As I have noted previously, I first arrived at Notre Dame in 2010. At that time, I was given the impression that the collective mood of our greater community was not the most upbeat. I understood that recovery from The Great Recession was slow and resources across the community were scarce. To make matters worse, South Bend made Newsweek’s list of dying cities. Over the last ten years, it has been a great privilege to see that life in the Bend is much more vibrant than these indicators would suggest.
From the enthusiastic celebration of the city’s 150th anniversary to the installation of the River Lights project, I am proud to live in a place that values the connectedness of its residents and moves forward on initiatives that demonstrate a genuine concern for quality of life. Perhaps there is no better project that reflects these ideas than the recent re-opening of Howard Park. An ambitious reimagining of a city park with amenities to spare, this space has quickly become one of the premier destinations in town.
Like many, I have adopted the somewhat addictive habit of podcast listening. (Reminder: new episodes of DPAC’s very own podcast, “Establishing Shot” post monthly!) I was recently struck by an episode of Abdul El-Sayed’s “America Dissected,” in which he talked about life in Detroit. In particular, the shift away from community investments in programs such as city parks and recreation centers which provided hubs of connection for people from different neighborhoods. El-Sayed talked about the value of providing social infrastructure and its measurable impact on improving people’s lives. Like South Bend, Detroit is also experiencing a bit of a renaissance which may be a reflection of a renewed investment in these kinds of projects.
The key takeaway for me was to think about whether the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center is successful at providing the kind of social infrastructure reflected in these kinds of civic projects. Our job is multifold in that we want to be a great resource for faculty, staff, and students. But it is imperative that we genuinely engage with our greater community. I am always troubled when I hear stories of how many people from our region still don’t feel that the University is truly open to the public. We seek out opportunities to break that barrier by developing more projects that reflect true community participation. One of the highlights of our season thus far was Kathleen Battle’s recent performance of songs inspired by the Underground Railroad which featured a choir of community members as well as a larger effort to connect with individuals and institutions like the History Museum and the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County dedicated to preserving this legacy.
In the coming weeks, there will be a new emphasis on the emergent university arts district. Arts leaders across campus are committed to using new and forthcoming development in facilities dedicated to the arts as a chance to demonstrate the more holistic value of the arts. While there is a tendency to think about what Notre Dame can do for its community, we should think about this as a more reciprocal relationship. We are better when we embrace all that our community has to offer.
Ted Barron is executive director of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and Judd and Mary Lou Leighton Director of the Performing Arts. Barron previously served as senior associate director overseeing the center’s cinema program during which time he led visits to Notre Dame by renowned filmmakers such as Claire Denis, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Larry Karaszewski, Margarethe von Trotta, Benny Safdie, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Barron also teaches courses on global cinema history, documentary film and German film in Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television, and Theatre. Read more