In the winter and spring quarters of 2015, the Provost’s Arts Steering Committee met to discuss the future of the arts at the University of Chicago, assured that UChicago is poised to lead the way into a new era of arts scholarship and practice. This is because of its strong foundation (in such renowned cultural institutions as Court Theatre, the Smart Museum, and the Oriental Institute), because of the growing eminence of the Department of Visual Arts, and because remarkable new ambitions have been realized in the last decade.
The Logan Center combines state-of–the-art exhibition, screening, and performance space with studios, classrooms, and practice rooms. The Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry fosters collaboration between artists and scholars within and beyond the University. The Arts + Public Life Initiative has established unprecedented connections, through art, between the University and Chicago’s South Side. And the Arts, Science & Culture Initiative has cultivated new dialogues across traditionally disparate fields. Combined with such long-standing assets as the Renaissance Society and with such recent innovations as the Neubauer Collegium’s Media Gallery, these commitments have transformed the arts ecology of our campus, where the life of the senses now converges profoundly with the life of the mind. What steps might we take to sustain this energy and to effect a subsequent transformation?
While the Steering Committee developed ideas for a wide array of new ambitions, it came to focus most keenly on three areas for future development. The first, Art, Technology, and Design, included an interest in a Media Arts and Design Center, a program in Architecture and Urban Design, and faculty appointments (across a range of departments) that would connect the two while linking both to our existing arts programs. The committee believed that this convergence would enable UChicago to become the leading institution for joining art and design practice with media and technology research in ways that provoke new questions about human sensation and knowledge, that animate the urban imagination, and that help to shape the future of an increasingly urbanized world. The second area, Contemporary Arts, imagined faculty appointments in contemporary writing and performance, visiting appointments and residencies across the arts, and multidimensional student support. The committee believed that this combination would both stabilize and continually re-energize our broader arts culture, responding to the intense demand from our College students and attracting the very best young artists to our graduate programs (both long-standing and nascent). The third area, Arts Collections, was addressed with the hope of vivifying more powerfully the public art on our campus and the University’s art collections—particularly those in the Smart Museum, which requires additional exhibition, storage, and pedagogical space that will make object-driven inquiry a vital part of our College curriculum. The committee also imagined that a new Arts Research Institute could serve as an unrivaled site for the convergence of the scientific, historical, and aesthetic study of art objects, and as a lab for the conservation of art works on and beyond our campus.
Senior Advisor to the Provost for Arts
Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American Culture, Departments of English and Visual Arts, and the College
Principal Investigator, Object Cultures Project at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory
Co-editor, Critical Inquiry