Careers have been born, couples have met and academic pursuits have shifted as a result of the work of staff and volunteers at UApresents, the organization that has presented shows at Centennial Hall and elsewhere for 75 years.
The impact and value the University of Arizona organization brings to the region is evident on campus by the attention it receives from the internationally known and the broad range of performances it attracts in areas that include dance, jazz, classical and world music.
"No other organization here, or in Phoenix for that matter, does what UApresents does for Arizona," said Regents' Professor John G. Hildebrand, a member of the UA organization's advisory board.
"The greater Tucson community – now more than 1 million people – needs and deserves to have the kind of life-enriching experiences with renowned performing artists that people in bigger cities take for granted," said Hildebrand, who also heads the neuroscience department.
Hildebrand noted that growing up in Boston with access to performing arts events was hugely informative, and he and others at UApresents want children and families here to experience the same.
"Even then, and more so now, I have been aware that it was a great privilege and a huge benefit to me," he said. "My life was vastly enriched by those experiences, and UApresents makes that possible."
If the many footprints that have walked across Centennial Hall's stage over the years were visible, they would collectively represent decades of world-class classical music artists and ensembles, Broadway shows, comedic acts, performances recorded live for television and radio and discussions with elected officials and activists. Additionally, Centennial Hall serves as a facility for commencement ceremonies and community-wide events.
"UApresents is a major contributor to the campus mission," said Jory Hancock, dean of the UA's College of Fine Arts. Hancock noted that just as the University maintains a strong and ever-present research mission, the institution also is committed to the humanities and fine arts.
Equally important to the mission of the organization is the work that occurs beyond the main stage, involving young students, families and other members of the greater community.
Driver works directly with Sarah K Smith, education and outreach coordinator for UApresents, to involve students in the Student Critics program, which launched in 2010. Those involved learn about different types of writing and expand their critical thinking and analytical skills. Also, faculty members and journalists offer additional training to the students, who are involved throughout the academic year.
"Most of my students would not have the wherewithal to purchase tickets for themselves or their families, and they certainly wouldn't have the opportunity to be published," Driver said. "That authentic audience is incredibly motivating for students and is all too rare in the typical class assignment."
Driver said the program has proven powerful. In particular, they value having a voice, and she sees they are thinking more critically and improving in the writing process. Also, she and Smith involve the students in editing, presentations and the creation of advertisements for the program.
"I think that UApresents is benefiting from building the future audience for their productions," Driver said.
Too many young people are unaware of all the fantastic music that is not played on the radio. Too few people have the opportunity to experience and appreciate dance productions early in life," she added. "This is when we create lifelong lovers of the arts. If we instill that appreciation in our youth, we ensure the future of artists of all genres."
Subsequently, the students attend UApresents performances and write reviews, which are then posted on the UApresents site.
"They are able to experience many kinds of performances, and it opens up their minds to new things," Smith said. "They also are looking at things more critically. It's not just about, 'It was great,' or ‘I liked it,' but why."
For college-bound students, such engagement proves to be strong early socialization around issues they will face as college students, she added.
And the program is growing. Last year, 13 Student Critics were involved compared to 20 this year. The increase is largely due to students' own promotion and recruitment, Smith said, adding that many students also volunteer during UApresents' annual Children's Festival, to be held Jan. 27 and involving more than 50 organizations.
For his review of "ETHEL & Robert Mirabal: Music of the Sun" last season, high school student Felipe Santamaria talked about ways the artists drew attention to culture, tradition and artistic expression.
"The music they play is so eccentric that you can’t even call it a show because that would be insulting to its impressive talents," Santamaria wrote.
"The concert moved my emotions very deeply. When I walked in the auditorium, I was shocked on how many people went to the concert," Santamaria continued.
Also involving Desert View, and other K-12 schools in the area, Smith and others at UApresents facilitate programming with artists and performers as part of the "In the Schools" program, which reaches about 8,000 K-12 students each year, Smith said.
Generally four to five artists each year will attend Tucson area schools to provide one dozen performances and engage with teachers, students and their families. Meanwhile, Smith works directly with teachers on curriculum development around the shows. For example, Sybarite5 is providing four school-based performances beginning this month.
"The mission is to take the performing arts to the students," Smith said, adding that UApresents often works with those schools with higher percentages of youth who come from low-income families who otherwise might not be able to attend a performance at Centennial Hall.
Also, last year UApresents donated about 6,000 tickets – enough to fill Centennial Hall about two times – to nonprofit organizations and schools.
"In fact, the organization reaches nearly 15,000 people each year through education and outreach programming," said Darsen Campbell, the marketing and publicity manager for UApresents.
And in addition to those programs held in Tucson area schools, UApresents hosts free pre and post-show events for patrons and master classes for University students. Likewise, UApresents is now collaborating with the UA's Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry to offer more events connecting the public with UA experts who can speak to various topics in the arts and humanities.
This season, after a three-year hiatus, the organization will present a school matinee performance at Centennial Hall – a one-hour performance by Soledad Barrio's Noche Flamenca 2013. Sponsored by On Media, the free event is expected to draw thousands of students and teachers from underserved schools.
"Many of these students may be experiencing live performance for the first time in their lives," Campbell said. "UApresents is so pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to students and to help them develop an appreciation for the performing arts.”