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Artists behind desks display talents

Many of the folks who spend their days making MIT run smoothly lead double lives. They're also professional or semi-professional artists who work at MIT while pursuing careers and hobbies in music, theater, writing and the visual arts.

This month, 35 of the Institute's most creative and talented support staff members are presenting their sometimes hidden works and abilities in the second Artists-and Performers-Behind-the-Desk Series. The series is dedicated to the memory of the late Constantine B. Simonides, MIT vice president and secretary of the Corporation who is remembered for, among other things, his enthusiastic support and encouragement of MIT people in their artistic pursuits.

Marie Stuppard, co-leader of the Artists-Behind-the-Desk Task Group in the Working Group for Support Staff Issues, remembers that Mr. Simonides helped brainstorm the first Artists-Behind-the-Desk exhibition while chairing a 1987 meeting of the Working Group. Ms. Stuppard, an administrative assistant in aeronautics and astronautics, proposed the idea and recalls vividly the look of delight on Mr. Simonides' face as he walked through Compton Gallery on the opening day of the 1989 exhibition. "He was so proud, he bragged and bragged to everyone," she said.

The MIT artists were just as thrilled, says Ms. Stuppard, and there has been a strong demand ever since for the program to be repeated. This year's series aims once again to heighten awareness of the talents of the support staff at MIT and create an opportunity to acknowledge, celebrate and display otherwise unsung artists.

But the series has broadened since 1989 to include performing artists, and this year consists of three different elements: an art exhibition, a music series and a reading series. Artists and works were selected by jury from works submitted by more than 1,700 support staff members at MIT and Lincoln Laboratory. Works in the exhibition at Compton Gallery range from oil paintings to sculptures to quilts; in Killian Hall, staff members will perform music ranging from classical to pop to original works, and will present readings of their own plays, poetry and prose.

Sally Gatewood, who will present a vocal recital on Monday, Oct. 31, worked for Mr. Simonides for the two years prior to his death last April. "I cannot express how wonderful it is to be able to perform in a series dedicated in his memory," said Ms. Gatewood, who also stage-manages and designs costumes for several area theater companies. "Constantine always made sure I ate dinner before I went straight to rehearsals from work," she remembers.

Ms. Gatewood says she has no wish to be a full-time performer. "I knew from the beginning I wanted art in my life," she says, "not my life in my art."

Most of the artists in the series, however, are professionals whose lives focus on their art. Composer Jean King works part-time as an editor in the Library and Information Group at Lincoln Lab "so that I can have time to write music. For me, writing music is not a hobby," she says, "it's my life." Her "Song From a Name" will be performed by pianist Susan Minor on Monday, Oct. 17.

Eve Diana, senior secretary in chemistry, opened the performance series on October 3 with readings from her autobiographical poem, Eve, You're Not as Much Fun as You Used to Be. Diana describes herself as a "writer-dreamer-fighter-nerd-activist who looks forward to finding work that feeds her soul as well as her stomach.

"Being a secretary is my job; writing is my work," she says. "My books are my best friends and my words are my children. I have published my work sporadically. With more practice and universal health care, I intend to become a writer with a capital W."

"MIT is very fortunate to have not only the artistic talent represented in our staff but also the initiative and the energy devoted by the Working Group," Mr. Simonides once said. And many of MIT's talented artists-behind-the-desk are thankful to people like Mr. Simonides and members of the Working Group who appreciate their extra-curricular careers. "I have been waiting for years for this event to repeat. Thank you for this opportunity," wrote one artist on her application, "The 1994 Artist-Behind-the-Desk exhibition will be on view in Compton Gallery through Friday, Nov. 4. See the Arts Page (page 7) for listings of upcoming Artist-Behind-the-Desk readings and performances in Killian Hall, and for weekly spotlights on MIT artists-behind-the-desk during the month of October.

A version of this article appeared in the October 5, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 7).

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