Before you can have critical discourse, you need to have a widespread direct experience.
Sally Radell, Associate Professor of Dance

Join the discussion

Taking Center Stage?
The 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."
--Don Saliers, Parker Professor of Theology and Worship

Making art and making tenure

Lean times for the arts

Academic Exchange April/May 2000 Contents Page

The Academic Exchange How well do you think the arts are integrated into the culture of Emory?

Professor Sally 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.

AE 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.

AE 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 it?
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 to learn.
AE 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.