Taking Artistic Liquidities

President Faust secures a place at Harvard for artistic creation in a time of financial crisis

There will be no starving artists at Harvard. Just over a week after University officials announced that the endowment—the largest in higher education—fell a precipitous 22 percent in a four-month period, the University-wide Task Force on the Arts called for ambitious plans to bolster the place of arts on campus.

The committee proposed the construction of major new arts facilities and sweeping changes to the undergraduate curriculum and graduate programs. Yet with a projected 30 percent decline in endowment value by the end of June, Harvard administrators are slashing budgets and curtailing University activities—including a slowdown in construction of the much-touted science complex in Allston. These cuts raise concerns about the possible implementation of the committee’s grand yet vague proposals.

“When reports come out and call for very complicated and ambitious changes, there’s an extremely strong temptation to let things sink to the bottom of the ocean,” says Stephen J. Greenblatt, the English professor who chairs the Task Force.

University President Drew G. Faust is not likely to succumb to that temptation, however. Lining the once bland, white walls of Massachusetts Hall, home to many of the University’s top administrators and a handful of freshmen, student work acts as a visible display of Faust’s support for the arts on campus.

And in spite of the belt-tightening and penny-pinching measures, Faust has continued her commitment to the arts, most recently increasing funding for the Artist Development Fellowship. The arts, it seems, will remain a priority under her purview.

CONTINUED COMMITMENT TO THE ARTS



During last month’s two-day arts showcase event, “Passion for the Arts,” Faust proposed baby steps for the University’s implementation of some of the recommendations laid out by the report—namely ones that require little or no cost.

Faust pledged, for example, that faculty from across the University will soon begin discussions to establish a stronger arts practice component in both the undergraduate curriculum and graduate programs.

Given the University’s financial situation, it is clear that none of the major recommendations listed in the report will be implemented anytime soon. But in the meantime, students will reap the benefits from the administration’s small gestures to keep the arts moving forward.

Faust recounts that after reading the Task Force report, Sir Ronald Cohen—a member of the Board of Overseers, the University’s second highest governing body—will bring a production of one of T.S. Eliot’s works to campus before heading for New York.

“The arts are often the first thing to get cut when bad economic times hit,” Office for the Arts Director Jack Megan says, adding that the University has maintained that the arts are considered “on equal footing with other priorities.”

“I’m grateful for that,” Megan says. “We all are.”

TO BE OR NOT TO BE



In addition to free tickets to Boston museums and a Broadway production of “Hair” later this semester, Faust plans to commit “significant” funds to expand the OFA’s Artist Development Fellowship program.

It is unclear at this point how much money will be allocated for the program’s expansion this year, Megan says, adding that the office’s overall budget will see significant cuts.

The fledging grant program, which has awarded nearly 30 fellowships since its inception two years ago, provides students with up to $5,000 to pursue a short-term project in the arts. Proposals are judged based on merit and the applicant’s contribution to the community.

“It’s a huge decision to go out on a limb to say you want to be a writer or an actor,” says Elizabeth Bergmann, the director of the OFA dance program who also sits on the selection committee. “The ADF gives students a chance to go out there and say, ‘Hey, I could be an artist.’”

Past ADF recipients have gone on to pursue a professional career in the arts, Bergmann says, citing a “real success story” of Madelyn M. Ho ’08, who signed on with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, a New York City contemporary dance group.

Emily R. Kaplan ’08-’09 was awarded $3,000 last year to take a class about children’s book illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design over the summer.

“I’m not done yet,” the Social Anthropology concentrator says, laughing nervously, adding that her target audience consists of six- to eight-year-olds.

“It’s probably going to be published at some point,” Kaplan says slowly of the book she hopes to write. “Though I’m no where near there yet.”



Though her summer experience taught her that she does not, in fact, want to be an illustrator—she fears she lacks the technical skills required of such artists—Kaplan says that she plans to continue fiction writing, focusing on children’s literature. This summer, she will be teaching at an elementary school in New Orleans.

“TOO EARLY TO TELL”



Daniel R. Pecci ’09, one of last year’s ADF recipients and three students who served on the Task Force, traveled through Europe last summer, stopping by Amsterdam and Avignon to attend various theater festivals.

When asked if he intended to pursue acting after graduation, Pecci, an English concentrator with a secondary in Dramatic Arts, fingered the lock of hair peeking out from under his knit beanie.

“I’d like to be in theater,” the actor confesses. Pecci is currently working on three different productions, including “Hamlet” at the New College Theatre and a one-man show.

Pecci credits the proximity of the American Repertory Theatre to campus as a primary reason for attending Harvard. As a high school senior several years back, Pecci says that he was under the impression that Harvard was an avid proponent of the arts.

“That wasn’t exactly something I found to be in the case when I first got here,” Pecci says.

But after serving his stint on the Task Force, Pecci says that if the committee’s recommendations are fully implemented, “Things are going to be much better.”

Though Pecci acknowledged the various steps the University has taken to keep the arts from stagnating—or worse, from diminishing—not enough time has passed to assess Harvard’s performance.

“It’s too early to tell—to complain or endorse,” says Pecci.

Some faculty question how some of the larger initiatives will even be implemented, considering the University’s dwindling financial resources.

Bergmann, whose dance curricular programs have fortunately been spared the brunt of the widespread budget cuts, questions the feasibility of implementing the recommendations in the current economic climate.

Stating that she has yet to see any progress on the major initiatives—such as creating a new concentration for the dramatic arts in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—Bergmann says that she would feel more reassured when discussions are underway.

“I believe in the report—it’s a great pat on the back,” Bergmann says. “Now how do you implement it without some dollars?”

STEPPING UP



Though Pecci and other ADF recipients were hesitant to pass judgment on the University’s efforts to go ahead with cost-effective recommendations of the Task Force report, administrators were more willing to give Faust credit.

That the University commissioned such a report, Megan says, is indicative of Harvard’s commitment to improving the place of the arts on campus.

“People will be watching to see what we do,” Megan says. “And I have to say that I’m very optimistic about the direction of things.”

One initiative that Faust says students will see next year is a joint venture between the OFA and the ART.

With the calendar reform to be in place next academic year, the two organizations will provide students with the opportunity to sign up for a theater intensive workshop as part of the January Experience—roughly a month-long period between semesters.

ART Managing Director Robert J. Orchard says that though specific guidelines for the program have yet to be set, the project would involve both graduate and undergraduate students. Orchard says the students would work closely with professionals on a particular script and later showcase the material.

But Greenblatt points out that implementing the major recommendations of the report, such as creating new arts facilities in Allston or offering a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, would take a significant toll on both financial resources and time, even in better financial times.

“Even if we had all the money in the world, these are things that take serious amounts of time,” Greenblatt says.

For large-scale projects, Greenblatt says, it is important to keep discussion moving and not lose sight of long-term goals.

“It’s very easy to lose track,” Greenblatt says. “And I’m encouraged by the fact that the University has stepped up.”