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Pomona College Launches a New Four-Year Arts Initiative

Students practice in the Pendelton Dance Studio

Students practice in the Pendelton Dance Studio

Pomona College will embark on an ambitious four-year “Elemental Arts” initiative beginning this fall. The multi-pronged effort to enliven Pomona’s arts programming will revolve around the themes of earth, wind, fire and water.

In June, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $600,000 grant for the project, which will have a mix of new and re-aligned offerings, including an arts immersion course, an academic symposium, a dance concert, a theatre festival, a summer internship program, guest artist residencies and a theatre collaboration with a local middle school. The College will dedicate a full academic year to each Elemental Arts theme, beginning with water in 2011-12.

The initiative is closely aligned with Pomona College’s strategic priority of “fostering creativity through the arts,” an objective of the Daring Minds Campaign, which also includes a new Studio Art Building located north of Seaver Theatre near the Wash.

“I cannot think of a better way to empower innovative thinking and intellectual risk-taking in our students than by fostering their creativity through the arts,” says President David Oxtoby, an environmental chemist. “There is no way to predict what specific skill set will be most appropriate for the challenges future leaders will have to face, but we can say with certainty that those who wish to lead will need to be able to think creatively about a wide range of issues.”

Katherine Hagedorn, associate dean and professor of music, came up with the idea of using the classical elements as a way of thinking about and synthesizing the numerous grant activities. The program will be administered by grant coordinator Young Tseng Wong, a lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and led by a faculty steering committee with representatives from each participating unit, including James Taylor (Theatre), Laurie Cameron (Dance), Mercedes Teixido (Art), Tom Flaherty (Music) and Char Miller (Environmental Analysis). Maria Tucker, director of the Draper Center for Community Partnerships, will oversee community-based programming, while Hagedorn will oversee the coordination of the arts initiative with the College’s curricular and strategic objectives.

Deepening the Connection to the Arts

Each semester, almost half of all students enroll in a course in the arts, and many others participate in arts-related activities. Recent surveys indicate graduating students felt the arts had much less impact on their lives than many other aspects of their Pomona College education. “These surveys gave a sense of urgency and focus to our Mellon Grant application,” says James Taylor, professor of theatre."

The “Elemental Arts” initiative includes a new Arts Immersion course, which, beginning in fall 2012, will offer three-week rotations in dance, music, studio art and theatre for both majors and non-majors; six arts-related internships or research opportunities each summer; and residencies for visiting artists like British conductor Martin Neary, who will work with Music Professor Tom Flaherty on an original choral composition, which will be performed next February by Neary’s Millennium Consort Singers and the Pomona College Choir.

“As a department, we can only occasionally sponsor an appearance from a group like the Millennium Consort Singers,” says Flaherty. “I expect that choir members will be excited to work with professional singers under a world-renowned conductor.”

Another aim is to connect more deeply with surrounding communities through programs like Theatre for Young Audiences, in which undergrads partner with students at Fremont Academy of Engineering and Design, a public middle school located in a mostly low-income neighborhood in Pomona. For many of the Fremont students, the four-year-old Theatre for Young Audiences program represents their only form of arts education.

“Not only will the grant help us do things within the College, but it will create a component of community outreach and provide a service for local groups that lack arts funding,” says Taylor.

A key objective is to foster collaboration across disciplines. The elements’ relevance and timeliness will allow faculty to co-teach and approach issues from numerous angles. This spring’s upcoming symposium on water, for example, is being organized by Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis, who has written several books about water issues in California. “By interweaving the arts with the elements through such events as concerts, theatre shows, films and conferences,” Miller says, “we hope to broaden the community’s appreciation for the vital interplay between the natural world and the human imagination.”

This interdisciplinary collaboration is an important goal of the initiative, explains Oxotby. “It is our hope that faculty will find that the collaborations they will explore as part of the Elemental Arts initiative will add value and excitement to their teaching and research, so that by the end of it, collaborations among the visual, performing and student arts and with other departments across the disciplines will have become well established—simply a way of doing things at Pomona.”