The roots of their art

Stephanie Pevec (foreground) and Amy San Pedro rehearsed works in the rehearsal studio at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington, Ky., for the Contemporary Dance Collective's June 10 and 11 performance. © Lexington Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

Framing this year’s 2011-12 arts guide, which is out on newsstands across Central Kentucky Sunday, we were inspired by the idea that this year, there will probably be people who will see events listed in our guide that will inspire them to pursue a life in art.

That led us to ask area arts leaders what their transformational moments were, what “experience – be it a performance, exhibit, recording, film, participation or something else – that made them decide, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to have a life in the arts.’”

We received a variety of responses, many of which were excerpted in my column in the preview. But here, where space isn’t at such a premium, I wanted to share the responses in their entirety. Some had that ba-da-bing moment at an event while others found inspiration in making art, or doing something from such a young age, it became a part of them.

Adalhi Aranda Corn, Director and Founder, Bluegrass Youth Ballet

Instructor Adalhi Aranda Corn and her student Tanner Bleck at Bluegrass Youth Ballet. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

Perhaps my love for the arts started when my parents took me to see the ballet Coppelia,
performed by the Compañía Nacional de México, back when I was about 7 or 8 in my native
León, México. My parents had played the music by Leo Delibes, so I was familiar with it. After that day, a dream of becoming a ballerina started, perhaps just as it does with thousands of little girls in the world. I had no idea what it would take, or how I would achieve such a dream. What moved me and enticed me was definitely the music, depicting a story and enriched by strong, colorful visual of movement and costumes. It is such a complete experience. The ability
to transport yourself to another world, in a matter of minutes, such fulfilling escapade. No words needed!

I don’t think the answer of “how to” become a dancer came clear to me for years. Even though I took lessons in ballet, it was unknown to me how to you go from here to there! I had two video tapes, one was Coppelia performed by the Royal Ballet (Saddler Wells at that time) and the other was American Ballet Theatre performing Giselle. I have watched these two so much that I knew the entire choreography. Yet, I had no idea how those marvelous dancers got to be the ones in there. Perhaps it was a normal, organic development such as moving up to the next grade in school.

There wasn’t a lot of performing arts support or opportunities in the city I lived in Mexico, so it took me until I was in college to make the decision to leave León and move to Guadalajara. I mainly had to find out if perhaps I had a chance in the world of dance. I came to find out that it was a lot more difficult than I had ever imagined. The hard work, sweat, pain, tears and even blood didn’t stop me from being willing to see how far I could take it. Not knowing, and always wanting to find more answers, took me to the USA.

After making my way through the impossible, I eventually discovered to my dismay that I was indeed making a living as a dancer. I danced proud and this adventure enhanced my life in many levels.

Then one day, I decided that it was time for me to stop focusing on me, and to give “it” back to the next generation. I shifted my interest from performing to teaching. I have learned so much throughout the years, I wanted to share this experience with children who have the same dream as I once had.

The circle becomes closed, when I am able to see my students and audience being moved by music, enriched by movement, colors and a great story.

Stephanie Harris, Executive Director, Lexington Art League; founder and director, Contemporary Dance Collective

I believe my work in an art related field is a direct result of the many powerful experiences I have had through my lifelong study of the Arts. In my youth I found great comfort and a sense of belonging through my studies and for me this was the only place where things made sense and I could accomplish successfully the goals that I set for myself. Through this experience I found inspiration, and a place of belonging. My earliest memory of having an overwhelming need to be in Arts was when I was performing at The Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield Ohio. This is a very grand space and I can remember feeling so fortunate to have the opportunity to perform on stage in such a beautiful theatre- under that warmth of the lights with the electricity and excitement that a live performance provides. I also recall my first experience with a major work of art in a museum and how I was in absolute awe at its majestic quality, and I recall an overwhelming feeling of disbelief that we are fortunate enough to share the same space with work that was made by the hands of masters in another time, and how that almost seemed impossible.

Dance was my natural talent and I am blessed to continue my work as a choreographer, teacher and performer to this day. I am honored to serve as an Executive Director of an arts organization and I cannot think of a job that would be better suited to my skills and interests as well as my passions and life experience. These organizations are so important to the health and well being of our society, and it means a great deal to me to have the opportunity to nurture and care for such a valuable community resource. I am thankful to the Arts for giving me a life that is full of endless things to examine and experience and I am inspired daily by the things I have the opportunity to see and do.

Chase Martin, Director, Institute 193

Chase Martin. Photo from

When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad in Strasbourg, France. There are several interesting museums in the city, but my favorite was a small one devoted to the work of illustrator Tomi Ungerer, who was born in Strasbourg. Ungerer’s interests are wide ranging: he’s created children’s books, satirical political illustrations, clever graphic designs, and even some pretty outrageous erotic drawings over the course of his career. The museum is as quirky as the man—a large room is devoted to his toy collection—but it succeeds in displaying Ungerer’s work beautifully and succinctly explaining and contextualizing it. The fact that it exists at all is a testament to that community’s pride in the artistic achievement of its native son.

I think visiting the Tomi Ungerer Museum was what made me want to pursue a career in the arts. Looking at the life’s work of someone like Ungerer can make you realize the relevance and wide-
ranging power art can have, and the integral role it can play in building communities.

Scott Terrell, Music Director, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra

Scott Terrell conducting the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra. © Herald-Leader photo by Matt Goins.

I began viola in 5th grade, played for years, and many times thought about quitting. My parents dabbled in music, and really encouraged the kids to take part. We were fortunate to have a very strong public school music program, and very dedicated music teachers. When I was a sophomore in high school, my orchestra director gave me the opportunity to conduct the orchestra during class. It is an experience I have never forgotten, because I realized that I heard the music differently, had a different relationship with it than I did when playing my viola. I was hooked. I knew after that, I wanted to be in music, around music, and bring music to others.

While that singular experience forever cemented my life’s pursuit, I was unaware where it might lead. While working at the Minnesota Orchestra, I was the assistant conductor for many projects, including Britten’s War Requiem, lead by the late Robert Shaw. For an entire week, I watched this master conductor work with this incredible score. He was not feeling well all week yet he drew strength and resolve from this music – and spent countless hours with me, sharing his thoughts about this meaningful work. He was very philosophical in character, and was intent on sharing Britten’s caution to war with everyone. It was a transformational week, and an experience and man I cherish. He died just a few months later.

I think that experience with Mr. Shaw certainly comes to mind when I decided to program the Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem. Vaughan Williams drew inspiration from Britten’s War Requiem, he was very troubled by the impending World War. It was his goal with this work to encourage good will, rather than discord. The experience with Mr. Shaw spoke to me profoundly, presenting the mission of music makers to challenge through works that raise the intellectual and spiritual discussion of a culture.

Ben Withers, Chair, University of Kentucky Department of Art

Ben Withers.I have experienced first-hand the potential of the arts curriculum in higher education to make a difference in people’s lives. I am, in a very real sense, an example of the potential of UK’s outreach. Although I am trained as an art historian, my first real exposure to the fine arts was facilitated by the UK School of Music, through their sponsorships of summer music camps and placement of student teachers in my rural school system. Twice selected to participate in the Kentucky All-State band (playing the tuba), I continued to perform and enroll in music theory and music history classes throughout my undergraduate education. The visual arts are another matter; growing up in a poor, rural area of Kentucky (Berry), I had only a few chances to visit museum before I went to college. I had the opportunity to go out-of-state for college, to a small college in Minnesota (Carleton College, Northfield). The first class that I enrolled in college was a general survey of western art. This one class literally opened doors to a world of cultural diversity unavailable and unimaginable to me in high school. This new world was incredibly attractive, yet also daunting and frightening, especially because other students in the class came from backgrounds that permitted them a broader experience of the visual arts than I did. At the end of the course, our instructors arranged for us to take a class trip to the Minneapolis Museum of Art. I remember feeling apprehensive as we walked through the galleries toward the portions of the museum that held material from the areas we studied. I remember, too, the feeling of pride and accomplishment when I realized that I could look at a sculpture and tell whether it was Greek or Egyptian, and date its creation within a few decades. It turns out that looking at art was not all that different from the ability to look at a stalk of tobacco and grade it into grades of bright or red leaf……

Summer Gossett, Marketing and Ticketing Director, Singletary Center for the Arts

“As an undergraduate at UK, I must have changed my major four or five times. Late in my third year of college I signed up for an Art History class with Professor Alice Christ because I needed to fulfill an elective and I was immediately hooked. I do not know if it was the images she projected on the screen that grabbed me or just the history behind them, but I decided to make my final major change to Art History. For the past 12 years I have always worked in thearts – whether it was visual or performing. I have had the great fortune to work for such organizations as the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, the Lexington Art League, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Union Theatre. I cannot imagine a day where I am not able to walk by a photograph, hear a vocal student warming up in the hallway, catch a glimpse of an orchestra tuning on stage, or see a concert hall filled with patrons giving a standing ovation. And I owe it all to a single slide projected on a wall when I was 19 years old.”

Luis Dominguez, Artistic Director, Lexington Ballet

Lexington Ballet director Luis Dominguez practicing with dancer Ashley Whitlock. Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

Life changing experiences are not an uncommon thing, particularly in the arts.

My case was no exception.

I am not sure how or why I found myself at the Roosevelt library in Mexico city where they showed a PBS special about the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the company was performing Dougla a very acrobatic Ballet over the projection screen.

After I saw it, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

It took a lot of determination to get to New York and even more to get accepted in the company.

My dream came through, I was doing what I wanted to do.

The price to pay, as it is with most worth things in life, was time, effort and passion.

If you want something bad enough you will find a way to create an opportunity for it to happen.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem gave me a life changing opportunity.

Jennifer Scianterelli, Communications Director, UK College of Fine Arts

There wasn’t one pivotal moment in my life that made me decide to pursue the arts. Rather, it has simply been a matter of fact since I stepped into my first pair of ballet slippers at age 3. I’m not sure I’ve ever really wanted anything else. Through myself and through those around me I continually see the power of the arts to educate, to inspire, to heal, to transform.

Tanya Harper, Production Director, Singletary Center for the Arts

“My life in the arts began like many others – in high school. Soon, it grew into a career choice for me when I saw the power that the arts have to move, to inspire, to educate, to heal, and to unite. I was recently reminded of a concert at Singletary Center not too long after 9/11 – Bela Fleck. He sat alone on stage and played our national anthem on the banjo. It was one of the most moving performances I have ever personally witnessed in all the years I have worked in the arts. You could hear a pin drop as he played, and see such a range of emotions on the faces in the crowd. There is nothing I love more than to stand in the back of a theatre and watch hundreds of people losing themselves in a performance. Two hours later, they transition out of this experience and back to the real world, but for those two hours, they have forgotten their troubles and immersed themselves in the art. And we, as artists, designers, technicians, production staff… we slip out the back stage door and eagerly wait for the opportunity to do it all over again.”

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