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Fall 2002 l Capital University Journal
Illustration of a DancerSac State arts programs: In tune with the community

The arts at Sac State strike a chord throughout Sacramento largely because of more than 50 years of contributions by Sac State faculty, students and alumni, who have dedicated their lives and careers to promoting, nurturing and providing quality cultural arts.

Well-known local artists such as Jack Ogden, Bob Brady and Bob Else have taught Sac State students for years, while making their own significant contributions in their field. Composer and Grammy award-winning musician Bobby McFerrin attended Sac State and his father was on the faculty. And the Smithsonian and others have recognized emeritus professor, artist, musician and poet laureate of Sacramento Jose Montoya. The contributions of alumni and former students are extensive, with artists such as Wayne Thiebaud, Greg Kondos, Fritz Scholder and Tom Hanks learning skills here early in their careers. And there are many others of similar prominence.

Illustration of Music notes“We prepare artists, most of whom live here, teach here and make a lasting impact on the arts environment within this community,” says Rollin Potter, director of the University’s School of the Arts. “Our impact is long-lasting, educating artists who are dedicated to their craft over the long term—10, 15, even 50 years in this community. This is not merely a theoretical program. This is a program where students and faculty are
engaged in their arts. These are the professional artists of this community."

Illustration of a tube of paintRoberto Pomo, chair of the theatre and dance department, points out an important example. "Many of the faculty at the local community colleges and many of the people involved in local community theater groups graduated from Sac State academic programs, and they continue to remain close to the arts community. There is a commitment by our students to this community, and our graduates find a way to stay involved in the arts, one way or another," he says.

"There is a passion for the arts here, and the lives of thousands and thousands of Sacramentans have been elevated and enriched by campus performances, exhibits, lectures and displays," says Robert Jones, vice president for University Affairs, who works closely with the community-at-large.

Jones cites as an example the tremendous contribution of the University's Capital Public Radio (CPR) stations in the region, which provide classical music to an audience of nearly 150,000 weekly.

Illustration of a an actress having makeup put on herMike Lazar, president of CPR says, "We feel we serve as a catalyst for the arts, as a promoter and educator about the "arts scene' in Sacramento."

To increase the synergy and vision for the arts on campus and in the region, the campus arts programs were united into a School of the Arts in 2000. That step allowed the University to provide students with a full array of skills needed by a working artist–from staging, to performance, to technique. The campus presents educational opportunities that are classical, diverse, academic, cutting edge and fun–offering programs in visual arts, music, dance, theater, photography, design, and the literary arts.

"Our performances and entertainment on campus have a tight connection to our curriculum and our students," says Ernie Hills, chair of the department of music. "When we bring in performers, in almost all cases it has a direct connection with the classroom. We offer master classes, classroom visits, residencies, and student networking opportunities that allow them to deal directly with professionals from Los Angeles, or New York, or even internationally."

Illustration of a pencilTo encourage students to pursue a life in the arts, scholarships are available for student artists and there is a substantial endowment specifically intended for students in the performing arts.

The growth and development of the arts on this campus has been steady and significant, says William J. Sullivan, dean of the Sac State College of Arts and Letters. "We continue to build and grow—to give to both our students and the community. Our connection to the community is very strong and it is important to our students and faculty, who live and work here, to be certain that the arts are vital and strong," says Sullivan.

As examples he notes:
  • The spring Festival of the Arts, which brings nearly 10,000 guests to campus for 50 artistic enterprises, celebrated its 10th anniversary last spring.
  • The nationally acclaimed Festival of New American Music has just marked its 25th anniversary this season.
  • The Barrio Arts program has for more than three decades trained future teachers by having them work with inner-city youth and seniors.
  • The Lenaea Festival, created in 1957 to connect the Sac State theatre department with local high school drama students, attracts 1,000 aspiring actors each year to campus. The festival is the oldest high school drama event of its kind in the country.
  • More than a decade of opera has given students the experience of performing the medium before community audiences.

In addition to the well-established artistic events, the programs continue to bring new and diverse opportunities for students and the public.

Musical theater has been recently added to the curriculum. This year a new jazz studies program, under the direction of Steve Roach, has taken off with the highly popular Latin Jazz Ensemble. A spacious new art gallery opened this year on the first floor of the library, with landscapes of California plein-air artists of the early 20th century. That spectacular show was followed by a second exceptional exhibition of works by former CSUS student and teacher Frank Owen and former CSUS professor Joseph Raffael, titled "The Transformation of Nature." An exhibition featuring the works of internationally acclaimed artist and Sac State alum Wayne Thiebaud will coincide with the spring Festival of the Arts in April.

Illustration of an Actor in costumeThe theater season, which opened with the dramatic
Laramie Project, will continue with Cabaret and M. Butterfly, both of which are expected to attract large crowds.

Each year hundreds of campus arts performances and activities attract nearly 30,000 ticket buyers in addition to the many thousands who attend free events on campus. The music department alone puts on 200 events each academic year.

"Sac State is a great ambassador for the arts," says Sacramento county supervisor and long-time patron of the arts community Muriel Johnson. "The arts are vitally important to the cultural and economic life of the region. By cultivating an interest in the arts we provide a stimulus for economic development, take full advantage of our diverse cultures and tap into the tremendous potential of every individual," she says.

In at least two significant instances, the University has been instrumental in shaping public policy that led to improving the overall vigor of the arts. Nearly a dozen members of the art faculty worked with then-Mayor Phil Isenberg to help implement the 1977 law that led to the creation of Sacramento's Metropolitan Arts Commission, which now manages the largest "arts in public places" program in the country and which has made art an integral part of the region.

One example is former faculty member Gerald Walburg's dramatic Indo Arch and other significant metal sculptures throughout the city.

Isenberg notes, "A community defines itself in many ways. Emphasis on the arts is one. Fortunately, we had at hand a good supply of talented artists and community activists who made a living through CSUS. The University nurtured them and they led the way for a rapid expansion of the arts in Sacramento, and did it with a strong sense of humor and goodwill."

In another instance, the California State University system, under a committee chaired by Sac State President Donald R. Gerth, fought to preserve arts education in the high schools. After Proposition 13 passed in 1978, schools had to make major cuts to their budgets. Arts programs were frequently targeted, but in part because the CSU continued to require one year of visual or performing arts for admissions, high school art classes didn't completely disappear. In 1999, the CSU and University of California agreed to require the same preparatory requirements for admissions—including one year of art.

"Appreciation of or participation in the arts brings balance and joy into people's lives and has for eons," Gerth says. "The arts are part of all cultures and help us to interpret and understand our existence."

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