Multi, Cross, Mixed.

Mutli-disciplinary. Cross-disciplinary. Mixed-disciplinary. This seems like a lot of variety. What do these terms actually refer to? They are adjectives that describe something that does not fit into only one category. Basically, they are terms that are striving to create new cannons, new frameworks that structure and slot information. Math is math. Art is art. Computer science is computer science. But what happens when an artistic image is created and printed using the mathematical coding of the frequency of say co-worker conversations over the course of a week? What will we call this, this phenomenon of art, math, and computers?

I recently attended a fascinating conference at Kings College, hosted by their Cultural Institute called Higher Education & The Creative Economy. This conference explored the ways in which arts programs, and creative thinking can extend beyond “arts” majors like visual art or drama or literature, and seep into research programs of engineers, and scientists. What happens when a dance choreographer comes to campus and is also interested in the physics behind her dancers movements? Who can help explore that? Or, how can we visually document the progression of a disease, its growth into an epidemic? This conference looked to “unsilo” disciplines with the hopes of suggesting new strategies that would construct bridges between them, leading to truly fresh discoveries.

This idea of “unsilo-ing” disciplines was broached by American, European, and Asian arts executives. The reoccurring theme was this: why bother? What is the point of arts integration? General sweeping statements such as “it makes for a better quality of life”, or “arts leads to increased individual sensitivity” were not sufficient for this conference. While these statements are by no means false, they are too vague for the task of programmatic collaborations at the university level. We want details, proof that these collaborations cause new idea paths previously uncharted. This foreshadowed what would soon become understood as the most formidable challenge of arts integration: language. What is the language of art? Color alone has multiple meanings. In visual art, it is a hue. In music, it is a tone of a note. How can Art unify itself such that it can be understood, verbally, by all. That was step one. Now, step two: what is the main reason for arts integration? Again, why bother? Three distinct reasons became apparent from discussions at the conference. First, arts integration should be supported because it is the most likely catalyst for real innovation in today’s globalized world. With the increase in communications, and idea exchange across what used to be traditional barriers (distance, language, culture), our new leaders must be able to think from multiple angles simultaneously. The arts trains ones mind to do just this, and to be nimble, open, and creative. The North American presenters mainly expressed this mentality. Secondly, the arts serve as an important tool to provide more intellectual and self-realization opportunities to the under-served. This opinion was raised as being that of UNESCO and international organizations. Arts integration should be supported because it is the way that those less fortunate can still have the “luxury” to develop their self-expression. While it was recognized that those less fortunate may not be attending high education, this perspective was looking to make a case for all forms of education to more fully integrate arts strategies and ways of thinking. Finally, the view expressed by speakers from Singapore spoke about how integrating the arts into higher education has long term, and definite, benefits for the nations GDP growth. An investment in developing young peoples creativity is making an investment in the creative economy, which is one of the fastest growing economies, according to these speakers. Therefore, economically, it is seen as a way to bring Singapore onto the world stage. This was an almost international relation, and diplomatic, understanding of arts integration. While these were all very different perspectives, they all similarly stood as positive reasons to support arts integration.

And finally, a few best practices were discussed. And to my shock, and I will admit excitement, a lot of the language used resembled what I would call economic language: brokering, diversified portfolio, and robust investments. One must broker relationships across disciplines in order to see programmatic successes. Two parties unaware of their relationship to each other need someone to referee and encourage their partnership. One must develop a diversified portfolio of arts integration programs. Some programs are better as hallmark events with a lot of effort poured into one performance or presentation; others are better as regular informal chats, blogs, or even just notes. If one style of collaboration does not work, there must be others that the arts integrationsit has begun already to develop so that their efforts will not be for naught. More importantly, so that their efforts soon become tailored to their exact clients. And lastly, robust investments. Arts integration is a long-term game. The rewards are felt after years of work and the building up of relationships, ideas, and trust. Investment must be sustained so that the overall acceptance of collaboration as norm can be achieved.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Be sure to check it out for yourselves! All the media about the conference should be up in the coming weeks.


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