Renewal and Renaissance: Opening Convocation Address by Jeffrey Kimpton

Opening Convocation of the 51st Year
September 1, 2012
"IAA at 51: Renewal and Renaissance"
Jeffrey Kimpton, President

(Click here to watch the recorded webcast. Jeffrey Kimpton's address starts at 22:45.) 

Good evening and welcome to Interlochen Center for the Arts. On behalf of the entire Interlochen community, our Board of Trustees, our Academy faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and family joining us here in Corson Auditorium and around the world via live webcast, welcome to the first program of the 51st year of Interlochen Arts Academy.

This evening, we arrive, ready to teach, create, learn and experience in a remarkable artistic and educational environment. We will explore our creativity and artistic senses, create sculpture and songs, poems, plays or sonatas, edit a one-minute film and choreograph a pas de deux, give new meaning to a symphony and study the broad spectrum of the arts so that we can create new works that bring meaning to multiple artistic ideas. We will explore the rich ground that lies within the academics and their intrinsic relationship to the arts. When we are finished with this year, in just nine very short months, the more than 250 performances will represent a body of artistic work unparalleled for an American high school.

Your year will be enriched by the company of some of the most talented students from around the country and around the globe. You will be inspired and challenged by an artist-teacher faculty, guest and visiting artists, and a professional staff in residence life, counseling, health and wellness dedicated to your growth and achievement. This is a year that will forever make the arts matter in your life, define your role in the arts as creator, performer, advocate, citizen, teacher and leader, and form deep and lasting friendships for the rest of your life. This is Interlochen Arts Academy, and we welcome you here.

Last year, our 50th, was a remarkable year. We took tours to 10 cities giving 15 extraordinary performances for 6,000 audience members. We shared an online web collection of memories, held a stunningly successful all-academy reunion attended by nearly 1,000 alumni on graduation weekend, leaving behind memories of your performances that alumni are still talking about today. We increased our connection to the world around us through new technology and international partnerships, and brought new innovations in programs and the creative and educational process to our work. Above all, we reminded the entire country of the value of our work as a leader in arts education, and that all other “arts” high schools except one came after the Academy was founded.

After the busy 50th year that we had last year it would be natural for us to wish for a quiet year. But it will not be: because it should not be. When we planned the 50th anniversary year, we were quite specific that the first half would be a celebration of the past, a snapshot of the Academy today. But we were equally specific that what comes in this 51st year should be a special experience and dialogue for an institution intent on looking ahead, an institution that prepares its students for the realities and opportunities of the 21st century, while understanding and respecting where we came from in history and experience. Our 51st year will be spent thinking about the how the arts, education and creativity will be shaped by time, space and information, the title of our national symposium that will be held here six weeks from now.

As I thought about the message I wanted to share this evening, two words kept coming to mind: renewal and renaissance. Of course, in the history of the arts, the Renaissance period was the revival of art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries, a period that spawned a new social, intellectual and artistic order, and led to the advances in politics and religion, art and science that shaped today’s world civilization.

However, as a noun, renaissance means a revival or renewal, coming from the French renaissance, from re- ‘back, again’ + naissance ‘birth’ (from Latin nascentia, or ‘to be born’).

A renaissance requires a commitment to renewal--as an institution, and as individuals. Renewal and renaissance. That is what this 51st year of Interlochen Arts Academy is about, and that is a good sign. An institution that has the energy, confidence, vitality and security, and the commitment to grow and renew is one that can successfully balance that fragile and very small space that lies between the comfort zone of status quo and tradition, and the ambiguity and uncertainty that can come with innovation, risk and change. It is not unlike some of you students who have just gotten your drivers licence: success as a driver is far more about looking out the windshield at what is coming at you, rather than looking in the rearview mirror at where you’ve been.

This space between tradition and change is actually a source of energy, and motivation, for there is peril in falling too far on either side of the spectrum of opportunity. It is a space that must motivate a community to take responsibility for the renewal that energizes its future, to ensure that our programs never lose value and relevance for our times. This is a very difficult place for any institution to be, but in 2012, it is a necessary one, and it is one that I believe Interlochen is doing exceptionally well. Renewal is never ending; there is no time to sit back and say with self-satisfaction, “there, we are done changing for awhile.” This has been a challenge throughout history. More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar reminded the citizens of Rome, “All glory is fleeting to those who stop to savor the victory.”

While we know that our students will have a year of renewal through their exposure to extraordinary experience, people and ideas, how does our entire community participate in renewal as well? How does that same excitement of anticipating the unknown that our students are feeling this evening become part of our lives as teachers, administrators, staff and alumni?

Just as our students chose to come to the Academy for a life-changing experience, so must we as a community, and the people of this community, choose to seek new directions and experiences, learn new things, be deliberate about expanding our ideas and horizons. We must be as intentional about renewing our own artistic and intellectual lives as we are passionate and committed about changing and influencing the lives of our students. It is a mutual responsibility, a covenant really, between students, faculty and staff that has been the foundation of the process of learning since Socrates gathered his students around him and challenged them with questions that came from his own learning about the world.

Our next performance is really the epitome of the idea of renewal that leads to Renaissance. John Alfieri, instructor of percussion, knew that the worlds of composition and technology were changing dramatically, especially in composition, and it bothered him, as a teacher and composer, that he didn’t know more about it. John was classically trained 30 years ago, in a learning and creative environment rooted in the early 20th century, but now teaches, performs and composes in the 21st century, a time of complex polyrhythms, radical new compositional techniques, creative technologies and the influences of multiple world musical traditions.

Last year John took a sabbatical to study those things that he felt he needed to know for his own teaching, performance and creativity. In this piece, "The Stars Above Wahbekinetta," John takes the Ottawa Indian name for Duck Lake on the east side of our campus as a metaphor, blending tradition and history with new creative ideas to create an exciting new composition.

With this performance let us start today, the first day of the 51st year, by pledging to span that zone of energy between the past and the future, by making a commitment to Interlochen, to our community, to ourselves--students and faculty, president and administration, staff and alumni--that we will all bridge the gap between tradition and new knowledge, experience and understanding that will keep the Academy vital and a leader for the second half of our first century. Let this be a year of renewal and renaissance.