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Research at Boston University

Arts that Endure

By Susan Seligson

Since he arrived at Boston University last December to oversee the new campus-wide Arts Initiative, Ty Furman has learned that music, theatre, and the visual arts are thriving at BU. His job is to weave the arts into the experience of every student across all colleges and campuses—to nurture artistic collaborations, and to get the word out off campus, too. “We want art to be part of what people love about BU,” says Furman, who has a doctorate in higher education management and a background in experimental theatre. He’s continually amazed by the abundance of talent here.

Furman’s office is cluttered with a collection of long-forgotten student-painted Rhett statues he and colleagues are hoping to resurrect for a campus art project. A champion of collaborative projects, Furman is a founding member of the national association Art Administrators in Higher Education. He came to BU from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was director of University Arts Life Initiatives. “The College of Fine Arts will always be the heart of arts at BU, but we want to brand things beyond CFA,” says Furman. “There’s Cinémathèque at the College of Communication, there’s dance, there are poetry readings; all kinds of cool things are happening all over campus,” says Furman, who works closely with the BU Arts Council, a group appointed by the Office of the Provost, which offers grants for small arts projects and professors who want to integrate arts into classroom curricula—by buying theatre tickets for an academic course, for example. “When people think of BU, we want arts to be one of the first five things they think of.”

One of the first things Furman did was poll student focus groups about their interest and participation in arts events on campus and their general feelings about what makes BU special. He found that most students don’t equate BU with the arts, but they do see the University as urban, diverse, and global—the perfect foundation for the type of creative, cross-cultural collaborations the initiative aims to foster. Through social medial or BU websites, students want arts information that’s centralized, easy to find, and easy to see, says Furman, whose team launched a website, bu.edu/arts, that functions as an all-inclusive campus arts calendar, clearinghouse, and magnet.

From concerts at the Tsai Performance Center, Marsh Chapel, or Boston’s Symphony Hall to gallery shows at the College of Fine Arts and stage productions or dance performances on or off campus, the spirit of the initiative is to ensure that all students incorporate the arts into their lives. That’s the definition of an education in the liberal arts and sciences, says Virginia Sapiro, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, who is part of the initiative’s leadership, along with Thomas Fiedler (COM’71), dean of the College of Communication, Robert Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel, and Benjamín Juárez, dean of CFA. The initiative will also draw on the expertise of Nicole Hawkes (MET’02), associate provost for strategic initiatives, and Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), dean of students. “Universities have a responsibility to make sure that our graduates are appreciative and engaged consumers, supporters, and creators of the arts,” Sapiro says.

The launch of the Arts Council and the Arts Initiative “will mean that each BU student will have a fuller, richer, more personal immersion in the arts, from dance to music to visual arts,” says Hill, who has a particular interest in attracting students from all colleges to both the Marsh Chapel Choir and Inner Strength Gospel Choir.

The Arts Initiative kicked off in the fall of 2012 with a public conversation between David Byrne, of the Talking Heads, and Steven Pinker, author of How Music Works. Last spring it presented Crossroads, a captivating performance that merged climate science with music and visual art. Furman’s office has supported campus art and music marathons. “My definition of art is very broad,” says Furman, who is former executive director of the Philadelphia-based Vagabond Acting Troupe.

On the horizon, Furman has lined up award-winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who will be on campus to deliver a talk, to stick around for a “mini-residency” involving master classes, performances, and presentations. He is also in talks with a documentary filmmaker and an international music group for similar programs. “I want many of our initiatives to be embedded in academic programs, so our signature events and residencies will always be with an academic partner,” says Furman. “It’s really common for students to stumble on a performance or an exhibit; that’s part of what they love about BU,” says Furman. “We want to create the kinds of graduates and citizens who believe that art is meaningful and always has a place in their lives.”

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