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NPR Presents MIT Arts

By Jean K. Lee
Staff Reporter

The Institute emphasized its commitment to the arts despite the shrinking public funds for education during a radio show aired last month on WBUR-FM.

The show, titled National Public Radio's Morning Edition, featured an 8-minute discussion with members of the MIT community about its arts programs.

As the former associate provost for the arts who has served the position since its creation in 1989, Ellen T. Harris emphasized the importance of visual arts to an engineering education during the show.

"After all, most engineering problems begin with a picture," Harris said. "Not just in terms of technical drawing, but in terms of simply taking an image of the world around you."

"Arts teach a student to create something tangible from an abstract idea in a spirit of building things, trying things out," said Professor of Media Arts and Sciences Tod Machover, who also spoke on the show.

During the show, host Bob Edwards described MIT as "challenging the conventional wisdom by maintaining its commitment to the arts," unlike most schools whose arts programs are "usually among the first casualties in budget cuts."

Program links arts and sciences

The show particularly highlighted the Institute's unique Artist in Residence Program in the sciences, coordinated by the Special Programs branch of the Office of the Arts. Initiated just last year, this program enables students to interact closely with multicultural artists and enhance their studies by interrelating the arts and the sciences.

"Arts enhance our resources for problem solving and dialogue for diversity issues -- it could be used as a tool for facing sexism, racism and `ageism' -- it allows us to explore our emotional lives," said Alan Brody, associate provost for the arts and professor of Music and Theatre Arts.

As part of the program, molecular biology students worked with Artist in Residence Felice Frankel to use photography to better explain complex studies of amino acids and proteins. The students "captured on the images some information that they didn't see before," Frankel said on the show.

The Artist in Residence Program is only one of the many components that make the Institute arts programs so special. "Students can participate in any level -- whether they're just beginning or experienced," said Director of Arts Communications Mary L. Haller.

"In line with the MIT tradition, the arts here tend to be more hands-on and inventive ... arts with as much rigor as the sciences is pursued here," Brody said.

"It's not like conservatory training, but at the same time [every arts program] gives the foundation the students need if they choose to seriously pursue the arts," he said.

Arts also stressed in admissions

For the first time this year, freshman admission applications include an Arts Information Card, which inquires the applicants' interests in the various arts categories.

The goal of this card is to "make high school students more aware of the wonderful breadth and depth of arts here that's almost kept a secret due to the misconceptions many students have about MIT," Haller said.

Among the diverse arts programs that are currently featured is the "Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art," an exhibition of art works by Asian visual artists that will be displayed until March 24 in the List Visual Arts Center.

Another upcoming event is The Tempest, a production collaborated between the Shakespeare Ensemble and the Gamelan Galak Tika, scheduled for performance from March 14-16 and 21-23.

Despite the wide range of arts activities, Brody feels that there isn't enough awareness of the opportunities available in the arts even within the campus.

"The curricula's here to capture the students' artistic energy for further development ... but not enough people know about it yet," Brody said.

Brody plans to lead the arts programs to "make the world outside aware of the thriving value of arts as a vital component of undergraduate training and experience," he said.