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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 6, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 10
The 2006 Udvarhelyi Lecture: A Little Bit of Rock and Roll

Gary Vikan

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

It's Memphis meets Jerusalem as none other than the King of Rock 'n' Roll comes into focus at the 2006 George B. Udvarhelyi Lecture, the now 12-year-old series that every two years brings a prominent speaker in the arts and humanities to the Johns Hopkins medical campus.

This year's speaker will be Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum, who will present a talk on "Graceland as Locus Sanctus." The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the Mountcastle Auditorium of the Preclinical Teaching Building. Vikan's talk will be followed by a question-and-answer period.

Director of the Walters Art Museum since 1994, Vikan has published and lectured extensively on topics as varied as early Christian pilgrimages, medicine and magic, icons and Elvis Presley. His Udvarhelyi Lecture will draw parallels between the legions of Elvis fans who annually flock to the singer's home in Tennessee and Christian pilgrimages to holy lands.

Vikan is also an adjunct professor in the university's Department of Art History and a faculty member in the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education. Since 2004, Vikan has been a board member of the Maryland Humanities Council and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors' Association. From 1999 to 2002, he served as a President Clinton appointee on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee. He was honored by the French Minister of Culture and Communication in 2000 with Knighthood in the Order of Arts and Letters.

The lecture series is hosted by the JHMI Office of Cultural Affairs, which presents an ongoing series of free cultural events targeted to the Johns Hopkins Medicine community. The office's mission is to cultivate and raise awareness of the rich cultural diversity on the East Baltimore campus with activities focused on humanistic topics. In addition to the Udvarhelyi Lecture series, the office sponsors Tuesday noon concerts in Hurd Hall, the Chamber Music Society, the Choral Society, a literary magazine for the School of Medicine and a film series, among other events.

George B. Udvarhelyi (OOD-var-hi), an internationally known neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, founded the Office of Cultural Affairs in 1977 in order to bring a comprehensive program in the humanities and performing arts to the campus.

Gert Brieger, Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of the History of Medicine and former director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, says that Udvarhelyi set out to change Baltimore's reputation as "a cultural desert," a perception that impacted recruiting efforts for both students and faculty.

"George always had a great interest in music, and broad cultural interests, and he wanted to share those passions and show what Baltimore had to offer," Brieger said.

Upon Udvarhelyi's retirement in 1994, colleagues and friends endowed the George B. Udvarhelyi Lectureship in recognition of his pioneer contributions to the arts and humanities at Johns Hopkins.

Previous speakers in this series have included master violinist Isaac Stern (a personal friend of Udvarhelyi's), authors Julian Barnes and Alice McDermott, and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills.

Shannon Dunn, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, says that the office continues to follow Udvarhelyi's lead and provide a diverse program of cultural activities for students, faculty and staff.

"With the lecture series, we are trying to present something both entertaining and intellectually stimulating on a nonscientific, cultural topic," Dunn said. "We're definitely not looking for talks on brain surgery, medical advances or controversial topics. Our people already get their share of those."

For more information on the lecture or the Office of Cultural Affairs, go to or call 410-955-3363.


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