A Festival of Chinese Arts and Humanities

Between February and April 2010, China came to Montclair State University in the form of a Festival of Chinese Arts and Humanities, a celebration of the culture of China through film, traditional and contemporary music, painting, photographs, mathematics, cuisine, and much more. It was an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the culture of China and its contribution to and influence on, Western culture—and vice versa.

With the theme, Contemplating China’s Past and Future, the exhibits and events examined the many facets of Chinese culture—art, music, cuisine, literature, language, and thought—from both an historical point of view and through a modern lens. How the past has influenced the present in these aspects of culture was of particular interest and was clearly demonstrated through the many events and exhibitions.

The Enduring Art of China, a month-long exhibition of paintings by eight contemporary Chinese artists who work in the ancient medium of ink or watercolor and brush on rice paper, was a good example of this influence. The artists—many of whom were in attendance at the opening of the exhibit at the George Segal Gallery in March—use materials and techniques that have been passed down for centuries to capture scenes of present-day China. With subjects varying from misty landscapes and portraits of family members to back-alley cityscapes, the works on display showed the extensive range of what can be accomplished with ink and brush, enhanced by each artist’s unique style.

Performances of Chinese and Chinese-influenced music were offered throughout the festival, including a performance of the “Butterfly Concerto” by the Montclair State University Symphony Orchestra with violin soloist Weigang Li of the Shanghai Quartet, a performance and discussion by the New York-based Chinese musical ensemble, Music From China, a full program by the Shanghai Quartet, and a concert by the Huaxia Chinese Chorus.

For those looking for a more hands-on experience, there were a number of workshops on the schedule. Participants could learn how to use the abacus, try their hand at brush painting, or even learn to create their own Chinese dumplings. With Chinese and American experts in their fields leading the workshops, participants were able to learn from the best and gain an appreciation for a specific part of Chinese culture.

Apart from the workshops, there were plenty of other opportunities to learn from experts through the Festival’s lectures and panel discussions. Topics including “Education in China,” “Contemporary Chinese History Through the Lens of Literature,” “History of the Chinese Language,” “Politics and Society in China,” and “Chinese Cuisine and History” ensured that there was something to interest everyone.

As with the Italian Festival held in 2008, the Festival of Chinese Arts and Humanities was organized by Montclair State’s Global Education Center working together with the George Segal Art Gallery, the John J. Cali School of Music, and a number of the academic departments. In all, 24 separate events were held over the three-month period and more than 30 artists, scholars, and visiting experts, including six who came from China, participated. Around 2,000 people attended the various exhibits, lectures, concerts, and events making the Chinese Festival one of the most popular festivals yet.

“The success of the Chinese Festival is largely due to the collaboration and efforts of the faculty and staff who used their knowledge, creativity, and connections to help design outstanding events and invite exceptional guest speakers, artists, and musicians,” noted Marina Cunningham, executive director of the Global Education Center. “Since success is often measured in numbers, the number and makeup of attendees attest to the festival’s popularity both within and outside the University.”

The Festival of Chinese Arts and Humanities was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations in this festival do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.