Will strategic plan be realized in the arts?

Carnegie Mellon is finishing its 10-year strategic plan, essentially a set of mission statements. The opportunities for students and faculty to voice their opinions are drawing to a close.

This plan puts a great emphasis on research. After all, Carnegie Mellon has become a research university over the past 40 years.

But on top of that, the university emphasizes research with an impact. It doesn’t emphasize research for the sake of research, but technology transfer; that is, research that will cut carbon emissions, make cars more efficient, and increase the capabilities of computers to crunch numbers.

The drafts of the new strategic plan seem to show that Carnegie Mellon has an increasing appreciation for the arts, demonstrated in the following statement and in other places: “Interaction and interconnection between the arts and research, especially in technology, is a source of mutual strength, novel perspectives, and creative inspiration.”

So, how does that research emphasis mesh with the arts at Carnegie Mellon, and is it appropriate to view art as a form of research?

That’s fine in some cases. Both the schools of design and architecture have done projects that used art to make a strong impact: Design students made posters advertising reusable grocery bags to save the environment and architecture students built solar-powered houses.

The problem is, though, that the impact of the arts many times is intangible and isn’t meant to be practical, or else it’s hard to quantify. Artists at times are specifically antagonistic to the rigidity of science and insist specifically that their work has no utility. Does the administration actually appreciate art for art’s sake?

The strategic plan is theoretically a great plan and a good direction for the university to move in, but students and faculty must make sure the administration acts on it.

Most importantly, artists and musicians have to make the case for the fine arts. They must always have a concrete answer for the question, ‘Why does art matter?’ because it’s a question that not just the university will ask, but in the future, foundations, governments, and corporate sponsors will ask.