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Mixing art and economics: New interdisciplinary course off to great start

Posted on Sep 28, 2009

Sophomore Will Mahony wasn’t sure what to expect when he enrolled in a new class, “The Business of Visual Art & Contemporary Entrepreneurship.” But what he’s discovered, three weeks into the term, has really impressed him.

Lorraine Morales Cox, director of American Studies and associate professor of contemporary art and theory

“Not being an art history major, I questioned how valuable this class would be to me,” said Mahony, an American Studies major focusing on media and popular culture. “But this isn’t just about art, it’s about things like urban development and the role the creative sector plays in that.

“The class also fits nicely into my major because it deals heavily with American culture.”

This type of multifaceted applicability to various fields is exactly what Lorraine Morales Cox had in mind when she developed the course, with the support of private donors and a grant from Ethics Across the Curriculum.

“A liberal arts education is all about the connections between disciplines and how they complement each other,” said Cox, an associate professor of contemporary art and theory. “This is an art history class, but it’s also part of the American Studies program and the Entrepreneurial Thinking cluster headed by Professor Hal Fried.”

Blending art and entrepreneurship was logical for Cox, who also directs the American Studies program.

“The art world is rich in entrepreneurship, and the artist is the ultimate entrepreneur,” she explained. “Artists must find someone to fund their creative efforts, they must write grants, they must develop their work and showcase it. They must understand how integral business is to the art industry – how galleries work and gallery owners operate, and how to get their pieces into galleries to be sold.”

To foster this type of understanding in her pupils, Cox doesn’t stop at classroom lectures and readings. She is a firm believer that the benefits of cross-disciplinary education are exponentially increased with experiential learning.

For every subject students study in a book with Cox, there is a corresponding field trip or guest speaker to take that inanimate lesson and breathe life and first-hand experience into it.

“These field trips and speakers are extremely valuable components because everything we’re learning is real, not just material from a textbook you have to imagine,” Mahony said. “After reading about Richard Florida’s theories on urban culture and the creative arts of society, for example, our class was able to see him speak in Albany.

Students taking “The Business of Visual Art & Contemporary Entrepreneurship” toured museums and galleries in Boston the weekend of October 26, 2009.

“We’ve also studied the most prominent auction houses, like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and have been able to get the inside scoop from people who actually work in this industry,” he added. “And learning about art galleries in one thing, but going to Boston and meeting the directors of those galleries is something totally different and invaluable.”

In addition to a recent visit to Boston, students will travel to New York City and Cummington, Mass. They’ll also hear from a multitude of entrepreneurs and art world professionals, including Catherine Hedgeman '96 of Albany, an attorney and CEO of The Stakeholders Foundation, a young professionals networking group. Near the end of the term, David Steiner, a prominent Los Angeles art lawyer, will speak.

“Getting these young people out into the art world to give them real experiences in it creates comfort, awareness and familiarity with careers they may one day be part of,” Cox said. “By providing interdisciplinary instruction and experiential opportunities, we give them – and students of all majors – the confidence and adaptability to succeed in an increasingly diverse workforce where people and fields of all kinds intersect.”

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Pianists to present rarely performed Bach masterpiece

Posted on Sep 28, 2009

On Monday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m., Union will present a rare performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's monumental work, “The Art of Fugue,” by duo-pianists Jon Gillock and Dean Kauffman.

Art of Fugue, Bach concert

Admission to the concert, which is co-sponsored by Union’s Music Department and the Eastern New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, is $20. The show, to be held in Taylor Music Center, is part of the chapter's fall calendar of events.

“The Art of Fugue,” or “Die Kunst der Fuge,” is perhaps better known by its reputation than by its transcendent beauty. It’s not only Bach’s last work, it’s also incomplete and the great composer left no indications about the piece’s instrumentation. As a result, musicians and theorists have considered it a purely academic work that demonstrates ultimate mastery of the most complicated fugal techniques – from simple fugues and canons to double, triple, and quadruple fugues in mirror and inversion.

Gillock and Kauffman will present the work in a version for piano/four-hands (on two pianos). To purists, this may seem strange since the piano did not exist during Bach's lifetime. But to the performers, this seems like an ideal medium for purely musical reasons. They will employ an endless palette of colors to fit each fugue. In addition, because of the expanded tonal range that four hands give, they can even produce an organ-like effect that will give the work majesty and solemnity.

For tickets, call 462-2405. Seating is limited.

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College show on demand

Posted on Sep 28, 2009

The Times Union recently talked with Ann Fleming Brown, Union's Director of Admissions, about the College's decision to join Yale, Dartmouth, West Point and more than 200 colleges nationally in turning to the Web to promote their institutions through CollegeWeekLive.com, one of a few sites that offers prospective students a virtual way to interact with school officials.

To read the article, click here (registration may be required).

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Union to host Latin American studies conference

Posted on Sep 24, 2009

A scholarly examination of the 50 years since the Cuban Revolution and its impact on Latin America is one of the featured topics for the annual meeting of the New England Council of Latin American Studies (NECLAS), to be held Saturday, Oct. 3, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., at College Park Hall.

As many as 200 scholars from dozens of schools, including Bowdoin, Harvard, Brown, SUNY-Albany and Williams, are expected. Awards will be presented for best book, article and dissertation selected from among the 55 institutional members of NECLAS. 

Teresa Meade, the Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture and director of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“In a world where major changes in Latin American politics, economics and social life are of critical importance to the U.S., the value of producing graduates who are fluent in the history, politics, languages and cultures of Latin American countries is immeasurable,” said Teresa Meade, the Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture and director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program.

The conference comes during a critical time for relations between the United States and Latin America. President Barack Obama has adopted a more open stance toward Cuba, where Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, is in charge. At the Summit of the Americas last spring, Obama met with traditional U.S. allies such as Mexico’s Felipe Calderon, as well as with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy.

Other important figures with whom the administration has conferred are Lula da Silva, of Brazil, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchener, the latter two among the small number of elected female heads of state.

Meade, who will assume the presidency of NECLAS during the conference, will be joined by Guillermina Seri, assistant professor of political science, Robert Sharlet, the Chauncey Winters Research Professor of Political Science, and Larry Gutman ’00, who is working on his Ph.D. in Latin American history at the University of Texas, Austin, for a roundtable discussion marking the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

Associate Professor of History Andrea Foroughi, Professor of Geology and Director of Environmental Studies Donald Rodbell, and Associate Professor of Spanish Victoria Martinez also are scheduled to participate in the conference, along with Ari Gandsmann, a former anthropology professor at Union who teaches at the University of Ottawa.

A number of Union students will serve as hosts for students from other schools who plan to attend.

The conference is open to the public, with funding provided by the Office of the President and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. For a schedule of events, click here.

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No joke: Ben Schwartz ’03 collects Emmy win

Posted on Sep 23, 2009

Ben Schwartz ’03 is still wondering how an Emmy Award ended up on his coffee table following Sunday night's awards ceremony.

Ben Schwartz, Class of 2003. Emmy winner for Oscar show comedy writing in 2009.

Schwartz, a comedy writer and actor based in Los Angeles and New York City, was part of a team of writers behind the 81st Annual Academy Awards broadcast in February. The show, nominated for two Emmys, won an award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for the opening song. A post-ceremony message on Schwartz’s Web site jokingly asks how the award ended up on his $68 Ikea coffee table.

The answer may simply be: hard work. After graduating from Union, Schwartz spent four years at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. After that, he began pestering "Saturday Night Live" and "The Late Show with David Letterman" as a freelance joke writer. The rejected jokes became the basis for his Web site.

The site began hosting short films that Schwartz wrote and acted in, which attracted a following and helped Schwartz land roles on ESPN's "Mayne Street" and in the upcoming movie "Peep World." It also led him to a spot on the comedy writing team for the Oscars. 

The former anthropology and psychology major credits his Union education with helping hone his comedy writing “voice.”  

Ben Schwartz, Class of 2003. Emmy winner for Oscar show comedy writing in 2009. The Emmy here sits on his cheap Ikea coffee table.

“The majors were mostly writing based, so I did quite a bit of writing every day. Not necessarily comedy, but it teaches you how to develop your voice,” Schwartz wrote in an e-mail. “I also auditioned and acted in my first play, due to a mandatory audition you have to take if you are enrolled in the acting class. I took the class because I thought it would be relaxing and fun, also because I was curious to see if I could actually act. It was something that interested me for so many years."

At Union, Schwartz played Azdak in a 2003 production of "Caucasian Chalk Circle." He and his friends also compiled a series of short films around campus. That work was his first step toward becoming an Internet sensation using funny short films.

Interestingly, the Oscar’s show also was nominated for an Emmy for a variety, music or comedy special. In that category, Schwartz joined screenwriter and director Phil Alden Robinson ’71 on the comedy writing team.  

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