The Performing Arts on Campus

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Institutions of higher education are not only beset with budget problems affecting our arts faculties and curricula in general, but we face still another condition of financial exigency. Victims of our own success in establishing a home for the performing arts on our campuses, we now must find ongoing ways for funding the stream of arts activities that were once considered peripheral to arts departments, but have now emerged as central to our mission.

Though it is too little recognized by the public at large, college campuses have become the principal settings for music performances in our nation. Most people know that enterprises like the Kennedy Center are vital parts of our national cultural network, but few (except the concert managers who know where their bookings originate these days) realize that the college campus has become the major purchaser as well as presenter of music for the public. Indeed, the reason many art forms exist today is that they have been heavily subsidized by higher education tuition and endowment funds.

This has been partly the result of a Herodian complex which, in the 1950s and 1960s, spurred the creation of splendid new college facilities for performance at a time when administrators believed that money for their maintenance would flow endlessly. The Great Society was no less beneficent to the arts—proportionately, to be sure—than it was to the social and economic needs of our citizens. Massive amounts of money poured out of Washington under various Titles, and the enormous increases in federal support of the National Endowment gave everyone the false hope that federal funds would grow from $75,000,000 in one year to $300,000,000 the next, and on to a billion soon after (which is, in reality, no more than the cost of a supersonic aircraft or two). In addition, the private foundations, encouraged to match federal monies as well as pick up the tab for projects that would complement federal programs, joined wholeheartedly in an effort to be present at the "cutting edge" of the arts.

Yet the greatest amount of publicity, the notoriety of glamour, the parade of the "beautiful people," all went to the non-profit public arts sector where a legion of public relations experts set out to convince us all that the greatest arts experiences and the most treasured moments of our cultural heritage were to be found almost exclusively at the large performing and visual arts centers in a few cities across the United States.

Colleges and universities are not known for their public relations acumen. Their expertise has been more narrowly devoted to cultivating the faithful alumni and relying on their largesse to sustain the alma mater. So, by default, it has been quite easy to convince society that what is good for the non-profit cultural center is good for the country, and (if the issue was ever raised at all) that in the wake of large scale public support for these centers would follow greater contributions to the support of arts on campuses. The only problem with that logic was that there were so many non-profit boats in the water that they cut across each other's paths thereby making it impossible for higher education to benefit from what might have been a natural flow of monies to the performing arts on campuses.

So the profusion of great buildings erected by colleges, many of which rival and even surpass the vaunted European concert and theatre auditoriums, went almost unnoticed except to their own rather insulated college communities. This is not to say that each building was not admired in its own locale, but at no time was there much public attention drawn to the fact that a vast potential national network of arts facilities had been created overnight. Stated another way the public consciousness of a new national treasure was not aroused, nor informed. Digressing for just a moment, it is a certainty that the average American operagoer probably does not realize that in the splendid opera theatre within the Juilliard School (not at the neighboring New York State Theatre or even the Metropolitan Opera House) exists probably the finest small opera facility in the world.

Actually, few paid much attention to all this. In the time of plenty we witnessed during the 1960s and into the early 1970s each tub could easily float on its own bottom; there was plenty of buoyancy in each craft; and even though the larger ships were creating great waves in the cultural waters, all the other vessels managed to keep their occupants from being swamped by the backlash. However, in 1977 we are now encountering much rougher waters and, in the effort of everyone to stay afloat, college and university arts are about to go adrift.

Not only has the public awareness of existing facilities not grown appreciably, but the outstanding programming that has filled our various halls is not generally known, either. Ask any concert manager how his business has stayed alive over the past decade. Ask most concert artists how they have managed to earn their professional livelihood during this same period. The answer is clear. College concert appearances, guest lectureships for distinguished artists, faculty appointments as artists-in-residence, commissions for new works and performances sponsored by the colleges, artist-in-school affiliations between colleges and the public schools—all have been the mainstay of the careers of young men and women and even seasoned professionals. Each of these deserves a full discussion, but it will have to suffice to note that, if there has been a proliferation of arts activities almost anywhere in the country, it is a virtual certainty that members of the local or regional college faculty or the college performing arts center have been involved. In fact, these are the days when the historic "town and gown" controversies have almost ceased to exist in the arts, and when it has been the norm rather than the exception to establish mutually beneficial arrangements between institutions of higher education and their communities. Such efforts have resulted in obtaining more of the funds that have been available and have also made it possible to bring to most communities artists and programs of unusual quality. But again, outside the particular community in which the arrangement exists, such consortia are not recognized as a pattern that has made the United States unique among nations of the world. Our societal perception of the performing arts still equates the viability of the arts with the large, non-profit cultural centers, and not with the extraordinary numbers and variety of other institutions that play host to arts and artists.

This has been our own fault. We have not clearly pronounced and articulated our own point of view or made known our own special contributions to the preservation of the musical heritage, to the identification and nurturing of newer performing and composing talent on a scale far beyond anything subsidized by private or governmental structures, and to the performance of new music on which no other institution is willing to take chances. To put it more positively, there now exists a glorious opportunity to enunciate our goals and our strengths. The combination of administrative and artistic forces that exist on college campuses is unequalled anywhere. A simple statistical report would easily demonstrate that the results of this combination have made it possible for the arts to reach countless thousands across the length and breadth of the United States. The maintenance of effort in behalf of all the arts, including music, must climb into the tens of millions of dollars annually. In the latest report by the National Association of Schools of Music (1975-76) it was revealed that in just the area of purchase or rental of performance scores and parts, both public and private institutions of higher education spend about $950,000. This does not take into account expenditures for faculty salaries, student aid to performers, engagement of guest artists, maintenance of physical plants, administration, publicity, and all the larger attendant expenditures that accompany concert performances. This report boggles the mind, and yet it is still not all-inclusive since it does not also represent expenditures of the student organizations on musical presentations supported by student fees.

Moreover, the flexibility and diversity of college and university programs in music provide far more opportunity for performers and composers to present unusual works in unusual combinations as well as to present the more standard fare for campus and community audiences. Colleges and universities generally do not have to worry about "box office" and thereby neglect a rich contemporary series, for example, for fear that the patrons will either fail to purchase tickets or will leave the auditorium carrying their donations with them.

In addition, there are emerging roles for institutions of higher education to play that surpass even these clearly identifiable and quantifiable contributions to the American musical scene. Some of them imply a redirection of our energies, yet each is intimately tied to the current musical and economic scene whose trends, it would appear, will continue for some time to come.

The age of soloists, with few exceptions, is over. The age of chamber music has just begun to flourish. The era of good feeling and cooperation between college and community is with us, hopefully, for good. Arts-in-education are finally beginning to be recognized with proposals for extensive funding. Talk has just begun about real research into the meaning and contribution of music and the other arts to the humanization of our society. As a result, higher educational institutions have not only the opportunity, but the obligation, to accomplish the following:

1. Move away from the emphasis on production of soloists, except in those all too rare cases where an exceptional talent is identifiable at a very young age. While it is difficult to persuade most young people that a solo career is literally impossible for most, it is the responsibility of music faculty to get this message across—painful as it always is!

2. Move into the creation of programs that emphasize chamber music and small ensemble performance. There is a growing public interest in hearing music of a more "intimate" character. Perhaps this is the result of socio-political changes in our own country . . . the recent "love," "groupie," "hippie," "communal" movements and relationships among our young; perhaps it is a reaction to the bigness and seeming remoteness of the symphony and grand opera. But whatever the reason, audiences respond to chamber music concerts, and the quality of ensembles that have trained themselves in this distinctive art form is definitely on the rise. Once again, it is not easy to guide students away from the glitter of the solo spotlight, but it is easily demonstrable that shared musical production playing to large houses, more frequently, is better than trying to edge the multitude of hopefuls out from under that 6-foot circle of light surrounding the very few Fischer-Dieskau's of the world.

3. Establish formal consortia among sister institutions. The pattern of relationships between colleges and conservatories is now well defined. Very few conservatories should remain alone, and those single purpose institutions should be devoted to the solo performer. The rest of our fine music schools and departments should emphasize other forms of performance and, particularly, new means whereby the total college population may be served through musical experiences ranging from the experiential to more imaginative music listening courses. Regional approaches to propagating the art of music could be planned among schools that would create more opportunities for the public to engage in music making and concert going at less cost to each institution.

4. Effect liaisons with local arts organizations and agencies which should be founded on more than a "sharing of facilities" basis. Why need the local arts council import musical talent when superior performance exists in their own college communities?

5. Articulate forcefully the debt owed to the colleges for the fostering and performance of contemporary music. It is a bit trying to read the criticism of some composers that being on a college campus tends to stifle their creativity, or that the "academic" composer is something less worthy than his free-lance counterpart. Composition is not institutionalized nor are artists any less free to create as faculty members or artists-in-residence. Indeed, not only does the college ivy tend not to strangle them, it creates a veritable wreath about their heads. So we have to protect the composers from themselves, by reminding them that contemporary music could hardly exist were it not for the support of the higher education establishment.

6. Do what we, alone, are best at doing. Study and research the performing arts. This could mean producing really basic research into the business of the arts—its policies, administration, impact of programming on the public, society's attitudes about the arts and artists, and a definition of the accountability of arts organizations to the public. The arts are generally regarded as among the most poorly administered, and for good reason. Rising deficits, out of proportion to the general inflationary cycle, lack of responsiveness to public needs, and a continuing elitist justification for support of our larger arts institutions contribute to public suspicion and budget reductions. The tremendous resources of schools of business, education, and the law need to be brought into play, for higher education has the responsibility to speak out on these issues and to document not only the problems but some possible answers to our greatest national concern.

7. Create new arts forms and emphasize the interrelationships among the arts, both in their creation and in arts education programs. Even relationships between the various branches of music (musicology and education the best examples) need to be strengthened. The scholarship of the musicologist can, and should, be focused on the art of performance. The expertise of education has really yet to be focused on performers as they seek to enter the public arena and to promulgate their art through teaching at all levels

8. Help to make music performance a real public education experience. Prepare performers to involve their audiences as more than passive participants in an aesthetic experience. Seminars for young musicians need to be developed in which they are educated to talk to groups of all ages, to help them understand the meaning of the music to which they are listening, and generally to dispel the public misconception of the artist as detached and inarticulate—not to mention the parallel misperception of the arts as principally non-verbal and therefore unattainable for the most part.

9. Become centers for the training of musicians to cope with life, to plan their careers and deal with the realities of the music world in which business acumen often plays as large a part as musicianship. Create new opportunities for the continuing education of musicians in such non-traditional ways as Institutes that bridge the arts and their most current concerns. The cross-fertilization of artists, their potential impact on one another, is an area ripe for further exploration. Certainly there is no better place for meetings of minds than the campuses, else what are we in business for?

10. Infiltrate the board rooms of business. Prepare young musicians for careers in the allied professions of music. The tastemakers of tomorrow should have had their preparation in the arts classrooms of today—not only the usual business or law school from which emerge most executives whose eyes are delighted by the bottom line far more than the lines in painting, sculpture, and music which should delight their souls.

 

Ours should be the unique mission of enhancing performance and creation not only by continuing to provide for them the principal settings for their sustenance, but by means of supplementary materials and concepts with which they may accomplish their purposes for our entire citizenry. A strong case can then be made for our present share of public support—intellectual as well as financial—which cannot then be denied. Furthermore, the recognition that accompanies public understanding can only resound to the future benefit of the arts in higher education.

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Last modified on Monday, 12/11/2018

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