Outside the classroom, Harvard seems like fertile ground for artistic growth. The campus boasts 120 extracurricular arts associations, from the Harvard Klezmer Band to the Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers. But inside the classroom, fields of creativity can sometimes lie fallow. Most courses in the arts keep a safe theoretical distance from artistic production, and thus fail to provide students with a practical understanding of their disciplines. Hands-on courses—including courses in Visual and Environmental Studies or Creative Writing—often require previous experience and applications.
To investigate the role of the arts in academic life at Harvard, President Drew Faust commissioned a Task Force on the Arts late in 2007. Just over a year ago the Task Force produced a detailed itinerary for integrating the arts into the university’s curriculum. Although the Task Force Report has had minimal concrete impact thus far, the administration’s open support for the arts has caused a wave of optimism among the student body.
PUTTING ART IN ACTION
“[President Faust’s Arts Task Force] definitely had a large psychological influence on the company,” said James C. Fuller ‘10, former director of the Harvard Ballet Company. “One of the reasons we felt inspired and encouraged to take on the bigger space [i.e. the Loeb Mainstage for “Momentum,”] was because of the statement of confidence in the arts by the Task Force and the Harvard administration.”
Others in the Harvard Arts community share this sentiment, including Alissa E. Schapiro, ‘10, the co-director of the Harvard Art Show—an organization that provides students with a venue to display and sell their artwork. In a leadership luncheon led by the Office for the Arts (OFA) and Dean Evelyn Hammonds last year, the Dean commented that there was no venue for student artists to sell their work.
“We realized it was kind of crazy that we didn’t have this,” said Schapiro. “The Task Force on the Arts was really a catalyst for us because we realized there was a void on campus for student artists to sell their work.” At the Harvard Art Show, students from all sectors of the university could exhibit their talents.
“Everyone from VES to music, to anthropology to art history, you name it, we had someone represented [in the show],” said Schapiro.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
However, the Task Force on the Arts has done more than just inspire. Just as the Harvard Art Show strives to unite artists from all disciplines, the Task Force hoped to expose more students to the practice of the arts within the General Education curriculum. Its overall mission, “To make the arts an integral part of the cognitive life of the university,” as stated in its report, emphasizes the assimilation of the arts into various academic disciplines.
To carry out this ambitious vision, the Task Force created the Harvard University Committee on the Arts (HUCA), which oversees, revises, and prioritizes its original short-term and long-term goals. One of these goals is to encourage a great range of artistic expression.
“Student participation is not equal across all of the arts. A lot more students, for example, are engaged in the musical arts than in the visual arts. Our mission is to enhance student experience across the board,” said Professor Robin Kelsey, the Chair of HUCA and Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography.
Kelsey believes that attention drawn to the arts will not detract from other areas of study.
“I don’t see it as arts against the sciences,” he added. “Fostering collaboration is crucial. A huge amount of support for the arts has actually come from the sciences. When you think about it, there’s a lot of tinkering with materials and making in the sciences that is more analogous to art practice than, say, writing a humanities paper.”
As one of its main goals, HUCA plans to add more General Education courses that make the practice of art a manageable enterprise for all undergraduates. Kelsey’s own Culture and Belief 30 course Photography and Society, offered last fall assigned a final project that required students to make their own photography series inspired by photographers like Eadweard Muybridge.
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