Arts & Minds

Arts & Minds

Carmella Muresan ’27 views paintings in the storage area of the Marianne Boesky Gallery, NYC.

Carmella Muresan ’27 views paintings in the storage area of the Marianne Boesky Gallery, NYC.

Fairfield has launched an arts initiative to further the University’s mission to be a destination for arts and culture.

The energies, the synergies, the excitement about our arts and minds initiative looking outward is a significant step forward in how we’re envisioning the potential and full promise of a Fairfield education.

— Philip Eliasoph, PhD

Recently, and with Philip Eliasoph, PhD, at the rudder, the University launched a newly focused Arts & Minds initiative — an innovative framework that will bring all of the University’s arts and culture programming, resources, and academics together in one place to enhance Fairfield’s engagement with the local community and to better educate and inspire the student community as well.

Fairfield Arts & Minds intends to define the University as the region’s destination for theater, music, dance, talks, fine art, and community programming — with a mission to deepen human connectedness at a time when the world needs it most.

Dr. Eliasoph, a longtime professor of art history and visual culture, serves as special assistant to the President for arts and culture, a role that began at the start of this academic year. Working as a member of the University’s senior leadership team, Dr. Eliasoph is charged with spearheading the University’s efforts, working with partners across campus to enhance the quality of the overall Fairfield undergraduate experience, and more sharply defining the profile of the arts at Fairfield.

“The energies, the synergies, the excitement about our arts and minds initiative looking outward is a significant step forward in how we’re envisioning the potential and full promise of a Fairfield education,” Dr. Eliasoph said.

At the heart of the issue, according to Dr. Eliasoph, is a profound concern that today’s students are suffering in a culture that fuels distraction, anxiety, and unfulfilled life purpose. The arts, he said, and the transhistorical and transcultural values of empathy, understanding, and joy that they express, are an antidote to the isolation and fractured sense of self that typify this cultural moment. For this reason, students need the arts now more than ever. “The world is changing dramatically. What is going to happen to human beings in the next 10, 20 years?” he asked.

The U.S. premiere performance of MÁM by Irish choreographer Michael Keegan- Dolan took place at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts this November. Featuring acclaimed concertina player Cormac Begley and the experimental European stargaze music collective, the performance was an integrative arts experience with immersive events for students and an open-to-the-public lecture on Irish history and storytelling, thanks to funding from Fairfield’s Humanities Institute. Keegan-Dolan’s visual spectacle explored life’s nuances — tenderness, violence, intimacy, passion, and softness — depicted onstage through the graceful movements of 12 international dancers from his Teaċ Damsa company.

Referencing the explosion of the internet and the technologies that have accompanied it, Dr. Eliasoph continued, “No one understood in the 1980s this new culture... that what [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs was creating was the perfect combination of technology, capitalism, progress, the American way. What we did is that we created a culture that has completely scrambled our lives without offering directional values.”

“I almost think that the great privilege of being here on this campus, at this time, is to figure out who it is that you are,” he noted. Nothing is as transformative in this exploration of self than arts and culture.”

Since 1942, Fairfield University has included arts and culture, and the humanities, as integral to the curriculum. In addition, for decades, the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts has presented high-caliber artistic programs to the public; the Fairfield University Art Museum has inspired curiosity through its exhibitions, programs, and the collections in its care; and various academic centers, like the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and the Center for Catholic Studies, have presented significant writers and thinkers to the campus community.

But, there has not been, traditionally, one entity that has unified these programs in such a way that they express an intentional vision, nor has there been an institutionalized connective tissue to link the University’s arts programming to student life and academics.

“The enrichment of the life of the mind — the pursuit of intellectual curiosity — will become even more of a goal of attainment for every student who spends four years on our campus,” Dr. Eliasoph said.

The creation of a new Arts Institute within the College of Arts and Sciences will also shape the offerings and academic experiences available to Fairfield students.

“It’s going to be our integration with our academics that is going to set us apart. It’s not only to be entertained, but to have the conversations,” Dr. Eliasoph mused. “It’s sparking the life of the mind.”

The Arts Institute

Under the Fairfield Arts and Minds umbrella, the Arts Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences has recently been formed to support, promote, and elevate all aspects of artistic inquiry as a part of the academic experience.

A connected arts coalition across campus, the institute endeavors to knit all of these arts and culture experiences together and is led by founding director Katherine A. Schwab, PhD, professor of art history and visual culture in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

Students embarked on a fine arts immersion adventure in N.Y.C. this fall.

The Arts Institute, which commenced July 1 of this year, comprises the academic areas of the Visual, Performing, and Literary Arts of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Quick Center for the Performing Arts, and the Fairfield University Art Museum. The Arts Institute, will seek to foster excellence in visual, performing, and literary arts programming, involving dialogue with the arts, and emphasizing student engagement with the arts in fulfillment of the University’s mission.

“The Arts Institute will give its focus to student engagement as the priority,” said Dr. Schwab, “and by doing that, deepen and broaden any experience so that all students — it doesn’t matter what major or school they are in — can embrace the arts as a good thing to experience on a regular basis, throughout their college career at Fairfield and after they graduate, so that this becomes a habit.”

Some of the primary initiatives underway include: a newly established steering committee of faculty, staff, and students, so that the work of the institute may always be guided by wide-ranging and fresh ideas; an interdisciplinary “Conversations in the Arts” series; and a pilot project of curated New York City ARTS excursions for small groups of students, which are totally free of charge to attend.

On a rainy afternoon earlier this fall, the first ARTS immersion trip took place. Dr. Schwab led a dozen Fairfield students into Manhattan for a day of contemporary art viewing at the Marianne Boesky Gallery and the Gagosian Gallery. Arrangements were made through alumni Matthew Waldemar ’20 and Diallo Simon-Ponte ’20 , each with respective connections at the galleries, and the group enjoyed an authentic homestyle Japanese lunch.

“It was remarkably successful,” Dr. Schwab said. “The students loved the experience. There have been inquiries of, ‘Can I go on another one?’ I think many schools organize trips into New York City and they take big groups, but this idea of getting together as a small group, covering the cost and lifting that burden, and to feel secure in an agenda, I think it is unusual. Word is getting out already.”

Other Articles in the Winter 2023 Issue

Letter from the President

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The Company Scholars

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Discovery & Innovation

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Donor Profile: Amy (Searles) and Bill Curley ’83

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