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Arts resources at Brandeis: Use them or lose them

By Maxwell Price

Section: Arts

February 13, 2009

<i>PHOTO BY Amira Mintz-Morgenthau/The Hoota</i>

PHOTO BY Amira Mintz-Morgenthau/The Hoota

Amidst all the insanity and media frenzy over the Rose Art Museum debacle, there was one simple moment that came to eclipse all the others in my mind. I was walking to class when I heard a senior outside of Usdan discussing the controversy. “I don’t know,” she began, “I guess it makes the university look bad.” I perked up my ears to hear what my peer would conclude about the importance of the Rose as part of Brandeis’ artistic legacy, its purported educational mission, or its attractiveness to incoming students (not to mention the fine arts program itself). Instead, she only tossed out a flippant, “But it doesn’t really affect me. I mean, I’ve never actually been there.” As outraged as I was by President Reinharz’s initial disclosure of the decision, the student’s statement irked me even more.

So this is a sermon to all you people who never went to the Rose Art Museum, who have never attended a play on campus, who have never even heard of the Lydian String Quartet, and who didn’t realize the annual Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts existed. It’s time to wake up, folks, because it’s a dog eat dog world out there, and arts programs are easy prey. It’s easy enough for belt-tightening institutions of higher learning to scale back on arts resources without handing them the rationale of underutilization. Put another way, it is much easier to say that the arts lie outside a university’s “core teaching and research mission” when students aren’t taking advantage of those educational tools to the best of their abilities.

The tension between art and society’s emphasis on “useful, practical” skills has been a dominant theme in my life. I attended public arts magnet schools for middle and high school in which every day was prophesied to be our last. A totalitarian superintendent made it his primary goal to “even the playing field,” which for him meant siphoning money from our arts programs to ailing schools who weren’t performing up to par on standardized tests. Our mission of excellence in arts and academics became clouded when our high school became dependent on funding from AP scores. The threat of budget trimming perpetually hung over our heads. At the same time, my father was running a not for profit theater that was experiencing similar cutbacks from the state government. Such theaters struggle to survive even in supportive environments, so the idea of sustaining quality theatrical productions without adequate government funding (you can thank Dubbya’s brother, Jeb Bush, for that) was daunting to say the least.

But my school survived, and so did the theater. Neither would have been around long, however, if it weren’t for the generous support of the community. The same lesson is true of Brandeis. I’m not saying that the administration initially decided to close the Rose because students didn’t appreciate it enough. Yet I do believe that if students had shown as much interest in the art during all the months and years preceding the decision as they did post-mortem in protests, the Board of Trustees might have expressed a little more hesitation.

So here’s an idea. Let’s launch a demonstration to show how much we value our arts programs at Brandeis. March to the Laurie Theater to see the gorgeous, thought-provoking Siddhartha! Storm the Dreizer Gallery to view the new undergraduate art exhibition! Stage a sit-in of Slosberg where new student compositions will be performed!

At this moment of transition, it’s time to turn the tide back towards the “arts” in liberal arts. And it starts when you show that you care.

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