We should be supporting artists AND developing advocates!

As national and state support for arts and culture regularly faces heated political battles and often cuts, is the opposite happening on our campuses?

A couple of weeks ago the University of Chicago announced the preview opening of the more than $35 million Logan Center for the Arts, a multidisciplinary arts center, the vision for which began in 2001 with the report The Future of the Arts at the University of Chicago, and is further articulated in the 2010 Report of the Provost’s Working Group in Arts and Disciplines.

This week Harvard University will present Arts First – a multi-day festival of student performances and artwork.  Added to this year’s activities is an event entitled “Breaking Boundaries: Creativity and the Harvard Curriculum” which will “showcase interdisciplinary coursework, performances and General Education courses”.  This enhanced program and more come from the recommendations made by Harvard’s 2008 report of the Task Force on the Arts.

Not as recent, but just as significant, in 2006 Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University announced the receipt of a $101 million gift from 1955 alum Peter B. Lewis to support launching a new era for the arts at Princeton.  President Tilghman unveiled an ambitious initiative that included plans for substantially increased support for creative and performing arts and the establishment of an “arts neighborhood” on campus.  At the core of that initiative is the Lewis Center for the Arts, “an academic center…designed to put the creative and performing arts at the heart of the Princeton experience”.

It seems that elite universities are finally coming around, recognizing  the relevance of arts and culture both as an academic pursuit and as a means to support creativity and expression.

All of this bodes well for continued support for arts and culture on college and university campuses.  And that should be celebrated, but, along with providing great creative, learning, leadership and community building opportunities for our students, we need to be training them to be effective advocates as well.  April 16 and 17, was National Arts Advocacy Day in Washington DC, an annual event coordinated by Americans for the Arts that this year boasted more than 500 arts advocates from 40 states advocating for pro-arts legislation on Capital Hill.  Our students should know Americans for the Arts, and should be capable of articulating the importance of arts and culture in our communities.  As an arts administrator on a major university campus, I am ashamed that I haven’t been prioritizing my own attendance at Arts Advocacy Day and taking students.  I can assure you that will change!

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