Margaret Eby
November 14, 2014 10:12 am

The panicky times of the financial recession of the mid-aughts seem to be mostly behind us, which is good news for lots of reasons. One of those is that big-time universities like Harvard are beginning to reinvest money into the arts. The Fogg Museum, Harvard’s art museum that had been closed for six years, reopens on Sunday with a huge new public space, a study center, and an art-conservation sweet.

And they’re not alone. The New York Times points out that campuses all over the country are pouring money into arts facilities. In 2012, Yale University overhauled their Art Gallery, doubling the annual attendance and allowing curators much more space to showcase work. Stanford is building a whole arts district in order to complement its reputation as a science-focused institution, making room for both a concert hall and a collection of modern and contemporary art. Princeton and the Virginia Commonwealth University are also two schools that have made recent efforts to put arts front and center. And the University of Chicago unveiled their center for the arts in 2012, designed with an entrance towards the community near campus as well as one for students.

It’s an investment that’s both culturally and financially relevant. During the recession, arts programs were often the first things to go, scaled back in favor of more practical programs dedicated to science and business.

There is an ongoing argument on campus about what college education should do, exactly. Should it have a trade school-like approach, preparing students in practical aspects for a particular career? What is the point of the arts in that scenario?

The dusty-old myth that painting won’t help you land a job has perpetuated the stereotype that arts are frivolous rather than something essential to education. By refocusing their attention on the arts through architectural projects, these schools are asserting that education extends to the arts in a major way. By creating more access to art, schools aren’t just shaping and influencing future artists, they’re sending the message—loud and clear—that art matters.

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