Cashed Out,” a new play getting its world premiere at San Francisco Playhouse, focuses on three generations of women at the Gila River Indian Community Reservation in Arizona touched by gambling addiction and struggling to maintain American Indian traditions in the face of enormous financial interference. The work is the first full-length play by Native American playwright Claude Jackson Jr., whose day job is as a lawyer and director of the public defender’s office for the Gila River reservation. “Cashed Out” first drew attention in a short-play festival, leading to a S.F. Playhouse commission. It premiered as an online streaming production during 2020 and was an immediate hit with viewers. Now it’s getting its first live staging with what is no doubt a rarity at theater companies – a production featuring a Native American playwright, Native American director (Tara Moses) and all-Native American or indigenous person cast. “Cashed Out” opens in previews on Thursday; its main run is Feb. 1-25 at 450 Post St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$100; go to www.sfplayhouse.org.
Wondering where Bruce Cockburn is? Serving up an enjoyable blend of first-rate musicianship, progressive politics and good old-fashioned humor, Canadian Bruce Cockburn has been a folk music gem for more than 50 years. Most Americans know him best for one of his earliest hits (and his biggest-charting song in America) 1979’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” a sort of laugh-at-the-coming-apocalypse protest song with a poppy tune and reggae beat that hit No. 21 on the Billboard charts and earned Cockburn an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” But his discography goes considerably deeper– he’s penned some 350 songs touching on ecology, religion (he was raised an agnostic but converted to Christianity), politics, human rights and pop culture and has released more than 35 albums over his career. He’s also known for such tunes as “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and has been covered by acts as varied as Barenaked Ladies and U2. Cockburn is also a vastly under-appreciated guitarist, perhaps due to his own self-deprecating humor. He’s referred to his guitar style as “a combination of country blues fingerpicking and poorly absorbed jazz training,” but his song “End of All Rivers” is one of the most gorgeous acoustic instrumental tracks you’ll ever hear. Cockburn is touring North American and stops in at the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University Friday for one show only. The concert, presented by Stanford Live, starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$68. Go to live.stanford.edu.
Music made in America: As the Oakland Symphony continues its search to find a replacement for the late Michael Morgan, aspiring candidate Andrew Grams arrives to conduct the orchestra and guest soloist Sara Davis Buechner Friday night at 8 p.m. in the ornate splendor of the Paramount Theatre. Grams, who left his post as music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Illinois in 2021 after eight years there, has been filling his schedule with guest conducting assignments far and wide. He brings a program called “Rooted in America” to the concert hall, with three diverse works that had their origins here. A 1951 work from Florence Price, the first African-American woman composer to achieve orchestral success, leads things off. Her “Five Folk Songs in Counterpoint” dips into a handful of recognizable tunes – the spiritual “Calvary,” “My Darling Clementine,” “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, “Shortnin’Bread” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” George Gershwin’s “Second Rhapsody,” featuring Buechner on piano, follows, and the concert will conclude with William Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony.” Tickets, $25-$90, are available at oaklandsymphony.org.
MTT redux: The San Francisco Symphony welcomes Michael Tilson Thomas, music director laureate, back to the Davies Hall podium for the first of two weekends of concertizing, opening Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with a glittering program of music by Debussy, Messiaen and Villa-Lobos. French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, an MTT favorite, is the featured soloist for two works. The “Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine” by Messiaen invokes both spiritual themes and birdsong, with contributions from the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and ondes Martenot player Cynthia Millar. Thibaudet will also play Debussy’s Javanese gamelan-inspired “Fantaisie” for Piano and Orchestra on the program, which kicks off with the same composer’s much more famous “Prélude a L’Apres-midi d’un faune” and closes with Villa-Lobos’ Choros No. 19. Repeat performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Find tickets, $35-$165, at www.sfsymphony.org or 415-864-6000.