Letter to the Editor

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In response to Forum Editorial (Sept. 15, 2008) “Will strategic plan be realized in the arts?” I would like to put in perspective why Carnegie Mellon should supports the arts at the highest level.

In the late 19th century in the U.K. many new schools of the arts were founded. Intimately linked to rapidly changing industrial circumstances, they responded to the need for new modes of design, marketing, and branding, to the needs of a changing society for re-shaping community life and culture. This model of higher education was reflected in the founding of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, with the Colleges of Fine Arts and of Engineering in dialogue with each other down the length of the Cut.

Just over a century later Carnegie Mellon published a new strategic plan; and a few days later, the College of Fine Arts published its strategic plan also. In the Carnegie Mellon plan the words ‘creativity’, ‘creative inquiry’, ‘artistic inquiry’ and ‘thinking through doing’ are found at key points. These phrases emerged from the CFA planning process, which is an indication that the thinking found in CFA is still vitally in dialogue with the many other disciplines found in this university.

There are many reasons why it is important that Carnegie Mellon supports the arts. First is that the arts disciplines help make Carnegie Mellon unique. The five schools in CFA (Architecture, Art, Design, Drama, Music) all have programs ranked in the top 10 in the country or, where rankings are not available, have other clear indicators of national and international levels of excellence. None of the other top 25 universities have all five of the disciplines at the depth that we have them here. This gives us an important leadership and advocacy role for the arts.

Second, the arts enrich our lives and our experience of what it is to be human. It is through the arts that we express our cultural identity, and at a time when cultural identity is contested, rigorous education of the makers of cultural objects is crucial. Third, CFA is an integral part of many students’ lives. Over 400 non-music majors take music classes. Over 50 percent of art students have a structured interdisciplinary activity outside of art. People want to be part of the arts at the level they are carried out in CFA.

A fourth reason for the importance of the arts is economic. Americans for the Arts states that arts-centric businesses account for 4.4 percent of all U.S. businesses. In 2004-5 arts-centric businesses had a growth rate of 5.5 percent compared to 3.8 percent for all U.S. businesses, and employment fell 1.9 percent, but just 0.8 percent in the arts. In the U.K. (which has a government minister for the creative industries) the creative industries constitute a larger part of the economy and employ more people than the financial services sector.

Finally, I would ask you to look around any room. Everything that you can see could have been touched at some point in its production by a graduate of a college like CFA. This is a compelling reason for teaching all the arts at the highest level. The furniture, the clothes, the websites we use have been designed. The music we listen to, the films we see — composing, acting, editing, done by artists. All cultures need to tell stories that make sense of our lives. Big cultural statements and ubiquitous items all need quality design and aesthetic solutions. The iPod became the mp3 player of choice not because of superior technology, but because of superior design.

CFA has a vital and unique role to play in securing the future of all of its disciplines. Its aim, always, is for the future of the disciplines: preparing students for long careers as practitioners, and a belief that this education deserves the most rigorous of academic environments.

Hilary Robinson
Stanley and Marcia Gumberg Dean of the College of Fine Arts