The start of the new year can be a challenging time, with the excitement of the holidays in the past and the long months of winter still ahead. But the staff at Wesley’s Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion (Luce Center) has developed the perfect antidote to winter blues – Heart the Arts.
“There are two things happening simultaneously,” said Amy Gray, program administrator for the Luce Center. “Both are a celebration of the whole seminary and both consist entirely of artwork created or performed by Wesley students, faculty and staff.”
This year’s Heart the Arts festival is particularly bittersweet in that Jean Hefner, one of the longtime benefactors of the Luce Center, passed away in late 2016. The event has historically been held on Mrs. Hefner’s birthday, Feb. 14.
“What had begun as a showcase for Wesley’s talented musicians, dancers, actors and poets instantly became a party for Jean, whose generosity years earlier had made it possible,” said Dr. Deborah Sokolove, director of the Luce Center.
First up is an exhibition of community work that opens in the Dadian Gallery on Jan. 18. Following on its heels, the Heart the Arts festival arrives again on Mrs. Hefner’s birthday.
“The arts at Wesley are much bigger than just things that will hang politely on the wall,” Gray said. “We’re actually looking for things that have a bit of an edge.”
Just as the exhibition will feature a range of media, Heart the Art performances will range from dance to biblical storytelling, to music and poetry. “There could be as many as 30 people performing,” Gray said. “We’ve had whole dance classes.”
She admitted to having spies embedded across the campus. “I can’t personally know who all the people are with ‘mad skills,’” she said. “Often the students themselves don’t recognize their talents.”
Gray finds that many scholars, administrators and future ministers forget that they are also painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, actors or dancers.
“They might not think they’re worthy,” Gray said. “But then someone like [professors] Eileen Guenther or Denise Dombkowski Hopkins comes along and says, ‘Hey, I know you do this really cool thing.’”
The combination of visual arts in the Dadian Gallery and performing arts coming to life across the hall in Elderdice creates an electric atmosphere.
“It can run the gamut,” Gray said of the performance line-up. “You might have a piece that is very serious, very classical. Next up might be some totally wacky irreverent thing!’”
The range of genre and subjects speaks volumes about the community. “It’s like saying, ‘Here’s the full picture of who we are,’” Gray said. “The gallery, the performances – they represent the diversity of the seminary in age, in experience, in theology, in culture, in all kinds of ways.”
Looking back, a couple of unique performances stand out. “There was an African American student who sat on the steps in the chapel,” Gray said. “She did this partially sung, partially spoken performance piece in which she was the Jordan River. It just blew people’s minds. It was really touching.”
At the other end of the spectrum was the student who wrote a song about the Gerasene Demoniac (Mark 5:1-17) in the comedic style of famed satirist Tom Lehrer. “We were in tears laughing,” Gray said. “It was spectacular.”
She continues to be astonished by the many and varied gifts of the Wesley community. “There are really top notch skills lurking on this campus,” she said. “And many of these people just don’t always get the opportunity to express that.”
Artists and audiences alike can join in the celebration. The work of visual artists will be on display in the Dadian Gallery from Jan. 18 through March 3. Performance artists get their turn at Heart the Arts, on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 4:30 p.m.