Saturday Festival at CT River!

The amazing curator/organizer artist and CFA leader Pam Tatge announces a music and art festival at the Connecticut River in Middletown on Saturday, May 9 from noon to 5 p.m. It’s at Harbor Park, Harbor Drive, in Middletown, and it’s FREE!

Here’s the announcement:

Spend an afternoon at Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter, which will feature live music, visual art installations, a kids’ activity zone, environmental education exhibits, plein air painters, a farmer’s market, a craft fair, and much more to bring you closer to the rich culture, history, and science of the Connecticut River.

The festival celebrates the Connecticut River as a source of cultural inspiration and creativity. Admission to the festival is free to the general public. There will be free parking at the Melilli Plaza Municipal Parking Lot, located on Melilli Plaza between Washington Street and Court Street; and at Arcade Parking Lot, located off of Court Street, in Middletown. The festival will be held rain or shine.

For the full schedule of performances and events, a complete list of activities and participating environmental organizations and craft fair vendors, and a festival map, please click here.

Live music will include performances by roots music singer-songwriter Peter Siegel; the acoustic string band Mattabesett String Collective; acoustic indie rock band Honey and the Sting, featuring Gemma Smith ’13, Melanie Hsu ’13, Skip Robinson, Jessica Best ’14, and Sam Long ’12; the folk Americana group Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem featuring Andrew Kinsey, Anand Nayak ’96, and Scott Kessel ’88 MALS ’92; and the sailor music of The Royal Boys, featuring Geoff Kaufman, Craig Edwards ’83, and Dan Spurr on the Main Stage; the youth circus company Circophany’s Circus by Artfarm and Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater; music, yoga, theater, and circus arts with the husband and wife duo Anastasia and Christopher Jankowski; camp singer-songwriter and storyteller Margie Warner; and members of the Middletown High School Band under the direction of Kimberly Everson on the Kid’s Stage.

Kids activities designed for all ages to learn more about the Connecticut River will be organized by Kidcity Children’s Museum, Jonah Center for Earth and Art, Wesleyan University’s Rho Epsilon Pi, and the Middletown High School Crew Team.

Other festival events will include artist Anne Cubberly‘s giant “Water” puppet roaming the festival (from noon to 3 p.m.); drawing and painting boat tours on six-person cata-canoes (departing each half hour from noon to 5 p.m., subject to weather conditions) with Sandbox Arts Collective; a drumming circle organized by The Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts & Cultural Center (from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.); environmental tours with Wesleyan students; a farmer’s market featuring locally grown and made produce, bread, smoothies, and other delicious goods organized by the North End Action Team; plein air painters organized by the Middletown Art Guild; craft vendors; and installations in the pedestrian tunnel, including sounds by Wesleyan University graduate student Cecilia Lopez and her Buenos Aires-based indie pop band Vigilante Margarita, and artwork by Middletown children.

Food trucks and vendors will include Firedog, Jammed 4 Thyme, Mamoun’s Falafel Cart, Mattabesett Canoe Club, NoRA’s Cupcake Company, Pizza to the People, and Spuds Your Way.

The “Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter” festival was inspired by the Connecticut debut performance by The Nile Project at Wesleyan’s Crowell Concert Hall, which took place on April 10, 2015 and featured a dozen musicians performing collaboratively composed songs drawn from the diverse styles and instruments of the countries along the Nile Basin, including Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda.

This event is part of Feet to the Fire, a program of Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative. Partners include The Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts & Cultural Center, the City of Middletown, Jonah Center for Earth and Art, Kidcity Children’s Museum, Middlesex Community College, Mattabesett Canoe Club, Middletown Garden Club, Middlesex County Historical Society, Middletown Public Schools, and Oddfellows Playhouse.

Made possible by the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development’s Arts Catalyze Placemaking program, the City of Middletown and the Middletown Commission on the Arts, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Wesleyan University’s Green Fund.

Here Come the Spring Exhibitions!

Now that spring break has passed, it often feels like a mad rush to the end of the semester. My own progress has been stymied by a nasty flu, but I am hoping to be up and about tomorrow to see the first senior thesis art exhibition of 2015: Wednesday, March 25 at 4 p.m. at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. The senior artists Luca Ameri, Raphael A. Leitz, Dat Vu, and Derrick Qi Wang will be at the reception, and you can check out the work through Sunday, March 29.

The Davison Art Center is holding an exhibition opening on Thursday, March 26, featuring works by Barbara Kruger, Kiki Smith, Sebastiao Salgado, and Eve Arnold. These are amazing artists, and we are so fortunate to have their pieces in our collection. On Thursday at 5:30 there will be a public conversation with the donors who made this possible, artist Jolie Stahl and photo editor, Robert Dannin. The exhibition will be up through May 24.

Personal Recollections

This Weekend: Super Theater and Athletic Competition

This weekend the Brooklyn-based theater collective The Assembly brings HOME/SICK to the Center for the Arts. “HOME/SICK tells the story of a handful of student activist leaders in the 1960s who, searching for justice and an end to the Vietnam War, became convinced that violence could pave the way toward peace. With ambitions to overthrow the government, they formed the Weather Underground after taking control of the Students for a Democratic Society movement in 1969.” The play combines the personal and the political, the anecdotal and the historical, and we are fortunate that this group of young alumni (and others) are staging the work at the CFA. You can read more about it here.

There is also a tide of sports events crashing into the Freeman Athletic Center this weekend. The men’s and women’s basketball teams will see plenty of action Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and the track team will be competing against a bunch of teams in another invitational. Men’s hockey is at home Saturday and Sunday…while many of our other squads are carrying the Red and Black on the road.

The semester is only just getting underway, but I suspect these artists and athletes are already at the top of their game.




Artful Wesleyan Weekend

What a weekend of arts activity at Wesleyan! Pam Tatge, Director of the Center for the Arts, continues to combine campus energies with amazing performers from around the world. For me, it started out at a faculty social event at the Zilkha Gallery at the end of the day on Friday. Have you seen the alumni exhibition there yet? It’s terrific. The work repays reflection, and it also made me laugh and squirm (those rats!). The show runs through early December.

Speaking of running, there were packed houses for Abraham in Motion at the Patricelli ’92 Theater. Kyle Abraham is a force of nature, and he brought that force to Middletown big time for three sold out performances. Speaking of sold out performances, Kari and I had the great pleasure of seeing the Theater Department’s production of The Seagull. Directed by Yuri Kordonsky, the show was brilliantly staged, and we saw inspired performances by the talented cast. The show had energy and conviction, passions and ideas.

While we were taking in the Chekhov, more than 300 gathered to hear the rejuventated Wesleyan orchestra. I only wish I’d heard what I’m told was a lovely and thoughtful musical program. Congratulations to Nadya Potemkina, the orchestra’s new director.

Many of these events are the result of faculty/student collaboration, one of the great features of our artful campus. Whether pondering Kyle Abraham’s moves or Chekhov’s moods, it’s been a weekend of creativity at the highest level on campus. I just have to figure out how to be in more than one place at a time.



Art Exhibitions on Our Creative Campus

Yesterday I visited the wonderful Alumni Show II at the Zilkha Gallery in the Center for the Arts. Curated by John Ravenal ’81 P’15, the exhibition offers a compelling look at the wide-ranging talents of Wes grads working in a variety of media. John began with over 150 artists and eventually pared the list back to 17 alumni whose work is displayed now on campus. From John Hatleberg’s ’79 Hope Diamond replica to Stephanie Calvert’s ’08 lush paintings, the art displayed at Zilkha delights, provokes…makes you pay attention and makes you think. It’s very cool.

At the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Tom Zetterstrom’s photographs from China are now on display. These pictures from 1981 promise to remind us of a key moment in China’s recent history. Next week the Davison Art Gallery will open an exhibition exploring seriality in American printmaking. The interplay of repetition and variation will figure prominently in the exhibition opening on September 19th.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the Center for the Arts this year, and there will be plenty of activities throughout the year. We began with the musical Mash, and plenty of groups were really shredding it on stages across the campus. (I learned this word from a first-year student at the campus BB-Q.)  Here’s a pic from the Smokin Lillies set:



Make art, make music, make Wesleyan as creative a campus as we possibly can!


Time Passes, Classes Begin (and so do exhibitions)!

Today classes get underway, and for me that’s always an exciting time. I re-tooled the Past on Film quite a bit this semester, and I am eager to see how the course develops in its new incarnation. I know many of my faculty colleagues have been developing new versions of old favorites, or developing new courses that address issues that have recently come to the fore. We are building a syllabus library, and you can check out some examples of what’s being taught at Wes here.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of greeting Wesleyan’s graduate students as they finished a day long symposium exploring career options in the sciences and music. Graduate students are not always very visible at our small university, but they play a vital role in our educational ecology. MA and Ph.D. students in ethnomusicology, chemistry, liberal studies, biology or experimental composition (to name just some of their fields) are all developing as scholars and teachers even while still being students. James Ricci, the head of the Graduate Students Association, heads up a vibrant, diverse and dedicated community. Bill Herbst, astronomer and Director of Graduate Studies, and Cheryl-Ann Hagner, who is in charge of graduate student services, are providing greater visibility and support to this important area at Wesleyan.

As classes get underway, there is a most interesting exhibition set to open in the Zilkha Gallery. The show is entitled “Passing Time,” and it features some extraordinarily gifted contemporary artists. Here’s a description of the show from the Center for the Arts: “The multiple and converging meanings of the phrase “passing time”–spending time, time to die–are explored in the evocative imagery of recent art by fourteen international artists working in video, photography, sculpture and works on paper. Some artists turn to sport, some to music; some refer to nature and its rhythms to explore concepts of time–short term, long term and terminating. Others partner with time itself in their making of art. Time is a concept that philosophers and physicists ponder. Time provides a framework that orders, measures and defines. We spend time, we waste it, we keep it; time flies, it drags. It is elastic in its perception–long when we are young, gaining momentum as we age. This exhibition explores the relationship between the time of our life and the time of the eons. The exhibit features works by Rineke Dijkstra (The Netherlands), Shaun Gladwell (Australia), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Stefana McClure and Bill Viola (United States), among others. The exhibition is curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of c2—curatorsquared. Faculty members from six disciplines have written reactions to the show: Lutz Huwel (Physics), Bill Herbst (Astronomy), John Seamon (Psychology), Sara Croucher (Anthro), Uli Plass (German) and Janne Hoeltermann (Studio Art). Check out the website, or better yet, see the work at Zilkha.

The doors of Zilkha open on Friday, and the official opening celebration is Tuesday, January 31, from 5-7 pm.

Best wishes to all as the new semester begins!




Winter Research…More Work in Progress

In my last blog I wrote about several senior thesis projects on which Wes students have been working. Here are some others:

In art history, Erika Siegel is writing a history of Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscaping plan for the Capitol grounds in Washington, a plan much influenced by the Civil War.  Anne deBoer‘s thesis combines her majors in art history and environmental studies.  It is on the use of water technology in recent major works of Sir Norman Foster, with an emphasis on how Foster’s architectural designs deal with questions of sustainability.

The CSS seniors have, as is often the case, an eclectic crop of senior projects. A couple of years ago I read Chan-young Yang’s excellent CSS thesis on Francis Fukuyama’s understanding of civilization and history, and now Nick Quah is examining Fukuyama on the idea of a transhuman future. While Nick is pointed toward the future, Han Hsien Liew is doing a thesis (with history) on medieval Islamic political thought. Kathlyn Pattillo is writing on the role of the South African teachers’ union in educational reform, while Charmaine Chen is studying blogging and political change in China. And I was surprised to find a CSSer writing a film, but that’s what Mac Schneider is doing. His screenplay is about the trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver.

In history, Rachel Tretter is working on Judeo-Christian ascetic traditions and fasting in early modern Europe. BJ Lillis is writing on native American identity in New England, while Aaron Forbath is working on settlers on the Plains. Moving much closer to the present, Jisan Zaman‘s thesis looks at  contradictions in US foreign policy during the Bangladesh War, focusing on the relation of the State Dept and the White House/NSC.

And here are three English department theses that could easily fall under the rubric of history or American studies – with two  looking at recent Wesleyan history. Harry Bartle is working on the connection between Ralph Ellison and Lewis Mumford and their comparable reactions to the transformation of New York City in the 1940s. Bridget Read is using the archive of Wesleyan Professor Fred Millett, who taught here from 1937-1958, to examine larger trends in American history and questions about what it means to tell a true story about the past. Caroline Fox is writing on Race and Student Radicalism: Wesleyan, 1989-1990. Her essay is based on numerous interviews and archival research, and it is sure to produce a fresh understanding of that turbulent time.

In economics, Gil Skilman reports that there is a “bumper crop” of a dozen honors theses writers this year. More than anybody in the department can remember! Here are just two from that stellar group: Ali Chaudhry is doing an econometric analysis of something that governments often don’t willingly reveal:  whether they are following a fixed or freely floating or managed floating exchange rate policy. Zachary Nguyen is studying the financial economics puzzle of why mergers and acquisitions leading to greater corporate diversification persist despite the fact that such diversification typically leads to lower stock values.

Of course, I’ve only mentioned a smattering of the projects being done as capstones this year. There are dozens more students preparing performances, working in labs, writing poems, stories and plays and many are helping each other out. In film, for example, most seniors are part of a crew on at least one film other than their own, and collaboration is a feature of much of the best work we see each year. I am hopeful that team capstones will be featured more prominently in future years.

A few nights ago, walking Mathilde around the Center for the Arts, I stumbled across some students taking a break. Sculptors, painters, printmakers and photographers are already working late into the night to prepare for their senior shows. And faculty artists, too, are burning the midnight oil. David Schorr has a show opening at the Davison Gallery in February, a show that will then open at Mary Ryan Gallery in Chelsea. Kari and I ran into David last night at the opening of Tula Telfair’s amazing painting exhibition, Out of Sight: Imaginary Landscapes at Forum Gallery in New York. We saw many colleagues at the gallery, and several students were there to celebrate the work of a great teacher and extraordinary artist!




Built Exclusively for Delight
The Chemistry of Time

Art Encounters

Walking back from my final yesterday, I encountered Timmy Lee’s ’12 Sculpture 1 project:

Big smiles and wonder.


And then the graceful weave by Claire Ball ’15 at the entrance to the Center for the Arts:

Familiar walk suddenly new.


Art encounters…always possible at Wes

Approaching the Finish Line

The last week has been a whirlwind of opportunities to see some of the best of student work at Wesleyan. I’ve enjoyed seeing the senior theses art exhibitions as they’ve gone up in the Zilkha Gallery (and there’s a greatest hits version now), and it is fun to see the work of this term’s drawing and painting students in their work spaces. Tula Telfair’s students will have work on display today, and the photography exhibition of work collected for Wesleyan by the late Puffin D’Oench continues in Davison Gallery through Commencement. The Davison collection is one of the jewels of our Center for the Arts, and we recently hosted the Friends of the Davison for a reception at the President’s House. The group raises money to acquire new works of art, and they have really helped keep the collection an important resource for the university. You can check out their blog.

I strolled over to Russell House last week to listen to the writing prize winners read from their work. It was a revelation, and I was deeply moved by the stories, essays and poems I heard. The pride and affection of the writing faculty for their students was so clear, as was the support of our ever-growing community of writing students!

There has been lots of film, music and dance across the campus over the last several days, and Kari, Sophie and I were fortunate to witness much of it. From Rent to African drumming and dance, from a cappella groups to Mark Slobin’s Yiddish theater production, I’ve been hearing and seeing some stunning performances.

Tomorrow our finals begin, and I think I’ll be hearing a lot of tapping on computer keyboards as students write and faculty grade exams and essays. Good luck to all!

How are the Humanities?

Last week I met with many faculty members from Wesleyan’s division of Arts and Humanities. We had an interesting conversation about some of the challenges facing teachers and scholars in these areas, which have found themselves under increasing pressure around the country as schools cut budgets. Recently, the State University of New York at Albany eliminated some foreign language programs, and that is only one dramatic example of many that seem to show that humanities-based education is in deep trouble. Recently, Stanley Fish critically considered many of the contemporary Cassandras predicting the collapse of the liberal arts, but he also noted the founding of a new (and traditional) liberal arts college in Savannah, Georgia.

At Wesleyan we have much to be proud of with respect to the humanities. Our faculty regularly inspire students and readers in subjects ranging from the most traditional to the most avant garde, and they continue to create scholarship that shapes their fields. Russian Professor Susanne Fusso, for example, has written powerfully on Dostoevsky’s exploration of sexuality, deviance and the young person’s encounter with the adult world. Joel Pfister, of English and American Studies, has for years helped reconfigure our understanding of the relationship of Native American and White American culture, and he recently published a study of Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Henry Roe Cloud, entitled The Yale Indian. Like Susanne, Joel has been an active member of the university community, and he currently chairs the English department. Andrew Curran, of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, has just finished a major study of ideas of race in the Eighteenth Century, and this spring he is organizing a Shasha Seminar on race in conjunction with a class he is teaching. There are so many examples I could cite of humanities scholar-teachers here working at the highest level! They are attracting some of our best students and launching them toward a lifetime of learning.

One of the confusing aspects of our curriculum at Wesleyan is how we define our academic divisions. At Wes, some disciplines commonly thought to be key to the humanities, like Philosophy, History and Religion, are located in the social science division. Many courses within these programs are labeled as humanities classes, though there are also several surprises. Over the next several months I hope to better understand how we have organized the curriculum, and talk to faculty and students about how this organization supports their educational goals.

This week the Board of Trustees are here for the fall meeting. I’ve asked our board members to let me know how their humanities  college education has remained relevant to their lives after graduation. They have written at some length about critical thinking, communication skills, and the expansion of their powers of empathy. How do we understand the narratives of those around us, and how to we learn to shape our own story? Many of our trustees trace their love of music, art and literature to encounters in the arts and humanities here.

Professor of Italian Ellen Nerenberg recently shared with me the self-study conducted last year by Romance Languages and Literatures. The department discusses the humanities as a crossroads of the world, as a gateway to interculturalism, and as a constructive engagement with tradition. These are certainly crucial dimensions of humanistic study, which provides students with an orientation to traditions, cultures and creativity. An education in the humanities also offers enormous pleasure, expanding one’s capacity for delight and wonder.

Students are now choosing their classes for the spring. As I look at the rich array of offerings, I can only imagine the joyful discoveries that await them. How are the Humanities at Wesleyan? Self-questioning, as always, but also alive to both tradition and the contemporary world in ways that continue to benefit our students.