Student engagement drives Center for the Arts’ programming
At the Moss Arts Center, artists don’t show up, perform, and leave.
“We’re a place where artists come to connect with people, share their experiences and insight, and learn more about our community,” said Ruth Waalkes, associate provost for the arts and executive director of the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.
Programs hosted by the Center for the Arts and the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, both housed inside the Moss Arts Center, bring new ways for everyone to engage with the arts and the creative process.
In simpler terms, the Moss Arts Center is more than just a building and the Center for the Arts is about more than just selling tickets.
“Central to our work is the idea of community engagement,” Waalkes said. “We work purposefully at the Center for the Arts to bring artists of regional, national, and international prominence who share our passion for learning, discovery, and engagement and embrace the many traditions, cultures, and ideas that reflect the diversity of our world. This exploration and collaboration creates a two-way process where community members can learn from artists and vice versa.”
In particular, the center contributes to Virginia Tech students’ education and provides ways for them to participate in the creative process. This includes everything from special collaborative experiences with visiting artists to student-led programming.
“Attending Center for the Arts’ performances has helped me to personally get in touch with both the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg communities and to learn more about American culture and traditions,” said Mohammed Seyam of Egypt, a doctoral student in computer science. “I’ve seen performances from different places across the world and from different places in the U.S., each with different musical and visual flavors. I appreciate the high-quality and diverse performances that cover a wide area of the international art landscape.”
The center frequently invites student performers and artists to share their talents in conjunction with visiting artists’ activities and to fill the center’s Grand Lobby and other public spaces during events. For example, SalsaTech showed patrons the finer points of salsa dancing, and Dhamaal Dance Team performed the Garba, a form of folk dance from Guajarat, India. Student musicians from the School of Performing Arts and student-led ensembles such as Juxtaposition, Sensations, Expressions, and Soulstice, performed before center events.
The center’s art galleries showcase work from undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and other colleges across campus affiliated with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. Exhibitions have included traditional and trans-media work, such as kinetic sculptures, and computer-generated, projected imagery.
Engagement events have included master classes with professional dancers and artistic directors, question-and-answer sessions, and talks about creativity and technology in the arts. Students were invited to rehearsals with orchestras, Shakespearean monologue workshops, instrument demonstrations, work reviews, and professional development exercises.
“The master classes and pre-show sessions that have been provided by several artists at the center were new to me,” Seyam said. “I found they provided a good chance to know more about the performers and the show itself and added a lot to my actual show experience. The close interaction between artists and audience in such sessions creates an intimacy between attendants and the performer and provides a complete event experience for the audience.”
Students join faculty and community members to present My Take Talks in the galleries. This series invites people to share their perspectives on the art.
More than 100 student workers, plus graduate assistants, support the center while gaining professional experience. Students can curate programs through an effort spearheaded by Jon Catherwood-Ginn, the center’s partnerships and engagement manager.
“Not only do we want to open our doors to students to participate in engagement activities with visiting and local artists, but we want to create space for them to articulate and realize their own programmatic choices,” Catherwood-Ginn said. “We are working with students as they design performances and events for the center, based on the artists that they’re inspired by and the themes that they would like to explore. That way, students bring their own personal stories into the process while learning how to program within a professional presenting environment.”
Seyam has been helping to develop programming. He said the opportunity, “assures students that the Center for the Arts is a place where students’ voices can be heard, and where students’ suggestions are seriously taken into consideration.”
For more information on this topic, contact Susan Bland at 540-231-1986.
Making history: a season of firsts
As we wrap up our inaugural season (how did that happen?!), we look back on a year of firsts–from our first public event in this beautiful building to our first performance in the new Street and Davis Performance Hall. One of the most exciting firsts of the season, however, was our first proposal on stage–in front of a crowd!
Ken Knott, a research specialist in the Chemistry Department here at Virginia Tech, made history when he asked his girlfriend, Jen Sharp, a special education science teacher at Floyd County High School, to marry him while on stage in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre. Knott’s golden opportunity came when he was selected to assist vaudevillian comedian Tomáš Kubínek during his performance on Friday, April 11, 2014. There were a few empty seats in the front of the full house, and Kubínek invited a group of patrons from the balcony to move forward during the performance. Knott, Sharp, and Sharp’s two children (Ellie and Killian), were among those lucky few, and as the group was getting seated, Kubínek asked Knott to help him out on stage. Little did he know, Knott had a surprise up his sleeve!
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Knott and Sharp sat down with us to tell us a little more about the proposal, what their kids thought, and whether they’ve set a date!
Center for the Arts: I think what everybody wants to know is, was it planned?
Ken Knott & Jen Sharp: No! [laughs]
KK: Well I bought the ring–I had literally gotten it that day–and I had plans to propose. Soon. We are both very big into the outdoors, and she has two kids, so I was thinking of doing maybe a scavenger hunt, treasure hunt, something. I happened to have it [the ring] with me that day. It just happened to be in my pocket; I hadn’t left it in the car. We were up in the balcony and he called us down to fill up the seats, and we were kind of waiting around for hopefully enough seats for all of us to sit together. We happened to be the last people to get seated, and I was the last person [in line]. I think that’s why he grabbed me. And as soon as he did, I was like, “Did someone else plan this?” It had crossed my mind to try to contact him, but I was like, “Oh, it’s too late; I don’t know how to get in touch with him.” So then he grabbed my arm and I was like, [whispering] “someone else is involved….” But I got up there and the whole time I was up there, the idea was running around in my head and I’m just like, “Should I do this? Can I do this?”
CFA: So what you are saying is that your concentration was not entirely with him!
KK: That’s why we were unable to pull off the trick! [Laughs] I could tell he was getting ready to send me back and I was like, “You know…might as well.” How many times do you get pulled up on stage in a building like this with a full house and you happen to have an engagement ring in your pocket? He [Kubínek] was shocked too, because he even made a comment that that was the first time.
JS: Oh yeah! He was like, “That was the first time this has happened…. this week!” [Laughs] But we emailed him afterwards and he emailed us back that he was so glad he followed the instinct and went on and did that.
KK: He was super nice. We’re inviting him to the wedding.
JS: He said he would check his schedule. [Laughs]
CFA: So what about you, Jen? When he went up on stage did you have any idea it might be coming?
JS: I wondered, because I knew he had the ring. He had been teasing the kids, letting them see that he had a box. And the kids are like, “Is that a ring? Are you going to ask Mom to marry you? Is that a ring? That had better be a ring! What’s in the box?” And he was like, “It’s just a box, there’s nothing in it! It’s just a box. Maybe there’s a mouse in it!” So when he went up, I knew he had the ring in his pocket. I was like, “Oh my gosh!” I was excited.
CFA: When he asked you, what was the very first thing that went through your mind?
JS: It was so sweet, just very sweet. I was just very excited. And the kids were very excited too.
KK: I remember when I asked and I looked into the audience, I could see Jen was smiling and Ellie was crying, with her hands over her mouth.
JS: They [Jen’s children Ellie, 8, and Killian, 9 and a half] were very excited. Killian had been the one saying earlier, “Is that a ring in your pocket? That had better be a ring!”
KK: I was surprised how excited he was.
CFA: So you said you had the ring already, how long had you known before you bought it that you wanted to marry her?
KK: I don’t know, since the moment I met her! [Laughs] Several months, for like three or four months I guess.
CFA: And Jen, did you know anything was coming before he went on stage?
JS: He had asked a few weeks before. He said, “You should tell me what kind of ring you would like.” So I’d given him a few suggestions about what style of ring, because I like vintage jewelry. I have my grandmother’s ring, so I wanted something that matched and…look how perfectly it matches! [Ed. note: Check out that ring in the photo slideshow above–so gorgeous!]
KK: I wasn’t going to try to pick one of my own. There were too many choices. I went into the store, and said “I would like the engagement ring.” [Imitating a sales person, slowly] “There are…more than one, you know…” “Oh.” [Laughs]
CFA: How did you all meet?
JS: We actually met through the Meet Up Appalachian Hiking Group. We started dating in January a year ago.
KK: The first date was at Natasha’s Cafe in Floyd.
JS: And then we went hiking like three days later on Mount Pleasant, and it was 17 degrees.
CFA: So have you started making any plans for the wedding?
JS: Yeah! We are getting married on June 21. We are just going to have a backyard barbeque and invite some friends, just be at home and plant a tree, have a quick ceremony, and then grill burgers.
KK: None of us are interested in a big, giant, extravagant wedding. It’s a lot easier to plan a wedding when its going to be in your backyard and at your house.
CFA: I assume a lot of people heard about it–how many people knew that you got engaged before you even told them?
JS: Oh my gosh, it was all over Facebook!
KK: I knew a few people in the [Chemisty] Department that were in the audience, and she actually had coworkers in the audience. Some of our friends’ children were in the audience without their parents and they came home and their parents asked how the show was. They said, “Really funny, really neat…”
JS: “…and he proposed to Jen on stage!”
KK: And the parents are like, “What?! This is a magician show, what are you talking about?” One of them said, “Ken my kids think you are a superhero now!” [Laughs]
JS: It was definitely very exciting. I called my parents afterwards and my dad was like, “This is the kind of thing you hear about on the news and you read about in the newspaper, but you never know someone that this has actually happened to!”
CFA: Where are your parents living?
JS: They are in Floyd. My mom and my sister both work at Tech, and they both have coworkers who were here [for the performance]. As soon as I got off the stage, I was like, “I had better call my parents now!”
KK: I was still numb. I couldn’t operate a phone for a few days. [Laughs]
JS: We stopped by his brother’s house on the way home to tell him. We had better tell everyone before word spreads and people are mad at us for not telling them in person! (laughs)
CFA: Did you have any moments as she was walking up on stage where you thought, okay I’ve really committed now I have to do it.
KK: It was surreal, I mean I was amazingly calm and it was really just like a decision. I was in the moment and I was choked up a little bit. I was not nervous, I was just caught up in the emotion of it all.
JS: It was interesting leaving. Dozens of people stopped us and were congratulating us.
KK: They were all calling us superheroes.
JS: And everyone was like, “So did you plan that?”
KK: And I was like, “I would have tucked my shirt in!”
CFA: I know he was a little choked up, what about you? (If it had been me, I’d have been weeping…)
JS: I was just excited, I was happy, and it was just perfect because the kids were there and it was very sweet and wonderful. I didn’t cry, I was happy. I think our hands were both a little shaky afterwards for a while.
CFA: Well you got engaged in front of almost 1,000 people, I think that’ll do that to a couple!
Congratulations to Ken and Jen! We’re so thrilled we got to play a role in the story of their engagement (and our fingers are crossed that Kubínek will be able to make it to the wedding!).
Dance Theatre of Harlem master class at The Center of Dance
Dance Theatre of Harlem graced our stage on May 7, 2014, and with their visit came the opportunity for young local dancers to learn from some of the greats.
Carol Crawford Smith, a former member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, hosted the master class at The Center of Dance, while Kellye Saunders of Dance Theatre of Harlem taught the students some new moves.
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This master class is just one of many engagement opportunities we’ve hosted throughout the season to get our lovely community involved with our visiting performers, and we have so much more coming up in our 2014-15 season! Right out of the gate, we’ll present a talk by Kathy Mattea, “My Coal Journey,” on Thursday, September 11, 2014, at 7 p.m. Be sure to check back often for more details about exciting opportunities throughout the season!
Photos: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra rehearsal observation
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra joined us here in Blacksburg on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, along with special guest, violinist Ryu Goto, for an exquisitely beautiful performance.
However, before the performance, local music students got a special treat: members of the Radford Youth Orchestra and string students in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts were invited to sit in on Orpheus’ rehearsal. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is known for its democratic rehearsal style, a technique known (and trademarked!) as the Orpheus Process. The process is based on eight principles:
- Put power in the hands of the people doing the work,
- Encourage individual responsibility for product and quality,
- Create clarity of roles,
- Foster horizontal teamwork,
- Share and rotate leadership,
- Learn to listen, learn to talk,
- Seek consensus (and build creative systems that favor consensus), and
- Dedicate passionately to your mission.
During the rehearsal, it was clear that the orchestra members felt comfortable sharing their observations on the sound as a whole, and the other members felt just as comfortable listening to the suggestions for improvement.
For more about Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and their Orpheus Process, visit their website.
You can also see more photos from the rehearsal below, or click here to view our Flickr set.
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Get involved at the MAC with Kathy Mattea
Kathy Mattea will bring us all home during her performance at the MAC in the season opener on Friday. (Where did the summer go? Where?!)
Photo by David McClister
We can’t wait to have you all back in our casa again, though, and we have so many fun things planned for you all throughout the season, above and beyond the lineup of performances. How about live music on our patio? Check! A chance to meet Mattea herself and get signed copies of her CD? Check!
We’re also offering a chance for you all to hear a talk by Mattea herself, outside of her Friday performance. Join us Thursday, starting at 7 p.m., for “My Coal Journey,” which focuses on her family’s ties to coal mining culture and her current environmental advocacy efforts. And did we mention it’s free?
Before the talk, we welcome local and regional organizations and exhibits that are a part of this community. Learn about local and regional initiatives and experience the transformative power of Appalachian creative arts. Groups will be in the lobby beginning at 6 p.m.
We hope you all are ready for two evenings of fun as we kick off our second season! Be sure to check out our other exciting engagement events, coming up throughout the year.