Elizabeth Blair

Elizabeth Blair is a Senior Producer/Reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.

On a daily basis, she produces, edits and reports arts and cultural segments that air on NPR News magazines including Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Her recent stories explored the rise of public humiliation in popular culture, consumers' changing media habits and the intersection of the arts and education.

In this position that she has held since 2003, Blair's varied work has included profiles of actor Neil Patrick Harris, rapper K'Naan, and the band Pearl Jam. She has written and produced long-form documentaries on such cultural icons as Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday. Blair oversaw the production of some of NPR's most popular special projects including "50 Great Voices," the NPR series on awe-inspiring voices from around the world and across time in, and the "In Character" series which explored famous American fictional characters.

Over the years, Blair has received several honors for her work including two Peabody Awards and a Gracie.

For three and a half years, Blair lived in Paris, France, where she co-produced Le Jazz Club From Paris with Dee Dee Bridgewater, and the monthly magazine Postcard From Paris.

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Remembrances
4:10 pm
Fri February 14, 2014

Shirley Temple And Bojangles: Two Stars, One Lifelong Friendship

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Shirley Temple perform their famous stair dance in the 1935 film The Little Colonel.
AP

Originally published on Fri February 14, 2014 6:18 pm

When Shirley Temple Black died earlier this week, many of the tributes mentioned one of the most iconic scenes in American movie history: the staircase dance that Temple performed with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the 1935 movie The Little Colonel. They were the first interracial couple to dance onscreen. But their partnership was more than just a movie milestone.

He was in his 50s. She was 6. He called her darlin'; she called him Uncle Billy.

Robinson taught Temple his joyful, elegant tap-dancing routines. She thought he was the perfect partner.

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Pop Culture
8:20 am
Sat February 8, 2014

For Top-Flight Animators, The Gag Is An Art All Its Own

Originally published on Sat February 8, 2014 10:05 am

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Lego Movie opened last night in theaters across the country. It's latest example of the magic of animation, filmmakers who bring plastic to life, make animals talk and send toys singing and dancing across a big screen. But animators also love to hurl our most beloved characters over cliffs. They blow them up with dynamite, flatten them with speeding trains. Seconds later, they pop back up and dust themselves off.

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Remembrances
5:06 pm
Sun February 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman: An 'Uncanny' Actor Of Stage And Screen

Hoffman (left) and Eddie Marsan, in a scene from the film God's Pocket, released in January.
Lance Acord AP

Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 12:53 pm

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on Sunday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46.

Hoffman was steeped in his profession — in film, on stage, in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

In 2005, he won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote. The movie focuses on Capote's interviews with two murderers on death row for his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood.

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Business
2:27 pm
Fri January 24, 2014

In The Super Bowl Ad Game, One Small Business Will Win Big

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 6:55 pm

Super Bowl suspense is building — for the game and the commercials. With an audience of over 100 million people, advertisers covet this space, but at a reported $4 million a spot, only the mightiest corporations can afford Super Bowl exposure. This year, though, there's an exception. One lucky little business will get one of those primo slots — free.

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Arts & Life
3:31 pm
Mon January 13, 2014

Foundations Keep Detroit Art Off The Auction Block

Originally published on Mon January 13, 2014 6:53 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

A federal bankruptcy judge in Detroit has mediated a deal that could potentially solve two of the city's biggest problems. The plan would raise money for retirees' pension funds and keep masterpieces from the Detroit Institute of Art from being auctioned off. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

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Arts & Life
1:20 am
Wed December 25, 2013

Detroit Needs Money. Can A 'Grand Bargain' Save The City's Art?

Gladioli, Claude Monet, ca. 1876, oil on canvas.
Detroit Institute of Arts

Originally published on Wed December 25, 2013 5:04 pm

Can wealthy art lovers help save Detroit's pension funds — and one of its museums?

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Number Of The Year
3:51 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Hollywood Holding On To Its Summer Love

This summer, movie studios were up to their necks in big-budget blockbusters, including Disney's The Lone Ranger, which ended up a huge bomb.
Peter Mountain Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 4:34 pm

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. Numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we're living in, right now. Over the next two weeks, you'll hear the stories behind these numbers, which range from zero to 1 trillion.

You can understand a lot about how Hollywood works if you understand the number 17. That's the number of big, super-expensive movies that came out in the May to July summer movie season. And only about 10 of them were solidly profitable.

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Movies
2:24 pm
Wed November 27, 2013

For Top-Flight Animators, The Gag Is An Art All Its Own

Frozen storyboard image.
Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Mon December 2, 2013 8:04 am

Watching a living creature slip, stumble, get squashed or just thwack an enemy can be a blast. Because as Charlie Chaplin said: "In the end, everything is a gag."

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Code Switch
2:47 pm
Mon November 25, 2013

What Do We Mean When We Talk About 'Latino Art'?

Radiante, Olga Albizu
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 4:42 pm

When the Whitney Museum of American Art announced the artists for its 2014 biennial, people took to the Internet to chime in about who's been included and who's been left out; the last biennial had been blasted for ignoring Latino artists. But when a new show opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum featuring only Latino artists — "Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art" — it was blasted for other reasons.

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Movies
3:06 pm
Fri November 1, 2013

The Dallas Cowboy Behind The Real 'Buyers Club'

Ron Woodroof holds a vial of Compound Q — a drug that, in 1989, the FDA hadn't evaluated. His Dallas Buyers Club, which acquired experimental AIDS treatments, is the subject of a new film in which Woodroof is portrayed by Matthew McConaughey.
Randy Eli Grothe Dallas Morning News/Corbis

Originally published on Fri November 1, 2013 4:49 pm

Feisty. Stubborn. A real cowboy. According to people who knew him, the real Ron Woodroof was very much like the character played by Matthew McConaughey in the new movie Dallas Buyers Club.

Bill Minutaglio — who wrote about Woodroof for The Dallas Morning News — describes him as "salty."

"I kinda liked him. He cursed like four sailors," says Minutaglio.

Chicago attorney Michael Cascino represented Woodroof in a case against the Food and Drug Administration.

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Arts & Life
1:15 am
Tue October 22, 2013

Charity Watchdog Shakes Up Ratings To Focus On Results

Dennis Chestnut stands next to a stretch of the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2. Chestnut, who has been working to clean up the Anacostia for decades, says it can take a long time for a nonprofit to see an end result.
Abbey Oldham NPR

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 8:29 am

There's one area of the economy that's growing faster than business or government.

According to the Urban Institute, in the 10 years between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. But most of them aren't very good at measuring their effectiveness — at least, that's the conclusion of the nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator, which rates thousands of nonprofits to help donors make decisions on their giving.

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Movies
1:23 am
Fri October 18, 2013

'Carrie' Had The Power, But Mom Had The Scary Going On

In Stephen King's novel and the film adaptations, Carrie (played by Sissy Spacek, left, in the 1976 version) is the one with the supernatural powers, but for NPR's Elizabeth Blair, Carrie's mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) was the truly scary character.
United Artists/The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 10:23 am

Just in time for Halloween comes a new movie version of Stephen King's horror novel Carrie. While the teenaged Carrie White is clearly at the center of the story, I think her mother is the more fascinating character.

Carrie — about a shy misfit whose coming of age collides with her mother's fearful religious fundamentalism and her schoolmates' pack-animal cruelty, with combustible results — scared the bejesus out of me when I was a teenager. Carrie turned out to be dangerous, sure. But it was her mother, Margaret White, who made my heart stop.

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Arts & Life
3:21 pm
Tue October 1, 2013

Congressional Impasse Leaves Museums Empty, Monuments Shut

Shutdown signs have been posted at the National Museum of American History and other Smithsonian Institution museums, which will remain closed as long as the government is.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Tue October 1, 2013 4:38 pm

Federal bureaucracies aren't the only ones scaling back operations during the government shutdown. It's also meant that kids couldn't take field trips to the Smithsonian.

In fact most of the popular Washington attractions funded by the government are closed. That includes the Smithsonian's 19 museums and the National Zoo, plus Ford's Theatre and the National Gallery of Art.

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Movies
4:12 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Disney Experiments With 2-Screen Experience Involves iPads

Originally published on Tue September 24, 2013 3:35 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I don't know about you, but I'm a little troubled when I hear about people who watch multiple screens. You know what I'm talking about. Maybe you're watching a movie at home while live tweeting, or while keeping track at a ballgame. At least movie theaters are a sacred space, immune to these changes.

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Business
4:42 am
Wed September 4, 2013

Latino Buying Power Gets Movie Studios' Attention

Instructions Not Included, a film starring and directed by Eugenio Derbez, was made specifically for a Mexican and U.S. Latino audience.
Pantelion Films

Originally published on Wed September 4, 2013 9:12 am

One of the surprise movie hits this past weekend was almost entirely in Spanish. Instructions Not Included made an enormous amount of money per screen, more than $22,000, playing in fewer than 350 theaters. The boys in One Direction had the number one film, but they pulled in less than $6000 per screen. That's a huge victory for star Eugenio Derbez, a household name in Mexico, and for Pantelion films, which has been trying to find a Spanish-language hit in the U.S. film market for a few years now.

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Keys To The Whole World: American Public Libraries
3:41 am
Sun September 1, 2013

With Modern Makeovers, America's Libraries Are Branching Out

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., has opened a Digital Commons that features rows of desktop computers, portable electronic devices and even a 3D printer.
DC Public Library/The Freelon Group

Originally published on Sun September 8, 2013 1:58 pm

It's not exactly a building boom, but several public libraries around the country are getting makeovers. The Central Library in Austin, Texas just broke ground on a new building that promises such new features as outdoor reading porches and a cafe. In Madison, Wis., they're about to open a newly remodeled library that has, among other improvements, more natural light and a new auditorium. Historic libraries in Boston and New York City are looking at significant renovations.

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Keys To The Whole World: American Public Libraries
2:44 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

Beyond Books: Libraries Lend Fishing Poles, Pans And People

At a Human Library event at the Santa Monica Public Library, a police detective "book" talks to two "readers." Human Library events and projects, which are held at libraries across the country, allow participants to "check out" volunteers and have conversations about their life experiences.
Annie Wyndham Solomon (Wynsolo Photography) Santa Monica Public Library

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 4:31 pm

What's the point of a library in the digital age? It's a question that makes librarians bristle. They are quick to remind you that they are not just repositories for printed books and DVDs. Regular patrons know this, but public libraries want to reach beyond the faithful. To that end, many librarians are finding creative ways to get people through the doors despite their limited resources.

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Arts & Life
2:24 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

Emmy Nods for Netflix, The New Kid On The Block

Originally published on Fri July 19, 2013 8:15 am

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Emmy nominations were announced in Los Angeles today. The big winners were the FX miniseries "American Horror Story," with 17 nominations, and HBO's "Game of Thrones" with 16. And then there's Netflix. The company that began as a DVD mail service is now producing its own shows and today, three of them picked up Emmy nods, including nine for "House of Cards," as we hear from NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

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Code Switch
1:20 am
Thu July 18, 2013

Comedian Hari Kondabolu On Diversity, Race And Burger King

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 1:20 pm

Hari Kondabolu is a brainy comedian who cuts through the polite talk around race and gender. He's made a lot of key people laugh with his incisive anecdotes, including Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien and John Oliver.

A full-time writer on the FX show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, he recently did a comedy bit on the National Spelling Bee, or "as I like to call it," he joked, "the Indian Super Bowl."

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The Record
3:42 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Toshi Seeger, Wife Of Folk Singer Pete Seeger, Dies At 91

Toshi Seeger with her husband, folk singer Pete Seeger, in 2009.
Bennett Raglin Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 4:30 pm

Anyone who worked closely with Pete Seeger knew the legendary folk singer's wife. For seven decades, Toshi Seeger organized his festivals and handled his travel and correspondence. The social activist died Tuesday. She was 91.

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Code Switch
2:46 am
Tue June 25, 2013

As Demographics Shift, Kids' Books Stay Stubbornly White

At a San Jose, Calif. library, a young reader browses a shelf of books featuring a variety of main characters: ducks, hens, white kids, black kids. Libraries help drive demand for children's books with nonwhite characters, but book publishers say there aren't enough libraries to make those books best-sellers.
San Jose Library Flickr

Originally published on Tue June 25, 2013 9:14 am

When it comes to diversity, children's books are sorely lacking; instead of presenting a representative range of faces, they're overwhelmingly white. How bad is the disconnect?

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Movies
3:03 am
Sat June 22, 2013

'Me' Too: For Gru, Another Shot At Global Domination

He's still a would-be world-conquerer by day, but Gru (left, with minions) has been settling into his role as an adoptive dad by night. His new responsibilities make him a likely recruit for the Anti-Villain League, which asks him to ... well, we shouldn't give too much away.
Universal

Originally published on Sat June 22, 2013 11:07 am

There will be hits and misses at movie houses this summer, but it's a decent bet Despicable Me 2 will end up in the that-went-well column.

The star, a would-be world-dominating supervillain named Gru, is a hulking, blustering figure with an appetite for mayhem — and a surprising soft spot. He'll boast that he's about to pull off "the crime of the century," then sit down to read his little girls — he's recently, reluctantly, adopted three of them, and they're adorable — a bedtime story.

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Monkey See
2:27 am
Thu June 13, 2013

How To Introduce Kids To Tough Topics? Art And TV Can Help

Sue Glader wrote Nowhere Hair after finding many children's books about cancer that were too depressing or scary.
Courtesy Sue Glader

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 9:22 am

Parents steer their kids to media for all kinds of things: as a distraction so they can make dinner, to teach letters and numbers, and for pure entertainment. There are also times when parents rely on books, TV, museums and other media when they aren't quite sure how to approach a difficult topic by themselves.

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Art & Design
1:39 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Plans For Smithsonian Museum 'Bubble' May Have Burst

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden proposed adding a giant, inflatable structure that would balloon out of its top and side.
Roger L. Wollenberg UPI/Landov

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 8:04 am

Call it the Smithsonian's bubble problem. One of the Smithsonian museums — the Hirshhorn museum for contemporary art — came up with an ambitious new design to add more space: Why not build a giant, inflatable structure that would be big enough for people to walk around in?

But some of the Smithsonian's trustees in Washington, D.C., haven't been blown away by the bubble.

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Code Switch
3:58 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

'Venus And Serena': An Extraordinary Story, Told On Film

Serena (right) and Venus Williams pose with their gold medals during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Stefan Wermuth Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Fri May 17, 2013 4:52 pm

It's Cinderella plus Jackie Robinson times two. When Venus and Serena Williams burst onto the lily-white world of tennis, they changed the game and made history: They were sisters. From a poor neighborhood. Who brought unprecedented power to the game. And both reached No. 1.

Their journey is the subject of a new documentary called Venus and Serena, showing in select theaters around the country.

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Education
12:41 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

In D.C., Art Program Turns Boys' Lives Into 'Masterpieces'

Life Pieces to Masterpieces is an arts program that serves the neighborhood of Ward 7 in Washington, D.C. Boys work with mentors to create works of art.
Lizzie Chen NPR

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 8:26 pm

This is the third in a three-part series about the intersection of education and the arts.

Life Pieces to Masterpieces is an arts program that's not entirely about the art. It's an after-school program based in a struggling neighborhood in Washington, D.C., that teaches black boys and young men what they call "the four C's": "Connect, create, contribute, celebrate." From ages 3-25, they learn to express themselves by conceiving their paintings together. And those paintings will often reflect what's going on in their lives.

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Education
3:37 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

More Than 50 Years Of Putting Kids' Creativity To The Test

E. Paul Torrance, shown here in the mid-'80s, spent most of his career studying and encouraging students' creativity.
Courtesy University of Georgia

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 3:30 pm

This is the second in a three-part series about the intersection of education and the arts.

Let's start with a question from a standardized test: "How would the world be different if we all had a third eye in the back of our heads?"

It's not a typical standardized question, but as part of the Next Generation Creativity Survey, it's used to help measure creativity a bit like an IQ test measures intelligence. And it's not the only creativity test out there.

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Education
3:46 pm
Tue April 16, 2013

Creative Classes: An Artful Approach To Improving Performance

Jionni Anderson is a third grader at Savoy Elementary School. Anderson raises her hand to answer a question in Mr. Scott's keyboard class.
Lizzie Chen NPR

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 3:31 pm

This is the first in a three-part series about the intersection of education and the arts.

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Theater
10:48 pm
Sun March 17, 2013

Familiar Folks Make Up A Play's 'Good People'

Johanna Day as Margie and Andrew Long as Mike in the recent Arena Stage production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People. The childhood friends drift apart as their lives take on very different socioeconomic dimensions.
Margot Schulman Arena Stage

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 10:38 am

How we end up in life has a lot to do with where we came from. That theory gets a good workout in the play Good People, from Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire. When the show was on Broadway two years ago, the trade magazine Variety proclaimed that "If Good People isn't a hit, there is no justice in the land."

As it turns out, justice has been served: Good People is the most produced play in America this theatrical season. By the end of this summer, it will have been on stage in 17 different cities.

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World
5:58 pm
Mon February 4, 2013

In Moscow, Scandals Shake A Storied Ballet

Sergei Filin, artistic director of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre's Bolshoi Ballet, was nearly blinded by an attacker on Jan. 17.
Yuri Kadobnov AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 11:47 am

It's a story right out of the movies: The artistic director of one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world is violently attacked. His attacker and the motive are shrouded in mystery. But behind these sensational headlines is a ballet company that is both legendary and plagued with scandals and infighting.

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