It started with an argument: What's the real horse capital of the world, Lexington or Inner Mongolia?
It happened in the office of the president of Inner Mongolia University when a delegation from the University of Kentucky, including the College of Fine Arts' dean, Michael Tick, was exploring an academic exchange agreement between the schools.
"We were sitting in a conference room working through translators, and I just said, 'Well you know, we are the horse capital of the world, and President Li replied, 'No, we are,'" Tick recalled, referring to Yulin Li, president of the Art College of Inner Mongolia University in Huhhot.
After some friendly debate, all parties concluded that an arts festival focused on both cultures' equine heritage would be the most productive way to channel the discussion.
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That takes place in Lexington this week with Living Landscapes, a multidisciplinary event highlighting work by students and faculty from both schools.
"I really don't think this collaborative effort would have been possible through just the College of Fine Arts," Tick says. "The UK Confucius Institute was named the Confucius Institute of the Year, and it is due to the extraordinary high regard around the world for the Confucius Institute that we are able to do this."
The UK Confucius Institute was established in 2010 as a sort of gateway between UK and China, and it has opened the door to many initiatives, including more than 40 scholarships for UK students to study in China, 29 UK faculty who taught in China in June, Chinese language programs in some Central Kentucky public schools, and Chinese students studying at UK.
"From our experience bringing in students on exchanges, the most students coming to one college are the 14 at the College of Fine Arts," says Huajing Maske, director of the UK Confucius Institute. "It's really amazing."
The students are studying in areas including dance, studio art music performance and art history, though Tick says there is a particular emphasis on arts administration because, with a growing number of museums in China, there is a need for administrators to direct them.
Students and faculty will participate in events this week, which will include art exhibits, concerts and classes such as "Throat Singing 101," a form of vocalization that is thought to have originated in Mongolia; it will be at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall.
The collaboration is engendering enough interest in China that reporters from several news, including China Central Television and the English-language newspaper China Daily, are coming, Maske says. The partnership and coverage, she says, will help broaden perception in China.
"In China, when people hear Kentucky, they think KFC," Maske says. "We want to correct that perception."
Living Landscapes will be the latest manifestation of an expanding relationship between China and UK, last highlighted by the UK Symphony Orchestra's tour of China in May. The event will bring more than 30 Inner Mongolia students and faculty to UK. In two years, several dozen UK faculty and students will go to Inner Mongolia to present the same festival there.
"In this global era, we're thinking of creating opportunities for students to have global experiences," Tick says. "And this is a great way to show the community what we are doing."
IF YOU GO
What: Multidisciplinary festival of American and Chinese art presented by University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts, the UK Confucius Institute and the Art College of Inner Mongolia University.
When: Sept. 22-28
Learn more: Uky.edu/livinglandscapes
Schedule of events includes:
■ Concert of traditional Mongolian music. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25, Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall.
■ Music and dance concert with UK dance minor, Percussion Ensemble and Jazz Ensemble. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26, Singletary Center Concert Hall.
■ Appalachia in the Bluegrass performance by the Red State Ramblers with the Horse Head Fiddle Ensemble of Inner Mongolia. Noon Sept. 27, Niles Gallery, Lucille C. Little Fine Arts Library.
■ UK Symphony Orchestra with Inner Mongolia University guests. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, Singletary Center concert hall.
■ Juried exhibition of works by UK and IMU students. Barnhart Gallery, Reynolds Building.
■ Works by faculty of the UK School of Art and Visual Studies. Tuska Center for Contemporary Art, Fine Arts Building.
■ An exhibition of works by faculty of IMU. Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Singletary Center.