A drop in revenue has put several temporary residencies in limbo at the University of Wyoming.
As administrators search for the funds to resuscitate those programs, the Department of Theatre and Dance hosts the Dance Theatre of Harlem — possibly the last major artists-in-residence for awhile.
For roughly nine years, the University of Wyoming brought top-tier musicians, composers, artists, performers, directors and scholars to campus with the support of the Excellence in Higher Education Endowment established by the State Legislature in 2006 alongside the Hathaway Scholarship.
The excellence endowment also provided support for community colleges, but $70 million — the lion’s share — was dedicated to the university and allowed for an eventual 19 permanent endowed professorships. These professorships came to be known as excellence chairs and were distributed throughout several schools and colleges.
In the College of Arts and Sciences, the endowment supported temporary, visiting residencies held by various departments.
“All of those programs were very successful here in (Arts and Sciences) and did a lot of good,” Arts and Sciences Dean Paula Lutz said. “We are trying to keep them going, but we don’t have the same kind of funds they used to get from the excellence funds.”
One of these residencies was shared by the departments of Art and Art History, Music and Theatre and Dance. Freed from the burden of funding residencies out-of-pocket, the three departments were able to bring in bigger names, who would then share their expertise and art with UW students and the wider Laramie community, Art and Art History Department Head Ricki Klages said.
“It was transformative for some of these students, because they’re getting to deal with an artist who’s made all the major magazines,” she said. “And they can kind of consider them a mentor now.”
But after income from those funds declined following a drop in state revenue — and coming on the heels of a more than $40 million reduction in university funding — those artist residencies lost the funding that made them possible. UW’s priority, given the shortfall, was to first protect the 19 excellence chairs, said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kate Miller.
“Knowing that those (funds) were going to be reduced, we had to make a plan to make sure we support the faculty that we have, the permanent tenure-track faculty that we have supported on those funds,” she said.
The Office of Academic Affairs learned of these cuts in December, Miller said.
Klages said the art department was negotiating an eight-week residency with an up-and-coming New York-based artist when the news came down.
“We couldn’t follow through on it because it all ended abruptly, which was really sad,” Klages said. “We also know how these things can kind of come and go, depending, and we were really able to depend on it for about nine years.”
While receiving endowment support, the departments of Art and Art History, Music and Theatre and Dance pooled the funds available to them — nearly $200,000 — and rotated which department received the bulk of that amount.
“We figured it would be better for us to share it as a smaller pool of money and have a larger proportion of money go to one area and then it would go to another area the next year,” Klages said. “So, every third year, art would get a really, top big name artist or designer or scholar to come into the department and really work intensively with students for a whole semester.”
During off years, while a sister department brought in a big-name residency, the other departments would use the remainder of the funds to bring in smaller-tier artists for shorter visits.
“We were able to utilize it to really great effect in the department,” Klages said. “We would have nine or 10 artists coming through the academic year and they would meet with students and critique them and visit classes and do workshops.”
The last top-tier residency — the Dance Theatre of Harlem — is in Laramie now, with rehearsals and performances this week and next. Department of Theatre and Dance instructors say they worked for a long time to make this residency a reality, but the funding disappeared long before DTH arrived.
The Office of the President and the College of Arts and Sciences stepped in and provided the necessary $139,500 to honor the commitments made by Theatre and Dance before the endowment income shrank, allowing UW to host its last — at least for now — eminent artist residency.
“Just as we were about to sign the contract, we discovered the issues that were coming up,” Lutz said. “So, the President and I agreed that this is something that we needed to do, so they signed the contract and we found the money for that.”
The Creative Writing Program has also benefited from the Excellence in Higher Education Endowment, using its cut of the income to support writers-in-residency.
“They have provided us with more diversity than we are able to offer with our permanent faculty because we don’t offer much diversity on our own,” Creative Writing Program Director Brad Watson said. “So, that has helped us out enormously to attract students from different backgrounds.”
The future of these residencies — along with residencies in other departments across Arts and Sciences — is uncertain, but Lutz said finding funds to keep them going is a priority for the college.
“At the present time, the excellence endowment is no longer funding them,” she said. “We are hopeful as things settle out with the excellence funds that there might be some additional resources from that, but we are concentrating on finding other resources — probably fundraising — to support these excellence chairs.”
Watson said he hopes the residencies survive because they have done so much for the Creative Writing Program at UW.
“They have helped make our program as interesting as it can be and have played a huge role in our rise into the top 25 ranked writing programs in the country,” Watson said. “So, I’m hoping that we can continue to bring in a good variety of writers because it really is important to what we are able to offer our students, in terms of the kinds of writers they are exposed to.”
As part of an ongoing effort of consolidation in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Art and Art History is being combined with the Creative Writing Program to form the Department of Visual and Literary Arts.