Terror Attacks Felt Locally
One of Us
A&L Chief Now Dancing for an Expanded Community
By VIC COX
Celesta Billeci, the new director of Arts & Lectures, credits classic MGM musicals from the 1950s with igniting her passion for the arts. "As a girl, I watched MGM musicals all the time, like 'Singing in the Rain,'" she recalled. "I loved Gene Kelly."
Not surprisingly, dance and musical theater were where she focused her energy, starting at age 3. The Sacramento native worked hard at her craft, becoming a dance instructor while in high school. She continued to teach it as an undergraduate communication studies major at UCLA, but her interests widened to all the performing arts.
This background helped her land positions with UCLA Performing Arts, one of the largest university performing arts programs in the nation. She handled managerial duties for 10 years, rising to be the director's associate with wide responsibilities in the $8 million program, before joining UCSB in August 2000.
"I think the arts are so powerful," she said, "they have the ability to transform lives." It is a sentiment that resonates at UCSB and in the surrounding communities where events range from light opera and symphony concerts to gospel choirs and fiddlers' contests.
After her first few months on campus, Billeci was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the many arts and entertainment events going on at UCSB and in Santa Barbara. "It is so vibrant," she said, "I really had no idea [of the variety]."
It was not only that campus groups other than A&L--the MultiCultural Center and the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center are examples--sponsored numerous events. Equally impressive to Billeci were the alliances they forged to present a wide range of speakers, films, and performers. Student groups, academic departments, community organizations, and special programs or funding sources were often involved.
The A&L staff, she found, were also experts in the art of collaboration. When renowned speakers visit campus their sponsor list is often as long as their list of personal achievements. In a popular innovation before Billeci's arrival, the staff paired theme dinners at the Faculty Club with performances in Campbell Hall. This academic year seven such dinners are planned, starting on Oct. 13 with the creole cuisine of the island nation of Cape Verde, which coincides with a show by that country's "barefoot diva," Cesaria Evora.
"I am very impressed with my staff and their professionalism," said Billeci. "Our new initiatives are all team initiatives. We're going to see some great accomplishments this [academic] year."
Creating partnerships with Santa Barbara organizations is an initiative that has consumed much of Belleci's first year. She cosponsored Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin's appearance at the Museum of Natural History, and teamed A&L with the Lobero Theatre, under manager David Asbell, to launch what they called ArtAbounds. Begun last May with a concert by Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso blending Western and African musical traditions, the series will continue on Oct. 14 with the Miami City Ballet dancing Balanchine's "Jewels" at the Arlington Theatre.
ArtAbounds reached out to Sings Like Hell to bring Orquestra Ibrahim Ferrer, star of the Buena Vista Social Club tour, to the Arlington on Jan. 15, 2002. The series will resume its dance/theater emphasis in April with two events, Compagnie Maguy Marin at the Lobero and the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Campbell Hall.
There are other irons in the cultural fires of the larger community, and Belleci promises more to come. "We want to help unify town and gown with these new partnerships," she said, adding that she sees her office acting as a "cultural hinge" to broaden and enrich connections anchored in 40 years of A&L programs.