Leonard Bernstein’s Festival of the Creative Arts: Q&A with Ingrid Schorr and Ingrid Pabon

April 20, 2018

The presence of admitted students on campus coincided with the rise of a plethora of celebratory arts events on campus. The Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts kicked off last Sunday and will continue through this weekend. Super Sunday began the festival, featuring a series of live music events, dances and art exhibits in various locations including Slosberg, The Great Lawn, Ridgewood Commons and the Rose Art Museum. Students and the surrounding community have gathered together over the last week to commemorate the achievements of artists both within and outside the Brandeis community, bringing a fulfilling week for both the performers and those who organized the event. I had the opportunity to sit down with Ingrid Schorr, who runs the Office of the Arts at Brandeis, as well as her associate, Ingrid Pabon, about what it was like to coordinate this festival.

Can you explain more about the Office of the Arts at Brandeis?

Schorr: The Office of the Arts is not an academic department but part of the promo staff. Our mission is to integrate the arts events across the life of the university. We do not teach class, but we support arts programs and serve as a central point of communication around the arts. We work through the whole division of creative arts, which is the academic departments of music, fine arts, and theater and CAST minor, and our division also includes the Rose Art Museum, so we work with both academic and non-academic programs. The programs that the Office of the Arts produces are State of the arts bi-annual arts magazine and events guide, which puts on the festival of creative arts.

How did you coordinate this event?

Schorr: The planning starts in the fall, when we start putting together our planning committee with a committee of staff and students, who are engaged with the arts or have had affinity for the arts. They might be making music or theatre or art themselves, but primarily they like to organize events. We start meeting twice a month in the fall and we meet all the way up through the festival to get the word out, to start recruiting ideas and projects, so some of the works that you see in the festival are produced by our office, which means we financially support them and kind of nurture them to their completion. A lot of the festival events are produced by other programs on campus, such as the Rose Art Museum, the Theatre Arts Department, the Music Department, so they are creating their own programs and producing them. The communications part of the Festival is us gathering all of those events and programs, so we can compile them into the festival schedule. About half of that work is produced by people in our community, such as faculty, staff and students.

What is your favorite part about the Festival of the Arts?

Schorr: Seeing people’s ideas become reality. We love talking to people in the Brandeis community in the fall about things they would like to make or produce for the Festival of the Arts. We guide them through that process and we give them some financial and some logistical support and we get to see what they really look like.

Pabon: I love the community that it builds. There is a unique placeholder within more than one day, such as several days, like this year it was seven days, where all of the artistic works merge into this lovely, connected festival, but I think from that there are also these opportunities … for relationships to continue growing. I think that the festival gets these artists connected and get these works together to get people to meet one another. Whether it is volunteering or performing at the festival, it is just a great community to have throughout the year.

Why is the festival of the arts so important for Brandeis?

Schoor: The impact of the festival is that for one week, we are all together. It is not just the music department putting on a concert. It is not just the Rose putting up an exhibition. We are all together as a community celebrating the arts and creativity. Since the beginning when the festival was founded in 1952, it is meant to show that Brandeis cares about the arts and values the arts, and that the arts are accessible to everybody. We have a big external audience that comes during this week, maybe more so than the rest of the year, and that is important to us too. I have had students say to me that it is one of their favorite performances of the year because they are not just performing for their friends but in front of other people

Pabon: This year we put out several hundred guidebooks in a couple of elementary schools and family mailboxes, so many families received word about this in a personal way. There were posters put up in the Waltham community. Every year there is more done with new connections around outreach through our planning of the festival.

How does it feel to see the festival come together after so much time and effort?

Pabon: The festival is still going on, but Super Sunday was a big day. There were a lot of people on campus with admitted students day, and the weather was interesting. In spite of that, and the complexity of the day, people loved the festival. The kids were running around with smiling faces. Those that weathered the storm and made it out here were super happy.

Schorr: I talked to an alum last night who is a grandfather and his grandaughter does theatre and she wants to apply to NYU, but he said, “I really want her to apply to Brandeis. I think she could do better theatre here than at NYU and get a better education.” I’m happy with what is going on. I am happy to see people happy. We do it for the community.

Pabon: It is the happiness and the joy that it brings that makes it all worth it.

How does this year distinguish from other years, given that it’s Bernstein’s 100th birthday this year?

Schoor: Well, we have more Bernstein programming this week, which is why the festival was expanded seven days this year so we could get all these great Bernstein works in there. The university chorus and the Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra are doing Bernstein’s mass April 22, tonight there is a program of Bernstein’s songs by students in Nancy Armstrong’s theater arts class, her advanced singing class. We invited the Boston Lyric Opera on Sunday to do some performances of songs by Leonard Bernstein and the Ballet Club did every interpretation of a ballet that he wrote called Fancy Free. Bernstein wrote 3 symphonies. He wrote a lot of music for the stage, and he wrote a lot of choral pieces. So not every university can do everything Bernstein wrote, but our departments have been chosen really well this year and chosen pieces that show them off the best.

What events at the festival are the most difficult to organize?

Pabon: Super Sunday is the most difficult because there is a lot of programming that day. There are a lot of variables that go into planning a multi-location, multi-program event.

Schorr: Brandeis has a lot of assets, but it does not have a lot of performance spaces, as you probably already know. It does not have a lot of walls to display artwork, so that is very challenging to find ways to display artwork and to use venues and rooms that are not necessarily dedicated to performance as well. We have no shortage of ideas.

Pabon: We have a good planning committee.

Do you feel any sort of pressure when planning this event?

Schorr: I think the pressure comes from myself just to make it the best that I can and to hope that our busy Brandeis students find the time to attend and to live up to the ideas of Leonard Bernstein, who loved theater and loved music and loved people, more than anyone else. He was such an incredibly generous person. I think he was happiest when he was playing piano for a crowd of people or when he was writing music or talking about music with a group of people to honor that legacy and generosity.

What is the best part about coordinating this event?

Pabon: The visioning was a lot of fun. We had a lot of maps, words and visuals to help reflect what Bernstein had represented to us. Our students did a lot of work researching about Leonard Bernstein as a multifaceted individual, such as a humanitarian and activist. Combining both sources, we learned a lot about him, and we learned how he was relevant to the Brandeis community today, where that was like a journey.

Schorr: That was really important to us to not just hold up this guy as a conductor or a person in an elite position but to think about what he represented and why he supported Brandeis because his values as a humanitarian and an activist are so closely aligned with Brandeis’. That is why he came to teach here when he could have been anywhere in the world. That is why he was on the Board of Trustees because he believed in Brandeis as an inclusive place. He was an American Jew. He was a first generation American, who experienced anti-Semitism and exclusion. The more we read about him and the more we talked to people about Leonard Bernstein, the more excited we got about how relevant he could be about our community today and how much he would have loved to see what happened to our Festival of the Arts.

Pabon: It is the only festival in the world that has his name

Schorr: We got the permission from his family.

Pabon: We are picking up his daughter tomorrow to take her to her show tomorrow, just like in generations past.

Schorr: When Bernstein taught here, he lived in New York and flew to Logan once a week to teach. This was when there were like 50 people at Brandeis, so anyone who had a car had to go pick him up at the airport. Now there is this whole generation of alumni who picked up Bernstein at the airport and they talk about it.

There are still three days left to check out the Festival of the Creative Arts. Senior Festival runs all weekend. Also make sure to look out for performances from Boris’ Kitchen, Kaos Kids, Lydian String Quartet and a tribute to Leonard Bernstein from the Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra and Brandeis University Chorus. Folk Fest, hosted by Brandeis acapella group Too Cheap For Instruments and featuring folk singers throughout the New England area will take place at 12 p.m. Saturday on the Great Lawn. Another highlight to check out on Saturday night is Culture X, celebrating diversity in the arts. Culture X will start at 7 p.m. in Levin Ballroom. This year’s arts festival has been successful thus far, and if you have not had the opportunity to check out an event yet this year, it is definitely not too late.

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