“Rita” makes her grand entrance to Kenosha society
The following article was originally printed in the Feb. 2 edition of the Kenosha News. It was written by reporter Elizabeth Snyder.
"Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life."--Henry Miller
Lookin' good, Rita!
I know we just met, and you're new in town, but let me be the first to say you certainly know how to make an entrance.
I'm referring, of course, to the gleaming new Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside--known affectionately on campus as The Rita.
Though she's a fresh face to the Kenosha area, Rita was more than 20 years in the making, or, as Dean Dean Yohnk says, "years of creative, collaborative planning and brainstorming by members of both the UW-Parkside campus family and the diverse communities that we serve." (The double D is correct; Yohnk is UW-Parkside's dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.)
Yohnk isn't known for thinking small, so it's not surprising he sees The Rita as "the beginning of something truly great; a cultural renaissance of this area."
As befits such a grande dame, Rita was feted with a celebration Saturday, complete with flattering remarks from admirers:
-- Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin system: "It can be tempting in difficult economic times to be practical and pragmatic, but it can also be good to remember what it is to fly. ... The Rita will be a place for the exploration and exhibition of all that makes us human."
-- Raul Galvan, Wisconsin Humanities Council board member: "Congratulations to UW-Parkside for keeping the dream of this center alive. The humanities inspire curiosity and vision."
-- George Tzougros, Wisconsin State Arts Board: "How wonderful this space is going to be ... even welcoming some folks who come up from Illinois."
-- Deborah Ford, UW-Parkside chancellor: "The Rita ensures that UW-Parkside will continue to be a place where ideas are born, challenged and changed."
For his part, Yohnk--who has spent the past few years living and breathing the Rita construction project and discovering that 40-year-old blueprints are notoriously unreliable--marveled that "today is here. How glad I am that your extraordinary regional arts center is opening."
He describes the massive project, which involved new construction and extensive work on the existing structure, as a bathroom renovation multiplied 170,000 times.
James McKeever, chairman of the school's music department, says The Rita is "the final realization of our longing for the proper facilities in which to teach, practice and perform."
With the new space, he says, "a new era begins."
Rita, honey, that's a lot of pressure, but with so many people pulling for you to succeed, how can you not?
Partying with Rita
UW-Parkside threw a bash Saturday evening to welcome The Rita, complete with speeches, eats and a whole lotta student performances.
The crowds walking through the new arts center could listen to the Flute Ensemble, view West African art or listen to a bilingual (English and Italian) reading of Dante's "Divine Comedy."
Hands-on art projects that sent us home with goodie bags holding our creations. (I'm a sucker for any arts-and-crafts project.)
Second best idea:
Burning microwave popcorn to test the fire alarms (they work) and evacuation plan (everyone made it outside ? safely ? for a brief time).
You're welcome (really)
Greg Berg and I have something in common.
He's a radio host, world-class singer and music educator. I am none of those things.
However, Berg--who hosted the dedication ceremony of The Rita Saturday night--told the audience the new arts center already feels like home, even though he has no formal connection to the school.
Like Berg, I am not a UW-Parkside graduate or employee, but I am on the campus at least once a week, whether attending the Foreign Film Series, a theater performance or a Community Band rehearsal.
I am always welcome, as is Berg--and all of you.
The school's 2012 Year of the Arts and Humanities Planning Committee has 300-plus events scheduled this year in the center's new Frances Bedford Concert Hall, the Fine Arts Gallery, the Black Box Theatre and other venues. There must be something on the list that appeals to you. Come on over and meet Rita; you're always welcome.
The UW-Parkside FreshINK staged reading series is performing a comedy Friday and Saturday night. Admission is free. For details on this show and other events, see Friday's Get Out entertainment section.
By the numbers
$34 million -- project cost
107,000 -- square feet of renovated space in the Communication Arts Building
72,000 -- square feet of new construction
800-1,000 -- people who attended the grand opening celebration
750 -- mini muffins consumed at the opening
120 -- students involved in music, art, theater and humanities presentations at the opening
99 -- weekly two-hour construction committee meetings
50 -- student/staff volunteers at the opening
25 -- years from the idea to completion
2 --years of actual construction work1 -- bag of microwave popcorn burned during the opening