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Constance Alexander: Vibrant arts experiences a testament to impact of arts on greater community

Lovett Auditorium levitated on Thursday night, capping off a week of vibrant arts experiences at Murray State University. The extravaganza began on Tuesday, with the arrival of author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. A teacher who belongs to the Eastern Bank of Cherokee Indians, a tribe of about 14,000, Clapsaddle is the author of the novel “Even As We Breathe.”

Recipient of this year’s Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer’s Residency at MSU, Clapsaddle spoke to students during the day and gave a reading from her novel in the evening. Throughout her time on campus, she also provided insights into the complexities of identity and misconceptions about Appalachia, including the myth that the population “is largely white.”

A central theme in “Even As We Breathe” is the protagonist’s struggle to figure out where, as a Native American, he fits into American society. As an enrolled citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Clapsaddle explained that writing the novel helped her address her own questions about this sense of belonging.

Wednesday was a celebration of visual art on campus, with a gallery talk and reception for the Magic Silver Show at the Clara M. Eagle Gallery. A tradition in the Department of Art and Design since the 1970s, the photography competition attracted 460 entries this year. Juror Frances Jakubek honed them into a spectacular show of 77 works by 70 artists.

In her presentation to students, faculty, and community, Jakubek emphasized how the work “comes to life in the gallery,” as opposed to viewing them in a slide show, where everything is presented as the same size.

The Magic Silver Show is supported by the Elena Diane Curris Endowment for the Visual Arts, in memory of the daughter of Dr. Constantine Curris and his wife Jo Curris, as well as the family. President of MSU from 1973 to 1983, Dr. Curris expressed joy at being back in Murray, seeing so many old friends, and making new ones.

“Engagement with the arts,” he said, was important to his daughter and the Curris family. Elena, he recalled, “Loved all things that were good and beautiful.”

On view in the Clara M. Eagle Gallery, on the sixth floor of the Fine Arts Building, the Magic Silver Show is open until October 17.

Music was in the air when the Louisville Symphony came to town. Murray was the first stop in western Kentucky on their statewide “In Harmony” tour. Musician and “Genius” grant recipient Chris Thile stole the show Thursday night. Murray claims Thile as a native son since he spent some of his growing up years here; his parents are still residents.

Chris Thile leaps onto Lovett Auditorium stage at Murray State University (Photo courtesy Jeremy McKeel)

Lovett Auditorium was packed for the occasion. Buzz from the audience and the clangor of the orchestra’s tuning process toned down for the formal introductions, thank yous, and recognition of those who made the tour possible.

When Thile swooped onto the stage, mandolin affixed to his chest like a body part, the party began. To the delight of the audience, he jumped in the air and clicked his heels. With a few introductory remarks, he set the stage for the opener, a piece commissioned by the Louisville Symphony entitled ATTENTION!

Subtitled “A narrative song cycle for extroverted mandolinist and orchestra,” the piece is a musical autobiography that recounts his fascination with the mandolin and winds up explaining Thile’s recollection of an event in 2005. His band, Nickel Creek, was performing in San Diego, and he got to meet “Carrie Freaking Fischer” of “Star Wars” fame.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

According to the symphony website, the rest of the program was “a celebration of Kentucky and Americana,” that mixed “the traditional and the new, the spirited and the serene.” A work entitled “Home” by LO Creators Corps member Lisa Bielawa and Hazard native Lindsay Branson, meshed “symphonic and traditional bluegrass styles.”

After that, Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down,” Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances, and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, charmed the audience.

At the end, sustained cheers and thunderous applause brought Thile out for an encore. The last piece of the night was another high point. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” brought the crowd to their feet once again before the evening came to a close.

The excitement continues as the tour continues. Madisonville is on the schedule for Sept. 19, Beattyville on the 22nd, and Henderson on the 23rd. The symphony plays on in 2024 with other locations around the state – Corbin, Paducah, Bowling Green, Danville, and Fort Knox. Additional details are available online.

The arts and culture can have a larger impact on the local economy, in terms of GDP, than other industries like tourism and transportation. The past week in Murray is testimony to their impact, but the uplifting and joyful experiences associated with participating in the arts and celebrating culture are priceless.

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