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Haley Smyser is November Employee of the Month

November 2, 2020   /   by Damian Cristodero

Haley Smyser

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, and George Mason University closed its campuses and pivoted to online learning, the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) faced a problem.

What to do about the students who had recitals to give as part of their graduation requirements? What about the local community, which was looking forward to another 20 performances at either Mason’s Center for the Arts or the Hylton Performing Arts Center. And what about the professional artists who were counting on the income for their performances?

“We saw all of these dual needs and said ‘let’s figure out how to do some digital programming,’ ” said Haley Smyser, CVPA’s programming and engagement coordinator. “People need distractions, they need entertainment. They need a feeling of community.”

The solution was Mason Arts at Home, a virtual performance platform that showcased about 80 events from April 2 to the end of the spring semester.

For being what CVPA Dean Rick Davis called “the tip of the spear” in terms of CVPA’s public response to the coronavirus, Smyser is Mason’s November Employee of the Month.

“Without Haley’s work, we would have been seriously set back from the outset of the crisis, and our artistic and intellectual vitality would have gone into quarantine, along with our physical selves,” Davis said.

Smyser, who came to Mason in 2019, stressed that establishing Mason Arts at Home was a collaborative effort undertaken by herself, Davis and Adrienne Bryant Godwin, CVPA’s director of programming.

In the spring, the program consisted of student projects, curated talks with professional artists, videos and recordings of past performances at Mason.

This semester, hoping to avoid what Smyser called “digital fatigue,” the number of shows has been trimmed to around 50 specifically curated pieces and programming in collaboration with the Hylton Center’s Affiliate Arts Organization.

“Coming to Mason gave me the ability to truly grow within the specific areas that inspire me—building community through the arts, creating more welcoming spaces for artists and art-lovers alike, and fostering amazing experiences for the Mason students, faculty, and staff,” Smyser said.

How she got here:

I moved from North Carolina almost exactly one year ago, wanting to push myself a bit outside of the community that I'd called home for my whole life. Before Mason, I worked for another university's performing arts center that gave me a glimpse of the broad field of arts administration and how I could combine my creativity and love for the arts with my project management skills.

Best day on the job:

The first residency I planned was with a dance company that I'd idolized my whole life—the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. They were workshopping and performing a world premiere piece at the Center for the Arts and were incorporating 25 community members and students into the final act of their show. Getting to watch this group of people, who were basically strangers, come together and create something as a community was beautiful.

What she likes best about working at Mason:

I've found Mason to be an incredibly supportive environment for new innovation and collaboration. If there is something you want to do, let's figure out a way to make it happen. Especially in this transition to digital, my colleagues across CVPA have been game to try some new things far outside of all of our comfort zones.

What she does when not working:

In the before times, I enjoyed seeing friends, going to concerts, and trying new restaurants, but these days I've found a lot of joy in making things with my hands. I've gotten perhaps too into breadmaking and taught myself how to macrame. I love going on hikes and watching countless hours of “Love Island (UK).”