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University of Minnesota

The art of collaboration

September 28, 2011

U student teaching young girls at a keyboard.

University music education student Tharon Knowlton helps young musicians at the Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, a public K-8 fine arts magnet school in south Minneapolis, through the Learning Through Music program.

Artists reach across the U's walls to mutual benefit

By Deane Morrison

A great work of art has a certain fluidity, an air of life or movement no matter the subject.

So too the artists who create them. Disliking artificial barriers, they naturally flow wherever the search for kindred spirits takes them.

Many such currents run between the University of Minnesota and Minnesota arts organizations, allowing the talents of students and faculty to mingle with those of full-time professional artists to the benefit of all.

In fact, the chance to interact with working artists at major institutions and to share their skills with the very young is a selling point for the U's music, theatre, dance, and art students.

"I intend to be a strong, reliable partner with the arts community," University President Eric Kaler recently told a gathering of Twin Cities arts luminaries. He called the University "a creative magnet," saying that was only so because of its close relationships with area theatres, musical organizations, art museums, and the like.

Kaler also invited the crowd to the reopening of the U's Weisman Art Museum the afternoon of October 2.

Taking the stage

For University acting students, it doesn't get any better than landing a part in a Guthrie Theater production, as recent graduate Ernest Bently did. He'll play Creon's son Haemon in "The Burial at Thebes," a modern adaptation of Sophocles' "Antigone," which opens October 1.

Marimba student Joseph Welch plays for President and Mrs. Kaler.
Marimba student Andres Crovetti shows off his artistry to President and Mrs. Kaler (in doorway) as School of Music Director David Myers (left) looks on.

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

"It's a rare jewel," Bently says of the U of M/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program, which gives aspiring actors experience working with the pros at one of the nation's finest regional theaters. "It's one of the most challenging programs I've ever participated in."

The Twin Cities' Penumbra Theater is among several that collaborate with the University. Lou Bellamy, its longtime director, was a faculty member in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance (TAD) for many years, and the U has sent many acting, tech, and design students to Penumbra to gain experience. This spring Bellamy directed the premiere of "I Wish You Love," a play about Nat "King" Cole and his times by TAD assistant professor Dominic Taylor.

Dance faculty are also movers and shakers in the arts community. Several run their own dance companies; for example, TAD department chair Carl Flink (Black Label Movement), dance program director Ananya Chatterjea (Ananya Dance Theatre), and faculty member Joanie Smith (Shapiro & Smith Dance). The department also brings in dance professionals like Susana DiPalma, choreographer and artistic director for Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, and Penelope Freeh, choreographer and dancer with the James Sewell Ballet, to enhance the student experience.

The art of politics

Before going any further, let's put to rest any notion that only "real artists" work on art projects outside the campus walls. The fact is, one is hard put to find a department in the College of Liberal Arts where no faculty or students lend their talents to community artistic endeavors.

A couple of examples:

• U of M professor of English Paula Rabinowitz  and Walker Art Center film curator Sheryl Mousley organized "And Yet She Moves: Reviewing Feminist Cinema," a series of 15 films opening at the Walker in November. It highlights the complex contours of the so-called "second-wave" of the women's movement and gives a nod to the resurgence of interest in female filmmakers during the '70s. It's the Walker's fourth annual series produced in collaboration with the University, and it accompanies the Walker's premiere theatrical run of Lynn Hershman Leeson's "!Women Art Revolution" in conjunction with an exhibition of her work at the University's Katherine E. Nash Gallery.

The U's World Music Ensemble plays for President Kaler.
The University's World Music Ensemble, led by Scott Currie, serenaded President Kaler with "Luckenbach, Texas," a Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson song rumored to be a presidential favorite.

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

• Also at the Walker, Benjamin Ansell, an assistant political science professor, organized and moderated a town hall forum about the current exhibit "Baby Marx," which features puppets of Karl Marx and Adam Smith expounding on their separate views of how the world ought to be run economically.

Less prominently, art and art history students regularly study the collections at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and art faculty routinely exhibit at galleries around town. As proof of the staying power in these relationships, artistic directors and staff at arts organization in the Twin Cities are often U of M alumni.

The music-makers

Last but not least, the University's School of Music exchanges talent with top area organizations, including the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and VocalEssence. For example, faculty like internationally acclaimed pianist Lydia Artymiw perform as soloists and ensemble members, and music students reap the benefits of being coached by, and rehearsing side by side with, some of Minnesota's top musicians and performers. 

In spring 2012 the school undertakes a massive collaboration as the University Symphony Orchestra and University Singers, along with the Hochschüle für Musik in Detmold, Germany, perform Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," interwoven with poems by English poet and World War I casualty Wilfred Owen. Performances will be held on campus; in Davenport, Iowa; in Rock Island, Illinois; and in Detmold. Called the Britten Peace Project, the tour will also feature the Macalester Concert Choir, the Minnesota Boychoir, Kantorei, and Quad City Choral Arts.

"The piece has broad shoulders and comes at the tragedy of war and the human price of war from so many different perspectives that I thought it was the perfect piece for the students to study on many levels other than performance," says University Orchestra Conductor Mark Russell Smith. "We will all be different because of it. The audience will be different because of it, and that's what great art can do that nothing else can."




Tags: College of Liberal Arts, Inauguration

Related Links

College of Liberal Arts

School of Music

Department of Art

Department of Art History

Department of Theatre Arts and Dance