This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Tithing science research to support arts is proposed at envisioning retreat

Published: May 12, 2005

Contributing Editor

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go to the UB2020 website

A 1-2 percent tithe on science research funding to support the arts at UB, a practice at some other American universities that is supported by their science departments, was among the proposals discussed "pro" and "con" on May 5 by faculty members attending the UB 2020 envisioning retreat focusing on artistic expression and performing arts.


Another proposal emerging from the session in the atrium of the Center for the Arts called for the funding of small temporary or permanent "cells" of faculty members and students collaborating across disciplines to promote exploratory arts research, technological applications and emerging technology, relationships between areas like text and performance, dance and dance medicine, music and architecture.

During seven hours of discussion and debate, the enthusiasm among the 60 participating faculty and staff members from several schools and university divisions never waned as they hammered out a proposal focusing on how the visual and performing arts might be imagined at UB—with the greatest imagination and success over the next 15 years.

And it was no easy trick. Many present noted that the visual and performing arts programs at UB have been celebrated and underfunded for decades, usually at the same time.

During that period, most of which predated the World Wide Web, the arts departments were separated by miles, and faculty members in any one department have remained personally unfamiliar with colleagues in other departments and with their professional reputations, research and artistic production.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the retreat were the epiphanies that occurred as participants recognized how many interests and concerns they share with their "new" colleagues, and expressed an urge to forge a consensus around issues and concepts that excite them all. The participants found they constituted a critical mass many of them previously had not known existed at the university.

The program was introduced by conveners David Felder, professor, Department of Music, College of Arts and Sciences (CAS); Diane Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of English, CAS; and Nils Olsen, professor and dean of UB Law School. They presented an overview of the retreat, and "set the landscape" for the discussion by outlining the specific areas of analysis the team hoped would be addressed that day.

Christian chairs the Faculty Senate Academic Planning Committee, which worked with faculty members to identify the "strategic strengths" under discussion in the envisioning retreats. She also noted that she was a member of the search committees that hired both President John B. Simpson and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Satish K. Tripathi, and through that process developed a sense of who Simpson and Tripathi are and the effect they are likely to have on UB.

In reference to the planning process they devised for UB 2020, Christian said: "In my 25 years here, this is the first serious and competent planning operation I've seen. It is very comprehensive. They (Simpson and Tripathi) really believe that faculty must drive the imagination and this plan. This is a serious attempt to actively pursue advice from the faculty and it is worth your time, your interest and your passion."

Participants were instructed to consider the meaning of "creation of works" and "analysis of works" in accomplishing retreat goals. They then elected to participate in one of three facilitated "discovery groups" and to report the outcome of their discussions.

The first discovery group defined "disciplinarity" and discussed the potential for collaborative work at UB in terms of attitudes, behaviors and procedures that enable the process and others that discourage it.

The group was facilitated by Robert Knopf, professor and chair, Department of Theatre and Dance, CAS; Frank Fantauzzi, associate professor, Department of Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning; and Carole Ann Fabian, director, Educational Technology Center, and associate vice president, University Libraries.

The second—and most popular in terms of participation—discovery group, titled "Historical and Emerging Strengths, Strategic Opportunities," was facilitated by Felder; Michael Basinski, curator, UB Poetry Collection, University Libraries; and Stephen McCaffery, David Gray Chair in Humanities and Poetry, Department of English, CAS.

This group set out to identify current UB programs and initiatives in the arts with a history of success. They asked how these historical strengths might inform strategic opportunities and define criteria for measuring excellence across disciplines.

The third discovery group was the smallest, but had a difficult mission: to identify resources that exist and those that might be needed to produce and promote those areas of strategic strength and artistic collaboration identified by the other groups before hearing their reports.

It was a difficult undertaking, but succeeded under the direction of facilitators Elliot Caplan, professor, Department of Media Study, CAS; Stephen Manes, professor and chair, Department of Music, CAS; and Austin Booth, associate librarian and arts subject specialist, University Libraries.

The group looked at the infrastructure needed, as expressed in terms of staff and facilities, both existing and envisioned. They examined funding models and staff support for creative projects and the use of facilities for such work on both campuses.

"UB's programs in the arts have achieved international recognition for important contributions in the field of creation and presentation in many of the fields of artistic endeavor," Felder said in summing up the presentations.

"That reputation is based on a commitment to innovative, experimental practice, and we see our collective mission as escorting these achievements into the challenges of the 21st century," he said.

The discovery groups suggested that UB continue spearheading the innovative use of technology in the liberal arts, offer even more distinguished presentations of cross-cultural and time-honored work, and integrate critical and social concerns into the work itself.

They called for increased, enhanced and more accessible library resources; the development of relevant interdisciplinary skills through classroom and extra-classroom training to maximize student versatility; and for UB to commission experimental work in architecture and art on campus.

As artist/producers, the faculty members said they would promote the inclusion of students in project activities and promote work that pushes the envelope of contemporary and historical production.

There were proposals to establish a group to fund annual inter-disciplinary works that would be produced here and recorded and maintained at the libraries as part of an arts performance and presentation series. Participants said the goal would be to emphasize the role of Buffalo as a "neglected border condition" that has historically, and should in the future, foster production of contextually, socially and economically sensitive experimental work. They also called for additional UB-sponsored residencies in the arts centered on shared themes and interdisciplinary work.

A UB Center for 21st Century Music was proposed, with UB's annual "June in Buffalo" festival for emerging composers serving as the centerpiece for a triennial festival across the arts, and a UB/Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today to draw national attention to the outstanding work in the region.

There also was a call for UB to take on the mantle of "critical regional producer," a role no longer grasped with any enthusiasm by local funders and organizations. Such a community role would broaden the depth of work among both faculty members and students.

At the end of the seven hours, after much informed and spirited debate, the participants clearly agreed with comments made at the beginning of the retreat by Tripathi, who told participants: "We need to work toward specific goals based on our strongest points to draw the best students and the best faculty, because we will not attract one without the other.

"So free your minds," Tripathi said, "and do not worry about the funding at this point. Once we have completed this process, what is needed will be funded."

The next step will be a white paper in which the conveners will present a distilled version of the scores of suggestions offered by participants that they hope will bring UB to the leading edge of daring, inter-cultural and multi-disciplinary artistic expression and education by the year 2020.