End Notes: The a2ru 2015 National Conference

  • December 4, 2015
  • By Michelle Krell Kydd     
a2ru 2015 National Conference convened over 145 attendees at a working conference focused on transdisciplinary practice and topics in support of third space work.


a2ru 2015 Conference Collage-Cambria

The a2ru 2015 National Conference  convened on November 8-11, 2015, hosted by Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Over 145 attendees participated in this year’s conference, a2ru’s third national conference to date. Partners and allies gathered to address the next generation of opportunities and challenges facing arts transdisciplinary practice, peer review, infrastructures, and partnerships in research universities. The event was a catalyst for meaningful and actionable conversations with like-minded faculty and administrators in higher education, as well as thought leaders, industry partners, government officials and practitioners who are working collaboratively to drive arts-integrated transdisciplinary initiatives on campuses and in communities.

Dr. Laurie Baefsky, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) was inspired by the energy and momentum of the conference, “We’re at a critical juncture in higher education where it’s past time to re-imagine the full potential of the modern research university to the meet the growing demands of an increasingly complex global landscape. We have an imperative as educators to provide a creative and imaginative environment for students and faculty to cross-pollinate beyond their chosen fields in order to cultivate the skills and solutions needed to tackle 21st century challenges. Arts and design have a central role to play in all of this,” says Baefsky.

At this year’s conference, this arts-infused “third space” was at the center of most conversations. The “third space” was defined in terms of one or more disciplines contributing their expertise towards a common purpose, with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. To this end, progress was made in developing and testing a set of shared values and criteria for peer reviewing, critiquing, and understanding research and creative practice in this third space. The groundwork for developing tools and networks to support evolving fields within Science, Engineering, Arts, and Design (SEAD), Arts + Health/Wellness, and Creative Entrepreneurship was also explored. The final day of the conference examined emerging cultural policy platforms through high-impact regional partnerships. Social media activity was intense and playful. Live tweeting of the conference included contributions from President Timothy Sands of Virginia Tech, and included a photograph of a2ru leadership he hosted for dinner at the Grove (Sands manages his own Twitter account, which is quite unique among university presidents).

Dr. Baefsky made several key announcements at the conference: (1) Northeastern University was welcomed as a2ru’s 33rd and most recent partner institution; (2) print and online copies are now available of Surveying the Landscape: Arts Integration at Research Universities, by Dr. Bruce M. Mackh (this final report  is the result of a three-year study funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation); (3) Gabriel Harp has been appointed a2ru’s new research director, effective January 4, 2016. Harp will direct research for the SPARC Project: Supporting Practice in Arts, Research and Curricula, a three-year initiative to apply, support, and disseminate best practices in the integration of arts practice, research and curricula at research universities. A two-year research fellow position in support of the a2ru SPARC Project is currently open.

The next a2ru National Conference will take place the University of Colorado Denver in November 2016. The date and details are forthcoming and will be posted to the events page on the a2ru website.

Surveying The Landscape: Arts Integration at Research Universities is a review of best practices and challenges for arts integration in higher education. This final report is the result of a comprehensive three-year study funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is authored by Dr. Bruce M. Mackh. The publication was designed by Doug Barrett, Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (an a2ru partner institution). A downloadable copy of Surveying The Landscape: Arts Integration at Research Universities is available as a free download at the HathiTrust Digital Library. A print copy is available via Amazon for $25.00.

Photos of the a2ru 2015 National Conference by Cambria McMillan-Zapf.