Arts Research at University of Michigan

3 May

“The Role of Art-Making and the Arts in a Research University” will be held May 4-6 in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan. Below are excerpts of an interview with Theresa Reid, the conference organizer, from “Montage” an online magazine at the University of Michigan. See the full interview here.


Montage: Why is that process important to the research university?

Reid: It’s important that universities serve the whole student.  We talk a great deal about diversity, because we know that diversity of all kinds enriches learning and life in many ways.  Integrating art-making into the university introduces a certain kind of rigorous cognitive diversity – it helps students learn to use their whole brains.  This is deeply rewarding and exciting on a personal level, of course.  But also, the world’s incredibly complicated problems need graduates who can use their full creative and cognitive endowment.

Montage: So, why the need for this symposium?

Reid: Art-making has not thrived in research universities, generally.  U-M is highly unusual in having mature, very highly regarded professional programs in Art & Design, Music, Theatre & Dance, and Architecture, as well as in creative writing and filmmaking. In addition to these professional programs, we have UMMA, UMS, and hundreds of voluntary student art groups.   In most research universities art-making is a very faint echo.

Montage: Why is art-making not thriving at most research universities?

Reid: One reason is revenue.  Art-making can be expensive, and doesn’t bring in revenue like, for instance, scientific or engineering research does.   It’s a sad fact, but somebody has to pay the bills.  Also, the value of the products of art-making might not be immediately evident, as it often is in science, math, and engineering: the value of the product of “art-making” is harder to quantify, especially in the short-term.

Montage: So why do art-making and the arts belong in the research university?

Reid: Because art-making is integral to the project of being human.  Human beings evolved making art, and every human culture produces art.  This essential part of who we are as a species cannot be left behind in the greatest engines of culture in the world:  U.S. research universities.  All research universities do support the humanities – that is, the study of the arts.  But the humanities, important as they are, are not enough.  The making and the doing of original creative work is categorically different:  it’s the hands-on creative work that provides the really deep cognitive diversity and opportunities for groundbreaking collaborations.

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