The last seven weeks at Lehigh have been… weird. With no assignments other than, “pack up your office,” my days have been filled with focusing on the benchmarking research of other arts integration programs in higher ed, as I’ve done throughout my time at Lehigh. I’ve also been tossing old files and taking note of so many accomplishments.
Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and citizens have been a part of making and witnessing art. Pictures, mementos, books (OMG, so many books) and reference materials on creative placemaking, educational policy, student engagement in the arts, and audience development are too valuable to toss. Making space in my tiny home office has offered even more challenges.
Another focus has been preparing for an exit interview with a high level administrator; someone who was actually curious about what I’ve learned through my work at Lehigh. I was able to lean on a few trusted advisors to help me prepare for this moment. I could write a separate blog about how to own your emotions in an exit interview.
For this post, I’m going to share the key points of what I shared in the meeting. Why? Because I’m damned proud of what I did at Lehigh, and I hope that readers gain a little bit of institutional history.
Lehigh University – 2002 Preliminary Report from the Dean’s Committee on Re-visioning the Arts at Lehigh
In the 2001 spring semester, the College of Arts and Sciences Dean [at the time, that was Bobb Carson; three deans ago] asked a group of faculty and administrators to participate in a group first known as the Arts Conception Committee. The charge to the committee grew out of the 2000 Strategic Plan for the College of Arts and Sciences which stated that “a fundamental challenge for the College is to establish the importance of perspective, values, and creativity intrinsic to the Arts and the Humanities, in a culture absorbed with material possession and entertainment rather than self-development.”
The committee decided to focus on ways to promote and institutionalize some of the excitement and energy associated with a more fully integral approach to the arts, education, and the larger community. The committee formulated a working mission statement:
“Lehigh University must make apparent to all its members – but especially to its students – the importance of the perspective, the values, the creativity, and the intellectual discipline of the Arts and the Humanities. To foster such experiences, the University must communicate more effectively the excellence of many exciting programs, develop new institutional structures that allow for a more integral approach to the arts and education, and also promote the development of new and innovative curricular and non-curricular activities which serve to connect Lehigh with the community at large.” In general, the committee sought ways to make the arts more present and vital with the Lehigh academy, campus environment and in the South Bethlehem arts district.
The recommendations for implementing a vision of an arts integration initiative were organized into three broad categories. Short and long term actions were specified within each of the categories:
Enhance communication and promotion regarding existing programs and activities:
- Increase efforts to involve more students in Zoellner activities (reduce ticket prices, special incentives to instructors, promotion arts/ academic integration, create a fund to allow faculty to take students to arts/cultural events at reduced prices
- Develop and online calendar of arts events that includes all arts activities on campus (curricular, presenter series, and student affairs programming), and in the South Bethlehem arts district, and the larger Lehigh Valley, as well as indicating arts related academic offerings (lectures, symposia, workshops, etc.)
- Develop online and portable maps of arts locations on and off campus. Develop on and off campus tours of arts centers
- Develop more outreach programs for area children and make an effort to partner with south side organizations
- Identify alumni who have some specific and significant interest in the arts; increase involvement with the Lehigh Board of Trustees with arts related development
- Include a special PreLUsion program for incoming first year students interested in an arts introduction to campus and community.
- Build increased awareness of arts and arts/academic issues into admissions office activities
- Official Lehigh marketing and branding material that highlight aspects of the arts at Lehigh.
- Create a new position of Arts Coordinator to serve as catalyst for more intra-faculty/student collaboration in the integration of the arts with various academic disciplines.
- The Arts Coordinator would report to the Provost and work in consultation with a steering committee which included the head of the Humanities center, Zoellner and LUAG administrators, arts faculty, and a representative from the engineering and business colleges
- Join the Imagining America consortium
- Create and arts integration fund to support travel, expenses or possibly new courses
- Create and artist in residence fund
- Create a community partnership fund
- Work toward a week-long Arts Experience Festival
- Develop and off campus Cooperative Artists in Residence Facility
- Explore Teaching Museum/Gallery
- Work toward making a Lehigh campus sculptural park
Programmatic and Curricular
[In the model of the Humanities Center and Women’s Studies program]
- Develop signature “integration” courses specifically designed as arts/academic cross-disciplinary/ cross-college integration courses.
- Initiate a multi-disciplinary/cross-college design course which involves students and faculty in overall public arts planning for the campus and community.
- Work to make new arts/academic related courses permanent in the curriculum.
- Develop new and financially self-supporting “in the field” courses that take advantage of south side arts institutions and Lehigh’s proximity to world arts centers
- Develop viable arts related degree programs such as an “arts management/administration” BA program.
- Bolster institutional commitment to the visual arts/ graphic design/ photography.
With these goals, and later with Lehigh’s 2009 strategic plan (note component 4: Partnering in the Renaissance of the Local Community) I worked on many activities, initiatives and partnerships. Since I was not assigned a faculty title with this position, I worked in administrative-appropriate structures and encouraged faculty consideration where possible. I also responded to and supported other campus and curricular initiatives where they aligned with the short and long term goals set by this committee. Perhaps the “spaghetti approach to find what worked, what didn’t” was the best way to describe the investigations. During the years of the 20/20 ArtsLehigh initiative, annual reports were offered. When ArtsLehigh ended, the only annual report I offered was in my annual GPS review, as my reporting structure shifted. Even though my reporting line changed, my job description didn’t. I was still accountable for many campus-wide student engagement goals and in community relations.
Where budget wasn’t a factor of sustainability, I was able to meet many of the goals. Since social media wasn’t a known entity in 2002, I became an early adopter in developing social media strategies to not only reach the objectives, but also to track engagement and to listen to student and community interests. I also invested a significant amount of time participating in student affairs programs to meet the student engagement objectives, especially in new student orientation programs. In order to support faculty teaching and research goals, I read faculty CVs and became familiar with regularly offered courses in multiple area studies that aligned with the presenting and visual arts activities on campus. I became a living rolodex of potential course-, campus program-, and community partners for various guest artists, theatrical works, musical programs, and exhibits.
When I began adjunct faculty teaching in the Baker Institute in 2010, much of my field work as an arts administrator became the syllabus in two courses; Entrepreneurial Communications for Creative Industries (ENTP 040) and Art Entrepreneurship Community (ENTP 123). I brought my research of communication strategies and creative placemaking into the each course. Students were also given many hands-on activities to apply concepts to their own investigations.
As a cohort of the Leadership Lehigh Valley program in 2012, I was motivated to earn an Educational Leadership degree. It wasn’t that I sought a 3rd masters degree, I already have a doctorate. I wanted to retool my awareness of educational policy and further investigate the needs of our local schools in order to better serve them through the arts in partnership with our local arts resources. Through the program, I met local and state-wide school administrators and educational policy makers that provided deep insight into the budgetary challenges our local schools face. I also developed relationships with many area educators by attending their programs and learning about the disparity in our local school systems.
I attended many Lehigh reunion activities to listen to alumni. I served on cultural arts boards. I volunteered for many local festivals. I attended hundreds of local arts and cultural events both on campus and in the South Bethlehem Arts District. I learned a great deal of campus-community arts scene B.Z. (Before Zoellner). I witnessed the social and economic changes brought by the Steelstacks, the Sands Event Center, and PPL in Allentown. I listened to local artists; working with them on arts-in school initiatives.
To illustrate the various institutional areas of my work, I offer two images. The first image is my reporting structure. The second image is the six areas of the institution in which I regularly engaged.
Since this post is already extensive, I will be offering six separate posts for each of the institutional areas in which the work I did will be articulated with more program/activity description and learning outcomes. Please note, the organizational reporting line only named one of five subcategories within one of six institutional structures: College of Arts & Sciences, College of Business & Economics, College of Education, Student Affairs, Communications, and Community Relations.
The next posts are offered to share insights I gained in eleven years of service to Lehigh University. My final report and the following 6 posts will include examples and links to previous posts on multiple blogs. These posts will also serve the next steps of my career; which will extend more than 20 years of field work in arts integration in secondary schools, higher ed, community relations, and creative placemaking. My expertise as an artist, an educator, and arts administrator doesn’t condense neatly into a one-page resume.
#1/7 #HigherEdArtsIntegration, #CommunityEngagement, #StudentEngagement #CreativePlacemaking
One of the most rewarding parts of my work in arts engagement and community affairs is getting into the community to know more about the arts scene, and the many people engaged in it. Four years ago, I started visiting multiple high school theatre programs in order to learn more about what our area students are doing. I wanted to see what resources are available to them, and how Lehigh University might be able to support these efforts.
Lehigh’s arts center presents at least one Broadway touring company every season. The arts center’s last featured Broadway show was Bullets Over Broadway, which featured the choreography of Susan Strohman. Since I’ve seen a number of high school productions in which the dancing reflected well-known Broadway choreographers like Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins, I’ve been sharing information about the campus arts center shows with high school choreographers to inspire their work with students.
Two years ago, we had a drop-in Broadway show that took a couple of rehearsal days in the campus arts center. The show’s producers offered a peek into their rehearsal process to local high school students. It was at that moment the relationships I had already built with teachers were a huge asset. All that time going into the community; supporting THEIR programs, and bringing a Lehigh presence by just being there was well spent. One needs to have relationships already built in order to take fullest advantage of sudden opportunity.
But I also started to learn more about the students. Most of the high school theatre productions provide a program (handbill) in which the students’ biographies include what they wish to pursue after high school. Some of them list an aspirational goal to study sciences and theatre. Some of them share they are coming to Lehigh. I’ve made an effort to reach these students to welcome them to campus, and to encourage them to pursue their passions while they are here. Some students come to campus to hear lectures and learn that Lehigh has much to offer them WHILE they are still in high school. I actually had one local high school say, “I wasn’t considering Lehigh before. I had no idea Lehigh offered so much.”
The bios also revealed more of the disparity between schools; some students studied vocal and dance lessons for years with local youth arts training programs or private teachers. What didn’t surprised me was that private lessons were not the key to a quality production. It was the passion the musical theatre directors instilled in the students. A foot might not be fully extended, but you don’t care about that when you witness the closing night speeches by graduating seniors. There are some real heroes in this community. You’ll find them behind the scenes at your local high school; encouraging students to take a chance and find their moment in the spotlight.
Last year, through various conversations with teachers and attending another local school activity, I met a student who aspires to be a filmmaker. She has some incredible skills; not only in editing, but also in storytelling. She produced a video in which you hear from the students of her high school’s latest musical theatre production. I hope you have a chance to watch this.
Keep an eye on this student. She’s already amazing.
Saturday was filled with witnessing the best art in our little town of Bethlehem. After living here for eleven years, I finally had the opportunity to hear the Bach B Minor Mass in Packer Church. This piece has been sung annually for 110 (+?) years.
In a nine-minute video about the annual Bach festival in Bethlehem, the artistic director, Greg Funfgeld states,
“In a world where there is so much that is transitional, this is something that is forever… [this piece] speaks to our human condition. Bach knew loss, he knew sorrow, he knew great joy, and I think he puts all of those emotions in his music. And I think we feel more deeply because of what he helps us understand.”
Amen. But don’t stop watching the video after that quote. Later on, the countertenor soloist says, “each time we perform the Mass, it’s an echo of the voices of everyone who’s sung it before.”
The B minor mass will have another performance next Saturday. Find out more about it, and all of the other festival activities on The Bethlehem Bach Choir website; rich with wonderful content for audiences to dig in a little deeper before fully experiencing the art. Steve and I enjoyed deeply listening to Bach’s late period composition. My head flooded between the music history and the performance practice I studied for so many years. I ached to get back to my own art. I wanted to return again to the empty space of vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows to fill it with a few rounds of Bach Cello suites on the bassoon. I’m hoping to hear local students perform next Saturday at the Zimmerman Coffeehouse – because this organization not only believes in tradition; but in supporting the next generation to carry it on.
After listening to the B minor mass, we headed to Zoellner to watch the 11th annual Young Playwrights Festival of Bethlehem’s Touchstone Theatre. The project director, Mary Wright introduced the evening with, “You are about to see the tip of the iceberg of what the students do in the project.” Touchstone artists work with students in local schools to create original works of art. The students’ written work may only result in one final page of script. But that is only after pages and pages of writing and developing ideas after playing lots of theatre games that unlock their imagination. The directors of each selected play (of hundreds written in a year of multiple residencies) bring it to life with scenery, costumes, sound effects, music, and cast each play with volunteer actors from the community.
It’s a night of joy. Oh, and thanks to my friend at Zoellner (REM), we got a picture of our kids goofing it up backstage in their “dancing husky siblings” costumes.
Steve and I are Young Playwrights Festival supporters, not just because our family fell in love with Touchstone, but because we see the faces of all of the young playwrights and their families. We see the pride in what happens when adults listen to children’s ideas and take them seriously. Here’s a link to the project website, worth reading. And if you’re feeling particularly generous, give Touchstone a donation to support this work in our community.
Tradition, AND nurturing the next generation of creativity in our community. Creativity isn’t a thing that exists because we have venues and festivals. It’s people doing things in those venues and with these festivals. It’s a community that reaps the benefits of those dedicated people; the artists of our community (professional and avocational) doing those things. Fully experiencing this art brought me back to the love I have of the Bethlehem arts scene. The day rehabilitated my passion for supporting the arts and the many ways our experiencing it brings us closer to our own humanity.
After a week of sadness, I had to be functional again. My family and friends needed me. I needed to get back to art.
After a hospital visit with my dear friend, I caught some necessary perspective. I wasn’t given a fatal diagnosis. Just a set back in how I thought I was going to contribute my talents and passion to the arts and community advocacy. My friend reminded me that there is no such thing as job security. But there is a feeling of security in relationships; people who think kindly of you and share their concern for your well being.
I also promised to finish some projects. People were counting on me.
I headed to Zoellner, took a deep breath, and asked my production colleagues for space in which to finish the projects for Touchstone Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival. With ear buds firmly in place, I was hoping to keep to myself. When the scene shop started to get crowded, I needed to take the ear buds out for safety. And I needed to face my friends who wanted to tell me how sorry they were to see me go.
There is comfort in making. Even silly project that will only have a temporary use. I made these two projects for one of the plays.
We went out for dinner after B’s ballet class. I posted on social media. I stayed away from the evil box of sloth. It was a good day.
It’s been two weeks and a couple of days. The first week I kept to my work routine, mostly out of shock and a fierce determination to prove to decision makers that I will remain committed to my work. Also, there’s years of experience in showing the stiff upper lip that only comes through generations of tough Irish grit.
I attended meetings where some in the room may have wondered why I would still be there. Why not? I’m still in this position until June 28th. There are projects to be done, community and art that needed advocating. I also had commitments. To my students. To the annual Bethlehem Fine Arts Festival. To my kids. I had to keep going.
On Mother’s Day, it hit me. After struggling with wind gusts for the second day of the Fine Arts Festival, I felt it coming like a bad head cold. I had to shut down my area of the festival one hour early so I could go home, drink a large gin and tonic, and begin to grieve. When my thoughts turned ugly, I turned on HBO. Game of Thrones. Silicon Valley. Veep. This Week Tonight with John Oliver. Sleep finally met me there.
Monday, I went back to routine. Skipped the early workout to drive my daughter to an orthodontist appointment, which got screwed up because they didn’t tell us it was supposed to be at a different office. Used the time to get her required library books. Back to campus to meet my research advisor. Two hours waiting at the bookstore, and the meeting ends up being cancelled. I sat there watching people moving on with their stress. I needed to go home. Back to the numbing comfort of television.
Monday afternoon became a near 24-hour stint of watching really bad television. Good Lord, I watched 50 Shades of Grey.
I plowed through Grace & Frankie on Netflix; every episode of two seasons. I hit a show hole. Started watching the ends of movies as I clicked through channels. Enough of that nonsense. I cleaned the house; did all the laundry. Ironed. My kids’. Clothes.
Pulled myself together for a late afternoon meeting on Tuesday. Thankful not just to be out of the house, but to have a purpose. And to have my thoughts valued by a respected artist and producer in our community. (I’m talking about you, RH) Thought that would give me the support to go back to work on Wednesday. Nope. I feared being in public. Something might trigger the thoughts in my head to accidentally come out of my mouth and possibly burn a bridge. My husband, the Rock (no, I’m not married to Dwayne Johnson) advised me to use my vacation time. That gave me permission to fully wallow in my sadness. Until I had to get my daughter to a harp lesson. And then attend a chaperone meeting for my kids’ band/choir trip. Pull yourself together, woman!
On Thursday, a friend texted me from the hospital asking for a visit. Then a respected colleague and friend wrote an email asking to talk about the bombshell news and to offer help in sorting out next steps. Still too fragile for public engagement. I kept thinking about Kelly Ripa’s opening monologue at her return to her show after some scuttlebutt about Michael Strahan. (I know about this because I watched it while on the treadmill two days before I was blindsided.) Even though I was numbing myself with TV, I was vetting the sadness AND collecting my thoughts before returning to work.
Friday, I finally got functional again. I had to be. How could I let my good friend be in the hospital alone when her life got turned upside down by a fall? And I had to finish some projects I promised another good friend.
I showered. I found my iPod. I got on with it.
It is with great sadness that I share the news of my departure from Lehigh University as Director of Arts Engagement and Community Cultural Affairs.
The reason for my departure is budgetary. Funding priorities did not include continuing the position I currently hold. This does not mean that there is not a priority for the arts or campus-community engagement. Things are just shifting; as things tend to do in higher education.
The reason for this post is that I always have practiced transparency and authenticity in my work. I’ll not shy away from the sadness of losing a position. Understanding that being near me may cause an awkward moment, or not knowing what to say, I would still appreciate a moment of your time to wish me well and to share a memory of our work together.
My kids often complain that everywhere we go, I always stop to talk to someone. “Do you know everybody, Mom?” I usually respond with, “A good life is one filled with friends.” There are too many people in various community networks; local businesses, artists, cultural organizations, schools, etc., to try to reach directly in a short period of time.
This budgetary decision offers a conversation about shared responsibility in supporting ALL of the arts on campus and our local arts district. We have a great place to live and work because so many great things are available. What makes creative placemaking work isn’t just that venues, festivals, etc. exists. We must recognize a duty to support art making in all its forms. Put a value on the arts not just with dollars, but with your time.
I have spent the last eleven years of my career working to promote the arts, living and learning at Lehigh. In that work, I have brought many Lehigh arts initiatives into the community and extended the community into Lehigh to experience art. A few examples are ArtsFest in 2006, sculptural installations in storefront windows, and integrating my Entreprenership course into the Spring on the SouthSide festival. It has been a thrill to facilitate creative ideas with great consideration toward risk management. Boy, do I have some stories! I also worked very hard to bring our local schools onto our campus; Monday matinee capacity audiences at Zoellner, bringing Girl Scouts onto campus to tour the Wilbur Powerhouse, and inviting many high school students I met by attending multiple area musical theater productions to Lehigh to explore our campus.
I encourage all readers to consider the time they put into supporting the arts on campus. Do you invest time finding out what is going on? Do you attend arts that aren’t an obligation to your course work or research? Do you choose to know more about the people and inspiration behind the arts; the various disciplines, the people who do it, teach it, and live it?
I don’t know what will be next in my career. Tonight, I’ll be performing in my last orchestra concert at Zoellner. It will be tough to get through the last measures of Berlioz, but I’ll be surrounded by incredibly talented students and community players. If you feel so inclined, please come.
I’m proud of the work I did at Lehigh. Navigating institutional frameworks; identifying needs and finding creative solutions meant putting as much faith as sweat into each effort. I took advantage of every opportunity to learn more and to promote the arts. I’m grateful for the champions that have supported my work.
I am excited about what lies ahead for me.