Emory Report
November 12, 2007
Volume 60, Number 11

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November 12, 2007
A 'brilliant constellation' of creativity

Rosemary M. Magee, vice president and secretary of the University, chairs the Creativity and the Arts strategic initiative. Leslie Taylor, chair of Theater Studies, is leading the planning for the Center of Creativity and the Arts in Emory College.

Imagine a place of color, movement and sound, where dancers and actors rove, musicians improvise where break-dancing meets tango and cultures collide, where artists create in response to social change as well as aesthetics; a place alive with energy and creativity. All the senses come alive. Unscripted conversations evolve. And for dreamers, pragmatic impossibilities converge with innovative thought.

Are you imagining a place like Greenwich Village? Union Square? Little Five Points perhaps? Try Emory University at the annual STIR Student Arts Festival, for example, where unfettered energy and expression remind us, once again, how creative our campus can be.

We’ve known for some time that Emory University is a place worthy of its world-class reputation. A campus where teaching and research, where faculty and students, where liberal arts and professional training, where health sciences and the humanities, intertwine in real and meaningful ways.

And now we’re coming to realize that Emory University is also a place where creativity flows and the arts flourish. A place where these entities are both recognized and supported for their intrinsic value as well as for the contributions they make to all parts of the University. We say “coming to realize” because we’re still connecting the dots for a fuller picture of our assets, accomplishments and aspirations.

Over the past five years, several of Emory’s leading stories have been grounded in the culture and concepts that we define as creativity and the arts.

The innovation behind the Emtriva drug discovery, the imagination at the heart of the Medical School’s new curriculum, the originality in Natasha Trethewey's Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, the bold vision to bring Salman Rushdie and the Dalai Lama into our learning community, the uncommon successes associated with the Ramesses I exhibit, the Danowski collection, the Candler Concert series, and the Ellmann lectures — all of which form a brilliant constellation of creative outbursts.

And notice what’s on the horizon. In the coming months, the Emory community will have access to a one-of-a-kind database from a groundbreaking study on the links between psychoanalysis and the creative process. The spring will see our campus host a major poetry conference, “A Fine Excess,” sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, featuring Richard Wilbur and other notable poets. Next fall the Ellmann lectures will bring Umberto Eco, another major international literary figure, to campus for a series of thought-provoking dialogues. And that’s not all.

Beyond making national headlines, every day of the semester in classrooms and laboratories across campus, Emory is also igniting individual minds. Marshall Duke, Candler Professor of Psychology, teaches a course in which undergraduates explore human personality as represented and reflected in painting, sculpture, poetry, literature, music and dance. Creativity and Collaboration is a freshman seminar that asks students to think across a spectrum of the performing arts and collaborate on a multi-disciplinary final project.

Julia Kjelgaard, an artist and print maker, spent six months in Bangalore, India, as a Fulbright research scholar. Her resulting book, featuring work from her 2006 “Transformative Experience” series, informs her teaching of Emory undergraduates. And we have challenges from people like Michael Kuhar, Candler Professor and chief of the Neuroscience Division at Yerkes, who recently asked the Emory community to reflect on how we “accept, respect and even nurture” creative minds within our midst.

In order for creativity and the arts to be fully a part of who we are and what we hope to become, we must recognize the nonlinear, unpredictable ways in which these entities emerge. Here our students can serve as guides. When students come to Emory, they are seeking a rigorous education that will prepare them not only for a full professional life, but also for a continued life of the mind and the heart. Many have training in the arts, and have participated in innovative science programs in their high schools. They expect and anticipate a dynamic, challenging environment that requires imagination and knowledge to work in tandem. In this way, they embrace Einstein’s theory: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Many pursue double majors in biology and dance, or chemistry and music, or sociology and creative writing.

Last spring Rushdie reminded us that “we are all dreaming creatures. To dream is also to create.” Our students are dreaming creatures in large part because our community has created a place for their ideas and expressions to take flight. There was a time, in the not too distant past, when creativity and the arts were undernourished on our campus. Now, while there is still need for further strengthening and growth, the prognosis is positive, the energy, contagious.

The University-wide strategic plan affirms the importance of creativity and the arts in all that we do. Collaborations with other strategic themes, including Religions and the Human Spirit and Computational and Life Sciences, recognize the centrality of creativity and the arts. Other initiatives in the works include a first-rate creativity and the arts Web site that provides greater connectivity across the University: a new program, the “Emory Passport,” that will provide undergraduate and graduate students with easy access to arts events at Emory and throughout Atlanta; and artists’ commissions that will engage the upcoming conference on evolution.

In early 2008, recognizing the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, Emory College will launch the Center for Creativity and the Arts, which will celebrate, nurture and inspire the act of making and studying arts, and the intellectual creativity everywhere evident in a vibrant university community. These programs and plans go a long way toward increasing visibility and integrating planning and programming for departments and programs; for faculty, staff and students.

At the same time, all of us must do our part. We need to read and reflect on what sociologist Steven Tepper has to say about nurturing and supporting a creative campus: “to encourage risk-taking and tolerate failure; to collaborate across departments and divisions; to seek inspiration in unlikely places.” In the words of Toni Morrison, “we need to dream a little before we think.”