Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., has a fine collection of Rembrandt prints. But Lori Verderame, director of the Martin Art Gallery on campus, wants students to do more than just pass through the gallery and say "wow." She sees the prints as a chance for economics majors to learn about Rembrandt as a businessman and entrepreneur, or for cultural-history students to find out more about what Baroque society was like in the Netherlands in the 1650s.
Universities and colleges, even small ones, often have significant art collections on campus, whether built up by a curator or donated by alumni. The challenge has been to bring the paintings and prints out of storerooms and make sure they are seen by more than just the art majors. In recent years, Dr. Verderame says, colleges like hers have turned up their creativity a notch to incorporate art resources into virtually every discipline.
Since the 1960s, scholars have been looking at art from psychological, historical, economic, literary, and other points of view, but just in the past five years, "more and more university galleries are focused on reaching out to the campus," says Roger Dell, a lecturer on arts in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass., and a former curator in Honolulu and Chicago. Part of the reason is the postmodern view that "art is infinitely complex, and there are many lenses it can be looked at through," he says.
Among the many colleges that are making art resources a part of everyday life on campus:
• Duke University in Durham, N.C. The Institute of the Arts provides a "cultural ticket subsidy." Faculty in any discipline may ask for free tickets to take students to relevant performances. A class in Asian languages and literatures, for example, might attend a performance of a Dhrupad singer of Hindustani classical music from northern India.
• Aurora University in Aurora, Ill. The Schingoethe Center, a museum of native American artifacts and artworks, caters to many classes. A course on Musics of the World, for example, includes research on native American instruments, dance, and song. Students in Social Work With Diverse Populations come to learn about native American family and social structures.
• Smith College in Northampton, Mass. The Museum of Art has designed courses that are tied to the collection, including Chemistry of Artists' Materials and Techniques and Jerusalem in History, Literature, and Art, a first-year seminar.
• Emory University in Atlanta. At the Michael C. Carlos Museum, which houses the largest collection of ancient art in the Southeastern United States, students handle objects that would normally be behind glass.
Today, even business and technical schools with no liberal-arts degree programs are seeing the value of bringing the arts into areas such as mathematics and chemistry.
"There is mounting evidence that science students benefit from studying literature and the arts, adding to their creativity as scientists and helping them to become more aware of moral and ethical issues," says John Strassburger, president of Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa.
Five years ago, Babson, a business college in Babson Park, Mass., offered little in the way of arts education. But administrators realized the school was failing to attract students who wanted a rounded college experience. Babson hired Burl Hash and made him director of its new Sorenson Center for the Arts, which oversees both performing and visual arts.
Now the college has theater groups and a community chorus, and Mr. Hash continues to find new ways to insert the arts into course work and extracurricular activities.
"We've used our jazz band as a way to springboard discussions on leadership issues," says Hash, whose background is in theater. "How do you have a jazz band that actually sticks together but allows a lot of people flexibility to go off in another direction? And how do you get it back? What do you do when you get a player who's not very good on your team? We found ... that it just provokes a whole different way of looking at things."
Hash has also lectured on leadership models in Shakespeare. And students can take theater training or a visual arts course to learn how to make more effective business presentations.
"More and more, the faculty here has begun to call me up and say, 'Wow. How could we use the arts to help solve this problem or help people see this problem better?' " Hash says. "So it's really fun, to tell you the truth."
Missy Fine, a Babson freshman, is one student managing to balance her interests in the arts and entrepreneurial business.
"There's not as many [arts] resources because it's a business school," says Ms. Fine, who grew up painting oils and watercolors and runs her own jewelry-design business. But there have been improvements, she agrees. "We never used to have potting wheels, but now we do.... Creativity is more talked about, and people share their creative ideas, not just their business ideas."
Physics in photos
Science classes are on Jill Meredith's agenda. As director of the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College in central Massachusetts, she plans to collaborate with a physics professor to use the museum's collection of famous stop-motion photos made by Harold Edgerton.
Departments such as black studies, anthropology, Russian, and European studies already have drawn on the museum's collection of prints, Ms. Meredith says. Once the museum does a project with a department, the professors "come back again because they realize it's a terrific resource."
There's also a Teaching Gallery, where the museum brings objects out of storage for students to examine closely. Unlike at large art museums, none of Mead's paintings is behind glass. "We'll make anything accessible by appointment, whether it's a faculty member coming in with a class or a student project. And that's something they just can't do at a bigger museum," Meredith says.
In addition to spreading the word about art collections, schools find innovative ways to use performing-arts talent beyond the stage.
The genetic-counseling program at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., requires students to prepare to give patients troubling news about the results of medical tests. So it has partnered with the theater department to do role-playing exercises.
"The theater students have been fabulous" at portraying patients, says Caroline Lieber, director of the counseling program, "so realistic and so on-target."
Actors often stay after the role-playing session to explain to student-counselors how their characters perceived the conversation.
"It's a perfect way to use the arts in a constructive context," says Scott Ritter, one of the actors and an aspiring playwright. "I often choose to go in there as a kind of rough, abusive guy, and it's shocking to them sometimes."
When the parents of a student at Susquehanna University donated a collection of 1,616 French advertising posters, the school first did the obvious: It catalogued the collection and began to develop exhibitions.
But French language professors Lynn Palermo and Scott Manning saw some less conventional possibilities. Working with Valerie Livingston, head of the art department at the Selinsgrove, Pa., campus, they developed a range of courses and projects that draw on the posters.
"The posters are very valuable for us because the use of authentic French materials is extremely important in language teaching," says Professor Manning. The posters date from 1890 to 1980 and advertise circuses, concerts, trade shows, clothing, household appliances, food, the national lottery, alcohol, antialcoholism campaigns, and many other products and events.
"They can just lead you in so many directions," says Professor Palermo. "Posters as art, posters as advertising, posters as cultural commentary." And they're filled with cultural references and puns that can make for challenging translation assignments.
In a business French course last spring, students chose posters as the basis of their final projects. One pair researched the anti-alcoholism campaign. Another selected an ad for yogurt and ended up researching Dannon, a multinational corporation. Another student chose a poster showing an obscure circus from Lyon; it proved to be a daunting research task.
Palermo says she wanted students to do unconventional digging, "to learn that research is a work in progress and that they wouldn't have a nice, neat little paper at the end of the semester." The students did write papers in French, but they also produced Powerpoint presentations.
The professors are keeping the research so that future students can build on it. "We hope to compile this information and give it to the gallery so that we'll be providing a service to the university," Palermo says.
The posters have been used in a number of other ways, too. In conversational French class, students chose a poster and developed a skit or commercial based on it. Manning has used the posters as the basis for writing assignments in French grammar and composition classes. Eventually, the two teachers hope to have their students curate their own gallery show of some of the posters, choosing a theme, then researching and presenting it.