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Credit: Julio Sosa

On a campus where pre-med and business tracks are some of the most popular, the arts will soon assume a more prominent role in students’ educational experience.

Last semester, the Office of the Provost created the Arts Advisory Council, a committee of faculty and staff in the arts responsible for advising the Provost on how best to promote the arts at Penn. The committee, chaired by Anita Allen, vice provost for faculty, was formed to promote cultural engagement and provide support to the wide breadth of art at Penn including theater, dance and digital art.

Allen emphasized the recent opportunities afforded through the Council’s Interdisciplinary Arts Fund, like the upcoming Black History Month Community Showcase and paid internship programs for students in Penn’s cultural institutions. The fund provides money for arts projects, especially ones that foster collaboration across fields and strengthen community partnerships.

The Council’s efforts encompass three main areas of development: further integrating art within teaching at Penn, developing performance- and object-based learning and using Penn’s art offerings as a means of community outreach within the wider West Philadelphia area.

Another goal is to support the assimilation of art into classroom lectures and course opportunities as a part of Penn’s focus on interdisciplinary learning.

“We want to promote the integration of knowledge through using art and through teaching and researching about art, so using, for example art objects, or cultural artifacts as part of learning substantive humanities topics or even outside the humanities,” Allen said.

The Council includes campus leaders who are responsible for promoting various subsets of the art community at Penn like Al Filreis, director of the Kelly Writers House. Each member of the Council serves as a representative for his or her art form within the wider university.

“As the faculty member whose concern is writing as a form of art, my goal in this committee is to make connections with other people who share those interests to try to make sure the University’s interests are aligned with arts and culture,” Filreis said.

The Council hopes to promote diverse ways of learning like performance-based education so that Penn moves forward in a way that is in line with student interests. Just this semester, in response to students’ wishes, the theater program began to offer a dance-focused course. However, Penn still remains the only Ivy League school without a dance program.

To assist in developing strategies on how best to incorporate arts and culture into campus life with greater student and faculty involvement, the Council is exploring similar programs at peer institutions.

“We want to look at what other universities are doing and bring their best practices to Penn, also realizing that Penn is very distinctive and has its own way,” Allen said. “We wanted to kind of marshal the unique arts resources on our campus to make them more effective.”

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