In memory of Marianne Goldberg: A candlelit performing arts farewell

Jesse Keller dancing to piece by Marianne Goldberg: Unfurling/To Inhabit Together. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

A great patron of the arts, such as Lorenzo de Medici (1449 – 1492) in Florence, can provide a base of operations for artists to create together, inspire one another, and, as a force combined with others, birth an era known as the Renaissance. A smaller but similarly vital renaissance may take place whenever a philanthropically inclined patron embraces a clutch of artistically talented people, and gives them a gathering space, performance opportunities, and encouragement to develop new works. Thus has the late Marianne Goldberg of Manhattan and Chilmark, founder of the iconic Pathways Projects Institute, forged a mini-golden age on Martha’s Vineyard. Ms. Goldberg died on the winter solstice, and her legacy and life were celebrated this past Sunday evening at the Chilmark Community Center.

When the guests arrived, it was clear the old Marianne magic had transformed the normally utilitarian hall. Lights were dim, and long tables flowed with soft textiles, arrays of sea glass, and low candles. On stage, two massive bouquets of apricot-colored lights were draped with soft orange baffles of gauze. The gifted violinist Atzik Marquez teased sad strains from his instrument until at last a faint melody emerged as “Amazing Grace.” David Stanwood plucked at the strings of his piano, while composer Dean Rosenthal coaxed soft tolls from buoy bells suspended from a thick branch. Carole Vandal blew a mournful Indian flute.

Pathways staffer Scott Crawford read Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and Rabbi Caryn Broitman added her blessings: “Looking around this room, we get a sense of what Marianne wanted.” Readers Niki Patton, Barbara Peckham, Claudia Taylor, and Natasha Taylor read from Ms. Goldberg’s poem “To Inhabit Together,” with the stunning opening passage, “We inhabit together this prow of delicately laced island/ that coheres, rather than becoming archipelago.”

Marianne Goldberg achieved this cohesion by founding the Pathways Gathering Space in the Chilmark Tavern, where artistic events transpired two or three times a week from early December to mid-April. At the end of each season, a roster of financial honoraria was dispensed to participating artists to pursue new works.

Newcomers to the tavern would invariably be amazed that such a place existed. After that endless ride down all the lonely dark Vineyard lanes, with not a soul at any of the deserted crossroads, at last one comes upon the Tavern. Soft lights glow through the windows, inside tables are draped with white linen and candles, new displays of photographs and paintings grace the walls, while at the bar, wine or sparkling water is served, with a hot pot of cider nearby, and platters of cheese and crackers and other assorted snacks are at the ready.

Some evenings are devoted to poets and prose writers, others to dance and choreography — Ms. Goldberg’s chief passions — some to music, some to filmmakers or painters or photographers, and arguably the finest events are those that toss it all together like a caprese salad, such as the “Arts & Scripts” night on Jan. 22, when Tony Tobia presented a new piano solo in progress, Jackie Kane aired a project she’s calling a “video postcard,” and other writers and artists stood and delivered.

It was the kind of interdisciplinary evening Marianne Goldberg had dreamed of ever since she was a child; the kind of coming together of different art forms where, without even knowing why or how, the consciousness in the room is raised, and all go forward rewired and renewed.

At Ms. Goldberg’s memorial, dancer Jesse Keller, trailing clouds of orange silk, exhibited a piece from Ms. Goldberg’s epic dance “Unfurling.” Marianne’s sisters Donna and Susie Goldberg spoke of their growing-up years in Winnetka, an upscale suburb of Chicago, and of the creative opportunities fostered by their parents. They traveled often, with an emphasis on nature, with hikes in the wilderness and camping trips galore. As a young woman, Marianne moved to California and continued her romps into the mountains, her sister Donna reporting that she loved to dive into freezing waters.

Ms. Goldberg’s spirit of adventure led her to train as a dancer and a choreographer, in university settings and in the real world. “Marianne dreamed big,” Mr. Crawford declared, stretching his arms wide. He described how she might request decorations for an event, charging her staff to come up with a purple sunset, billowing clouds, and something along the lines of a herd of wildebeests. Once the visionary leader learned these elements weren’t readily available, they would come up with whatever could at least point at her ideal. Mr. Crawford said, “Her favorite line came from Carl Sandburg: ‘Nothing happens unless first a dream.’”

As close associates of Ms. Goldberg shared poems, stories, and songs — Kanta Lipsky, Richard Skidmore, Peter Simon, Rick Radilla, Christy Ann Brown, Ann Smith, Ellie Bates, Betty Martin, and Bob McLean — a few tidbits were gleaned about the woman’s wilder traits: She had an infectious laugh, she worshipped Paul McCartney and kept pictures of him around her studio, and once as a young woman, strapped for money, she took a job on the California coast in a Brussels sprouts processing facility.

The program was followed by that CCC specialty, a grand potluck buffet laid out on a long table, with soft lights continuing to set the wistful mood, with music by Andy Herr and others.

The Pathways winter season will continue this year under the direction of Mr. Crawford and Keren Tonnesen, with future plans to be announced.

Finally, this poem, composed in Marianne’s honor by Chilmark artist Betty Martin, catches the special essence of the Pathways patron and her profound love of the ocean:

Clay Spire — On the Edge

Maybe it was … So many shades of blues

Those ever changing hues

Laced with lilac wispy pinks and

Thunderous slates

With the seas’ own rhythm leading

Those painted skies full bleeding

Slowly … into ink salt night and stars inhaled

Dawns entering your eyes

All painted into you

Maybe it was the gulls’ curving glide

The wind moving like dancers

That gave you cause to strive

Gracing Art’s breadth

And depth into

Blooming while you held a silver trowel

So lightly with small smile

Like a mother of

More than most could be