AAHE: Arts Administrators in Higher Education, vol. 4

In an upscale restaurant, a group of people gather at a large table reserved ahead of time. The conversations switch between various subgroups of three or four. At various points, outbursts of laughter mixed with more subdued volumes as they share something intimate. The food choices vary according to individual tastes, but they all share one common thing. They like to relax (or have been wanting to relax for a long time). They all have a drink. But just one. They probably still have work to do after dinner. Yet, they linger far longer after the meal than the romantic couple seated nearby.

What draws this group of people together? They aren’t kin. There are no hidden presents; no candle lit cake. No one is retiring or about to have a baby. No one exchanges business cards.

They are members of an elite group of arts administrators in higher education. They each have a unique position of leadership in a respectable learning institution. Each of them is dedicated to the arts on campuses, in communities, and in the lives of their constituents. Each serve students who are interested in the witness of and the participation in the arts. Each gives tremendous amounts of time, energy and expertise to faculty, staff and higher administrative leaders that engage the arts in learning. They serve the greater good of the communities by helping people experience a fuller life that comes from the arts. They come together to share their success stories, challenges and offer an insider look to how their institution handles various issues.

This is their fourth annual gathering. It’s not a convention. There are no membership badge, secret handshake or by-laws. And how they found each other was through a few keen individuals who sought each other out; extended invitations to others through a benchmark study of institutions that had arts engagement programs. The first gathering was at Harvard in 2006, then Johns Hopkins in 2007. Lehigh hosted in 2008 – and now they’re in Princeton. They even have a website about to launch.

The group has gathered here in tandem with a symposium organized by the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton.

The aim of this symposium is to explore the current state of the arts in our country and to consider how most effectively to manage our increasingly limited resources. As the role of the university in the arts becomes more and more significant, we think it appropriate that a university provide the forum for this discussion. Our hope is that we will come away from this occasion with a clearer sense of the “ecology of the arts,” a sense based on the perspectives and insights of artists, artistic directors, arts administrators and arts advocates. We are confident that the better we understand the problems, some of them inextricably tangled up with the nation’s economic and political systems, the better we will be able to find ways to solve them. (Paul Muldoon,Chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts)

This elite group of arts administrators have come to reflect on historic, current and future impact of these national issues to the trench work of the actual doing. They are gathered to assess how they can implement this knowledge back to their respective institutions.

The write is a proud member of this group. More will be shared.