Lehigh University
Lehigh University


ArtsLehigh builds on first-year success

With its debut year having drawn to a close, the architects of ArtsLehigh—the university-wide program designed to link the arts, learning, and life on campus and in the community—are reviewing a slate of successful ventures and looking toward a focused agenda for the upcoming academic year.

“We had an extremely ambitious first year,” says Silagh White, the first administrative director of ArtsLehigh, who came to Lehigh from the Performing Arts Council of Toledo. “We organized a very diverse roster of offerings that we know engaged our students and faculty and offered many opportunities for community involvement as well.

“Now,” she adds, “our focus is on how we can build on those successes, and how we can articulate the message of meaningful engagement in the arts into our educational experiences here at Lehigh. By increasing co-curricular partnerships with a number of other campus programs, we would like to put in place systems and procedures to involve every student, and to engage them in some form of project-based learning.”

Norman Girardot, the University Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religions in the religion studies department who also serves as co-director and faculty coordinator of ArtsLehigh, said that a gratifying result of the first year of the comprehensive program was the “really very positive and supportive way that students and the community responded to it.

“You could sense almost a hunger in the South Side arts community to be appreciated, respected, and offered a chance to participate with the university community in a meaningful way,” Girardot says. “The successes we’ve already had in our first year prove that we could have a broad impact on both the campus and local community.”

From graffiti and hip-hop to plays and puppets

During its first year, ArtsLehigh hosted graffiti artists to transform the courtyard outside the Zoellner Arts Center during a renovation phase, arranged for a faculty development colloquium on the theme of creativity and the arts, hosted arts talks by faculty members and visiting artists, organized a series of “First Friday at Campus Square” events as part of the South Side’s popular “First Friday” events, conducted an “Arts Alive” pre-orientation program for incoming first-year students, involved internationally known performers such as Kwesi Brown in both Lehigh and community events, and debuted ArtsFest, a week-long celebration of creativity, in early April.

ArtsFest offered a full slate of programs, exhibits, events and “spontaneous irruptions of creativity” designed to fully engage the Lehigh campus and the South Side community. They included a hip-hop extravaganza with students from Professor Kashi Johnson’s theatre class; a spoken-word performance by body percussion artist Camille Armstrong, a Butoh performance piece by Donna Schudel, a play, a rock n’ roll concert, a musical performance by the Lehigh University Orchestra and Professor Paul Chou, a choral piece directed by Lehigh’s Steven Sametz, and a giant puppet parade.

The week-long celebration culminated with a world premiere unveiling of a major installation in Packer Church by internationally known Chinese-American artist, Zhang Hongtu. The world premiere of his work, The Four Seasons: Heaven Below and Earth Above, featured Zhang Hongtu’s large scrolls that recreate famous Chinese landscape paintings in the style of Impressionist and post-Impressionist painters Monet, Matisse and VanGogh.

The exhibit was so popular that the artist agreed to return two weeks later to reinstall his work in Packer Church and open it to the public. His return engagement drew hundreds more to Lehigh’s campus, White says.

(For more on the installation, read Zhang Hongtu’s work returns to Lehigh.)

“I can’t say enough about the support we’ve had from the community and from Lehigh,” White says. “We’ve had tons of support from faculty and staff members on a number of projects. Everyone has been wonderfully helpful and cooperative every step of the way—especially colleagues in Zoellner and other faculty and staff throughout the university.”

White also cites the support of Lehigh administrators, including Provost Mohamed El-Aasser, Deputy Provost Carl Moses, and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Anne Meltzer.

“I feel incredible support from all of them,” she says. “They’ve shared long-range strategic plans with me and I know they are committed to the success of ArtsLehigh.”

Creating a vibrant culture of creativity

White, who describes herself “not as the conductor, but part of a chorale ensemble” says that she welcomes people from the university and beyond to help “create that vision of collective direction” for the fledgling endeavor.

“We want to have more engagement and involvement in the planning and anticipation, instead of having participation from a reactive stance,” she says.

Girardot adds that the 10th anniversary of the Zoellner Arts Center provides the university with the opportunity to celebrate a “year of the arts” at Lehigh that is broadly conceived and fully integrated into the campus.

“Clearly, this can present many opportunities for student engagement, and we plan to re-double our efforts in that area,” he says.

Projects under consideration include:

• A project for the Governor’s School that will result in a study guide and promotional plan for the play “Inherit the Wind”
• The return of the “Arts Alive” program for incoming students that will draw upon the richness of the South Side’s history, culture, and ethnic diversity
• The expansion of the theme of “art in the community—assets and treasures” involving First Friday engagement and other public art collaborations
• A continued emphasis on integrated and collaborative faculty colloquia
• The second ArtsFest experience, which will be guided by a council of engaged students from a newly formed Student Advisory Council for the Arts and Creativity, partnering with the South Side’s “Spring on Fourth, What’s on Third” festival and the ArtSpree of Zoellner’s 10th anniversary
• Increased facilitation of integrated promotional activities that showcase the creative abilities of Lehigh’s students and programs
• More integration of arts and creativity in the university curriculum, such as a programs on calligraphy and a special cross-listed course on African/African-American Art and Religion

“There’s a great deal of passion here, and expertise to draw on,” White says. “With a strong desire to work cooperatively, we can create a vibrant culture of creativity that enriches the Lehigh experience.”

Adds Girardot: “ArtsLehigh is based on the conviction that the arts—including all aspects of the formal and informal visual, performing, literary, and design arts—are directly related to everything we do with creativity, joy and style.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, August 22, 2006

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