One major improvement is hard to describe: circulation. In the same way that blood vessels deliver vital nutrients and oxygen, circulation space in a building helps it breathe and bring in new life. From a practical standpoint, circulation aids artistic endeavors—making the movement of materials, instruments, scenery, and other essential components easier—but philosophically, it is essential in welcoming people. The Memorial Building (today) is labyrinthine and fragmented, and only the steadfast explore its inner areas; those who do are rewarded stunning troves of unappreciated excellence. Circulation means that Academy art collections of both student work and major pieces, will soon see dedicated and accessible space—out in the light.
Temporarily relocating aspiring artists, dancers, and thespians for the 2013-2014 academic year has been a challenge, but one that students, faculty, and the administration have met with aplomb. Some classes, such as music, will relocate to modular buildings on the east side of campus. Visual artists just might find their temporary housing inspirational—particularly if their focus happens to be on the local area—since the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association has graciously agreed to share its space. Theater Director Catriona Hynds will hold classes and performances in Historic Deerfield’s White Church; she says the venue has amazing potential when it comes to innovative staging. Dancers will spread out across campus—from the third floor of the Main School Building (which already contains a dance studio) to the Kravis and Stoltzfus rooms. All agree that these inconveniences are a fair admission price to the new and improved arts center.
Ask a group of eight-year-olds “How many of you can draw?” and you’ll face a sea of raised hands. Yet the same question asked of 18-year-olds is often greeted with stunned silence and grudging excuses of “no talent” or “no time.” Society has long believed that the presence of art demonstrates a community’s sense of well-being, and yet has historically de-prioritized the arts in education. The 18-year-olds in question don’t lack talent, they lack training. While they were drilled on reading, writing, and arithmetic, schools have often treated art as “extra.”
But that’s changing.
The world has gained perspective on art’s extrinsic, quantifiable value—and not just that it can be a hook for college. Art teaches essential “21st century skills” in communication, collaboration, abstract thinking, and aesthetics. Through art, students learn some of the most important aspects of character: curiosity, confidence, empathy, and risk taking. Even the fundamentals of “practice makes perfect” is a core skill for artists that is often lacking in other disciplines. Inviting feedback on your work, delivering a monologue, or collaborating with an ensemble can be a potent learning experience.
Engagement with the arts—both as a producer and an observer—is an essential skill that everyone can learn. The arts are not something that require innate talent, but instead are a product of training, practice, and feedback. By investing in arts spaces, the Academy is not only signaling its dedication to this view, but addressing the practical aspects of teaching and learning in the 21st century. ••