APAP Grant Helps Lafayette Strengthen Community Bonds

A grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) will help Lafayette College fund and expand arts programming intended to increase knowledge, understanding, and appreciation among young adults of the great diversity of Muslim identities and artistic expression.

Lafayette will extend “Tapestries: Voices Within Contemporary Muslim Cultures” through early 2019. The $204,000 grant from APAP, part of its “Building Bridges: Arts, Culture, and Identity” program supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, will allow Lafayette to create three semester-long arts festivals that will be the highlight of an ongoing campus-community initiative.

Connecting Muslims and Non-Muslims

On campus, the project connects Muslims and non-Muslims. In the larger community, it will engage young people in Eastern Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Together, participants explore a rich variety of contemporary Muslim artistic voices and perspectives while seeking to break down barriers among peoples and cultures, challenge assumptions and prejudices, and foster connections and understanding.

“We are pleased with the innovative approaches and the range of communities that will benefit from this new round of awards. It shows that there is a growing commitment towards using the arts as a strategy to lead positive change around the awareness and perceptions of Muslim identity in this country,” said Scott Stoner, vice president of programs and resources at APAP. “The projects are truly inspiring and will create opportunities for both campus and community audiences to participate in a more meaningful way with artists and their work.”

Exploring Muslim Culture

With input from across the campus and the community, Lafayette will curate a sequence of three festivals (one each in the autumn 2017, spring 2018, and autumn 2018 semesters) that will not just serve as a celebration of artistic expression, but will also provide a forum for dialogue. The Lehigh Valley’s Muslim population grew by more than 250% between 2001 and 2011, making the region home to one of Pennsylvania’s densest Muslim communities. Lafayette and the College’s community partners will explore deeply the vibrant diversity of Muslim arts, cultures, and identities through a variety of contemporary artistic expressions grounded in Africa, Asia, and especially the United States.

“Tapestries: Voices Within Contemporary Muslim Cultures” aims to broaden the cultural understanding of contemporary Muslim societies within the Lafayette and Lehigh Valley communities, reduce faith-based biased assumptions and prejudices, strengthen bonds between these communities, and empower students and other young adults to become compassionate citizens of the world.

“Involvement with the practice of the arts, especially when such activities connect with different disciplines, not only inspires the mind and develops critical skills, but it also leads to an awareness of how art is a vehicle for modeling human experience,” notes Jennifer Kelly, associate professor of music and director of the arts, who leads the “Tapestries” project with the Rev. Alexandra Hendrickson, director of religious and spiritual life and college chaplain.

Social Justice and the Arts

Lafayette’s strengths in social justice and the arts and its focus on building connected communities position “Tapestries: Voices Within Contemporary Muslim Cultures” for success. Lafayette’s arts programming is embedded into both the campus and the community. The College’s tradition of hosting artist residencies for students and the public supports its liberal arts mission of educating students with an understanding of global citizenship, reaching a wide population of students throughout the campus and the curriculum, and strengthening bonds with the community beyond campus.

Each festival will build upon core performances by Muslim artists as part of the performance series based in Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts. These and other visiting artists will participate in campus and community residencies connecting music, theater, and dance with a wide array of disciplines, such as Africana studies, anthropology and sociology, creative writing, engineering, film and media studies, history, international affairs, mathematics, natural sciences, philosophy, religious studies, and the visual arts.The artist residencies will include workshops, master classes, demonstrations, studio sessions, lectures, panel discussions, question-and-answer forums, readings, writing labs, learning groups, conversations, and other public programs occurring both on campus and in the surrounding community.

Faculty members from numerous disciplines will integrate as pects of the project into their courses, and exhibits in the College’s art galleries and library will provide a rich context for the visiting artists. With the festivals currently in the early planning stages, it is too early to announce particular performances or exhibitions; events may range from a “qira’a,” or recitation, of the entire Qur’an and the “adhan,” or five public calls to Muslim prayer, accompanying an exhibition of contemporary Muslim calligraphy and book arts to more secular works by self-identified Muslim artists. Grant funding gives Lafayette the opportunity to commission artists and premiere new work at the Williams Center for the Arts.

The Williams Center’s Hollis Ashby, artistic and executive director of Lafayette’s performance series and a member of the “Tapestries” executive steering committee, identified what makes Lafayette particularly well positioned for a project like this one: “The understanding of how students’ active participation in the arts, as audience members and also as creators, stimulates and develops their imaginations and learning capacities has reinforced Lafayette’s commitment to ensuring that every student has ample opportunity for meaningful experiences with artistic creation and expression.”

About the Author
Jennifer Philburn is Director of Marketing for Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. She may be reached at philburj@lafayette.edu. To learn more about Williams Center for the arts, visit williamscenter.lafayette.edu.