The Hill From A Distance: Creativity in community
This post is part of a blog series called The Hill From A Distance that highlights how the St. Olaf community is moving forward together, even when we’re apart. The series features messages from a variety of campus leaders — and this week Associate Dean of Fine Arts Irve Dell shares why complicated times like these require creativity in community.
If there ever was a time for the Fine Arts at St. Olaf College to persevere and shine, it is now.
The arts could not be more needed as we deal with combatting persistent and destructive racism and serious challenges to our climate and even truth itself, all under the heavy duress of a scary global pandemic. But these are the kind of major challenges to our shared humanity that the arts have always responded to and provided creative solutions, needed comfort, and helpful inspiration.
We need to be working, enduring, striving, improvising, changing, rethinking, hoping, and creating together.
Complicated times like these require creativity in community, not in isolation. We need to be working, enduring, striving, improvising, changing, rethinking, hoping, and creating together. This is simply not the time to hit the pause button and wait things out. This is not the time to be ceasing, seizing up, gapping, coasting, delaying, atrophying, and shriveling. This is not the time to abandon the arts and an arts education. This time cannot be about just me or you — it must be about us. This is a time for even greater collaboration between faculty, staff, and students to tackle the momentous challenges before us. College fine arts programs can be powerful and privileged creative think tanks — places where we are given the luxury of time and space to innovate and make needed change.
How can a flute be more like a weapon and less like a beautiful bird? How can singing be more dangerous than joyful? These are among the many questions we are asking now. And how we already miss the camaraderie and collective energy of being in a live audience in front of live performers. How we already miss the shared buzz amid the well-attended opening of an exciting new exhibition in a gallery or the tightly packed intensity of a constructive critique. The arts have been particularly challenged by the restrictions and obstacles posed by COVID-19 — the arts have been hit hard, no doubt.
But they have also been hit hard by long-standing and insidious racism. The arts, while often perceived as more open, more progressive, and more willing to challenge the status quo, are not immune to the negative outcomes caused by the systemic racism within our ranks. Too many voices that would and can enrich the arts have been stifled or excluded. We have much anti-racist work to do ourselves. We really have two pandemics to confront and overcome.
The faculty and staff in our fine arts departments have been working extraordinarily hard and will be doing so up to and beyond August 20 to deliver a meaningful, exciting, high-quality and safe arts learning experience to our beloved students. We have also been working hard to incorporate anti-racist work into our classes, not as a side show but as integrated necessity. We miss our students and desperately want to reconnect with them in-person, online, and in many cases with them both face-to-face and remotely.
The faculty and staff in our fine arts departments have been working extraordinarily hard and will be doing so up to and beyond August 20 to deliver a meaningful, exciting, high-quality and safe arts learning experience to our beloved students.
An incredible amount of creative energy and nose-to-the-grindstone effort has been exerted by faculty and staff this summer. As the Associate Dean of Fine Arts, I have witnessed this dedication first hand and am in awe of it. Nothing has been approached with a cavalier attitude. There have been many sleepless nights and dream times interrupted by nagging questions, always involving the combination of concern for safety and the goal of a worthwhile and inclusive arts experience. I am hard-pressed to think of an angle not explored. Each department has or will be very soon sending their students more detailed descriptions of how the semester will hopefully play out, including more information about fine arts–specific safety practices we will be instituting. Students will also receive information from instructors about individual course details and start ups.
These are definitely uncertain times demanding flexibility and an attitude that embraces ambiguity rather than fears it. I cannot stress enough the need for us to come together in community, whether online or face-to-face, and continue the hard but exciting work in the fine arts. The four years of college is never the be all and end all of an arts learning experience; it is always just the beginning. For those students at St. Olaf during this time, it will be a college experience that will instill a resilience and determination that will serve the student and all others well in the future. Let’s continue to make and study art together and make real, lasting change together.