For the last twelve years, Dr. Marvin Curtis, Dean of the Ernestine Raclin School of the Arts, has been a leader in community engagement and outreach. Working in collaboration with the South Bend Symphony, the South Bend Museum of Art, the Center for the Homeless, and the South Bend Community School Corporation (to name just a few), Dean Curtis has helped to promote the arts in our community and to provide students with impactful educational experiences.
One of his accomplishments was the creation of Aspire, the official publication of the Raclin School of the Arts. The magazine won the Bronze Award for In-House Publications, Periodicals section by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education in 2011. A work of art itself, the publication plays an important role in the School’s outreach to the community. According to Curtis, “One of the reasons why I started the magazine was because no one knew our story or that we existed. Now people know the arts are alive and well at IU South Bend.”
Curtis is also immensely proud of how the School of the Arts engages local children. This year marks the 58th season of Michele’s Little Heart Theatre, an annual event that invites local K-5th grade students to what is usually their first live theatre performance. More than 6,000 local elementary students saw this year’s production of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse—4,100 of them for free.
The Teddy Bear Concert, created by Dean Curtis, is an annual event that has received tremendous support from the community. This year the balcony had to be opened to accommodate the audience for Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. People who bring a teddy bear to the event gain free admission; those bears are then donated to local non-profit organizations in the community. This year, 375 teddy bears were donated to the Center for the Homeless and the YWCA.
The School of the Arts hosted its 12th Lift Every Voice concert on February 29. To celebrate Black History Month, Dean Curtis invites three to four nationally-recognized vocal artists to perform in a concert that also features the South Bend Symphonic Choir. Dean Curtis explains, “It’s something that I’m really proud of because it’s the only thing that really happens around Black History Month in this area.”
Last spring brought new recognition of student talent in the School of the Arts. The studio album, American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom, by the John Daversa Big Band featured spoken word and instrumental contributions from students Salvador Perez and Juan-Carlos Alarcon. The album received Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Best Improvised Jazz Solo, and Best Arrangement in the Instrumental or A Cappella Categories at the Grammy’s.
According to Dean Curtis, “Although we weren’t involved in the making of that album, you can see the influence we’ve had on our students for them to be able to say ‘I want to do this project’ and then all of sudden, guess what, they went to the Grammy’s! We made a huge deal out of their nominations and wins because we are really proud of them.”
The Grammy’s is not the only national stage occupied by students in the School of the Arts. In 2009, during Obama’s first Christmas celebration as president, Curtis took four students to the White House to perform a 90-minute concert in the Grand Foyer. He also had the privilege to take and conduct the South Bend Symphonic Choir at Carnegie Hall in New York.
As Curtis prepares to step down as Dean on June 30th, he reflected on the importance of campus-community engagement: “As an institution supported by tax dollars, we have an obligation to be a resource to the community. We view it as a two-way street: We’re giving people the opportunity to see young artists do what they love and giving our students a chance to work with the community and show them the role that the arts play in their lives.”