Colby Announces Lyons Arts Lab

Announcements5 MIN READ

Multidisciplinary incubator will bring to life student concepts and content

John Lyons and Susannah Gray
John Lyons ’85, P’22 and Susannah Gray P’22 have established the Lyons Arts Lab, designed to be a collaborative incubator to create groundbreaking, interdisciplinary student-driven work.
By George Sopko
Contact: George Sopko ([email protected]) 207-859-4346
September 14, 2022

To continue to build one of the most innovative arts programs at a liberal arts college, Colby announced today that it is establishing the Lyons Arts Lab. With a focus on developing and realizing original student-driven projects, the dynamic new lab is the result of a $5-million endowed gift from Colby Trustee John Lyons ’85, P’22 and Susannah Gray P’22, who currently serves on the Board of Governors at the Colby College Museum of Art. 

Launching this fall, the Lyons Arts Lab will be a collaborative incubator to create groundbreaking, interdisciplinary work. The lab will serve as a creative think tank augmented by industry professionals with the goal of supporting and bringing to life new ideas, concepts, and content developed by Colby students. It will provide resources, including funding and mentorship, to test, focus, and refine creative projects so they can ultimately be performed for and experienced by the public.  

“At a time when Colby is opening three new art centers and our arts programs are evolving in exciting ways, the establishment of the Lyons Arts Lab opens the door for thrilling new possibilities,” said President David A. Greene. “Providing students with the resources to create original films, plays, compositions, and more will fuel the creative spirit of this community and prepare students for careers as artists and arts leaders. John Lyons knows this well. The films he made as a student at Colby led to a lifetime of filmmaking and award-winning visual storytelling. John and Susannah have been innovators throughout their careers, and their generous and visionary gift will ensure generations of Colby students will follow that path.”

Opening Pathways for Students to Explore Artistically

The Lyons Arts Lab will be housed in and leverage the extraordinary assets of the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, which will open in the fall of 2023. As the most advanced arts facility in the region, the Gordon Center has been purposely designed to be highly collaborative and multidisciplinary in nature. With a unique combination of multipurpose performance areas and studios designed for teaching, performing, and creating, the facility will also have multimedia and interactive technology to support all types of performances and works, including films produced by the new lab.

“This gift is meant to help students have their dreams take shape in the real world and transform their ideas into something that they produce, see, touch, and that other people can experience,” commented Lyons. “It will provide a sort of scaffolding and infrastructure for creative growth and realizing creative ideas—whether it’s having a professional reading of a play, going down to New York to have a hands-on experience with a working artist, or mashing music, dance, science, and math all together for a one-of-a-kind performance piece.”

Lyons added that he also hopes the lab will help students be braver and bolder and act on ideas that they wouldn’t have otherwise if the lab didn’t exist. “The goal is to open pathways for kids to explore artistically; to tempt them to take risks, and yes, give them a place to fall down artistically but also get back up and learn from their mistakes.”

Funding, Working Artists and a Summer Series

The Lyons Arts Lab will focus on and support a number of key areas. First and foremost, will be providing students with resources and funding, including stipends so they can launch early-stage original work and engage in creative experimentation with professionals—from writers and directors to filmmakers and composers—to develop those concepts.

Work that is funded by the lab will be encouraged to involve multiple disciplines and to push the boundaries of those disciplines, genres, and mediums in ways that incorporate collaborative thinking and problem-solving that is central to the liberal arts.

Funding will support a wide range of performance aspects—from developing unique multimedia effects or costumes for films to hiring a specific type of actor or musician—with the ultimate goal of showing the work to the public. 

The lab will incorporate an ongoing series of visiting artists and artists in residence who are currently working in their respective fields. In addition to engaging with students and faculty to help them develop their work and artistic practices, these artists will have the opportunity to create and present their own work, teach classes, and offer master classes and workshops. Artists chosen to participate in the program will be involved in multidisciplinary and multi-modal work that is also contemporary in nature.

The Lyons Arts Lab will also extend into a summer season, which will provide unique opportunities to attract prominent artists to campus and Waterville. The goal will be to leverage the new Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts so that artists can incubate and perform their original works in collaboration with students and Colby faculty. 

“The arts are such a critical part of a liberal arts education for so many reasons, not the least of which is that they offer a unique way and language for looking at and analyzing the world,” commented Susannah Gray. “Regardless of one’s major or career path, you can learn so much by understanding how to interpret the world through the different mediums of the arts.”

She also noted that as a society we need to regain the courage to support the arts. “My hope is that the amazing work that will be produced by the new lab will inspire others to step up and really support and appreciate those who are active creators.”

The Lyons Arts Lab will join the Linde Packman Lab for Biosciences Innovation, the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment, and the Halloran Lab for Entrepreneurship as the fourth major lab that the College has created in the last six years. Colby Labs bring together multidisciplinary approaches and partnerships to offer students and faculty hands-on opportunities to identify and test solutions to the world’s most important challenges.

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