I am going to attempt to reflect on the past year without falling back on all the terms and jargon that we’ve heard one too many times since the start of the pandemic. Wish me luck!
I am glad the year is over and I am pleased to see the collective effort people are making to get us through what we hope are the final stages of this global crisis. Last June, we were planning to postpone all public programming for the fall semester including several events in our Presenting Series with hopes that we would reopen in the spring. Of course, we didn’t reopen and spent the year doing what we could to support the University’s effort to offer in-person instruction with social distancing by converting our venues into classroom spaces. While there were some hiccups along the way, we made it through. But the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center is first and foremost an arts presenter. Whether we are hosting a student thesis performance, a talkback with an acclaimed filmmaker, or a concert featuring a Broadway legend, we are ignited by the unique energy that comes when a performer connects with an audience.
That spark has been missing from the work we do at DPAC for quite some time. We kept the engine running but we haven’t heard the roar of it revving in months. But, to push this metaphor one mile too far, we have not been idling. Video conferencing has become an essential tool for our work as so much of what we do revolves around personal interaction. COVID-19 restrictions may have kept us physically apart but Zoom, Facetime, Google Meets, Slack, Discord, and other services have provided avenues for us to stay connected.
A longer-range goal for us at DPAC has been to develop a digital platform to showcase the wide range of content we present each year. Interest in livestreaming and broadcasting arts performances such as the Met Opera and the National Theatre has grown exponentially over the past year. (PBS’s aptly named Great Performances has become appointment viewing in my household.) As the Met and the National Theatre have demonstrated over the past decade, these kinds of presentations were never intended to be replacements for live performance but rather complements to deepen audience enrichment of the arts. We hope that any effort in this area gives audiences a chance to revisit beloved experiences and extends our reach beyond our regional community to have greater global impact.
This past year has been particularly challenging for our arts students whose cumulative work is often evaluated by some form of public exhibition. At the end of the Spring 2020 semester, most of these presentations were eliminated as we were dealing with many uncertainties during the first peak of coronavirus outbreaks. As we entered a full year of pandemic restrictions, faculty and students were challenged to devise new ways of developing and presenting work. Films were cast with immediate family members. Dorm rooms replaced theater stages in Zoom performances. Musicals were filmed and posted on YouTube. Voice recitals were sung to nearly empty halls. But we were still able to connect with these experiences thanks to a commitment to digital broadcasting. With so many options to livestream performances as well as exhibitions from our friends in the visual arts, we developed a campaign to celebrate these accomplishments. State of the Art launched in April featuring a weekly showcase of student artists. This platform provided a unique opportunity for family and friends from around the world to experience the incredible work being done by our students at a time when they really needed it.
I am proud of the work done on the State of the Art campaign partly because it recognizes the collective commitment to the arts at Notre Dame and the diversity of interests our students have in the fields of music, theater, film, media, art, and architecture. It also created an avenue for us to reach a wider audience than we could ever imagine on campus. After an unprecedented, extraordinary, challenging year of pivoting and establishing new normals, the arts at Notre Dame have resiliently persevered! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)