The Asian Arts & Culture Program
Declared as “A jewel of a program” by Dr. Charlena Seymour (Provost, UM Amherst 2004-09), the idea to emphasize non-western arts at the University was the vision of Dr. Frederick C. Tillis (Director Emeritus, Fine Arts Center). His strong belief that arts are a critical learning tool and the way to reach and understand peoples of the world, led him to invite Professor Ranjanaa Devi, a South Asian arts specialist in music and dance to establish a program within the Fine Arts Center. Beginning in small ways and developing a strong grass-roots network along with Director Devi’s artistic connections in the national and international arts arena, the Asian Arts and Culture program became a success.
Now, approaching twenty years, this program has flourished under the support of the present Fine Arts Center director Dr. Willie Hill to become a recognized entity in the region and beyond. It is well-known for its innovative programming and for garnering awards and appreciations from not only the Asian but other regional and national communities as well.
The Asian Arts & Culture Program focusses on presenting events that reach multiple and multi- generational communities: children in schools K-12 grades, university and colleges students, adults and seniors. Along with concerts and performances, the program presents shows suitable for elementary, middle and high school students under the rubric of Global Arts; dialogues, talks and cultural events under the Spirit & Soul series; new films and talks under the New Asia Cinema that are presented in collaboration with the Department of Communications at UMass; and tours to both international and regional locations.
Concerts & Performances
From the high plateaus of the Himalayas to the deserts of the Middle East, musicians, dancers and theater actors grace the two stages of the Fine Arts Center yearly, displaying their incredible artistry and talent. Our audiences have enjoyed Sufi vocals of Nusrat Fateh Ali, Bhangra/Jazz beat by Red Baraat Band, Balinese Gamelan by Gamelan Sekar Jaya, the spectacular Chinese acrobats leaping through the air or the heart stopping sounds of Japanese Taiko drums and so much more. The Asian Arts & Culture Program is “Your Local Source” to enjoy the best of Asian and Middle Eastern Arts in the Valley.
At the very inception of the Asian Arts & Culture Program, Director Devi designed a unique performance about the annual festival celebrations in India called The Festival of Lights. Her own experience of working in hundreds of New England schools as a teaching artist for the Massachusetts Cultural Council NEST roster provided her the ability to design and create a work that suited the curriculum needs required by the schools and a show that would catch the imagination of the young and old alike. Due to the phenomenal success for that show (it was presented successively for 5 years to sold out houses), selected shows are now presented on a yearly cycle for schools highlighting ancient and new traditions: Chinese acrobats, Japanese taiko drums, Korean harvest music, Egyptian puppets and more. Each year, the Fine Arts Center stages resound with excited voices of thousands of children who are thrilled seeing a live performance and experiencing the artistry of the performers.
The Asian Arts & Culture Program is proud to maintain a long term partnership with the Springfield Schools Chinese Language Program now in its 17th year. Working closely with the teachers, we have planned and designed specific artist residencies to include the Chinese dance and calligraphy, Chinese Rod puppets, Chinese acrobats, Beijing Opera etc. Additionally, the Asian Arts & Culture program provides resources for teachers, including bus tours to the Chinese Scholars Garden NY, guided tours to Asian exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and Peabody Essex Museum and also provides access to meeting with the artists.
New Asia Cinema
New Asia Cinema presents unique and culturally significant film screenings and dialogues with film makers. This series alternates every other year with Arab Cinema Panorama which includes feature length films, documentaries and shorts often never seen before. Both series are curated by Anne Ciecko, an Associate Professor of International Cinema in the Department of Communication and a core faculty member in the Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies. The chosen films are coordinated with UMass Film courses. All screenings are free and open to the public, and are often followed by an opportunity for audience discussion.
Spirit & Soul
With our holistic approach to programming, the Spirit & Souls events show connections between the arts, humanities and other academic disciplines. Some popular events presented over the years have included: Art and Technology with MIT Robot Ensemble and Balinese musicians in Gamelan Galak Tika, Spider and the Buddha - Sha Sha Higby in a sculptural performance art, and The Way of Tea which included a Japanese tea ceremony, Raku kiln firing, talk on Chinese Porcelains, Tea for Two ( a landscape design for enjoying a cup of tea), Brush Strokes- A look at Arabic and Chinese Calligraphy, and Kindle the Fire- an interfaith dialogue on Spirituality and Science among so many others.
Each season, the Asian Arts and Culture presents escorted bus tours to New York museums, the Met Opera for unique exhibitions and performances as well as places of interest such as Chinese landscape gardens, Chinatown and other Cultural centers. Escorted bus tours are also offered within New England to see exhibits and places of interest.
Arts in India is a special study tour designed and led by Director Devi for an in-depth immersion into the diversity and richness of the arts and cultural scene in India and in experiencing the everyday life of its people. To date four sold out tours to India have taken place each with 20-25 participants.
Defining the Diversity in the Arts