Behind the Scenes of ArtsPass
by John Qiu, second-year student
“Put Yourself There” is the motto of University of Chicago’s ArtsPass, a program designed by University Arts Engagement that is dedicated to providing UChicago students with benefits at over 70 cultural institutions in Chicago. ArtsPass offers perks like free admission to museums across the city, exclusive off-campus trips with discounted admission to shows, opportunities to converse with artists, and on-campus lectures and discussions.
ArtsPass events are made possible with the help of students who work with UChicago Arts staff to facilitate programming and represent the student body.
“Our main goal with ArtsPass is to provide students with the opportunity to experience a variety of arts and cultural events throughout campus and the city,” says Leigh Fagin, Senior Director of Programming and Engagement. “We look for events that will help shape University of Chicago students’ future engagement with the arts, helping them to explore new neighborhoods, participate in programs across disciplines, and create a chance for them to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process of a working artist.”
Austin Regalado, a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in Economics, has been involved with University Arts Engagement (UAE) since 2017. Regalado has helped facilitate ArtsPass Exclusives events, and in order to represent the student body’s interest in ArtsPass programming, he researches the attendance history of past events, investigates social media for trending artists, and asks his friends for feedback and ideas so that ArtsPass can host events with students in mind. “We want the students to appreciate the process rather than just reading a textbook,” Regalado said, underpinning the essence of the ArtsPass motto.
After helping with event programming, Regalado says, he often signs up for the programs themselves. Last year, Regalado, along with other UChicago students, went to the Court Theater for a modern presentation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, performed by internationally-renowned performance collective Manual Cinema. Before the show, Regaladojoined a dinner with two UChicago alums, Drew Dir and Sarah Fornace (both AB’07), who founded the company and were recipients of the UChicago Alumni 2018 Early Career Achievement Award. He also conversed with other cast members and designers, who discussed with him the metamorphosis Frankenstein went through from original idea to final execution, and how Manual Cinema’s experience with past projects impacted their rehash of Frankenstein.
Whether students major in art or other disciplines, ArtsPass exposes them to the arts both on campus and beyond the university, offering students the chance to engage in conversations with local artists, listen to their stories, and get to know what is happening behind the scenes. Financially, ArtsPass also provides opportunities to see world-class performances that might be hard to afford otherwise (like $15 tickets to Broadway shows such as Fun Home!).
Regalado’s favorite memory with ArtsPass is seeing the Joffrey Ballet in Spring 2018. “The show’s title was Midsummer’s Night Dream, and everybody went in expecting classical Shakespeare,” he says. But, it turns out that the show was a “beautiful, lyrical, and choreographed interpretation” about a traditional Swedish festival dedicated to celebrating the longest day of the year. How Midsummer’s Night Dream turned his expectation on its head was a perfect example of what ArtsPass aims to achieve: to upend students’ preconceptions about art.
Similarly, Margaret Hart, a fourth-year with a major in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities and concentrations in art history and visual art, shared a memory from an event at the Court Theatre. In Spring 2018, Margaret went to an ArtsPass Exclusive performance of The Originalist.
“I was floored by the show,” Hart recalls, its plot revolving around a debate between conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his liberal clerk from Harvard Law School. Hart says the the show was “the most emotional play I’ve seen with only three actors and a few props.” Before the show, Hart and other UChicago students had dinner with The Originalist’s playwright, John Strand, a MacArthur Fellow. “I didn’t think I could be brought to tears by a show about a court justice, but I was, and I got to shake hands with the man that wrote it,” she says.
Hart has become a full-fledged aficionado on ArtsPass, and was also the University Arts Engagement Intern, and has become passionately committed to staffing events as well as attending them. She has organized a joint-university event at the Art Institute, met with Northwestern’s arts advisory committee to design guided tours., and consulted on how to promote events through Snapchat filters and catchy hashtags. The ArtsPass program and being a part of the University Art Engagement team has felt like a home for Hart on UChicago’s campus. “[It] means so much to me, coming from a rural area and suddenly being thrust into a big school in an even bigger city,” she says. “I knew I wanted to experience Chicago’s vibrant art community, but I never expected that I’d be able to contribute to it.”