The Interdisciplinary Arts Center (IAC) at Wake Forest has received $1 million from anonymous donors to support the University’s commitment to integrating the arts into all corners of campus, in the classroom and in the community – both Wake Forest and Winston-Salem.
From a joint virtual performance of Alysia Lee’s choral work, “Say Her Name,” featuring the combined choirs from Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest, to a conversation with Gregg Mozgala, a dancer and actor with cerebral palsy, to a performance on Hearn Plaza featuring those whose work behind-the-scenes often leaves them unrecognized, the IAC has both imagined and supported opportunities for reflection, celebration and recognition.
“The arts are a critical tool in building empathy and helping us understand the world around us. Artists are also expert problem solvers, and deep, interdisciplinary thinkers. We are so very grateful for this generous gift that will enable us to expand the important work of the arts as a medium for learning and growth both academic and personal,” said associate provost for the arts and dance professor Christina Soriano.
The IAC builds upon the work of IPLACe, the University’s first interdisciplinary arts center launched in 2012. IPLACe was officially renamed IAC in 2020. The gift will expand opportunities for creative collaboration.
Part of the IAC’s work is to help faculty, staff and students explore and develop ideas and collaborations that bring creative arts to the community in dynamic ways. Assistant Professor and Director of Choral Activities Chris Gilliam envisioned the joint choral performance of “Say Her Name” that was held on the same evening members of the University read aloud the names of slaves sold to endow Wake Forest.
“IAC’s partnership allowed us to reach beyond our campus gates to community partners at Winston-Salem State University, collaborate with esteemed women composers and conductors from Maryland and Ohio, and made it possible for us to create a virtual performance that represents and demonstrates, through the art of choral music, the commitment Wake Forest has to equity, equality and justice,” said Gilliam.
Monet Beatty earned her degree in biology in 2020, minored in sustainability and was a Wake Forest Presidential Scholar in dance. As an undergraduate, Beatty received support to choreograph a dance project that connected her diverse interests. The in-person dance was cancelled due to the pandemic, so she pivoted to creating a video about the making of her dance production.
“The funding provided me with the platform to explore the intersection between arts and sustainability that came to fruition as a dance production,” said Beatty. “The collaborative work that incorporated the Office of Sustainability, the Theatre and Dance Department, and Winston-Salem community was designed to unite and and to inspire others.”
Beatty earned her master’s in sustainability at Wake Forest and will graduate at commencement this year.
“I am eternally grateful for the support and emphasis that Wake Forest places on the arts.” Monet Beatty
The start of showcasing the interdisciplinary nature of art
Nearly a decade ago, Wake Forest University launched a center to support projects combining performing arts with other academic disciplines. Theatre professor Cindy Gendrich, director of the new Interdisciplinary Performance and the Liberal Arts Center, or IPLACe, described the Center as designed “to inspire new ideas and new connections between the performing arts and other departments at the University through interdisciplinary collaborations.”
While other arts centers existed around the country, IPLACe was unusual in its focus on interdisciplinary performance work within a traditional, liberal arts context.
“My first week on campus as provost, I participated in an advisory committee’s review of Prof. Gendrich’s IPLACe proposal. I was genuinely impressed that Wake Forest’s arts faculty – and indeed faculty across the University’s schools – was already committed to interweaving arts and other areas of study. The flowering of that commitment, on stage, in laboratories and classrooms, and in public spaces on campus has been a vital marker of our University over the past decade,” said Provost Rogan Kersh.
Many IPLACe sponsored events will continue under the IAC banner including guest artist visits, classroom projects and master classes, salons (small group conversations about interdisciplinary topics), post- and pre-performance talks, student initiatives, traditional scholarly work revolving around performance, and an end-of-the-year “think-tank.”
“From the Ground Up” a vision of the future
In 2018, the University created a position for a new associate provost for arts and interdisciplinary initiatives, and Provost Rogan Kersh tapped Soriano for the role. IPLACe began its transition into the Interdisciplinary Arts Center.
The same year, IPLACe was awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New England Foundation for the Arts to help fund an interdisciplinary collaboration with Forklift Danceworks – an organization based in Austin, Texas, that uses creative collaboration to spark conversation and inspire change.
Through a multi-visit residency on the Reynolda Campus, IPLACe – now IAC – worked to connect Forklift with staff, students and faculty for a community-based art making project celebrating the work of the University’s facilities and campus services team.
After more than two-and-a-half years of planning, housekeeping staff, arborists, turf crew members, locksmiths and carpenters were among the nearly 70 participants performed on Hearn Plaza in the original dance piece “From the Ground Up.” Gendrich, Soriano, and John Shenette, vice president, facilities and campus services, were the forces that helped move the project forward.
The event was a milestone in the University’s commitment to celebrating the arts and their power to lift up those who often go unrecognized. The Wake the Arts website and #WaketheArts are key in continuing to share this work.
“Wake Forest is committed to supporting the transformative impact the arts have throughout all aspects of life. The IAC is here to facilitate and help fund collaborations where the creative arts contribute to the classroom and the community experience,” said co-director of the IAC Leah Roy. “It’s also here to draw attention to the high quality of artistic and creative work at WFU. This gift provides an endowment for the IAC that will support the University’s growing vision of embedded arts in education into the future.”