What is the Center for the Arts?

Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts (CFA) exists to catalyze people’s creativity by engaging them in the dynamic work of diverse artists.   Three inter-related activities enable the CFA to realize its purpose:

  1. Supporting the research, public productions and in-studio teaching needs of the Arts Departments;
  2. Leading inter-disciplinary collaborations and other initiatives that integrate artists into creative curricular and co-curricular initiatives (through the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative)
  3. Organizing powerful encounters between visiting artists and diverse elements of the Wesleyan community, the greater Middletown community, statewide and regional audiences.

The CFA is an essential contributor to Wesleyan’s unique identity. Its award-winning cluster of 11 buildings, designed by Kevin Roche, represents a unique and unparalleled commitment to the arts when it opened in 1973.  Currently it houses the departments of Music, Dance, Theater and Art & Art History, as well as the University’s visiting arts presenting series.

CFA staff support the technical production and front-of-house needs of faculty and student productions and exhibitions. The CFA also directs the presenting program, and in collaboration with diverse partners on and off campus, has achieved national recognition for pioneering new ways to support the creative work of outstanding artists, enhance students’ engagement with the arts, and introduce a broad community to the widest spectrum of world cultures. The CFA presents series in dance, music and theater, has a vibrant exhibition program in the Zilkha Gallery, and a host of community engagement projects.
The presenting series brings emerging and established artists to campus in order to build campus and community participation in the arts. In 2006, the CFA worked with campus partners to present a groundbreaking first year student “common reading” program around the life and work of trailblazing choreographer Bill T. Jones. The CFA has garnered national recognition for its work, including serving as a National Dance Project HubSite, and as a pilot campus for the Center for Creative Research, a project to explore exchanges between choreographers and universities which has produced long-term residencies by Eiko Otake, Liz Lerman and Ann Carlson. The CFA was one of only eight campuses to receive an Arts Presenters Creative Campus grant for its campus-wide initiative, Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art. The project consisted of pedagogical exchanges, performances, a community eco-arts festival and commissioned works including Green Movement, by choreographer Ann Carlson. In 2008-09, Feet to the Fire was the common reading program for first-year students and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange staged a dance about climate change for all incoming freshmen. Other campuses are now incorporating dance in their first year student orientation programs based on the models developed at Wesleyan. In 2011, the CFA launches the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP), a low-residency professional certificate program and the first of its kind in the country, which will integrate the dance presenting series into its curriculum.

In FY10, the CFA staged 317 events and served a total audience of over 45,000.  For CFA ticketed events, 40% were students/faculty and 60% were general public. Audiences come to the CFA from Middlesex County, New Haven, Hartford, the Connecticut shoreline, and from out of state.

As far back as 1945, members of the arts faculty at Wesleyan recognized the need for a facility that would unite the arts programs that were scattered across campus. By 1954, a committee of faculty members was formed, led by professor of architecture John Martin, to begin working with the administration on a plan for a new arts complex. After considering proposals by several architects, the faculty committee chose to work with Kevin Roche, of the award winning architectural firm Eero Saarinen and Associates. Roche’s design, described as a small village of arts-related buildings, worked in perfect harmony with the proposed site between Wyllys Avenue and Washington Terrace. The center officially opened in 1973 with a series of gala events showcasing the new facilities. The increased space and targeted design of the Center’s facilities meant that faculty could both increase enrollment in arts classes and raise the standards of the University’s arts curriculum to match the high level of the newly available resources. The harmony of the center’s design and the land it was built on also resulted in attention from major national news sources; an architecture review by the New York Times called the CFA “one of the finest pieces of campus architecture in the last several years.”

Initially, the stated institutional focus of the Center was to provide the campus community with exposure to high-quality artwork through the presentation of performances, guest lectures, gallery shows, and master classes. With the inauguration of University president Douglas Bennet, the mission of the CFA took on a greater scope and scale. In 1999, current director Pamela Tatge ’84 was brought on to lead the Center into a new era. Looking past the edge of campus, the CFA worked to expand the reach and impact of its programming, partnering with local arts groups, founding a dance series and a theater series, hosting annual festivals and commissioning works of music and dance. Today, almost 40 years after its founding, Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts remains a dynamic institution, providing students, faculty, and audiences statewide access to exceptional artists across a wide spectrum of cultures and disciplines.

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Creative Campus

The Creative Campus Website is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Contact: Andrew Chatfield