When choreographer Christopher Pilafian left a professional dance career in New York City to teach at UC Santa Barbara, he traded one of the world’s cultural hubs for a quiet coastal city, but he hasn’t missed out on what’s new in dance.
Pilafian credits Arts & Lectures for delivering culture to campus. “The Arts & Lectures program makes it possible to connect with the world’s leading performing artists and thinkers without having to travel thousands of miles to see and hear them,” he said.
This year, Arts & Lectures celebrates 50 years of doing just that — bringing performing artists, films and lecturers to nearly 60,000 people on campus and in the community each year. The anniversary season’s diverse lineup, including big names like Yo-Yo Ma, Patti LuPone, Charlie Rose and Merle Haggard, is a testament to the program’s strength. But Director Celesta Billeci knows that she’s running a university program, so she focuses equally on education and entertainment
With just a short walk from a dorm room or Isla Vista apartment, students have seen His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Grammy award-winner Jack Johnson, and novelist Salman Rushdie. Billeci also schedules performers that most students have never heard of to balance what is popular with what is culturally important.
“We’re really in touch with what’s happening in the larger cultural world,” Associate Director Roman Baratiak, said. “Santa Barbara isn’t that big of a community to have this much to choose from.”
Billeci said the community trusts that Arts & Lectures will make good choices. “People will come even if they don’t know the name,” she said.
Offstage and on campus, many performers interact with students in classrooms, leading lectures, demonstrations, technique classes or question-and-answer sessions. For example, Pilafian said Trey McIntyre taught a choreography workshop when Arts & Lectures brought his company to perform at UC Santa Barbara. Members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater taught classes in modern dance technique.
Dance majors get “refreshed intention, stronger motivation and an expanded sense of possibility” when they work with professionals in their classes, Pilafian said. “Without living examples of the principles we teach, the work of the faculty would be handicapped,” he said.
Arts & Lectures not only showcases art, but also commissions performers to develop something new. “That really mirrors what a college campus is supposed to be doing in terms of research,” Billeci said. “We’re giving money to artists to create new work and see where that work goes.”
In the 2001-2002 season, Arts & Lectures commissioned a work by composer Laurie Anderson. It premiered at UC Santa Barbara before touring the world. The list of commissioned art also includes work by choreographer Stephen Petronio, fiddler Mark O’Connor, and experimental electronic musician DJ Spooky.
When Billeci became director nine years ago, one of her goals was to take the show on the road, so to speak. Billeci started offering events at off-campus event venues — the Arlington Theatre, The Granada, Lobero Theatre, and Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West.
Still, the 860-seat Campbell Hall remains Arts & Lectures’ main stage. The retractable wooden desks attached to the armrest of each seat and the expansive bicycle parking lot outside the domed hall remind attendees that the events are part of the university’s educational mission. For half a century, Art & Lectures has selectively drawn from an eclectic array of event material. With past lectures by the Dalai Lama and a future performance by Yo-Yo Ma, the program staff promises to deliver enjoyable memories for years to come.
For half a century, Art & Lectures has selectively drawn from an eclectic array of event material. With past lectures by the Dalai Lama and a future performance by Yo-Yo Ma, the program staff promises to deliver enjoyable memories for years to come.
Campbell Hall is an intimate venue, but the program also reaches the smallest of venues, such as school cafeterias, community centers, and clubs. Arts & Lectures offers free music, dance, theater, and folklore performances to Latino youth and families throughout the county.
Viva El Arte de Santa Barbara! is a collaboration with the Marjorie Luke Theatre, Isla Vista Youth Projects, and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts & Education Center. Last year more than 17,000 people attended Viva El Arte events.
With permission, Arts & Lectures uses technology to share its programs with an even wider audience. When the Dalai Lama spoke on campus in April 2009, his voice was heard beyond the Events Center. Listeners could tune in to KCSB-FM on the radio in their residence halls or online in their offices to hear his message and laughter during a live broadcast of the event. KCSB also posted a recording of the talk on its Web site.
Some events air on University of California Television, or UCTV. “We want to use new technology to reach more people,” Baratiak said.
“The arts refresh us so we can face whatever our day-to-day lives are about,” he said. “They’re no different in many respects from taking your vitamins for the day.”
Arts & Lectures costs more than $4 million annually. Ticket sales alone can’t fund the program. That’s partly because Arts & Lectures keeps prices low, especially for students, to give the community access to the arts. “We don’t charge as much as we can; we charge as much as we have to,” Billeci said. Some events are free.
To be financially sensible and adhere to Arts & Lectures’ educational mission, Billeci and Baratiak have to be savvy enough to book popular acts that bring in the bucks while also scheduling important lesser-known performers whose shows need to be subsidized by Arts & Lectures. “We’re entrusted as one of the cultural presenters in the community, and that’s a big responsibility,” Baratiak said.
Less than 5 percent of the Arts & Lectures budget is funded by the University of California. “They’re doing the best they can,” Billeci said. “If they could do more, they would.”
Fortunately, the community supports Arts & Lectures to the tune of approximately $2 million per year. It’s not only valued by people working in the arts, but also by the business community. Names including Sara Miller McCune, Michael Towbes, Daniel Burnham, the Orfalea Foundations, and Yardi Systems are listed among the Visionary Producers who gave more than $25,000 to Arts & Lectures last season.
Unlike UC Los Angeles, which has more than 20 endowments supporting UCLA Live, Arts & Lectures solicits donations annually. Billeci hopes to establish an endowment at UC Santa Barbara, but the plan is on hold for now.
“We need an endowment to know there’s enough money for perpetuity,” Billeci said. “I never want the program to be in jeopardy.” What would UC Santa Barbara be like without Arts & Lectures? Here’s how Pilafian described it: “The major artists we interact with would be reduced to names in journals or 2-D images on YouTube. The sparks of inspiration that issue from live performances would dim or disappear.
“Our community would probably become more culturally provincial and self-referential.
“It would be horrible.”
2009-10 Arts & Lectures Season
The 2009 season kicks off Sept. 24 with NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” at the Arlington Theatre.
Arts & Lectures is offering Alumni Association members a 20 percent discount for the following events:
An Evening with John Leguizamo
8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7 at
$35 / $18 UCSB students
Sarah Chang, violin
Andrew von Oeyen, piano
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, 2010, at
$40 / $18 UCSB students
Pat Metheny, guitarist and composer
8 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, 2010, at
$45 / $19 UCSB students
To receive the discount, you must present your Alumni Association card at ticket purchase. For more information, call (805) 893-3535.
The Mosher Alumni House will host wine and cheese receptions sponsored by C’est Cheese and Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards preceding three of the season’s events. For an additional $5, you can relax with other Gauchos before John Leguizamo (Oct. 7), Sarah Chang and Andrew von Oeyen (Feb. 26, 2010) or Pat Methany (April 21, 2010).