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Setting the Stage

$5 million Gilman Foundation gift supports Hopkins Center for the Arts

Last October, modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham and his company came to Dartmouth as part of the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Endowment while staging the premier of a new work, XOVER. The Hopkins Center co-commissioned the work, assisted by major support from a new endowment gift from Fred Whittemore '53, Tuck '54, and his wife, Marion.

Rehearsal
From left: Jeff James, the Howard Gilman Director of the Hopkins Center for the Arts; Daisy Freund '08; and Peter Hackett '75, chair and professor of theater, at a rehearsal for Freund's new play, Arrangements. (photo credt: Karen Meeks)

"Merce-a-thon" is the word Jeffrey James, the Howard Gilman Director of the Hopkins Center, coined to described the week-long residency. "We planned faculty and student interactions with the company spanning subjects as varied as motion-capture and animation, math, drawing, photography, dance, theater, music, philosophy and digital technology," says James.

Now, thanks to a $5 million gift from the Howard Gilman Foundation that not only endowed James's position but also created a venture fund for new initiatives, the Hop will be able to arrange still more "-a-thons" in coming years. James and his staff are eager to create more opportunities for students to interact with visiting artists offstage-to witness the process of making art and the people who make it, not just the finished product.

"When I came to Dartmouth, my highest motivation was to reinforce the mission the Hop has had from the beginning: To be a place where students, at an age when they are open to formative experiences, could have eye-opening transformative moments in the arts that would change the way they live their lives. These opportunities for contact with the artist are often exactly that kind of moment," says James.

Howard Gilman
The late Howard Gilman '44 during a 1998 visit to the Claflin Jewelery Studio, which he named in honor of his friend, renowned jewelery designer Donald Claflin. The Gilman Foundation recently gave $5 million to support the arts at Dartmouth. (photo: Stuart Bratesman ’75)

The Hop employs a team dedicated to connecting visiting artists with faculty and students in ways that resonate with other learning at the College. Many visiting artists give pre- or post-performance discussions, and some offer workshops, such as the one this past January by the virtuosic tap dancer Savion Glover. (The Hop also has extensive outreach programs aimed at the Upper Valley's primary and secondary schools.) Compared to the same period last academic year, the number of outreach programs for Dartmouth students has increased by 40 percent.

Many of these events take place just down the street at 13 East Wheelock Street, the roomy house that serves as the focal point for the East Wheelock Cluster. Philosophy Professor Susan Brison, who lives there with her family as the faculty associate, sits down with Hop Outreach Coordinator Joe Clifford each August to see which performers she can bring in for a "house concert." Brison says she has seen students who weren't interested in a particular genre open up after meeting the artists or hearing them perform in the house's intimate, informal setting.

James hopes the Gilman gift will further boost this offstage student-artist contact. He intends to use a major portion of the new venture fund to commission new works, something the Hop has done more than 80 times in its history. When an artist creates a new work, he or she usually needs to be at the performing arts center leading up to the premier, to work with performers and fine-tune the piece. This creates opportunities for students to observe the creative process in ways that only an educational environment like Dartmouth's can provide.

High-profile commissions also contribute to the Hop's overall financial and artistic health, James says. They often attract national media coverage, as did XOVER, which raises the center's profile with artists and arts supporters. "There is a whole marketplace in the arts that works better if people know about you," he explains.

Howard Gilman '44 himself, who died in 1998, would be glad to know that his foundation's gift is sponsoring new work, James says. Gilman was a generous philanthropist to a range of causes, above all the performing arts. He was a champion of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which is renowned for featuring new and adventuresome work. BAM's Gilman Opera House is named for him.

At Dartmouth, evidence of the Gilman family's generosity includes the Gilman Faculty Loan Fund, the Gilman Biomedical Center Fund, the Gilman Life Sciences Building, and the Claflin Jewelry Studio at the Hop, named in honor of Gilman's friend Donald Claflin, one of the leading jewelry designers of his time.

Being out front with new work is one of the ways James hopes the Hop can distinguish itself as the institution approaches its 50th anniversary in 2012. "When the Hop was opened in 1962, Dartmouth was incredibly brave and prescient in making this unprecedented commitment to the arts and to the concept that the arts-especially the performing arts-could and should be a central part of a liberal arts education," he says. "Dartmouth was ahead of almost all the arts centers that would soon rise."

By REBECCA BAILEY

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Last Updated: 5/30/08