Ivies' art programs differ in focus

by Varun Bhuchar and Aaron Colston | 2/5/13 11:00pm

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Dartmouth has brought in performers from across the art world as part of the Year of the Arts celebration.
by Gavin Huang / The Dartmouth

Columbia University's Arts Initiative is perhaps most comparable to the College's. Started by university president Lee Bollinger in 2004, it is an ongoing program designed to make the arts community more accessible and encourage students to partake in arts courses to try something new.

One student organization promoting the Initiative is Postcrypt Art Gallery, which showcases work by undergraduate students. In keeping with Columbia's theme of promoting cross-cultural arts revival, Postcrypt has worked with a variety of poets and dancers to create works that overlap one another creatively, director Clemence White said.

"We have a show in collaboration with New Poetry, a group on campus, in which participants ordered a poem inspired by a piece in the show which was then used by dancers as the inspiration for an improvisation," White said.

Harvard University's Arts First program is an annual spring festival that showcases student and faculty-designed projects. Actor John Lithgow, a Harvard alumnus, founded the festival, which is now in its 21st year. Lithgow recently performed his one-man show "Stories by Heart" at the Hopkins Center this past Fall. Arts First opens with a ceremony and a public interview with a Harvard alumnus who has contributed significantly to the arts.

"It's a chance for students to see what alumni have done in the arts and for students to show their work in the broader community," Tom Lee, arts communication director, said.

At Brown University, the Creative Arts Council unites the institution's fine arts departments by hosting events that oscillate between fields of study. Recent and upcoming events include "Harmony and Dissonance: the Arab-Israeli Conflict through Music and Academic discourse," a screening of a comedy addressing climate change followed by an interactive, aesthetic simulation of a natural disaster inspired by the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Brown students stay involved with the arts through the Student Creative Arts Council.

"The council allows students to organize across disciplines in a way that is by students, for students," coordinator Kristin Kwasniewski said. "It offers them a platform to affect their undergraduate experience."

Cornell University has also engaged its students in the arts with recent investments. Last October, artist Leo Villareal's "Cosmos" installation was erected on the underside of the Johnson Museum of Art. The piece, composed of 10,000 LED lights, is meant to be "open-ended" and "abstract," Villareal told the Cornell Chronicle.

Cornell has attempted to be more proactive in engaging its students in arts-related activities.

"They try to make what they're doing at the [Johnson] museum very public," said sophomore Andrew Astore. "They send out flyers every semester with lists of events, including the art openings and a few other things intended to bring students out to the museum and get them to start appreciating art."

The university's effort is not lost on students who may not be studying an arts-related field, like Tom Schultz, a sophomore engineering major.

"The Johnson is quite interesting and I enjoy what I can there when I have the time," Schultz said. "But I don't think the student body as a whole takes advantage of the museum as they should, though."

While many Ivy League peers have entrenched arts programs that are expanding and celebrating institutional milestones, Princeton University's program is considered by many to be in its infancy.

The Lewis Center for the Arts was commissioned in 2006 at the behest of university president Shirley Tilghman. Before the center's construction, most of Princeton's arts events were hosted at local performing arts spaces around Princeton.

Similar to many of its peer university arts campaigns, the College's Year of the Arts serves as an active reminder of the wealth of arts resources available on campus to students and others alike during a vibrant time for the Dartmouth arts community.