The Colgate Scene
May 2007

A message from Mary Ann Calo, Director of the Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts
Risk-taking and imaginative thinking: liberal arts learning through the arts
Mary Ann Calo, Rachel Vining '07, and Anna Snickenberger '08 (right to left) discussed the arts on campus at the interdisciplinary symposium in New York City that was part of the Campaign for Colgate kickoff events in early March. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

The creative and performing arts are a vital part of Colgate's identity as a liberal arts university. The arts faculty is dedicated to educating the whole student through the arts, and to nurturing future generations of artists. Our students seek to express themselves, explore boundaries, and share their discoveries as the arts grow and take a more visible role on campus.

By making a commitment to strengthening the arts, Colgate has positioned itself at the forefront of a growing national trend among colleges and universities. Educational institutions are beginning to recognize that many of the skills required of leaders in the 21st century can be cultivated and developed through study of the arts; as a result, the role of the arts has been much discussed in recent conversations about the future of American higher education.

In emphasizing the importance of the arts to higher education, Steven J. Tepper of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University ("The Creative Campus: Who's No. 1?" Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 1, 2004) posits: ". . . creativity has become the sine qua non of a successful America. Nurturing it is seen as an important public good, not only benefiting individuals, but contributing to the economic health and well-being of the country at large." Tepper points out that an institution's commitment to fostering innovation and creativity can be measured by the quality of its art programs. His analysis recognizes that schools with dynamic arts programs experience a ripple effect that brings them better students and stimulates creative thinking across the curriculum.

The arts cultivate original thinking and encourage discovery. They combat the natural human tendency to resist change by challenging students to step outside of their comfort zones and face the new and unfamiliar. The arts classroom has been called a "safe space" for risk-taking and imaginative thinking. Creative arts programs emphasize give and take, and encourage constant re-assessment -- and they do not simply tolerate differences of opinion and perspective, they require them.

Study of the arts provides a unique form of liberal arts learning that merges direct emotional impact with intellectual inquiry. At Colgate, students who are captivated by an evening jazz performance at the Palace Theater can the next day take that experience into a Core 152 class where they learn about musical improvisation as a function of modernity. When viewing a work of art, students step outside of themselves and come into direct contact with the reality of the past and of cultures unfamiliar to them. They become more receptive and aware of the world outside of their own experience.

Today's students are "active learners" with a strong interest in collaboration; in the arts classroom, students learn from one another and often work together. This is especially true for those who participate in the performing arts. When producing a play, students must routinely call upon each other to set aside individual differences in the interest of achieving the best possible collective result.

Students are also sophisticated users of technology, which has a profound impact on the way they learn and process information. Study of the arts gives students the ability to move seamlessly between text, image, sound, and active performance, and equips them to think critically about the information and culture they consume.

Colgate Students in the spring University Theater production of Drums in the Night by Bertolt Brecht. [Photo by Luke Connolly '09]
Artistic expression may be highly personal and process oriented, but the arts are also about public visibility. Unlike traditional academic work, concerts, theatrical performances, and exhibitions are open to a kind of scrutiny and public engagement that does not exist for the largely private intellectual exchange that takes place through term papers or exams.

On a college campus, where students routinely work in the studio or rehearse after hours, the arts naturally become both intellectual and social. At Colgate, we have seen an explosion in student-run arts events, fostered in part through the Residential Education Program, such as the Colgate Arts! Initiative, Dance Fest, student literary publications, and theater performance groups. In these activities, students are learning about innovation, self-discipline, excellence, planning, leadership, and collaboration, along the way enriching the experiences of the whole Colgate community.

A major component in implementing Colgate's vision for the arts is the newly formed Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts. Now in its second year, working in conjunction with faculty members in the arts and other academic areas, the institute hopes to make it possible for a steady stream of accomplished artists, writers, and performers to inspire and engage our students both inside and outside the classroom. The aim is not only to have a chance to enjoy their work, but also to encourage deeper understanding of the creative process and stimulate dialogue on the arts in the liberal arts context. When fully operational, the institute will sponsor four major programs:

  • ArtsMix: Image+Sound+Text+Motion+Performance: an annual series featuring high-profile individuals in the creative and performing arts
  • Forum on the Arts: thematically focused event series that furthers understanding of the arts in relation to other disciplines
  • Artists in Residence: in music, visual art, theater, and creative writing, on a rotating basis
  • The Arts and Public Space: an ongoing program that encourages reflection on the relationship of the arts to our daily existence and sense of communal space, and suggests new ways of thinking about the physical environment as an arts space.

The ArtsMix series, in its second season, has already brought to campus Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Edward P. Jones and Tracy Kidder, celebrated New York jazz pianist Bill Charlap, and award-winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger '83. Colgate students and Hamilton residents rode on a bus transformed into a moving camera (Bus Obscura) and saw a play based on the life of Henrik Ibsen performed by a cast of hand puppets. Next year's plans include contemporary artist and community arts activist Tim Rollins, who will bring the KOS (Kids of Survival) project to the campus, and the Forum on the Arts will explore the current trend of artists using digital, networked technologies to address issues of global warming and sustainability.

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