Montclair State University: Sustainability
Discuss how you think about sustainability in reference to arts-based interdisciplinary exchange. Was your project part of a longer trajectory of work?
From the start, the Creative Thinking course was intended to become an ongoing part of Montclair State’s curriculum. The long-term goal is for the course to grow into a foundational experience for all incoming students at Montclair State. The course responds to goals articulated in Montclair State’s strategic plan that include the integration of deep learning initiatives and creativity into the curriculum and increased integration of the arts into campus life. As such, the Provost’s Office provided key support for the project and took an active role during the course approval process. The course presents an opportunity for Arts and Cultural Programming (ACP) to align with the University’s broader goals by providing a platform for ongoing and sustained integration of Peak Performances artists. Students from across the University will have the opportunity to engage with visiting artists in a format that supports students’ ability to understand creative practice as applicable to their academic studies in general and to their life beyond the University.
The four-week pilot offered in summer 2012 is on track for development into a semester-long course to be offered in spring 2013, as the project partners continue to develop and refine the course during fall 2012. The pilot was designed to provide a thematic framework for the course as it continues to evolve and expand. This flexible structure will leave room for individual instructors to adapt the course to their specific strengths and to draw on their own experience and knowledge. The pilot also drew the attention of additional faculty in various departments who are interested in participating in the project, thus potentially expanding the pool of faculty available to teach the course and reinforcing the multidisciplinary nature of the course, in addition to building broader campus awareness of the project. As part of the refining process, the project partners will be considering ways to keep students engaged beyond their time in the course, possibly through social media or as peer mentors to other students subsequently enrolled in the course.
The flexibility of the course framework enables different guest artists to interact with the course and to collaborate with the instructors to respond to the needs of the students. By focusing on process and strategies for generating material and problem solving, the knowledge that visiting artists have derived from their own creative practice can be applied by students to any discipline, as well as have an impact on students’ capacity to personalize understanding of an artist’s work. The primary criterion for artists is an ability to articulate a conceptual understanding of their own strategies and methods, which also can be a learning experience for the artists. This flexible structure is crucial for capitalizing on the changing pool of artists brought to campus through Peak Performances each academic year.
What is/was left behind in terms of relationships and knowledge?
The scope and length of the project and the multidisciplinary make-up of the project partners have extended the reach of ACP and Peak Performances into new academic and administrative areas. This additional network will provide a strong platform for building future collaborations with departments across the University. The many dialogues, discussions, workshops, and of course the Creative Thinking course itself introduced a broader range of students to Peak Performances and increased awareness of ACP as an academic resource, particularly among departments and administrative units outside the College of the Arts.
Brainstorm was ACP’s first foray into hosting an academic symposium; more than 200 people attended the event, including students, academics, and dance enthusiasts from the University, the local community, and New York City. The partnership with Wayne McGregor|Random Dance represented the first residency that spanned more than one academic year and reached beyond the timeframe of a specific performance. Both were particularly effective in positioning ACP as a source for interdisciplinary exchange.
The partnership with RAUL provides a sound platform for the approaches and discoveries of the course to inform teaching and learning beyond the course itself. As the locus of pedagogical inquiry and faculty development on campus, RAUL provides an avenue for course methodology and philosophy to be assessed and applied more widely through integration into other RAUL-sponsored initiatives. RAUL has already begun exploring the possibility of offering workshops based on artist sessions from the pilot course in its Engaged Teaching Fellows program, a year-long mentorship program for new faculty.
The project continues to filter through campus in unexpected ways. A few examples:
- Members of the faculty Working Group have reported applying ideas discussed during course development in other courses that they teach, and several are collaborating on other interdisciplinary projects and research;
- RAUL’s 2012 Teaching and Learning Showcase served as host to the third annual Physics & Art Exhibition of student photography, coordinated by Working Group member Dr. Ashwin Vaidya: http://www.montclair.edu/academy/programs/physicsandartphotos2012.html)
- Brainstorm presenter Philip Barnard has been invited to be a member of the advisory board of the University’s virtual Creative Research Center.
These anecdotal instances are an indication of how the relationships initiated by the project continue to percolate.
What steps have you taken, if any, to advance arts-based interdisciplinary work on campus subsequent to your Creative Campus project?
The Creative Thinking project has had a profound impact on ACP’s approach to season planning for Peak Performances. Projects are viewed with an eye toward the strength of academic connections and the possibilities for sustained campus engagement. ACP is actively seeking to expand the number of projects involving students and professional artists in the making of new work. And, of course, continuing to identify artists who will intersect well with the Creative Thinking course is a priority. ACP also has taken steps to build on the success of the research-education collaboration with Wayne McGregor|Random Dance: a dialogue with Creative Learning and R-Research is under way to discuss possibilities for future interdisciplinary exchange, as the company continues to develop the Choreographic Thinking Tools for wider application.