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Sandra Gajic headshot

We dedicate this edition of the Equity and Innovation newsletter to the memory of Overture Center President and CEO Sandra Gajic, who passed away on December 6. In honor of her dedication to the arts and Overture Center for the Arts, as well as to equity, diversity and inclusion, we salute Sandra and her valuable contributions to this arts community.

As a result of her visionary leadership, we have been able to elevate the concept of Diversity and Inclusion to Equity and Innovation. We pay tribute to her legacy by continuing the work she started. We are taking a closer look at how we might change existing organizational practices and structures to create a more diverse Overture Center, one that is thoughtful and intentional about removing barriers to arts access and establishing policies and practices that will ensure sustainability of diversity in the organization.

Sandra and I often talked about how nice it would be to not need a Department of Equity and Innovation to address gaps in access for individuals and communities of color. We imagined an Overture where you could not predict the racial or cultural background of the usher who would meet you at the door of your performance to help you find your seat. We talked about a time when we have it all figured out, and Overture is truly representative of the diversity we find in our community.

Though she was here with us for a brief 15-month tenure and it felt like she was just getting started, Sandra accomplished an amazing amount of work. She has left Overture on solid ground and has provided a blueprint for the organization’s continued success. I am honored to have worked with her and learned from her. Sandra’s knowledge, energy, passion and powerful persona will be sincerely missed.

Ed Holmes, PhD

Senior Vice President of Equity and Innovation

Building a diverse usher team

Usher team image

Overture Center is in the process of making a cultural shift by diversifying our volunteer usher team. Our goal is to have our volunteer usher group be more representative of the diverse community we serve. The Overture usher team is an integral group of volunteers who greet guests, scan tickets and seat patrons. Often, volunteer ushers are the first members of the Overture team to interact with guests. Our ushers have been doing a wonderful job meeting and greeting Overture audiences for decades, but the group has historically reflected only one demographic that we serve.

We’d like to engage as many people as possible, and the way to accomplish that is to give everyone an opportunity to be involved. We aim to remove barriers to arts access and directly approach communities and individuals that are not yet an integral part of the Overture experience.

We have a new volunteer coordinator on board, Ryan Main-Luu, who is working on the details of training, recruitment and retention as we build a stronger, more diverse core of volunteer ushers. Required training for this volunteer opportunity will take place on SAT, JAN 11, from 1 PM - 4 PM at Overture Center.

Please spread the word about this important opportunity to anyone who might be interested. For questions or more information, please contact Ryan Main-Luu, Overture’s volunteer coordinator, at rmain-luu@overture.org by MON, JAN 6.

Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center perform at Overture Hall

Dolores Marsalis Jazz Kids image

The Sun Prairie High School Jazz Ensemble did an amazing job opening for Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on WED, NOV 13, setting the tone for an incredible show, immensely enjoyed by the audience at the cold, snowy night, mid-week concert. Wynton opened the concert with these heartfelt words: “Thank you for being here with us on a Wednesday… thank you Madison for showing us such love!” It was the kickoff to an incredible evening of jazz music, storytelling and community.

To conclude the two-hour concert, Wynton took the time to meet and greet the members of the Delores Marsalis Jazz Kids from Toki Middle School. In his humble and personable style, Wynton told stories, answered questions and took pictures with the students, band director, principal and school district administrators. It was certainly a night the students from Toki will not soon forget!

Black Violin plays to a full house

Black Violin performance image

Classically trained string players Wil B. and Kev Marcus of Black Violin played to a full house at both their afternoon school show and evening performance on FRI, OCT 25. The audience reaction was raucous but engaging in a way that you rarely see and hear at Overture—but Black Violin encourages that type of participation in their concerts. During the evening performance, we were fortunate to have 300 members of the Minority Student Network Leadership Conference with us. These high school leaders from across the country received a great message from Black Violin, who told everyone in the audience (but it felt directed to the students) to never let anyone define for you who you should be… never allow yourself to be stereotyped. They said that had they allowed that to happen, they would have never had the opportunity to do what they are doing now—because everyone expected them to be athletes and never musicians—especially ones who play the violin. “Stay true to yourself. Find your passion,” they said. “That’s what we did, and we love what we do as we play here for you.”

Ho-Chunk Art: Sharing our Sacred Voice through our Art

Ho Chunk dancers image

The NOV 1 Ho-Chunk art exhibit, cultural performance and indigenous food event was an amazing experience with a great turnout. The diverse audience was treated to traditional indigenous foods by Wild Bearies caterers along with wonderful arts and artifacts on display and on sale. The Wisconsin Dells Singers and Dancers represented Ho-Chunk culture in fine fashion. Led by Elliot Fun Maker, the group performed traditional ceremonial dances and wore culturally significant ceremonial attire. The night was a prime example of our ongoing collaboration with Ho-Chunk. We were all excited to see the long-anticipated event come to fruition. The evening was the culmination of months of work between leaders of Ho-Chunk and Overture Center. We extend a special thanks to Missy Tracy and Dan Brown of Ho-Chunk for their time, effort and energy. The event would not have been possible without their support.

Introducing Overture’s Equity and Innovation Committee Co-Chairpersons

Deirdre Garton headshot

Deirdre Garton

Vice chair of the Ten Chimneys board of directors and former Overture Center Foundation board member

Anna Burish image

Anna Burish

The Burish Group, associate director/financial advisor, UBS Financial Services and member of the Overture Center Foundation board of directors

This newly revamped ad hoc committee of the board is focused on exploring strategies to increase volunteerism of diverse communities, increase the diversity of Overture staff and increase the purchase of goods and services from vendors of color.

Meet our Community Advisory Committee Members

CAC Members image

From left to right, top to bottom: Bernie Hoes, Jair Alvarez, Dawn Crim, Hanah Jon Taylor, Tony Casteneda, Eugenia Podesta, Danessa Bishop, Joseph Stertz, Ginger Contreras, Ron Luskin, Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, Conseulo Lopez Springfield, April Kigeya, Sarah Karlen, Karen Weatherwax

Not Pictured: Ananda Mirilli, Jo Oyama Miller, Zon Moua, Araceli Esparza, Hedi Rudd, Benjamin Barlow, Allison Taylor, Anglinia Washington

The Community Advisory Committee gives a special welcome of our newest member, Danessa Bishop of Park Bank (pictured above). The Community Advisory Committee continues to grow and establish itself as an important contributor to the Equity and Innovation initiative at Overture. In addition to recently completing Overture’s land recognition statement, the group is working on an Equity and Innovation statement for the organization, reviewing the International Festival and Community Ticket program and helping to recruit volunteers for our volunteer usher team.

Coming Soon

Black Star Drumline – Kids in the Rotunda

Black Star Drumline image

SAT, FEB 1, 2020 9:30 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM | FREE

Black Star Drum Line is in its 12th year as a youth percussive arts group, founded by Grammy nominated drummer, producer and music educator Joey B. Banks. Since 2008, the drum line has gone from being a volunteer youth arts project to one of the most popular youth performing arts groups in Wisconsin. In 2018, the Madison Area Music Association awarded the group with “Youth Ensemble of the Year,” and the group was named Madison Magazine’s silver winner for “Best of Madison” youth performing arts groups (between the Children’s Theater of Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony). This year for their 2019 Kids in The Rotunda performance, the Black Star Drum Line is going to bring along special guests from Madison’s urban arts community. Youth DJs, dancers, drill teams, rappers and musical performers will join Black Star Drum Line for a showcase of some of Madison’s best youth urban arts programs.

The Color Purple

TUE, FEB 18 - SUN, FEB 23

THE COLOR PURPLE is the 2016 Tony Award® winner for Best Musical Revival! Hailed as “a direct hit to the heart” (The Hollywood Reporter), this joyous American classic has conquered Broadway in an all-new “ravishingly re-conceived production that is a glory to behold” (The New York Times).

With a soul-raising, Grammy®-winning score of jazz, gospel, ragtime and blues, THE COLOR PURPLE gives an exhilarating new spirit to this Pulitzer Prize-winning story. Don’t miss this stunning re-imagining of an epic story about a young woman’s journey to love and triumph in the American South. Experience the exhilarating power of this Tony-winning triumph that New York Magazine calls “one of the greatest revivals ever.”

The Color Purple: the novel; the movie; the musical

Performance Plus with UW Professor Sandra Adell

SAT, FEB 22, 6 PM - 7 PM

Sandra Adell headshot

In this presentation, Professor Adell will discuss how Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, The Color Purple, helped to bring national attention to African American women writers and the controversies that continue to plague the book regarding subjects that have caused it to be banned in numerous libraries throughout the country. Adell will trace the book’s evolution from an epistolary novel to a major movie and now an award-winning musical. Each medium has its own aesthetic criteria, which Adell will comment on as she shows how the musical’s creative team took difficult topics, such as domestic violence, and presented them in such a way that the dignity and courage of the women who are at the center of the story are never compromised for the sake of entertainment.

Adell is a literature professor in the Department of Afro American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has written extensively on African American literature and black theatre history. Her books include Double Consciousness: Double Bind: Theoretical Issues in Black Literature and Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen: A Memoir. She is also the editor of Contemporary African American Literature: Ten Complete Plays and a special issue of Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance.

International Festival

SAT, FEB 29, 10 AM - 5 PM

Please join us for the 39th annual International Festival, celebrating the rich cultural heritage within our community. Enjoy more than 30 FREE performances throughout Overture by artists who call Dane County home. Indulge in cuisines from around the world, browse stunning arts and crafts available for purchase and learn about the many local businesses with global connections right here in the Madison area.

Sweet Honey in the Rock

Sweet Honey in the Rock

SAT, FEB 29, 8 PM | Overture Hall

Celebrating their 45th anniversary tour, Sweet Honey in the Rock remains the preeminent musical collective rooted in African American history and culture. Kinetic, unique and connected, this internationally-renowned, Grammy-nominated female a cappella vocal quartet performs positive, socially conscious message music, which takes an activist stance toward making the world a better place to live. Their latest album, “#Love in Evolution,” is infused with energy and innovation, meshing finely honed a cappella, world and gospel with touches of hip hop, jazz and R&B.

The only way to guarantee legitimate tickets is to buy them directly from Overture Center at overture.org, by phone at 608.258.4141, or in person at the Overture Center Ticket Office. Learn more about safe ticket buying.


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Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street, Madison, WI 53703

© 2019 Overture Center for the Arts. All rights reserved.