Make room for art on campus

Some of the walls in some of the colleges and universities I visit display exciting, interesting, and highly creative works of art. Some of the open spaces on some of the campuses display outdoor sculptures that say something enormously important about the institution and its commitment to fine arts as well as to the liberal arts.

But most of the colleges and universities with which I am familiar have only a few splashes of contemporary (or even traditional) art on view on campus -- generally confined to buildings where art classes are held or at the president's office.

Endless corridors -- inviting space for paintings, drawings, and even some craft displays -- are bare, or contain what the English call "chocolate box art." That is, there are some cheap, reproduction prints chosen some aeon ago and never dusted, removed, or replaced.

Yet, let me enter the domain of the art department, and I not only see marvelous and fresh artistic compositions, but am assured by faculty and students that -- on this campus as on no other -- art has a prominent place. Then a trip through the building housing chemistry and geology classes, and blank wall after blank wall cries out for some of the art that is piled in corners next door.

And with few exceptions, very little outdoor sculpture is displayed on any campus; even on those campuses where a portion of the art department is alive with welders creating marvelously imaginative, weatherproof works of art.

I suspect this lack of concern for giving prominence to contemporary artists and for beautifying dull outdoor areas and even duller classroom building corridors won't change overnight; nor will it be current administrators who, without prodding, make the necessary arrangements for more art displays.

One can only assume that the current faculty and staff at college after college are unmoved by creativity and artistic excitement. They cannot be aesthetically sensitive. If they were, they would long ago have used what their art departments produced.

One suspects, too, that those who teach the fine arts at an institution of higher education have already had too many battles with too many Philistines in high places to do further battle over display space in other areas of the campus.

So who should? Who can? It's possible this strategy won't work, but I've enough faith in it to offer it worldwide.

The alumni. Not just the alumni who are artists by profession or serious collectors for their own living and working spaces, but all the alumni who believe that aesthetic sensitivity and creativity are central to places espousing learning and a search for the truth; these are the ones who should do something immediately to beautify their alma maters.

When next you visit your former school, take a look at the open spaces on the campus and note well any outdoor sculptures. Make a point, when you visit the development office, to tell them how much you like what you've seen -- or how disappointed you are that so little good work is being done in the art department, and hence so little that is good is on display.

When you send back your card telling your class correspondent what you've been doing since your last report, resist the temptation to tell about your own trip, boat, two-car garage, or offspring. Instead ask why the alumni bulletin or magazine hasn't shown more pictures of the beautifying of the campus from the students and instructors in the art department?

When you send in your yearly contribution, suggest that you would be doubling or tripling your gift if you felt that something were being done to display good works of art throughout the campus and not just in one or two selected areas.

If you live near enough to the campus to visit often, get together with other nearby alumni and ask for a meeting with the president, with the provost, with the director for development, and with the dean of students. Act as astounded as you can that the campus is not chock-full of the output from the excellent art department.

And ask, meekly, if the school is somehow not interested in providing beautiful works of art for those staff, students, and faculty who live and work in its buildings.

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