Research universities build argument for greater role for arts, creative thinking


ANN ARBOR — Confronting the challenge of how to encourage and cultivate innovative thinking in higher education, administrators from some of the most prestigious U.S. research universities have published a report aiming to provoke a national discussion about the ways “arts practice” can be a catalyst for creative thinking in all academic disciplines.

“Art-Making and the Arts at Research Universities,” a three-year plan, is the result of nearly a year of discussions and research with the goal of further integrating the arts into higher education curriculum and campus life.

“While creative processes across fields have a great deal in common, creative process in the arts tends to be more radically open-ended, more immediately immersive, and more hands-on and experiential,” said Theresa Reid, executive director of ArtsEngine, an University of Michigan consortium to promote interdisciplinary collaboration in the arts.

The group includes U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, School of Art and Design, College of Engineering, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning, and U-M Libraries.

ArtsEngine, which itself is an innovative initiative to recast the relevancy and role of the arts in higher education, is the principal coordinator of “Art-Making and the Arts at Research Universities.”

According to the report’s executive summary: “Integrating art-making and the arts enables the university to fulfill its responsibility to society by producing new generations of leaders who are adept in the use of all of their creative cognitive faculties, and by producing an incubator for original creative work in the arts that is not constrained by market economies. Only the university can fulfill this vital social role.”

The unprecedented gathering in March of administrators to discuss a greater role for arts focused on ways to increase “arts making” as a fundamental way to inspire creativity. In contrast to “arts appreciation,” which can be a passive observant enjoyment of the visual and performing arts, “arts making” is the active and thoughtful engagement in creating art. It is the learning of craft along with the developing skills of self-expression.

The rationale in the report addresses central challenges facing higher education institutions. Amid the lingering economic slump, tough job market and educational needs for students to cope with ever-changing opportunities, universities are rethinking how to prepare students for an uncertain economic landscape. Fostering creative thinking is a broad skill, and until now, hasn’t been formally addressed as a specific educational goal.

Subsequent to the initial March gathering – known as the Michigan Meeting – four groups of higher education administrators set out to gather research, develop curricular models and programming, and formulate an advocacy strategy.

The group includes large and small, public and private research universities.

Participants in the Michigan Meeting and “Art Making and the Arts at Research Universities” report include:

  • Brown University
  • Emory University
  • Indiana University
  • Iowa State University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Ohio State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Princeton University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Syracuse University
  • University of Alabama
  • University of California at Berkeley, San Diego, and Los Angeles
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Florida
  • University of Illinois — Champaign/Urbana
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Washington University

Representatives from the Mellon Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts also participated.