By Peter Tormey, Ph.D., Editor of Gonzaga News Service, Gonzaga University
A focus on developing the whole person — mind, body and spirit — has been a keystone of Jesuit education since its founding half a millennium ago. Gonzaga University resoundingly affirmed the connection between creativity and problem-solving, when it unveiled the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center last April. A magnet for talented arts students, the new facility and the University’s inspiring arts faculty contribute to Gonzaga’s rise as a national leader in arts education.
Miss Woldson celebrated her love of the arts and student success with a $55 million gift to Gonzaga in 2015 — the largest in University history — to fund student scholarships and build the 52,000-square-foot, two-story performing arts center. The building, together with the Jundt Art Center and Museum, form an arts village on the west side of campus, anchoring programs in music, theater, dance and the visual arts along the serpentine Spokane River.
Gonzaga’s President, Dr. Thayne M. McCulloh, says that the facility “lays the foundation for a new era of teaching and learning in the creative disciplines and the humanities at Gonzaga through the College of Arts and Sciences.”
No one is more excited about Gonzaga’s arts programs than its students. Read on to learn their stories:
Xander Claypool of Aurora, Colorado, is a junior theatre arts major with a concentration in technical theater, who aims to become a professional designer for live production work involving scenic and lighting design.
“Creativity has driven me my entire life,” says Claypool, who transferred to Gonzaga this year, due in large part to its theater and dance programs. “At Gonzaga, I have been surprised by the amount of support students receive from faculty throughout the entire educational experience, as well as the amount of empathy and human connection faculty members hold,” he says.
Claypool finds inspiration from “dedication, risks, and vulnerability that theater artists take in developing their work.” He’s on a never-ending search for fuel to stoke his creative fire.
“I am constantly trying to find art or creative things I can do or go to and see different forms of art, even if it’s something I know nothing about, to expand my exposure to creative work,” he says, noting that that includes new experiences to “grow as an artist however I can.”
Abigail Kirsten, a senior from Sammamish, Washington, studied civil engineering before switching to a double major in math and art. She chose to stay at Gonzaga because of its art program, small campus and friendly atmosphere. With a lifelong love and passion for art, she prefers the mediums of drawing and painting.
Kirsten finds inspiration from “people and hidden stories and facts about people, especially emotions.” She is doing her final art portfolio based on people and their emotions, and finds her work evolving toward larger canvases.
“I always love bigger pieces—I feel like I keep wanting to go bigger and bigger in my pieces,” says Kirsten. Upon graduating, she hopes to work in the preservation of historic buildings, possibly attend graduate school, and continue her artistic development.
Art, says Kirsten, has offered a tranquil respite from challenges including upper-level math courses. She explains, “The faculty are all so friendly and welcoming and provide a lot of artist talks and exhibits for the students and public.”
Karlee Ludwig of Spokane Valley, Washington, is a sophomore music major with a concentration in vocal performance, and minors in communication studies and political science. She says that the arts have always been an important part of her identity.
“The desire to sing and share in such beautiful music-making is so fulfilling,” she says. “Being a member of the wonderful choral community at Gonzaga is especially inviting because of its focus on community and its passion for social justice, encouraging a deep and meaningful space for growth both musically and as a person.”
Ludwig chose Gonzaga because of its mission to develop the whole person.
“It is unique for a university to encourage exploration in all areas of life and provide great depths of support in each space one may seek to discover,” says Ludwig, who is inspired by how Gonzaga students and faculty collaborate and engage with the broader community.
Passionate about social justice, Ludwig plans to attend law school and later become a constitutional lawyer with hopes to “make a difference within our political system.”
For Sophia Maggio, a senior from Everett, Washington, who is earning a double major in psychology and art with a minor in leadership studies, the arts are a personal outlet and a way to engage with the community. With a passion for drawing, she’s interested professionally in the intersection of the visual arts with psychology.
Appreciation is a word she uses to describes her time at Gonzaga.
Maggio says, “Throughout my time here, Gonzaga has continually challenged me, gifted me with beautiful friends and mentors, and encouraged me to seek joy, empathy and connectedness. As a freshman, I didn’t necessarily anticipate that these factors would evolve into my collective ‘why,’ but I think they form the basis of my appreciation for Gonzaga.”
Maggio looks for inspiration everywhere — always carrying pencils, paper and pens — and carves out time daily to draw, write or engage in a creative expression that “helps me kick-start or bookend the day.”
Maggio aims to complete a year of service before attending graduate school.
Helen Schantz (pictured above), a senior from Seattle earning a triple major in political science, French and dance, says that dance has always been where she has found her passion, community and opportunities for growth. She was drawn to Gonzaga because of its Dance for Parkinson’s program.
“My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s during my junior year of high school,” she explains. “Aspects of the Jesuit mission, including the focus on service and the development of the whole person, are what led me to choose Gonzaga.”
Schantz finds inspiration everywhere, through “people, ideas and phenomena, and I explore those relationships through my art.”
And sharing dance reminds her of the power of art. “Teaching under-served elementary school students, people with Parkinson’s or my peers always brings me back to my true passions and aspirations,” says Schantz.
After graduation, she plans to teach special education in Nashville through Teach for America. She says, “I hope to be able to incorporate art into my future career and life, and to bring the arts to under-served people.”