Between budget cuts and the near-shuttering of The Rose Art Museum, the last two years have been, to put it mildly, difficult for the Brandeis arts community. To address this, the Office of the Arts hosted a forum Thursday afternoon in the Laurie Theater, allowing students and faculty—as well as university President Frederick Lawrence—to voice their hopes for the future of arts at Brandeis.
“This is a unique opportunity to redefine and reimagine the future of arts at Brandeis,” said Scott Edmiston, director of the Office of the Arts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an arts event, the forum’s two-hour agenda was broken into two acts.
In the first act, each department within the creative arts gave a report about their department, and students were then encouraged to voice their feelings about the strengths and needs of the art community.
In the second act, Theater Arts major Julie Judson ’11 interviewed Lawrence and then opened up questions to students.
During the interview, Lawrence tried to assure students of his belief that The Rose Art Museum is “an important asset to the school.”
“This is a place where there are misconceptions. Some … think the museum has been shuttered,” Lawrence said. “No art has been sold, and it’s certainly not my intention to do so.”
Several students asked Lawrence about the possibility of new buildings for the arts departments, declaring the current buildings to be too small and old.
Lawrence acknowledged these concerns but cited other areas as higher priorities.
“The major focus has got to be on financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students,” he said.
Prior to Lawrence’s arrival, three departmental representatives—Professors Nancy Scott (FA), Susan Dibble (TA) and Mary Ruth Ryan (MUS)—and Rose Art Museum Director Roy Dawes described the current status of their departments and recapitulated how each had been affected by the university’s financial situation.
Their reports were almost uniformly dire.
“From where I sit, I’ve simply felt that the arts are under attack at Brandeis … they’re not valued as part of the academy,” said Scott, who described the arts departments as “a go-to place for money.”
“We’re feeling stretched and stressed and saddened,” said Ray. “We’re getting by but barely meeting the needs of our students.”
Key complaints revolved around outdated buildings, the small size of the arts faculty and the lack of merit scholarships available for arts students.
Dibble specifically signaled out the termination of the MFA program in design as a sign of the declining state of the arts at Brandeis.
Still, there was hope.
The departmental representatives expressed hope for a new outlook for the arts under the new Lawrence administration. In terms of specifics, Scott highlighted the addition of new faculty to the Fine Arts department that now allows for a more global outlook.
Dawes, meanwhile, hesitantly forecast a rosier future for The Rose.
“I want to tell you that The Rose is open,” Dawes said, a statement that elicited applause from those gathered.
While noting that he’s noticed “a 180-degree turn in style from the last president,” he also cautioned that, while the museum’s collection remains untouched, the “option [of selling artwork] remains on the table.”
The Rose will undergo renovations during the summer and is expected to reopen in September, just in time to mark its 50th anniversary.
While serious discussion abounded, the forum did find time for levity.
Students learned about Lawrence’s life-long involvement with the arts, particularly music.
“I literally cannot remember a time when I was not involved with music,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always kept a hand in it for my own entertainment and fun.”
As a child, he learned to play the French horn and joined his school’s choir. He continued singing after high school, joining various college and community choral groups. At one point, he even performed at Carnegie Hall with the New York Choral Society.
While he’s sung less frequently since becoming a father, he has been called upon to perform occasionally.
While dean at George Washington University Law School, Lawrence once performed in the annual student comedy show. Specifically, he sang “Give ‘em the Old Socrazzle Dazzle,” a parody of a song from the musical “Chicago” which focused on the Socratic method.
Lawrence also listed his favorite works of art. His favorite musical, for instance, is Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” while he also expressed admiration for composers like Igor Stravinsky, Robert Schumann, and Johann Sebastian Bach.
As an avowed fan of classic cinema, he also singled out the films “Casablanca,” “On the Waterfront” and “The 39 Steps” as favorites.
He also fondly recollected his own liberal arts education.
“I had two semesters of art history that I’ve probably drawn on just as much as anything else,” Lawrence said, which must have been music to the ears of the department representatives who spoke earlier in the forum.
“It’s our job to keep this place alive… to reach our students, new students and students in the future,” Dibble said earlier that afternoon.