A World of Art


Every year, numerous artists from around the globe make stops at UCSD, setting foot in various venues across campus to showcase their talents in dance, music, spoken word, film and other art forms. Dance companies and musicians, such as Philadelphia’s BalletX, the Emerson String Quartet and Ethiopian-born singer and songwriter Meklit Hadero, have stood under the spotlight in Mandeville Auditorium, the Conrad Prebys Concert Hall and The Loft over the course of this school year. Working behind the scenes is a team of staff and students from UCSD’s ArtPower! — the university’s premiere performing arts organization.

According to ArtPower! artistic director Martin Wollesen, the 9-year-old organization aims to deliver the arts to students in an inviting and meaningful manner through a variety of performance series: classical chamber music, international contemporary dance, jazz, global music, film and tentacle sessions — a program presenting artists that can’t be easily classified into any particular genre. Wollesen founded the organization — funded by student registration fees, ticket sales and community donors — in 2004.

“The name itself harkens back to empowerment movements of an earlier generation but also in a very basic way, [signifies] that knowledge is power, art is power and art can be empowering,” Wollesen said. “Sometimes, there’s this idea that ‘art is not for me,’ or ‘I don’t understand art’ or that it’s just for an elite group of people. I want to break down those barriers and create something that is much more friendly and engaging.”

Wollesen explained how his upbringing overseas informs his vision of ArtPower! as an international program that fully immerses students in the experience of art. He grew up in Singapore, the Philippines, Egypt, Portugal and Israel.

“I was very lucky that my growing up meant that we were constantly engaged in cultural activities and artistic activities in these countries,” Wollesen said. “I think that if UCSD is going to be a world-class institution, it needs to think internationally and engage internationally. So not only did I want to have performances, but I wanted to have opportunities for students to learn from the artists that are coming here, to participate with the artists and to be a part of the creative process in the arts.”

In support of this cause, ArtPower! provides master classes instructed by world-class dancers and performers, lecture demonstrations and artist residencies. And with next season marking its 10th anniversary, ArtPower! will be implementing new initiatives.

“We have three primary initiatives in addition to the work that we’re already doing,” Wollesen said.

For its 2013–2014 season, ArtPower! is developing a music residency project with the St. Lawrence String Quartet — a chamber ensemble based out of Stanford University. The ensemble will be working with undergraduate student composers at UCSD to create, record and perform music.

“The great thing about that is that it gives students the opportunity to work with professional, touring musicians,” Wollesen said. “The St. Lawrence String Quartet is probably recognized as one of the top string ensembles in the country, even, I think, internationally. So to be able to work with musicians of that caliber is a really important opportunity for undergraduate students.”

ArtPower! will introduce its second iteration of the Wonderland International Contemporary Dance Festival, which was inaugurated in 2011 to exhibit the works of young choreographers.

“This next year, for the 10th anniversary, it’s actually called Wonderland at White Box,” Wollesen said. “White Box is a brand new dance space down at Liberty Station. We’ll have international and national artists. Part of this new initiative is that we’ll have a program called New Adventures [that will support] six local choreographers, two of which are graduates from UCSD. It’s a bridge between the campus and the community, which we think is really valuable.”

ArtPower! will also be embracing new trends in technology with its Filmatic Festival (the science, practice and experience of film), which will be held at Qualcomm Institute (formerly known as Calit2) next spring in lieu of its usual film series.

“We’re going to be looking at next-generation experiences in film,” Wollesen said. “So not only are we going to be taking advantage of technological advancements that are happening in film and video — we’re also going to be taking advantage of the changing ways that audiences participate in watching film, creating film and distributing film.”

While there’s much to look forward to in ArtPower!’s next season alone, Wollesen insisted that a single season can’t possibly accomplish his goal of traveling the globe through the arts.

“When you look at an ArtPower! season, you can’t look at it in isolation, partly because there’s not enough time in the year to roam globally,” Wollesen said. “You have to lay out three- to five-year [spans of time]. There’s just so much opportunity, and there are so many amazing things happening all over the place. The issue is really not finding stuff; it’s selecting who can and can’t be here — that’s the hard part.”

Another challenge that Wollesen noted was the difficulty of introducing busy, academically driven students to the arts and encouraging them to explore beyond the covers of their textbooks.

“The hard thing sometimes is that students are so focused on their coursework [that] I think the big challenge for students is to find ways and places to explore,” Wollesen said. “My hope is that when they come to an ArtPower! performance, they come to explore and discover — that, to me, is really what it’s all about at a very basic level.”

But Wollesen realizes how difficult this can be for students.

 “[Students’] lives are incredibly, insanely busy, in so much that you have to learn the habit of discovering,” Wollesen said. “You have to learn the habit of creating breadth of experience in your life, and that’s hard for anybody at any time of their lives. But for students on the quarter system, that’s particularly difficult.”

On the flip side, Wollesen also shared his view that a majority of students create art in their everyday lives, as displayed by social media through photos, movies and music — pronouncing themselves artists, whether they realize it or not.

“I really do believe that UCSD students are insanely creative; I see it all the time,” Wollesen said. “Even though students may not call themselves artists, they’re actually doing a lot of artistic work as part of their everyday experiences. The reality is that we have tools now that integrate art into our lives in a way like never before. Because it feels so natural, there’s a tendency to discount it. But the fact is that creative work is happening.”

Wollesen hopes that the artistic exposure and enrichment provided through ArtPower! will get students’ creative juices flowing as they share in his experiences with the arts.

“For me, in a lot of ways, the arts feed my need to travel and explore,” Wollesen said. “I feel like I’m traveling every time I go and see a performance, because I feel like I’m entering, literally, another world or another territory, another way of looking at life. Eventually, I want to create an exchange program between our students and artists communities from other parts of the world [In the] next five years — my plan is to do that.”

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