Epic Arts in the news...
|"A lot of people have said this is the kind of experience
they've been wanting or missing" - East Bay Express,
from "There Goes the Neighborhood", August 2003 (full
|""For us it's about people who are willing to collaborate
in community..[we] want people to see this as a resource, but
also as a place where they can influence what's happening"
- El Cerrito Journal, from "Arts Community Rising",
February 2003 (full
|"Epic Arts set out to give the new district an identity
as "Berkeley's own 'Off-Broadway.'" - Berkeley Daily
Planet, from "Gala Benefit Celebrates City's Newest
Addition: The Ashby Arts District", August 2003
|"What is most encouraging about (the Ashby Arts District)
is that it was not imposed by city planners, but rather organized
by the artists themselves." - The Berkeley Voice,
August 2003 (full
"We want this to be an annual mission of rejuvenation
that will unite and inspire people to make a lasting difference."
- Berkeley Daily Planet, from "South Berkeley Neighbors
Show Pride With Mural", October 2003
|"We really appreciate your commitment to youth and the
arts" - Bob Foster, Director, Longfellow Middle School
|"Storyteller Tim Barsky's new collection of pieces, on
the other hand, which premiered at Berkeley's intimate Epic Arts
performance space and moves over to the Exit in San Francisco
this month, is anything but bland." - East Bay Express,
from "Why Theater Perserveres" (full
There Goes the
Ashby Avenue gets artsy.
BY JONATHAN KIEFER
Among the many things that make an arts
district different than a Wal-Mart or a Starbucks is that when
an arts district moves in, people don't lament the loss of their
neighborhood. Even in Berkeley, where you'd have to be delusional
or a recluse to think there's a shortage of local culture, a
little more is always welcome.
Or a lot more. That's the thinking behind the formation of
the Ashby Arts District, which officially opens this weekend
with a benefit concert at the Transparent Theatre. People from
Epic Arts, La Peña Cultural Center, the Jazz House, and
other nearby expression outlets will congregate to get their
collective culture on. Each evening will feature performances
by Rosin Coven, a local Edward Gorey-esque cabaret and chamber
ensemble; and two musicians from Moscow, Alexander Tsygankov
and Inna Shevchenko, who've played Carnegie Hall and the White
House, among other venues, and are now finally ready for Ashby.
"It's always been such a magnet for gatherings,"
says Justin Katz, who is program director for Epic Arts, bassist
for Rosin Coven, and the Ashby Arts District impresario all
in one -- and who could therefore be described without hyperbole
as a tireless crusader for creativity. "The location is
so ideal for people finding it and finding each other,"
he says. "One of the purposes of an arts district is to
tell the rest of the city, the greater surrounding area, "Hey,
look at this happening place -- it's worth a trip over for music,
art, poetry, performances, classes, workshops, and who knows
That Ashby should have to work so hard for attention seems
to imply a robust array of cultural opportunities everywhere
else. Downtown and West Berkeley have their districts, too,
of course. But availability doesn't always equal access; Katz
and company hope to create a destination "with a lower-priced,
more cutting-edge, Off-Broadway feel." That means plenty
of pay-what-you-can nights and not, he avows, just a bunch of
fancy new restaurants. "I've lived in that area for many
years," Katz says, "and I know that at times it's
been disparaged. A lot of people have said this is the kind
of experience they've been wanting or missing."
The announcement of a self-labeled arts district is always
a bit risky -- it requires an active compact between a community's
creative types and its consumers. The best such places tend
to evolve organically, and cannot be manufactured or conjured
by marketing alone. But the extra push helps. "I think
there's a grassroots mentality that says you do it independently,
you do it yourself, and you don't want to have the government,
the city, involved," Katz says. But city support, including
a recent Civic Arts Commission grant, has been a welcome surprise
and an education. "We're working on the mayor's declaration
of the district," he adds, "but not waiting for it."
This weekend's benefit, designed to offer a kind of Ashby Arts
buffet, is intended to raise enough money for a community calendar,
regularly highlighting the noteworthy activities of the district's
artists and performers. If all goes well, perhaps every BART
station along the Richmond line will eventually become a fountain
of public creativity. Saturday and Sunday, August 2 and 3, 8
p.m., Transparent Theater, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley. $20.
For more information or reservations, call 510-644-2204 or visit
Epicarts.org or Transparenttheater.org.
East Bay Express - originally published: July
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El Cerrito Journal
Arts community rising
By Brian Kluepfel
Want to lounge on some comfy couches, listen
to some new music, hear a poetry reading or take cello lessons?
Two doors down from one of Berkeley's busiest corners, crisscrossed
by half a dozen bus lines and across the street from the Ashby
BART station, stands a new center for the arts that itself is
an intersection for the local arts community.
Epic Arts, a nonprofit that plans to offer concerts, art exhibits,
workshops and readings, is holding a swanky, kick-off fund-raiser
this Saturday, Feb. 15. The gala Belle Epoque dinner's title
is a reflection of the space's raison d'etre, so to speak: to
provide a low-cost, low-pressure space where artists and artisans
of all stripes can meet and introduce new ideas and work. A
show Vincent Avalos' multimedia work hangs in the gallery, while
couches in the Moroccan-style salon are piled high with pillows,
awaiting patrons of the first series of shows, which this month
include the Pick Pocket Ensemble (guitars, fiddles, accordions)
and Arjuna, a world music group that features Tibetan horn and
Tuvan throat singing.
Although Saturday's benefit carries a hefty $100 price tag,
it goes to help Epic Arts' goal of providing an inexpensive,
self-sufficient site for artists. Most events on the calendar
(www.epicarts.org) request a $10 donation.
Epic Arts founders Justin Katz, Ashley Berkowitz and Tanya
Hurd have tried this venture before, operating a 6,000-square-foot
warehouse space in East Oakland as Jingletown Gallery. Each
brings expertise to the proceedings: Berkowitz is vice president
of a local business management and consulting company. Katz,
who met Berkowitz when both were students at UC San Diego in
1991, has performed in cafes and on street corners around the
world and now belongs to the local group Rosin Covin. Katz's
Paradox Media company books and coordinates bands' touring itineraries.
Hurd's background ranges from ballet to community theater in
the Bronx: After she and Katz collaborated on a New York event,
she decided that 17 years of cold winters were enough.
"Justin and I were doing the same thing, except I was
doing it in New York," said Hurd. "We just joined
Taking the lessons of economy of scale (Epic's space is a manageable
three rooms) and separation of work and home, they hope to make
themselves part of what Katz is calling the "Ashby Arts
District," which could comprise Epic Arts, the new Transparent
Theater, the Black Repertory Theater, La Pena and more. Katz
noted that artistic organizations might be able to share the
costs of calendars and similar promotional outreach.
Epic Arts also will be a place for locals to study -- cello
with concert cellist Beth Vandervennet, and puppet-making and
puppeteering with Gitty Duncan and Mary Ellen Hill of Puppets
"We want to have programs for kids and be more accessible
to wider audiences," said Berkowitz. "You couldn't
get to Jingletown Gallery without a car."
"It's really great what Epic is doing," said puppeteer
Duncan, who also made the pillows for the new place. "It's
a good way to invite people who wouldn't ordinarily sign up
for arts classes, and for kids who don't have art in schools."
Duncan teaches art in the Oakland public school system and
is directly aware of how few schools can afford to offer art
Epic Arts will also assist blossoming artists by providing
an online grants directory and a computer and grant library
in its gallery. A teachers' exchange will allow educators to
trade ideas and methodologies.
Katz's wife, Carrie, and Duncan will also teach an art therapy
class in the fall, in which adults can make and confront "an
inner critic that they want to exorcise."
"For us, it's about people who are willing to collaborate
in community," said Berkowitz. "I've always been aware
of the bounty of creative energy around here."
Berkowitz said budding artists can submit ideas and projects
on the Epic Arts Web site (www.epicarts.org). "I want people
to see this as a resource but also as a place where they can
influence what's happening," he said.
El Cerrito Journal - originally published:
Feb. 14, 2003
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Concert to celebrate
'Ashby Arts District'
By Anukene Warda
The Berkeley band Rosin Coven and Moscow's world-renowned player
of the ancient domra, Alexander Tsygankov, will play a concert
this weekend at Transparent Theater to celebrate and introduce
the newly named Ashby Arts District.
The concert is a benefit to help promote and make official
an already active arts area, say organizers. Proceeds will go
to printing and distributing a community calendar. The advocates
of the arts district want to put together a newsletter that
will list all the visual and performing arts.
"An arts district would raise consciousness and enthusiasm
about the artistic community," said Justin Katz, program
director of Epic Arts, which initiated the process.
Black Repertory Theater, Epic Arts, La Peña, Nomad Café,
Starry Plough, The Jazz House, and Transparent Theater are all
within the district.
"We hope the whole area will collaborate, and engage as
wide an audience as possible," said Katz, who visualizes
an Ashby arts calendar that would keep neighbors informed of
performances and artists aware of each other.
"There is something going on every night, but most people
don't know about it," said Katz.
He hopes that as word spreads, more members of the community
will share their art, help others to do so, or simply enjoy
"It's an ideal place," said Ashby resident Michael
Caplan. "There is terrific public transportation in the
area, with AC Transit and BART."
Caplan was formerly the downtown coordinator and oversaw the
development of the Downtown Arts District.
"What is most encouraging about (the Ashby Arts District),"
he said, "is that it was not imposed by city planners,
but rather organized by the artists themselves."
And an art district could attract profit, they say. "The
sense of revitalization will draw restaurants, cafés,
and shops," said Caplan. Many neighbors are excited by
the picture being painted: a thriving community that revolves
"It's just a concept right now," said Caplan. "If
other neighbors come out and support, the idea would become
The Berkeley Voice - originally published
Aug. 01, 2003
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Why Theater Perseveres
Three new works give the lie to the notion that it's a moribund
BY LISA DROSTOVA
Storyteller Tim Barsky's new collection of pieces, on the
other hand, which premiered at Berkeley's intimate Epic Arts
performance space and moves over to the Exit in San Francisco
this month, is anything but bland. Traditional storytelling
does something different with rhythm, ideally making even the
most mundane story sing with mystery. Barsky is here to prove
it with Over Nine Waves, which fuses ancient storytelling techniques
with contemporary issues, hip-hop, and unusual sounds. Barsky,
who recently did the music for Shotgun's Oedipus Rex, is back
on familiar ground with a selection of old and new stories backed
up by the surprising and exotic combination of cello, hand drum,
bass guitar, flute, and beatbox. It doesn't sound like it's
going to work, phrased that way, but it totally does; the end
result is lush, tender, and haunting.
Barsky brings four pieces: a short, character-laden traditional
West African Anansi the Spider story, two tales of social activism,
and finally the complex 2,100-year-old Irish love story of Midr
and Eideen. He manages a seamless blending of sources and sounds
which somehow retain a feeling of antiquity while taking place
in subways and cities. Barsky's lions carry pagers and his bees
drink soy lattes; an eleven-year-old neighbor turns briefly
into a cop-eating demon and a handsome prince rides by his beloved
on horseback as she heads to the Laundromat.
All of the musicians working with Barsky do exemplary, subtle
work, but one stands out for sheer bravura. Process, who quietly
plays along during the first three stories, warms up the crowd
after intermission with a description-defying display of beatbox
talent, from replicating Rob Bass' "It Takes Two"
and classic Salt 'n' Pepa to dropping drum and bass breaks,
which should be physically impossible. Barsky also beatboxes
-- into his flute -- to startling effect, while cellist Jess
Ivry and bassist/percussionist Shree Shyam lay down smooth,
Sliding effortlessly from a group of bystanders who end up
in jail in the course of monitoring police activity ("You
went out for the crack dealers and came back with four white
activists?" one cop asks disbelievingly of another) and
a kindergarten teacher caught up in the Seattle WTO protests
to a story of "the love you don't dream of as an adult,"
replete with blood magicians, curses, and women turning into
butterflies, Barsky's Over Nine Waves is not only a new force
in theater, but sophisticated, impassioned storytelling at its
East Bay Express - originally published June
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