a2ru@10: “The Urgency of the Arts for Research and Relevance in Higher Education” Session Recap
Aug 15, 2022
In June, a2ru marked its ten-year anniversary with a three-day convening of university, philanthropic and non-profit leadership to engage in a multi-faceted discussion of the current state of the arts and arts integration in higher education, and to contribute to developing a2ru’s agenda for its next ten years. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing video and transcript highlights from the event’s “Provocation” panels.
Provocation 1: The Urgency of the Arts for Research and Relevance in Higher Education
Mariko Silver, President & CEO Henry Luce Foundation, former president Bennington College
Crystal Williams, President, RISD
David Munson, President, Rochester Institute of Technology
Christopher Audain, Managing Director, University of Michigan Arts Initiative
In this wide-ranging discussion three current and former presidents discussed strategies to effect cultural change on campus; how the arts can upset harmful hierarchies; practical strategies on fostering interdisciplinarity; and getting get the arts out of marginalized, “dancing bears” category; and where to find those best positioned to activate change in academic culture (here’s a hint, our student panel is coming in a future blog post!).
Here is a wrap-up of our favorite insights from the discussion. Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
“I think the arts are called frivolous because they’re scary. And I think we should embrace the power.”
-Mariko Silver, President and CEO, The Henry Luce Foundation
What it means when we don’t study the arts.
The speakers addressed the root of what it means when students don’t have access to the arts. Like many in the a2ru network, speakers are passionate about access to the arts for every student because of the promise of a fully arts-integrated education for everyone. This exchange started with the question of casemaking to fund the arts but the conversation considers some of the root causes for lack of arts funding.
Christopher Audain: How might we make the case for the arts at our universities to move towards multi-year funding that’s on par with the sciences and engineering?
David Munson: In terms of funding, it’s hard at the national level because a lot of that is oriented at economic competitiveness and defense and, and a lot of the funding.
And in health: those three things and a lot of the funding, receives heavy bipartisan support in Congress….and you see big increases in those areas. …I don’t know what it’s gonna take for people to understand that, that the arts are not a side show. They’re not an afterthought.
Once you’ve got food, clothing, housing, and medical care, the basics, and almost our entire, at least in American society, has those things. To some extent, the arts are like at the core of, of being human they’re at the core of being, and, you know, are there Congress, people and senators that will accept that and understand that?
Entrepreneurship. I think we should, but we should put Heidi [Boivert, who gave the opening provocation] on tour. I would love to have Heidi speak to my board and say, have you ever thought about this?
Crystal Williams: The contradiction I find, so infuriating. is that in our nation’s most elite independent schools where many of our political folks have their children. Human expression in the arts are central to the curriculum and expected, right. It would not be acceptable for Dalton or Andover to not have substantive arts in the curriculum.
It would be anathema to what the parents would understand to be a good education. This contradiction, I find radically offensive. For many decades, education has been understood to be a political tool, which is one of the reasons why our public school system is so poor. I think there may be a relationship between lack of arts funding, for instance, at a national level, as a strategy for ensuring that a population actually can’t or does not engage because the arts change minds and the arts change society. Right? So if you have people who actually could be engaged in that, but can’t because they don’t have access to it, that’s a kind of silencing that I find really upsetting and offensive.
Mariko Silver: I think the arts are called frivolous because they’re scary. And I think we should embrace the power. …. the arts being labeled as frivolous or extra, is a way of trying to kind of smooth the edges of the power that they can have and make them seem like something you shouldn’t spend your money and time on. So there’s the makers themselves. And then there’s the audiences, right? The idea that you shouldn’t, you don’t need to be moved. You don’t need to have that emotional experience. Or you should do it through sports [instead]. Like that’s the place where you can emote is there, but you can’t emote in the public sphere. You’re not supposed to find that part of yourself because if you find that part of yourself, you might think Hmm, I don’t wanna live in this particular structure or in this particular way. So I think it goes for the audience as much as it goes for art makers. So I think there is an opportunity in higher ed. that is not exclusive to, but is specific to higher ed to change the orientation that young people have to the arts as part of their lives.
And I think that is a co-equal obligation with the pedagogy and with the, with the research. And I think it requires a shift in administrative mindset. [F]iguring out how it is integrated into the incentive structure for faculty to engage their own minds in rethinking how they teach through the arts, which doesn’t mean they have to become artists, which doesn’t mean they have to, but this is what I meant at the beginning about turning our own, turning the tools of the arts on ourselves.
So just to take the example that we just all saw, I’m not sure exactly what it entails, but the play, the, the play based process that Heidi [Boivert] was talking about. What if all deans had to do one of those or a bunch of those, right? What if they had to do it with the faculty? What if we could get a donor to say, I think everybody should try this…or be willing to fund it. I’m willing to fund everybody to try this, to really rethink the structure. Because I do think in all of the horribleness around education in higher ed, there is an opportunity because the horribleness is much more visible now to more people than it used to be.
And frankly, more people with money than it used to be the kind of tension that’s being put on pressure. That’s being put on education in higher ed. And so I think there’s an opportunity to say let’s rethink the structure.Let’s rethink the societal value proposition. I think there are donors who are interested in that.
And then what we do with that money, if that money comes into higher ed is the question. And I think the opportunity to actually really be brave enough to turn it inside out and create some opportunities for people to rethink the structures and have that like , you know, bucket on the side that says like, what does disaster look like?
Because we often talk about things like, what does success look like with donors? Or what does success look like [generally]? What, but if we’re not willing to look at what the, the downside is of the thing that we think we don’t wanna do, we might find out actually it’s not as scary as we think it is. …we might find out that the thing that we’re afraid of is not as scary as we actually think it is, but only if we’re willing to really look at it and [explore] what that scariness is.
[I]t’s not the function of the arts necessarily only to be a tool for that. But there are tools within the arts to do that in ways that can make people feel like it’s a safe and bounded space.
Munson: And the only thing I would add is that maybe there’s something that’s even a little bit bigger in the arts than, than just the arts.
I think places of higher ed and society even at large are to be more about curiosity, about beauty and about joy. And couldn’t we sell that? And then of course, if you sell that the arts are fundamental to that and never more important than in this day and age where we have an absolute crisis in mental health.
On the danger of seeing the arts through an economic lens or as instrumentalizing the arts
Audain: How have the arts changed higher education and what is the future role of arts in higher education?
Silver: [I]t’s been discussed before: the distinction between the role of the arts in pedagogy and the role of the arts in research production depending on who that production is facing. There is always this tension in research universities about whether we’re about shaping knowledge or shaping the mind. And I think we need to be honest with ourselves about which one we’re doing when, because sometimes we try to think that they’re the same thing and they’re not the same thing.
Williams: and it causes me to wonder in higher ed about the value of creative practice as a thing that people undertake versus the value of creative practice to get to an outcome that is marketable and/or has financial implications. And this to me seems to be an important question for those of us in higher ed to ask, because one is sort of values driven. There is [intrinsic] value, but the other is just more of a kind of business model.
Arts as fundamental to education and workforce development
Silver: If you think the arts are extra to society, then you’re gonna fund them last. They’re going to be the leaf and not root. That I think is really what we need to upend.
Munson: I think we still have way too much of the following situation: a student shows up for college. And the first thing I’ve gotta figure out is what am I gonna major in? And then just jettison everything else. And I think that’s just 100% wrong. And I think that most students ought to be involved in the arts.
I think most students were formerly involved in the arts, but then they go to college and it’s time to study whether it’s psychology or a STEM discipline, and the arts, well, they’re, they’re almost nonexistent. And then we have students in the arts, but it’s a little bit more of a conservatory model, even at a place like this.
The arts, they’re there. But as Christopher [Kendall, one of the founding members of a2ru] would say that there’s way too much of a feeling that they’re quote, the dancing bears– they entertain the campus and it should be way, way more than that. And it can be way, way more than that.
Williams: And what I’ve seen to be the case generally is that the most powerful of the thinkers and students that I’ve had have had substantive engagement with creativity and arts practice period.
The universality of the arts / creative practice
Audain: How can the arts transform higher education?
Munson: I think sometimes we think of various disciplines as being almost completely different. And so if we take, say music and engineering, what do they have in common? The answer is almost everything. [H]uman brains that are really good at math and turn into engineers sometimes are also really good at music.
There’s something neurological that happens there. [F]or those of you that have appeared in a musical theater production, you know that…the first dress rehearsal is a disaster and you can’t imagine how two nights later you’re gonna be in front of a thousand people and the person that makes it all work and pulls it all together is the stage manager.
And if you’re in rehearsal, you never encounter the stage manager until the dress rehearsal. You don’t even know who this person is, but the stage manager knows every aspect of the show, whether it’s sound and lighting and blocking on the stage et cetera; and in the engineering world [that is the] systems engineer.
And so suppose you want to build and launch a satellite for communications. That’s pretty complicated. You have to know all about electronics and communications and how you boost the thing into orbit and how you power the thing, once it’s up there, you might have to point it in particular directions.
How do you do that? That’s the systems engineer, the stage manager and the systems engineer. They don’t know it, but they have exactly the same job. I’ve just seen that multiple times in my own life. And let me also say that I think intense creativity exists in lots of disciplines.
That’s the way I view it. I view some of the more abstract parts of mathematics as an art. [Additionally] it’s not true that every musician is creative or especially creative. It’s not true that every engineer is especially creative. We have some musicians who will refine, refine, refine, and try to get just a little better in that piece. They’re gonna perform, you know, a month from now. And they might perform it in a pretty similar way to what you might hear from the leading performers in the world. And that’s about, you know, getting better and better and better at that very specific thing.
The importance of looking beyond campus to a broader, cross-sector view is important to make change happen. The importance of considering the larger funding and incentive infrastructure for the arts.
Audain: Regarding institutional change. We’ve talked about some of the barriers that come with hierarchy, silos, even in terms of where we sit in our institutions, the history that they have and the inability to be an agent of change within an institution that refuses to change. Can you talk about some ways to change culture and give an example of how you’ve done culture change at your institutions?
Silver: I think we don’t talk enough about incentives beyond promotion and tenure. So I would say thinking about what are the external –actually outside the academy– incentives that impact the academy. We talk about them in terms of funding, but I was really struck by what you had thought about this before. I was really struck by what [David Munson] said about the systems engineer and the stage manager so where’s the inve intervention with, indeed.com or zip recruiter or whatever, so that the algorithm that underlies who gets filtered to which jobs takes that into account.
So where is higher ed’s collective intervention in that other set of structures that we wring our hands about or what students need to get jobs and this and that, of course they do? We could, we could fix that too, but it requires us to engage with those externalized incentive structures, as well as our internal incentive structures.
The importance of creating a multidisciplinary culture
Williams: [We have] multiple partnerships at RISD with corporate partners including with Hyundai which we’ll talk about later today. We are a very deeply disciplinary based institution.
So we’ve got glass, we’ve got photography, [the disciplines] go deep down. And we have these partnerships. Create a structure by which multidisciplinarity is required. So we’re pulling students in to work on a collaboration with faculty and with Hyundai designers.
We have the photographers and glassblowers and textile folks and industrial designer all working together. So to the extent that there are ways that you can structure, um, cross disciplinary engagement that is substantive and valuable to students, cuz they live in a cross disciplinary multidisciplinary world,–that that’s their lives and they understand it sort of inherently what I would also say is that there, I mean, just to acknowledge that there are disciplinary foundational disciplinary differences, I started in theater.
I think it is the most democratic of art forms. You’ve got seven different people with different jobs, all collectively, including the audience, making a thing that’s very different than poetry. I can sit in my room and create a thing and it’s different than furniture design. The furniture design students are very communal based. And I asked one of ’em. I said, well, why is that? And she said, well, you can’t build a sofa by yourself. You need somebody to help you lift it, like just on a fundamental, right? So there are just structural things. And for us to think about structurally, what are the interventions? I mean, this goes back to this question about culture.
Each department has a different culture, and so the interventions have to be particular to that culture. We have a culture of disciplinary depth and so there are some structural interventions that we can take at an institutional level to help. right. And then there are departments that don’t need as much of that.
My illustration department is by definition, relatively multidisciplinary, because they’ve got animation and illustration … they’ve got all kinds of stuff. Right. I think taking real care to understand the construction and then figuring out what interventions may be useful at the department level and then broadly at the institutional level.
Silver: We know there are some courses that have been required and don’t get integrated. Whether calculus or a foreign language, for example… These things that are kind of add-ons must-dos, and unless they’re really well done in that realm change [they much change] the way that people think about themselves, think about each other, think about how they do their work.
The story behind campus-wide arts integration at RIT
Audain: I wanted you to talk a little bit about the new performing arts school. It focuses on advancing the talent of STEM-strong students who may not be majoring in the arts. Can you talk about why it was designed that way and how do you message why this is important to an RIT education?
Munson: There were a couple of reasons. One is I think there’s this student population that is in high school and they’re, you know, figuring out: Where do I want to go to college? What do I major in? [There are groups] I think are completely underserved. So this set of students were the top and the performing arts or one of the studio arts in their high school.
And a lot of times they’re really good at math and they’re sitting there [with a dilemma] of do they want to major in computer science? Or do I want to go to the Eastman school of music? What am I gonna do? I think the majority of those students end up in a STEM discipline, um, because mom and dad say, well,, make sure you, you have a career, you can make some money, you can support a family and all of that.
Or they may even come from, um, a lower-income background and that’s a huge consideration. You just have to have a job. And so I think part of this is about serving that underserved segment of students and it’s a gigantic segment of students. And then the other thing is just completely competitive… we’re just trying to get better in every way. When I arrived [at RIT], what I noticed was a place that despite his name is really strong, historically strong in the studio, arts and photography. But the only students that really get both sides are those students that are in those middle disciplines. And so the first thing I did when I arrived is I said, I want to have every degree program have at least 12 hours of free or general electives, because the students need to have room in their academic program to cross.
The next thing [I’ll mention] is only a couple years old. Now we started a performing arts scholars program because whereas we were very strong inthe studio arts as is, we had a lot of work to do in the performing arts. And now in an incoming class of 3,000 students, 500 of those students are performing arts scholars. We have special programs we’ve put in place for them and that’s going well. And it is gonna be a larger fraction of that incoming class. As soon as we can get our facilities built and more faculty hired. It costs money to do this. And we are getting incredible students and it’s just enlivening the whole place.
These are students who are not majoring in the performing arts. They’re majoring mostly in STEM disciplines, but they may have been the top performing arts student in their high school. I can tell you stories about some of these kids who, you know, were prodigies as a five or six year old, all these YouTube videos they’ve appeared in many movies, television episodes, this and that, but they’re studying computer science or mechanical engineering because that’s what they decided to major in.
But what we’re offering those students is a way to get better at quote their craft and the other side of their life, if they want to do that. And so we’re having a grand time. Now, the next thing we’re working on is making the studio arts more available in this same way. That’s a little trickier because studio arts have some pretty special and expensive facilities in some cases, but we’re slowly, slowly figuring that out. And so we want to have a studio arts program that’s very similar. And if I have my way, someday the majority of students that we have it, my place, they’ll probably still be majoring in STEM disciplines, but they’ll be having awesome experiences in the arts, whatever form that takes and, uh, be developing as, as whole people.
How arts skills are important to leadership
Audain: (asking of poet Crystal Williams) How has your training and practice as a poet been activated in your leadership?
Williams: As a poet, my president at Bates used to say, she could not understand How does a poet get involved with change management and diversity work, like what is going on? And there’s a quote by Salmon Rushdie that made sense to her. And it’s something like the job of the poet is to take sides, to call out injustice.
[T]o provoke and stop the world from going to sleep and my work as a writer, um, and as a faculty member, as a lead, like all of my work is essentially centered around that idea, which is if you pull way up, try to make the thing better, right. Try to pull more people in, make it better. In a broad sense more personally, those are the characteristics that I hold dear and that I align to my poetry practice.
I’m always asking why, why and who, and how are we interconnected? What are the, where is the point of intersection between your way of thinking about a thing? And my way of thinking about a thing I used to give my students an exercise. It’s a three week exercise. Every week they get an exercise to take and they have to write a poem and then they come back and we talk about it.
So the first week I say, write a poem in which it happens in the kitchen. There’s some conflict between living beings from one perspective. Then the next time they come, I say, okay, write that same poem from the other perspective, the third week they think they’re done. But then the third week I say, okay, now write a poem that combines and merges those two perspectives.
And that for me is the intersection. And it is how I characterize my leadership work. So it’s a personal impulse, which is defined by interconnection to think metaphorically about. To draw dissimilar things together. And then to weave that into a holistic way of thinking about a thing.
The thing that we are aspiring to do, I think, is experimental. It does not exist in our spaces. It’s an abstraction. And so to think about it in those terms can be helpful because what we’re trying to do is get people to undertake actions, to events, a reality that they have not experienced. And that is a different kind of understanding that requires a different kind of movement.
It’s different. If you’ve been to six flags and you’ve been on that ride, getting you to go back onto that ride is different or engineering. Like if you’ve seen a car and you’ve looked at the engine having then trying to build an engine, you’ve already seen it. You understand how it works. We’re asking people to do things that haven’t existed in higher ed, right?
And that abstraction is important because there’s something about the way the human mind works when faced with abstraction, that is radically different than the way the human mind works when faced with something. It knows. So I think that’s important for all of us in this room to think about and just hold.
Practical strategies for integrating the arts
Audain: How do you become an agent of change within an institution?
Williams: I think a significant culture change that all of our institutions could make if we wanted to, which is to work with the faculty, to embed the art with engagement, with the arts and art practice in the curriculum, across all of the curriculum so that you can’t graduate with an MBA, having not taken arts practice courses. Create a structure by which multidisciplinarity is required.
And you can’t graduate from engineering without having taken X courses [in the arts] that kind of structure change, I think, is what moves us from dancing bear territory to actually fundamentally saying, we believe that the arts and engagement with the arts is essential to good knowledge creation and to the ability of the mind to work— in ways that without it–you may not be able to work.
I think that would be one significant structural change that would make a big difference. And then we think differently about how funding happens, etcetera. Otherwise we’re working around the margins.
Munson: There’s one other thing I wanted to say about change … there is a really, really important group. That’s not represented here. And, uh, those are, are boards of trustees and you may think, what do they care? [and] probably, they don’t, they don’t even know we’re meeting today.
But what I can tell you is that if you want to make changes, that are gonna require substantial resources, that is not straightforward at all. So it is incumbent upon the president to get the board onboard. with these things. And so at my place, yes, we’re hiring a lot of performing arts faculty.
We’re building some very expensive facilities and it was my job to convince the board that that would be a wise use of resources because probably 98% of the colleges and universities in the nation money’s tight. And so anytime you want to do something big, you have to somehow articulate the value.
Silver: Put faculty are on multidisciplinary committees. Because there may not be enough faculty in their discipline to be all on a committee together to oversee the work of the student. So it a creative solution to a practical problem. Coming at it from the curricular point of view or looking at the things that students aren’t learning, or we want them to learn and coming out of the disciplines and focusing on the student, rather than focusing on the faculty and the theory versus practice.
From the Q&A: the importance of ensuring that grant support and training for the arts faculty is in place
Todd Jokl, Rochester Institute of Technology: How often are you going to arts conferences and seeing presenters from nonartists? as the, the arts collectively We look at ways we can bolt on to the other disciplines and by doing so I think we are unintentionally. Positioning ourselves as extraneous as that other. One of the things that we can consider in higher education and more broadly is how do we bring those other disciplines into our practices?
How do we [become] the leads on the grants and grant applications and bring in someone from the health sciences or computer sciences or engineering or business practices, as opposed to glomming on oftentimes at the end to their grant when they say, Hey, we need this thing to look good. So let’s go find somebody to make it look pretty.
[We need] ways in which we can really bring people into our disciplines and not just put our disciplines onto, onto them.
Munson: I very much agree with but most faculty members who work in the arts are not accustomed to writing big grant applications, to places that have major money available. And so some experience will be required.
Jokl: That is a fundamental issue that we’re experiencing right now in the college of art and design … if you go and talk with PhDs in the college of science, they all went through PhD programs, where they were working on grants. They were, their, their positions were funded by them. And so they have learned about it.
Whereas in the arts, we haven’t really done a good job in our graduate programs in particular of having our students work on grants and, and in ways in which we could do that at, um, in our institutions of getting our graduate students in particular writing grants while their graduate students will pay it forward.
Williams: So you’ve just named a structural intervention that everyone in this room who is in a leadership position could adopt, and could create a program for your students and your faculty.
[At RISD] We’ve created a new office of research and are beginning to think through, helping our faculty reframe, but this is, these are new muscles for them.
[It is] also abstraction for them. So there’s a level of then support and capacity building that we need to think about in relation to our students and to our faculty. It’s not enough. It doesn’t suffice for us to say this is a problem and then not provide a solution. So I think what I would say is if you’re thinking about culture, change, hold that dialectic in your mind.
Theories of successful change management: An examination of the conditions (and players) for campus change
Silver: Sometimes it’s the leader, one who can maneuver within institutions and what their own rigidities are. Every institution has its own hard lines and you don’t know what they are until you push up against them. …You have to know what Hills you’re gonna die on. And sometimes you reach the limit of your ability to change a particular organization and you have to jump, at least for me, you have to jump. So I think in general, my, in my, in my experience, which may be the kind of leader I am, but in my experience, it’s easier to move the students than the faculty.
Williams: [When I was at Boston University] we had the BU arts initiative and we found a coalition of the willing. But the question is, what are we doing with the coalition of the agnostic. In my view, the answer is actually not much. It’s a sadness. I don’t have an answer. But I wanted to answer the question more fully about culture change. I do think that to change an organizational culture leadership does matter, right? So, but it’s both / ands. So it’s leadership and the bottom up. So these two things have, you have to catalyze both.
You have to build capacity across the organization in order to enable the change that you want to see happen. And that means sometimes building structures that allow people to build their own capacities. Each organization is different and at large places, that also means that each college and school is different. And sometimes within the college and school, you have many different cultures, which is why building capacity is so important because if you’re in an RI and so BU had 17 schools and colleges, it was a small city. There is nothing that is going to be more impactful than engaging the deans who know the schools and know the individual cultures and can then build out particular kind of interventions and structural things that can happen at the school level or school, college level.
A metaphor for gauging change readiness….from British murder mysteries
There’s nothing that [BU President Bob] Brown can do that the deans can’t do much, much more effectively. When I think about changing culture I have a metaphor. I watch a lot of British murder mysteries. You have to know what kind of change agent you are.
So in the English village, there are people walking up and down with their fox terriers, and they’re never coming into the train station. They’re quite happy with doing things just as things are. Then you’ve got people you’ve talked to, you’ve gotten them into the train station. They’re poking around looking to see where, what ticket?
I don’t know. So they’re in the station fiddling around then you’ve got people who are on the platform. They’ve bought the ticket, they’ve got their bags. They’re not clear which car to go to. And then you’ve got people who are already on the train and they’re looking, they’re like, Crystal, let’s go. I’ve been on the train.
You’re in there, messing around with the people. I’m the kind of change maker. At one point I was mess. I was trying to deal with the people in the English woods with their fox terriers. Years. I realized that’s not who I am as a leader. I’m much more interested in engaging with the people on the train and the people on the platform.
That’s where I spend the bulk of my money.
I do that because you only need 30 or] 40% of the folks on board to change cultures, substantively and permanently. And so if I run I don’t need everyone, you don’t need everyone. I’m not interested in getting everyone. And God bless the people walking their fox terriers, as long as they’re not interrupting where we’re trying to go, everybody do your thing. So it’s a theory of change that has worked well at different institutions. Be aware of culture, be a leader, be clear, State the vision gives people a clear sense.
I was clear about what I wanted to have happen. And then we set about enabling that. I those are the key aspects of change management. Um, and then of course getting your team, um, set, and it’s gotta be the team that is in line and aligned to your vision. Those are things that have worked.
The promise of the arts to transform society: radical imagination
Audain: How have the arts changed higher education?
Silver: The capacity for radical imagination. At a societal level we don’t live in the same reality now we know. But we don’t all have to agree about the parameters for imagination. That’s the nature of imagination doesn’t have parameters, except that the role that society has taken is the idea that actually what we should do is put parameters on imagination and that filters back through the entire educational structure, higher ed included.
Higher ed is very hierarchical. it’s hierarchical within departments. It’s hierarchical among departments and is hierarchical in administration. And one of the things that I used to talk about a lot at Bennington was the idea. Our national metaphor for teams is sports teams football, which means our national metaphor for collaboration is war. What if our shared metaphors for collaboration came from the arts. I won’t go too far down the rabbit hole about what that might look like and what that might mean.
But if we put on our bigger hat every time we think about higher education, I think we will get more done inside higher education and we’ll get more done for society. I was thinking about the ways in which some powers that be , have fixated in different ways on education and higher education as the kind of crucible for the formation of society. And sometimes I think that we in higher education actually don’t take that seriously enough. And so if we were to take that more seriously, and we were to center arts in our thinking about those questions about what kind of society are we making? And we don’t like to talk about the elite anymore. And I think that’s a good thing in general.
And I think we in higher ed have to be realistic about the kinds of roles that people coming out of higher ed, still in the society that we live in. Maybe not in a future society that we want, but in the one that we live in now are likely to move into. And so if they’re likely to move into positions of power, the way that we train their capacity for radical imagination, which only comes from the arts and in that I would include fiction and writing and so forth, but it only comes from the arts.
It only comes from creative practice. Creative practice can live in lots of different places, but it only lives where you create it, where you make it proactively possible. It doesn’t just happen because as you were just saying, everything in higher ed is a narrowing function. and it’s a narrowing function and service of hierarchy.
So I think we have to turn the arts on ourselves and we don’t actually do that enough. We don’t turn the kinds of tools that Heidi was describing on ourselves as institutions and organizations. We turn them on external actors. And when we expect those external actors to reshape society, that’s important.