The Arts are an Important Piece of our Campus Climate

The arts bring a needed celebration of diverse cultures at Lehigh University that improve our campus climate.

Were you one of the nearly 1,000 people who attended last Saturday’s second annual Dancefest? I was fortunate enough to witness the incredible performances of Lehigh University student and community dancers. Their passion filled Baker Hall with joy and celebration in ways that only dance can do.

While Lehigh University does not offer a major in dance, it is still incredible that there is so much interest in various types of dance for social and creative engagement. ArtsLehigh supports many dance initiatives; knowing that one can come to understand culture in ways that only movement can provide.

My thoughts after the 2011 Dancefest brought me back to an arts advocacy speech I heard in 2009. The speech, given by an American cultural hero, Wynton Marsalis, was to inspire the audience to work harder at raising our country’s awareness of the importance of the arts. Mr. Marsalis’ speech was not a plea to maintain support to the arts so that artists would be paid. His argument went far deeper. His argument was that the arts bring us together to share culture and history; an iconic monument to how we have come to be a nation of possibility.

“We want to embrace one another, but don’t know how. And the answer is not more education, but more substantive and more culturally-rooted education. The primary justification for the value of education is not some competition with other countries for technological jobs, or to win the so-called science race, or to beat anyone. Our arts demand and deserve that we recognize the life we have lived together.”

Mr. Marsalis is talking about the learning through and with our environment; how we come to understand one another by living together and by sharing our cultural expressions through the arts. Hear the entire speech here. If you have an hour spare – it’s totally worth the investment.

We have diversity issues on this campus. We struggle to understand them, to embrace them, and to resolve them. In order for us ALL to live and work together on this campus, and to share the same geography with our Bethlehem neighbors, we must understand how to live with each other; and to know the challenges of our shared history to evolve; not to repeat the mistakes of the past or to blindly accept the way things are.

The arts at Lehigh, whether taught by seasoned faculty, presented by professional curators and directors, or initiated by passionate students, bring us together in ways that help us see beyond our self-described barriers.

We are about to enter into the time of the academic year when so much of our culture is showcased; music department concerts and recitals, theatre productions and plays, visual art exhibits, international dance and fashion showcases, films, annual creative writing publications, and media productions. Whether performing, presenting or attending, notice the others in the audience with you. See what kind of community is evolving from sharing the arts at Lehigh University.