College launches arts initiative for Hop anniversary

by Amelia Acosta | 6/28/12 10:00pm

As the soulful strains of Johnny Clegg's concert on the Green floated across campus yesterday afternoon, the College announced the "Year of the Arts," an initiative for the 2012-2013 academic year featuring a number of visiting artists and musicians, increased investment in interdisciplinary learning and greater resources for student artists and performing groups, according to College Provost Carol Folt. The celebration coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Hopkins Center and the opening of the Black Family Visual Arts Center in September.

In addition to performances by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and actor John Lithgow, the year includes an increased emphasis on student and faculty engagement with the arts, according to music department chair Michael Casey, the faculty representative for the project's executive committee.

"What we want to do with the Year of the Arts is show how Dartmouth is a leader in valuing the arts, both as part of the experience of being at Dartmouth and in the curriculum," Casey said. "In the curriculum, we're highlighting how the arts are being used outside of the arts, in mathematics, computer sciences, neuroscience and engineering. In other areas of the College the arts are a subject of fascination and investigation, and likewise the sciences are a subject of focus and study for the arts as well."

Also slated to fill the year are an exhibition at the Hood Museum covering five decades of aboriginal Australian art, a visit from the founders of the Handspring Puppet Company and a temporary spider sculpture installation from artist Louise Bourgeois, according to a College press release. Over a dozen additional interdisciplinary classes will also be offered in the upcoming academic year.

The executive committee, led by Casey and Hopkins Center Director Jeff James, includes the chairs of the College's art departments, representatives from the Thayer School of Engineering and the Geisel School of Medicine, student representatives and community members across campus. The year takes advantage of the "happy coincidence" provided by increased space in the Black Center, according to Casey.

"The arts at Dartmouth are transforming and now is a moment where new things are happening," Casey said. "The newly vacated spaces in the Hopkins Center open up new opportunities to use the Hop for students and faculty as an experimental space, not just for timetable classes. These are spaces for any kind of creativity people want to engage in."

The project grew out of "The Arts Center of the 21st Century," a conference at the Hop in 2010 designed to help the College learn "what a university art center could be," according to Casey. The conference brought together representatives from university arts centers nationwide.

"We look at how universities value and use the arts across the curriculum for research," he said. "We learned a lot of things. At Stanford University, biology majors are required to combine their studies with the arts, usually drawing to create physical representations of what they learned about in class."

Folt began to plan the year project in the fall, and faculty and staff explored the opportunity afforded by new buildings to "punctuate" arts life at Dartmouth, Casey said. He emphasized the importance of student exposure to arts and new opportunities to spotlight "student-created work," as well as the need to continue the artistic focus after the year ends.

Casey cited a new College Courses class, "Creativity Lab," which will be offered next winter, as an example of the interdisciplinary options the project will strive for. The class combines music, theater and dance element and will be taught by three separate professors. It is targeted toward non-arts majors and students looking to engage in "creativity and opportunity," Casey said.

Other opportunities include collaborative classes between the music department and Thayer, a new commission looking at the brain and its interpretation through the arts and a music project using neuroimaging to create music out of pure thought, Casey said.

Higher education, particularly at a liberal arts institution, is an important place for engagement with the arts, according to Casey.

"It's a real strength of Dartmouth that students are afforded the opportunity to be creative and expressive both as part of the curriculum and as part of the experience," Casey said. "We value these experiences as part of your development as an adult and as a person. At a time where the value of the arts at large is questioned and diminished, Dartmouth is expressing leadership and showing how the arts are important for preparedness for life and especially leadership."

Music major Zachary Cutler '14 said he thinks the initiative will be worthwhile and enjoyable for the College and community.

"I'm especially excited for the Handspring Puppet Company," he said. "I'm hoping to learn something from these legends."

While the program is a "great idea," it may not have the impact the College hopes it will, according to Winnie Yoe '14, a studio art major.

"I personally would really like it because of my interests, both personally and academically, but at this school arts is not something a lot of people care about," she said. "There are a lot of existing opportunities, like all the movies at the Hop, that I will go to and it will just be me and elderly Hanover residents."

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