Beginning next summer, the new Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard will bring together an unusual coalition of artists and scholars to discuss how the arts can address social problems.
The University announced yesterday that the institute will be headed by play-wright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, currently a professor of drama at Stanford University. Smith gained national acclaim earlier this decade with "Fires in the Mirror" and "Twilight: Los Angeles 1992," her one-person performances that explored attitudes toward riots in New York and Los Angeles.
The new institute combines the efforts of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research, led by DuBois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis Gates Jr., and the American Repertory Theatre (ART). Both will share responsibility with Smith for the implementation of the institute's programs.
"The idea is to have the arts and civic interests work together and to bring in a full range of experiences," said Peter Glenshaw, assistant director of the DuBois Institute.
According to a news release, the institute will explore ways to add an artistic component to the nation's conversation about differences and develop artists who are committed to illuminating current events and controversies.
Organizers of the institute were unanimous in their praise of Smith and her abilities.
"Anna Deavere Smith is a very dynamic person with a sensitive sociological mind," said Robert Brustein, artistic director of the ART.
"She is smart, hard-working, thoughtful and interested in new talents and new ideas," Glenshaw said.
The institute will open in the summer of 1998 and continue for at least three summers. Projects will include development of independent works of art, seminars, public forums and workshops for participants and selected guests.
According to the news release, the works are expected to extend beyond the scope of the institute and receive subsequent public performances, productions and exhibits in Boston and around the country.
The institute received an initial grant of $1.5 million from the Ford Foundation, which awarded the institute to Harvard over bids from New York University and Stanford University. However, an additional $1 million must be raised Smith said that if the institute is successful it will change the way people look at art. "We are sometimes concerned that doing art which has a social purpose compromises aesthetic excellence," she said in the news release. "Inviting artists to conceive of audiences differently and inviting audiences to conceive of artists differently could ultimately contribute to greater aesthetic achievement and the development of more skill in each art form.
Smith said that if the institute is successful it will change the way people look at art.
"We are sometimes concerned that doing art which has a social purpose compromises aesthetic excellence," she said in the news release. "Inviting artists to conceive of audiences differently and inviting audiences to conceive of artists differently could ultimately contribute to greater aesthetic achievement and the development of more skill in each art form.
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