When Tommy Hensel joined the Fine and Performing Arts Center team in 2008, his top goals were to offer more diverse programming thus expanding the
demographics of the audiences that typically come to see shows. He has succeeded in meeting those goals and is this year’s Embracing Diversity Award winner
for his efforts.

“When I took the job, I noticed programming wasn’t moving outside of the traditional box. Part of our job as arts curators is ultimately to introduce people to things they didn’t know they would like until they experience them,” Hensel said. “I needed to take a more holistic view of our community when scheduling shows. As a result, we’ve built a very large new patron base. The audience we gained tends to be younger and more diverse.”

Some of the diverse programming he has brought to the theater and art gallery includes mariachi bands, Spanish dancers, Tibetan monks singing and North African musicians. Whether it is in the classroom, collaborating with faculty and staff, behind the scenes or on the stage, he continuously demonstrates his  commitment to the values of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism.

Perhaps Hensel’s most significant impact at Moraine Valley is his work on the Mosaics: Muslim Voices in America project from 2016 to 2019. He wrote an extensive grant proposal that gave the college $207,000 to help infuse the Arabic culture into the fabric of the college community and explore American culture through the lens of Muslim artists living and practicing in the United States. Examples of programming he coordinated are:

  • Creation of a commissioned theater performance – “American Griot” explored the African and Muslim roots of American blues music and was selected to
    be presented at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region 3 in Madison, Wisconsin, where it won several awards
  • Student logo design competition
  • Mosaics oral storytelling performance

“Mosaics was the most difficult but most fun project I’ve worked on because that was two years of really comprehensive programming. We were able to bring things to campus we normally would not be able to afford, so we could think outside the box a little bit. We had more freedom to bring in new things,” Hensel said.

Hensel has helped to build bridges of understanding and appreciation in the classroom by collaborating with faculty members. He has brought in hip-hop choreographers and music groups to talk to students in African American Literature and Non Western Literature courses. Students in these classes connected to the culture by dancing and playing the music along with the groups. He also collaborated with Dr. Randy Connor, assistant professor of humanities, and
culinary arts faculty to present Caravanserai, an evening of food, music, poetry and lecture on the connections between Spain, Arabic and Islamic countries.

He continues to create opportunities for students and staff to engage with artists. At any given moment, Hensel is simultaneously planning events and activities with artists, faculty and staff, arts agencies, cultural student clubs, community members and area high schools.

His nominator said of him, “Tommy passionately acknowledges, understands, accepts, respects and values the differences among people. He is a champion of diversity and artistic integrity, and works endlessly to cultivate and inspire the next generation of arts patrons. He is a leader in diverse cultural and arts programming. We have been inspired by his dedication and passion to bring diversity to Moraine Valley Community College.”

Hensel said he was quite surprised to learn he had won the award because he hasn’t done much programming this year. “It’s amazing to get it, but also comes with the realization there’s this giant team of people around campus that were part of this programming. We have a huge infrastructure of individuals who are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. I am thrilled to be noticed for the work we do, but it’s not me. I’m a catalyst for things to happen, but other people are doing a lot of the work to make this happen,” he said.