With live, in-person performances still prohibited, Zoellner Arts Center has launched a virtual On Stage At Home series to support artists and connect with the community.
On Stage at Home features six performances: Sankofa Danzafro, an Afro-Colombian dance company; Ulysses Quartet, a string ensemble from The Juilliard School; Third Coast Percussion, a Grammy Award-winning percussion quartet; Dom Flemons, a Grammy Award-winning musician and songwriter; Casey Abrams, a Jazz bassist and vocalist; and Joan Osborne, a multi-platinum recording artist.
Zoellner is offering free access to these performances, and reservations can be made through the center’s website. The performances will air on Fridays throughout the semester and viewers will have access to each show for the 30 days following.
“We’re recognizing the fact that there are people who may have had financial impact due to the pandemic, and so we’ve chosen to continue to offer free access to our program,” said Candi Staurinos, Zoellner Arts Center director of advertising. “It’s more important to us—the well-being of our community and making sure that the arts still have impact with everyone. We’re just trying to make sure that the arts are accessible to all.”
The goal of the series is to feature different genres of entertainment and artists who represent a diverse population like that of Lehigh Valley, said Mark Wilson, executive director of Zoellner Arts Center.
Wilson said they chose the youthful Ulysses Quartet and the fun and energetic Third Coast Percussion because they thought these groups would be able to easily connect with college students.
It was also important to Zoellner that they highlight artists who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). Wilson said they chose Dom Flemons, who shares the stories of Black artists and speaks to their historical relevance, and Sankofa Danzafro, a group that drew from personal experiences with racism and oppression when creating “The City of Others,” in hopes of prompting a dialogue with the audience.
“Lehigh University has committed to being an anti-racist institution, and so I want to be intentional to highlight that in the art,” Wilson said. “How do we have that discussion? It’s kind of hard to have that discussion, right? No one really wants to talk about tough things, but the art can allow us to have those tough conversations and we can express it in a way that is also beautiful.”
Wilson said Zoellner is hoping the art in this series promotes discussion among students in the Lehigh Valley about what it means to be a part of this community and how individuals can understand and celebrate differences.
Staurinos said, in some ways, the pandemic has increased the reach and accessibility their art has in the community. She said the pandemic has pushed those in the entertainment industry to think creatively in how they can engage their audience.
Wilson said the virtual format has allowed Zoellner to share art with the community regardless of where they are located and to feature performers who would otherwise not be able to come to Bethlehem.
Theater student Dan Brody, ‘22, said the virtual format has also served as a testament to the commitment performers have to their art.
“I think it has to do a lot with the ambition of the people involved,” Brody said. “It shows the resilience of actors and people in the performing community for their desire to perform. It really shows how much people are willing to put in, energy and time and effort, just to do something that they love and want to share.”
Even once in-person live shows are permitted again, Wilson said Zoellner is considering continuing to offer shows via an online format.
“Arts can bring everyone together,” Wilson said. “That’s what I miss. I miss the community, and being together, and cheering on, and celebrating, and looking around to see we’re all together for this person that we see on stage.”