Holy Cross launches 'Arts Transcending Borders'

Cristina Pato
Worcester Telegram & Gazette

By Nancy Sheehan

Old tires, playgrounds and Galician bagpipes will play a role in a new initiative at the College of the Holy Cross along with academic disciplines as diverse as economics, math, music, theater and art.

Called "Arts Transcending Borders," and styled as ATB@HC, the new initiative is designed to forge a collaboration between the fine and performing arts and other non-arts areas of study in hopes of enriching students' academic lives and maybe finding new creative solutions to challenges locally and worldwide.

The program will launch with a concert at 4:30 p.m. April 23 by Galician bagpiper, classical pianist and composer Cristina Pato accompanied by her band, Migrations. The concert, in the Hogan Campus Center ballroom, is open free to the public.

The performance serves as a musical kickoff after which Pato, a member of famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma's innovative Silk Road Project, will return to Holy Cross in the fall as ATB@HC's first artist in residence. It is one of many "firsts" for her. She also was the first female to release an album of music of the gaita, or Galician bagpipes. That was about 15 years ago, and she didn't think of it as a major milestone at the time. Pato, who now lives in Manhattan, said bagpipes are the national instrument in her native Galicia on the North Coast of Spain.

"I was the youngest of four sisters, and we all played the bagpipes," she said. But she was the one who actually made a record, one she now sees as a positive influence. "Now I look back and think of how many little girls back then followed that path and are playing bagpipes now and that's beautiful," she said.

There have been several recordings since and accolades that have included The New York Times calling Pato "a virtuosic burst of energy" and the Wall Street Journal naming her "one of the living masters of the gaita."

ATB@HC, funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will support visiting artists on campus for three years while a new performing arts center is designed and built. The arts center is funded by a $25 million gift from Cornelius B. Prior Jr., Holy Cross class of '56. It was the largest single donation in the college's history.

In addition to visiting artists, ATB@HC will allow the founding of CreateLab, a new effort in which eight faculty members from seven disciplines will team teach a course that will focus on having students from different majors collaborate with each other. Areas include music, theater, visual arts, math, psychology, sociology and economics.

"The current research out there shows that when people work together in teams they come up with more creative solutions to solving the problems of our society and our world," Lynn Kremer, professor of theater at Holy Cross, said. One study has shown that visual impressions vary greatly when an image of a person standing in a doorway is shown to an economist, for example, as opposed to a visual artist.

"The economist might just see the person and see the edge of the door frame but the artistic types see a bigger, broader expanse and that's what they bring into the creative team — these different ways of viewing the same thing," Kremer said.

The teachers will create assignments for the students who then will tackle them in teams. "All the theater kids can't join together and work together. They have to work with the sociologists, the psychologists, the economics and math majors," Kremer said. "And then together they'll come up with creative solutions to these challenges."

The challenges have yet to be devised. But what might they be like?

"One idea was to go into the Worcester community and just see what you perceive that could benefit from being sort of tweaked or fixed and then create a solution for that and present that to the class," she said.

Kremer is also considering tapping the alumni roster for some strong examples of creative problem solving. One possible source might be Jonathan Racek, class of '95, an architect who teaches at the University of Indiana and is founder and executive director of Play360, a nonprofit that trains organizations to build low-cost educational resources such as playgrounds throughout the developing world.

"He builds playgrounds out of resources that are available in that community," Kremer said. "Everybody has tires so he makes swings out of old tires. He makes things you can climb on out of tires or bamboo or whatever is available in that community. We're thinking of maybe bringing someone like him into the group and he could talk about his work and also encourage our students to come up with some ideas on their own."

As guest artist, Pato will be in the classroom working with the students as her touring schedule permits. The ATB@HC theme the first year will be "Time, Memory and Identity," which fits in with a stunning new composition Pato has written called "My Lethe Story, the River of Forgetfulness," about her own mother's memory loss. (You can see Silk Road performing the piece on YouTube).

On the scientific side, the theme also meshes with the extensive research on memory, identity and time done by Mark Freeman, chairman of the psychology department at Holy Cross, who also is involved with ATB@HC, Kremer said. "So when we got the two of them together. they got very excited about working together and doing something that might have a creative result," she said.

Pato also will focus on the many connections that can be made by focusing on music, memory and identity. And, although she will be a visiting artist, she says Holy Cross feels like home to her. Perhaps that's because the college echoes the strong Catholic traditions and close-knit sense of community she knew in Galicia, but there is something harder to define as well, she said.

"I don't know but there is just something about that college," she said. "It's like the perfect size and the perfect place to actually explore different ways of connecting and working together, and, although I work in other university settings, this one is going to be very special, especially because the theme is very dear to my own experience, and that's really exciting for me."