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The Landscape for the Creative and Performing Arts in 2005

Princeton University is home to an array of high-quality programs and activities in the creative and performing arts. Aspiring authors learn from world-renowned writers in the Creative Writing Program. In the Visual Arts studios at 185 Nassau Street, professional artists mentor students in photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, film, and computer media. The very small Program in Theater and Dance trains a wonderful group of student performers who delight and provoke the campus with superb productions. Princeton’s world-class Department of Music is widely admired for its fusion of theory and performance, and its Certificate in Music Performance attracts a growing number of spectacularly talented student musicians. The Princeton University Art Museum has a world-class collection that deserves much more attention than it receives.

Princeton has an extraordinary opportunity to build on these existing programs to create for its students an even stronger and more distinctive educational model that seamlessly integrates the creative and performing arts into an undergraduate liberal arts program that is second to none. In my travels around the country I have seen no university or college that has fully succeeded in achieving this goal. Princeton’s deep commitment to undergraduate education within a small residential community where interactions between students and faculty, and between faculty in different disciplines, are strongly encouraged gives me confidence to think that we can achieve it here, but not without making significant new investments in curriculum, faculty, and facilities. For example:

  • Princeton’s academic programs in the creative and performing arts are not large enough to meet the growing student demand today. For some classes, such as photography, five or six students are turned away for every one who is admitted. This dramatic mismatch between demand and capacity needs to be rectified as we begin the 11% expansion of the undergraduate student body. Moreover, the programs need and want to broaden the range of their offerings—for example, by increasing the number of advanced classes in the visual arts, teaching theatrical design courses more regularly, and expanding the styles and levels of dance taught in the regular curriculum.
  • Princeton’s programs in the creative and performing arts are hidden jewels. High school students often overlook or underestimate Princeton when they think about where they can best pursue their passions for the arts. Performance tracks in theater and the visual arts are submerged in the fine print of departmental curricula. The University thereby misses a chance to attract students who would enrich our educational community and benefit from the special version of arts education that we offer.
  • Princeton’s programs and the students who participate in them must often struggle to cobble together the resources they need to support their endeavors. For example, the Music Department has neither sufficient practice space for its students nor sufficient administrative support for the increasing number of performances offered by its student musicians; the Princeton Atelier must circumscribe the number of workshops that it offers to stay within budgetary constraints; the studio space at 185 Nassau Street is inadequate for our visual arts concentrators.
  • The Princeton University Art Museum, which houses an extraordinary collection and splendidly integrates undergraduate education with a museum experience, lacks adequate exhibition, storage, office, and public space. Of special concern are the absence of any space suitable for showing (and therefore teaching) much contemporary art, and the museum’s relatively low visibility to the world beyond Princeton’s gates.
  • There is constant pressure from both academic programs and student groups for performance venues on the Princeton campus. Although the Berlind Theater has been a tremendous boon to the Program in Theater and Dance, it is already fully subscribed, offering no room for expansion. Richardson and Taplin Auditoriums, despite their virtues, are not able to accommodate all the needs of our superb orchestra, choral groups, and jazz ensembles, not to mention the many student groups who are constantly searching for places to rehearse and perform.

These needs present challenges, of course, but they also present a great opportunity—to design and realize a vigorous and visible program in the creative and performing arts fully integrated into and indispensable to Princeton University’s special version of liberal arts education. If we can meet the needs that I have described, the successes of today can become the foundation for an even more vibrant community of creativity, performance, and learning.

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Theatre Intime presented "Wonderland Salvage," an original play written and directed by junior J.D.M. Williams. Photo credit: John Jameson

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