The director of Lawrence's largest performance hall realizes its programming must fit the needs of current as well as future audiences.
A couple of years ago when the staff at the Lied Center began thinking about the approaching millennium, they realized that the cultural makeup of the nation was changing.
So they began to discuss how the Lied Center's performances series could explore the cultural roots of art and what would influence and inspire music, dance and theater in the next millennium.
What evolved from those discussions is Cultural Countdown, a four-year project that kicked off this season with the presentation of works with Latino influences. Next year, the focus will be on works with African-American influences; the year after that, Asian-American and possibly American-Indian. The final year tentatively will look how technology has influenced the arts.
"We have made an effort to look at cultural issues through our presentations," said Jackie Davis, executive director of the Lied Center.
Davis said she and her staff started thinking about new projects in spring 1997 because less money was available from the National Endowment for the Arts and competition for that money was fierce.
Since 1981, she said, the Lied Center has received "modest funding" from NEA for program support. In the 1980s, NEA money helped the Lied Center start its Friends of the Lied Center program as well as hire a part-time education director.
"In all cases (of NEA funding), we saw a tremendous benefit," she said.
Today, however, the majority of NEA funding goes to project support.
"It makes me nervous," Davis said, adding that she has sat on NEA panels where funding requests were denied because a panel member didn't approve of the project.
"I realized we couldn't sacrifice our mission to get funding on a national level," she said. "So we started thinking about coming into the millennium and the changes in culture."
Davis said the first challenge encountered by her "small but mighty" staff came when the Cultural Countdown project "took on a life of its own" and she realized the project would require more staff time than expected.
"The reason it became possible was because of our partners and connecting to the regional community," Davis said.
The Lied Center linked up with the Kansas Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs in Topeka and the Center of Latin American Studies, Multicultural Resource Center and the Hispanic American Leadership Organization, all based on the Kansas University campus.
HALO president Irad Orduna said this season's focus on Latino works helped promote greater awareness about the different cultures on the Kansas University campus.
"KU isn't one race. There's diversity," he said.
Celebrating that diversity is one of Cultural Countdown's goals.
"Developing these relationships helped bring the project to life in a meaningful way and gave it a kind of collective energy because we knew we were doing something of value," Davis said. "We received partial funding, made new friends and completed the project. We were able to walk our talk."
Productions in Cultural Countdown's debut season included:
- Miami City Ballet, a company headed by artistic director Edward Villella and choreographer Jimmy Gamonet De Los Heroes. The company conducted a master class with KU ballet students Sept. 23 and performed Sept. 24 at the Lied Center.
- Culture Clash, a Chicano-Latino comedy troupe from Miami, Fla. The trio conducted residency activities in Dodge City and Garden City on Sept. 28 and 29 and in Lawrence on Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. They performed at the Lied Center on Oct. 2.
"We had the agenda to bring the Lied Center and the arts into the state," Davis said, referring to the residency activities outside of Lawrence.
- Ballet Hispanico, a dance troupe founded and directed by Tina Ramirez. The troupe conducted residency activities Nov. 10 and 11 in Hutchinson and Great Bend and Nov. 12 through 14 in Lawrence. They performed Nov. 14 at the Lied Center.
- Triangulo, featuring Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet, Gustavo Tavares on cello and Pablo Zinger on piano. The trio was in residency in Lawrence Jan. 24-27 and participated in recitals, master classes and lecture-demonstrations. They performed Jan. 24 at the Lied Center.
Plans are in full swing for next season's Cultural Countdown series, which will bring a number of African-American-influenced shows to the Lied Center stage.
The centerpiece will be "Jazz Train," a new work choreographed by Donald Byrd and set to the music of jazz composers Max Roach, Vernon Reid and Geri Allen.
The project -- a partnership of the Lied Center, the Gem Theatre Cultural and Performing Arts Center and the State Ballet of Missouri -- is being made possible through a $131,945 grant from the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Arts Partners Program
The "Jazz Train" project will begin this fall and culminate with a performance of "Jazz Train" on April 15, 2000, at the Lied Center. Byrd, Roach, Reid and Allen will be in attendance during various phases of the project and for the performance of "Jazz Train."
Among the activities planned in conjunction with "Jazz Train" are a series of sessions about the "nuts and bolts" of jazz by Dick Wright, professor emeritus of music at KU; a session on film and jazz by Chuck Berg, KU professor of theater and film; and a session on the evolution of dance and jazz.
In order to maintain its audience base, Davis said, the Lied Center also is taking into consideration other cultural changes when it decides its future programming.
"We need to look at and recognize the competition for people's leisure time," she said. "We need to acknowledge the tremendous number of choices people have and that they have less time and not more time (for the arts).
"The elderly population is tied more to a traditional set of principles surrounding the arts, and the younger generations are looking for a different kind of experience," she added. "So the challenge is to develop ways to keep both constituencies happy."
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.