By Vickie Aldous: Mayor John Stromberg delivered a visionary State of the City address on Tuesday in which he said that Ashlanders are tending a flame of community and culture that is life-giving and life-affirming.

Mayor John Stromberg delivered a visionary State of the City address on Tuesday in which he said that Ashlanders are tending a flame of community and culture that is life-giving and life-affirming.

Ashland's mayor traditionally delivers a State of the City address in January that looks back on the prior year and offers a preview of the new year.

Stromberg did talk about the arts in his address, but his speech was, logically, focused on the affairs of city government as well as volunteerism in the community. His speech did get me thinking more about the state of the arts in Ashland, though.

As Stromberg pointed out, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had a record-setting year in 2009 for attendance and revenues despite the national recession.

I think OSF has an even more exciting selection of plays coming up for 2010, which bodes well for the arts and Ashland's economy. Of the 11 plays that are planned, my top picks are "Throne of Blood," a version of "Macbeth" set in feudal Japan; the Tennessee Williams' classic "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"; "American Night," the first play to come out of OSF's American Revolutions program that commissions plays about the nation's history; "Well," a comedy about healthcare and family dynamics; and "Ruined," a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about women's resilience during war.

2009 was not only a boom year for OSF, it marked a blossoming of public art in Ashland after residents, the Ashland Public Arts Commission and the Ashland City Council worked together to loosen restrictive sign code rules and adopt new paths for the installation of public art.

Artists painted drab green utility boxes around town with vibrant scenes that reflected Ashland. Brilliant orange poppies, graceful swans, an image of OSF's Elizabethan Stage and a whimsical scene of dogs and bikes were among the images painted on the boxes.

Artist Kevin Christman finally won approval to install his sculpture downtown of a crouching woman with angel wings tied to her back.

Tiles with images that support peace were installed in 2009 in front of the Ashland Public Library, with more to come as organizers continue to raise money.

Sadly, The Living Gallery closed downtown, but the cheerful Etienne Gallery opened on Fourth Street and Hanson Howard Gallery celebrated its 30th year in business.

The Ashland Gallery Association's annual "A Taste of Ashland" tour that pairs galleries with chefs and winemakers attracted crowds again in 2009.

The Ashland Film Festival continued its growth in 2009 by offering 94 films, with many showings selling out. Compared to OSF and its 75-year history, the film festival is a virtual baby. But when the ninth annual film festival begins in early April, few Ashlanders will doubt that it has become a major cultural attraction.

Tease, a small restaurant and bar downtown, emerged as an intimate living room of sorts for the arts in town. Among just some of the activities, artists gather there to draw from a live model, local songwriters have regular open mic performances and up-and-coming and established musicians come to play. On one June night, local winemakers taught patrons the intricacies of blending wine — even allowing them to mix their own concoctions.

Local artist and businesswoman Denise Baxter and her supporters have been working to remodel and transform a building downtown into the Ashland Art Center. The center is growing into a place for artists to display their work and learn business skills, while residents and tourists will be able to take art classes.

I've hardly scratched the surface of the state of the arts in Ashland, and had to leave out so many events and organizations. But that's just another sign that the arts are alive and thriving in Ashland.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and Tidings correspondent Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.