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Ten minutes with Silagh White

Silagh White, the first administrative director of ArtsLehigh.

In May, Silagh White became the first administrative director of ArtsLehigh, the all-university program designed to promote, integrate, and facilitate the arts, creativity, and an aesthetic sensibility throughout the curriculum.

White, whose first name is pronounced Shee-lah, previously was the director of the Muse Machine for the Performing Arts Council of Toledo. She comes to Lehigh with a rich and diverse background in the arts, as performer, administrator, and community volunteer.

A classically trained bassoonist who performed with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, White worked closely with high school teachers in Toledo to find ways to integrate artistic experiences into the curriculum and to arrange for special cultural experiences for high school students outside of the classroom.

The program's success led many arts organizations and schools in northwest Ohio to develop new partnerships and programs specifically geared for high school students and their teachers. In recognition of her contributions to area arts and culture, White was invited to join the staff of the Toledo Museum of Art as coordinator of community events, as well as oversee the specialized Music Docent Program.

She recently talked with Linda Harbrecht about her vision for ArtsLehigh, which officially kicks off in the fall with the organization of an arts pre-orientation program for incoming students and several new "integrative partnerships" involving the university and the community.

How do you describe the ArtsLehigh program to the uninitiated?

ArtsLehigh will promote, integrate, and facilitate the arts, creativity, and aesthetic sensibility throughout the curriculum. It will help arts presenters (both on and off campus) reach a wider audience. It will encourage faculty to integrate arts experiences into their courses. It will challenge students to get out of their comfort zones. It will be a major part of the Lehigh experience.

How do you see this program affecting the daily lives of students?

Students may start thinking differently about themselves and the world around them. They may start seeking out the "new," the "undefined," or the "misunderstood." Their behaviors may change. They might even be able to see how things connect in ways they never imagined before. I look forward to overhearing a very heated discussion about some art event.

One of my immediate goals with this program is to communicate as effectively as possible the mission of this program. ArtsLehigh will work with performing, visual, digital media, and literary resources already on hand within the campus and surrounding community. Imagine how a program presented at the Zoellner Arts Center might make classroom discussions more profound.

Imagine a student being able to present an idea in a way that is completely unique; one that may have been influenced by an experience outside of their own expectations. Imagine students being able to talk with artists about their creative process. Imagine having the unexpected completely change your mind. Imagine years from graduation, being able to understand a process that helps you adapt to a new work demand, or better yet, find ways to make the world better.

How do you envision your role?

My first task is to learn as much as possible about the people who present the arts on campus, the faculty (all disciplines), staff, and student behavior. It's clear to me that Lehigh's faculty members have deep passion about what they do. For every faculty member, there is an art to how they lecture, design a course, and engage students. A big part of my job will be to learn as much about the faculty as I can, to work with those who reach for aesthetic sensibility and who are deeply passionate about their discipline.

I will also have to learn about all the arts offerings on campus and in the Lehigh Valley. There's so much quality and variety. Art is an expression of people/culture/time. My role will be to guide this program as part of building a creative campus -- one which sets Lehigh as a different experience from any other institution -- and to facilitate what's being expressed and to help bring people together to witness it.

But this is not done by myself. [University Distinguished Professor of Religion Studies and ArtsLehigh Co-Director] Norman Girardot and I will be meeting with many people who have a passion about this program, to hear their ideas and work toward building many experiences that make Lehigh University a truly creative campus.

At this initial stage, what is your sense of the arts at Lehigh?

From the brochures and Web site, I can already see that Lehigh offers some incredible arts experiences. Have you seen last year's Zoellner Arts series brochure -- the programs are fantastic! The Humanities Center also has some intriguing things going on there. But not all artistic experiences are presented in beautifully marketed materials. I hope that many people will help me become familiar with events and experiences. I want to embrace the newness -- as this is exactly what most first-year students experience; even if they aren't seeking it out as hard as I will be.

Norman Girardot often talks about "the provocative power of art in life and learning." How do you interpret those words?

Well, Norman is a great man, and very wise. I agree -- art can change you. Whether you are an artist struggling with your medium, or an audience member struggling to understand the message. Through the artistic experience, one can learn about the world. I've seen light bulbs go off when I explain harmonic principles to an electrical engineer. I've seen high school wrestlers awed at the flexibility of a ballet dancer. I've seen a whole elderhostel group "get jiggy" with Will Smith. I have been moved by the delicate phrasing of a playwright. Art is personal, art is community. Art will elicit responses -- no matter the discipline, education, or taste of the audience.

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2005

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005

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