Indiana, PA - Indiana County

MONDAY Q&A: IUP's Lively Arts director upbeat about public support for program

on February 28, 2011 3:00 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: In December, Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Dr. David Werner announced the university would be discontinuing its OnStage Arts and Entertainment series at the end of the season due to budgetary issues.

Popular among local residents, the program brought nationally recognized touring concerts, musicals and comedians to Indiana, and its cancellation has angered some residents. Meanwhile, IUP is expanding a similar arts and entertainment series called the Lively Arts. The program's public events director, Hank Knerr, recently sat down with the Gazette's Sam Kusic to talk about the decision and what the community might expect from the Lively Arts..


Question: What sort of feedback have you been receiving on the decision (to end the OnStage program)?

Answer: We've been getting mostly very positive comments. There are obviously some question marks from a number of people. We've received a lot of questions through our survey as well as through e-mail and other sources. We expected there to be questions, and that's why we wanted to address them through meetings and e-mails and early on through our website. I haven't found the comments to be so much negative as I have them to be (lacking in information).

Question: How do you think OnStage donors are responding to the decision? Have you been able to persuade them to donate instead to the Lively Arts?

Answer: We're in the very early stages of a phonathon where we're calling previous OnStage donors as well as people who are on our mailing list. That's going extremely well. The average amount of donations per donor per night has been above previous years, and even after three or four nights we're about a quarter of the way to our goal. The calling will continue periodically for the next six to eight weeks.

Question: When the university announced it was ending OnStage, it said it was doing so because IUP must focus on its academic mission, something the Lively Arts is being tasked with. Could you elaborate on that?

Answer: IUP and the Division of Academic Affairs and the College of Fine Arts exist because of the students, and we exist for the students. Therefore, they need to be our No. 1 focus. But at the same time, the university has taken as its obligation to be a good neighbor. In that regard we want to share our resources, our expertise, our knowledge, our passion for the arts. So what we want to do and what we will continue to do is provide the finest opportunities we possibly can for our students and the community. For instance, we have several faculty dedicated to musical theater, and we owe it to them and the students to provide top-notch professional theater.

So we will be bringing in Broadway-style musical theater. That has been something we've stated from the very beginning. We are working with the same agencies that have brought musical theater here in the past, so Broadway musicals will be part of our programming.

We also have one of the finest music departments in the state, if not the finest, so we owe it to our students to provide them with the top performers. We are looking at top jazz acts, blues. We teach that in the classroom, and therefore we owe it to the students (to expose them to those musicians.)

Question: What sorts of shows does the revamped Lively Arts plan to present?

Answer: We are looking at a very high standard of artistic quality. That does not mean it's boring. When successful, art is entertaining. Maybe not to everyone all of the time, but we certainly will have something for everyone. We will work to please all of the people most of the time.

I can say some of the types of things we're looking at: We've got a blues and bluegrass fusion band that we're looking at. There's a theatrical taiko drumming group from Japan that we're looking at bringing in that sells out wherever they go. They're quite spectacular. There's a five-piece percussion and string new music ensemble that we're working on with other presenting organizations. And there's an interesting act that combines American jazz with American tap dance with some traditional music and dance from India. We are planning to bring in The Mystical Arts of Tibet next year. We've brought them in twice before. We're also considering improvisational theater groups, several classical chamber soloists and groups, and the possibility of bringing in an authentic Celtic group from Ireland. We've done very few vocal ensembles or choirs in the past, so were looking at that. And we're also looking at a possible family show for the holiday season.

Some of the Broadway shows that are touring next year that we're looking at are "In the Heights," "The Color Purple" and Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein." There are a few classics going on the road like "Camelot" and "My Fair Lady." We're in the process of formalizing the budget, which will help dictate what we can offer. In order to be fiscally responsible, we're not going to contract any event until the money is in hand and we are sure we can afford the event.

Question: How well do you suppose those will go over with the patrons?

Answer: I do think the community will be pleased. Just like any series, not everything is for everybody. But we are trying to offer a diversity of styles and genres for the entire community. We want to share that. We owe it our students to give them the best, and we owe it to our community to give them the best.

Question: When do you plan to announce next year's lineup?

Answer: Normally we've announced seasons in June or July. We're trying to do it sooner this year, probably by the beginning of May, or at least the majority of the season.

Question: How many shows does the Lively Arts series plan to present?

Answer: As far as touring performances, (Lively Arts) has been doing around six to seven a year. It depends on the budget. So what we're looking at is increasing it to 12, which is what OnStage has been doing. The two programs together have been presenting around 18 to 20 touring artist events. So we're looking at bringing that down to 12, but the Kovalchick Complex is looking at doing 25 to 30 shows a year. So where IUP used to do about 20 touring shows, IUP will be presenting, in total, 35 to 40 large, public, entertainment and arts events.

Question: How does the Kovalchick Complex fit into the bigger picture?

Answer: The Kovalchick Complex is looking at things like pop and country and other more commercial, entertainment-style events. Those types of things that were done in the past by OnStage will continue, but it will be the Kovalchick Complex that's doing them, Meanwhile, the Lively Arts will be doing the Broadway shows, the headliner acts like a Broadway star or a jazz star, the up-and coming groups, the classical ensembles, the classical performers.

Question: Did IUP decide to cancel the OnStage series specifically because of the Kovalchick Complex?

Answer: That's a question I am unable to answer. What I do know is that we were invited to expand our series, and we've met with people at the Kovalchick Complex once the decision was made. I guess I could refer to the statement that (IUP President) Dr. Werner made at the very beginning, and I'm paraphrasing here, that this was not about an elimination of services for IUP, it is a matter of duplication of services.

Question: Do you envision all of those performances continuing to take place in Fisher Auditorium?

Answer: There will be a variety of chamber-style performances, events a little more intimate that we might do somewhere else, like in Gorell Recital Hall or maybe in (downtown Indiana). And then we'll do maybe six or seven really big shows in Fisher Auditorium.

Question: OnStage has a program called OnStage in School, in which touring performers were asked to spend time working with or speaking to students at local schools. What will become of this outreach effort after OnStage ends its run?

Answer: (Lively Arts) has been doing outreach in schools, mostly in music and visual art. About 11 years ago, we started a program called ArtsPath. ArtsPath is our arts and education outreach program. It's supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and we have a part-time associate director for that program. We go into schools with local professional artists. They are professional artists, not students, although IUP students have gotten involved. They go and have an in-depth experience of at least 10 days, oftentimes up to 20 or 30 days, where they are a resident in the school and work with the teachers and the students. We've done a lot in Indiana County, but we serve a five-county region. Many of those have incorporated something with the touring performing artists that we bring in. With that program we have been reaching between 3,000 to 5,000 students a year, so obviously that will continue. We will enhance that even more than ever before with the (performers in) the touring shows. We're looking at increasing the number of students that we reach by about 500 a year. That's a rough estimate right now.

NEXT WEEK: Kendra Fairman, director of the Wise Women Natural Health Collective.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Do you know someone who would be a great subject for the Monday Q&A? If so, please call Jason Levan at (724) 465-5555, ext. 270.

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