DENTON (UNT), Texas -- University of North Texas ambassadors – both faculty and students, as well as President Neal Smatresk – are heading to Cuba in May 2017 to pursue educational and cultural opportunities. UNT will be one of the first American universities to collaborate with Cuba.
Smatresk sees the Cuba trip as a chance for UNT to expand its international reach and studies.
"I'm thrilled about the potential to develop research and educational opportunities in Cuba," Smatresk said. "This trip opens the door for collaborations, faculty and student exchanges and the chance to learn more about the country. This is yet another connection that puts UNT at the forefront of international relations."
The invitation came from John Bourgeois, retired commander of "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, who reached out to the College of Music.
"He knows the reputation of the UNT Symphonic Band and the reputation of the College of Music," said Dennis Fisher, conductor of the band. "He wanted to take groups that he knew would not only represent the United States well, but would be in a position to develop some collaborations with groups in Cuba."
In mid-September, Fisher and the College of Music dean – John Richmond – will head to Cuba to meet with the President of the Instituto Cubano de la Musica and representatives of music conservatories as well as the Banda Nacional de Conciertos to determine the best opportunities for collaborations.
"Our College of Music has a long tradition of international engagement," Richmond said. "Our ensembles and faculty have toured the world, providing expertise and artistry wherever they have gone. Our college recruits music students and music faculty globally. My hope is to build on this tradition and cultivate active, ongoing, sustainable institutional partnerships in the service of creative and scholarly collaboration."
The College of Music will be sending two groups – the Symphonic Band and the Latin Jazz ensemble. Richmond says the goal is not only to play music there, but to understand a nation isolated from western culture for more than half a century.
"Cuba has a proud and deep artistic tradition in music, visual art, dance and theatre," said Richmond. "We know that the Cuban people would delight to hear our College of Music students and we know that our students would learn so much by seeing and hearing the music of Cuba in person and in cultural context. Perhaps the biggest benefit, however, will be the forming of working relationships with our Cuban counterparts that can give rise to artistic/scholarly projects and initiatives in the years ahead."
Richmond says with so much potential on the horizon, the options are limitless.
"It's really exciting," Richmond said. "The possibilities seem so compelling as access to Cuba becomes less challenging and normalization seems more likely. Across academic disciplines, these diplomatic changes are sure to have important programmatic implications for UNT generally and our College of Music specifically.