Beyond the Bubble: Expand the Arts

by Andrea Nease | 11/17/14 5:23pm

The fight to elevate the arts is nothing new. For centuries, painting, drawing and printmaking were not even included in the academic definition of the liberal arts. To this day, many intellectuals like to claim that if numbers and textual support are absent in a subject, then it cannot be considered knowledge.

Elite universities across the country are making their mark to promote the fine arts in the context of higher education. Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, Yale University, the University of Chicago ... the list goes on.

Many of these institutions are pushing for the advancement of the arts on their campuses, aiming to inspire the student body and enhance what Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates called the “cultural wealth” of their communities, the New York Times reported. As a country, we need to implement daily art interaction by renovating campus museums and expanding art collections.

Art is an academic principle that should be taken just as seriously as theories of calculus. There is nothing lesser about the discipline, and it is about time our country’s elite institutions began to realize that by renovating facilities and expanding access.

Elite institutions are giving the arts a never-before-seen spotlight, and the public seems split. Some, like director of Princeton’s Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies Stanley Katz, believe the aforementioned renovations are a waste of money and space, more of a “beautification project” than an academic investment. Others appear to believe, as I do, that high-caliber arts renovations like these give students an opportunity to experience greater cultural exposure. Most importantly, these renovations raise the bar for institutions everywhere.

Elevating the position of the arts is expensive, and many public universities simply cannot front the bill. This lack of financial feasibility brings to mind an even deeper-rooted problem — efforts to increase contact with the arts are confined to the elite populations that attend these elite institutions. Not only do public institutions struggle, but more importantly, the public largely struggles as well.

The University of Chicago has stepped toward highlighting the arts for its student body and increasing access to the arts for its surrounding community. The university opened its arts facilities to the long overlooked, deprived neighborhoods of the South Side and has had positive outcomes thus far, the New York Times reported. The strides in development of elite institutions’ arts departments is a great start to fostering a new appreciation for the fine and visual arts in the world of academia.

Fortunately for the Dartmouth community, our very own Hood Museum has already been long aware of the centrality of the arts in academics. The Hood began to build its permanent collection in 1772 and currently has around 70,000 works. Yale’s renovation in the 1990s seems to note an early commitment to the arts, but Dartmouth was a step ahead, opening the Hood back in 1985. Now Dartmouth students can look forward to the Hood’s next expansion, set to begin in spring 2016. The expansion will include the development of a learning center for the museum, which is being funded by an anonymous $10 million donation.

The importance of these renovations transcends the idea of investing in beautification. Art for the sake of art is a meaningful concept rooted in the pleasure people receive from visually alluring works. Many elite universities boast endless collections of this and that artist, which emphasize the material value of their recent art expansions. However, the greater importance lies in recognizing the arts as something more than a passively engaging visual.

The arts provide a universal language of expression that breaks down economic, political and social inhibitions. They offer the opportunity to create, participate and understand, at least to some degree.

Most impressive, however, is the correlation between arts education and exposure and enhanced academic achievement. The College Board published a study in 2005 showing the association between the amount of time a student spent studying the arts and his or her average SAT scores. The results showed that for a student who is exposed to arts education for around six months or less, the average SAT score is a 485 in the verbal section and a 502 in the math section. Compare those scores to those of a student who is exposed to arts education for around four years: 543 in verbal and 541 in math.

Art gives people a reason to voice their opinions and can help many to better articulate their ideas through practice of analysis.

Some academics claim that art does not benefit a student’s overall academic excellence or performance because, despite the studies and the evidence proving otherwise, they overlook the key concept of linking the arts to other disciplines. The universities’ renovations give more attention to the presence of fine arts on their campuses without looking at arts in a singular light. They show how the arts can interact with a college’s atmosphere as a whole.

Expand the arts. Integrate departments. Watch students soar both creatively and in the traditional academic sense.