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Art to Z: Scholarly and cultural events Scrabble

By Adam Overland

The Art to Z poster.
An Art to Z poster, designed by Melanie Clarke. Writers Rick Moore and Bill Magdalene matched letters with events.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, one can find nearly a half million words, Scrabbled together from a mere 26 letters. But all those words still aren't enough for what we want to say. That's why we create music and dance, sculpture and paintings, and tread countless avenues to explore the meaning and complexities of life.

Arts and culture events at the U this fall are some of the richest and most enlightening in the Twin Cities, but not everyone knows they're invited. To help solve that problem, the Office for Scholarly and Cultural Affairs asked University Relations' marketing department to help bring these events together under one theme.

A focus group followed, made up of folks from the Weisman, Bell, College of Continuing Education, Department of English, Theater Arts & Dance, School of Music, Northrop, and Goldstein Museum of Design. Out of their work emerged a concept--Art to Z.

The project recently began taking shape on campus with the creation of a Web site and posters depicting each of 26 letters embedded in a square of vivid imagery, with image and letter together forming an intriguing representation of the event. One can't help but wonder upon seeing the word "catenary" amidst a background of spiraling staircases what this could mean, and to what event it relates* (see the end of this story for the answer).

Christopher James, communications director at the Weisman and chair of the arts and culture marketing collaborative that evolved from the focus group, says Art to Z started taking form after asking the question: What differentiates arts and culture at the U from arts and culture anywhere else in this market? "We came up with a lot of answers," says James. "One of which was, 'In one bounded geographic location, where else can you experience such a wide range of culture?' Art to Z is simply a way to get the message out to the public that no matter your tastes, the U has something that will appeal to you. "None of us felt we had the resources to [get that message out] on our own," says James. "There was power in trying to do things together..."

A square of the poster representing one event. Image photo by Jesus Vallinzo
A square of the poster representing one event. Image photo by Jesus Vallinzo

Ole Gram, Associate to the Vice President for Scholarly and Cultural Affairs and liaison to the collaborative, describes the Art to Z project as just a first step toward trying to raise the visibility of arts, performances, symposia, and lectures on campus. "[This] conversation started [based on] the fact that we are so large, and there is so much going on and so many units that organize absolutely terrific events, that what often ends up happening is that each unit promotes itself and we have a sense of being unable to see the forest for the trees," says Gram.

James, too, believes scholarly and cultural events are sometimes overlooked and often underrepresented, but that they remain a vital part of the human identity, and integral to the U. "There is world-class cultural activity happening on this campus, produced both by our own faculty and students and by artists we're bringing to campus," says James.

"Perhaps, rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that the U is a world of its own," says Gram. "[Art to Z] is a way to say, 'Look, we are a welcoming place, and...what you get [here] is a place where discovery and curiosity really thrive."

For more information, look for the posters, view the Web site Art to Z, and see the events. For a free poster, stop by Morrill Hall's information desk or call 612-624-6868.

Catenary: the curve assumed by a flexible (but not stretchable) cord that hangs freely from two fixed points. The Oct. 10 event at the Bell features a conversation on architecture with Balthazar Korab and John Comazzi.