The $750,000 award is to promote the arts and humanities.
Last October, New College of Florida received a $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to promote the arts and humanities both at New College and in the region as a whole. The five-year “Connecting the Arts and Humanities on Florida’s Creative Coast” grant recognizes the extraordinary richness of the Sarasota-Bradenton area in both cultural and academic institutions and aims to serve as a catalyst for collaboration and to develop sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships between area colleges and arts organizations.
When President Donal O’Shea asked us to direct the grant, we were thrilled, but also a little apprehensive. Four colleges and six arts organizations had signed on as NCF’s partners in the grant, but how would these partnerships work in practice among such disparate institutions? Would our shared commitment to public discourse in the arts and humanities enable us to build meaningful collaborations, or would our diverse interests and internal institutional demands keep us in our separate silos?
Based on the first year of events, the answers have been wonderfully encouraging.
The faculty of New College immediately found ways to make use of this grant to improve the experience of our students, our academic partners in the Cross College Alliance, local arts organizations and the Sarasota community at large. With the involvement of 13 New College faculty members, all four of our Cross College Alliance partners (Ringling College, USF Sarasota-Manatee, State College of Florida and Eckerd College), eight local arts organizations and the creative writing students from Booker Middle School, the grant fully or partially funded more than 30 events, most of which were open to the public.
This strong beginning established new connections between individuals and institutions, strengthened existing connections, and paved the way for an even more ambitious slate of events this year.
Last semester saw the first of what we anticipate will be many faculty seminars, in which faculty from the Cross College Alliance came together with colleagues to work on developing new courses and institutional relationships that will benefit both the faculty involved and, over the years, hundreds of students.
The pilot seminar, organized by New College sociology professor Emily Fairchild and USF Sarasota-Manatee core curriculum coordinator/instructor Philip Wagner, involved gender studies faculty from five colleges, who visited multiple campuses, learned about each other’s areas of expertise and developed a shared online database of teaching resources, including plans to guest lecture in each other’s courses. Three seminars are already planned for this academic year, with focuses in art history, art and oral history, along with a series of faculty conversations about creative writing that will be open to the public.
In addition to strengthening relationships between consortium faculty members, the art and oral history seminars will lead to public events in the 2018-19 academic year. New College also collaborated with arts organizations, including the Asolo Conservatory and the Art Center of Sarasota to offer new classes taught by their artists.
Last year’s public events included a six-week celebration of Black History Month involving a series of lectures, film screenings, concerts, readings and the “Celebrating Black Action” symposium, and brought writers and filmmakers with collaborative relationships with New College’s faculty to Sarasota to share their work with our students and the larger community. The organizers of the Black History Month events worked with Florida Studio Theatre to bring New College students to the theater and Florida Studio Theatre artists to the campus.
The grant also supported New Music New College’s presentation of the world premiere of Bobby Previte’s "Rhapsody (Terminals Part II: In Transit)" in partnership with the Hermitage Artist Retreat, several lectures on Chinese and Asian American drama with Fulbright scholar Wei Zhou in partnership with the Ringling Museum, new initiatives in creative writing in partnership with Ringling College of Art and Design and a series of dance events in collaboration with The Sarasota Ballet and Sarasota Contemporary Dance.
The largest Mellon supported dance event was a demonstration, performance, and panel on “Embodied Cognition in (Inter)Action: Dancing for Parkinson’s,” which brought together diverse local communities to not only appreciate and participate in dance, but also to contribute to the public discourse on the well-documented benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease from new angles. This multidisciplinary event began with the scientific evidence supporting "Dance for Parkinson’s," but went on to explore role of aesthetic values and the subjective experiences of performing participants as they dance.
After a welcome brunch in New College’s Bayfront Sunroom, Leymis Bolanos-Wilmott, artistic director of Sarasota Contemporary Dance, led a group of over 90 participants — students, faculty, people with Parkinson’s, caregivers and interested members of the community — through a series of inclusive movements. Dancers from Sarasota Contemporary Dance assisted while Jahrel Thomson accompanied on drums. After the demo, Wilmott performed an intricate pas de deux with a longtime student who is affected by Parkinson’s. To close, a lively panel discussion involving Wilmott, Marilyn Tait (executive director of Sarasota’s Parkinson’s Place) and several New College faculty prompted intriguing questions and insightful anecdotes. The event contributed to physical and intellectual learning on both sides of the podium.
To promote exchanges of this kind on a smaller scale, New College also initiated a "Campus Conversations" series which invites members of the local community to share wine and seminar style discussions with New College faculty at our beautiful bayfront once a month; the conversations will continue this year.
What’s next? Continuations of collaborations from last year include another round of Black History Month events, Asian film screenings and lectures, a Latin American Studies event, dance and theater collaborations and a series of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein," which includes performance collaborations with New Music New College and Asolo Conservatory faculty and students.
For more information, visit our web page (www.ncf.edu/mellon, and then come visit our campus—we’d love to share what the college and its partners have been working on together.
April Flakne is an associate professor of philosophy and Nova Myhill is a professor of English at New College of Florida.