The Wheaton College Artist Series is now in its seventh decade of presenting professional performing artists on the campus of Wheaton College. Orchestras, dance companies, choral ensembles, chamber groups of all configurations, and soloists have come from all corners of the globe (four different continents) as well as right here in Chicago to present musical and dance works from across the centuries and cultures.
The Artist Series, it may be safely said, is a fixture of the College and of the local community. With any longstanding program, however, it is prudent to occasionally consider its current value to its community.
Here in the midst of its seventh decade, I believe the Wheaton College Artist Series provides tremendous value in support of the overall mission of Wheaton College. Consider the following ways it does so:
First, the Artist Series supports the Conservatory curriculum. The guest artists provide a live example to the music majors of professional musicians doing what they do best. Greater Chicago does not lack opportunities to see live professional musicians, but the convenience of attending such a performance on campus, at a fraction of the cost it would be to see them elsewhere, is an asset that should not be overlooked. Additionally, the breadth of the Series’ offerings means the music majors are exposed to a greater variety of artists – including those they might not spend their own time and money to pursue off campus.
Also, many of the guest artists, in addition to their evening concert, present a master class (sometimes as part of an extended residency), and it would be difficult to overstate the value of those events to music majors. Again, due to the breadth of the Series’ offerings, it is probable that at least once per academic year, there will be a master class of immediate interest and applicability to each music major – and the other master classes expose students to another facet of professional artistry, wholly fitting in our liberal arts environment.
Second, the Artist Series allows several students each year an experiential learning opportunity, one of the hallmarks of a Wheaton education in this era. In addition to the permanent staff, the Artist Series employs a handful of students in key management roles. These positions allow the students to develop their critical thinking, collaboration, communication, planning, and situational analysis skills, as well as have frequent interaction with professional arts administrators (the visiting company’s management). The experience these students gain is invaluable as they pursue their post-Wheaton activities such as graduate school and the workforce.
Third, the Artist Series is a ministry opportunity. At the front of house, the Artist Series allows the College to engage many members of our local community. The servant spirit of the student ushers who provide a warm welcome to the patrons is a powerful witness to the community. On the other side, the stage and production teams, performing their jobs with excellence, integrity, and graciousness toward the performers, are a powerful witness to the artists themselves, most of whom are not (yet) believers. The artists’ interactions with Christians at Wheaton may be brief, but the Holy Spirit may still use that time to draw people unto Christ. And finally, our commitment to presenting the highest achievements of the performing arts is a powerful witness to the world at large that the gospel is not anti-art, but rather, the arts can be a powerful kingdom tool in the work of proclaiming the gospel to all nations, starting at Wheaton.
The Wheaton College Artist Series is tremendously valuable for the Wheaton College community and beyond. I am privileged to have been a part of it for over six years now, in various roles, and I eagerly anticipate what is ahead for this exciting program.