New director of the Performance Series seeks more student engagement and artistic collaborations
By Bryan Hay
Arriving last summer as director of the Performance Series at the Williams Center, Ty Furman says he was drawn to its legacy of artistic excellence and Lafayette’s commitment to presenting world-class performers to the campus and Lehigh Valley audiences.
A nationally recognized creator and manager of unique arts programs in higher education for more than 25 years, Furman previously served as managing director of the Boston University Arts Initiative. But most of his career has been at Pennsylvania-based colleges and universities, including as director of the University Life Arts Initiative at University of Pennsylvania.
A first-generation graduate of Juniata College (master’s degree in theater from Villanova and an Ed.D. from Penn), a small liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania, he immediately felt at home on Lafayette’s intimate campus.
“I have always had that affinity for what a small liberal arts college can do for students in general and for first-gen students in particular,” he says. “I really liked the way everything came together for me at Lafayette. First of all, there’s a tremendous legacy at the Williams Center that’s well respected on campus and in the community. The fact that there is an allocation from the College to do the programming is really attractive. And there’s room for taking some risks and being adventurous with the programming.
“My biological and chosen family is largely in Pennsylvania. And so, all of those things made this a really, really wonderful option,” he adds. “The on-campus interview sealed it for me.”
Thoroughly enjoying the current season that was designed by his predecessor, Hollis Ashby, Furman plans to build on her bold programming style and that of Ellis Finger, the first director of the Williams Center. His goals include increasing student awareness of and involvement in Williams Center programs while building upon the inventive and engaging performances that have been of consistent interest to audiences in the Lehigh Valley.
For example, Fabiola Méndez, a Puerto Rican cuatro player, singer, Emmy-nominated composer, and educator, will be on next season’s series to help celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and interact with students at the same time. She will be on campus for three days doing class visits, workshops, and discussions on entrepreneurship and music, including with the Dyer Center.
To demonstrate what can happen when chamber music boundaries open, Furman also has booked the Akropolis Reed Quintet, a charismatic ensemble known for its imaginative collaborations, which will join with Grammy-nominated composer and jazz pianist Pascal Le Boeuf and percussionist Christian Euman.
“I want to expand the minds of the audience as to what contemporary chamber music can be,” Furman says. “These collaborations are really exciting to me too. I just find them energizing. I’m hoping that our audience does as well. This is a big part of my vision, these kinds of collaborations and continuing to build relationships and facilitate new discoveries.”
Enhancements and TLC
Through a Sherman Fairchild Foundation grant, Williams Center now has a powerful 22,000-lumen laser projector, which will help Furman book certain artists who require interactive resources. He’s also looking at the physical space of the center and how to address chronic roof leaks, needed repointing of the brickwork, and repairs of the uneven brick floor in the lobby.
Furman also wants to make the lobby more comfortable for guests by replacing the benches, which he acknowledges are uncomfortable for people of any age. The atrium-domed lobby is a natural gathering area for patrons and provides ample space for guests to meet and mingle with performers.
Despite the wear and tear from 40 years of use, Williams Center is a special space.
“For a relatively small liberal arts college, we have an outstanding program here at the Williams Center,” he says. “I hope to build upon the tradition I inherited. It also happens to be an acoustically great space and a really terrific size to do all kinds of things. We have a tremendous team of people working to bring these artists to Lafayette and the greater arts community. It’s what makes this place special.”
Next up: Michiko Okaya, former director of the Lafayette Art Galleries and Art Collection