- by Mount Saint Mary College
Christopher Neyen, associate professor of Art and Graphic Design and director of the Communication, Art, and Digital Media (CADM) program, helped introduce a new Visual Communication–Graphic Design major at the Mount.

With the windows open on the warm days – and students’ fresh paintings drying in the breeze –
Sr. Sylvia Bielen, OP taught shading methods, watercolor techniques, and more to generations of Mount students. 

Sr. Sylvia Bielen, OP teaching an art class in the early 2000s.

An art professor at the college for more than three decades (and a devoted Dominican Sister of Hope for many more), Sr. Bielen was known around campus for her infectious enthusiasm for creativity. 

“Art belongs to the total environment, beautifying and welcoming, from the parking lot to one’s home,” Sr. Bielen told the Mount’s magazine Happenings during a 1990 interview. “Our society is becoming more aware of the need for art.”

Unsurprisingly, her classes tended to fill up quickly. For many students, securing a seat in one of them felt a little like winning the lottery. 

“Sr. Sylvia was incredibly talented and I was lucky to have the chance to take one of her art classes,” said Kara Miller ’06, who currently works as the program director at Rehabilitation Support Services. “She shared her passion with us.”

Michelle Iacuessa ’94, director of Alumni Engagement at the Mount, echoed Miller’s sentiments. 

Sr. Sylvia Bielen included calligraphy among her many artistic pursuits. Photo courtesy of Dominican Sisters of Hope Archive.

“I have vivid memories of my art class with Sr. Sylvia because she was so full of joy as she taught it,” she said. “You could really tell that she loved art and she loved sharing it with her students.”

Sr. Bielen spread that love of art outside of the classroom as well: She gave lectures and workshops in spirituality and art at The Center at Mariandale in Ossining, N.Y., the Wisdom House in Litchfield, Conn., the Linwood Spirituality Center in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and more. 

When she passed away in late October of 2022, Sr. Bielen was 97 years old. During her long life, she made innumerable contributions to the college’s legacy of art, which spans more than 60 years. 

A history of artistic excellence

From sculpting and painting to film and theater, the Mount has promoted the arts and fostered creativity in our students and the local community since the college became a four-year institution in 1959. One of the earliest examples of this is the story of the Singing Sisters and their rise to mainstream popularity. 

When the Dominican Sisters first commissioned the construction of Aquinas Hall in 1961, they formed the Singing Sisters music group from their ranks to help earn donations for the project. It just so happened that a brother of Sr. Rose Anita Cannon, OP knew popular conductor Mitch Miller, who agreed to work with the sisters. The result was a 15-song album called The Singing Sisters Present Joy! With tunes ranging from Mozart’s “Alleluia” to “Seventy-six Trombones” from The Music Man, more than 60 sisters lent their voices to the record, gave public performances, and even appeared on the Sing Along with Mitch television show. The venture earned nearly $200,000 for Aquinas Hall, which remains the Mount’s main academic building to this day.

Durward Entrekin, professor of Music, led the Mount choir through many memorable performances at Christmas Vespers.

The singing didn’t stop there: Christmas Vespers, a Mass of songs and carols, began welcoming the holiday season at the college in 1974. After a few years in hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mount was overjoyed to bring back the tradition in December of 2022. 

Currently, the college offers music courses like Literature of Music Theatre, the Music of the ’60s, Opera in New York, and more, taught primarily by Yale School of Music graduate Durward Entrekin, professor of Music at the Mount. 

The performing arts at the college also date back to our earliest days. In May of 1963, right after Aquinas Hall opened its doors, the Aquinas Hall Theatre hosted the U.S. premiere of Dialogues of the Carmelites, directed by Salvatore Baccaloni of the Metropolitan Opera. 

The Aquinas Times, the Mount’s student newspaper, reported: “In the course of the afternoon, Mr. Baccaloni proved to us that his is much more than a great name and a magnificent voice…He is, above all, a man who knows his business – theater – inside and out.”

The Mount's production of Our Town from fall of 1988.

On the very stage where Carmelites opened – and legendary comedian Bob Hope would wow an audience of more than 800 about a decade later – Mount students, employees, and alumni have performed countless plays. From musicals like Anything Goes and Hello Dolly! to dramas like The Glass Menagerie and Our Town, many of these productions were helmed by James Beard, professor emeritus of Communication Arts.

“I was fortunate that my work at the Mount allowed me opportunities to build trust and friendship with many students outside the classroom,” Beard explained, citing his time directing student theatre productions as some of the most memorable experiences of his career. Hosting a production took great dedication, he noted, with long hours on nights and weekends becoming the norm. 

But it was always worthwhile, he added: “It was a great joy to watch inexperienced student performers and production staff grow in confidence and ability.”

Now playing at the Mount

The Miseducation of Isabella from fall of 2019.

Theatre lives on at the Mount. A few years before Beard retired from teaching in 2016, he passed the torch to James Phillips, associate professor of Theatre. With Phillips as director, the college has produced nearly 30 plays, including the drama The Wolves, the original commedia dell’arte The Madness of Isabella, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and an original play based on the lives of the Dominican Sisters, Hope Stories.

The most recent Mount performance was Tuna Christmas, a comedic cross between The Andy Griffith Show and Twin Peaks. With subplots ranging from the pedestrian, like a pair of divorcees comparing their exes, to the mysterious, like a phantom vandalizing holiday yard displays, the play delves into the lives of the residents of Tuna, Texas during the most wonderful time of the year. 

The cast of five, including four students and one faculty member, took on multiple roles each, performing more than 20 characters in total. The production was “uniquely what they have created,” Phillips explained. “That’s what’s magical about theater – each show is something that has never, and will never, exist again.”

In addition to overseeing the theatre group at the college, Phillips also teaches courses like Introduction to Theatre and Dramatic Literature

"That's what's magical about theater - each show is something that has never, and will never, exist again." - James Phillips, associate professor of Theatre

Meanwhile, the college’s Communication, Art, and Digital Media (CADM) program has thrived since its inception in 2019. Currently directed by Christopher Neyen, associate professor of Art and Graphic Design, CADM programs encompass the study of digital media production, graphic design, and journalism/sports journalism. CADM also offers minors in each of these disciplines, as well as in art and film studies. Housed in the Mount’s Division of Arts and Letters, CADM programs prepare students for both traditional and emerging professions.

Students don’t have to wait until they graduate to put their CADM skills to practical use. Knight Radio, for example, is managed by students under the supervision of CADM faculty like Regina Pappalardo, associate professor of Journalism. Knight Radio is the Mount’s own radio station, located in Hudson Hall. It plays music as well as student-created talk radio programming. To listen to Knight Radio,

CADM students also make their own dynamic videos, learn digital photography, and more. As a way to showcase such student art, the Kaplan Family Library and Learning Center hosts a gallery in a well-traveled area on the first floor. The featured exhibits are often composed of pieces students have created in Mount courses. The inaugural exhibit in October of 2021 featured student art from two beginning art classes: 2D Design and Painting. Both classes are part of the CADM suite of programs at the college.

With an eye on bringing attention to local artists, Neyen also coordinates the Mount’s CMA Gallery. The gallery exhibits professional art and media picked by Mount faculty from among the rising population of artists who live and work in Newburgh, Beacon, and throughout the Hudson Valley. It has featured photography, video, sculptures, paintings, and more since its inception in 2018. The gallery is open to the public. 

The future of creativity 

With the pervasiveness of cellphones comes new opportunities for artistic expression. One such medium is TikTok, a short-video creating and sharing platform that hit the scene in late 2016 and changed the landscape of social media. TikTok users showcase their creative skills to film and edit video that other users can view and share with their friends and family. Using sound effects, filters, music clips, and more, users can enhance their works. In short, the platform makes video creation simple and has become especially popular with members of Gen Z.

"The possibilities to create art on TikTok are endless and it's only just getting started." - Brianna Bosco '18

“One of the newest and most prevalent forms of modern art is TikTok,” explained Brianna Bosco ’18, assistant director of Digital Communications at the Mount. “TikTok has also opened the door to millions of creators looking for their big break. Artists can showcase their art pieces, singers post videos of themselves singing, and others show off their talents that wouldn’t have been recognized without this platform. TikTok isn’t just manipulating modern art, it’s leading modern art.”

In the summer of 2022, under Bosco’s leadership, the Mount started to incorporate more student-driven content into its TikTok channel. The move resulted in tremendous growth on the college’s channel: Within six months, the number of followers had doubled. Bosco noted that this is due, in part, to the medium being so popular with students. 

“It’s nearly impossible to find a college-aged or high school student that hasn’t used or heard of TikTok,” Bosco said. “Working with students to create student-driven content has proven successful in both reaching Gen Z and expanding the Mount’s reach on TikTok.”

She added, “The possibilities to create art on TikTok are endless and it’s only just getting started.”

Our eyes are on the arts

While Mount students, staff, and faculty celebrate new ways to create art, classics will never go out of style. 

The college continues to offer traditional art courses for undergraduate students, including Ceramics, Basic Drawing Techniques, and Sculpture, as well as art history courses in topics such as photography, modern art, and more. In addition, the Mount’s Desmond Center for Community Engagement and Wellness regularly hosts artistic events for the local community, such as Sip ‘n’ Paint. As the Desmond Center expands its offerings, community members can expect to enjoy even more artistic programming.

From the traditional to new forms of art at the college, Sr. Bielen, we think, would approve: “Art is all around us if we have the eyes to see,” she said.

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