ArtsEmerson artistic director goes online for arts fix amid pandemic

When David Dower arrived at ArtsEmerson in 2012, the new artistic director and his team set about building a 21st century cultural institution from scratch. Their mission was to “put the world on stage” and they wanted their audience to reflect the diversity of their programming and the city.

A year ago, ArtsEmerson unveiled its 10th anniversary season including the world premiere of “Detroit Red” (the story of Malcolm X’s experiences as a young man in Boston), the U.S. premiere of “Plata Quemada” (the true story of Argentina’s most daring bank heist) and returning favorites and more debuts featuring companies from Iceland and Australia, a gospel-to-soul-to-EDM interpretation of Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” and a reimagining of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” from South Africa’s Isango Ensemble.

Sadly, a chunk of the season had to be canceled or rescheduled. But the mission continues — Dower and executive director David C. Howse have been engaged in frank, public conversations about systematic racism in the United States.

As part of our ongoing series about what arts leaders are doing now (check bostonherald.com/entertainment to read installments featuring luminaries at the Boston Pops, Boston Ballet, American Repertory Theater and more), Dower talks about art on digital platforms and staying put for a few months.

Cable news rage and HBO relaxation

“My equivalent of beach reading is bingeing on breezy, feel-good shows like ‘Insecure’ and ‘Upload,’” Dower said. “The most recent favorite in this particular form of escapism is the offbeat HBO series ‘Betty.’ And I couldn’t take my eyes off of ‘I Know This Much Is True.’” But Dower says his wife would answer the question “What is David watching?” by announcing he’s addicted to cable news. “It’s just impossible to turn it off right now,” he said. “I try to limit consumption to when I’m on my rower in the morning, ‘rage rowing,’ I call it, and right before bedtime.”

Art endures online

Dower has been following artists’ experimentations on the web and has been impressed.

“Seeing the Needham-based Arlekin Players’ live online performance of ‘State versus Natasha Banina’ was a rewarding discovery in that vein,” he said. “I’d seen the work live in their home theater and was struck by how intimate and urgent the Zoom format made the experience. And Darya Denisova’s performance is a disarming mix of brave, moving and funny.”

JUNE 29, 2020 – Dancers from the Alonzo King Lines Ballet company, which offers online performances. Photo by Chris Hardy, from linesballet.org

He’s also enjoyed Richard Nelson’s “What Do We Need to Talk About?”’ and has been watching and rewatching the “spirit-cleansing” short videos from Alonzo King Lines Ballet’s “There is No Standing Still.”

Happy(ish) at home

“Working from home has suited me, surprisingly,” he said. In his role at ArtsEmerson, he spent the few weeks before the shutdown traveling to Chile, Argentina, San Francisco and New York (twice). Since then he’s been rowing, walking and working from his back porch. “I haven’t missed trains, planes or automobiles in the least,” he said.

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