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University Puts the Arts on a Pedestal

Student Work, Community Support on Display at Chancellor’s Celebration of the Arts

UMass Lowell Image
Student award-winners singled out for excellence in their areas of study, from left, Miguel Landestoy, Sarah Croughwell and Melissa Kiessling. Photo by Tory Germann

04/28/2015
By Sheila Eppolito

In a celebration attended by world-famous Broadway producers, a bestselling novelist and a prize-winning actress, television star and writer, students from the university’s English, art, theatre and music programs showcased their work in a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood premiere, with spotlights, a red carpet, uniformed waitstaff and 500 proud parents, faculty, staff and community supporters.

The first Chancellor’s Celebration of the Arts was an evening dedicated to witnessing the power of the creative work done on campus within the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences — the largest at the university. 

Under a party tent adjacent to Allen House, three student poets read original work to a hushed crowd of supporters. David Moloney, a former corrections officer, said his wife pushed him to follow his dream to be a writer. Moloney read “The Bog of Allen Road,” which, he said, is “a poem about a friendship becoming strained when a girl prepares to leave for college and a boy is left behind, stuck in his own situation.” 

Asked about his college experience, Moloney said, “I loved being at UMass Lowell. The professors here truly changed my life. I always wrote and considered myself a writer, and thanks to the university, I’m able to bring passion to it that was lacking when I was at the jail.”

Following graduation, Moloney will pursue an MFA in fiction.

Addressing the crowd, Chancellor Marty Meehan said, “You don’t become a world-class institution without investing in the arts,” noting the growth in the theatre arts program alone, which has jumped from one to four professors. Meehan also shared some of John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about Robert Frost, saying “Art establishes the basic human truth, which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

Student artists’ works were peppered throughout Allen House, turning the space into a one-night art gallery, with sculptures, paintings, digital media and other works on display.

Student painter John Quigley’s "Consumption 2015" used a combination of oil paint, graphite, ink, charcoal and acrylic paint. “I created it on an old drawing table that I always used. I liked the smooth surface of it, so I figured why not flip it over hang it on the wall and paint on it.”

Quigley, who works at The Brush Gallery & Studios and hopes one day to own his own gallery, likes to “reappropriate figures from classical paintings and put them in a 2015 setting seen through my personal lens.” 

The figure in "Consumption 2015" was taken from Francois Boucher's 1749 "Odalisque." “The figure epitomizes the bourgeoisie lifestyle of over-indulgence and the parallels to current American culture,” Quigley said. 

On his university experience, Quigley said, “I could not be happier. The art department is a tight community, we are like a family. Everyone produces great work, and I am extremely proud that I earned my BFA here.”

Durgin Hall Showcases Music, Theatre Student Excellence
 
Following the reception at Allen House, which also featured a reading by associate professor and bestselling author Andre Dubus III, guests walked past twinkling lights and across a red carpet to witness firsthand the talents of theatre arts and music students inside Durgin Hall. 

After an introduction from Dean Luis Falcón, music performances included the sassabrass quintet, The Moody Street Sound, quintet, solo and jazz groups, vocal soloists, the wind ensemble and a stunning solo on snare drum performed by Kyle Johnson. 

Student awards were presented by Dubus to music student Michael Landesoy, art student Sarah Croughwell and English/theatre student Melissa Kiessling.

Heartfelt Thanks for Comley and Lane

Bonnie Comley ’81 and her husband, Stewart Lane, are world-famous producers, writers and directors, and longtime supporters of the arts at the university, most notably through the Comley-Lane Theatre. 

In recognition of their tireless support, Chancellor Meehan conferred the first Champion of the Arts Award to them.

In a touching acceptance speech, Comley, who lives in Manhattan, revealed an abiding love for Lowell and the university.

“My grandmother was a mill girl here, and I went to school here,” she said.

“Lowell is strong. At the end of the Industrial Revolution, the place should have been a ghost town, but it wasn’t. When Wang closed shop, it should have been a ghost town, but it wasn’t. I think the reason Lowell continues to thrive is thanks to two things: this university, and the creative community of artists, writers and performers here.” 

The culmination of the evening featured a scene from “Lady Windermere’s Fan” performed by theatre students, university staffer and professional actor Rick Sherburne, and adjunct instructor Paula Plum, who has been one of Boston’s leading actresses for more than three decades. Plum is the author of original works including “Wigged Out!” a comedy about her mother’s death, and the winner of the 2004 Boston Theatre Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence.