New arts initiative shows promise for intersection of humanities and sciences

Chris Brown ’16 is The Misc’s Opinions editor.

Many of you may have chosen Vassar because of the artistic environment it fosters. However, the presence of art in the Vassar departments is not as obvious as perceived.

This past semester, I had the privilege of sitting in on multiple panels discussing the new Vassar initiative entitled Creative Arts Across Disciplines. As a political science and mathematics major that participates in the arts at Vassar, I have seen a disconnect between arts and the natural sciences. This has, in my opinion, caused a subtle divide between natural science majors and humanities and arts majors at Vassar, creating a possible dichotomy that forces students who wish to participate in both to pick a side. With the creation and implementation of this initiative, I am hopeful that the arts will be a bigger presence and incorporated in the curriculum of all departments at Vassar.

The initiative is broken down into two parts. An executive committee focuses on the big picture issues regarding a lack of arts incorporation within many disciplines. A steering committee works on specific programming and projects to facilitate the goals of the program. Both of the committees are comprised of professors from various departments. At the head of the initiative is Ariel Nereson. Nereson has received degrees in both the humanities and natural sciences during her undergraduate and graduate careers. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company repertory. Nereson will serve as a source of expertise to help facilitate the initiative, manage incoming or recruited artists, and oversee curricular development in the various departments. The program has been granted a $750,000 stipend for the next three years.

This program is an essential tool to maintain the high caliber of arts that Vassar is known for. While there are prominent theater, music, and other art programs at Vassar, there is little emphasis put on the incorporation of arts in the natural sciences. With the ongoing work on the new science building, Vassar seems to have taken a greater step towards prioritizing the natural sciences. While I have no problem with this movement, it’s important to remember the importance of a liberal arts education from Vassar. We are here to learn how different disciplines and subjects interact with each other so as to get a full view type of education. A lack of art in the natural sciences denies us of this right.

Not to say that art is not a part of these departments. A close friend and fellow member of the class of 2016 recently took on an internship under a physics professor where she focused on the physics behind sound waves and how music is linked to the physical sciences. She currently is majoring in physics and music, and plans to take her experience from this internship past Vassar.

Clearly there are frameworks already in place to base some programming through this initiative. And Nereson has already planned some early projects for the upcoming year. Nereson has announced a pair of artists coming to Vassar through Peter Antelyes who work on graphic novels that confront issues of gender and race. They will be holding campus wide discussion to talk about their style of art and how it intertwines with multiple disciplines. This will not only bring a unique perspective on art to disciplines, but also open up constructive conversations on oppression and the other, something that any space could use more of.

There is untapped potential to expand the bounds of a liberal arts education through this three year project, and I am optimistically looking forward to the different programs that arise from the committee members. I am a firm believer that everything is a certain form of art. I am hopeful that this initiative can spread that philosophy to the greater Vassar community.

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