At a recent Boston Pops concert in Greenville, S.C., conductor Keith Lockhart returned to his podium after intermission and explained why the musicians looked younger.
Instead of the seasoned professionals that had appeared earlier, 70 students with the Furman University orchestra now sat on stage. Lockhart, a Furman graduate, led them through a performance of Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” and then the Boston Pops musicians joined them for Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
“There aren’t really words to describe it,” says Meghan Jackson, a violinist who plans to go to medical school. “Earlier that day, principals from the orchestra worked with us in master classes and shared stories about careers in music. That night, we sat side-by-side, playing. I think for many of us in the Furman Orchestra, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
At this liberal arts institution in South Carolina, an enhanced Fine Arts program is creating more “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities for students on campus and for neighbors in the community. With $2 million in funding from The Duke Endowment, the idea behind the Furman Fine Arts Initiative is to seed educational experiences in the classroom and beyond. By enriching an already strong program, university officials want to send a message that the arts are an integral part of a Furman education.
In 2012, the first year of the grant, Furman began expanding programming through performances, exhibits, lectures and classes. The music department is establishing residencies for artists and composers. Theater Arts is commissioning a playwright-in-residence to write a play for students to stage. Visual Arts is lining up a lecture series in studio art and art history.
The grant also supports an effort called Partners in the Arts Community Outreach to integrate students and faculty into the cultural life of neighboring Greenville. Through a renewed link with the community, students have access to internships, research and study under talented artists. A new collaborative partnership with the Peace Center for the Performing Arts downtown helped make the Boston Pops-Furman concert become a reality.
“It will take time before we can see the full impact of this initiative,” says Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, the Trustee who chairs the Endowment’s Committee on Educational Institutions. “But it has already opened a world of possibilities.”