Arts & entertainment

Newman Center returns as community hub

New season offers 16 shows by creative greats


For so many communities, arts centers are hubs of connection and creativity — places where people can go for entertainment and education. Which made the COVID-19 pandemic especially damaging, since so many arts centers were shut down to keep performers, staff and audiences safe.

That’s the story with the University of Denver’s Robert and Judi Newman Center, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. in Denver, which went quiet for the bulk of the pandemic. But the center is returning to life, and by announcing its 2021-22 season, is signaling it’s ready to be a hub for the community again.

“The great thing about the Newman Center and places like it is the cultural infusion of ideas from elsewhere and the sharing of ideas,” said Aisha Ahmad-Post, executive director of the center. “This is a community home for so many different groups.”

The returning season will feature 16 performances from a range of artists, including the debut of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with the legendary Wynton Marsalis, the Nashville Ballet with Rhiannon Giddens and flamenco greats Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca.

Putting seasons together take months — even years — of effort, so many of the performers who are part of this year’s program were scheduled during the pandemic shut down, and now are finally getting the chance to connect with audiences.

“A lot of these folks will be somewhat familiar to our audiences,” Ahmad-Post said. “These artists really revel in the ability to engage with each other, not just the audiences.”

In addition to a source of high-quality professional performance, the Newman Center is also ready to provide opportunities for children and young adults to immerse themselves in the arts through its Student Matinee Series and Musical Explorers.

“When the pandemic started, we were working on reshaping the model of what we offered, and we were able to do what we could with things like virtual curriculum models,” said Luke Wachter, associate director of educational initiatives. “The direction we want to try to go in is to create really meaningful community partnerships. In the past, we existed as our own organization and entity, but we want to move our programing out-of-building and into the community.”

As these efforts move forward, one of the key areas of focus is increasing equity and access for all those who want to participate. For Wachter, that means diversifying the center’s offerings, establishing new relationships and partnerships and reshaping its programs into more engaging forms.

“A fundamental part of any education is providing a window into the world, and it’s equally as important for children to see themselves and their community reflected on the stage,” Wachter said. “Pairing windows and mirrors together make for a really equitable education.”

As people re-enter the wider world, a lot has changed, and it will continue to change. But arts centers can still be a place to build something. And Ahmad-Post wants the community to take that chance again at the Newman Center.

“The same way people showed up for restaurants, they should show up for the arts,” she said. “Take a chance, buy yourself a ticket, take a partner out on a date night. When people do give us a chance, they come back over and over again.”


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