UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) has inspired and taught university students in the performing arts since 1958. Over the decades A&L has continually expanded its reach, targeting both K—12 students and adults to promote active participation in the arts, with renowned lecturers and performers from around the globe.
Entering its 60th season, the nonprofit has become the most expansive arts and lectures program up and down the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Arts & Lectures’ reach has broadened as well, with writing, journalism, advocacy, cooking and cuisine, psychology, education, public health, sciences, economics and history among its topics.
Arts & Lectures actually began at what was then Santa Barbara College. It was a division that wanted to assist students in experiencing those things they read about in books, through dance, concerts, plays and art exhibits. The division was considered an extension of the classroom. The A&L program began to involve the public at campus events under A&L Director Jan Oetinger, who came onboard in 1980. The current A&L Miller McCune Executive Director, Celesta M. Billeci, has been at A&L since Oetinger retired in 2000. Under Billeci’s direction, A&L’s events have grown and expanded both on and off campus.
“We play a vital role on campus, supplementing academic enrichment by providing students with direct access to world-class performers across (the) disciplines,” says Billeci. “This access extends into the community with programs that bring artists into elementary classrooms, local dance studios and underserved communities.”
A longtime offshoot of A&L is its Educational Outreach Program, which reaches 30,000 individuals each year. The program explores all opportunities, then matches up interests to connect the artists and speakers with local educators and community groups. It has gained such popularity that the outreach component is implemented into the contracts for most of the artists and speakers who come to town. The program serves students and classes at UCSB, but also K-12, Santa Barbara City College, Westmont and community connections, including the Santa Barbara library, Town Halls and others. Half of its outreach participants come from ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara!, which serves students and families in schools and community venues throughout the county, including New Cuyama and Guadalupe.
“Education has always been core to our mission,” continues Billeci. “That’s one thing that makes us different from other presenters: we have an education program and it is as important as the public events we produce. Our mantra is access for all. Education is what we’re all about; it all starts with education. Our events are an opportunity for the community to learn something. We bring artists all throughout the county. We leave no stone unturned.”
One of those inspirational events involves incarcerated youth. Five to six times a year A&L works with Santa Barbara County Probation officials to transport artists to the Los Prietos Camp and to Santa Maria Juvenile Hall. Artists give a special hour-long performance for residents that includes time for talk and questions.
A&L’s season opener on September 29 is Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, featuring Lil Buck and Jared Grimes in a program called Spaces. Band members will also perform a free educational program narrated by Director Wynton Marsalis called Who Is Thelonious Monk, for local elementary students. They will learn about the musical legacy of Monk and modern jazz in the context of 20th century African American history. Band members will also fan out throughout various schools in the community to offer various clinics and presentations.
Individual donors largely provide funding for the Educational Outreach Program, with additional support from national, state and local granting agencies, as well as some family foundations. The breadth and quality of its education programs are unique to A&L, a fact that many funders recognize. The program also receives funding from the University for UCSB student education opportunities. artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.
This story was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.