Join the discussion
role of the performing arts in Emory's intellectual life
"What I think
has been missing is the critical discussion of these works of
art and their performance in our midst."
Saliers, Parker Professor of Theology and Worship
art and making tenure
times for the arts
Academic Exchange April/May
2000 Contents Page
Exchange How well do you think
the arts are integrated into the culture of Emory?
Radell I think they are becoming
increasingly so. Every year I see progress. The new general education
curriculum in Emory College has a requirement that all students
have some experience in the arts--either historical or performative.
But I do wish there was a requirement for all students to be
involved in a performative way in the arts.
AE In what ways do arts faculty tend to be marginalized,
disconnected from faculty life here?
SR It's less prevalent now that our community has
grown, but when I first came here, there was not a lot of understanding
of the place of dance in the academy. I think the deans have
always been very supportive; I feel it more in our peers. I've
had some pretty heated discussions with other faculty who claim
that dance is not a primary performance art and it's really just
a frivolous pursuit. Many don't understand that dance has a fully
functioning academic component. Dance involves very rigorous
problem-solving, synthesizing material. You learn perseverance
and analytical skills.
When we proposed the new dance major, though, we had some incredibly
strong advocates on the curriculum committee who just rose up.
I think as we are becoming tenured and are rising in the ranks
of committee work, we are having opportunities to advocate for
what we do.
How do you think the performing arts facility will change
the role of the arts at Emory?
SR I think it will give the arts more visibility.
It's going to be a real nucleus; there's going to be a lot of
energy there. What's so exciting is as all the arts have grown
so rapidly, until now, we have never had our own performance
space. We've always had to knock on other people's doors. Last
spring, we even performed outside in record-cold temperatures.
The music and theater departments have been very gracious in
helping us, but it has been very difficult for them because their
performing spaces are at a premium.
Do you believe the greater emphasis should be on an appreciation
of the arts, or a critical discourse about them?
SR Before you can have critical discourse, you
need to have a widespread direct experience. You can't have critical
discourse about something that's not accessible. How can you
get people involved in the discussion if they haven't experienced
We must provide opportunities in the arts for all the students.
While some students have had good backgrounds in the arts, there's
a fair amount who haven't had a lot of exposure, and I feel it
should be a welcoming, accessible experience. And I feel a strong
responsibility in terms of being an arts educator to train future
audiences and future patrons of the arts and to really develop
an understanding and appreciation of specificially dance, to
help cultivate that with as many students as possible.
I certainly feel that critical discourse is important, but not
to the point where it becomes an elitist activity. The arts should
be integrated into our educational system at a much earlier age.
It's really considered in a lot of contexts very frivolous, but
I think the arts are one of the best vehicles for teaching how
How might we change the perception that the arts are frivolous?
SR Hire more practicing artists on our faculty.
The power of the arts speaks for itself. And in things like tenure
guidelines, I think there's a real confusion on how to evaluate
the arts. I think by bringing more arts into the curriculum and
by hiring more practicing artists as faculty members, we can
remedy that confusion and misperception.
I am not opposed to critical discourse; I just don't want only
to do that. We need to work on several different fronts simultaneously,
just to make the arts a more accessible and more vital and critical
part of the liberal arts education. They are really a primary
foundation, but I think people fail to see that because they're
so focused on their own expertise. To get a job at Emory and
to get tenure, you need to be deeply immersed in your field to
the point of exclusion of other parts of your life and other
parts of your academic endeavors. There's tremendous pressure.