Get to Know...Leslie Finer
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So what do you do here?
I have a really fun job! Arts Share is the University of Iowa’s arts outreach program, so we send artists from the Division of Performing Arts—theater, music, dance—as well as the School of Art and Art History and the Writers’ Workshop out into communities to share their talents. Workshops, interactive performances, and residencies take place in K-12 schools, museums, libraries, hospitals, community colleges…all kinds of venues. More than 200 events are programmed each year. We’ve been to 80 of Iowa’s 99 counties, and artists travel beyond the state as well. We have ensembles that tour every year, such as PanAmerican Steel Band and Dancers In Company, both of which are really popular.
Then there are always new things happening as we get different requests and new artists on the roster. For instance, this year we have theater offerings that include a group that works with English classes that are tackling Shakespeare. They help break down the language and then perform a scene from Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet for the students.
This year we also have a grant from the provost’s office that’s allowing us to program twice as many events as usual. We are getting a lot more artists into schools that have limited or nonexistent arts budgets. We are also using the funds to implement new projects that target specialized populations, such as music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients, dance workshops for teenage girls at the Iowa Juvenile Home, and music, theater, and dance performances at UI Hospitals and Clinics and the VA Medical Center.
What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education setting?
I love the people I work with. They are graduate students and faculty in the arts here at Iowa, and it tends to be people who are smart, creative, and interested in making a difference with their art. I also enjoy working with the seven graduate students from various disciplines who work in my office. Already this year I’ve gotten to see performances of a play that one of my RAs wrote, a dance piece that one choreographed, and heard another one play the cello!
Take us through your most memorable day at the university.
My favorite days are when I find out we have gotten a grant, and when I get to see firsthand the impact of the outreach we do. A few years ago we received a three-year grant from Johnson & Johnson/Society for Arts in Healthcare (SAH) for our Patient Voice Project, which links students from the Writers’ Workshop with chronically ill patients. The writers help patients tell their stories, and then these stories are published in an anthology. Because of the SAH grant, Patient Voice Project has been replicated at other institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Iowa State. One of the people who participated in the project after suffering a serious brain injury asked to meet with me personally so she could tell me face to face how much the project meant to her. She now tells her story all over the country.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken—and did it pay off?
I’ve run seven marathons, including the Boston Marathon six years ago. The Boston Marathon was amazing; the whole city is all about the race. People are lined up the entire way. When you are approaching Wellesley College you can hear the screams a mile away, then everyone has their hands out to give you high fives—it’s called the “scream tunnel.” That was my favorite marathon. My most difficult was Las Vegas. They bussed us out 26 miles, and then we ran back. We had a 25 mph head wind, and I was really sick at the end. Thank God they’ve changed the route since then. I do think running marathons has paid off, though. The feeling of working hard for something and then accomplishing it is a great feeling and something that has carried over to the rest of my life.
If you could spend a day with anyone, from any era, who would it be and why?
Franz Liszt. I wrote my dissertation on him, and I think he was a fascinating person, pushing the envelope as a composer, performer, and intellectual. His piano music is difficult to play because of its virtuosity and because of the big reaches—Liszt had large hands. I would listen to him play piano and then hold my hand up to his to compare hand size.
If you could get rid of one invention in the world, what would you choose? Why?
I would want cell phones to return to just being devices you call people from when you need to, and not everything else they have become, such as constant sources of social media. I have two teenagers and another who’s about to turn 13, and even though they are not terrible with their phones, they are pretty dependent on them. There are a lot of people walking around with their heads down, looking at their phones.
Name some of your favorite things.
- Modern Family
- Downward Dog Yoga
- The Java House
- The bands Dogs on Skis and Joy Kills Sorrow
- Having a glass of a red wine with my husband
- Attending my kids’ show choir and dance performances
- Any book my mom recommends—just finished The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, and I loved it