In November 2019, Eureka College President Dr. Jamel Wright announced the hiring of professional opera singer Mary Finch as its first Director of Fine and Performing Arts Advancement and Recruitment. This move, along with top-notch faculty hires in the years prior, signaled that the College planned to grow the arts’ presence at Eureka—bucking the trend of colleges and universities cutting fine and performing arts majors, programs and faculty.
“Participation in the arts builds confidence and cultivates communication skills and the ability to be creative problem solvers by empowering students to think outside of the box,” Dr. Wright explains. “In other words, an investment in the arts is an investment in truly preparing well-rounded future leaders who possess the transferrable and essential skills to fill high-demand roles of today and the future.”
Finch, who recently retired from the San Francisco Opera after 22 years as a full-time chorister, joined an acclaimed team of teacher-scholars, artists and performers with a wealth of experience and diverse talents. “We believe that fine and performing arts are an essential part of what provides a true liberal arts education,” says Finch, a Eureka native and a 1984 Eureka College alumna. “We also believe that art, design, music and theatre make the world a truly better place to live.”
New Ways to Engage
Without live performances this past fall, the Fine & Performing Arts and Education Division at Eureka College (EC) was forced to experiment and find new ways to engage the campus community. In September, under the title, “The Arts are Everywhere at EC,” the division live-streamed a socially-distanced outdoor concert featuring EC’s soloists and the Chamber Singers. Hundreds tuned in for the first-ever live-streamed event on the Arts at EC Facebook page.
In October, “The Arts are Everywhere at EC” series showcased the art/design program with a live-streamed event that highlighted capstone projects by two senior artists and designers as well as works by faculty. The following month, the series featured a live makeup demonstration by a senior theatre teacher major, two monologues from student actors, and interviews with the theatre faculty. Throughout the semester, the music department also performed three live-streamed concerts, while the theatre department presented a production of The Visit on Zoom.
“Artists create shared experiences which bring all of us together and enrich our lives,” notes Eureka College Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Ann Fulop. “Because of their absence due to the pandemic, we all have a renewed appreciation of live performances and the arts.”
Despite the damage COVID-19 has inflicted on the industry, Finch believes the current global crisis will eventually lead to new opportunities within the arts and beyond—and that the students who transition into the job market in the next few years will find their way to careers.
“Many of my colleagues have decided to retire and… move on,” she says. “At some point, we will be back performing live, and Broadway, the opera, symphony orchestras, etc. will need to fill the ranks. I know some will call this ‘wishful thinking,’ but I truly believe that we will see a growth in the arts world and that young people should not be discouraged from pursuing their passion.”
On the Horizon
Despite the recent challenges the arts have faced, an exciting community project is on the horizon at Eureka College, and that is what clinched Finch’s decision to return to her alma mater. In addition to working with faculty to recruit prospective students and leading fundraising and student scholarship support efforts, Finch is also director of the Rinker Summer Arts Festival, a role that will put her back at the center of a historic venue.
On the edge of Eureka College’s storied campus is a space hidden by old-growth trees and surrounded by evergreens and lilacs. Stepping upon brick pavers and through the small gate, one comes upon a rolling, terraced open space with a natural stage known as Rinker Amphitheater. This space has been used by the college for convocations and commencements—and even an occasional speech from a U.S. president. In addition to EC’s most famous alumnus, President Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln spoke on behalf of John C. Fremont’s presidential campaign about 100 yards away in a clearing that is now attached to the amphitheater in 1856.
Community theatre was performed at Rinker in the 1960s and ‘70s, and town celebrations have taken place there over the years as well. In fact, Rinker was the venue of Finch’s very first live performance as a seven-year-old in a community production of The Music Man. It is there that Eureka College will begin a new tradition of music and educational programs in the summer of 2022. In the meantime, Finch will be in charge of tapping high-quality talent and educators to perform and educate at the festival, making the arts available to the whole community.
“In the coming months, we will be unveiling a plan to renovate and renew this space that is truly a hidden gem, and one that we know will provide so much for the Tri-County area and beyond,” Finch adds. “My goal is to rally and engage everyone, especially those who appreciate and understand the importance of growing the arts.” PM
To learn more, find “The Arts at EC” on Facebook @theartsatec or visit eureka.edu/academics/programs-of-study/fine-and-performing-arts.