College launches "New Century for the Humanities" celebration

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
January 22, 2016

Starting in February, the College of Arts and Sciences is launching a semester-long celebration of the arts and humanities with marquee events, a series of speaker presentations and panel discussions, all culminating in the grand opening celebration for its new humanities building, Klarman Hall, on May 26.

“The New Century for the Humanities events will showcase the important work that our arts and humanities faculty are doing to critically engage with the challenges and beauty of humanity,” said Gretchen Ritter, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts & Sciences. “We also know that our students' lives are transformed by their arts and humanities classes and this series gives us a chance to celebrate that experience.”

The events will highlight emerging areas of research and scholarship in the arts and humanities and showcase the college’s diverse faculty. They will also explore intersections of the arts and humanities with the sciences and social sciences at Cornell.

Marquee events include:

  • “Eumelio,” a baroque opera, directed by music department graduate student David Miller, March 19-20
  • A conversation with Paula Vogel (CU M.A. ’76), a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright and former director of the Yale Drama Program April 12 and a concert reading of Vogel’s newest play, “Indecent,” April 13
  • A conversation on creative writing with Alice Fulton and Roger Gilbert, as well as featured readings from graduating MFA students

Although “Eumelio” was performed a handful of times in Europe, it has never been performed in America, Miller said.

“Putting on a production of such an old opera presents myriad challenges, most of which stem from the dearth of information as to how operas were staged back then,” he said. “By necessity, we end up filling in the gaps in our knowledge with educated guesses, whether regarding staging decisions, which instruments to use or what types of voices should sing which roles.”

The interdisciplinary effort for “Eumelio” includes the Cornell Early Music Lab, Cornell Chamber Singers, the departments of music, PMA, Romance studies, English and Classics and the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.  Music Professor Neal Zaslaw serves as artistic advisor.

“Paula Vogel is a national treasure,” notes Sara Warner, associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, who is arranging Vogel’s visit. She is the first out lesbian, and one of only a handful of women, to garner the Pulitzer  Prize in Drama.“ ’Indecent’ ranks as one of Paula’s most radical and ambitious endeavors to-date,” says Warner, “and this work will cement her reputation as one of the most powerful and prolific voices of the contemporary American stage.”

A coproduction between Yale Repertory Theater and the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, Vogel’s “Indecent" debuted in New Haven last October, moved west for its official premiere and will open at New York City’s Vineyard Theater in mid-May. 

The College of Arts and Sciences has launched a webpage dedicated to the New Century for the Humanities celebration that will feature the events and highlight many of the broad themes of the college’s intersecting arts and humanities research, scholarship and creative works — including sustainability; inequality; mind; new media; sound studies and technology in the humanities.

Other key events of the humanities celebration will include:

  • Several “Big Ideas in the Humanities” panel discussions featuring faculty from across the college representing the diverse approaches characteristic of the humanities to current themes such as migration, technology and sustainability
  • A “Transformative Humanities” brown bag series, where arts and humanities faculty reveal a creative work that has inspired them or changed the direction of their careers
  • Small-group discussions around the issues raised by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent book “Between the World and Me,” winner of the 2015 National Book Award

“Many of the subjects on which artists and humanists reflect are timeless, but the constantly changing circumstances of our lives make their reflections timely and ever new,” said Scott MacDonald, senior associate dean for arts and humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences. “These events highlight the exciting work of Cornell faculty who bring critical perspective to our understanding of ourselves and our world.”

Numerous other humanities and arts events will also take place during the celebration including a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Society for the Humanities, which will feature a lecture by Bro Adams, director of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the 70th anniversary of the Department of Asian Studies.

The Klarman Hall dedication will be the capstone event, featuring the release of a commemorative poem written by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, associate professor of English; various speakers, performances and presentations; and the installation of a time capsule containing items from faculty, staff, students and alumni.

“Klarman Hall is a promise from the College, the University — and our alumni — that the arts and humanities will remain a central part of a Cornell education and that Cornell will continue to play a major role in humanities education and research throughout the world,” Ritter said.

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