Centering the Heller Center: 7 Questions with Max Shulman

The Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities is a refuge for scholars and artists. It also provides space for interaction between art and academia.

Nestled on 34 tree-filled acres sweeping up into stately bluffs, the Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities occupies the most serene corner of the UCCS campus.

The center’s grounds are a refuge — offering scholars and artists a quiet place to think and create. But the Heller Center itself is often a hub of activity. With a mission of promoting creative and intellectual engagement for the arts, humanities and social sciences, it fills with scholars and artists discussing their latest works. The Center hosts fellowships, salon talks, exhibits, workshops, films and theatrical performances.

The dual nature of the center is a perfect fit for its dual mission, said Max Shulman, Associate Professor of Theatre at UCCS and the Director of the Heller Center.

“Heller is dedicated to making academic and artistic interactions possible,” he said. “Heller puts different fields of study together in a place and lets them interact and grow.”

To learn more, we sat down with Shulman to discuss the mission and vision of the Heller Center, and its goals for the future. Read Shulman’s interview below.

1. Describe how and why the Heller Center was started.

Max Shulman is the Director of the Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities, and Associate Professor of Theatre in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at UCCS.

The Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities was gifted to the university by Dorothy (Dot) Heller. She and her husband, Larry, lived on the 34-acre property just north of the campus for years. Larry was a well-known painter and sculptor, and Dorothy was a “social investigator” for the Colorado Springs police department, helping families with domestic troubles. They kept horses on the property and used to race their MG Roadsters around the property.

Larry died in 1983. Dot donated the land and the three buildings on it to the university with the specific stipulation that it be used as a humanities center to the benefit of the university and the Pikes Peak community. Dot passed in 1999, and the Heller Center started operations soon after.

Today, the Heller Center promotes the humanities at UCCS and in Colorado Springs. Heller is also unique because it manages an art collection (primarily of Larry Heller’s work), and preserves the historic buildings that house the Center. Heller is one of the only humanities centers in the country with this additional mission of artistic and architectural curation.

2. How does the Center’s work align with your own background?

I’m a theatre historian and a theatre maker by trade. At its best, my own research crosses humanities disciplines, but it’s the collaborative nature of the theatre that translates to work at Heller.

The goal of a humanities center is bringing people together and answering questions about what it means to be a human being through that same kind of collaboration. Heller is dedicated to making such academic and artistic interactions possible. Heller puts different fields of study together in a place and lets them interact and grow.

3. Share a project, piece of research or initiative the Center has advanced that you’re proud of.

The gate to the Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities. Photo credit: Jeffrey M Foster

Heller hosts a number of fellows every year. These fellows stay at the Heller Center, interact with our faculty and students, and present their work. It’s a direct way that we can support burgeoning new ideas and the expansion of our knowledge as human beings.

This year, we announced the establishment of a new fellowship: The Heller Indigenous Fellowship. It’s a fellowship aimed specifically at scholars and artists from native communities. The support for the project has been tremendous, and with funding from the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UCCS, we have been able to make it a reality. We will be announcing the inaugural recipient this fall.

This initiative seemed so essential because Heller (like all of UCCS) sits on unceded Native lands. Of the 34 acres of the Heller campus, local Ute tribespeople have deemed specific areas sacred or special. This fellowship signifies little in the face of damage done by American expansionism, but it is a project that goes beyond land acknowledgments and draws attention to the tremendous work being done by Native artists and scholars, the history of Native life in Southern Colorado, and the Native students, faculty, and staff at UCCS.

4. What do you see as the next big topic or issue the Center will tackle in the next year?

The guest house at the Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities. Photo credit: Jeffrey M Foster

Right now, we are growing our programming exponentially, so it’s hard to be specific. We are expanding our fellowships, starting a film series, promoting new student artwork, and trying to provide as many opportunities to our UCCS faculty as we can.

Perhaps it’s in that final area that we are hoping to focus this year. UCCS has an extraordinarily talented faculty. Heller is here to advance their work through discussion, interaction, and by providing them with space and time to create. Heller is trying to expand the benefits available to faculty through writing intensives, book parties, new funding opportunities and access.

5. What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned as Center Director?

I’m shocked how many people don’t know about Heller. Heller makes up six percent of UCCS’s campus acreage, and most students have never been out to us! Part of my goal is just to make Heller a known entity. Heller is the UCCS Humanities Center and we want to be of service to anyone interested in the Humanities.

6. Is there a project or program that never got off the ground that you wish you could reignite?

The Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities. Photo credit: Jeffrey M Foster

There is a project on the docket for which we’ve struggled to find traction. We have been interested in creating community engagement events around issues that were close to Dot Heller’s passions — family welfare, female empowerment, small business and Southern Colorado culture. The “Dot Heller Community Projects” would include small conferences, roundtables, a community engagement project and community art projects. Finding the funding to fully develop this idea would be of great benefit to our city.

7. What part of the Center’s work most excites or inspires you?

I like the support we offer our colleagues. I like celebrating that work. I’m excited by the idea that the Heller Center is here to promote the development of new ideas. And Heller is so special as a space, just to be there. It’s secluded, beautiful, pristine. It’s the ideal space to think, talk, work and create.

This article is part of a series of stories of UCCS’ academic centers. You can learn more about the Heller Center for Arts and Humanities online.