Charge to the Task Force on the Arts at Harvard University

University President Drew G. Faust issues a charge to the task force on the arts on Nov. 1.

The arts abound across Harvard — in nearly 150 undergraduate student organizations, in countless instrumental and choral groups, in the collections of Harvard’s museums, in studios in the Carpenter Center and the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES), in the Harvard Film Archive, at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), in the Office for the Arts, in the New College Theatre, in the fellowship program at Radcliffe, in poetry and creative writing classes in the Department of English, in the teaching and scholarship of the Graduate School of Design (GSD), in the lives of faculty, students, and staff. We confront ever increasing demand for opportunities for artistic expression, both within and beyond the curriculum. We anticipate a significant place for the arts as a central component of our growth in Allston.

Yet Harvard has not, in many years, thought comprehensively about its relationship to the arts or defined its aspirations or opportunities in a systematic way. Our extraordinary strengths in the arts remain fragmented, less well-understood, less well-supported, and less integrated than their importance warrants. Demand exceeds supply in many areas — class slots in film and creative writing; professional direction and support in theater; practice facilities for music; rehearsal space for drama; studios for the plastic arts. Cross-School and cross-unit collaborations are underdeveloped, and resources have not kept pace with changing needs. Many of our peer institutions have, in recent years, undertaken serious expansion in arts programming, offering us both models to consider and a challenge to act. The arts play a central role in the lives of so many students and faculty at Harvard, yet their role in the life of the University remains uncertain and undefined. I hope that this task force will attempt such a definition, beginning with a consideration of the fundamental question of the role of the arts in a research university and in a liberal arts education.

As early as the Brown Committee Report in 1956, Harvard began explicitly to explore its traditionally uneasy relationship to the arts, acknowledging that the University had long viewed the practice of the arts as most appropriately located outside the curriculum. This has in some measure changed, and numbers of classes—in music performance, painting, sculpture, writing, photography, film production, for example—now can be taken for credit. Yet such classes are never adequate for the number of students who wish to take them, and we retain vestiges of earlier attitudes in our treatment of the creative arts as subjects for academic credit in the undergraduate curriculum. Recognizing that any alteration in the undergraduate curriculum rests with the faculty of the FAS [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] and the resource decisions of its dean, I hope that this committee, generously peopled with FAS representatives, will consider the principles that might guide our approach to the performance and practice of the arts for undergraduate credit.

This moment—a time of beginnings, with new deans in the FAS and the GSD, a new undergraduate curriculum, and a new campus emerging across the rive —seems propitious for an ambitious rethinking of the place of arts practice at Harvard. Recent developments in the humanities and sciences, in digital technology, and in the arts themselves have called into question traditional distinctions between making and understanding. We have a historic opportunity to rethink our teaching and learning, to foster the talents of our very gifted students, to forge new interdisciplinary links across the University’s far-flung programs, and to invigorate the arts at Harvard for the 21st century.

Specifically, I ask that this committee consider and develop responses to the following questions:

• What should be the role of the arts in a research university?

• What should be the role of the arts in a liberal arts education?

• How should we think about the role of the arts within the curriculum? Except in the GSD and the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, we have few practicing artists on our faculty. Is this a result of principle, resources, or accident? Should we be thinking differently about the role of writers, painters, filmmakers at Harvard? Are different sorts of faculty appointments necessary or advisable to bring more artists into permanent positions in our community? Are there cross-School collaborations that would encourage broader engagement of those already present?

• How should we think about the relationship of arts within and beyond the curriculum? As we work to strengthen the place of the arts, how do we ensure that we preserve the improvisational and entrepreneurial energy that has enriched the experience of so many students in our arts organizations?

• How could institutions across campus like the A.R.T. or the Harvard University Art Museums that are not explicitly tied to core academic or student programs be more fully integrated into a newly vibrant arts culture at Harvard?

• What role might the GSD, centrally focused like no other School at Harvard on questions of creativity and design, play beyond its own boundaries in building and supporting the arts across the University?

• What relationships could and should arts activities create with initiatives in science, technology, humanities, and other related fields? What structured connections would encourage and enable these?

In undertaking its work, I ask that the committee consider what we can learn—both to enrich the inquiry and inform an overall approach and specific recommendations—from the experience and programs of other institutions who have undertaken arts initiatives. It will be important to examine not only the universities we ordinarily consider our peers, but also other institutions that may have distinctive programs or approaches in specific areas. I would encourage the committee to think expansively about consultation on a range of issues, both with students, faculty, and others on campus, and with our broad external network of alumni and others who are engaged in the arts at a very sophisticated level. I would urge the committee to consult as well with practicing artists in a wide range of fields.

Finally, I ask that the committee give some thought to the practical implications of recommendations that emerge from its deliberations. Specifically, it would be useful to have the committee’s views on the following issues:

• What type of administrative arrangements or innovations would best support the arts at Harvard?

• What physical structures are needed to advance our goals? What implications do our aspirations for the arts have for our consideration of physical spaces in Cambridge and Allston?

• What implications do our aspirations for the arts hold for a coming University campaign?

My framing of the issues and the related questions is meant to define a starting place, not an end point, for the work of the task force. I take it for granted that the talent, experience, and creativity represented in the membership of the committee will enrich both the framing of the issues and the conceptualization of answers and specific recommendations. It is my hope that the task force will complete the bulk of its work during the 2007-08 academic year, with a final report to be submitted by the early fall of 2008.

I am grateful for Stephen Greenblatt’s generosity in agreeing to lead this effort and for the willingness of all of you to serve on the committee. This is important and exciting work, and I very much look forward to engaging with you throughout the process.

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