They were dancing in the streets of Madison last Thursday–or, more accurately, dancing over the streets–when the UW kicked off its 2010-2011 Year of the Arts. The dancers leaped and spun on the pedestrian overpass near my office in Vilas Hall, but it was the brass quartet playing at the intersection below that lured me outdoors, where I also enjoyed performances by a drum group, a bagpiper, a young violinist and her teacher.
The revelry served as introduction to more than 300 campus performances, exhibits, symposia and other events scheduled throughout the academic year, all to demonstrate and celebrate the impact and value of the arts to the university.
Joining in Thursday was National Endowment for the Arts Chair (and UW-Madison alum) Rocco Landesman. In a brief address on the Memorial Union Terrace, he called for a change in the relationship between arts organizations and their communities. “Arts organizations are seen as being needy–in need of subsidy, in need of audiences, in need of space and resources,” Landesman said. “At the NEA, I’m asking us to invert that proposition and instead think of what the arts organizations can do for the places in which they exist.” Specifically, he named four ways the arts support the cities and towns they inhabit: 1) they contribute to the livability of a place, 2) nurture its creativity and innovation, 3) develop its identity, and 4) strengthen local economies.
Chancellor Biddy Martin, who introduced Landesman, said the UW-Madison has long understood and nurtured the relationship between the arts and the university. In 1926, for example, UW-Madison became the first university to offer a degree program in dance. With the appointment of John Steuart Curry in 1936, it established the first artist-in-residence program in the nation. And most recently, in 2007, the university introduced the first program in the country centered on spoken word and hip-hop culture, First Wave.
Below, a few more images from the official launch of Illuminate: Year of the Arts 2010-2011: