Photo courtesy of The Guerrilla Girls (<a href="http://GuerrillaGirls.com" target="_blank">GuerrillaGirls.com</a>)

The most-famous work by the Guerrilla Girls is simple and direct, asking: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”

The pointed text of the 1989 poster continues: “Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”

That work is more than a quarter-century old, but the Guerrilla Girls have updated it over the years – with the results just as discouraging. The 2011 version states that women represent 4 percent of the artists in the modern-art sections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art but 76 percent of the nudes.

The work gets more complex as one considers it.

Composer Cheryl Leonard

Claire Kovacs is in her third year as director of the Augustana Teaching Museum of Art, and she said that from the outset she needed to answer one question.

“One of the things that I’ve been thinking about since the moment that I even considered coming to Augustana,” she said, “was ‘What is the purpose of an art museum when the Figge is across the river?’”

The answer can be seen this month in a pair of free public events: the Guerrilla Girls’ January 18 lecture in Centennial Hall, and the January 11 performance collaboration of visual artist Oona Stern and composer Cheryl Leonard in Wallenberg Hall.

Debo Balogun and Keenan Odenkirk in Othello

As an Augustana alum of so many years, I was excited to see the opening of the new Brunner Theatre Center on the Augie campus, and especially excited to see its current Othello under the direction of Jeff Coussens. The new theatre facility did not disappoint, and scenic and lighting designers Andy Gutshall and Adam Pfluger, respectively, created a memorable space for the production – minimally designed, yet replete with authentic Arabic graffiti and evocatively low, blue lighting.

"There's a hole in the world like a great black pit, and it's filled with people who are filled with shit. And the vermin of the world inhabit it, and it goes by the name of London."

No lyrics better summed up the setting for a musical than these particular lines from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Augustana College's latest production delivers in filling the Potter Theatre with the polluted gloom and human hell that was 1840s London.

Megan Hammerer and Samuel Langellier in Getting Out, photo courtesy of the Augustana Photo BureauAugustana College’s Getting Out, directed by Jeff Coussens, is the story of one woman’s difficulties in reconstructing her life after being released from prison, and author Marsha Norman’s 1978 play is a brilliant depiction of life's realities for a woman who has been caught in a cycle of violence, beginning with abuse as a child. Although she served her time in prison and has been released, she now has the real “getting out” to do – getting out of her own psychological hell.

Debo Balogun and Christine Broughton in MachinalAt this time of the year, many people enjoy celebrating Halloween by being creeped out of their minds. Some enjoy cheesy slasher movies while others like to binge on The Walking Dead, and some religiously attend local spook houses such as Rock Island's Skellington Manor. Yet the most haunting, and even the creepiest, experience I have had in a long time happened at Augustana College's latest theatrical exploration of social justice: Machinal.

George Strader, Andrew King, and Patrick Adamson"Is that ahi tuna?"

"No. It's a-ha tuna. This is a comedy interview."

So went a not-atypical exchange during my recent conversation with area comedians George Strader, Patrick Adamson, and Andrew King. (It was George who asked about the tuna and Patrick who ordered it. If you were wondering, Andrew had a burger.) But while the jokes and laughs tended to come fast and furious during our chat, there was one thing this trio was dead-serious about: The Quad Cities' comedy scene has, since the beginning of this decade, been enjoying a pretty dramatic renaissance. A pretty inspiring one, too.

It was difficult to go into Saturday's performance of New Ground Theatre's The Way West without high expectations given the cast of women involved. I've enjoyed all four of them in the past and was certain I'd be impressed yet again, and by the end of the night, my respect for their talents was mostly renewed due to each one's admirable characterization.

Jessica Holzknecht, Rowan Crow, and Keenan Odenkirk in As You Like It; photo courtesy of Augustana Photo Bureau/Nadia Panasky '17Director Jennifer Popple's decision to set her Augustana College production of As You Like It in the 1960s is one of the most appropriate changes in time-setting for theatrical material I've yet witnessed. Such shifts sometimes seem gimmicky, or are better in concept than execution, but here it works, and works well.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Promise Land seems to invite preconceptions.

First, there's the white kitty hanging perilously from a rope on the book cover, cheekily recalling the famous "Hang in There" inspirational poster.

Then there's the subtitle: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture.

Flip to the first page of prologue. The book opens: "Ten years ago, I tagged along with my father to a weekend conference on how to write self-help books." Yes, it really was a self-help retreat for self-help-guru wannabes.

From those elements, you might expect an arch, cynical take-down of a movement and the industry that feeds it (or feeds off it).

Lamb-Shapiro will be the January 27 guest in the River Readings at Augustana series, and you're hereby advised to not judge this book by its cover or its opening sentence. It's so much richer than that.

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