Remembering Art Melkonian

I first met Art a few years ago while I was researching Detroit area Armenian musicians for my film documentary, Guardians of Music. It was my friend Simon Javizian who was able to get my contact information and come to find out Art lived only ten minutes from my house.

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Art Melkonian and Ara in 2014.

Art was a self-taught clarinetist that loved Armenian music. He was well known as the clarinetist in the Detroit band called Arax. I had a great time chatting with him and then interviewing him for the film.

At times he got teary-eyed as he fondly remembered the past. A very humble man that couldn’t understand why I would produce a documentary on the music he played and he often asked me if anyone would really care about the past. He couldn’t have been further from the truth as this documentary gave many of these past musicians a new life and the respect they deserved.

I was very fortunate to have preserved his voice and image for generations to come and learn the passion these musicians had for our music. They were the unsung heros, most not formally trained, played for the joy of it – never the money. Well…one time money was an issue. I love the story Art told me about how the Arax Band almost got on the Ed Sullivan Show. This was not long after they released a hit 45rpm record called Harem Dance (aka Shish Kebab). They were on the charts as a best selling song and Sullivan wanted the band to go on the show. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on the money and their national television spotlight disappeared.

Bless Art and his love for the music. A generous man and from what others have told me – a great husband, father and all around – gentle man. May his memory last in our hearts forever. Art passed on September 15, 2018.

If you are interested in purchasing a DVD of Guardians of Music to see Art and the other musicians, click here. 

To read Art’s obituary, please click here.

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Thoughts from Arts Midwest 2018

A few weeks ago I was given a great opportunity to travel Indianapolis for the annual Arts Midwest conference. Thanks to John Bracey, Executive Director (soon to be retiring – congrats again!) from Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) for encouraging me to attend as both a council member and an artist. Fabulous experience!

41330065_2018119471584795_7299413321755656192_n.jpgNot only was I am able to get to know some of our fellow council members better, but the awesome MCACA team that clearly demonstrate their passion for the arts and culture community. Thanks guys – I had a blast! 🙂

First off, what a city! Indianapolis is practically all connected – buildings, roads, etc. Beautiful city, clean and well connected to the arts.

The conference itself included performers, agencies representing those artists, state arts

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Alash, the acknowledged masters of traditional Tuvan instruments and the ancient art of throat singing team up with beat-boxer extraordinaire Shodekeh to perform an ultra groovy fusion of classic world music and the sophisticated sounds of one of the countries coolest beat boxers.

councils and art organizations. Seemed like close to a few thousand attendees. Well organized and thanks to the MCACA team, I met a lot of people. You can clearly see the power of all of these groups and the dedication many of these organizations have in presenting art to the community.

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Great to run into Ron Malley, oudist and producer that was exhibiting at Arts Midwest this year.

In the evening, performances had an opportunity to “showcase” their talents. Some were spoken word speakers, musicians and even…wait for it….magicians. Clearly I had more interest in the musicians and I was pleasantly surprised to see that whenever world music artists performed – the room was filled. That says much for international music and very encouraging!

I want to thank all the organizers of Arts Midwest and for the city of Indianapolis for being such a great host venue.

For more information on this conference and the organization, click here.

 

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2018 Kresge Artist Fellows Announced

Each year I eagerly await the announcement of the Kresge Artist Fellows. I am always impressed by the winners and their artistry. As a musician, I feel proud to be part of such a group of artists but more importantly Equally amazing is the abundance of talent that exists in Detroit.

For the 10th anniversary, I was chosen to be a panelist to judge over 400 applications and narrow them down to the Film and Music winners that are part of the Kresge family of fellows. A process which took several months.

The winners can be found by clicking here.

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Photographer: Noah Stephens Front Row: Michelle May, Thornetta Davis, Rober B. Jones, Sr., Alex Way Second Row: Ben Corona, Julia Yezbick Third Row: Ahya Simone, David Binder, Toni Cunningham

Whereas I can’t go into details on the process, I will tell you that our artist community is sound and growing. We have no shortage of talent in any of the artistic disciplines and that is a head rush! We are fortunate to have such great creators of music, dance, film, etc. Perhaps once known as a profession for only hobbyists, being an artist takes discipline, imagination, attitude, and guts.

Within the Film and Music applications, it was refreshing to see such an array of artists that clearly demonstrate passion for their work. To narrow down hundreds of applicants to a small handful was a daunting task. In the end, our panel had the task of discussing and choosing the artists that would not only take home $25,000 but obtain the title of 2018 Kresge Artist Fellow.

Thanks to Christina deRoos and her team at Kresge Artist Detroit for their guidance and process. Special thanks to the panelists I had the honor to work with in this process. All very talent artists in their own right. Juanita, Regina, Wayne and Rashaad demonstrated their passion throughout this process.

2018 Kresge Artist Fellow panelists I served with included: Juanita Anderson, Filmmaker; Film Producer; Regina Carter, Composer; Musician; Wayne Horvitz, Composer; Musician; Rashaad Newsome, Multidisciplinary Artist

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Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – Armenia

Tony has a coffee with Richard Giragosian, the director of a think tank, the Regional Studies Center on the Casacade Steps looking over Yerevan. PHOTO BY JOSH FERRELL

If you haven’t heard about the recent episode of Anthony Bourdain traveling to Armenia as part of his series Parts Unknown, you have most likely been living under a rock for the last month. I have to admit I have not watched much of the Bourdain series, but this past Sunday night I watched his travels to Armenia. Sure, we could all be critical about what we saw, afterall – Armenia is a passion for anyone that is Armenian and we have our thoughts on what needs to be portrayed.  However, the reality is that this was an excellent episode with a lot of detail packed into less than an hour for television. Special kudos for referring to the massacres as a Genocide within the first few minutes of the episode.

I want to thank Mr. Bourdain, CNN, and all that were involved in putting this together. The other reality is that we as Armenians should be grateful for whenever a documentary or television episode features Armenia and Armenians. In the last five years, we have been fortunate to get the wide amount of coverage from a major motion picture like The Promise to documentaries They Shall Not Perish.

Here are some great behind the scenes information included by Mr. Bourdain published:

The Perfect Day in Yerevan
Parts Unknown Fan Recap: Armenia
Anthony Bourdain’s Field Notes with videos

Watch the full episode:

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Latest Michigan Nonprofit report shows impact of arts organizations have on economy

I have long been an advocate for the arts both on a local and national basis. The arts plays such a vital role in so many categories – education, child development, jobs, and economic impact.

Currently, I am involved with Creative Many Michigan (CMM) as a board member. As a statewide organization, CMM helps develops creative people, creative places and the creative economy for a competitive Michigan through research, advocacy, professional practice and communications.

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Recently, CMM released a nonprofit report, the seventh edition of this report. In Michigan, the nonprofit organizations account for 16% of this sector which is over 400 nonprofits.

Some of the highlights in this report, by the numbers:

  • 4,142,197 school children experienced arts and cultural venues and events – a 14% increase over the prior year. A total of 73,694 students were served by 3,941 reported arts education programs in schools.
  • Organizations paid $291,243,968 in salaries, payroll taxes and fringe benefits, supporting 25,144 jobs – a 4.3% increase in total compensation. Unfortunately, this was a slight decrease from previous year but these are real jobs in Michigan!
  •  Arts and cultural destinations generated 12.6% of Michigan’s leisure travel spending in 2016.

Those that know me, also know the strong passion I have for the nonprofit community. I have worked most of my professional career in the nonprofit arena and as a chamber of commerce executive, we have one of the stronger non profit networks in the county. The network is in place so that we can assist them and so that they can rally amongst themselves for assistance. Annually, Troy Chamber of Commerce hosts a Nonprofit Management Conference that helps educate our members so that they can help their organizations increase their potential within the community.

You can view the entire report by clicking here.

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Armenian Music in Hartland, MI

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to perform Armenian and Middle Eastern music in Hartland, Michigan. This is a small community with under 15,000 people and not richly diverse, but a community that wants to embrace diversity.

The Cromaine District Library had me come out to talk and play music as part of their Livingston Reads 2018 initiative and specifically the book Murder On The Orient Express.

I was joined by musician friend Tom Zakarian on guitar.

It was a small, but engaged audience. Most of the library patrons asked questions which I enjoy the gratification I get from doing these performances is the feedback afterward. I had a couple of people come up to me to let me know that it was intriguing enough for them to research and learn more about the Armenian Genocide. This could be the greatest compliment because I hope that by performing and talking about my experiences with music and background, that it will help educate others about my rich Armenian history.

 

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Documentary and presentation on Armenian Genocide in Detroit

3g03173u-1574.jpg SHALL NOT PERISH

The Story of Near East Relief

and

The Near East Foundation

Documentary and Presentation

The documentary details the unprecedented humanitarian efforts of thousands of Americans who saved a generation of refugees and orphans in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide.

 The Near East Foundation continues its philanthropic work today in Armenia, Israel, and the Middle East.

 

ANCA-Mardirossian Shant Mardirossian (Board Member of the Near East Foundation, Guest Presenter)

 Saturday, March 10, 2018

Two showings – 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Lawrence Technological University

hosted by the

Armenian Churches of Greater Detroit Genocide Commemoration Committee

St. John Armenian Church

St. Sarkis Armenian Church

St. Vartan Armenian Catholic Church

Armenian Congregational Church

Additional details are forthcoming

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