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The Creative Campus

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Increasingly, many colleges and universities are looking to put more arts at the center of campus life and in the process, foster creativity.

The Creative Campus initiative, a program of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, is leading the way.

The idea began early in 2004 at a meeting convened by the Ford Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Dana Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, Pfizer and the Altria Group. The idea simply was "to examine the factors that characterize effective partnerships in education and the arts: the projects, proposals, curricula, and creative forces that make such partnerships work."

Later, thanks to $3.5 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Trusts, the "Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program" was created "to seed innovative, interdisciplinary programs that brought together artists with a range of community and campus-based partners in order to stimulate arts-based inquiry and elevate the role of the arts in academic life. "

The grants now helping over 14 Universities establish projects that serve to nurture the entire campus including many "collaborative projects (which involve) intense partnerships that require shared language, trust, and a "restructuring" of knowledge and practice. While Creative Campus projects fell into both (cooperative and collaborative) categories, the truly collaborative projects proved most transformative for both participants and the larger campus."

After six years of study the Association seems pleased that the role of the arts has indeed stimulated academic life, but fully aware that:

"In spite of the incentives for campus-based arts presenters to work across disciplines and to become better integrated into the curricular and co-curricular life of campus, there are significant cultural and structural barriers that make such work difficult. Budgets, facilities, selection processes, and professional norms all work against innovative programming that places other goals (learning, engagement, conversation, community building) above more narrowly conceived notions of curatorial excellence. Furthermore, institutional structures and academic practices, from tenure to course review and scheduling and budgetary silos, also discourage faculty and other campus partners from embracing arts-based interdisciplinary inquiry."

One of the barriers, not surprisingly are the artists themselves. Alan S. Brown and Steven J. Tepper, PhD., who wrote the report and did most of the research, commented that "While a small cohort of artists and university arts programs explore the intersections of art and other disciplines, a large majority of the country's presenters and producers of performing arts programs - opera, classical music, jazz, dance, theatre and multi-disciplinary presenters - remain committed to finely tuned missions and business models that more or less exclude interdisciplinary work - much less work across artistic genres. "

Clearly, they argue, what is needed is a "new breed of artists who are vitally engaged in research and discovery, mindful and articulate about their creative process, open to critical reflection, and who can bridge disciplines and interact with people from different backgrounds."

Importantly, the University can do a lot of things to make the campus experience, as well as the courseware, come alive. Yale University, for example, (while not a recipient of the Creative Campus grant program) has started using their on campus Art Gallery to be a teaching mechanism for the whole university...including courses that help teachers how best to teach K-12 students. Already, last year they hosted over "48 courses from departments other than art history or art" according to The New York Times.

In addition to the art courses, according to the Yale University newspaper, 578 individual class sessions--from "women's, gender and sexuality studies...to a "Photography and Memory" course and an African American studies class on "Re-Visioning Subjectivities'--were held during the last year.

There is a message here for all universities desirous of seeing more interdisciplinary course development, and aspiring to be a creative campus. Ways to get faculty to work more collaboratively must be developed. Providing incentives for such collaborations to encourage art and science marriages is clearly essential. So too is leadership at the highest level to make such collaborations a critical part of the University mission.

The goal must be to forge an undergraduate curriculum that offers truly interdisciplinary courses, and curricula that make the college experience meaningful for life and work in the new global economy, an economy that highly values creativity and innovation.