New Issues in the Arts in Higher Education
Published online: 1 October 1979
- PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374015
I have been asked to address you on new issues in the arts in higher education. That's quite a sizeable assignment, and the ordering of priorities is not easy. But let me begin by asserting with some confidence that the newest and hottest issue in the arts in higher education is us: visible, viable, and, at last, vocal.
We can now say, less morbidly than Shakespeare, "Who would have thought we had so much blood in us?" We are experiencing a major happening in the arts and arts education. The signs are good. It is a time to be proud of ourselves.
I doubt that any of us would have believed as recently as five years ago that there could be so much unanimity among us today in the cause of the arts. This unanimity, this speaking, if not with one voice at least vocalizing in close harmony, is responsible for much of our current strength and the optimistic prognosis for the arts in higher education.
The development of this unanimity has come about through the establishment of some national coalition of groups concerned with the arts in education: I want to review a few of these coalitions with you and talk about some of the issues they are confronting that are of concern to you. There is one big problem in this: new developments and changes occur almost daily, so timeliness is difficult. But I'll try to give you the picture as I see it now, and to do that I need to present some assumptions I am making about our present situation:
- The arts have achieved what they diversely and by different directions set out to do in higher education: they have gained a foothold. They are established in higher education across the nation in a buckshot-like and uneven pattern. And while this vast spread originally was thought to be a disadvantage, it is developing into our strength.
- Conformity is the enemy of the arts, yet without agreement and common points of reference we cannot relate representatively and effectively to the forces and pressures around us. The pressures are most obvious in our own institutions, which are demanding, and the federal government.
- Arts programs may be compared to people. Fundamentally, the human race has an identifiable and recognizable framework, but the differences and distinctions establish certain features as outstanding or beautiful or notable or measurable. So it is in the arts in higher education. We don't all look alike, but to our credit we have created a recognizable framework enabling us to capitalize on our special features.
- Unhappily, in the past we have become accustomed to or have allowed ourselves to settle for crisis solutions which were basically reactive, tentative, and unsatisfying. Events, society, the economy, and the state of the arts today are so forcefully pressing as to necessitate our joining forces toward long-term and integrated efforts springing from our initiative.
- Colleges and universities have the human and physical resources to contribute significantly to the national cultural needs. I emphasize the words "needs" for it is the key. The arts are absolutely essential to the well-being of the American society. And because the arts in higher education, in particular, enjoy unique advantages, we must forcefully exploit them as we assume the competitive leadership role which will be natural for us in the next decade.
Let me elaborate a bit on this last assumption: that colleges and universities have human and physical resources to contribute significantly to the national cultural needs.
As our society has changed and as the fields in higher education have broadened and developed, education and training in the arts has become an important part of the tradition of our colleges and universities, offering to Americans opportunities never before open to them on such a scale.
Colleges and universities are now presenting to the professional world liberally and broadly educated artists. These artists will have meaningful acceptance and influence in our particular society. Thus the character and quality of the arts in the future can be significantly affected by career programs of substance in higher education. The formative years of the development of a majority of would-be artists will be shaped by the sum of their experiences within quite a different training and educational milieu and on quite a different scale than before because of the availability of the programs in our institutions of higher education. We have cause to be proud of this infusion of artists into the mainstream of the arts in America, and of the profound influence it represents.
The implications to the training and education of artists and arts educators are obvious. But we must also remember that while serving the cause of the arts themselves as well as the careers of the professionally oriented individuals, our institutions are also melting pots of individuals who come from and will go into a variety of walks of life. They are destined to be involved and aware people. They are the voters and the lawmakers, the civic leaders and decision makers of tomorrow, and the future cultural leaders in communities all over the nation. Their collective attitudes will shape and develop standards of taste and judgment. Their preparation for this role requires heavy influence from the arts in general education programs and cultural activities on campuses.
Because of the great geographic spread of these institutions of higher education, the impact is vast. The connection between the great arts centers in the metropolitan areas, where critical standards are set, and the great network of cultural arts centers on campuses across the nation, where millions of Americans enjoy the refinement and extension of these standards, has not been properly utilized to the advantage or profit of either. As cultural centers, the colleges and universities have collectively progressed from passive to active patron.
The kind of thinking about the integral relationship between the arts and our educational institutions led to the formation some years ago of a Fine Arts Commission within the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. I am honored, if a little exhausted, to be the first and present chairman of that Commission.
Many of you come from schools that are part of this noble association and know of its functioning. For those of you who don't, let me explain briefly.
This national association of 141 state and land-grant universities represents over 400 campuses and approximately 4,000,000 students. It is avowedly concerned with legislative influence and persuasion, and its most successful ventures have been in the field of agriculture. Strange bedfellows for the arts? No indeed. We in the arts are, in fact, fortunate to have the same resources, political connections, and staff of the association at our disposal. The association has proved to be a wonderful base for the arts.
The Fine Arts Commission has identified certain critical issues in the arts in higher education on which it will focus and work toward some resolution. Most critical of these issues, we feel, are those dealing with the relationship between universities and governmental agencies involved with the arts.
Specifically, at the national level we see a critical need for more direct access to and the establishment of specific channels of communication between arts leadership in higher education and all program areas in the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Office of Education. We wish to be able to compete for these agencies' support having the same advantages accorded to other arts agencies and organizations.
One of our issues is already being resolved. We have complained about the exclusion of our eligibility to compete for challenge grants in the Arts Endowment. New wording has been developed for the Endowment's guidelines which will eliminate this prohibition.
And on a more general note, we in the Commission wish to emphasize the need for a functioning liaison between the two Endowments: Arts and Humanities. We are pleading for direct collaboration for the purpose of providing new ways to link scholarship, interpretation of the arts, and for maintaining an overview, observation, awareness of current thought and ideas, and information on those points where the arts and humanities intersect. The linkage of the Endowments would greatly benefit the universities, and there is no more appropriate locale for this interrelationship to be practiced than in the universities.
Although I'll speak about some new overtures being made by the Office of Education a bit later, the Commission's feeling is that, at present, arts programs in higher education which we consider innovative and which we wish to originate must be shoehorned in to fit the Office of Education's predetermined formats and categories. It is clearly time for a change within that federal agency in our direction.
The National Institute of Education presents us with a different problem—the arts in higher education are simply excluded at present from this federal organization's thinking. While much of the work of the Institute has been notable, we feel compelled to work toward changes in its policy and legislation which will enable it to do for the arts in higher education what it was established to do: " . . . 'help solve or alleviate' critical problems of American education through research and development." Critical problems in the arts at the university level need the same attention accorded the six limited and pre-established categories of research described in the guidelines of the National Institute of Education and provided for by its legislation.
The Fine Arts Commission is also concerned with relations between higher education and government agencies at the state level. Many of you, I am sure, share the Fine Arts Commission's concern over an uneasy and uneven relationship between our institutions of higher education and some state councils throughout the nation. Prejudicial attitudes and practices exist toward some of our institutions. This is a particularly sensitive problem for some state universities. We feel institutions of higher education should not be precluded from participation at the state level any more so than at the national level when funds are channeled through state councils. Our Commission will give high priority to this item, and if you have any evidence which would be useful to us we would welcome your sharing it with us.
A continuing concern of the Commission is for improved relationships between arts education and the arts professions. We are urging the establishment of funding sources and guidelines to support early career development of artistic talent through improved educational opportunities and liaison with the professions. This can certainly have direct bearing on your programs.
These, then, are some of the issues with which the Fine Arts Commission is concerning itself these days.
I might report just one more piece of information regarding the Commission's activities. We have just completed a national survey of the arts in the 141 member schools of NASULGC. To our knowledge it is the first comprehensive study of the state of the arts in higher education. The study is, of necessity, limited to institutions in our association. We're analyzing and interpreting the information now, and a publication will be forthcoming in about ten months. We will have a profile on the arts in colleges and universities dealing with administration, curriculum, students, faculty, resources and facilities, programming, new and innovative directions, relations with community, state and federal bodies.
There are two new movements involving national organizations concerned with the arts in education that I think you should be aware of. They are the Assembly of National Arts Education Associations and the Caucus of Arts Organizations in Higher Education. For simplicity's sake I will refer to them as the Assembly and the Caucus. You will find that they both represent our search for governmental support for our mission.
The Assembly is a remarkable and historically important group. For the very first time, professional arts organizations in higher education have come together in a solid phalanx of common purpose. Your own organization is an important and influential participant. The Assembly has 22 member organizations representing everyone from academic deans, such as me, to dance to jazz to young audiences. Sitting in as observers and resource people in the Assembly are an additional 14 representatives from various institutional and federal agencies. Watching this group work is wonderful to behold.
The purpose of the Assembly is to provide a forum for the professional arts education community to refine, endorse, and advocate legislative positions to establish federal policies favorable to arts education. It staked out its turf and serves as a consultative resource to the federal government. It works for the advancement of education in all the arts, and does not deal with issues of preference among the various arts disciplines. It would be unthinkable to ignore the Assembly in the formation of arts legislation in the future.
The Caucus was born of a natural frustration understandable to anybody who has dealt with a federal agency. First comes the legislation which the Assembly is attempting to influence. Then comes the bureaucracy and interpretation of the legislation by the minions of federal czars. Then comes the frustration. The many bureaucratic channels are so complex in organization, "oneupmanship," and turfdom that one comes away perplexed and bewildered by what one perceives to be confusion and lack of sympathetic understanding.
On the other hand, have you ever given much thought to the complete puzzlement these agencies must feel in dealing with all of us individually? Have you ever thought of how many times these people have had to sit and listen to each of us, hear our troubles, or read the same old thing coming from many of us who tend to think we have the franchise on an idea or a project? I often marvel at the courtesy these bureaucratic representatives have shown us and at their patience. That doesn't alleviate the frustration, however.
We know that federal agencies are often prone to take action on arts matters without advice, consultation, or the involvement of those arts groups in higher education most concerned. The feeling was that the arts groups should band together behind some strong institutional representation to present coordinated approaches to the federal agencies and establish an intelligence network among ourselves. Thus, the Caucus was born with me as Chairman. The emphasis is on dealing with agencies not with legislation. The Caucus is brand new, but its characteristics are already determined. To deal effectively with federal agencies, we felt we needed the combined strength of an arts organization grouping with that of the colleges and universities themselves. We sought a merger with the most formidable collection of institution-based organizations: American Council on Education, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, Association of American Colleges, Association of American Universities, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. We met with the program directors of these associations who, on the spot, established an Inter-Association Committee on Arts and Humanities, a most effective action as a first step among themselves to facilitate their work with and for us. Your colleges and universities are represented several times over through membership in these associations.
We found the associations enthusiastic in positive interest, expressing a desire for regularity of contact, and stressing the need for our arts groups establishing a companion organizational framework with which they could work. They see much merit in the marriage. In my Walter Mitty moments I dream of it as a sort of arts cartel.
Together, we will spell out ways in which we can develop concerted courses of action, pool information, provide mutual resource assistance, express joint opinions on positions, persuasively influence actions and decision, and generally work together for mutual good. With that range of institutions with us, running interference for us on occasion, we should be able to sort out the frustrations, bring some order among ourselves, and make an indelible mark on the state of the arts.
I think the concept of the Caucus is a good and necessary one. Its framework will be finally drafted in this hotel on November 13-14 and presented to the full Caucus in December. The Caucus is the perfect complement to the Assembly. Having perceived the problems and the needs, the onus is on us to make the Assembly and Caucus work. We (arts in higher education) have seen our duty and now we're about to do it.
Let me turn now to initiatives coming from the federal government. Many of them are exciting and, while it is still too early to predict their success, we do know that what is happening in these federal agencies today will have impact on our arts programs in the future.
First some words about the Office of Education. The Commissioner made, in a speech to the International Council of Fine Arts Deans in Minneapolis one year ago, a commitment and a promise to turn the arts in higher education around. Within six months he had appointed a special consultant to develop recommendations for a course of action. Three actions, which the Commissioner calls an "arts in education initiative," have happened within the last few months.
First, there has been established an interbureau group composed of people inside and outside the Office of Education, but within the federal bureaucracy, who have some dealing with the uses of the arts within their program areas. The Commissioner is attempting to develop some unified plans in these areas.
Second, an Arts in Education Forum was called in Washington with about 20 non-government arts organizations invited to send representatives. I represented the state and land-grant universities on the Forum. The Forum is expected to reveal exemplary existing programs, evaluate arts needs, and participate in comprehensive planning through small working groups. This is heady stuff. The single most important issue as a result of the first Forum meeting was a resolution by those present that the Forum should work most productively on a consultative basis to the Commissioner. If the Commissioner accepts that offer, and I do not see how he can avoid it, it will be a great leap forward where the arts organizations most concerned can participate in decisions most affecting them.
The third development in the "arts in education initiative" has been the establishment of a special committee of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities chaired by the Commissioner. We are told it will deal with federal policy.
While these moves by the Office of Education are very important to us, the government initiative which is likely to have the most immediate bearing on us is the work of the Task Force on the Education, Training, and Development of Professional Artists and Arts Educators in the National Endowment for the Arts. The Task Force has already recommended a title for itself more appropriately describing its function: "The Committee on Arts Education, training, and Career Development." The Task Force will report its findings to the National Council on the Arts and the Chairman of the Endowment in early December. Beyond the mere establishment of a study group in arts education, I find many welcome and significant recommendations which will provide ammunition for administrative action by the Chairman.
The report, conceived primarily for the guidance of the Arts Endowment, contains a plea to abolish arbitrary compartmentalization in the arts and education and among the agencies and organizations which deal with them. There is clearly established a need for a single effort in arts education.
Of considerable interest to us will be what the Chairman does with the request that a senior person in the Endowment be given responsibility for program development and liaison in the areas of arts education, training and development, and that this person "must not dodge the issues which cross jurisdictional borders."
The format itself of the Task Force report is impressive in that where each recommendation occurs there is a companion column which lists the appropriate responsible agency concerned (federal, state, community, international) and funding sources.
While I probably should not cite a specific portion of a report still in draft form, I am going to do so because it is so appropriate to your future and to the reason why I am here. "The artistic community, a natural alliance of citizens and institutions especially concerned with the arts, must assume responsibility and initiative in the field of arts training, education, and development. Artists, teachers, and audiences who are deeply committed to the arts have traditionally discovered, trained, and nurtured exceptional talent. They constitute a vital and potentially influential community which the Arts Endowment is empowered to serve and, where appropriate, lead. But, the artistic community must also make its own interest felt in arts education at the national, state, and local levels."
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your field, make your interest felt for the common good of the arts. Even though you only feel qualified to raise questions, remember what James Thurber said, "It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers." We are proving ourselves willing to raise questions and even to look for answers. But the path to satisfying conclusions is not an easy one and it is fraught with tiger traps along the way.
Our composite naïveté in the ways of the federal world is real and must be remedied. We all seem to be willing to plunge ahead because we realize we have to, but what strengths will emerge among us as a group are not yet clear.
One thing is certain, with all the simmering and stewing and even frying going on, we need to stay in touch as never before. With the democratization of the arts in higher education which has taken place in the last decade. we work in pockets of strengths geographically dispersed. The dispersal invites insularity. This is our gravest danger and creates an enormous gap between the leadership of organizations and their constituency.
Finally, in spite of current efforts to the contrary, we must constantly remember the "feds" do not have all the answers or all the money. Yet the most action—the currents and crosscurrents—is in Washington.
I found the preparation for this talk to be extremely difficult because I sometimes view what is happening with ambivalence. I think we occasionally tend to get turned off and convince ourselves that developments happening somewhere else don't really touch us, but they do. We can't afford not to pay attention to what is happening at the top, and within the next few months the most important developments will occur in Washington. They must happen at that level first. I think we are ready for them. Having been involved in some way with all these developments, I realized, too, that almost everything we're focusing on is in the future, which makes the issues before us not only new but untried.
What does the future hold? The choice, for a change, is ours.
We can sentence ourselves to bureaucratic and institutional strangulation and so earn an epitaph like this one in Cheltenham Churchyard on a very small tombstone for a very young person:
It is so soon that I am done for, I wonder what I was begun for.
We can rise up, like the mate of a whaler to his captain, and say, "All I want of you is a little seevility, and that of the commonest goddamndest kind."
I'll sign on with the mate.
This address was delivered at the banquet of the annual meeting of the College Music Society in St. Louis, October 28, 1978.
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