Courtesy of Emma Stapleton
This fall, the Mahaney Center for the Arts will celebrate its 25 anniversary in style, bringing to the College an exciting schedule of events showcasing a variety of artistic disciplines. The scheduled performances, exhibits, talks, and film showings are emblematic of the MCA’s vibrant history at the College and its role in connecting students to art from both within and beyond the Middlebury area.
The festivities will commence this weekend with performances from the vertical dance company BANDALOOP, which will be returning to the College after a jaw-dropping show in 2004. The company will also offer free vertical dance workshops at Virtue Field House, as well as a dance technique master class and alumni talk with artistic associate Mark Stuver ’97.5. BANDALOOP’s performance is the first of many must-see events that the MCA is sponsoring this season.
The Campus spoke to Liza Sacheli, director at the MCA, about her experience with and plans for the center.
Middlebury Campus: In your time here, what are some of the most memorable moments or performances that you’ve been able to see in the MCA?
Liza Sacheli: I’ve been at the Mahaney Center for the Arts for 20 years now, so I’ve seen my fair share of memorable moments. Some of the highlights for me have been Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; amazing string quartets like the Emerson, Tokyo, and Takács; world-class pianists Emanuel Ax, Peter Serkin, Krystian Zimerman, and Paul Lewis; theatre companies like Anne Bogart’s SITI Co and the Abbey Theatre of Ireland; and more recently the Nile Project (an amazing East-Central African music/dance/environmental cooperative).
MC: In the aftermath of national and local rifts, what role do you think the MCA can play in healing in our community? What role do you think the artist can play in our society today?
LS: The arts have always been reflective of culture and society. Our programming often explores issues that are on our campus community’s minds. Take last year’s play “Rodney King,” for example. The performer, Roger Guenveur Smith, has made a career out of portraying important figures in African American history. Rodney King came to our national consciousness as a victim of police brutality over 25 years ago, but the issue of race relations and policing is unfortunately still an issue today. The show provided a platform for conversation and exploration — many students took part — and Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz came to moderate a discussion about the show with student, faculty, and community members.
At the same time, we offer plenty of arts experiences that are a “balm” of sorts — an enjoyable, engaging performance can do so much to reduce our stress, offer us a sense of peace or pleasure, and increase our sense of connection to others in the audience and on stage.
MC: How does the MCA interact with the art scene in town? In the state of Vermont? What larger partnerships does the MCA maintain?
LS: We communicate quite a bit with the other cultural organizations in town, like Town Hall Theater, the Sheldon Museum, the Vermont Folk Life Center, and others. We have collaborated closely on events with Town Hall Theater, the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, among many others. Middlebury has a very lively cultural scene. It’s all we can do to not program big events on top of one another.
The MCA also works with national organizations like the Association of Performing Arts Professionals and Americans for the Arts, the International Society of Performing Arts, and regional organizations like the New England Foundation for the Arts. Those relationships help keep us connected to the broader arts scene, and to best practices in our field.
MC: How does the MCA go about attracting talent to rural Vermont? What does the selection process for artists look like?
LS: The Mahaney Center for the Arts staff has developed strong working relationships with a network of artists, agents, and other arts centers throughout the region, nationally, and even internationally. So we hear about what artists are touring, and when. We go out and see hundreds of performances every year. There are some artists we keep an eye on for years, until the time is right to bring them to Middlebury. The Performing Arts Series has a very impressive track record at catching artists while their stars are on the rise — take Yo-Yo Ma, for example. We take lots of suggestions from faculty, students, and staff in the arts departments, and we work with them to complement their own work with the best professional artists we can “import” to campus. And once they perform at Middlebury, their experience at the MCA and with our audience is so good that they’re usually happy to come back.
MC: What does the future hold for the MCA? Do you have a vision for where you’d like the MCA to be in another 25 years? Are there any upcoming programs or initiatives that you’d like to preview.
LS: We have two long term goals: First, we’d love for our Performing Arts Series to continue its nearly century-long tradition of presenting the best in classical and chamber music, but also to broaden its programming to embrace all the incredible and diverse artists the world has to offer. We would love for the diversity of our curriculum and community to be even better represented on our stages. I bet that would make the Arts at Middlebury even more attractive to students, too.
Second, access to the arts is important to us. The Mahaney Center for the Arts team continually works at breaking down the barriers of participation in the arts. We’ve made significant strides in physical accessibility — the MCA is one of the most physically accessible public spaces in the state of Vermont, and we offer assistive listening devices, large-print programs, and priority seating and parking. The MCA has also committed to price accessibility; fully half of the arts events we support are free, and for those that are ticketed, we keep our prices at or below that of other local/regional cultural organizations. We have held the line on $6 top ticket prices for Middlebury students, and we offer several free and discounted ticket programs for them too. But we still have work to do in terms of ensuring equal cultural access to all audiences. That may include rebalancing our program offerings to meet the community’s needs and interests, removing the barriers of formality that often play out in arts events, and/or finding new ways to communicate with and welcome new audiences.
As for upcoming performances, everyone should come to the MCA’s 25th anniversary kickoff with BANDALOOP, the first week of classes! This incredible company combines rock climbing technique with contemporary dance to create spectacular, perspective-bending dances. They’ll perform on the side of the Mahaney Center for the Arts — suspended from the roof on ropes — on Friday September 15. The performances will coincide with the fall all-campus picnic, to be held on the MCA back lawn, and WRMC’s SOSFest, featuring Noname, immediately following on the front lawn. It’ll be a night to remember! All free for Midd kids. Students can also sign up to dance on the wall with BANDALOOP at go/bandaloop.
Visit the MCA’s website to learn more about the upcoming events of the 2017–18 season.