The College and the Arts

By Jessica M. Castillo

The College and the Arts

By Jessica M. Castillo
The College of Arts and Sciences showcases a wide breadth of art forms, from theatre to painting to photography, that feature work by students, faculty, staff, and the global community.

There is no shortage of diverse forms of artistic expression across the College of Arts and Sciences. From musical performances at the Ring Theatre, to UM’s Art Gallery in the ‘Zebra’ building in Wynwood, and to student-curated and socially and politically centered exhibits at the Lowe, the arts abound at the College.

In and Around the Ring

The producing arm and, arguably the centerpiece of the College’s Theatre Arts Department, the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre is currently in its 78th year of providing student-centered performances to the South Florida community. Named after the UM alumnus and legendary Tony Award-winning Broadway composer and lyricist, the Ring Theatre launched its first-ever fully musical production season for the 2016-2017 year.

The historic theatre company received its name from its first in-the-round performance which placed the audience in a "ring" around the stage. The Ring Theatre, which can seat up to 400 patrons, and the smaller Hecht Rehearsal and Studio Complex, which seats about 50, are both typical black box theatres. Black box theatres, by definition, are bare, experimental rooms with flexible seating and stage arrangements. The Hecht black box theatre, with little to no set design, presents an acute focus on the craft of acting.

When the Ring Theatre’s seating is arranged in-the-round, the set design tends to be very minimalistic. However, for the theatre’s first-ever completely musical season, the four productions feature set design that is decidedly a bit splashier, said Stephen DiBenedetto, department chair of theatre arts and associate professor of theatre history and theory. All sets are built at the Ring Theatre and sometimes the work is done as a “final exam” by students.

The 2016-2017 musical season offers a mix of shows that are relatable to students as well as stories that are more recognizable to the larger Greater Miami community. The productions feature different styles that highlight contemporary and age-old political and social issues—Of Thee I Sing, a political satire; Children of Eden, an inspirational tale about family and faith; Spring Awakening, a punk rock adaptation of the landmark coming-of-age story; and The Drowsy Chaperone, a Jazz Age classic comedy.

Theatre arts at the College center around the student experience and provide foundational training and exposure for those seeking a professional career in theatre, in areas ranging from set design and acting to the entrepreneurial side of show production. The department’s Theatre Management program is only one of five Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) programs offered in the United States. The program includes an internship in New York City that teaches a combination of business and theatre.

“Students work alongside faculty and guest artists of renown to hone their skills in various aspects of theatrical production, and to gain an understanding for how theatre can play a role in everyday life and how it can be a tool to work through life’s issues,” said DiBenedetto. “We try to instill how theatre can enhance or supplement other perspectives and how it can contribute to other aspects of an individual’s life or interests.”

The department has an ongoing collaboration with the School of Nursing and Health Studies and the Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education to provide empathy training and help in understanding human emotion and action. The department also collaborates regularly with county cultural organizations to produce innovative performances in venues around Miami.

“We try to show how theatre is a meaningful collaborator that has the potential to offer unique lenses that other disciplines may be wrestling with,” said DiBenedetto, who is trained as a theatre historian with a conservatory background. “Ultimately theatre is about collaboration and finding that right expertise to make something new and unique.”

Theatre is woven into work across colleges and within the College of Arts and Sciences, said DiBenedetto, from performance to photography, paintings and murals. “The arts across the College are like sister programs where its students are essentially shared and their talents flow across different forms of art and media. We are all connected to the objects that we make and to each other.”

Wynwood Art Gallery

Located in Wynwood since 2007, UM’s student-centered art gallery has seen a lot of the ups and downs of the historic art neighborhood and its trendy cafes, bars, retail stores, and other galleries. Housed in a stark black and white facade, you can’t miss the gallery.

“The building is quite eye-catching. They call it ‘the Zebra building,’” says Milly Cardoso, UM Wynwood Art Gallery Director and Curator.

Juried and curated student artwork—from painting and ceramics to photography and printmaking—is displayed throughout most of the year at the gallery, save for when faculty hold their annual exhibition in November and during the summer when the gallery occasionally hosts external artists and exhibitors. Biennially, the gallery hosts the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) Staff Exhibition.

The incoming Master of Fine Arts graduate student exhibition kicks off the new gallery season every Fall. This year’s exhibition showcased not only diverse media, but also student artists from all over the globe—Brazil, Colombia, Miami, Georgia, and Ohio via Italy. The gallery also hosts an annual Art Basel show in December which features juried work from graduate students. This fall, the gallery also showcased a juried exhibition hosted by Arts United, an LGBT arts organization based in Fort Lauderdale.

Historic Past, Progressive Future

The Lowe Art Museum, South Florida’s first and most comprehensive art museum, features temporary exhibitions and world-renowned innovative pieces ranging from paintings to sculpture installations. Since the opening of its free-standing facility in 1952, thanks to philanthropists Joe and Emily Lowe, the Lowe Art Museum has been a University and Greater Miami staple, showcasing timeless and resounding art pieces in various forms—from Asian antiquities to Renaissance paintings to modern and contemporary art.

Over the years, the Lowe has become more interdisciplinary, incorporating mixed media and an array of dynamic forms of artistic expression. The Museum features a combination of temporary exhibitions covering poignant and relevant social issues and items from its permanent collection, which has nearly 19,000 objects and spans 5,000 years of global culture.

“To put this in context, the Lowe is the only museum in town where, on any given day, you can walk in and enjoy original works of art by Andy Warhol, Joan Miró, and Frank Stella, as well as masterworks from the South Pacific Islands and ancient Greece and Rome,” said Jill Deupi, Beaux Arts Director and Chief Curator for the Lowe.

The 2016-2017 season of rotating exhibits is particularly exciting, said Deupi. “This year the Lowe is focusing on issues of identity in all of its manifestations—social, racial, cultural, political, economic, and sexual.”

In addition to mounting special exhibitions, the Lowe also hosts a number of public events. Family Days, the Lowe After Hours, Art Basel Miami Beach Bubbles & Brunch, and Sip & Sketch all further draw in the community to engage with art, culture, and each other.

The Lowe also features an annual year-long student-curated exhibition by art and art history students, ArtLab @ The Lowe. The cohort of students determines the art that is to be exhibited from the museum’s permanent collection. The current ArtLab, Blasted Allegories: Photography as Experience, examines the history of the medium by providing suggestive examples of how photography shapes human experience.

“My hope is that the Lowe can fully serve as a neutral forum for the exchange of ideas and the expansion of knowledge. This, to me, is the bedrock of mutual understanding and respect, which, in turn, is the foundation for a civil society marked by acceptance and equality,” said Deupi.