University and Community - A Special Relationship

The relationship between university and community should be a very special kind of two-way street in which each contributes to the good health of the other. Concerning music, I believe there is some growing disease that might be cured if the university and community aim in the right direction. What kinds of disease? Empty concert halls. Inadequate job opportunities for professional musicians. Uncertain support for school music. A graying concert population. Popular music that is shoddy or empty of meaning. The list can go on. There is no simple cure-all or single solution for such problems, but both university and community can contribute to solutions while fulfilling their missions, if they understand and are true to their appropriate roles.

What should be the nature of that relationship? What are appropriate roles for music faculty members in assuring the relationship?

People in the university and people in the community may view the roles of each institution differently. People in the community may not understand how frail universities really are. They may see a university's stone and ivy-covered walls, its impressive balance sheet, its roots in the power of the state or the faceless ancients who gave it birth, as a feste Burg -- a mighty fortress, an anchor, a wellspring of strength, something to be used rather than supported. There is a very good reason why large music schools in major cities hide their front doors. It is not just that the curious walk in to gawk or thieves come in to steal; it is also that the time and cost of responding to myriad requests for the use of facilities and equipment is a burden, as well as added costs.

There is little wonder that a university's faculty and administrators may view the community as distant and hostile, rather than as interested and supportive. That which is our wellspring and a striking feature of our uniqueness may seem practically faceless. Our views of ourselves and of each other are important, for that is the stage on which we play our roles. Let's agree on views that are mutually beneficial. The relationship of university to community is not symbiotic, if by symbiosis is meant the kind of relationship that a pilot fish has with the shark from which it feeds. Our community is much more than houses that surround the campus. It is all of the people connections where we are planted and with which together we make an organic whole. The community is extremely important to those of us who are artists. How can we nurture it? How can we enhance an association that is life giving?

Full exploration of the topic is too vast to address here. Our relationship with our community has many dimensions, and mutual good health will be enhanced if all of them are carefully considered. Concerning one aspect we are often shortsighted. We concentrate so much on our own performances and performing groups that we neglect the infrastructure that ought to exist in our communities.

How can we help our communities achieve good musical-artistic health? It is useful and important to swing wide the doors of university performance halls, and to advertise what we are doing so that the public can enjoy and acclaim our efforts, but our responsibility to our community goes deeper. We must refuse to do for the community, for outside friends, what they should be doing for themselves. Certainly, it is appropriate to use university performances for the benefit of the community and to lend equipment, space, and facilities,

when we can do so without cost to our educational mission. But we should not permit our community to depend only on us. We should not do for our community what it should be doing for itself, with regard to those cultural enterprises that are the hallmark of quality of life: symphonies, chamber ensembles, choral groups, ballet, opera, theater.

We educate the artist better than ever before, yet we foster a society where there is no work for the artist to do. For example, how can our legislatures vote millions for buildings and educational programs and donors give more millions without, at the same time, working to provide professional opportunities for our artists to serve and affect the quality of life in our society?

Space will not permit discussion of all of the implications. One facet is: We should help our communities understand their role and help them build structures for support of the arts. Universities are expert in nonprofit management_it is to our mutual advantage to help arts nonprofit organizations do their jobs well. We should be active in arts advocacy groups in our cities and states. We should consider offering appropriate courses of study to educate and train managers of nonprofit corporations. We should participate on boards of nonprofit corporations and help those boards function effectively to identify their mission, to build a constituency, to generate needed resources. We should have a vision for our community, deliberately and purposefully assess community needs and potential, and encourage nonprofit corporations that can fulfill that vision. This is not an easy task, but, over the past 20 years, in some cities such university-community cooperation has produced positive results.

If we are to have full concert halls, if there are to be adequate job opportunities for professional musicians, if school music is to have community-wide support, if both young and old people are to enjoy concerts, and if taste in popular music is to be improved, it will be because music is part of community life. Universities are not the sole providers. It is important to the quality of life in society and to the quality of higher education for the university to help assure good management of nonprofit corporations. In our society there is no other way. The arts, outside of education, are the business of nonprofit corporations. We in the universities stand to win if we help them do their job well.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 07/05/2013

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