One Artist, One Faculty, One Question

Numerous professional visiting artists come to campus each academic year to both display their creative talents and impart their expressive wisdom to the Hope community. They show and tell us, by virtue of their displayed talents and spoken wisdom, that the arts are important to our collective communities because they require response and engagement, making us more mindful and inspired; making us more human.

Four of those visiting artists sat down separately with a Hope faculty member to answer how the arts contribute to the public good. It is a question whose answer is necessary toward a better understanding of what makes the arts important in our lives and world.

In this third installment of One Question, Director of Theatre Michelle Bombe sits down with American playwright Nathan Allen who is also the artistic director of the House Theatre of Chicago. Allen co-wrote “The Sparrow,” a play performed at the college during the fall of 2015, for which Allen returned to campus to direct. The play, “Rose and the Rime,” was written and created and directed by Allen too, in 2006-07, in a collaborative effort with the Hope cast and design team. That Hope production earned the prestigious honor of being selected to be performed during the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (ACTF) National Festival in Washington, D.C., in April, 2008.

One Artist, One Faculty, One Question

Numerous professional visiting artists come to campus each academic year to both display their creative talents and impart their expressive wisdom to the Hope community. They show and tell us, by virtue of their displayed talents and spoken wisdom, that the arts are important to our collective communities because they require response and engagement, making us more mindful and inspired; making us more human.

Four of those visiting artists sat down separately with a Hope faculty member over the past year to answer how the arts contribute to the public good. It is a question whose answer is necessary toward a better understanding of what makes the arts important in our lives and world.

In this second installment of One Question, Assistant Professor of Theatre, Richard Perez, sits down with British actor Julian Sands. Sands performed “A Celebration of Harold Pinter” for Hope’s Great Performance Series last January. Described as “a warm, witty, and thoroughly winning actor” by the Chicago Tribune, Sands has been seen world-wide in films, on stage and on television. He has appeared in more than 100 films, including, “The Killing Fields,” “A Room With A View,” “Impromptu,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Arachnophobia,” “Oceans 13” and  “The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo.” He is best known on television for his recent role on “24” but has also appeared on “Smallville,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “Dexter” and “Banshee.”

Talking back to Hope Theatre

“The Christians,” the recently staged production by the Hope College Theatre Department, is a play full of questions but few answers. Seems right when delving into themes of faith and doubt. Seems right for good drama, too.

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Richard Perez, assistant professor of theatre and director of “The Christians”

Yet too many questions with not enough answers can be unsettling. So, Richard Perez, the play’s director and an assistant professor of theatre, employed the use of “talkbacks” at the conclusion of each of the play’s six performances to help theatergoers navigate and give voice to the tricky topics of love and fear, belief and uncertainty.

Unlike a panel discussion, Perez’s talkbacks did just what the name implies: they offered audience members the chance to ask their own questions to diverse, three- to four-person panels made up of 20 different Hope professors and administrators, as well as pastors from the Holland community, each night. Even Hope President John Knapp took part. The post-production discussions provided opportunities for open dialogue and furthered conversations about thematic aspects of the play. In doing so, viewers of Hope’s production of “The Christians” were ultimately seeking input and insight about questions important to their own faith lives. This kind of engagement on matters of faith is a hallmark of a Hope College education.

“’I’m so glad they did that (offered talkbacks),” said Hope freshman Michael Macks, who attended on opening night. “It gave me a chance to hear what other people thought about some of the questions I had, such as, do some people believe a certain way because their parents do? When does faith become our own?”

The post-production discussions provided opportunities for open dialogue and furthered conversations about thematic aspects of the play. In doing so, viewers of Hope’s production of “The Christian” were ultimately seeking input and insight about questions important to their own faith lives. This kind of engagement on matters of faith is a hallmark of a Hope College education.

“I have been so pleased with how well this play was received,” says Perez. “I heard many people talking about their impressions and questions as they were walking out of the (DeWitt) theater. One of our intro theatre classes spent an entire class period on it even though that is not what the professor had originally planned. I could not have asked for anything more than that.”

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Hope College’s production of “The Christians,” the play’s collegiate premiere.

A fast ride with five actors, a nine-person choir and no intermission, the play is also currently being staged off Broadway to excellent reviews. Hope College gave “The Christians” its collegiate premiere and was even mentioned in a New York Times article about the playwright, Lucas Hnath.

Hope Shares Talent at ArtPrize

Four Hope College faculty and staff members — two musicians, a dancer, and a Lego artist — plus numerous Hope student viewers, some of whom attend as part of their social work course, will be among the many participating in ArtPrize, the “radically open, independently organized, international art competition” held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, annually.

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Dr. Charles Cusack’s entry: Latin Squared Square. Photo credit: Steve Nelson, Hope College Art and Art History Department

ArtPrize opened its 2015 collection of more than 1,500 works yesterday. Now in its seventh year, the competition offers its artists and viewers an unconventional and intriguing way to discuss what art is and why it matters. The highly communal artworks, which are voted on by judges and the public alike, will remain on display throughout the downtown Grand Rapids area until Sunday, Oct. 11.

Dr. Charles Cusack, associate professor of computer science, has been a Lego enthusiast since he was a young boy. Now he’s putting that enthusiasm on display with Latin Squared Square, a 38” x 38” piece of two different types of combinatorial objects constructed with Legos. Located in the B.O.B, Cusack’s work is a simple, perfect square that has been squared. A Latin square is a grid in which every cell is a certain color (or shape or number) and every row and every column contains each color exactly once (like Sudoku). Cusack says the work took him over a year-and-a-half to conceive and create as he wrote computer algorithms to achieve his desired Latin square effect and spent much time shopping online to track down the Lego pieces he needed. “It’s harder to find pieces of specific Lego than you would think,” says Cusack, who admits he never thought of himself as an artist but has toyed with the idea of an ArtPrize submission for years. “Lego has to be one of the most expensive mediums, too,” he says, especially when those pieces are carefully and colorfully selected and arranged in a specialized, mathematical way.

Professor Angie Yetzke, assistant professor of dance, and Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship music in Campus Ministries, along with Pj Maske of Urban Garden Performing Arts, are uniting their talents to present a collaborative production entitled “The Blind Ambition of Miss Columbia.” The piece is a hybrid work of movement-based theatre and live music. “The Blind Ambition of Miss Columbia” is a critique of the historical American notion of Manifest Destiny, which asks “questions about collective cultural identity and memory,” explains Maske. “When popular art and culture blindly romanticize the past, how do we own the truth of a (troubling) history?” It will be performed at the Amway Grand Plaza‘s outdoor patio on the northwest corner, on Saturday, Sept 26 and Saturday, Oct. 3 at 1:30, 2:00, 3:00 and 3:30 pm.

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Stephen Talaga, adjunct assistant professor of music, has entered “New Hope” in 2015 ArtPrize. Photo credit: Juan Daniel Castro

Professor Stephen Talaga, adjunct assistant professor of music, has entered an electronic keyboard improvisation piece in ArtPrize. “New Hope” was first commissioned by Julia Randel of the Hope College Music Department for the opening of the new Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts on campus this fall. Talaga says he created the celebratory work “on my home computer by layering successive tracks until I ended up with a result I liked.” Randel likes it too. “What I especially enjoy about the piece is that it evokes so many different sounds and styles, so it suggests the broad range of what we do in the music department,” she explains. “Being an electronic piece, it has ‘newness,’ but it also connects with multiple traditions coming together in our building.” The eight-minute piece is accessible to listen to through the ArtPrize website and via listening stations at St. Cecilia Music Center.

Students in Dr. Deb Sturtevant’s Social Interventions III class attend ArtPrize as a vital component of their coursework. In the gallery that is three-square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, senior-level social work students witness how art can revitalize organizations and communities, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. Sturtevant, professor of social work, has used ArtPrize since its inception as a vehicle to convey that the macro-practices of social work are “not just about soup kitchens.” Her students attend ArtPrize each year to see how art, especially in the Heartside Ministries and Avenue of the Arts neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, is created and viewed by those who might be homeless, for instance. “Some of my students go back to ArtPrize repeatedly,” she says. “Many are especially drawn to art with a strong social message.” Her students must talk with the artists and viewers as well as simply observe. And while paper-writing and vote-casting are required, Sturtevant’s students come away from ArtPrize with an even greater realization that art provides value to communities beyond its beauty on a wall or in a park. They find art and ArtPrize informs and transforms artists and observers, neighborhoods and friends.

“Some of my students go back to ArtPrize repeatedly. Many are especially drawn to art with a strong social message.” — Dr. Deb Sturtevant

If you’re heading to ArtPrize over the next few weeks, be sure to check out the entries created by members of the Hope community!