President Lawrence H. Summers and Provost Steven E. Hyman have announced the launch of a new initiative to support artistic and cultural activities at Harvard University. Sean T. Buffington, currently assistant provost and deputy chief of staff, will become associate provost and director of cultural programs, effective July 1. An advisory committee will be convened in the fall composed of faculty and leaders of the University’s cultural organizations.
The new associate provost, the advisory committee, and relevant department chairs and faculty leaders will assume responsibility for planning the cultural components of the Allston campus and identifying fundraising priorities in the arts and culture. They will also develop and support new cultural and artistic projects that enhance the education of Harvard students and make the cultural and artistic resources of Harvard more visible and accessible to the University and greater Boston communities.
“Harvard is an extraordinary cultural institution: Its collections of art, cultural artifacts, recordings, and film are among the finest in the world; and the community of artists – in our schools, departments, and affiliated institutions – is a remarkably rich one,” said Summers. “These artists and works of art are a crucial part of what makes this university great. They deserve the careful attention and support of Harvard’s leadership. This new initiative will turn a bright light on some of Harvard’s most precious treasures and talented individuals.”
Hyman expressed his enthusiasm for the initiative: “Sean is going to be a terrific leader for this effort. He cares passionately about the arts and believes strongly in the importance of the arts to the University. I’m thrilled he’s agreed to take on the leadership of this initiative.”
Buffington expressed gratitude to Summers and Hyman for supporting the initiative. “This is a tremendous vote of confidence in Harvard’s artistic and cultural community. Harvard is assuming its place as one of Boston’s and Cambridge’s pre-eminent cultural institutions,” he said.
Faculty and cultural leaders at the University applauded the new initiative. William L. Fash, Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and Ethnology and director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, said, “[C]ultural traditions from all parts of the world are represented in the scholarship, performing arts, and vast, priceless museum collections available at Harvard. With this new initiative we can envision new ways that those traditions may one day soon be made more accessible to the Harvard and Greater Boston communities.”
“The Harvard Art Museums welcome this news with open arms,” said Thomas W. Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. “It is long overdue, and as Harvard plans its future, Sean’s appointment signals the important role the arts will play both in Harvard’s educational mission and in the greater Boston communities.”
Allston presents an important challenge for the initiative. Summers identified cultural programs as essential to the success of the new campus in his October 2003 letter on Allston planning. The Allston Life Task Force in its May 2004 report described important needs for cultural facilities and also new opportunities. But the University is still far from a plan. “We’ve only just gotten started,” said Buffington. “The University’s faculty, cultural leaders, and students need to think together about what’s needed, what’s imaginable, and what’s possible. And they need to do so in a comprehensive way, taking into account all of Harvard’s resources, the needs of students and faculty as well as the community, and the Cambridge campus as well as the Allston campus.”
Such a plan will inevitably require new funds. Raising these gifts will be challenging. However, said Buffington, “This will be, as far as I know, the first comprehensive arts plan for the University. I think that will be very exciting for supporters of the arts at Harvard. It’s an opportunity to link the arts, education, and scholarship that would be impossible anywhere else – and, given our resources, the potential of such an effort is surely greater than anywhere else.”
Buffington graduated from Harvard College in 1991 with a degree in Afro-American Studies and English and American Literature and studied West Indian Literature at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. He earned a master’s degree in American culture from the University of Michigan in 1994. Buffington has worked in the Provost’s Office since 1999. He served on the arts and culture subcommittee of the Allston Life Task Force, acts as the Provost’s liaison to the American Repertory Theater, and is a member of the Art Museums’ Executive Planning Committee. He is also secretary of the board of trustees of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.