Campus News

The Future of the Arts

November 13, 2014

Marvin Krislov

Photo credit: John Seyfried

I very much enjoyed hearing the thoughts of nationally recognized arts experts Aaron Dworkin, Jenny Gersten ’91, and Michael Kaiser Tuesday night in Kulas Recital Hall as they discussed “The Future of the Arts,” as part of the Oberlin Strategic Planning Speaker Series.

Aaron is the founder and president of The Sphinx Organization, the leading national arts organization that transforms lives through the power of diversity and the arts. Michael founded the DeVos Institute of Arts Management in 2001, and served as president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. from 2001 until earlier this year. Jenny is former executive director of Friends of the High Line in New York City, and was also artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Their discussion was moderated by Andrea Kalyn, dean of the conservatory.

Looking to the future, our visitors expressed concerns about the effect that the combination of Internet distribution of the arts, rising ticket prices, declining audience numbers, and diminished funding is having on traditional arts organizations, especially in mid-size cities across the country.

It’s not that classical music or opera are going to vanish as art forms. But the number of orchestras and opera companies may well decline sharply in the years ahead.

“I’m concerned that the rise of a mega class of organizations in the arts will squeeze out regional arts organizations,” said Michael Kaiser. “I’m optimistic that regional organizations that do exciting, new things can carve out an identity and an audience. But trying to compete by doing the standard repertoire that big organizations can do much better isn’t going to work.”

Gersten and Dworkin agreed, saying that new models are evolving as young people pursue their passion for the arts in innovative, new ways. The panelists also said it is increasingly important for students to learn about the business of the arts while they are at the conservatory or other arts schools.

The changes in the arts—such as employing computers and technology as creative tools—are also opening opportunities for new works that will engage new, younger, and more diverse audiences.

They also emphasized the need for more arts education, which not only trains new artists, but develops new audience members and arts supporters.

I was especially heartened to hear them praise Oberlin for playing a significant and leading role in arts education. Dean Kalyn has also provided excellent leadership of Oberlin’s entrepreneurial programs which are not confined just to the arts but are powered by the same creative impulse.

I think colleges and universities may have an even bigger role to play in arts education at the kindergarten through 12th grade level because we are uniquely positioned to build arts education partnerships with local schools in our communities. These partnerships should be expanded in areas where they already exist, and created in towns and cities where they do not because they strengthen our schools, and improve life in our communities.

By building community partnerships supporting theater, dance, music and the visual arts, colleges and universities can inspire, enlighten and raise up students of all ages and from all walks of life.

Which is exactly what our panelists encouraged students to do: follow your passion, follow your dreams, create works that fulfill your vision.


I am looking forward to the 20th anniversary celebration of the Cole Scholars politics internship program this coming weekend. It will feature panel discussions and a keynote address by guest speaker Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, ’92, the mayor of Baltimore.

Since 1994, more than 200 students have been placed in eight-week campaign internships in which they study and work on political races throughout the country. The Cole Scholars program is offered through the Oberlin Initiative in Electoral Politics (OIEP), a nonpartisan program funded by class of 1956 alumni Richard and Dorothy Cole to encourage graduates to run for and serve in public office.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was a politics major. She will give the keynote address, “A Life in Politics,” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 14, in the Nancy Dye Lecture Hall at the Science Center. The talk is free and open to the public.


Finally, a quick shout-out to Tom Tomorrow, creator of the weekly political cartoon, “This Modern World,” who will be speaking tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Science Center’s Dye Lecture Hall.

I recently met Tom and he is a fascinating person. “This Modern World,” appears in approximately 80 newspapers across the U.S., and on websites such as Daily Kos, Truthout and Credo. His work has also appeared in publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Spin, Mother Jones, Esquire, The Economist, The Nation, U.S. News and World Report, and The American Prospect, which was co-founded by Oberlin alum Robert Kuttner ’65.

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