The Harriman-Jewell Series, currently in its 53rd season, was started in 1965 by Dr. Dean Dunham and Dr. Richard Harriman, then professors of English at William Jewell College. The pair shared an office in Jewell Hall and together lamented the lack of exposure to professional artistry available to their students. Their primary concern was finding a way to grant students access to unfamiliar forms of art and cultural expression.
“To stretch the imaginations of both students who practiced in the arts and students who had never had opportunities to be in the presence of such professionals, we were definitely convinced was a necessary value in higher education,” said Dunham.
The Series brings arts performances from around the world to Kansas City throughout the calendar year. Tickets to all Harriman-Jewell performances are available free of cost to students of the College and can be purchased by members of the Kansas City community. The Series also hosts free educational events that feature interaction with performers and a free Discovery Concert series to ensure access for more of the Kansas City community.
An institution of higher learning providing artistic exposure was a new concept when Dunham and Harriman took it to the administration to request funding.
“We made a very limited proposal, knowing that we were suggesting something beyond any going concept of what Jewell was for and what it accomplished as a college,” said Dunham.
The two were certain that the liberal arts education required this kind of diversified cultural experience. That is why they were willing to push the bounds of the College’s community reach.
“We both knew the power that the fine arts have for our own interior lives and the furniture of our minds,” said Dunham. “We imagined the same for the students.”
This student impact has held true. The 2017-2018 season has already impressed Jewell students with both its variety and the expertise and artistry clear in the performances.
Lakie Spencer, junior psychological science and Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry major with an emphasis in pre-physical therapy, shared what draws her attention to offerings throughout the season.
“I enjoy going to the performances due to the variety of shows the Harriman-Jewell Series brings in. They have cellists and pianists and the ballets and full orchestras, and it’s just a really cool variety to expose me to that kind of art,” Spencer said.
Some attendees were impacted by specific performances.
Elliott Yoakum, sophomore Oxbridge Literature and Theory major, was surprised by how much he enjoyed bassist Xavier Foley’s Discovery Concert Oct. 14.
“I absolutely loved Parsons Dance,” said Brianna Steiert, senior Oxbridge Molecular Biology major. “Many of their pieces were out of the box and all the dancers were so talented and inspiring to watch.”
Clark Morris, Executive and Artistic Director of the Harriman-Jewell Series, runs the series on the same fundamental values of its founders. He hopes to keep the Series in line with students’ interests as well as cultural shifts.
“As a part of a broad and well-rounded education, I think it’s something that helps to educate you on a level, and be exposed on a level, that makes you a more thoughtful person in the world, that you have a better base of understanding of what’s possible, of what different cultures are like, of these art forms often that have endured for hundreds or thousands of years and this music that’s been around for hundreds of years, that there’s a great value in it and that being able to appreciate beauty and being able to appreciate the dedication that it takes to perform at that level,” Morris said.
Morris is in charge of selecting and scheduling each season’s various performers. This includes contact with managers and artists and sometimes even traveling to them. He is also usually both the organizer and moderator when question and answer sessions with artists follow their performances.
Morris has help with the Series from five other full time staff members as well as Jewell student interns. Internship responsibilities include helping advertise ticket availability to other students, working the box office, taking phone orders and mailing tickets. Yoakum holds an internship position, and for him the most standout aspect of the program is its assurance of diversity in both performers and audience members.
“One thing I like about the Harriman-Jewell Series is its commitment to diversity,” Yoakum said. “This season, almost all the Discovery Concerts are people of color, and the Discovery Concerts are free concerts. And I think we’ve done a really good job this season not just having a token concert featuring a person of color but truly incorporating artists from marginalized groups.”
Several upcoming Harriman-Jewell performances exemplify this commitment. Kathleen Battle, an African American opera star, is singing with a hand-chosen gospel choir Friday, March 2, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the Kauffman Center, Helzberg Hall. The singing will be overlaid with narratives from civil rights figures such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas.
A 2018 performance particularly pertinent for the Jewell community is the American Spiritual Ensemble. They will sing Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. at the Folly Theater. They will give an additional performance at the annual Northland Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration the following Monday.
“I’ve always had a personal goal to be able to bring, through the Harriman-Jewell series to bring a professional artist to be part of our Northland Martin Luther King celebration, and I believe that this is the 50th anniversary of that celebration this year, and so to be able to bring artists on this level that will, I think, really be a great addition to that wonderful celebration,” Morris said.
Though Morris and the rest of the Harriman-Jewell team have complete responsibility over the Series working from the College, its financial support comes largely from outside of WJC. The program must rent the spaces in the Kauffman Center and the Folly Theater where shows are held. To meet these and other financial needs, the Series fundraises over $1 million each year outside of Jewell. Ticket sales cover about one-third of costs, and the rest comes from an endowment for the Series separate from the College’s. Student tuition is not used for any aspect of the Series.
This necessity for outside funds is part of the program’s deep involvement with the surrounding community.
“In order to put on a series like this, you have to have a lot of charitable support, and so most of that charitable support comes from outside the College, and really outside of our alumni base,” Morris said. “It comes from patrons in Kansas City.”
This is just one aspect of the relationship between the Harriman-Jewell Series and the larger Kansas City area. Morris explained that the program has brought more attention from artistic patrons to unfamiliar cultures and the College’s value as source of liberal arts education.
“It very much requires us to be a part of the Kansas City community, a part of that cultural community, a part of the philanthropic community, so that we’re seen not just as an asset for the College but an asset for the community, so that people can see the value of investing in the Harriman-Jewell Series,” he said.
This aligns with Morris’s hope to keep both students and the community engaged with the Series. Through student survey feedback and increased intern involvement, he is striving to assure that the program’s relevance remains clear to Jewell attendees.
Dunham is optimistic about the way Morris has continued and will continue the Series.
“Clark learned a lot from Richard Harriman, and he synthesized that knowledge with a devotion to Richard’s traditions and with his own truly good taste,” he said.
Photo from VisitKC.