A taste of art

Wright State’s annual ArtsGala showcases renovated Creative Arts Center

By Brennan Burks

In my freshman year of college, I lived across the street from the creative arts buildings: recital halls, grand stages, black box theatres, the music library, and the art museum. There hasn’t been another time span in my life when I was so openly and frequently exposed to creative expression. That year, I saw a traveling exhibit on Andy Warhol, the opera The Magic Flute, the orchestral concert Appalachian Spring, the ballet Serenade, an intimate black-box performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and a jolting, full-stage production of Rent. Every one of these experiences was curated, mostly staffed, and produced by students at a state university campus in a small Midwestern town.

Sometimes I miss those days—days without Netflix—but I know that I will never live across the street from those creative arts buildings again, and thus it will be rare for me to stumble upon an enchanting evening of art. Fortunately, Wright State University’s 18th annual ArtsGala offers an immense artistic palette. What better chance to experience a world of entertainment and to provide an opportunity to make someone’s creative dreams a reality?

The idea for the WSU event originated in 2000. Stuart McDowell, professor and artistic director in the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures, says he and a few other creative arts faculty members were tasked with finding a way to bring together each of their crafts in an effort to attract more community members and highlight student work.  “From the beginning, it has always been about collaboration,” McDowell says, “and it has always been about the students.”

While many universities and creative institutions offer a full spectrum of art performances in a given year, McDowell says the individual fields often compete for funding, space, and attention.

“This program is not only unique locally, but throughout the country as well, because very few programs in the arts collaborate as substantially as we do,” McDowell says, noting this event is emblematic of the arts at Wright State in two ways. First, guests will have an evening of performances ranging from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Dolly Parton’s Broadway musical 9 to 5 to a mini film festival and complimentary portrait paintings. Second, the evening’s activities will take place in the newly revamped Creative Arts Center (CAC), which now, after roughly two years of renovation, connects every one of the University’s creative arts within one expansive structure. “This building is the culmination of our collaborative spirit, and this event showcases our collaborative, creative efforts,” McDowell says. After undergoing a $30 million modernization and expansion, the CAC has new art galleries, dance studio, a stage combat room, refurbished performance stages, updated acoustics, and a newly imagined commons space to welcome students, artists, and guests.

But don’t assume from the selection of almost 30 different performances that this showcase is bite-sized. From 6 p.m. to midnight, there is more to do than one could hope to consume in a single sitting—and that’s the intent. “There is no way to get to every show,” says Jennie Buckwalter, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts and coordinator of the ArtsGala for the last 12 years. In fact, every corner of the event is set up so guests can have as full as an experience as possible. “Each space is like its own venue,” she says, “and will have its own fine dining, live performances, and opportunities to interact with the student-artists.”

While the lamb lollipops and dance finale have been guest favorites in the past, what tops off the evening is the student connection.

“The students you see performing directly benefit from your being there, as all of our net proceeds go directly to student scholarships,” Buckwalter explains. And this is no small sum. Over ArtsGala’s 17-year history, it has generated more than $2.2 million in scholarship support for creative arts students.

One student whose creative education is a direct result of this event is Stephen Monath. In his fourth year at Wright State as a music education and percussion performance major, Monath says he wouldn’t have the opportunity to pursue his musical passion and his aspiring career in music education without support from the ArtsGala scholarships.

“I’m a student teacher, a student, and I teach band at a local high school, but I still have to pay rent and tuition and buy books,” Monath says, “and these scholarships make it possible for me to do all of these things—and still play music.” Monath’s excitement for the event-packed ArtsGala is as evident as his gratitude for the support he has received. “This event is a chance to experience great live performances—it’s hard to beat that—about different artists working together and interacting and, most importantly, about the artists, the students, having a chance to say thank you,” he says.

So if like me, you don’t live across the street from creative arts buildings, consider this an opportunity to experience an enchanting evening with a taste of art for everyone.

Wright State University’s 18th annual ArtsGala will take place Saturday, April 8 from 6 p.m.midnight in the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy. in Fairborn. Tickets range from $250-$550. For tickets and more information, please call 937.775.5512 or visit Wright.edu/ArtsGala.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Brennan Burks at BrennanBurks@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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