Those who perceive Butler ArtsFest as a showcase of the Jordan College of the Arts (JCA) are clearly not in tune with the vision of Ronald Caltabiano, JCA dean.
Launched in 2013, ArtsFest has evolved into an annual event that presents renowned performing and visual artists from around the globe alongside students and faculty from JCA.
It all began when Caltabiano, a New York native, landed on Butler’s campus in 2011 as its newly appointed Dean of JCA. Along with JCA faculty and staff, he quickly began to formulate plans for an event that would not only feature the many facets of the College, but one that would be rooted in collaboration and create a cross pollination of artistic talent spilling well beyond the Butler campus.
That vision ultimately became the first Butler ArtsFest— themed “Revolution!”—that premiered in April 2013 with 40 performances and events over an 11-day period. That premiere provided a festive and impressive backdrop for the opening of the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts.
“It was evident from that first year that there was much more to it than celebrating the launch of the new building,” said Caltabiano. “For our students, Butler ArtsFest is a way for them to progress. It enables them to collaborate across the arts. We know that—with the most rare of exceptions—that will serve them well in their careers after Butler.” That concept is well illustrated among the students of JCA.
Caltabiano points to a piece of art on his office wall. “I asked the student who painted that piece what she was doing during the summer,” he recounted. “She said, ‘Well, my real major is theatre, but I’m going to spend the summer playing violin in a rock band.’ That’s really an example of what the future holds for these young artists— that sort of multifaceted work across many platforms.”
It’s a stark contrast to the perceived classic tradition of arts education. From an academic standpoint, Professor of Music at Butler and Orchestral Conductor Richard Auldon Clark believes cross-disciplinary collaboration at the college level is imperative to both ArtsFest and the future of the arts.
“It’s great to embrace our history and the past, but not at the expense of the future,” Clark said. “Providing this breadth of work through ArtsFest, and the relationship the experience creates for all those involved, translates into one of the most unique and valuable programs a liberal arts college can offer.”
It’s also a valuable driver of support, both on and off the Butler campus, according to Caltabiano.
“Initially, we had a few skeptics … but they gave me a ‘bye’ the first year. By the second year, they began to see how it helped our students, our reputation, and our bottom line. Now people at the University and in the arts community are embracing it year-after-year.”
By embodying the essence of Butler’s arts program, ArtsFest provides an ideal opportunity for potential students and donors alike to engage with the University. Perhaps no one understands this better than Howard Schrott ’76, whose generous gift helped move Butler’s new, state-of-the-art performing and visual arts venue from the drawing board to fruition.
“As we chatted with Butler, we landed on this idea that arts students truly needed a ‘lab space’—much like the business or science students—in which to practice their craft,” according to Schrott, who said he was initially drawn to the arts from his high school years spent playing the saxophone. “Butler ArtsFest is a wonderful way of bringing that ‘lab experience’ to the stage.”
“We are right on track with my vision,” said Caltabiano, “It began with a 10-year plan to grow the festival from a budget of less than $100,000 to $1 million. While we initially hosted all performances on Butler’s campus, as we grow, we want to include off-campus performances as a means to further enhance our students’ experiences and position Butler as a leader in the Central Indiana arts scene.”
Now in its fourth year, Butler ArtsFest 2016 will take place April 7–17 with more than 40 performances and events, including dance, music, theatre, visual arts, and family programs. From the measured beats of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet to the ancient sounds of a chanting Buddhist nun, from newly commissioned dance and theatre productions to a work composed in a Nazi POW camp, this year’s theme “Time and Timeless”—drawn from Indiana’s bicentennial celebration—explores the many ways we think about, measure, and use time.