Fermilab Arts and Lecture Series celebrates 40 years, volunteers play central role

Folk singer Sheila McKenzie performs at Ramsey Auditorium on Dec. 6, 1974, in an early Fermilab Arts and Lecture Series performance. Photo: Fermilab

This year the Fermilab Arts and Lecture Series celebrates 40 years of presenting events to the Fermilab and local communities. Over the years, the program has offered speakers as diverse as Stephen Hawking and Stephen J. Gould and performers as varied as Philip Glass and the South African a cappella singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Currently, the series offers on average one event a month, eight to 10 lectures per year and chamber music performances in the art gallery. A performing arts program manager, box office manager and technical director devote part-time work to the program, and an all-volunteer Auditorium Committee and other volunteers play a major role, as they have for 40 years.

Janet MacKay-Galbraith, the performing arts program manager for the past 24 years, says support for the program began with Fermilab’s first director Robert Wilson, who wanted Fermilab life to blend the arts and sciences.

“He saw the arts as a way to create an open door to the Fox Valley community and beyond, but he also wanted that university feeling for the scientists, where they could explore other intellectual endeavors,” MacKay-Galbraith said.

Fermilab physicist Arthur Roberts and his wife Janice, both graduates of the Manhattan School of Music, also led in establishment of the arts program, says Patricia MacLachlan, an Auditorium Committee member for nearly 40 years.

“In the early years, it was very helpful in creating good will to the surrounding community,” MacLachlan said.

MacKay-Galbraith attributes the program’s longevity to the volunteers.

“The committee is involved in programming and ushering. They’re often the people who load in sets and provide dinner for the artists,” she said. “They are a hands-on group of people that do what staff would do in any other performing arts facility.”

2015 will be an exciting year for the Fermilab Arts and Lecture Series, according to MacKay-Galbraith. Scheduled performances include the African acrobat group Cirque Zuma Zuma, the Official Blues Brothers Revue and the Turtle Island Quartet with Nellie McKay. Autism authority Temple Grandin and Fermilab’s own Dan Hooper, talking about dark matter, will be among the lecture series speakers.

Both MacKay-Galbraith and MacLachlan see the Arts and Lecture Series as continuing to offer an important service.

“Just as a knowledge of the natural world is intellectually and emotionally enriching, the arts are too,” MacLachlan said.

Rich Blaustein