MODfest celebrates exploration of arts virtually and in-person

Photo courtesy of Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble
Photo courtesy of Christine Howlett
Photo courtesy of Christine Howlett

For the College’s 20th annual exploration of the arts, this year’s MODfest will feature a series of events over two weeks allowing students and community members to learn the practices and missions of various artists. This year’s theme, “Kaleidoscope,” attempts to collect, reflect, overlap and share a variety of perspectives much in the way a traditional kaleidoscope does.

Following last year’s fully virtual festival, MODfest co-directors Thomas Pacio, the Director of Creative Arts, and Christine Howlett, the Chair of Music and Director of Choral Activities, in collaboration with the Music Department and the College’s Creative Arts Across Disciplines, have organized an array of both in-person and virtual events this year. 

Over the last week, there have been a handful of in-person events, including a performance by the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble in Skinner, a workshop in the Library where the same Ensemble talked about linking the arts with social justice and a Voice Recital in the Loeb by the award-winning duo of Jacquelyn Matava ’09 and pianist Samuel Gaskin. 

Lori Beth Sussman ’23 has been to MODfest every year it has been in-person since her first-year. She said, “I think MODfest is a great way to showcase creativity and evolving technology.” Sussman added, “It’s great for showing students innovative ways to apply certain fields of study and to open eyes for new styles, essentially fueling creativity by experiencing creativity.”

A member of the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble, Jonathan Woody, said, “As African American classical musicians, we’ve had a set of experiences that can sometimes really be jarring.” He added, “We wondered if we could make some art out of these experiences.”

The concert and workshop led by the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble exceeded expectations according to Howlett. She said, “The concert was inspiring, melding together early music from the 17th and 18th centuries with contemporary works by Caroline Shaw, Reena Esmail and others.”

She added, “The following morning, to have the entire ensemble assembled to discuss questions about their work as classical musicians, their mission, challenges and successes—it was an inspiring two days, and we are already plotting to bring them back to campus.”

In addition to these in-person events, there have already been a number of virtual events, including an Instagram Live with WAMC radio’s Sarah LaDuke, where she interviewed artists participating in this year’s MODfest, and a “Virtual Sunday In the Park” webinar event, where students and faculty from the Drama and Music Departments shared their creative process for the upcoming production of “Sunday In the Park with George.”

There’s a lot to explore and enjoy during MODfest’s two weeks on campus. In a Jan. 14, 2022 Vassar press release, Pacio said, “The goal every year is to develop a program that feels simultaneously familiar and brand new. My secret hope is that people walk away from this collection of events and exhibits with diverse and rich experiences, but also saying to themselves and each other, ‘That was so Vassar.’”

There are also a number of ongoing exhibitions aimed at teaching American Impressions in the Loeb, the art of photography with “Women R Beautiful” in the Palmer Gallery and the reliability of media in the Trolley Barn Gallery in Poughkeepsie.

Tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m., the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT) will perform select works. This free, but ticketed, event will take place in the Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theatre in Kenyon Hall, and reservations can be made online at

This weekend, there will be a closing reception for American Impressions in the Loeb on Saturday, Feb. 5, at 4 p.m. Afterwards, MODfests’s founders, Adene “Dee” Wilson ’69 and her husband, former Professor of Music Richard Wilson, will be honored in a closing concert featuring the Decoda Ensemble that will premiere new pieces by Wilson on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Skinner. 

“As for this upcoming weekend, I am excited to be able to see and support VRDT as well as the concert the following day,” Sussman said. She added, “Being surrounded by like-minded people with similar appreciations, as any festival does, is a great way to feel connected to one another in a time where we are so disconnected.”


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