UArts Celebrates 140 Years of Making with Grammy-Style Gala Oct. 16, Dynamic Inauguration Ceremony Oct. 17

September 8, 2016

In every generation, it is the “makers” who lead the way. That was true in 1876, amidst America’s Gilded Age, when the forerunner to the University of the Arts was founded. It is, of course, true today – 140 years later – with businesses and organizations, industry and culture all seeking the next game changer, tomorrow’s transformative idea. It is against this backdrop, with its own history steeped in this “maker’s” heritage, that the University of the Arts will celebrate UArts at 140: The Maker’s Moment, a yearlong commemoration of the school’s 140th anniversary, beginning this October.

“We stand on the shoulders of all who have come before us. It is their social engagement, their boldness, their risk-taking that dares us to define what’s next for arts education and the next generation of creative capital,” said David Yager, the new president of UArts who took office in January 2016. “Our alumni and faculty are leaders in their fields, with contributions that are recognized the world over. They are Emmy and Grammy winners, Broadway stars, blockbuster film producers, and set and costume designers, acclaimed restaurateurs and prize-winning novelists. They are also chief creative officers and executive directors and entrepreneurs who are impacting business and industry, healthcare and community. They are, collectively, a huge part of why I feel so fortunate to have arrived at this university, in this city, at this very moment,” he said.

The UArts 140 celebration officially gets underway on Sunday, Oct. 16 with a star-powered, Grammy-style gala featuring Philadelphia native and Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr., and performances by some of UArts’ most renowned ensembles, the proceeds of which benefit UArts students and programs. The following day, UArts will inaugurate Yager, its fourth president since receiving university status in 1987, in perhaps the most un-inaugural-style event in UArts history. A ceremony highlight will be the video presentation of an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts (HDFA) degree to the creative genius behind Marvel Comics, the iconic Stan Lee. The HDFA will be the very first ever received by the 93-year-old Lee, who is known for creating Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men and more.

“The University of the Arts has been shaped by a series of presidents who have each made a distinct impact; however, David’s multidisciplinary background and vision signal a new era of excellence for UArts here in a city that has grown as a nexus of creativity,” said Jeffrey A. Lutsky, chairman of the board of trustees. “And in that city, UArts boasts more than 20 galleries, theaters and auditoriums in nine buildings that stretch more than half a mile on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts. Our urban campus and transformative, relevant curriculum is providing the education and experiences that will allow our graduates to influence creative conversations around the country and the globe.”

The University of the Arts evolved from two century-old institutions: Philadelphia College of Art (PCA), established in 1876, and Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts (PCPA). In 1985, PCA and PCPA merged to become the Philadelphia Colleges of the Arts, and after being granted university status in 1987, the University of the Arts became the largest and only university in the nation offering programs in design, fine arts, media arts, crafts, music, dance and theater, emphasizing both technical rigor and interdisciplinary experimentation.

On Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Hyatt at the Bellevue, the fundraising gala will kick off a series of events celebrating the University of the Arts’ 140th anniversary. The high-energy event will weave together musical and theatrical performances, awards and remarks to create an impactful evening honoring the University community’s contributions to the creative economy. Performances will include acclaimed dancers, musicians, visual artists and actors from the University of the Arts community, and a special set by Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor and singer Leslie Odom, Jr.

Most well-known for his role as Aaron Burr in the Broadway sensation Hamilton, Odom grew up in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. On this return home, Odom will perform a series of jazz standards. In addition to Odom’s performance, the evening will feature the University’s award-winning “Z” Big Band, New Orleans Jazz Ensemble and OcTonics, as well as UArts alumni Andrew Lipke BM ’00 (Composition) and Alita Moses BM ’15 (Vocal Performance). Special scenes from the highly anticipated musical The Elementary Spacetime Show by Master Lecturer César Alvarez, which makes its world premiere this September at FringeArts, will also be performed. 

Honorees include longtime trustee and benefactor Eleanor Davis, who will receive the first “Hamilton Award,” given to an individual who reflects the same qualities of generosity, loyalty, vision, leadership and unwavering commitment that philanthropist and UArts Board Chairman Emerita Dorrance H. Hamilton has shown to the University of the Arts. The Hamilton Award honors Davis’ dedication to innovation in the arts and arts education, to our University’s students, and to the creative life and vibrancy of our city. UArts will also honor Professor Emeritus Stephen Tarantal for his long academic career at UArts, which recently culminated – post-retirement – with his role this past year as interim provost.

Proceeds from the gala support UArts students and programs.

The University has thrown out the rulebook for this one-of-a-kind presidential inauguration ceremony, which will feature dance, music and theater performances, as well as the awarding of Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees to Stan Lee (via video presentation), Ron Yerxa, an American film producer known for Little Miss Sunshineand Cold Mountain, and Freeman Hrabowski III, prominent American educator and president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The ceremony, which will take place in UArts' historic Merriam Theater, will also include remarks by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and UArts Board Chair Jeffrey Lutsky.

An accomplished visual artist, President Yager has an extensive background as an academic, a researcher utilizing design to improve the health care space, an entrepreneur and a business executive. Yager joined University of California, Santa Cruz as dean of the Arts Division in 2009. During his time there, he created multiple graduate programs, including two doctoral programs and two master’s programs, as well as a number of new majors including an undergraduate major in gaming and playable media. Before joining UC Santa Cruz, Yager spent 23 years at UMBC, where he was a distinguished professor and Wilson Elkins Professor of Visual Art, founder and director of the Imaging Research Center, founder and director of the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, and founder and director of the Innovation and Design Lab. The inauguration marks Yager’s first full year at the University; he began his tenure at UArts on Jan. 15, 2016, and has been building a powerful vision for the University’s future.