Arts dean says arts, artists must be sensitive to outside world

By Melissa Mitchell

Clairvoyants aside, nobody can predict the future. But Kathryn Martin, the
dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, has some good ideas about
what lies ahead for the arts and arts education in the next quarter
century.

She made her prognostications last week during her talk, "Challenges for
Arts in the 21st Century," part of the University YMCA's "Know Your
University" series.

Conceding at the outset of her lecture that it is easier to talk about
issues, problems and situations than it is to list solutions to inevitable
challenges, Martin insisted that one thing is clear: "Old patterns and ways
and assumptions aren't going to apply to what we do for long."

If the arts are to survive and thrive in our society well into the next
century, "many of us in the arts will have to do a better job of
integrating what we do with what's going on around us," she added.

Specifically, artists, architects and urban and regional planners will need
to be increasingly aware of how social and environmental issues relate to
their work, she said. The biggest challenge will be finding ways "to
improve the quality of life - the environment in which people live - so
everyone can make a more positive contribution," she said.

And, Martin hopes, rather than simply responding to existing problems, UI
graduates will be prepared to play a more visionary role.

"As educators, we need to be more proactive - to define problems, but
realize that we can't solve it all," she said. In fact, faculty and
students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts already are moving in new
directions and learning first-hand how relatively small efforts can have a
big impact on society.

For instance, Martin cited the East St. Louis Action Research Project
directed by architecture professor Ken Reardon. The ongoing project
involves students in the departments of urban and regional planning, and
landscape architecture who work with community planners and residents to
improve the quality of life in low-income areas of the city. So far, the
students have worked on comprehensive community development plans;
assisted with a community clean-up; helped design and build a park and
playgrounds; and conducted research that will be used to develop a
farmers' market.

And, as a result of the UI's involvement in that community, 13 high school
students from East St. Louis have enrolled in the university.

Martin also mentioned another recent project that gave architecture
students valuable real-world experience. Working with communities
devastated by last summer's flooding of the Mississippi River, students
helped local officials and residents develop strategies for reducing the
extent of damage from future floods.

Martin said other factors that already have begun to challenge arts
educators are shifting demographics and rapidly developing
technologies.

In addition to the college's need to recruit more female and minority
faculty members and students, "we may have to redefine bodies of knowledge
that constitute the bases of our disciplines," Martin said. Currently, in
every area of the college, those bodies of knowledge "are based on a
predominantly West European heritage," she said. "How do we deal with that
in a society that's becoming increasingly less West European?"

Arts educators also must adapt swiftly to technological changes occurring
in virtually every area. Clearly, educators and practitioners should
explore uses for various technologies, Martin said. But they also should
question the impact of these technologies.

For instance, she said, more and more, electronic keyboards are replacing
pianos. "But have we addressed issues of learning, such as, 'Do children
learn faster on a keyboard?' "

In considering  these and other issues, Martin said, the biggest questions
are: "How do we accommodate these changes? How do we make these
adjustments? Where do we start? What do we do?"

Martin reiterated that she doesn't pretend to have the answers. But the
time to start asking the right questions is now, she said.


UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1994/02-17-94