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Arts For Our Sakes
rich historyand renewed commitmentin the humanities. By Judith Rodin
alone can we get out of ourselves, find out what another person sees
of this universe which is not the same as ours, writes Marcel Proust
in his masterpiece of European fiction, In Search of Lost Time.
For Proust, art
becomes the portal to new worlds through which we travel to enjoy the
miracle of creation, experience the power of the universe, and, ultimately,
lead more fully examined lives.
While the University
of Pennsylvania has spent a quarter of a millennium racking up worldwide
honors and accolades in medicine, business, law, psychology, life sciences,
and physical sciences, Penn also has long provided fertile ground for
arts and culture:
For more than
a century, the University Museum
of Archaeology and Anthropology has set the gold standard for digging
up the past and, through riveting narrative and interpretation, providing
valuable lessons on how world cultures and civilizations develop and change.
For 40 years,
the Institute of Contemporary Art
has garnered international attention for showcasing confrontational, cutting-edge,
and avant garde worksfrom the first major Andy Warhol show back in the
early 1960s to Lisa Yuskavages first solo museum exhibition this past
Housed in the
Fisher Fine Arts Libraryitself one of the great and stunning architectural
wonders of Philadelphiathe Arthur
Ross Gallery, directed by Dilys Winegrad Gr70, presents important
exhibits of consistently high quality and importance, such as recent shows
on Jews and Modernity and the photography of Sylvia Plachy.
Penn is home
to a number of literary, artistic, and musical treasures. Among the more
notable are a Shakespeare First Folio; the original manuscript of Theodore
Dreisers Sister Carrie; Thomas Eakins celebrated painting, The
Agnew Clinic; oil portraits by an array of painters, from John
Singer Sargent to Benjamin West; and the Curtis
Organ in Irvine Auditorium.
that marry utility to strength and beauty help give the Penn campus much
of its character and energy. Among the great architects who have touched
Penn with their genius and vision are Frank Furness (the
Fisher Fine Arts Library); Louis I. Kahn Ar24 Hon71 (the Richards
Medical Research Laboratory on Hamilton Walk); and the team of Robert
Venturi Hon80 and Denise Scott Brown GCP60 GAr65 Hon94 (the Roy and
Diana Vagelos Laboratories), who also designed Perelman
Quad and directed the restoration of the Fisher Fine Arts Library.
(Penns rich architectural history is told with wonderful narrative verve
in Building Americas First University: An Historical and Architectural
Guide to the University of Pennsylvania, by Penn professors George
Thomas Gr75 and David Brownlee.)
and modern theater and dance have graced the stages, and memorable music
of all genres has filled the halls, of our notable performing spaces,
from the Gothic fixture of Irvine
Auditorium, to the stage of the Iron
Gate Theatre, to the three theaters of the Annenberg
Centerone of the nations premier university-based performing arts
With an audience
exceeding 300,000 listeners, a Peabody Award-winning childrens show,
and a nationwide reputation for showcasing many of the more innovative
artists and trends in contemporary music, our radio station, WXPN,
has earned its stripes as a first-rate arts institution in Philadelphia.
Not only have
students in droves embraced fine arts, music, English, and theater as
their majors, even more have performed in literally hundreds of outstanding
music, dance, and theater troupes.
like William Carlos Williams M06 Hon52 and John Edgar Wideman C63 Hon86,
and performing-arts geniuses like Harold Prince C48 Hon71 have studied
here. Legendary humanities scholars like Loren Eiseley have taught here.
The Penn campus
clearly enjoys an embarrassment of riches in arts and culture that far
exceeds our reputation. However, only in the past few years have we begun
more fully appreciating and creatively tapping this wealth to enrich the
cultural and intellectual life of the University.
Through new initiatives,
new enhancements, and a renewed commitment to the humanities, we have
pulled together to raise the visibility of the arts at Penn while fostering
fruitful collaborations and participation among Penns many arts and culture
organizations, our outstanding faculty, and the broader community.
Penns anchor institutions of arts and culture have re-energized and reinvented
themselves to become more global in scope and impact, more interdisciplinary
in focus, more receptive to multiple perspectives, and more supportive
of daring new work, ideas, and scholarship.
Take the University
Museum. It may be housed in its original, venerable, and still magnificent
Wilson Eyre building. Inside, however, under the energetic direction of
Penn Archaeology Professor Jeremy Sabloff C64, the Museum is both driving
and reflecting the dramatic transformation of archaeology and anthropology.
In 1957, for
example, Penn researchers dug up the tomb of King Midas at the ancient
Phrygian capital of Gordion in central Turkey. More than 40 years later,
a team of Museum scientists, led by archaeochemist Patrick McGovern, analyzed
the organic contents of excavated vessels and earthen materials to determine
and chemically reconstruct what mourners ate and drank at the royal funeral
feast for King Midas 2,700 years earlier. (It was a spicy lamb and lentil
stew, complemented by a powerful brew of grape wine, barley beer, and
honey mead. It made for memorable, if pungent, fare, for those of us lucky
enough to enjoy an authentic reenactment of the feast two years ago!)
meanwhile, has been serving up its own rich feast of culture. Under Michael
Roses leadership, the center expanded its five-star menu of theater and
dance to include sumptuous courses of jazz, classical, and world music,
with an added emphasis on cultural fare delivered to Penns College Houses
and the local community.
Through its PENN
Presents program, the Center will offer a varied and exciting
range of performances that will include Chicagos Hubbard Street Dance
troupe, jazz greats Sonny Rollins and Wynton Marsalis, classical pianist
Peter Serkin, the chamber ensemble eighth blackbird, world music stars
Cesaria Evora and Chava Alberstein, and many others.
Topping it offand
setting PENN Presents apart from other performing arts venues in
the cityare the intellectual benefits of Penns university connections.
For example, Penns own Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Crumb will
give a lecture prior to the performance of his music by eighth blackbird
next January. And Wynton Marsalis will share his knowledge and insights
with West Philadelphia schoolchildren on Penns campus.
arts institutions are also gearing up for major shows. This month, with
Claudia Gould at the helm, the ICA
will be the only museum in the nation to present a major exhibition of
the works of Rudi Gernreich, one of the major forces in 20th-century fashion
While the University
Museum, the Annenberg Center, and the ICA have established their presence
on the national arts scene, two initiatives of more recent vintage have
successfully woven the threads of literary and academic excellence at
Penn into a more dazzling fabric for the entire community to behold and
The first is
Kelly Writers House.
Six years ago, a determined group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni
pursued the vision to convert a 13-room house on Locust Walk into a vibrant
hub where the entire Penn community could learn the craft and share the
joys of creative writing.
That vision triggered
a chain reaction that turned Kelly Writers House into an ongoing affirmation
and celebration of the creative spirit. Each week, waves of emerging and
established writers drop by the house to share their work, thoughts, and
secrets with the Penn community.
does much more. It publishes Web magazines, runs workshops, holds film
screenings, presents art exhibits, and, once a month on WXPN, broadcasts
an hour of music, poetry, and literary prose.
Writers House is a university treasure as well as a tribute to its guiding
spirit and exemplary Penn citizen, the Class of 1942 Professor of English
two years after its formal launch, the Penn
Humanities Forum, currently led by Penn Music Professor Eugene Narmour,
has made huge strides toward its dual mission of drawing Penn faculty
from all disciplines and schools into a dynamic exploration of humanistic
questions and issues, and bringing the broader University, local, and
academic communities into the discussion.
From its inaugural
focus on human nature to an upcoming look at the issue of time in its
aesthetic, philosophical, and historical dimensions, the Penn Humanities
Forum is breaking new ground in the discovery of knowledge and perspectives.
Both the Kelly
Writers House and the Humanities Forum have fostered a sense of community
around the arts. Equally impressive are the myriad ways the Penn student
community and our neighbors in West Philadelphia have drawn closer together
through vibrant partnerships and social interactions of their own.
One example is
a student-run community arts initiative called the Foundation,
started last year. Every Friday night, in a converted church building,
the Foundation presents a lively bill of music, dance, poetry, and visual
arts that showcases local talent from the campus and from the community.
Through the power and magic of the arts, the Penn community and neighborhood
are playing in an ensemble or watching a performance, Penn students connect
powerfully to one another through the arts as well. Currently, nearly
three-dozen dance, theater, musical, comedic, and a-cappella groups belong
to the Performing Arts Council.
Then there are mainstays like the Penn
Symphony Orchestra, which last summer made history by becoming the
first American orchestra to perform with the fabled Beijing Opera in China.
All the cultural
offerings and performances at Penn point back to a core mission of this
University: the cultivation of our humanity through the intense study
and practice of the arts.
We have a world-class
Graduate School of
Fine Arts that continues its pioneering work in the design, creation,
and preservation of artworks, buildings, landscapes, and cities. GSFAs
focus on the arts as the subject of teaching and learning perhaps is best
epitomized in the Charles
Addams Fine Arts Hall. The legacy of one of the Universitys most
famous alumni artists, Charles Addams FA34 Hon80, this state-of-the-art
facility can now accommodate up to 2,500 aspiring and practicing artists,
architects, and photographers. Moreover, Addams Hall provides a huge boost
for our Digital
Media Design program, a collaboration among GSFA, the Annenberg School
for Communication, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
universities are places where the arts are taught, studied, and understood
at the highest level. Penn has outstanding departments in music, English,
comparative literature, philosophy, and art history, whose faculty teach
students the arts on their own theoretical and aesthetic terms, while
analyzing their contextual connections to human history and human reality.
For all our passion,
talents, resources, and academic firepower, I believe all of usfaculty,
students, administrators, and alumnihave only begun to mine our full
teaching and learning potential in arts and culture. Stir the pot at Penn,
and you can find all the ingredients to make the richest cultural brew.
I am happy to
report that we are stirring the pot. With Deputy Provost Peter Conn, the
Andrea Mitchell Professor of English, taking the lead, the Provosts Council
on Arts and Culture has begun to encourage the heads of Penns arts and
cultural organizations to find and exploit the synergies among them.
goal is to inject the power of the arts into all aspects of teaching and
University life. Our challenges in society are all the more baffling,
our insights into the world so much shallower, and our appreciation of
life much more impoverished, without the blessings of the arts.
Art does more
than imitate life. It is life itself, raised to the infinite powers of
our miraculous capacities. That is why studying life through the arts
at Penn is learning in its purest form.
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Gazette Last modified 8/24/01