President’s Report on the Creative & Performing Arts at Princeton
The Creative and Performing Arts are Central to the Mission of the University
The creative and performing arts are relative latecomers to the curriculum at Princeton. Formal instruction in these areas was not offered until 1939, when a faculty committee proposed a Creative Arts Program “to allow the talented undergraduate to work in the creative arts under professional supervision while pursuing a regular liberal arts course of study, as well as to offer all interested undergraduates an opportunity to develop their creative faculties in connection with the general program of humanistic education.” By the 1970s the original program had evolved into three separate programs—Creative Writing, Theater and Dance, and Visual Arts—which were housed at 185 Nassau Street.
Today the University fully embraces the creative and performing arts as an essential part of its educational mission. Works of art are subjects of scholarship in many of our departments, from English to Art and Archaeology, from Comparative Literature to Music, from Sociology to Religion. To separate the doing of art from the criticism or study of art is increasingly akin to separating experimental and theoretical science. Both activities are enriched by occurring in the presence of the other. The critic gains insight from understanding how works of art come into being, and the artist’s vision is sharpened by criticism. The arts help all of us to comprehend our world better, and the insights of their practitioners stimulate and challenge thought within the scholarly disciplines.
A greater presence of the arts within the University promises to generate a rich array of reciprocal benefits. The creative and performing arts enhance the vitality of our society. As institutions that nurture and value creativity and innovation, universities have increasingly become important patrons of the arts, places where new ideas and forms of expression can flourish. At the same time, by participating in the arts, our students develop cognitive abilities and forms of intelligence that complement training in other disciplines, and in some cases they discover talents and interests that will shape their careers and principal avocations. The habits of mind that one acquires through the arts spill over into every other occupation. Just as our distribution requirements reflect the belief that competence in scientific and mathematical reasoning should be required of a Princeton graduate, so too should our curricular choices affirm that exposure to the creative arts prepares students to become more effective citizens and future patrons of the arts in their communities.
The arts are also critical to the University’s ability to attract outstanding students. With increasing frequency, the most academically gifted prospective students have deeply felt commitments to some aspect of the arts. For the most part these students do not aspire to become professional artists, but they seek a university where they can integrate their academic pursuits with their artistic passions. They become not only music majors and art historians but physicists and philosophers; not only English and comparative literature majors but economists and engineers. Their talent and imagination are visible in every corner of the University, adding a distinctive dimension to intellectual inquiry and enriching campus life with a breath-taking array of exhibits, performances, and creative endeavors. To compete successfully for these students in the future, Princeton needs to create a higher profile for the arts on campus and ensure that we have sufficient curricular offerings and artistic venues to accommodate student interests.
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.
The Allen Committee: Defining a Vision for the Creative and Performing Arts
In the spring of 2005, I asked a committee, chaired by Dean Stan Allen of the School of Architecture, to evaluate the state of the creative and performing arts at Princeton. I asked the committee to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our academic programs in the arts; to articulate goals that might guide us in the future; and to identify various ways in which Princeton might pursue those goals. The Allen Committee comprised a stellar group of Princeton faculty and administrators dedicated to the arts, and I am grateful to them for their diligence and insights.
Two key philosophical insights emerged from the deliberations of the Allen Committee. One is that Princeton’s small size and integrated academic community provide the opportunity for a unique form of education in the creative and performing arts. The creative arts programs at Princeton have not been, and should not become, isolated intellectual enclaves within the University community; they have always been, and should remain, in dynamic partnership with other University departments and faculties, traditionally the humanities departments, but increasingly with interested scholars in engineering and the natural and social sciences. The committee emphasized its hope that Princeton’s creative arts initiative would allow the arts to become an even more integral part of the intellectual life of the community and that it would be designed to reinforce the complementarities that we aim to achieve between the creative arts and a broader liberal arts agenda.
The second insight is that Princeton ought not to follow the lead of those institutions that have chosen to offer conservatory-style, professional-school education in the fine arts to a cadre of students focused on vocational goals. The Allen Committee was both unanimous and emphatic in its rejection of the professional school model, and I fully agree with its judgment. While we should of course celebrate our students who become professional artists and performers, our program in the creative and performing arts should be neither exclusive to such students nor even focused principally on them. Its range should be broader. Princeton’s programs in the creative and performing arts should aim to engage the artistic talents, and excite the passions, of students in all the University’s departments, not just those with a special focus on the arts, and they should offer arts training to this broad range of students in the context of a first-rate liberal arts education.
Together, these insights yield a vision of a program in the creative and performing arts that is collaborative, synergistic, and deeply embedded in the life of the University as an educational and intellectual community. That vision is, of course, entirely consistent with the notable achievements of the creative and performing arts at Princeton today. At their most inspiring, these programs promote interactions across disciplinary and intellectual boundaries that would be hard to achieve at most other universities. A quintessential example of such synergy was on display last spring with the production of Sergei Prokofiev’s “lost” ballet, Le Pas d’Acier. This saga began with Professor of Music Simon Morrison *97, whose scholarly work took him to St. Petersburg to study Russian ballet music. There he uncovered the original choreography as well as costume and set designs for the ballet and brought them back to Princeton, where he joined forces with colleagues in the Program in Theater and Dance and the Department of Music. Three years later, with Princeton undergraduates as the dancers and musicians, this extraordinary piece of theater was performed for the first time as Prokofiev intended.
To fully realize this exciting and distinctive vision of the creative and performing arts at Princeton, we must keep uppermost three fundamental aspirations. The first is to grow Princeton’s programs in a way that nurtures and sustains connections between faculty in those programs and other faculty throughout the University. The second is to provide a curriculum that is responsive to the needs of all students with special artistic interests and talents, and not only to those who concentrate in departments that bear an obvious relationship to the arts. The third is to pursue an environment in which every Princeton undergraduate has an opportunity for meaningful and significant experience with the arts during his or her time at this University.
A University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts
The members of the Allen Committee agreed that the creative and performing arts cannot flourish at Princeton without an organizational home that would unite them, nurture them, and secure their prominence within the University. The arts need a strong voice within the University as a whole and an organizational structure that can ensure coordination, increase public awareness and appreciation, and promote the exchange of ideas and information among the creative arts programs at Princeton. In short, the creative arts need strong leadership and persistent advocacy.
The Allen Committee noted that the University’s curricular programs in the creative and performing arts have long had the benefit of the guardianship of the Council on the Humanities, which has done much to promote and support them. The committee suggested, however, that the status quo would not be sufficient to enable the creative arts to flourish and grow in the future. Either the Council would have to be reformed to emphasize more explicitly the arts as well as the humanities, or Princeton would have to create a new academic unit devoted specifically to the arts.
After careful deliberation with colleagues, I believe that the arts at Princeton need more visibility as well as a voice and presence of their own. The arts must be integrated rather than insular, and the humanities—including the Humanities Council itself—will be important partners for the creative and performing arts. I am confident, however, that this goal of engagement and partnership will be fostered by giving the arts a platform devoted specifically to them, through which they can actively participate in the conversations and collaborations that constitute University life.
I believe that Princeton should create a University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts that will serve both as an administrative umbrella for the undergraduate curricular programs and as a focal point for scholarship, teaching, and practice in the arts. The Center would directly oversee expanded programs in Creative Writing, Theater and Dance, and the Visual Arts (and coordinate closely with the program in music performance in the Department of Music). The Center’s role will be to coordinate and enrich the individual programs, not to supplant them; the programs will continue to exist as distinct academic units, as they now do within the Council for the Humanities, and they will likewise continue to have principal responsibility for appointments to their own faculties.
The Center’s Director should be a tenured member of the Princeton faculty, and a distinguished scholar or artist who teaches in the creative and performing arts and is seen as a leader for the arts on campus. He or she must be able to provide leadership for the arts while also respecting the independence and autonomy of the particular programs that reside within the Center. The Director will have responsibility for administering Center endowments to support the academic programs and other activities in the creative and performing arts, in consultation with an Executive Committee composed of Princeton faculty and appointed by the Dean of the Faculty. The Executive Committee will include the directors of the academic programs in the creative and performing arts, and Princeton faculty who teach in those programs will hold appointments through the Center.
The Princeton University Art Museum should be a principal partner with a University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. Among the museum’s defining commitments is its aspiration to promote object-oriented learning at Princeton and to integrate its exhibitions into the more general intellectual life of the University. Recognizing the museum’s importance by allying it with the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts will enhance the museum’s impact on campus and beyond, and it will help generate powerful synergies among the creation, exhibition, and study of visual art at Princeton University. By coordinating the museum’s educational programs and activities with the Center’s curricular efforts, we will ensure that Princeton students have an opportunity to participate fully in the object-oriented learning made possible by the University’s splendid museum.
I envision that the Center will be the hub of a dynamic community of creative endeavor that brings together students with faculty members and artists whose interests are well suited to Princeton’s distinctive conception of undergraduate education. It will serve many of the functions of an academic school or department without either forcing the creative arts to conform to all the practices of traditional research disciplines or veering toward the professional school model that has been used at other institutions but would be inappropriate at Princeton.
A Society of Fellows in the Arts
One of the most inspired recommendations of the Allen Committee was its proposal to create a new interdisciplinary Society of Fellows in the Arts, which the committee envisioned as a centerpiece of arts education at Princeton. The Society’s Fellows would be innovative and early-career artist/scholars who would teach courses, maintain studios, give or organize performances or exhibitions (where appropriate), and participate in seminars, conferences, and other on-campus collaborations. Their presence would expose Princeton to lively cross-currents from the world of the creative and performing arts, and their energy would enable the scholarly and educational projects in the arts at Princeton to achieve critical mass. Not only would the arts thereby enliven Princeton, but Princeton would thereby become a patron not only of the arts, but of artists, by providing fellowships that would help to sustain and support developing artists as they launch their careers.
The Allen Committee recommended the appointment of at least six fellows a year, for terms of up to two years each, from all areas of the arts pursued at Princeton. This would include writers, actors, directors, choreographers, musicians, painters, video and installation artists, and curators. The Fellows would receive a salary, an office, and access to the facilities they need to do their work. As members of the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, they would be expected to teach undergraduate courses as well as to participate in the core seminar/performance series of the Center.
These Fellows would contribute to every aspect of Princeton’s initiative in the creative and performing arts, but their role in Princeton’s certificate programs would be especially crucial. In rejecting the option of a graduate program in the creative and performing arts, the Allen Committee recognized that the university thereby foregoes the presence of highly committed graduate-level artists and scholars to work with and inspire our undergraduates and faculty members. The Fellows in the Arts would make the contributions to our programs that would otherwise be made by graduate students in the arts. They will be indispensable elements of the intellectual ecosystem that links students and faculty together in a community of learning.
A Scholarly Agenda for the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts
The Allen Committee emphasized Princeton University’s distinctive opportunity to integrate the arts with its tradition of world-class scholarship and learning in the humanities, and proposed that Princeton achieve that goal by establishing a new, collaborative scholarly research program for its faculty. The committee proposed a new venue for innovative work that cuts across the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences as well as the Schools of Engineering and Architecture. It proposed bringing together faculty, graduate students, and visiting fellows from several disciplines and encouraging them to collaborate on research, teaching, and artistic enterprises.
I concur wholeheartedly with this recommendation. Scholarly activity in the creative and performing arts should be a core feature of the Center. Since much scholarship in the humanities focuses upon the study of works of art of all kinds, the Center’s scholarly program should be a joint venture with the Council for the Humanities. Jointly sponsored research programs and intellectual events will form an important bridge between the Council and the Center, thereby sustaining the connections between the humanities and the arts that have flourished in the past under the Council’s leadership.
This cooperative venture would bring together faculty, artists, graduate students, and visiting fellows. Together, the Council and the Center could sponsor a series of ongoing seminars and colloquia that would provide a venue for the presentation and critical assessment of new research relevant to the creative and performing arts. As part of this enterprise, the Council and the Center together could support Princeton graduate students whose dissertations relate to the creative and performing arts. More specifically, I believe that the Council and the Center should appoint several graduate students as Graduate Fellows each year; these Fellows, in addition to receiving support, would participate regularly in seminars and colloquia devoted to the creative and performing arts. The Center and the Council could also develop a Visiting Fellows program patterned upon the successful models of the University Center for Human Values and the History Department’s Davis Center. I envision that these fellows would be leading junior and senior faculty from other institutions around the world as well as independent artists and critics who wish to devote some time to scholarship and research. Together with the Graduate Fellows and the faculties of the Council and the Center, they would help to catalyze scholarly discourse and collaboration regarding the arts at Princeton.
I am confident that these programs will quickly make the Center one of the world’s leading venues for scholarly research and criticism in the arts. Moreover, they will reinforce the strong affinities between the humanities and the arts at Princeton, and their influence upon the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts will ensure that Princeton’s initiative in the arts remains true to the University’s core values, which require a commitment to first-rate teaching and research.
The Academic Programs
Princeton now offers undergraduate certificate programs in Creative Writing, Musical Performance, Theater and Dance, and Visual Arts. These programs are the academic heart of the University’s curricular initiatives in the creative and performing arts, and any examination of education in the arts at Princeton must begin with an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
The Allen Committee looked at the University’s programs in detail. It recognized that these programs have significant strengths: they benefit from dedicated and talented teachers, and they are beloved by those students fortunate enough to participate in them. But the committee also pointed out that the programs are burdened with a number of constraints, which we might group into the rough categories of size, personnel, resources, and visibility. None of the programs has a sufficiently large teaching faculty to meet—or, indeed, come close to meeting—the demand for instruction. All face, to varying extents, challenges in attracting artists to the faculty: though universities are the natural and obvious homes for scholars in research disciplines, that is not so for creative and performing artists (with the possible exception of creative writers). The programs are under-resourced. And they are too often viewed, by some students and faculty, as peripheral to the main mission of the University. One of our goals will be to send a clear message that the creative arts are worthy of a position of centrality and high regard at a major research university like Princeton.
Some believe that these needs can best be addressed by converting one or more of our programs in the Creative and Performing Arts into departments or allowing them to offer undergraduate majors. The Allen Committee explored these options but agreed that they could not be resolved without further study and consultation. The committee identified reasons why having departmental status or undergraduate majors might benefit some programs but not others. After reviewing the committee’s analysis, I am convinced that, at least for the time being, we should address the programs’ needs directly rather than undertaking complex changes to their structures. We should, in other words, do more of—and do better, what we do now. We should endow the programs with the resources they need to reach a large group of students, to expand the breadth and depth of their curricular offerings, to surpass their current high standards, and to command the respect of the entire University community and the broader world. As the programs evolve, there will, of course, be continuing discussions with their faculties about how best to plan for the future. I believe these changes will suffice to bring Princeton’s endeavors in the creative and performing arts to the level of excellence that we desire, but if a move to departmental status should prove desirable in the future, these changes will lay the essential groundwork for such a move.
Size and Personnel
The problems of size and personnel are obviously related. The programs need the resources to hire additional faculty members to meet student demand—demand not only from the students who are already present on campus, but also from the additional students who began to arrive last fall in anticipation of the 11% expansion of the undergraduate student body, and, eventually, from other students who are passionately interested in the arts and do not now regard Princeton as an ideal place to study them. To use those resources effectively, the programs will need to hire faculty who are not only great authors, artists, and performers but also superb teachers.
The Allen Committee recognized the challenges that confront Princeton when it seeks to hire faculty in the creative and performing arts, and it recommended a solution that included two components. The committee identified a need to expand the number of senior faculty, most likely through tenured appointments, in each of the programs. (To give an idea of the distance we need to travel, currently there is but a single member of the regular faculty teaching dance.) The success of the programs is completely dependent on the presence of an energetic and able resident faculty capable of administering the programs, coordinating the hiring of new faculty and fellows, anchoring the educational curriculum, teaching the central courses in both artistic practice and criticism/history, and supervising most senior theses. The committee recommended, and I agree, that Princeton must be willing to show some flexibility in the arrangements it is willing to make when hiring artists for the permanent faculty: some distinguished teacher-artists, for example, may be willing to join Princeton’s faculty only on a half-time basis so they can pursue their artistic vocations full time for one semester each year. On the other hand, no such flexibility is desirable when it comes to the fundamental issue of faculty quality: in the arts as elsewhere, faculty appointments must be held to the highest standard.
The Allen Committee also observed that Princeton would be unable to achieve critical mass for teaching and intellectual exchange in the arts solely through tenure-track appointments. Attracting professional creative and performing artists to full-time teaching positions is difficult, and therefore the committee recognized the need to supplement the contribution of Princeton’s permanent faculty in the creative and performing arts with two other categories of artists. First, the University should evolve a variety of visitorships that can accommodate the extraordinarily busy schedules of world-class artists and enable them to bring their talents to Princeton and invigorate our programs in the arts. Through the Atelier directed by Professor Toni Morrison and existing fellows programs in the Council of the Humanities, Princeton has already hosted distinguished musicians, painters, playwrights, and other artists who conduct classes and work on productions with students. By virtue of its reputation, its ensemble of superb faculty and students, and its location near New York City and other major East Coast cultural centers, Princeton has shown that it can attract to its campus the most brilliant stars in the artistic firmament. Such visitors might come for just a week, for a few weeks, for a semester, or for a year. While at Princeton, these visitors might perform, co-teach a short course, give master classes, participate in a design jury, collaborate with students working on a project, or simply mix with students and faculty in the arts. The presence of these extraordinarily creative visitors will add a special, lustrous dimension to the University’s programs.
Second, as I have already mentioned, the Allen Committee recommended the creation of a new Society of Fellows in the Arts that would bring more junior artists to Princeton for one-year or two-year term appointments. This inspired suggestion will enable Princeton to attract to its campus a cadre of artists who will substantially augment the University’s teaching capacity in the creative and performing arts. The Fellows will play a role midway between Princeton’s permanent faculty and the artists who visit on a short-term basis.
Princeton’s programs in the Creative and Performing Arts have recorded remarkable successes while coping with budgets that have ranged from lean to strained. These programs require additional endowment to realize their full potential to contribute to the education of Princeton students. They must have the capacity to pay for musical instruments, artists’ supplies, private lessons, theater costumes, and theatrical set design and assembly. Computers have become critical to graphic design, and the visual arts program needs equipment to digitize works and create art in new digital media. All of the programs need funds for administrative support, technical assistance, and the upkeep of equipment and facilities. These needs may be mundane but they are nonetheless critical. Income from an endowment would sustain Princeton’s programs and enable students and faculty to focus their energies on the achievement of excellence.
Today the Program in Creative Writing is visible and highly regarded because of the individual reputations of its faculty and its size; it is the only one of our programs that approaches a critical mass. For the other programs to acquire greater prestige inside and outside the University, they must both enhance their levels of excellence and increase their size. Increased support and funding alone cannot guarantee success, but they can help facilitate greater participation and more high-quality achievements on which the programs will build their reputations. Princeton must do more than support excellence; it must also provide the creative and performing arts with an organizational structure and physical space within the University that makes them visible to the Princeton community and the outside world.
The University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts will help to achieve this goal in two different ways. It will, for the first time, provide the arts with a prominent voice and presence all their own on Princeton’s campus. It will be an academic unit that can stand alongside the University’s other departments, centers, institutes, and schools. Second, the Center will have its own pages in the Undergraduate Announcement and other University publications, and it will be able to draw together Princeton’s academic options in the arts so that they are visible and accessible to every interested student.
The Center cannot succeed, however, unless the creative and performing arts have a proper physical home on campus. The Allen Committee rightly urged that Princeton’s initiative in the arts must include a substantial investment in new facilities, not merely to house the expanded programs but to give the arts a visible place on campus—one that makes Princeton’s commitment to the arts clear to the University and the world.
A Campus Neighborhood for the Creative and Performing Arts
The creative and performing arts are now dispersed over a variety of venues: at 185 Nassau Street; at the Berlind Theater; in Woolworth Center; at the Council for the Humanities in the Joseph Henry House; in the School of Architecture; and at the Princeton University Art Museum. The Allen Committee rightly recognized that this arrangement—which it described as edge-to-edge deployment of the arts—has its virtues; for example, it helps to ensure that the arts will be integrated into Princeton’s academic and campus life, rather than isolated from it. Nevertheless, the committee identified a need for a new campus facility that could house the new and expanded programs it recommended, provide a focal point for creative and artistic activity at Princeton, and serve as a visible representation of the centrality of the creative and performing arts at Princeton.
I agree with the committee in both respects. On the one hand, the arts must retain a distributed presence on the Princeton campus. That is partly because we already have successful arts buildings in multiple locations. For example, 185 Nassau Street, though crowded, provides lovely loft-type space for the visual arts programs, and the music department has a beautiful home in Woolworth Center. It would be impractical and unwise to think about consolidating these facilities. Moreover, the presence of creative activity in different parts of the campus invigorates the community and helps to integrate its parts. On the other hand, the programs are short of space, and if they are to grow, they must have new spaces for teaching as well as for performance. The construction of new facilities for the arts will provide us with the opportunity to create a visible arts “neighborhood” on campus, one that would provide a focal point for interactions among faculty, students, and visiting artists. An arts neighborhood should be a part of the campus that looks outward and draws the outside world into Princeton, helping to increase interactions between town and gown. Because of their broad appeal, the arts provide a special opportunity for Princeton to engage with the surrounding communities and the world beyond. I believe that the community as well as the University would benefit from an expanded and more visible public presence of the creative arts.
One of Princeton’s fine institutions of the arts deserves special mention in this context. The Princeton University Art Museum is not only one of the nation’s great university art museums but one of America’s great art museums, period. As befits a museum at Princeton University, our museum thoroughly integrates the University’s educational mission into its aspirations and practices. Susan Taylor, the museum’s director, collaborates with University faculty in disciplines ranging from the humanities to the engineering school. By virtue of its location on campus, the museum puts teaching spaces into close proximity with exhibition spaces, producing partnerships that are rare, if not unparalleled, at peer institutions. A visible and lively museum should help to attract and nurture students who care passionately about the arts.
Yet the extraordinary collections of our museum do not receive the attention or the respect that they richly deserve. The Allen Committee persuasively urged that new exhibition space should be part of any new space that Princeton builds to accommodate the arts. Such space would facilitate the museum’s special role as a link between Princeton and the world. It would also ensure that the museum and its tradition of teaching are thoroughly integrated into the activity of the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. Among several options, the Allen Committee suggested that some fraction of the present museum might move to the arts neighborhood. The museum’s most pressing needs are for additional exhibition space for contemporary art and special exhibits and greater visibility for our stellar permanent collection. The committee recommended that the plan for the neighborhood should be sufficiently forward-thinking to retain the option to relocate the entire museum in the arts neighborhood in the future, and I agree that the planners should allow for that option.
In light of all these considerations, two locations suggest themselves as appropriate for new arts spaces. One is the area south of McCarter and Berlind Theaters on Alexander Street. The theaters already give the arts a significant presence in this area. Located in an area where ample parking could be provided for visitors, the site would have the added virtue of bringing Forbes College and the Graduate College closer into the fold of the campus by providing a lively environment at their front doors. It would also significantly improve the character of a corridor, Alexander Street and University Place, that is an important gateway both to the University and to Princeton Borough and Township. The neighborhood would provide integrated spaces for some fraction of the teaching and research programs of the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts and the Society of Fellows in the Arts, together with additional performance spaces and a new exhibition space for the Art Museum. The Allen Committee also suggested, as have some community leaders, that the addition of restaurants, cafes, and other retail activity in the area would create the kind of liveliness that has traditionally been associated with the creative arts.
The second location is adjacent to 185 Nassau Street, in existing University space. Planning is underway to move the Psychology and Chemistry departments southward to the University’s science neighborhood. When they move, Green Hall and Frick Hall will become available for new uses. These buildings are sufficiently large to provide space for a number of different programs, and they will play an important role in accommodating the needs of Princeton’s social science and humanities departments. Their proximity to 185 Nassau Street, however, suggests that we should also consider them as possible homes for portions of the expanded programs in the arts. This neighborhood, like the one on Alexander Street, benefits from its interface with the community beyond the University. 185 Nassau Street is a building that already looks both inward to the campus and outward to the community, and it would be possible to build upon this strength.
I envision that the arts neighborhood would, in either of these locations, become a magnet for Princeton students, faculty, and staff interested in the arts and an important new point of contact for the campus, the surrounding community, and the outside world. It would be a vivid expression of this University’s commitment to be a national leader in education in the creative and performing arts, and to do so in a way consistent with Princeton’s distinctive tradition as a liberal arts university.
The Extracurricular Arts at Princeton
Although I have focused mostly on the creative and performing arts within the context of formal academic programs, that of course is only part of the story. Much learning at Princeton takes place outside of the classroom, and nowhere is that more true than in the arts. As the Allen Committee pointed out, most students at Princeton experience the creative and performing arts through student groups—as artists, administrators, technicians, and audience members. With its storied a cappella groups, the Triangle Club, Theatre Intime, dance troupes, and a wide variety of other student organizations, extracurricular activity in the creative and performing arts at Princeton is widespread, intense, lively, and constantly evolving.
Yet, the extraordinary level of activity and the high quality of performances conceal challenges that the University should address. Student groups in the creative and performing arts often find themselves struggling to scrape together the relatively modest sums of money that they require to mount a performance, purchase equipment, or arrange a trip. They often lack the technical and administrative support they need to progress from concept to performance without major, and sometimes insurmountable, obstacles. As we expand and improve our academic programs for the arts, we should also recognize and meet the needs of our other ambitious and talented student performers.
To do so, we should establish a fund to provide financial support for extracurricular activity in the arts and we should be attentive to the performance, rehearsal, and exhibition spaces needed by our student groups, as well as to the requirements of our academic programs. These considerations should influence our planning not only for the arts neighborhood but also for other university facilities. I am pleased, for example, that a gift from Peter B. Lewis ’55 made it possible to include a number of practice and rehearsal rooms in the basement of Bloomberg Hall, and that a gift from two alumni has enabled us to add an improved theater space to Whitman College.
Conclusion: A Time for the Arts at Princeton
Throughout its long history, Princeton University has sustained the vitality and traditional strengths of its teaching and research programs only by virtue of its willingness to accommodate an ever-broadening range of studies and programs. Sometimes the University has added subjects that did not exist in the past, such as computer science and molecular biology. In other instances, the University has recognized the need to sponsor cross-disciplinary approaches to venerable questions, as it did when it founded the University Center for Human Values. In the case of the creative and performing arts, we deal with activities that are simultaneously ancient and avant garde: they are literally as old as human civilization, but they constantly renew our society with fresh perspectives on human experience. The time has come for Princeton to give greater recognition to the centrality of the arts in its teaching and research mission.
Some might suggest that this is long overdue, but none should doubt that it is urgently needed now. Princeton undergraduates yearn for education in the creative and performing arts, and at present the University cannot fully meet their demand. More fundamentally, the creative and performing arts provide a distinctive and valuable medium for comprehending the challenges of our age and for increasing our understanding of ourselves, our neighbors, and others with whom we share this planet. Any university that aspires to offer students a great liberal arts education must ensure that they have meaningful experiences in the creative and performing arts.
This is accordingly a unique moment for the arts at Princeton University. Princeton has an opportunity not only to expand its programs in the creative and performing arts, but to establish itself as a global leader in the quality of its offerings and in their integration into a broader liberal arts education. Its basic commitments to fundamental research and outstanding teaching, and its hospitality to interdisciplinary thought and practice, allow Princeton to launch a distinctive initiative in the arts, one that breaks down barriers between theory and practice and thoroughly integrates intellectual and artistic pursuits into a shared educational and research mission. I am grateful to the Allen Committee for its insightful analysis of the aspirations that must define such an initiative as well as the mechanisms that might enable us to implement it. And I am confident that, with the dedication and enthusiasm of many other Princetonians, we can make this University the premier place for students, artists, and scholars who want to engage with the arts in a way that draws strength from and adds strength to a great liberal arts university.
— Shirley M. Tilghman, President