World politicians...pioneers in science and technology...writers of lasting works of literature...influential artists who have defined generations, soared to new heights in movement, and brought the past to life through portrayals of historic legends...vibrant costumes, traditions, song, dance and stories of cultures from around the globe.
These are the sights and sounds of SIUE’s Arts & Issues series, which celebrated its 25th anniversary during the 2009-2010 season. Yet, the program shows no signs of decreasing in quality or in variety. Appearances by Maya Angelou, the Count Basie Orchestra, and Poco were included in this past season.
Those high standards of programming are essential, says current A&I Director Grant Andree, and have become synonymous with the series. “The Arts & Issues series clearly has a reputation for excellence. It’s exciting to be a part of this series when you think about the great artists and speakers that have appeared here over the years. We’ve had legends on the SIUE campus like Dizzy Gillespie , Dave Brubeck, Maya Angelou, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, John Kenneth Galbraith and William F. Buckley.”
“Before Arts & Issues, there were some events produced at SIUE,” recalled Emeritus Professor of Theater and Dance Bill Grivna. “But they were sporadic and not well organized.” Grivna and Emeritus Professor of Music Stephen Brown combined forces and successfully petitioned all faculty to approve the creation of a planned speaker and arts series. The University administration agreed to fund the program, and Arts & Issues was born.
|William F. Buckley|
Jerry Hollenhorst from the School of Business and Assistant University Center Director Lyle Ward were brought on board, as was Dave Valley of the speech communication department and Peter Bukalski, who was then dean of the School of Fine Arts and Communications. Ward handled most of the production and advertising, but it quickly became apparent that the series needed a full-time director.
Rich Walker, now the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Administration at SIUE, was hired to oversee the series in 1986. That year’s season boasted 14 shows, including performances by Momix and the National Theatre of the Deaf and talks by William F. Buckley and Edwin Newman. But an international cultural show is what stands out the most for Grivna from that season.
“We booked this act called ‘The Festival of India’ that was touring the U.S. at the time,” he said. “It featured dancing, singing, masks and martial arts, and turned out to be a huge success. We didn’t realize it, but there was a huge population of people from India in the St. Louis area, and they came in droves. We sold out the Meridian Ballroom. I think we had 800 people there.”
The 'Festival of India' was Walker’s first show to coordinate. “There was a prop mishap and they needed ‘yak’ leaves for one of the dances,” Walker recounted. “As I scoured the campus, I thought to myself, ‘I am the director of a prestigious program and here I am pruning ‘yak’ leaves from the campus forests.’ It didn’t seem right, but it had to be done. That’s when I learned a valuable lesson: Just when you are feeling proud to be in charge, the most menial tasks will fall to you because you’re the one in charge, so deal with it,” he said.
|Festival of India|
“I booked the artists/speakers, negotiated contracts, fund-raised, picked them up at the airport and everything in between,” he said. Walker’s fifteen-year tenure as A&I director created many fond-filled memories and stories to tell.
“Whether it was sharing an ice cream in the Glen Carbon Dairy Queen with the Director of the CIA, or tea in my home with the British Prime Minister, or talking down an irate hotel manager at midnight when you get the phone call that the dancers are swimming natural in the hotel pool, or anxiously trying to locate a missing Hal Holbrook who was here just a minute ago, or nervously eating dinner with Dr. Henry Heimlich being sure to chew carefully and hoping he was too, my Arts & Issues years were very rewarding,” he said. “I still feel that I made an impact, brightened people’s lives, created something out of nothing and did something meaningful. And doing something meaningful matters.”
“Arts & Issues is tied to the academic mission of SIUE and the College of Arts and Sciences,” said current director Grant Andree. “The series provides an opportunity to link higher education with real-world experiences.
“Over the past two years, students have had a chance to meet with Doris Kearns Goodwin, Maya Angelou, Ted Sorensen, Savion Glover and T.S. Monk and had master classes in dance and theater with the Malashock Dance company and the UMO Ensemble. These extraordinary educational experiences could only happen with a series like Arts & Issues.”
Grivna makes the point that A&I provides good “community service” for the University. “Arts & Issues offers visibility for the University and brings people onto campus who have never before been here. And they are introduced and brought right into the core of our campus,” he said.
“We were quite visionary when we started 25 years ago with this,” Grivna said. “No one else in the area was doing this kind of series. And it is a cool thing. I’m really happy that we pulled it off.” It is hard to disagree with him.