Penn's Art and Culture Initiative increases pool of arts majors


The program is attributed to an increase of 25 percent potential art majors for the class of 2018


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Photo by Analyn Delos Santos


Statistics say that students do not want to be English majors anymore — but not at Penn.

The Arts and Culture Initiative, established in 2012, successfully yielded a class of applicants with more interest in the arts than ever before.

There was a 25 percent increase in the number of applicants to the class of 2018 who indicated their potential major as fine arts, history of art, cinema studies, visual studies, music or theatre arts. There was also a 16 percent increase in interest in English and comparative literature .

Furda attributes much of the increased interest in the arts to the new Art and Culture Initiative. Started in the summer of 2012, the initiative seeks to raise awareness of arts-related departments and resources at Penn and in Philadelphia.

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The initiative was established to change the perception that pre-professional programs that often overshadow humanities programs at Penn.

“It was a real shame that our public reputation as an institution [is] that prospective students don’t think of Penn as the place to go if you’re interested in the realm of arts and culture,” Karen Beckman, History of Art professor and founder and director of the initiative said. “I think that we have some of the best art and cultural resources of all of our peer schools.”

Beckman named the Kelly Writers House, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Penn Museum and WXPN as valuable resources which prospective students were not informed about — partly because they were often skipped over on campus tours.

“We were not promoting the level of resources we had at Penn,” Furda said. “It’s not like [the resources] weren’t on our radar, but how do you tell that story?”

To address this issue, a new art and culture tour began last winter in order to give the arts a “separate moment,” Lydia Filosa, admissions intern for the initiative and 2013 College graduate, said.

About 400 students have attended the tours. Students might head to the ICA to hear the director speak about museum internships in Turkey and Germany or enjoy cookies at the Kelly Writers House while learning about creative writing and poetry workshops.

Beckman said that Penn offers unparalleled opportunities in the arts for undergraduate students. “There’s nowhere else in the country that would allow undergraduates to curate their own show [at a place] with the prestigious reputation that the ICA has in the contemporary art world,” she said.

Also unique to Penn is the Visual Studies program, which “combines science and history and fine arts” in a multidisciplinary course of study, according to program director and History of Art professor Michael Leja.

A new brochure was also created for the initiative, highlighting not only resources at Penn, but in Philadelphia as well, such as the Fringe Festival and the Arden Theatre. A new arts-focused admissions video is to follow.

Filosa added that she wants to find more current art students to lead the tours.

“Now the goal is to get more students involved,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of the article said that Dean of Admissions Eric Furda established the Arts and Culture Initiative in 2012. It was established by Karen Beckman and Beckman is the director of the program, not the coordinator.

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