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CSU Summer Arts
Here's one for the tourism boards — Fresno as a destination spot, the place you want to be.
At least it is if you are the organizers of California State University Summer Arts.
For the last 12 years, the program, which offers two-week long workshops in theatre, dance, music, visual arts, creative writing, new media and arts education, has been housed on the campus of Fresno State, bringing some of the best artists and master teachers in the world to create an arts festival of sorts.
Along with the courses, there are more than 40 events, from lectures and readings to exhibits and performances. The events kick off with the Urban Bush Women dance group, 7 p.m. June 27 at the John Wright Theatre, and continue almost daily through July 23.
In advance of the first show, Famous talks with Jacqueline Doumanian, Community Relations Specialist for the program.
We'd like to assume that everyone knows about Summer Arts. Knowing this probably isn't the case, can you give a brief description-some history, how it works, etc.?
CSU Summer Arts was created in 1985 as a way to meet the needs of the visual and performing arts students of the CSU system and supplement the programs of the CSU's large and diverse Art Colleges. Summer Arts is headquartered in the CSU Chancellor's Office and incorporates all 27 CSU campuses, by inviting faculty members to propose courses that they would like to coordinate and also inviting the various CSU Arts Colleges to bid on having the program housed on their campus. In the 25 year history of CSU Summer Arts, the program has been housed on the campus of CSU Long Beach (twice), Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo, Humboldt State University, and, since 1999 at CSU Fresno.
Summer Arts offers three sessions beginning mid-June and running through July: a three week session in Florence, Italy, and two two-week sessions at CSU Fresno. Open to high school graduates and arts professionals, students earn 3 to 6 units of transferable graduate or post-graduate credit. A typical season usually draws 450 to 500 students who come from many different educational institutions from across the United States and also from other countries. As a multi-disciplinary arts program, the coursework is ambitious — with a variety of classes in drawing/painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater, animation, film, new media and creative writing. Faculty and guest artists come from across the United Stated and abroad to teach master classes. As part of their residencies with Summer Arts, most guest artists present a public event, which can be a lecture, reading, exhibit, or performance. These are presented to the public at very reasonable cost to reach out to as many community members a possible. All student culminations events are free to the public.
What keeps Summer Arts coming back to Fresno? How has the program (and the events) changed since that first year (or since its inception 25 years ago)?
California State University, Fresno, has proved to be a perfect fit for the CSU Summer Arts program and has the distinction of being Summer Arts' home longer than any other campus. The Summer Arts management staff looks for a variety of campus features to determine whether that campus wins the bid for hosting the program: classroom facilities and performance venues; campus parking; cost of campus facilities; on-campus housing; close hotel accommodations; airline service and community support. The current contract with Fresno State goes through the 2011 season.
There have not been any dramatic changes in the program since it has been in Fresno other than different emphasis on workshops and each year brings in new faculty and guest artists.
For the students, this is obviously a great learning (and employment) opportunity. But what does it mean for the greater artistic community in the area (both in terms of those who make art and those who enjoy art)?
This year, the Summer Arts Festival will feature 26 guest artist events that include actors from the Steppenwolf Theatre Company; lead animators from Disney and Pixar; an Emmy and Tony award winner; internationally touring dance company, Diavolo; award winning solo performers; a MacArthur “Genius” Award winner and authors who are breaking the boundaries of writing. Summer Arts sets a very high standard for the caliber of artists that we bring to work with our students and when these artists share their talents and expertise with the community through their event, it's always wonderful to hear how the experience has expanded the ideas, concepts, and expectations of those who were in the audience.
I spoke with a teacher at Sunnyside High School last year that said the photography lectures inspired her to experiment with her own work and then apply for a grant to get equipment for her classroom so she could teach the students what she learned from attending the lectures.
The courses (and events) seem to encompass all of the arts. Is this purposeful? How are the courses chosen?
Yes, Summer Arts is purposefully a multidisciplinary arts program and, according to our research, the only program of its kind in the world. We like to call what happens between the different artistic genres “cross pollenation.” Music students provide music for the animation students' films; photography students take head shots of the acting students; artists prepare backdrops for the actors, etc. It's really fun in the cafeteria at lunch when impromptu performances crop up and everyone gets to enjoy the dance, singing, improv comedy, etc. Plus, students enjoy meeting and visiting with guest artists for other classes and guest artists meet and connect on collaborations. It's an incredible exchange of creativity.
Which courses/events are you looking forward to this year?
I am not the best person to ask because I love everything! However, I'm looking forward to the following lectures: all three animators (June 28, July 1,5); clay sculpture (June 30, July 7); Nick Flynn (July 7). Paul Gemignani on July 3 because he's such a big shot on Broadway and should have some good stories and behind the scenes gems. Definitely all of the theatrical events because all of these artists are incredible performers and Billings and Raffo's shows are both award winners: Alexandra Billings (July 11); Bill Bowers (July 12); Heather Raffo; (July 14) Razowsky and Hunicutt — Razowsky is the best improv comedian I've experienced in person (July 16); Violet Juno and Kristina Wong (July 21) are both edgy, funny, sharp. Both dance event, because although very different aesthetically, they are both professionally exceptional and the “soul” of Urban Bush Women (June 27) just shines. Diavolo (July 22) elicits a lot of gasps!
I've been looking forward to the artist Trimpin's lecture (July 13) since I first heard about him being part of our program. He is an artist, musician, inventor, and engineer who is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award and gets commissions for his sound sculptures from the U.S. and Europe. A documentary on him, “Trimpin: the sound of invention,” is currently on the film festival circuit and is not released to DVD yet. Epic Ensembles 1 & 2 (July 17 & 19) has some exceptional musicians and will be satisfying to classical music lovers.
What else should we know?
The Student Culminations on July 8/9 and July 22/23 are free to the public and always generate large audiences. The String and Piano Intensive on 7/23 at 4:45 pm in the Concert Hall will feature guest artist, Vadim Gluzman, performing with the students. Mr. Gluzman performs in the world's great concert halls and this will be a surprising highlight at a culmination.