PAC changes mark 'fundamental shift'

Starting in January, there will be changes made at the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center (PAC), which have been in the works since August.

The changes were not well received by Robert and Elizabeth Guelcher, the donors who made the PAC’s film series possible. They said they were not consulted before the change to the series.

Alaina Rydzewski photo: The Mary D'Angelo Performing Arts Center is now the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture.Alaina Rydzewski photo: The Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center is now the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture.

Although the venue—the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center—will remain the same, the office will be renamed the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture, following the organization of the other institutes on campus, such as the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute and the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics.

“The PAC was unusual because it had no faculty presence and no educational component in the sense that you couldn’t take classes and then work there,” said Vice President for Advancement Dave Livingston, Ph.D.

“This is an attempt to bring academics and cultural series into a format that is more like what we do on campus,” he said.

Student involvement wanted

Another purpose of the changes is to draw more students and faculty into the equation.

“There’s a desire to refocus attention on integrating shows at the PAC more into curriculum to get students to attend shows,” said Livingston. “The fundamental shift here is to try to use the performance culture and artistical performance that occurs at the PAC to enhance experience at Mercyhurst.”

“This is nothing new,” said Livingston. “We are just trying to reemphasize that there are not enough students who go to performances.”

There have been approximately 30-40 students at any given show, according to Livingston, and he wants this number increased to as many as 200-300 students.

To do this, plans are being made to hire a new director for the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture, one that would be half-time faculty and half-time cultural series curator. This person would not be responsible for bringing in shows. That will be the responsibility of an advisory board made up of students, faculty, community members and donors.

One of the new director’s responsibilities would be to increase student attendance.

“This is a cultural shift, and it doesn’t happen overnight—it’s not easy,” said Dean of Arts and Humanities Jeff Roessner, Ph.D. “But a question being asked of potential candidates is how they envision it working and what plans they would have” to increase student attendance.

“There are all sorts of ideas out there,” he said.

Livingston said that there is a desire to create a new major in arts management that students in any area could pursue.

The end of an era

This means the end of Michael Fuhrman’s 26-year tenure at Mercyhurst.

Fuhrman received his bachelor’s degree from Mercyhurst College and has been an employee of the college since then.

He was the director of the PAC and is now the interim director of the Institute for Arts and Culture until the end of December, when he will leave the college.

The advisory board is ready to assume Fuhrman’s responsibilities if no one is hired before he leaves.
Livingston said Fuhrman was encouraged to apply for the job but he chose not to.

According to Fuhrman, he decided not to pursue the new position because “this is not the direction we should go in. A university or college should be a force for truth, a positive interaction with the community and a source of civic pride,” he said.

A ‘fundamental shift’

There is a basic shift occurring in the priorities of the PAC, according to Fuhrman.

“Instead of being a primary source for the community, it is now a secondary source, specifically directed to faculty and students,” Fuhrman said.

“This is admirable, but also a fundamental shift. The college has the right to chart their own course. I don’t go against that, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it,” he said.

“We are a nonprofit organization. That means we don’t pay taxes, and they are very important for a city. In order to justify not paying taxes, one of the ways to do this is offering something unique to the community.”

Fuhrman said the PAC is able to offer something “unique to students and faculty, if they choose to partake, but more importantly, is what is offered to the community.”

Even with the emphasis on increased student and faculty participation, Livingston said, “We don’t want to see people from the community not come—we want it to be filled with students and the community.”

Livingston continued, “We want it to be an enhancing experience for students—the goal is to create future patrons of the arts.”

Besides this new focus, none of the other changes will affect the experience of the students or of the community, said Livingston.

Roessner agreed with Livingston.

“I would say that for students and the community, they are going to notice very little difference in the programming of artists that come in. We want to maintain the quality of shows,” he said.

Donors feel ‘unappreciated’

For example, “The name of the film series will be changing, but the film series will continue,” Livingston said.
There are currently negotiations with two different people to fund the series, but as of now, none are final.

This is because the Guelchers, who were the donors of the Guelcher Film Series, have chosen to withdraw their funding for the next academic year.

The Guelchers have supported the series with substantial annual gifts for nearly a decade.

“The reason we were interested in the film series is because it was a regional asset, and they seem to be pulling away from that idea—of involving the community. We didn’t sign on for that. It’s not that we don’t care about the students and faculty—that’s an integral part of a college—the interest in community is what intrigued me. Other colleges don’t have that. We feel the new direction is a mistake,” Elizabeth Guelcher said.

She said that she doesn’t think the college realizes how much the community appreciates the PAC.

“It’s a real blessing for the community—something that the community appreciates. I don’t think the administration understands, and I don’t understand their motivation,” she said.

Her confusion is from the lack of explanation that she and her husband received from the college.

“There was no attempt to talk to us before the changes were decided upon, and we got the feeling that what we did doesn’t matter. We felt unappreciated,” Guelcher said.

Livingston thinks the “mission statement for the PAC has focused on the balance between the community and the Mercyhurst community,” and that has become unclear. “We are trying to get back in balance,” he said.

Livingston also showed his appreciation for the work Fuhrman has done.

“Michael and his staff have provided an excellent quality and diversity of shows,” Livingston said. He said they want to continue to try to offer that type of quality.

Opportunity for input excites

Students are excited they will have more of a say in the types of shows brought in but are also noting the effects a decrease in community attendance could have.

Senior Clare Meccariello said, “If we ignore the community, we ignore the opportunity for Mercyhurst to grow and really connect with the people around it.”

Junior Matt Teleha is enthusiastic about more student involvement.

“As a student, I always like to see events that appeal to my generation instantly. So in this way, I know more people on campus will enjoy the performances when they start having a say in what artists are performing.”