From the Desk: First Thursdays Festival will showcase creativity on campus

Aug. 24, 2016

Geez, I think I might have landed the best job on campus. I’ve spent most of the summer working with the Arts and Humanities Council to recruit IU’s best artists and thinkers for an outdoor festival. Singers, musicians, dancers, painters, photographers, chefs, poets, philosophers, critics -- our campus is brimming with talented faculty and students, and I’ve been ringing them up one by one and booking them for a big show.

arts and humanities council

From left, associate vice provost for arts and humanities Ed Comentale and IU Arts and Humanities Council members Maria Talbert, Betsy Stirratt, Arthur Liou, David Brenneman and Jon Vickers. | PHOTO BY CHAZ MOTTINGER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

Best of all, we’re going to do this all year long, month to month. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of creativity here to last for years. 

As you might know, the council is dedicated to making the arts and humanities "inevitable and essential" at IU. Our First Thursdays Festival is designed to celebrate and showcase as many creative artists and thinkers as possible. It will run throughout most of the school year on the first Thursday of every month from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on the Showalter Arts Plaza. With the Venus fountain as our muse, and so much gorgeous green space, we’ll be hosting hundreds of scholars and performers for you to see.

The first thing you need to know about our program is that it’s meant to be free-wheeling and dynamic. Outside, we’ll have a main stage and an acoustic tent, as well as dozens of craft tables and activities, a reading lounge and an arts and humanities spa. Inside, the celebrations extend to all of the surrounding buildings -- the Lilly, Fine Arts, the Grunwald, IU Cinema, the Eskenazi Museum of Art -- and will eventually wind their way down the Seventh Street arts corridor to the IMU, Collins and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

We wanted to create an event that will let you sample all that our campus has to offer in small bite-sized portions. Most of the acts serve as previews for that evening’s or the month’s performances. An Italian aria, a Balinese puppet show, a Cuban jazz quartet, a mini-lecture on Audubon -- here’s your chance to sample it all. Or write a poem, make a zine, enter a comedy sketch, try your chops at a little stage combat -- you don’t have to sit still and watch; try out your own creative chops.

Stop by after work or class, hang out on the lawns or in the galleries, unwind, enjoy the setting, the sounds, the smells -- this is a casual low-key affair. We’ll have blankets and books on hand for those who just want to settle in and relax.

To top it all off, we’re finally getting some food on the plaza. The art museum and the Grunwald Gallery will both have catering, and beloved chef Dave Tallent will be mixing up chicken, pork and vegetarian tacos and other street food -- including homemade salsa, fruit on a stick and roasted sweet corn with chili lime mayo and cotija cheese -- outdoors. RPS will be on-hand, too, serving up its most popular dishes from the Restaurants at Woodland and the Bookmarket Eatery. Each month, we’ll have free ice cream or heirloom popcorn or other snacks. You can use I-Bucks, cash or credit cards. Date night, anyone? 

You can read all about the performers and exhibits taking place during the Sept. 1 event online. Be sure to catch Adrian Matejka’s invocation and local faves Brenda’s Friend, chat with the warm craftspeople at the Indian Folk Arts exhibit, and dance to the WIUX live DJ at the Grunwald. All of the events are free -- no tickets required.

If you’re interested in participating at a later festival date or volunteering for the event, you can write to us at ahcounc@indiana.edu.

First Thursdays is our first big step to promote and celebrate the place of the arts and humanities at the center of our campus life. Look out for more from us in the future, including a six-week program on global arts and humanities in the spring and a contemporary recreation of the original campus liberal arts curriculum for the bicentennial. We’re lucky to work at a school that offers both big-time professional opportunities and a more intimate liberal arts college experience. The arts and humanities are central to that connection -- the how and why it all hangs together -- and our programming highlights this value.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge Provost Lauren Robel and her commitment to campus arts and humanities. She’s the one who set up the council and initiated this new flurry of activity, and she is lending all of her support to our scholars and performers. I’m also very grateful to the Office of the Vice Provost of Research, which has demonstrated a newly invigorated commitment to programming in arts and humanities and the help of which made this festival possible. And then there are the dozens and dozens of staff members and student volunteers -- from Jacobs, Eskenazi, the IMU, Collins, Hutton, SPEA and many other units on campus -- who have been working on this festival for the sheer love of it! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We’re all looking forward to enjoying the events and seeing the crowds on Sept. 1. I hope you feel inspired to stop by and pick up a craft, hear something different, or learn something new.

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