Pioneering in Place: a virtual festival of DU talent

Cellist Alisha Bauer (BSBA, BM ’03) has played with Madonna, Stevie Nicks and Kanye West. She’s entertained audiences at The Tonight Show, at the Grammy’s nomination concert and during South by Southwest, and she has lent her talents to such blockbuster films as “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Moana.” 

A recent gig brought her a little closer to Colorado, at least virtually. Bauer, an alumna of the Lamont School of Music and Daniels College of Business, performed alongside a slate of professional and amateur artists in DU’s Pioneering in Place virtual festival. Sponsored by DU Advancement, the event premiered on YouTube Sept. 23 and showcased dancers, musicians, visual artists, comedians and “the world’s most romantic PowerPoint presentation.” 

Like so many other digital gatherings, Pioneering in Place was born to cultivate connection amid the isolation of COVID-19 quarantines. For musicians like Bauer, the pandemic’s effect on the industry has opened a void that’s been difficult to fill. 

“For me, nothing can really recreate the energy that comes from a lot of strangers of all walks of life being together, experiencing music. To not be able to experience the arts in some way is just a real terrible thing,” Bauer says. “This is a really lovely silver lining.”

That’s precisely what Liz Manalio and Liz Iracki, directors of DU’s regional engagement in the Northeast and Southwest, respectively, had in mind as they began producing the virtual festival in May. The pair had hoped to create in-person arts and culture showcases in their regions during spring 2020, but saw a chance to come together when those events were canceled. 

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to bring something to life in a way that neither of us would have ever envisioned. My goal is to engage people in the Northeast. Her goal is to engage people in the Southwest,” Manalio says. “So, the opportunity to really work together and engage all of those people at once has been very special.”

The virtual nature of the event brought together alumni, current students, prospective students, faculty, staff, friends and families in a new way. Take, for example, 93-year-old Robert Embree (PhD ’64), creator of the aforementioned PowerPoint presentation. Embree, who is riding out the pandemic in the Midwest, wrote and performed a keyboard melody to accompany the words written in his late wife’s poem, “Love Is a Special Feeling.” Manalio says the festival allowed Embree to connect with DU community members across the country. 

“‘One DU’ is our mantra and our overarching goal in everything that we do, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a more diverse event—age range, academically, all different backgrounds,” she says. “[We] really wanted this event to feel happy in your heart, and we wanted you to come out of it feeling so proud of DU and impressed with all of our artists.”

That representation was just as palpable among the more than 700 viewers who tuned into Pioneering in Place during and immediately following its premiere, Iracki says. 

“This was really a chance to bring everyone together from across the country. It was really fun when [the video] started, to have people say, ‘Hello, I’m coming to you from Paris’ or ‘I’m in Wisconsin or Honolulu,’” Iracki says. “It was neat to see that people were able to tune in simultaneously.”

Among the captivated audience members were current student Ruby Pucillo’s grandparents and parents. Pucillo, a jazz singer in the Lamont School of Music and a literary studies major, arranged and performed Caetano Veloso’s “Outras Palavras” with several other Lamont musicians. 

For Pucillo, Pioneering in Place not only created a sense of community, it also provided a much-needed platform for artistic appreciation and expression. 

“I think that art is the texture of society. It creates difference where a lot of things become the same,” she explains. “It’s a lovely opportunity for people to be comfortable making music in their living rooms, in their kitchens, in their backyards and finding ways to collaborate. I think it’s really wonderful that pretty much anyone in the DU community had this opportunity to share their art.”

Art, she says, is so crucial in moments fraught with unrest, anger and fear: “Art becomes our guiding force for surging out of that space.”

To experience Pioneering in Place for yourself, visit festival.du.edu.

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