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In the Spotlight By Molly Petrilla

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Several thousand students are already involved in campus arts groups. The Performing Arts Council is the second-largest umbrella organization on campus—surpassed only by the Greek system—and “we have amazing academic programs that are producing students who go on to fantastic careers in arts and culture,” Furman says. The challenge this year is to help these arts-oriented students and their culture-shy counterparts discover everything the campus and city have to offer. As Gutmann said in May, “We want to trigger a chain reaction of dynamic engagement with the arts all over Penn … [and] Arts & the City represents our most concerted effort ever to liberate the imagination of Penn students by educating them more fully in the arts.”

To spur visits to nearby cultural institutions, students will receive Arts & Culture Passports to track the events and activities they attend on and off campus. (For the incentive-oriented, prizes will be awarded at a party in the spring.) Students will also be encouraged to visit the online Arts at Penn Calendar for information on campus arts happenings—from music and theater performances to museum talks and author readings—as well as the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Philly Fun Guide.

This month, the University will host an on-campus Arts Fair with representatives from nearby arts organizations, and in late November, a campus-wide Arts Crawl of more than 30 arts institutions, academic programs, clubs, and organizations will offer an array of free or deeply discounted events.

“The idea is to raise awareness of all the arts and culture activity that’s on campus,” Furman says of the latter event. “We wanted to take one day and really showcase everything we have on campus.”

While well-established groups like the Mask and Wig Club and Off the Beat already sell out their shows, “we’re hoping to make it obvious to anyone on campus that we have these [student] organizations, and that these students are—for the most part—doing this through their own initiative and resources,” Furman says. In that sense, all student arts groups will enjoy “a raised profile on campus” this year, he predicts.

In the fall and spring, the University will award Arts & the City Year grants to projects that offer opportunities to “create, participate in, and learn about the arts on campus and in Philadelphia,” according to the guidelines. That includes collaborations with local artists and venues and, more broadly, anything that increases the number of students involved with art and arts resources on campus or in the city.

Arts & the City Year aims to “spotlight and connect arts and cultural activities and resources on campus, especially those that cross boundaries of schools and disciplines,” Price says. “We want to draw attention to artistic practice, but also foster new collaborations between arts and culture centers and the academic schools.”

One such multi-disciplinary undertaking is under way at the Center for Public Health Initiatives. The Center will host a seminar series this year entitled “Creative Action: The Arts in Public Health,” which will include a November 2 performance by award-winning writer-actress Anna Deavere Smith—who can be seen as nurse-administrator Gloria Akalitus on the Showtime series Nurse Jackie—presenting her current work on access to health care in America.

Though some may not immediately make the connection between the arts and public health, Wendy Voet C’91, the center’s managing director, explains: “A growing number of people are using arts and media to affect public health policy and improve the life of community members. When you hear a research paper, it’s very different than when you see a documentary. The documentary really sticks with you. It can evoke a call to action and make people understand the situation.” The series will highlight artists, programs, and creative research projects that use digital media, video, storytelling, drama, photography, and mural arts to address public health issues. “This is a way for us to reach out to all the schools across the University because these methods are a bridge across all of them,” Voet adds.

In the coming months, Arts & the City Year will ideally “galvanize innovative activities already taking place at Penn and initiate exciting new ones,” Price says. “We envision this year as a catalyst to take some things that are already developing and give them new vigor.”

Of course, the thought of choosing between so many rich arts and cultural endeavors this year leaves even President Gutmann feeling slightly overwhelmed. “One cannot take it all in,” she said in May. “So our goal [for Arts & the City Year] is not that everybody take it all in; that is impossible. Our goal is that everybody take some of it in.”

And if all goes according to plan, they will keep absorbing it for years to come: While Arts & the City is officially a one-year undertaking, Price sees it as anything but finite: “We hope that some of these projects will take root and continue well beyond the theme year,” he says. “The idea is not to have just a wonderful year celebration; it is a conscious attempt to seed some new projects.”

Steuer has similar predictions for the year’s lasting effects: “My hope is that this can be the start of a new type of relationship between the University community and the rest of the cultural sector within the city,” he says. “We see this as the beginning of a new, strong relationship.”

Molly Petrilla C’06 is is a freelance writer who contributes frequently to the Gazette.

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Last modified 7/28/09