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Wednesday, December 6, 2023


Q&A: Mitchell Center Director Karen Farber talks artist-in-residence program, future plans

Since the spring semester, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts has worked with New York composer and artist Daniel Bernard Roumain as part of their artist-in-residence program. The Daily Cougar sat down with the center’s director, Karen Farber, to catch up on how the experience has been and what is planned for the future.

The Daily Cougar: What was the idea behind bringing Roumain in?

Karen Farber: The idea was to make an impact on more students, and we had always wanted to do something with the UH Cougar Marching Band, and of course, that’s hundreds of hundreds of students involved, so it represented a really wonderful opportunity to potentially impact a number of students from different departments, too. Now (Roumain) continues to work with the marching band on various projects; he’ll continue to work with the band next semester, and he’ll do some workshops with the band at that time. The big event for his residency will actually occur next fall, when he performs with the band for the opening of the new stadium. … That’s really where his whole residency is headed.

TDC: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the band?

KF: I think that more than anything it was the experience of performing in a different context that was really exciting for them. In addition, the kinds of music that we commissioned Roumain for the band were really different. It’s very exciting.

TDC: Why do you think it’s important to bring these guest artists in?

KF: For students who want to be professional artists, there’s no better experience than to interact with a professional artist, see how they work, see how they create. … Even for the students who aren’t planning on being professional artists, exposure to artists making new things presents students new models for whatever career they go into. It can produce lessons in solving creative problems and taking risks. Those are the kinds of lessons we’re trying to present students with. Every spring, we will host the counterCURRENT festival. The inaugural festival this upcoming spring will be held over five days and feature 12 unique compositions. They’re going to happen all over the city, some on campus, some off. We’re also bringing the community to campus.

TDC: Why do you think it’s important to bring the community to campus?

KF: For all of us in the arts, on campus, it’s a critical piece of what we do; we function as a bridge between (UH) and the community beyond campus. We all bring in people to campus, but I think ultimately as a group, we aim to prove that this is an arts destination. It’s a walkable neighborhood of arts venues, which is hard to come by in Houston.

TDC: Why is it important to have an arts community?

KF: There’s a lot of good talk about this at many universities. It serves as a catalyst for creative learning and higher thinking. A lot of people think of the arts as entertainment and part of student life, and that’s important too. We also think about it beyond that. What does it do for the students? How does it enrich their experience?

TDC: What do you think students should realize about what’s being done here?

KF: We want students to know about this festival because they will have the chance to see artists from all over the world, and there will be things unlike what they have ever experienced before. I think often that we think if we go to an artistic event, we’re not going to understand it. In the Mitchell Center’s point of view, art is for everyone. The fact that it’s edgy or contemporary just makes it more relevant, because contemporary art corresponds with what’s going on now.

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