Tom Strini

At UWM, an immense Year of the Arts

UWM chancellor Mike Lovell, Peck School dean Scott Emmons on the year-long celebration of the School of the Arts' 50th.

By - Nov 1st, 2012 07:05 pm
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Mike Lovell. UWM photo.

Every year is a year of the arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But 2012-13 stands out, as the Peck School of the Arts celebrates its 50th anniversary.

In any year, Peck School — comprising music, art and design, dance, theater and film — puts on about 350 events. In this anniversary year, make that about 475. That mind-boggling number includes a long list of unusually big attractions — the Klezmatics, for example, coming to the UWM Zelazo Center at 6 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 4).

YOA got underway in September. A vast Continuum art show, with hundreds of contributions from generations of UWM art alums,  has come and gone. Falling, a major collaboration with the UWM dance department, Present Music and the Milwaukee Ballet, happened Oct. 26-27. And much more is to come, including a talk by Alex Ross, the New Yorker’s uncommonly eloquent music critic, on Nov. 15. Nov. 14-18, the theater department will collaborate with Shakespeare & Company, of Lenox, Mass., on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Wade Hobgood, recently departed dean of the Peck School, worked for two years to make the Year of the Arts happen. Chancellor Mike Lovell supported it with funding and with the prestige of the chancellor’s office, and interim Peck School dean Scott Emmons is carrying the plan through. Ellen Schupper, director of marketing and communications, has worked hard to brand it and get the word out.

“It’s not the Peck School’s Year of the Arts,” Schupper said, in an interview with Emmons and Lovell. “It’s UWM’s Year of the Art.”

All this is happening in a very difficult fiscal environment for public education. Why would Chancellor Lovell, an engineer by trade, get behind an arts effort?

 

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Scott Emmons. UWM photo.

“We will strategically invest in things that help us grow,” Lovell said.

“We don’t do enough to celebrate the excellence on our campus. We’re trying to create more of a campus climate, and athletics and the arts are the two main ways students and the community take pride in the institution. They help with recruiting and help the community recognize the importance of the university and see why it merits more investment.

“UWM Athletics is actually a sponsor of the Year of the Arts. The Jan. 25 basketball game is the Year of the Arts game. Arts and the engineering department are collaborating and offering joint courses. We’re breaking down those barriers.”

Emmons emphasized the external partnerships that UWM and the Peck School have established or strengthened as a result of YOA. In many cases — the Milwaukee Ballet, the Milwaukee Film Festival and Present Music, among others — he had an in. MBC executive director Dennis Buehler, MFF’s Jonathan Jackson and Present Music founder Kevin Stalheim call UWM alma mater. All are involved in YOA programs.

“We have so much to celebrate with our alums,” Emmons said. “You can’t go into an arts organization in Milwaukee or into a public school arts program without finding our alums.”

Peck School grads fill Milwaukee’s stages and concert halls, bring creative verve to innumerable design and advertising firms and contribute immeasurably to media (including TCD). Without Peck School, no Present Music, no Danceworks, no Youngblood Theatre, no Wild Space.

In addition to the outside groups, Peck School has strengthened relations across campus. The Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies, for example, embraced Year of the Arts. The Center, in further collaboration with Hillel Milwaukee, helped to arrange this weekend’s Klezmatics concert.

“I started speaking with Peck School people as soon as I heard about Year of the Arts,” said Joel Berkowitz, in a separate interview. Berkowitz is the Stahl Center’s director and a professor of languages and literature at UWM. “All of our programming this year is arts-related and part of YOA. Peck School was open to putting on a high-profile event, and the Klezmatics were at the top of my list.”

The band play klezmer, the musical idiom of East European Jewry.

“Our public programs can be about anything that sheds light on Jewish history or culture,” Berkowitz said. “Everywhere you go in Jewish history you find theater, visual art, music. They bring the history to life.”

Joel Berkowitz

Joel Berkowitz

Berkowitz said that the Klezmatics, a well-known international act, would have been beyond the Stahl Center’s means without the Year of the Arts and Peck School. Thanks to grants from the Peck School and Hillel, UWM students will be admitted free. The group has brought jazz and even rock elements into traditional klezmer music, much of which is very danceable to begin with.

“We want to be a resource for the campus and community, whether you’re Jewish or not,” Berkowitz said. “There’s no prerequisite.”

Schupper, Emmons and Lovell hope and expect the Year of the Arts to go a long way toward branding UWM and raising the profile of the university and Peck School.

“This is the first place I’ve been that has an arts school,” Lovell said. “I consider it a gem.”

Lovell sees the Peck School as a force in the city. He noted, especially, the Harmony Initiative, a collaboration of the Milwaukee Ballet, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Peck School. The Harmony Initiative is well on the way to putting a dance theater, the Milwaukee Ballet studios and offices, and sports medicine and wellness clinics under one roof Downtown.

“That could transform the city,” Lovell said. “And I’m not sure it would happen without UWM and Peck School.”

So celebrate. As Emmons said, you only turn 50 once.

For tickets, visit the Klezmatics page of the Peck School Year of the Arts website or call the Peck School box office, 414 229-4308.

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The KlezmaticsClarisse

The Klezmatics, coming to UWM’s Zelazo Center at 6 p.m. Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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