Elizabeth Blair

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.

Blair produces, edits, and reports arts and cultural segments for NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. In this position, she has reported on a range of topics from arts funding to the MeToo movement. She has profiled renowned artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Mikhail Baryshnikov, explored how old women are represented in fairy tales, and reported the origins of the children's classic Curious George. Among her all-time favorite interviews are actors Octavia Spencer and Andy Serkis, comedians Bill Burr and Hari Kondabolu, the rapper K'Naan, and Cookie Monster (in character).

Blair has overseen several, large-scale series including The NPR 100, which explored landmark musical works of the 20th Century, and In Character, which probed the origins of iconic American fictional characters. Along with her colleagues on the Arts Desk and at NPR Music, Blair curated American Anthem, a major series exploring the origins of songs that uplift, rouse, and unite people around a common theme.

Blair's work has received several honors, including two Peabody Awards and a Gracie. She previously lived in Paris, France, where she co-produced Le Jazz Club From Paris with Dee Dee Bridgewater, and the monthly magazine Postcard From Paris.

Saturday Night Live and The Second City comedy enterprises have announced the recipients of a new training scholarship for diverse, emerging talent. From a pool of some 1,300 applicants, four up and coming comedians were selected: Alexi Bolden, Gabriella "Gabi" Castillo, Kaili Turner and Morgan Van Dyne. The scholarships will cover all of their performance and writing training at Second City and give them access to SNL talent executives.

The annual Kennedy Center Honorees have been announced: choreographer, and actress Debbie Allen; singer-songwriter and activist Joan Baez; country singer-songwriter Garth Brooks; violinist Midori; and actor Dick Van Dyke.

Arts and culture make up a huge, $877 billion industry that generates more than five million jobs across the country. But the amount of federal funding for the arts is tiny when compared with smaller industries like agriculture — so what are arts organizations hoping for under the Biden administration?

The creation of new Smithsonian museums dedicated to Latinos and women can now move forward. Earlier this month, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) was the lone vote blocking legislation, saying "separate-but-equal museums" would "further divide an already divided nation." Supporters of both museums quickly moved to ensure the museums would be included in the $900 billion year-end spending package which was passed by Congress on Monday and now heads to President Trump's desk.

Fifty years ago, a simple but tragic love story became a global sensation that stunned the entertainment industry. Love Story, the romantic tearjerker starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw, broke box office records and the book it was based on was a bestseller that was translated into more than 30 languages.

"What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who dies?" So begins the novel and screenplay, both written by Erich Segal.

In a move that infuriated supporters of museums to be dedicated to Latinos and women on the National Mall, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah blocked legislation Thursday that would lead to the creation of both.

"The last thing we need," Lee said, "is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups."

It's Pitch Perfect meets March Madness.

Well, almost.

The competition might lack the drama, stage fright and screaming fans of a live singing competition, but hundreds of collegiate a cappella groups from across the country submitted their best videos for the UpStaged National Collegiate Performing Arts A Cappella Championship.

Organizers announce the final four teams heading into a championship round Wednesday:

The largest and most influential arts advocacy and service organization in the country has responded to sharp criticism over its lack of diversity and commitment to help arts groups lead by and for people of color. Americans For The Arts (which is also one of NPR's financial supporters) conceded that the steps they've taken towards "racial and cultural equity" "have not been enough."

AFTA serves the arts sector in a variety of ways including lobbying Congress, conducting surveys of the sector, training, panels and the like.

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has resulted in cultural institutions around the country closing, some just a few months after reopening to the public. Today, the Smithsonian announced that seven museums and the National Zoo will close beginning Monday, November 23rd due to the rise in positive cases both in the Washington, D.C. region and nationally. Thanksgiving weekend is typically one of the Smithsonian's busiest times of year.

Jigsaw puzzles have become such a favorite pandemic pastime, retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock. "There's a global shortage of puzzles actually," says Brian Way, co-owner of the online retailer Puzzle Warehouse. "There's not a factory on the planet that is not months behind on production."

Don't underestimate the power of doodling. In a democracy, Mo Willems says, "voting is a lot like doodling. It's a form of self-expression, and you discover sort of who you really are as you do it." On Election Day (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT) on the Kennedy Center's website, Willems will encourage self-expression for anyone who tunes in to Democracy Doodle 2020, regardless of age or political persuasion.

Five landscape architects unveiled proposals Wednesday to save the sinking Tidal Basin on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The plans run the gamut from a conservative approach to radical reimaginings.

The Tidal Basin connects centuries of American history and includes memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. Some 1.5 million people walk along the basin's rim during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival each spring. But with increased car and foot traffic, the ground underneath is dipping. As sea levels rise, the walkways flood daily.

When Irving Berlin's Oscar-nominated movie musical Top Hat entered the National Film Registry, the Library of Congress wrote "This effervescent musical proved the perfect tonic for Depression-era audiences." 85 years later, a mesmerizing, modern rendition of one of its dance numbers could be seen as a "pandemic-era" tonic for today's audiences.

Riva Lehrer is a painter who reimagines "socially challenged" bodies with often fantastical imagery. John Lee Clark, a DeafBlind poet, is a leader in the Protactile movement, a language that communicates through touch.

The Smithsonian Institution has announced that poet Kevin Young will be the next director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. With more than 37,000 objects, the NMAAHC in Washington, D.C., is the largest center dedicated to the African American experience in the country. Young succeeds the museum's founding director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, who was named secretary of the Smithsonian in 2019.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Concert halls and theaters are taking baby steps to reopen. The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., held its first in-person concert, A Time to Sing: An Evening with Renee Fleming and Vanessa Williams. NPR's Elizabeth Blair was there and has this postcard.

Sometimes humans struggle to find the words to convey the sheer depth of their love for one another. Leave it to Sam McBratney's Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare in Guess How Much I Love You to show us the way.

They love each other as high as they can hop, they love each other across the river and over the hills, and finally, all the way up to the sky.

McBratney died at his home in County Antrim, Northern Ireland surrounded by family on September 18, according to his publisher, Walker Books. He was 77. No cause of death was given.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

No state escapes unscathed in Colin Quinn's new book: Vermont is "The Old Hippie"; Florida is "The Hot Mess"; in Wisconsin, "The Diet Starts Tomorrow." Even Quinn's beloved home state of New York is "The quiet state with the city that never shuts up."

As a veteran stand-up comedian, Quinn has spent more than a couple of decades on the road, performing in 47 out of the 50 states he now affectionately eviscerates in Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States.

The trippy new Hulu comedy Woke is what you might get if you mixed the satire in the movie Get Out with a psychedelic Sesame Street for adults. An African American cartoonist, played by Lamorne Morris, is deeply conflicted over just how engaged with social issues his art should be. Talking objects like a malt malt liquor bottles voiced by Nicole Byer and Eddie Griffin mess with his head. Punctuating the show's brainy humor is a soundtrack that includes hip hop, R&B, punk and folk.

Burning Man — the dazzling, days-long, annual arts and lovefest drawing 70,000 to the dusty Nevada desert — was cancelled this year. But organizers are trying to capture the quintessential, communal arts experience online.

For this year's theme, Multiverse, teams have created 2D and 3D virtual experiences. The program runs Aug. 30-Sept. 6.

Most of us can't travel overseas right now but we can at least be aurally transported by way of music. Ten vocal ensembles whose members come from 15 different countries will perform in a new, weeklong festival called Vox Virtual beginning August 22nd. They include ANÚNA from Ireland, Insingizi from Zimbabwe, Ensemble Rustavi from Georgia, and Cantus from the U.S.

Media titan Sumner Redstone, who built the company Viacom into a global empire, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97. Through shrewd investing and strategic deal-making, Redstone became one of the world's most powerful and unpredictable corporate leaders.

The pandas in D.C., the grizzlies in Oakland, the gorillas in the Bronx are all getting reacquainted with human visitors. As of a month and a half ago, the pandemic had forced 90% of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' members to close. Today, the AZA reports, about 80% of them have reopened.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., opens its gates to the public for the first time in 19 weeks on Friday — and this week, I was one of the lucky few humans allowed in for a preview.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

In 1956, actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson said, "My father was a slave, and my people died to build this country and I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you." Now, Robeson's home — the Paul Robeson House & Museum in Philadelphia — will receive a grant to help immortalize its part in the nation's story.

Electrical engineer, robotics wiz, Mythbusters' cast member, Disney consultant, TV host and Hollywood animatronics designer Grant Imahara died Monday from a brain aneurysm. He was 49.

"We are heartbroken to hear this sad news about Grant," Discovery Channel wrote in a statement. "He was an important part of our Discovery family and a really wonderful man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Five years before the coronavirus pandemic, Bill Gates didn't mince words: "If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war," he said at the 2015 TED conference in Vancouver, Canada.

After longstanding criticism over its lack of diversity, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is continuing to invite more women and minorities to its membership.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is not letting the pandemic slow him down. The Roots drummer, DJ, author and entrepreneur is still performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, DJ'ing live on Instagram, and he and his Roots' bandmate Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter recently signed a production deal with NBC. As if that weren't enough, tonight he's hosting Questlove's Potluck, a virtual dinner party on the Food Network.

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