The Arts at Butler | Butler Stories

The Arts at Butler

S. L. Berry

from Spring 2016

The arts are more than an essential part of Butler University's academic mission. They exemplify Butler’s emphasis on experiential education, show our commitment to diversity, and bring our entire community together. In fact, as a magnet for Indianapolis-area residents, they attract more people to the campus annually than any other activity. 

Butler’s central role in the cultural vitality of Indianapolis is the basis of the Arts at Butler, a new strategy for positioning the University as the arts and culture hub of Central Indiana. Its foundation is the collective strength of Butler’s interdisciplinary academics, performing arts events and venues, and community-centered programs. 

“The Arts at Butler is what we are,” said Ron Caltabiano, Dean of the Jordan College of the Arts (JCA). “We teach each art form in the context of other art forms.” Pointing to the University’s nationally acclaimed dance program as an example, he said its students explore music, theatre, and visual arts, as well as arts administration. It’s an approach designed to deepen their understanding of—and appreciation for—creative and practical concerns outside of their discipline. 

To that end, the Arts at Butler offers a unified approach to promoting the array of art experiences available on campus. “We do more and more collaborative work,” said Susan Zurbuchen, Chair of JCA’s Arts Administration program. “But audiences still tend to identify as those who love dance, those who love theatre, those who love music, and so forth. We’re trying to help people understand they can experiment a little bit with what they attend.” 

Such campus events as the annual Butler ArtsFest provide an opportunity to do precisely that. Every April, ArtsFest brings renowned performing and visual artists from throughout the world to campus to take part in a diverse range of events alongside students and faculty members. It’s a chance for artists and audiences alike to expand their horizons. 

Building relationships with government agencies and corporations enables Butler to bring international artists to Central Indiana. The Arts at Butler will help focus attention on the diversity of those artists, with the goal of attracting equally diverse audiences. 

“There’s a great energy on and off campus about what the arts at Butler can mean for our students and for Indianapolis.”-Ron Caltabiano

Diversity is also the basis of the University’s community outreach programs, which have long been an important part of its relationship with its neighbors as an anchor institution in Midtown and Greater Indianapolis. The Arts at Butler enables the University to highlight such success stories as the Butler Community Arts School (BCAS), which provides instruction to 2,000 students ages 5 to adult throughout the academic year. Summer camps give another 10,000 underprivileged children the chance to explore the arts. 

In addition to community outreach through the BCAS program, Clowes Memorial Hall marks its 25th season of arts education programming for students, teachers, and parents statewide through their “Experience Learning Through the Arts” energizing, educational, and inspirational offerings. Throughout the program’s history, Butler’s campus and Clowes have welcomed and hosted over 1,000,000 patrons— many experiencing their first live theatre performance in support of educational curriculum and academic standards. A life-changing event for many cultivating informed and educated arts consumers of the future. 

“We want the Central Indiana community to see Butler not just as a place for a great education and the home of a great basketball team,” said Zurbuchen, “but as a place that positively impacts quality of life in the neighborhood, city, and region.” 

Contributing to that vision is the variety of professional venues on campus. From the 110-seat Black Box theatre and 140-seat Eidson-Duckwell Recital Hall to the 450-seat Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts and 2,200-seat Clowes Memorial Hall, the venues comprising the newly created Butler Arts Center offer settings ranging from intimate to grand. They also offer opportunities to experience everything from student recitals to Broadway tours. 

Additional opportunities stem from the collaborative relationships the University enjoys with professional arts organizations, including the American Pianists Association, Dance Kaleidoscope, Indianapolis Children’s Choir, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, and Indianapolis Opera—all of which perform at Butler’s venues, with most maintaining administrative offices on campus. 

“I don’t think there’s another university that has as many professional arts organizations on its campus,” said Caltabiano. Such proximity provides students with opportunities to learn from arts professionals, as well as to attend performances and events held by these organizations on and off campus. 

Overall, the Arts at Butler strategy is based on the synergy between students, venues, performers, and the community. Its vision has Butler as the fulcrum—the supportive and sustaining center of arts and culture in Central Indiana. 

“There’s a great energy on and off campus about what the Arts at Butler can mean for our students and for Indianapolis,” said Caltabiano. “By bringing together all of our considerable assets, we have the opportunity to create a world-class center for arts and culture thought, programming, and innovation right here at Butler University.”