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Fine Arts Center seeks to revitalize New WORLD Theater

With budgetary concerns slowing their progress, the Fine Arts Center (FAC), located on the University of Massachusetts campus has recently announced collaboration with experts in the hope of reactivating its cultural movement, the New WORLD Theater.

FAC director Dr. Willie Hill will be collaborating with New York City based Talvin Wilks to innovate ways to restart the New WORLD Theater program.

Wilks started working as a consultant for FAC in October. He is a playwright, director, dramaturge, actor, advocate and historian. He was the New WORLD Theater’s interim artistic director and associate professor in the Department of Theater in 2002 and 2003.

The program was suspended in September following the announcement of budget cuts by the University in July.

“We didn’t have operating capital to fund the theater,” said Dennis Conway, FAC assistant director.

According to Conway, “[New WORLD Theater] was a program of the Fine Arts Center that focused on performance art by artists of color.”

In addition to Conway’s comments, Hill said that the New WORLD is committed to equality and progressive social change.

“Through art, we work against racism and oppression in all forms,” he said.

Hill said “The university, through the Fine Arts Center, supported salaries and benefits for New WORLD Theater employees and provided a small allocation for the programming.”

Altogether the costs will be approximately $213,000. Although the theater did raise more through gifts, grants and ticket sales, the New WORLD Theater’s programs cost more than the theater raised. For fiscal year 2010, FAC had to reduce its budget by 7.5 percent and could no longer support New WORLD Theater, Hill said.

The theater, which received $375,000 in new grant awards from the Ford, Surdna and Nathan Cummings foundations, is now working with its founders to bring back the program with the money they have available.

New WORLD programs require funds for salary and operational support, Hill said, adding that the FAC does not have these funds as a result of the budget cut.

Before budget cuts Hill said, the grants were intended to support the Intersection Conference, Project 2050 and some general operating expenses of the theater.

Hill called the decision to suspend the New WORLD Theater last September “a painful one.”

According to Hill the FAC has engaged Wilks as a consultant, as which, he will create an inventory of the New WORLD Theater’s intellectual property and archives.

He will make a feasibility study for continuing programming such as the Intersections Conference, Project 2050 and New Works for a New WORLD Summer play lab.

Wilks will also identify community partnerships, both new and renewed, as well as fashion a transitional advisory team of key partners. Hill said the project with Wilks will likely last about six months.

“We are pleased to be working with him,” he added.

As for his reasoning behind the project, Wilks said, “For 30 years New WORLD has been a vital component of the diverse cultural life of the UMass campus, and a major cultural force in the development of new work by artists of color nationally.”

Hill added, “New WORLD Theater was at the vanguard of the multicultural theater movement since its beginnings. It has been home to many artists and students of color over the years and has brought significant artistic diversity to the University.”

According to Conway, the New WORLD Theater is run by a diverse group of people trying to represent different companies on campus.

Conway added that currently the collaboration is exploring options that might be able to keep the company alive as opposed to closing it down.

The mission of the New WORLD Theater, according to Hill, is to present innovative, contemporary theater by artists of all ethnicities, as well as fostering creative communities that exist at the intersection of artistic practice, community engagement, scholarship and education.

New WORLD aims to “promote cultural equity and the vision of a ‘new world,’” added Hill, who further explained the ideal as “one that embraces diverse cultural backgrounds, interdisciplinary approaches, widespread geographic roots and a commitment to justice.”

Angela Hilsman can be reached at ahilsman@student.umass.edu.

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