Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Back in 1979, when Michiko Okaya arrived at Lafayette, she moved into an apartment near the corner of High and Hamilton streets. Four years later, after her original residence had been demolished, Okaya moved back in—this time, as gallery director in the gleaming new Williams Center for the Arts.

Okaya, now director of both that gallery and the eight-year-old Grossman Gallery in the Williams Visual Arts Building at the foot of College Hill, reminisced about the Williams Center’s early days during a Reunion College panel discussion Friday afternoon. She also offered her ideas and hopes for the future during the discussion, titled “The Williams Center: Then, Today, Tomorrow.”

  • Photo, Video, and Article Highlights from Reunion Weekend

Joining Okaya were Ellis Finger, the Williams Center’s director; Michael O’Neill, associate professor of English and director of theater; and Jennifer Kelly, associate professor of music.

“At least three Lafayette College alumni can’t be here today,” Finger told the audience, explaining that Kojiro Umezaki ’91 was busy playing his shakuhachi, or ancient Japanese flute, with famed cellist Yo Yo Ma in New York City, actor Brian Hutchison ’93 was performing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway (with acclaimed actors Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon) in the Tony Award-nominated Exit the King, and countertenor David Walker ’88 was performing in an opera in Munich, Germany.

Finger said those alumni and many more began their careers in art, music and theater as students at Lafayette, performing in the Williams Center and learning from a growing group of dedicated faculty and visiting artists.

Both Finger and Okaya recalled the planning that went into the multipurpose arts center, and its dedication Sept. 30, 1983.

At the time, Finger said, “we were really strong in engineering, really strong in natural sciences, and really abysmal in the arts.”

He asked alumni from earlier eras if they recalled the tiny “postage stamp” theater on the third floor of Hogg Hall, and Okaya remembered her office “with the bats” in the basement of the former Jenks Hall and the “really wonderful” but almost always hot gallery in Van Wickle Hall “that nobody ever went to.”

At the time, the multipurpose Williams Center, with its ample performance space, climate-controlled exhibition space, and complete lack of flying rodents, seemed a dream come true. Its first season, featuring a performance by Isaac Stern and a student production of Chicago, portended a bright future for the arts at Lafayette.

Today, the panelists agreed, the success of the arts programs has brought with it the need for more space for recitals, offices, and storage—and a better structure for incorporating technology in an increasingly computer-based arts world.

Finger said the College is planning for a major expansion of the center that has been delayed, but not diminished, by the economic downturn.

For Kelly, who arrived at Lafayette three years ago to lead the College’s vocal music programs, both the future and present are bright.

“The reason I chose to come to Lafayette was for the opportunities it offered not only for faculty, but for students,” she said, pointing out the many avenues for students to study abroad and participate in research with professors.

Kelly said that Lafayette, known years ago for its strong music program, has undergone a musical renaissance over the past decade.

“It’s really grown up and come back,” she said, pointing out that the College now employs six full-time music professors and 15 adjunct music teachers.

“Most are active performers and/or musicologists,” she said, noting that she recently led the choir in a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

And, Kelly added, “there’s diversity of all kinds,” including a recent choir performance that included students from nine countries.

Kelly said that while not many Lafayette students major in music alone, quite a few have double majors or minors in the subject.

“They’re able to explore all depths of their knowledge and really become well-rounded people,” she said.

O’Neill, who arrived at Lafayette in 1992, said he has been working to bring the College’s theater program, currently part of the English department, from “a 1950s model to a 21st century model.”

That work, O’Neill said, includes creating a minor in theater in the mid-1990s, laying the groundwork for a major in the subject, and offering credit to students from all majors who participate in faculty-directed productions.

For all four panelists, the prospect of more space for exhibitions and performances, plus easier access to materials and supplies, portends even more bright years for the College’s arts programs. And, the panelists agree, the past 25 years, spent together in an “economical” space, have been a period to tremendous growth.

“There’s been all this wonderful cross-fertilization,” Okaya said, pointing out that theatergoers can wander into the gallery during intermission, and faculty and students from the various programs can watch each other in action.

For Finger, the icing on the cake would be the addition of a dance program.

“We’re hoping that in the new theater arts program, we can slip that in,” he said.

In any event, Finger said, “the College really values imagination and creativity.”

Categorized in: Alumni
Tagged with: ,