Surviving By Engaging: The Shifting Role of Performing Arts Centers

Razia Iqbal, the BBC

By Breann McKeon

“We truly believe that people want to pay for more than entertainment,” said Director of the Performing Arts Center Seth Soloway. “We must pivot our definition of success. We’d rather see a positive impact on the student body, rather than finances.” Soloway opened the “Surviving by Engaging” lecture on Feb. 13 by discussing the pivot in vision the Performing Arts Center will soon embark on during a time of struggle in the arts community.

Upon discussing what Soloway describes as “changing the road map” for the Performing Arts Center, the lecture featured the renowned host of BBC Newshour, Razia Iqbal, where she interviewed Jon Faddis, a jazz musician, and Donald Byrd, a dance choreographer, about the current state and future of art.

Iqbal began the conversation by asking Faddis about how residency has changed for arts students over the years at Purchase. Throughout his experience teaching at Purchase for the past 18 years, Faddis notices that students lack an understanding of the historical context of the art they are involved in.

“Students would graduate with a degree in jazz music,” said Faddis, “but wouldn’t know who Louis Armstrong was.”

Byrd added that without understanding the history of art, students also lack the incremental factor of artwork.

“Consciousness is different than knowledge, young people are very conscious and have many opinions and point of views,” said Byrd, “but they’re missing the knowledge of the art they’re involved in.”

The conversation then transitioned from past to present, where the topic of artists and politics was addressed. Iqbal asked Faddis and Byrd what they believe an artist’s role in politics should be.

“Artists have always been provocateurs of positive disruption,” said Byrd, “The role of artists is to promote discourse.” Faddis also believes that artists have a responsibility to raise political awareness.

“This work desires to engage in the social issues that are staring us right in the face,” said Faddis.

Iqbal then touched upon how famous artists such as Meryl Streep have recently been criticized for taking a political stance, and how it is perceived as whining.

“Art is not whining, if a point of view is channeled, it is not whining,” Byrd added, “Whining is something done without thought. Art requires thought.”

In light of conflicting political views, Iqbal asked Byrd if he ever faces resistance from dancers who do not agree with a message he is trying to convey throughout his work.

“I believe that what resists, persists,” said Byrd. “I ask them to commit to the story while they are in the studio because you can’t change minds, but you can try to work together.”

Aside from artists acting as a political force, Iqbal was curious if there is ever a time where Faddis and Byrd purely view themselves as artists.

“There’s a moment you’re not conscious; where it’s just you and the music,” Faddis said. “So many things can happen in that moment. Music takes me to another place.”

Iqbal closed with asking what advice Faddis and Byrd would give to young artists who are discouraged by their families from pursuing a career in the arts. Byrd suggests for these artists to make their parents understand their point of view.

“They don’t understand how what you want will make you happy,” said Byrd. “You may not be earning as much money, but it will give you fulfillment.”