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image: Campus NewsPortrait of the arts as a young plan: central to campus life
After a year assessing the state of the arts on campus, identifying program opportunities, and prioritizing space needs, the Arts Study Group released its recommendations in October. Based on meetings with representatives of academic programs, student activities, and professional arts organizations on campus, the report calls for a number of brick-and-mortar projects aimed at meeting an arts wish list. Even more importantly, the group called for renewed recognition of the arts' centrality in the life of the University-not simply for its students, but also for its faculty and staff.

IMAGE:  The arts plan encourages student projects such as this puppet show on the quads last spring"The commonly held view links the practice of art at the University primarily with recreation…. A result has been the peripheral status of the practice of art on our campus," states the report, calling for a new perception: "[W]e should understand the practice of art not only as a recreational diversion from the rigors of academic life," the group argues in the report's introduction, "but also as a central activity of the 'life of the mind.'"

The nine-member Arts Study Group, chaired by then- Provost Geoffrey R. Stone, JD'71, began meeting in September 2000. Explaining the group's founding impetus to the University of Chicago Chronicle, Associate Provost Mary Harvey, PhD'87, said, "We reached a moment when we realized that there were pressures in several different quarters, and they needed to be addressed in a systematic way."

Despite those pressures, the study group also found a "good news" side to the story: evidence of an already lively campus arts scene, with more than 80 arts-related registered student organizations. "We really underestimated both the depth and breadth of the offerings in the arts," said Harvey. "We just need better facilities and more resources." Undergraduates, for example, want more arts classes and rehearsal and performance spaces. Meanwhile, Midway Studios needs extensive renovations to make it a state-of-the-art arts facility-a goal complicated by its landmark status. And the Humanities division wants to expand its creative-writing curriculum.

While most of the recommendations remain in the recommendation stage, some already have been implemented-or moved on to the next stage of study. For example, Caren Skoulas, associate provost for planning, is investigating ways to adapt existing spaces, and she has also formed a committee to do a program study for Mandel Hall, identifying which groups would benefit most from using it and which would be better served in other campus spaces. In addition, Skoulas's group will study the feasibility of another round of renovations to the 1903 building: installing an HVAC system, updating lighting and sound equipment, and remodeling the dressing rooms and green room.

Establishing an Arts Planning Council to help oversee the University's new focus on the arts was another of the report's recommendations, and the 12-member council, chaired by Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow distinguished service professor in the Law School, held its first meeting only a few weeks into the fall quarter. As one of the council's first acts, it launched UChicagoArts, a funding program to support new arts projects and artistic collaborations on campus with grants of $1,500 to $15,000. The program will award its first round of grants in February.

Collaborations crop up in many of the recommendations made by the Arts Study group, including more internship and work-study opportunities for students in the city's professional arts organizations and the forging of closer links between the professional arts organizations on campus and academic life. The Smart Museum staff have pioneered activities in this area, such as planning exhibitions that feature faculty-member curators and publishing exhibition catalogs that include student essays (see Reading Clothes).

Looking further into the future, the report makes several major facilities recommendations: the creation of a Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at 60th Street and Drexel Avenue, incorporating a renovated Midway Studios, student theater spaces and music practice rooms, and a new Arts Quadrangle at 56th Street and Ellis Avenue, near the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art and Court Theatre.

For more information on UChicagoArts and the Arts Planning Council, go to www.uchicago.edu/artscouncil.
-C.S.



  FEBRUARY 2002

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