“Art,” Pablo Picasso tells us, “washes the dust of everyday life from the soul.” The arts inspire and move us to live higher and richer lives — to be better human beings. Because of the arts, people can celebrate what it means to be human, while also drawing courage to rise above the infirmities and darkness of the human condition. In short, the arts heal, enthrall and inspire.
Utah has a long and rich history of investing in and appreciating the importance of cultural arts. With a collective passion that rivals anywhere else in the world, Utahns encourage the arts in their homes, schools and neighborhoods, investing in vibrant educational programs and community offerings. This is evident in the recent construction of several beautiful new performing arts centers in Salt Lake and Utah counties, including the Eccles Theater, Hale Center Theatre in Sandy, the upcoming Hale Center Theater Orem and the recently completed Noorda Center for the Performing Arts at Utah Valley University.
Those who make art develop valuable skills, such as collaboration, expression, communication, and creativity, which contribute to all manner of public and private endeavors. Cutting-edge technology companies actively recruit and hire people with skill sets honed and refined by arts education. At UVU and other colleges and universities, students studying business, engineering and social sciences participate in ballroom dance, choir, drama and many other artistic activities. The creative skills they cultivate help these students succeed in their academic disciplines and chosen careers. They feel better prepared to engage with their communities and make meaningful contributions.
Early in the planning stages for the development of the state-of-the-art Noorda Center, donors and government leaders who believed in the importance of this facility clearly expressed their expectations. The Noorda Center needed to be both a catalyst for meaningful academic opportunities and also an outstanding cultural arts hub that would benefit the entire community.
Because of this vision, the talented students who come to UVU for meaningful, experiential credentials now have greater opportunity to work and perform side by side with professional actors, dancers, and musicians, including internationally renowned talent. The experience that comes from exposure to artists at the height of their medium elevates students’ training to new heights and helps prepare students for the highly competitive and rapidly changing arts and entertainment marketplace, especially in arts hubs like Los Angeles, New York and London.
The Noorda Center creates opportunities that are not often found outside of major metropolitan areas, for either performers or audience members. Students will find richness to complement the experiences they already receive through UVU’s annual engagement with the Sundance Resort Summer Theater.
The Noorda Center will present 26 incredible guest-artist performances in its first year and will serve as the Utah Symphony’s Utah County residence. It has already hosted Jason Alexander and Sierra Boggess for master classes and concerts, and its inaugural season, which begins this month, features multi-Tony winners Audra McDonald and Bernadette Peters, along with other outstanding talent in music, theater and dance.
In October, Tony nominee Will Swenson and Jeff Award winner Jacquelyne Jones will return home to Utah to star in the Noorda’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” supported by a cast of phenomenal local talent. In April, the acclaimed dance company Diavolo, featured on “America’s Got Talent,” will be in residence at UVU to incorporate students into a complex, stunning piece of choreography.
The opening show of the Noorda’s season will be the pre-Broadway production (one of the first in Utah’s history) of a contemporary fantasy musical called “Fly More Than You Fall,” which opened Thursday and runs through Sept. 28. The New York-based creative team, Tony-winning producers, and professional actors are uniquely collaborating with UVU students and other local artists both onstage and off to create something new and exciting. As only art can, the music and story, about a teen and her family struggling to put the pieces of their lives together after a cancer diagnosis, will surely inspire empathy and promote cathartic healing in its audiences.
That is the guiding spirit of the Noorda Center: a place where the arts will allow Utahns to understand, embrace, and celebrate all that is beautiful and true about the human condition.
Astrid S. Tuminez is the president of Utah Valley University.
Stephen Pullen is dean of the Utah Valley University School of the Arts.