Q&A with Hopkins Center executive director Mary Lou Aleskie
Aleskie reflects on her first term in the position and discusses the future of the Hop.
With plans for the renovation of the Hopkins Center for the Arts underway, executive director of the Hop Mary Lou Aleskie has committed to serving in the role for another term. Aleskie began in the position in 2017, and during her first term, the College announced an $88 million dollar expansion to the Hop. The Dartmouth sat down with Aleskie to discuss her role as executive director and what she hopes the renovation of the Hop will bring to the local arts community.
What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of since arriving at Dartmouth in 2017?
MLA: I think we’ve really built an opportunity for people to understand that the arts are with us everywhere across campus; while you can come and witness art by sitting in a seat, there are lots of additional ways that the arts at Dartmouth are being amplified. I would say that was represented very thoroughly during the pandemic when we created Hop@Home so that we could still have artistic events and bring people together, even though they were far away and, in some cases, extended around the world.
What was exciting about Hop@Home was that it led to another accomplishment. As we were thinking about the expansion of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, we were able to have the College embrace the idea that we’re building an arts district. This phase of construction of the Hopkins Center is the launch of a plan that extends beyond the Hopkins Center to the relationship between the Hopkins Center, the Black Family Visual Arts Center, the Hood Museum of Art as well as other surrounding buildings.
The College’s press release about the announcement of your second term at the Hop states you will expand your vision of the Hop. How would you describe your vision of the Hop, both in terms of Dartmouth’s campus and outside the Upper Valley?
MLA: I think that the work that is being done in the Hopkins Center will expand our capacity not just in terms of the volume and the amount of work that we're able to do, but for the diversity of our work.
For example, “The Ritual of Breath is the Rite to Resist” is a piece that we’re producing that is a multi-dimensional opera — in the form of an offering — for the healing of Black lives who have been impacted by police violence. And it happens with a stage experience that’s fully immersive but also extends to a series of community activities and rituals that build community in support of what’s being experienced on stage. I would say that the resonance of the artistic work that we’re involved in is now expanding by building in opportunities to actually have impact beyond the stage and and bring in a lot more voices than we would normally have.
As the Hop undergoes renovations over the next couple of years, performances and events will instead be hosted at the Black Family Visual Arts Center and similar spaces. Do you think these performances will be able to replicate the Hop experience, and how will the Hop ensure that performances maintain the level of quality and production in these new spaces?
MLA: I do think that there is an opportunity to replicate the experience, but there’s also an opportunity to innovate and experience what we might be able to do more of in an expanded and more adaptable Hopkins Center. With the Hopkins Center being built in the mid-20th century, it is set up for the audience to be completely separate from the artistic experience and to be there as witnesses only. I think when we’re in other spaces — and when we come back to the Hopkins Center — we will have opportunities for more adaptable ways in which our audience can interact with artists and how we can interact with technologies that allow us to expand even beyond the walls of the new Hop.
I think for our own creative community, it’ll be an opportunity to not only respond to the performances that are coming to us from visiting artists, but also to think more creatively about how we execute things that we’ve been doing in one way since the building opened. We know that culture and the arts have changed significantly, and the role of the arts in addressing human need, in responding to issues of the day, in generating empathy and response from our community is even more heightened now.
What are some of the developments that you are looking forward to in your second term as Hop director? Are there specific goals you have in mind?
MLA: I would say groundbreaking and opening for sure. I think the other thing I’m excited about is making sure that we’re maintaining enough of the traditions while expanding the capacity: Making sure that the Hop still feels like the familiar place that we’ve loved but still having the capacity to do new and dynamic and interesting things.
What are these traditions that you want to preserve after the renovation of the Hop?
MLA: We have such great student-led dance groups and acapella groups. Many of them rehearse and perform in the Hopkins Center, but many of them are always looking for space. I’m hoping that we can have a more rich arts community in the Hop because we’ll have more opportunities for those groups to have space to be in.
We, of course, love our town-gown relationship with the Handel Society and want to make sure that community feels welcome — not only in the audience, but also in our ensembles. Those are some of the iconic traditions of the Hopkins Center. And there are other things, like burgers and fries in between shows. Having it all back in one space that allows us to feel like we’re united as a community is pretty amazing.
Do you have any closing thoughts about your experience and goals as the Executive Director of the Hop?
MLA: The idea of an expanded arts community where the arts are an important part of every student’s life is becoming more tangible. In a place like Dartmouth — which is so focused on the liberal arts — we have an opportunity to make sure that the arts are centered in a way that’s harder at other institutions which are larger and less collaborative. I really can’t wait to see what our community does with the arts district as we move forward.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.