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Seeking a more creative campus

Silagh White

Last year Silagh White, the administrative director of ArtsLehigh, had an epiphany.

In benchmarking how organizations on more than a dozen other campuses work to integrate arts into all facets of the curriculum and campus life, she came to the realization that ArtsLehigh was not alone in facing its challenges.

White discussed those findings last fall with peers from the University Directors of Arts Programs. In the audience was Steven J. Tepper, associate director of Vanderbilt University’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, who was so intrigued by the results that he invited White to present at this month's Creative Campus Caucus in New York.

Tepper, a well-respected member of the national arts community, has consulted with clients such as the National Humanities Center, the American Academy of Arts and Science, and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. His articles have appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Review of Policy Research, Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, and International Journal of Cultural Policy.

The Creative Campus Caucus is an important gathering to take stock of current initiatives and ideas exploring connections between creativity, the arts and higher education. Speaking to foundation officials, scholars, campus art directors, and senior university administrators, White will present ArtsLehigh as a model for fostering connections in academic, co-curricular and in local community programs. .

The biggest lesson she drew from her benchmarking work, White says, is that one size does not fit all; while issues are common, solutions must be customized for each campus.

“From an artistic perspective, a pedagogical perspective, and an administrative perspective, we have to construct a reasonable process for our institution,” she says. “What does our institution need from all of these perspectives?

“If you don't blend those three awarenesses together, you're going to run into a brick wall,” she adds. “This is not a formula to enhance creativity. It is a sensibility.”

White’s research led her to adapt a pair of programs from other universities into two of ArtsLehigh’s most successful initiatives: mini-grants to fund student/faculty/staff initiatives incorporating arts-based learning in the undergraduate curriculum, and the integrated artist in residency program. Their ultimate goal is to draw the entire campus community into a collaborative model that extends well beyond simple attendance at artistic events.

“When I saw all those profiles, I got a background glimpse of the kind of common struggles we share—what we’re all trying to do, how to integrate arts into the curriculum, and how we’re aiming for a fuller engagement that’s more that just ‘Please buy tickets,’” White says.

A special model of success in facilitating the arts across the curriculum and pioneered at Lehigh, she says, could be found in the student-created arts podcasts. This activity has garnered the attention of peer institutions as a model for arts information networking to increase intrinsic value of experiencing the arts.

The implications for successful integration are campus-wide, White believes. By getting artists and nonartists among the faculty to talk with each other, and by bringing study of the arts to the entire curriculum, a more innovative learning process will emerge, regardless of major.

“Creative ideas happen on campuses when different groups talk to each other,” she says. “We’ve got a lot of faculty and staff here at Lehigh who get that, but how do you get them in the same room?”

In June, Lehigh will host the third annual gathering of University Directors of Arts Programs. The group has been invaluable for trading ideas and building mutual support, according to White.

“For the first two years at Lehigh, we tried throwing a lot of things at the wall to see what would stick. It was the spaghetti approach,” she says. “What I found was this is what a lot of my colleagues at other institutions were doing. When we shared each other’s perspectives and backgrounds and learning models, we started leaning on each other for support.”

--Tom Durso

Posted on Thursday, June 05, 2008

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