October 26, 2010

Defending the Changes to the CCA

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In late August, 2009, Vice Provost David Harris asked me to chair a committee to review the Cornell Council for the Arts. I agreed to do so, and worked with some of the finest arts faculty on campus for several months. Last week, Provost Kent Fuchs released our report, and asked me to help implement its recommendations. Again I agreed, indeed am honored to do so. I want to explain why I am honored to take on a cause that has recently caused much concern among the very constituencies I seek to serve.

I believe passionately that the arts are a critical mode of investigating the world and of producing new knowledge. I believe that artistic practice is a form of scholarship different in means but not in significance from that of the sciences and the humanities, and that the arts deserve to be held in the highest esteem at a tier-one research university. A university that values the arts as a full partner must support artistic inquiry at all levels: from first-year studio projects to graduate theses; from junior faculty research to the works of nationally distinguished artists; from exhibitions at the art museum to programming at Cornell Cinema. I hold it as axiomatic that unless all levels of production are supported, the university is not doing what it needs to do to respect the arts as a full intellectual partner.

At Cornell, the CCA is one of the principal means for providing this support. The CCA receives funding from the Provost, and redistributes these funds to deserving projects in the arts. The CCA review committee asked some obvious questions: how well is this redistribution going? How much support is flowing to students and how much to faculty? How visible is artistic work to the campus as a whole? What kind of impact is Cornell able to exercise on art practices nationally, and how much of the national art world are we able to bring to Cornell for the benefit of the campus community?

The CCA comprises many dedicated members and staff; it is an indispensible organization made up of faculty who have advocated for years on behalf of the arts. But its operations need overhaul. Only about 37 percent of its funds go to faculty and students combined, and individual student projects receive only about seven cents of every dollar allocated by the Provost. The administrative structure is complex, overhead is high and important functions like grant writing are missing. We can do better. We can be more effective in providing funding for students and faculty projects. We can leverage the Provost’s funding through external support, and we can make Cornell a more visible locus for the arts nationally.

The Provost has provided us — I use the plural because this must be a group effort — two years to devise a better mechanism for funding student and faculty projects. For the next two years, student and faculty funding is 100-percent guaranteed with a dedicated annual allocation, and I am committed to making sure this level of support never disappears. The Provost has given the CCA four years, and a 28-percent increase in base funding, to explore if it can be even more effective in advancing the cause of the arts on campus. The Provost has stipulated that the important Undergraduate University Artist of the Year Award and the Eissner Artist of the Year Award continue to be presented. Collectively, this is an ambitious agenda. Much remains to be debated and little will be accomplished if we fail to find common cause. But from my perspective, these are terms that those passionate about the arts at Cornell can embrace.

Kent Kleinman is the dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, and chaired the committee that reviewed the CCA and recommended the reported changes. He may be contacted at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Kent Kleinman