5 Atlanta university performing arts series have diverse offerings

Updated Sept 24, 2015

The performing arts series that begin kicking off this week at five metro universities usually are not mentioned in the same breath, because the halls are spread out geographically and each offers something a little different for their loyal constituencies (as well as newbies).

But, if Atlanta cultural consumers take the long view of the jam-packed slates being presented from now until the middle of next year, they will discern a rich and enriching selection that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Or missed:

“We’re all trying to enrich the cultural diversity and wealth of this city and this region,” said Spivey Hall Executive and Artistic Director Sam Dixon, speaking of those who program the university performing arts centers. “We try to not duplicate as much as we can, even though we’re all interested in the same artists much of the time. We try to create options that will attract people to get in their cars and come see dance, enjoy theater, whatever it’s going to be. We’re trying to make Atlanta a cultural destination.”

To celebrate Spivey’s silver anniversary, Dixon opted to invest in the lineup that will grace the stage of the acoustically pristine concert hall instead of staging pricey galas and parties. And that lineup goes well beyond Spivey’s signature strengths in string music, organ recitals and vocal performances.

“I don’t think Emilie Spivey would have envisioned that a group called Hot Club of Cowtown would be performing at Spivey Hall,” Dixon said with a chuckle. Spivey was the hall’s late benefactor (along with her late husband, Walter Spivey). “We are spreading our wings. We want to broaden the base.”

To varying degrees, the university performing arts centers experiment every year with different kinds of bookings, such as Cowtown — the Western swing-meets-hot-jazz outfit from Austin, Texas, that gallops into Spivey Nov. 14. This year, for instance, Arts@Tech is hosting several category-defying shows that blend oral history, spoken-word poetry or shared secrets with theater.

Rialto director Leslie Gordon noted that the centers, with facilities and a large part of their operating funds provided by their universities, should be boundary pushers by their birthright. Their shows, while expected to do well and keep the centers’ overall series from dipping into red ink, are not driven by market forces to the same degree as those put on by for-profit presenters.

“The general role of university performing arts centers is to bring to their student bodies, and to the wider community, artistic forms and performances that are not sustained by mass-market appeal or values,” Gordon said. “In that way, the performing arts centers are a kind of extension of the role that humanities play in the university.”

So, here’s a quick glance at five series featuring a wide range of artistic expressions that, yes, are even good for you:

Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall

Georgia State University’s Rialto Center for the Arts

Georgia Tech’s Arts@Tech/Ferst Center

Emory University’s Schwartz Center for the Arts

Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center