Kudos to the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts

On Monday, March 26 the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts was previewed at the University of Chicago, giving the university and local communities an opportunity to explore the facility.  The Logan Center is an “11-story, 184,000-square-foot building as an elegant ‘mixing bowl for the arts,’ in which artists and scholars of many disciplines will work and perform, creating new possibilities for spontaneous collaboration. The building houses classrooms, studios, rehearsal rooms, and exhibition and performance spaces. These innovative facilities will be home to academic and extracurricular programs in cinema and media studies, creative writing, music, theater and performance studies, and the visual arts.” (University of Chicago, release 2012).  If you work in the arts in higher education, or are simply passionate about the arts you will recognize what a tremendous accomplishment this is for the University of Chicago and the surrounding community.  The vision for the Logan Center is inspired and lofty, and if realized will represent one of the most thoughtful and deliberate plans I have seen for integrating the arts into fabric of a university.

In 2001 the University of Chicago published the “Future of the Arts Report” which in their words “described a University culture in which the arts suffered chronic neglect.”  Since then the University developed and “Arts Clarity Statement” in 2007 and in 2010 published the “Report of the Provost’s Working Group on Arts and Disciplines.”  This last report details their approach to the challenge of encouraging and supporting scholarly engagement with the arts, and I want to offer some specific kudos on a few things from that report.

Kudos for acknowledging the value of co-curricular and student-run programs.  Early on the report notes that the University of Chicago has four broad categories of entities that are “active in creation, performance and exhibition.”  Co-curricular and student run programs is in that list.  The report also notes that a 2008 survey found that nearly half of their 4,500 students participated in over 75 student arts organizations, and that many of the academic and presenting programs the university have developed out of student activity.

Kudos for making a clear statement.  This directly from the report. “In order to foster the sort of vital exchange that marks work in the arts at Chicago, it is imperative that the University maintain and extend its commitment to recognizing the arts as an integral part of the research mission and curriculum of the University and its culture of inquiry. To that end, it must simultaneously support the University’s arts entities and encourage work that engages substantively with the arts from within scholarly disciplines.”  And there are many more quote worthy references to supporting the arts and engagement in the arts in their report.

Kudos for noting the “real or perceived lack of institutional support” for the arts, and the frequent “disparity between principled support for the arts on the one hand, and programming initiatives and budgetary allocations on the other.”

Kudos for going the distance and exploring a key root challenge in scholarly engagement in the arts – institutional culture.  “…entrenched disciplinary norms, modes of evaluation, and demands on time are major obstacles both to faculty involvement in the arts, and to arts participation in academic culture.”

Kudos for clear and practical suggestions for moving forward.  “…the University needs structures that will provide incentives for grassroots, ‘bottom-up’ initiatives.” The recommendation comes from benchmarking and exploring their own most successful models.  The Chicago Art Lab is designed to be a program “to catalyze fruitful collaboration between scholars and arts practitioners” modeled after their successful Mellon exhibition program at the Smart Museum, which is “a program of short-term projects at the intersection of scholarship and arts practice, involving students, and issuing in both a publication and a public program (exhibition, performance, etc.).”

I have one more shout out to offer, not from the working groups report, but from the recent public announcement of the preview period.  Kudos for stating upfront the commitment to work with the cultural institutions of Chicago – “The center will work collaboratively with the University’s new Arts and Public Life Initiative to build partnerships with civic and cultural institutions citywide.”  No institution or resource like the Logan Center should exist on a major university campus without thoughtful and exciting collaborations with the community.  Here’s hoping that is exactly what happens.

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