ARCHIVED  September 1, 1998

Arts thrive at UNC -UNC College of Performing and Visual Arts among the nation’s best

GREELEY — Although the University of Northern Colorado’s performing-arts programs may not make much of a stir outside the world of the arts, within that world, both the School of Music and the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance are making quite a rumble.

Maintaining the programs depends on tradition, quality, visibility and a host of skilled defenders.

Arts programs of all kinds have traditionally had to scrounge for support. But at UNC, where performing artists capitalize on the schoolmarm tradition, arts programs are well-supported.

“When the university was the State Normal School (for teacher education), there were six courses of study in the original curriculum. One of those was singing,´ said Howard Skinner, dean of the UNC College of Performing and Visual Arts. “The schoolmarm was assigned responsibility for the cultural development of young people. Competence in singing and art was part of the expectation society had of young people.”

In a conservative, strongly agricultural community such as Greeley, an emphasis on the old and respectable roots of the university’s arts programs could be seen as just smart.

It is the schoolmarm tradition, then, combined with strong community support, that Skinner sees as the basis for the success of the performing-arts programs at UNC. Greeley itself has a long tradition of supporting the arts, Skinner said, providing a supportive local context for the college.

“The Union Colony was part of the Temperance Movement, but it was also part of the Chautauqua Movement, so that appreciation for the arts was built into the community,” Skinner said. The Greeley Philharmonic orchestra began in 1911 and is the oldest continuously operating orchestra between St. Louis and San Francisco, he said.

Of UNC’s colleges — Arts and Science, Health and Human Sciences, Education, Business, Graduate Interdisciplinary, and Performing and Visual Arts — the College of Performing and Visual Arts is the second-smallest, enrolling a small but significant 12.7 percent of the university’s undergraduates, 6.5 percent of all new graduate students, and 17.5 percent of new doctoral students in 1997. At the Ph.D. level, the college offers doctor of arts and doctor of music education degrees.

Success and visibility are inextricable in the performing arts. Each new accolade the theatre arts and music programs receive brings them greater visibility.

This year, UNC’s Jazz Studies Program was named the nation’s fifth-best jazz program by US News and World Report, coming in ahead of the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. It made the list last year, too.

Both the School of Music and the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance have been designated Programs of Excellence by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, a prestigious lifetime designation that brings a one-time monetary award.

UNC’s students carry the word about the school’s quality out into the larger arts world.

“We have graduates who work on a state level advocating the arts,´ said Susan Nelson, arts information officer at UNC. “We have students who tour with national companies like Phantom (of the Opera) and Les Mis(erables). A UNC graduate writes the music scores for National Geographic specials. The general public may not know that, but people in the arts do,” she said.

Visible quality attracts fine performers and teachers to UNC from around the country.

“I think we’ve been blessed with many talented individuals at UNC,” Skinner said. He mentioned John Kendel, first conductor of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra and first president of the Colorado Music Teachers Association, and Helen Langworthy who established Little Theatre of the Rockies as UNC’s year-round dramatic production program and won the Governor’s Award for her work.

These educators in turn bring more attention to the school’s programs. Gene Aitkin, administrator in the Jazz Studies Program since 1977, has won the Governor’s Award in the arts, and in 1996 was inducted into the Jazz Educator’s Hall of Fame.

And the upward spiral continues. By training artists, arts educators and advocates, and by creating quality, high-profile programs, talented educators keep the cost of arts programs easy to justify. The college produces 250 opera, dance, ballet and theatre events a year. Yet box office never covers the cost of in-house productions. And justify one must.

“The arts are generally the most-expensive programs,” Skinner admitted. “UNC has long had an institutional commitment to maintain relatively expensive programs and make them relatively large.”

Large compared with arts programs at other institutions of UNC’s size. With 55 faculty members, the college is nearly as large as the College of Health and Human Sciences. But not expensive compared with law or medicine, if UNC had such programs.

As dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts, Skinner is only the highest-ranking of many people who make it their business to toot the college’s horn. Nelson and Aitkin, as well as grant writer Shirley Howell, Jazz Program associate and assistant directors Sandra Scott and John Davis, and Theatre Arts and Dance chair Tom McNally, form an advocacy team that keeps support for the college strong.

“We must make the case that our programs are economically efficient, comparatively to other arts programs,” Skinner said. “That they are relatively inexpensive per capita, per major, and per credit-hour. They’re expensive, but not dramatically more expensive, not in terms of qualitative value É You can also say that people who are favorably impressed [by the programs’ quality], those people are more inclined to give time, energy and good will to the college,”

Finally, Skinner argues, the College of Performing and Visual Arts must not only teach but must also provide a cultural product. That it does in spades. Besides the dance and theatre productions, the college generates the wildly popular UNC-Greeley Jazz Festival that annually grosses $1.5 million in three days, attracting 275 jazz groups from 23 states.

Since 1978, the School of Music has run the UNC Jazz Press, which Aitkin said publishes 4,000 “charts” or pieces of music. It maintains close associations with Disney Productions and Warner Bros. and, Aitkin said, now has some of the best writers in the business writing music for it. The Jazz Studies Program, with only three permanent faculty members, attracts 300 undergraduates annually to its classes, and maintains five jazz bands, five vocal groups and eight combos.

GREELEY — Although the University of Northern Colorado’s performing-arts programs may not make much of a stir outside the world of the arts, within that world, both the School of Music and the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance are making quite a rumble.

Maintaining the programs depends on tradition, quality, visibility and a host of skilled defenders.

Arts programs of all kinds have traditionally had to scrounge for support. But at UNC, where performing artists capitalize on the schoolmarm tradition, arts programs are well-supported.

“When the university was the State Normal School (for teacher education), there were six courses of study…

Related Content