Campus & Community

Task Force Releases Report on the Arts

5 min read

A concerted effort should be made to put the arts at Harvard University on par with the study of the humanities and sciences, according to a report released today (Dec. 10) by a University-wide task force that examined the role the arts play in campus life.

The report makes a powerful case for the role of the arts within a research university. Harvard, as an institution, values creative thinking and leadership. The arts provide direct experience of these values, both in how to imagine the new and how to turn fresh ideas into reality. If Harvard is to continue to be a place where dreams are born and exciting collaborations push the boundaries of knowledge, it must do more to include the practice of the arts in the curriculum and embrace it as an integral part of intellectual life on campus.

“In prose both elegant and forceful, the report calls for Harvard to end the ‘curricular banishment’ of the arts and recognize that they belong at the core of the University’s educational mission,’’ said Harvard President Drew Faust. “Accompanied by a framework of recommendations designed to bring this vision to life within the cultural, curricular, and physical structures of the University, the report makes a powerful case that deserves our attention and action.”

The task force comprised of 19 members of the Harvard community, including faculty, students, and professional artists, was established in November 2007 to examine the role of the arts in a research university, in a liberal arts education, and at Harvard specifically. The committee was also charged with exploring ways Harvard can encourage connections between the arts and science, technology, humanities, and other related fields. During the past year, committee members conducted extensive interviews with members of the community and visited peer institutions as they assessed Harvard’s commitment to the arts. While the report acknowledges the significant amount of artistic activity on campus, the relatively few academic programs dedicated to arts practice have largely relegated the arts to the extracurricular lives of students.

The report calls for an ambitious re-thinking of Harvard’s approach to the arts. It asks that the University place an increased emphasis on the arts in the curriculum both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It asks for greater visibility and accessibility for the arts on campus through the creation and renovation of physical spaces dedicated to the arts and the addition to campus of a greater number of practicing artists as faculty members or in extended residencies.

The report arrives at a time when the University is examining operations in response to a challenging economic climate. Harvard’s Task Force on the Arts Chair and Cogan University Professor Stephen Greenblatt said that the arts should always be one of the pillars of the University’s mission. “The creation of art — the integration of empathy, conceptual thinking, and design that art-making entails — is not a decorative add-on to an education,’’ Greenblatt said. “One of the reasons that we value art is that it gets at certain aspects of the human experience that other forms of study and practice rarely approach. It is central to what education, in our time or indeed any time, is about.’’ The report also asks that the university give cultural institutions such as the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) and the Harvard museums a more central role in campus life. These institutions have an extraordinary opportunity to educate and engage students and the community by combining their extraordinary activities with Harvard’s groundbreaking faculty, curatorial, and student research.

For improvements within the undergraduate curriculum, the report recommends an increased number of arts courses, innovative pedagogical collaborations between the arts and non-arts faculty, and the addition of a concentration in the Dramatic Arts. The task force also advocates for new, innovative graduate programs in arts practice. Additional recommendations include increasing the presence of public art on campus and making arts performances on campus more accessible through better communication strategies and lower ticket prices for students.

“With the release of this report and the gradual implementation of its recommendations, Harvard has an opportunity to educate a new generation of creative minds,” said Dean of the Graduate School of Design Mohsen Mostafavi. “A lively and vital presence of the arts on our campus will bring together many discrete elements of the University in powerful occasions for inspiration and collaboration.”

Many of the task force’s goals are long-range targets that will require collaboration within the University community as well as with neighboring institutions that share Harvard’s interest in the intellectual power of art. The task force report recommends appointing an advisory committee to support the growth of the arts on campus and seek opportunities for the sharing of ideas, resources, and initiatives.

“The work of this task force offers us a significant opportunity to enhance our undergraduate and graduate education by making the arts an integral part of the cognitive life of Harvard,” said Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith. “I am grateful to the work conducted by the task force and eager to see how we might begin to implement many of their recommendations.”

The task force recommendations build upon a tradition of supporting the arts at Harvard. There are more than 100 undergraduate student art organizations and instrumental and choral groups on campus and the University is home to vast museum collections. It also supports the arts through such initiatives as the Harvard Film Archive, the American Repertory Theatre, and many other programs on campus.