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The campus has a new Arts Building, a growing number of arts students and plans for new programs

by: Ricardo Duran   (December 2000)

The opening of the arts complex at the campus entrance is seen as the proper beginning to the “Year of the Arts” celebration.

“The campus has been committed to putting the arts front and center as the situation of the new building indicates,” said Philip Brett, a Distinguished Professor of music and Associate Dean in the College of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Brett is organizing many of the arts programs scheduled for the year-long celebration, which is designed to showcase the vitality of arts education and its importance to the surrounding community.

And there is perhaps no more tantalizing and enduring a lure as the $26 million, 55,000-square-foot, four-building complex at the corner of University Avenue and Campus Drive West that will include classrooms, offices, rehearsal studios, set construction shops, dressing rooms and performance spaces.

“To put that at the opening of campus is to say that the pleasure in human life that the arts provide is important,” Brett said. “The arts aren’t peripheral.”

Opening the arts to the community is one goal of the Year of the Arts, and the arts complex is one way of helping that happen. But the Year of the Arts and the new buildings are designed to look inward, too, at improving arts education for students.

“What goes on in that building, the instruction and learning, are important,” Brett said.

“The Theatre Department currently has a joint proposal with the Department of Creative Writing … that will create a Masters of Fine Arts (degree) in creative writing and writing for the performing arts,” said Theatre Department Chair Eric Barr. “This will enrich the department as we produce new plays by graduate students and grow the production program to support these activities.”

As Music Department Chair Frederick Gable sees it, the new complex will allow expanded use of high technology equipment and continue the development of ethnic music and jazz theory instruction.

The updated facility will “offer students the best possible access to the technological and conceptual challenges of the visual arts in the 21st century,” said Art Department Chair Erika Suderberg.

They see the new complex, the Year of the Arts focus, and the ongoing commitment to outreach programs as vehicles for growth in arts education at UCR.

Over the past six years, the number of majors has slowly, but steadily, increased in the six disciplines: art, art history, creative writing, dance, music and theatre. In the fall of 1995, there were 187. This fall, that number has grown to 350.
As the new arts complex opens, existing dance, theatre, art and art history offices, classrooms, rehearsal and performance spaces will close to allow seismic retrofitting of Olmsted Hall, which currently houses the facilities. The work is expected to take one to two years.

The arts complex will also allow more vigorous education in new arts-oriented fields on campus.

At UCR, cultural diversity, the inclusion of new media into many of the arts programs, and partnerships — among departments and with outside institutions — are fueling a flurry of activity.

The faculty is advancing several Masters of Fine Arts degree programs. These include an MFA in Experimental Choreography, already on its way to implementation, a joint MFA between Theatre and Creative Writing emphasizing a wide variety of writing skills, and an MFA in Art. UCR is also developing a joint graduate program in Theatre and related arts with Rose Bruford College in England.

A major in digital arts is in the works, and a vision of a graduate program in New Media and Digital Arts is being developed between the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and the Bourns College of Engineering. And, the Sweeney Art Gallery has launched an Internet-based e-gallery with the financial assistance of the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation.

Support from the Gluck Foundation and ArtsBridge programs has allowed UCR to share more of its artistic vitality with the surrounding community by way of public performances and work with the schools from kindergarten through high school in addition to hospitals, nursing homes and other community venues.

The ArtsBridge program sends university students to area schools to put on performances, workshops or to teach classes about the arts. The program started in 1998 at UC Irvine to address the crisis in arts education at the public schools. It was such a success that it gained legislative funding and all nine UC campuses developed an ArtsBridge program. The legislature awarded UCR $211,000 to start its program in the spring of 1999.

In its first year, the program at UCR has organized 98 projects ranging from photography to dance, theatre, music and art history. It has reached about 2,800 students in grades K-12 at 40 schools in Riverside County.

The Gluck Fellows program at UCR is similar in purpose but wider in scope, sending students to schools and to convalescent hospitals, senior centers, veterans’ hospitals, hospices, the California School for the Deaf, and Sherman Indian High School.

The program has supported a 20-member traveling chamber singers ensemble, touring theatre productions, a Javanese percussion group Gamelan Ensemble, and performances by the Ballet Folklórico de México. The grant has also paid for a mural covering the freeway underpass along University Avenue as an artistic link between UCR and the city of Riverside.

In 1996, then Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Carlos Veléz-Ibáñez secured the initial grant at $350,000 from the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation. That was followed by a $1.05 million supplement in July 1997. In October 1999, UCR received another Gluck grant for $1.4 million, extending the program through the end of 2003.

The arts complex is just the latest element in what scholars at UCR hope will be a year, and a future, in which the arts make an indelible mark on the local community and beyond.

“My hope is that we become a place of great excellence, well connected to and serving of the community,” Brett said.

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