College of Arts and Letters looks to expand community ties

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n the relationship between a University and its surrounding community, perhaps the most common and popular connection is through the arts. Community members rely on the campus as a source for musical performances, gallery shows and theater productions. And the University plays to that audience in sharing its artistic offerings.

At Sac State, the College of Arts and Letters is not only expanding its offerings for the community, it’s going one step further­­­—taking its show on the road.

Case in point: the annual spring Festival of the Arts, which kicked off downtown with the U-Create street festival, and wound down on campus for the Family Sunday Funday open house. In between, the College put on five days of creative performances, exhibits, lectures and master classes, showcasing the region’s artistic and cultural spirit. 

“It’s one of those weeks that celebrates the importance of a University with strong and creative programs,” says Edward Inch, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “But just as important are the significant and special relationships we have with the community and the organizations that represent the cultural parts of Sacramento.”

U-Create came out of the College’s desire to establish a downtown arts presence. In its second year, U-Create takes over blocks of downtown Sacramento for a street faire that fills selected art galleries and streets with artworks, live music and dance performances.

Grants are awarded to student-faculty teams to produce creative and cultural projects that are showcased during the event. U-Create and other arts events are boosted by sponsorships from campus supporters such as Capital Public Radio, the Alumni Association and Beatnik Studios, among others.

Another one of those sponsors is Verge Center for the Arts. In addition to its private support for the University, the partnership between Verge and Sac State is bringing students in contact with other regional arts programs. 

Verge works with the University’s “Studio” course, a general education class where students participate in the life of an arts organization such as Verge, the Philharmonic Opera or Blue Line Arts. They can attend gallery openings, operas or plays. 

“It’s important to build and strengthen those relationships with students, which helps ensure their understanding of the value that cultural institutions offer to the community,” says alumna and Verge executive director Liv Moe ’08, MA (Art Studio).

“It’s been a great collaboration given how much the University puts back into the community in terms of students graduating and changing the landscape of our region.” 

While U-Create was developed to reach the external arts community, Inch says Family Sunday Funday came about as a way to bring young families to campus and make it a less intimidating place. Students, staff, faculty, alumni, neighbors and their families are invited to campus for the day to experience fun and creative activities that include calligraphy and Japanese dance lessons, a recording studio and more.

“The campus is park-like and a wonderful place to bring kids on the weekend,” Inch says. 

Taking the gown to town 

A more ambitious effort is the College’s participation in the Promise Zone initiative, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development project that seeks to improve the quality of life for people living in high-poverty neighborhoods. 

It’s important to build and strengthen those relationships with students, which helps ensure their understanding of the value that cultural institutions offer to the community.

Last year Sacramento was designated as one of eight new Promise Zones across the country and is the only one in Northern California. Sac State and other local organizations are partnering with the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency to create jobs, increase economic activity and improve educational opportunities, among other goals. 

“The city is committed to use arts and creative activity as a catalyst for the Promise Zone area to bring communities together,” Inch says. “I think we can create a cultural understanding, appreciation and connection to help move that area forward.”

To find out how you can help engage students in the arts community, contact Kevin Gonzalez, director of development for the College of Arts and Letters, at (916) 278-6989 or visit csus.edu/giving.

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