Mary B. Martin School Outreach
Light Bulbs, True Grit & Inspiration
By Lise Cutshaw / Special to A! Magazine | January 09, 2012JOHNSON CITY, TN — A single performance or lecture shines brightly for an hour or two, and when the audience is gone and the set or podium hauled off and computer shut down, the image fades. ETSU's Mary B. Martin School of the Arts is trying to broaden the spectrum of arts experiences and extend them from the stage into the campus and community so others can savor long after the events are over.
"Mary B. Martin School of the Arts is so much more than a visual and performing arts series," says program Director Anita DeAngelis. "An important part of our mission and the vision of our benefactor, Jim Martin, is to reach individuals and groups, as well as audiences, with educational opportunities featuring the talents and work of our visiting artists."
What DeAngelis and the collaborating faculty members across campus and in the region are finding is that in the 40-plus outreach activities last season and nearly 30 interactions in the first half of the 2011-2012 season, deeper learning is the goal, but life-changing experiences are not uncommon.
Still basking in the glow of a late-September visit by renowned wind quintet Imani Winds are music students oboist Matthew Hudgens and bassoonist Zachary Goodrich, both of whom took part in a master class with the ensemble.
"They're such a phenomenal group, really," says Hudgens, a 22-year-old senior music performance major. "I was so excited after I researched them. I was like 'Oh, my God! I'm so excited.'
"Originally, I wasn't going to be able to and I was really bummed out but I asked and was told I could. We only had 20 minutes, but ... I improved in that 20 minutes. I was so fortunate to be able to work with them."
Goodrich, a freshman psychology major and music minor, went into the Imani Winds master class "terrified," he says, but came out of the one-on-one session with bassoonist Monica Ellis with "a weight off my shoulders."
"I went in there with my piece I am playing for juries this semester and I played it and I messed up a little bit and they took into account I was nervous so they let that one go," says Sevierville native Goodrich, who wants to go into music therapy. "Then they started talking about ways I could play a bassoon ... how I could improve my tone, improve breathing and how I could play certain fingerings to play things easier, positions on everything and that really helped how I am playing now ... and really kind of shaped my whole outlook on the bassoon. Before I thought it was the devil, extremely hard to play, but when she taught me the different embouchure styles for different tones ... [the music] just flew out."
When visual artists Lenore Thomas, Julie Heffernan and Sandow Birk came to ETSU in 2011, co-sponsored by MBM SOTA and the Department of Art & Design, new perspectives came flying out.
"Birk's presentation was amazing," says sculpture major Melisa Cadell. "It already has affected what I am going to be doing for my thesis...A couple things that he said to me clicked, and then, once I saw his presentation and how his work graduated from this to this to this and to see the progression, it was phenomenal. It had a major impact on what I am doing."
Filmmaker Geoff Marslett's October visit to campus for the screening of his animated romantic comedy MARS illuminated a new path for Ted Johnson, 24, a digital media and visualization major from Winneconne, Wisc.
"I used to be more into the 3D modeling and now I think I might go more into the motion editing and composition just because I feel like I have the same directive eye, like him, in a humble way," says Johnson, whose imagination was ignited by Marslett's discussion of animation techiniques in Livingston's Motion Tools II class. "I could see how his shots were the same way. It built a good atmosphere for his movie. They always had the right composition going...I am going to follow the motion tools program now instead of free modeling. I am having more fun. I am inspired to work on those projects more. They all take a backseat to motion tools now."
"That's the kind of thing that we need to hear and the kind of thing we want for our students," says DeAngelis, who is a faculty member in ETSU's Department of Art & Design as well as MBM School's leader. "I know for myself when I was an art student, getting feedback from people who had no background in what you were doing and trying to do so that their response was really honest and based upon the moment, not on history, always had the potential to be life-changing, so hearing that from our own students is pretty important to me."
More than 300 students have participated this fall in these MBM SOTA preludes or postludes with the visiting professionals, which include the master class with Imani Winds; classes, dinners and talk-backs with independent filmmakers John-Keith Wasson, Amy Elliott and Geoff Marston; critiques by The Rivalry actors on speech techniques with ETSU's Forensics and Debate Team and speech students; rehearsals and classes on campus and at Tennessee High School with guest conductor and composer Dr. Timothy Mahr; and lectures, art critiques, classes by visual artists Julie Heffernan, Sandow Birk and Lenore Thomas, who also had an exhibition and demonstration.
In spring, Ensemble Galilei and famed actor Anthony Zerbe worked with campus and community members in numerous venues. "The outreach event that really stands out the most for me is when Anthony Zerbe was here," DeAngelis says. "We had a couple of really profound moments with him where he really connected with some of those students ... because there were other people in the room, they weren't individual coaching sessions, it was really profound each time it happened.
"In one of the instances, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. We were so amazed at how honestly the student was able to respond to Zerbe. He was really able to draw out emotions. It really was pretty remarkable."
A LIGHT BULB
Sometimes in these sessions with the pros, the light finally dawns, confirming information already presented by familiar instructors, and it still can be cathartic.
"As an educator, I know from teaching high school, teaching college, you say things in the classroom, and students go, "OK. This is good' and someone comes from the outside and says the exact same thing, and they go, "Wow! This is fantastic.' This happens in all the disciplines," says Dr. Frank Grzych, chair of ETSU's Department of Music, which this fall has partnered with MBM SOTA on the Imani Winds and Ending Fall Bands concerts. "It lights a fire under students.
"To say the same things you might be saying in class, to say the same things but with a different slant or terminology helped the light bulb turn on."
There is no such thing as too much critique or feedback for an artist or performer, says Karlota Contreras-Koterbay, director of ETSU's Slocumb Galleries in Ball Hall. "One of the art faculty members actually said, "It's good to have the artists tell them this and this and this, because we tell them the same thing but they don't listen.' You get somebody from the outside and it's listened to, as if it's more valuable information. It's like it's new."
"That's really the way it works," says RTVF and digital media faculty member James Livingston, who welcomed filmmaker Marston to classes in both media. "To hear it from somebody else, it's always beneficial."
The fresh perspectives as well as common themes were helpful for art major Jake Ingram of Knoxville. "It's really nice to have someone outside the art department come and look at your stuff because you see the same professors day in and day out and they know your work," says Ingram, whose work was critiqued by all three fall visiting visual artists, "but when you bring in a visiting artist and this is a first impression and they pick up on what you are doing, it's really satisfying."
The light bulb came on for senior art major Leah Needham during a critique with the third guest artist. "Probably the most influential one was with Julie Heffernan and I was quite depressed when she left my studio ..." says Needham, who is working on her senior exhibition, with a wry laugh. "But she was just very frank and straightforward, and I am going down this path, pumping out work and she comes in and she said, "You should do this and this and not this and this.'
"So it inspired me to go and work back into some things I thought I was done with or experiment with new techniques and new materials, keeping it in the same vein of the work I was already producing. It was really helpful and an enriching experience for me as an artist, making me think of new ideas I hadn't even considered before.
"The critique is something I've been taught to savor as an undergraduate because your friends and family all say, "Oh, it's so nice.' Even getting negative feedback that kicks your sucker in the dirt, is really helpful. It's gritty, but it is helpful."
"[The visiting artists] did inspire me to try out different materials and different media and have the courage to try something new," says Storm Ketron, a junior art major from Bristol, Tenn. "Tim McDonald said he used to leave his pieces of drawing paper outside and let what happens happen. Just use that to your advantage. Art's about risk-taking. If we weren't risk takers I don't think we would be artists."
Hearing the experiences and advice of Los Angeles visual artist and avid surfer Birk, who has studied in and been exhibited in France, England and Ireland, encouraged Ketron, he says, to travel and inhabit his art venues. "Getting out there and experiencing what you're trying to convey in your art...Sandow had done a series where he went to correctional facilities, and he actually experienced that," says Ketron, whose work was critiqued by the three visiting visual artists. "I think that will help if you really explore your subject matter and soak it in. That's something that really stuck with me."
"For me," says fellow art major and The Pit studio neighbor Ingram, "it was an affirmation that what I was doing was heading in the right path."
A life as a professional musician entails some big risks, as well, including finding a niche and an ensemble or group that is the right fit.
"I want to be a performer," Hudgens says. "That's what I want to do is play all the time, so to see them and see that's actually possible ... they literally go and perform places, and teach master classes. They get to go to these magnificent places, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Germany. That's what I would love to do. Just to see that it's actually possible ... is encouraging."
Part of the encouragement for 24-year-old RTVF major Josh Rice was the affirmation that his investment of time toward his craft was not in vain and was actually a practical step toward a creative career. "It's good to see that what we are learning is applied outside these four walls," says Rice, who heard Marslett's story when the filmmaker visited Livingston's Video-Film Techniques class. "He talked about how he would spend hours working on a scene ľand if you really take time, it will really pay off — instead of doing a mediocre job in a hurry."
Weeks spent in a studio or control room are familiar to RTVF major Eric Altenhof from Elkhart, Ind., who also found new hope in Marslett's visit. "His persistence is the main thing," says Altenhof, interim station manager at The Edge student radio station. "It's nice to see that if you sit there and work as hard as you can, it will come into something and take every project as the project you are going to use to get a job with instead of just making these meaningless little projects in school. They can be projects you can use to get the edge on other people."
The realities of finances in a positive light turned on the light bulb with digital media major Johnson. "I don't have a lot of money," says Johnson, who had lots of questions for Marslett. "If you get the right people together, money can't stop you. As long as you have your creative juices flowing and enough focus, you can do your own project, and money and stuff won't affect you. He talked a lot about how his funding was coming along and how it was taking so long."
The independent filmmakers are not only an inspiration, but also good role models and links in a network of professionals, says RTVF Concentration Head Shara Lange, who has been a key collaborator with MBM SOTA on the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers series and has been playing host to the filmmakers while they are in the city.
The films and filmmakers also bring a diverse array of viewpoints to East Tennessee, Lange says. "In the scope of the media landscape, the diverse people who come here as visiting filmmakers are not often represented in our community," says Lange, whose own independent film The Dressmakers premiered in July in Morocco. "Our students may not get many chances to meet someone who is like Tina Mabry, who is a gay person of color making films, or an Iranian filmmaker, such as the director of The Glass House [Hamid Rahmanian].
Despite the fact that filmmaker Geoff Marston has worked with the famous Coen brothers on films such as True Grit and Imani Winds has traveled the world performing and teaching, humility and a willingness to connect with diverse audiences and skill levels seems to be a common thread among the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts visiting professionals.
"Both Wasson and Marslett were really down to earth," RTVF senior Brennan Dye says. "You could see yourself working with people like that."
The members of Imani Winds, all from New York, Hudgens says, were relaxed and approachable, and music faculty noticed the same welcoming environment. "The thing I really enjoyed about Imani when they came is they were just down to earth with the students," says Department of Music Chair Dr. Frank Grzych, who sat in on the two-hour master class with Imani. "There were no airs. There was no, "I'm better than you.' They walked in, they sat down, they played and they said, "OK. Who's going to go first?' They did everything in a positive way.
"That's a part of education. How do we get our point across to people, in a positive way that makes them learn and makes them feel good about themselves? And that's what the Imani did. They had one-liners they threw out and got everybody all relaxed. They got serious and were pointed on comments but did it in a positive light with an interaction that didn't make anybody feel that they were superior."
Music major Hudgens came from a larger metropolitan area in Colorado to the mountains of Tennessee and has been pleasantly surprised at the diversity of arts opportunities at ETSU. "I think it's wonderful that we are able to have these people come in," says the senior oboist. "A year ago, we had The 5 Browns come in and play and this year Imani Winds. We are always having phenomenal people coming in to this music department ...
"I was not expecting that when I came here to have so many phenomenal and great musicians come through this music department. It's a real treat. It really is."
"It's insightful and a little exciting," says Dye, 25, who got to talk one-on-one with filmmakers Wasson and Marslett. "You don't get that at a lot of places. I came from a community college, and we got none of that."
Melisa Cadell, graduate student in sculpture & film, came to ETSU from "across the mountain" in North Carolina with set expectations. "I knew what I wanted in a program and I knew that I would be doing whatever it took to get what I needed out of it but then to be e-mailed that So-and-So is going to be here and would you like a critique with them," says Cadell, who has her own sculpture studio in Bakersville. "That's amazing.
"It was something when I came here I wasn't expecting. It was a very nice surprise to be able to sit down with these artists and speakers. When I talk to other people in my field about some of the people I have met and talked with, they are like "Oh, my goodness that's going on at ETSU in Johnson City?' It's just very nice. I can't toot their horn too much. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
"Thank you, Mr. James Martin!" says Slocumb Galleries' Contreras-Koterbay.
"There are certain expenses our budget cannot afford but by having the financial support from the School, we are able to afford some of these exhibitions," she says. "We also have invited the Society of Illustrators here [in spring 2012], and the rental of most of these traveling exhibitions are very expensive. We have to pay for shipping and rental, but we have a very big graphic design program and it was a very good show that we wanted to bring. With the sponsorship from the School we were able to afford it.
"We want to bring in exhibits and really famous people, but if we don't have that confidence that there's somebody we can fall back on, we won't even ask those people because if they say, "Yes,' we're in trouble because you have to raise the funds.
"I have a show possibly from Germany and The Netherlands, and there's a possibility of funding so we are talking to those people ... Some of these shows are more than half of my annual budget or sometimes the same amount as my annual budget. I just can't bring in shows like that if there's no funding available, so we are really appreciative and grateful ... and also sometimes if you have this artist coming in, other people want to come because other artists have visited. It gives us more credibility because if we can afford to bring this person or that, then other people will come."
DeAngelis and her staff are happy that the Mary B. Martin School funding seems to be making a difference in the campus and community culture. "Any time we have an outreach activity, that's on top of the fee they charge for their performances ... " DeAngelis says. "On top of the artist fees, sometimes the outreach activities mean the artists have to stay in town longer, which means we have additional hotel costs and allowance for meals.
"Sure, there's more cost involved there, and I know the departments on campus don't really have the budgets to bring in many guest artists. Sometimes they have no budget to bring in a guest artist, so I think this experience they have now really has the potential to transform some of the things that are happening in the departments."
The cross-disciplinary partnerships are indeed making a difference, says Lange. "I really love this [South Arts independent film] series and value it for our program and what it brings to campus," she says. "There's really no way we could have the budget to bring six films and filmmakers a year if it weren't for the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts."
The music department also, says ETSU Director of Bands Dr. Christian Zembower, could not have afforded Imani Winds without assistance. "We couldn't have afforded them for a concert and a master class, too," Zembower says. "The MBM School of the Arts endowment has been very kind to me ... as a result, I have always had my guests go off campus to work with a local band program, as well as our own students ...Any time I have participated in a master class or outreach, I always come out much better. If you don't then something's wrong."
VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The rays of results are spreading and numbers are growing with hundreds of students and community members affected each semester. While arts budgets across the country are being cut, MBM SOTA's benefactor is staunch in his commitment to the arts and the program's future.
"Ideally I'd like to do more community outreach activities and I don't think our outreach activities have to be for school children," DeAngelis says. "It might be a seniors group or another group in the community, so I would like to be able to expand that in the future as much as we can. The biggest problem is staffing, because we are a smaller organization with a staff of only three.
"Outreach really is an important way for us to give more to the community, and it's behind the scenes. The general public isn't invited to these things and may not realize how significant those activities are -especially when we are in a climate where the arts in the school system have been cut back so much."
ETSU faculty and administration, music Chair Grzych says, would love to offer opportunities for high school bands or choirs or theater departments to come in and observe master classes with students or host artists for longer-term visits.
"A group like Imani Winds — wouldn't it be great if we had them in residence for a semester?" asks Grzych. "Where they were here and they could perform once a week or once every other week and do master classes and have more time for one on one vs. how much can you fit in two hours? Things like that always help a program and help students.
"And I think with MBM everything that Mr. Martin is doing for the school and excellent leadership with Anita. We've got that umbrella for the arts that is helping showcase what's taking place at ETSU and the opportunities for the region."
Only two and half years into its mission, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts has only just begun to reach out in such life-altering ways, says its director.
"One goal for Mary B. Martin School of the Arts is recruitment for ETSU," DeAngelis says. "We hope that some of the people we impact will come to ETSU, especially the community, but for me, another goal with outreach is to get students in a situation where they have a much deeper understanding of who they are and what they are doing in the arts ... On the other hand, I also know that not all students are going to continue a professional life in the arts, so I hope those students who experience the outreach activities will have a lifetime interest in attending arts events, in continuing to learn about the arts.
"These are kind of lofty goals at times, but if we don't dream, these things don't happen."
For more information, call the ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at 423-439-TKTS (8587) or visit www.etsu.edu/cas/arts/ or www.Facebook.com/ETSU.MBMSOTA or the Department of Music at 423-439-4276.
A member of the Imani Winds quintet works with student bassonist Zach Goodrich.