AMHERST – The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Fine Arts Center (FAC) will kick off their fall season at the end of September, showcasing a variety of artists, musicians and performances both virtually and in-person.
The Augusta Savage Gallery, Hampden Gallery and the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) will also open after COVID-19 closures.
During the 2020-2021 season, the FAC shifted their programming to virtual due to the pandemic. According to Jamilla Deria, director of the FAC, they had no prior experience with virtual events.
“We knew that we wanted to keep going and, even though we had sort of no experience in the virtual space, we just knew that it was a possibility available to us so we quickly figured it out,” she said.
By early April, the FAC was able to host their first virtual event. Deria said they went on to present 75 more during the season.
This year’s fall season will begin with a virtual presentation of Kronos Quartet on Sept. 28, Jennifer Koh, opera singer Davóne Tines, composer Ken Ueno, and dramaturg Kee-Yoon Nahm on Sept. 30 and the family-friendly musical theater piece “Sugar Skull!” which celebrates Día de los Muertos on Oct. 17.
Michael Sakamoto, performing arts curator, said that they decided to start with virtual events before transitioning to mostly in-person in order to work with different comfort levels.
“We wanted to program as many exciting, stimulating, attractive and provocative artists as we can in all the different genres, but at the same time, of course, being realistic that we’re still in some part of the pandemic and people are still getting used to being around others and trying to feel their way back to their own relationship with being in a room with others,” he said.
Deria noted that during the 2020-2021 season, virtual events were also able to reach a wider audience. She said that the FAC wants to continue to break down any walls of access to art and continue to engage that audience.
“What we found with the virtual programs was we could provide more resources to artists to develop new work, so we presented a lot of premieres last season and we attracted a new audience. Seventy percent of our attendees last year were first time attendees and we know that we had a much broader reach and a slightly younger, more diverse demographic,” said Deria. “We really wanted the community to know that we were a welcoming environment and that all are encouraged and welcomed to come in and we saw that in our virtual season.”
On Oct. 24, the FAC will host their first in-person event with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Additional in-person performances include Jennifer Koh, Martha Redbone, Christopher Ladd, Nobuntu and more.
Sakamoto said that the season will include a variety of genres such as classical music, new music, dance theater, mainstream American music, African American music and Asian American music. He said that, when curating performances, the common theme focused on renewal and regeneration.
“Just knowing that there’s still going to be that tension in the air and that there was still going to be this society-wide crisis, what kinds of feelings, what kinds of emotions, what kinds of ideas, questions and challenges would people be facing and feeling. And how are different artists from different artistic forms, cultural backgrounds and social backgrounds going to be expressing that?” said Sakamoto.
Many performances focus on reflection and inclusivity of all people, he said.
“It was really this idea or this approach and this attitude of we want to bring people in, we want to welcome them, but we also want to be honest with ourselves and reflect on what’s really going on in society. Some of it’s not just challenging, but a little bit dark and so how can we be both realistic and idealistic at the same time and really make an effort not to leave people behind,” said Sakamoto.
According to Deria, the FAC has been a national leader in inclusive programming since it began. She said that representation is something that has always and will always be important to them.
"We have always leveled the field in terms of Western and non-Western art forms through our presentations, our exhibitions, our education programs and I think when George Floyd was murdered and it became, again, this conversation about racial justice, I think we were right there,” she said.
Deria said that this will continue to be an authentic part of their programming.
According to Deria, she is most excited about the opportunity for the community to come together again after a long period of isolation.
“I’m excited about everything, but I will say, more than anything I’m so excited to have people back in the building,” she said. “This is what we do. I think that artists need it, we need it, I think the community needs it. I think with the pandemic we experienced a lot of crises at the same time last year and we continue to experience them, but I think that in addition to the health crisis, social isolation continues to be a challenge across demographics from our very young to our elders and I think that we are creating community and supporting community.”
Access to tickets and a full list of performers can be found on the FAC website at https://fac.umass.edu.
Performances at the FAC are a great way to make the world bigger, according to Deria.
“It’s a great time. I think what the Fine Arts Center does really, really well is it presents high-quality art, it expands curiosity and it makes the world bigger. Western Massachusetts is a wonderful place and it’s got such rich micro-communities within the larger Valley, but we have always been sort of a vehicle for bringing the world to the Valley. We’ve all been home for 18 months and so, even if you’re not ready to travel, you can travel through art and through musical experiences at the FAC,” she said.