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Volume 10
2015

Capitalizing on a Cultural Resource: The MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts and Creativity at Wharton Center

MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts and Creativity at Wharton Center Logo

Michigan State University's Wharton Center for Performing Arts brings world-class theatre to mid-Michigan with a regular schedule of concerts, Broadway shows, and other live performances. The MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts and Creativity at Wharton Center capitalizes on this cultural resource to engage the community in new and meaningful ways. This translates into programs aimed at different populations, from students to area residents.

One of those programs is the Young Playwrights Festival, which helps identify and encourage new playwrights while they are still in high school. Students at area high schools are encouraged to submit their original one-act plays. The entries are whittled down to 12 semi-finalists, and the best six entries of those are produced for the stage.

Bert Goldstein has been director of the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts and Creativity since it was established in 2008. One of his first projects was adding a mentoring component to the Young Playwrights Festival, partnering the six finalists with theatre professionals experienced in preparing scripts for the stage, who can help them polish their work. Finalists and semi-finalists each receive a small cash prize, but the real prize is seeing their works performed for an audience.

Another way the Institute for Arts and Creativity develops talent is through the ĭmáGen program. In collaboration with MSU's Department of Theatre in the College of Arts and Letters, the program pairs students—from high school through graduate school—with Broadway professionals to produce musical theatre at Wharton. The inaugural production this year was the staged concert, Chess, which played in the Pasant Theatre in March 2015. With only a week to prepare, the participants' final performance was a stripped-down production that served to highlight the story and the show's incredible music.

Wharton Center's collaborations with the Department of Theatre and local high school theatre programs that recognize and develop theatrical talent are a natural extension of its role as a regional cultural center. However, the MSU-FCU Institute for Arts and Creativity also reaches out to other academic units and to discrete groups within the broader community. Many of these relationships are developed through the Institute's Artists-in-Residence program.

David Gonzalez engages the community with storytelling.

David Gonzalez engages the community with storytelling.

Two of those artists are Stuart Pimsler and his wife, Suzanne Costello. They are the team behind Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater, which, for the past several years, has partnered with MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine to offer a workshop titled, "Transforming the Doctor-Patient Relationship: Telling the Story." For three days, medical students and faculty take off their shoes, dance, draw, and write their way to a better understanding of the human element in medicine, especially gaining insight into how to approach and relate to people who are suffering both physically and emotionally.

"The program is a natural fit for the College of Osteopathic Medicine," said Goldstein. "The doctors at the college are already very holistic in their approach to medicine." According to Goldstein, word of mouth has played a big role in the success of the workshop here at MSU. "The first group of students who went through the program were excited by the experience and told other students," he said. "Professors have learned a lot too, and each year sees more people looking to participate."

Another artist-in-residence has been David Gonzalez. A master storyteller, Gonzalez weaves together music, comedy, and visuals to fully engage audiences in his narrative. Several years ago, Rubén Martinez, director of the Julían Samora Research Institute, talked with Goldstein about ways the MSU-FCU Institute for Arts and Creativity could engage more with Lansing's Hispanic community. The storytelling work of Gonzalez addresses that need. While at MSU, he not only works with students on campus, he partners with local schools, performs at the Cristo Rey Community Center, and participates in the classes of Sheila Contreras, associate professor in the Department of English.

These are just a few examples of the many ways that the MSU-FCU Institute for Arts and Creativity broadens community access to the University. Visit the Institute's website (whartoncenter.com/education-engagement) for a list of current programs for students, educators, and families.

  • Written by Matthew Forster, University Outreach and Engagement