At the University of Wisconsin-Madison the arts converge in quite a unique manner. The beauty of the structure through which this happens is equally compelling, as it requires continuous creative dialogue. In fact, if you were to ask what the Arts Institute is all about, I would say that it aims to sustain a continuous dialogue through making while engaging with arts’ thinking.
As a Division we facilitate a gateway to the arts. This gateway opens into a space of convergence for all possible forms of artistic activity. In turn, in UW-Madison, arts Departments and Centers have their own respective structures and forms of governance that remain independent from the Arts Institute.
This is why we are not an umbrella but a gateway. An umbrella puts all under one cover and risks hiding everyone. In contrast, a gateway leads one into a shared space where, together with other shared spaces, all of us form part of the University.
How do we sustain this convergent approach to artistic diversity? Apart from being blessed with talented individuals who seek to work effectively and creatively together, what gives this unique position to the Arts Institute is that it is a Division of the University and its Director is a member of the Deans’ Council. The Arts have their own voice in the highest academic levels of academia. This also means that the direction and vision of the Institute are integral to the University’s approach to the arts.
This is a gateway to all the arts in the University, in terms of the provisions found in the Visual Arts, Dance, Music, Design, Theatre and Drama, and also with regards to programs and centers that directly or indirectly engage with the arts—such as Art History, Creative Writing, Film Studies and Communications. Furthermore, the Arts Institute works closely with University institutions like the Chazen Museum of Art and the Wisconsin Union Theater, as well as centers like the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, the Center for Visual Culture and the Center for Humanities.
Here I want to accentuate the significance of leading a shared space. Often we are told that the roots of the word “pedagogy” come from the Greek word paideia, meaning the leading of the youth. This is true only insofar as the notion of leading does not imply a following, but where the notion of the agôgía—that which implies a direction—also means partaking of an agôn, i.e. a shared space. Here we all engage with each other through diverse forms of dialogue and collaboration, but also divergence and sometimes dissent, as this visualization (see image) shows.
In the Arts, leadership takes place in such a dialogical space where we do not simply expect agreement, but more often than not we prefer to work through an environment of dissent.
Dissent is not only central to art as a condition for change. Dissent is also a vital aspect of a democracy, whose essence is agonistic. Art embodies this democratic space where ideas compete with each other without being necessarily antagonistic.
One must bear in mind that in order to discuss, agree or disagree, we need a space where we meet. A gateway is useless unless it leads us somewhere.
As a gateway we open a diversity of spaces of convergence where the Arts come together to articulate their existence vis-à-vis other such spaces. This converging dialogue is what creates artistic discourse. Through artistic discourse we do not simply explain. Rather, we express. These forms of expression produce the data that reflect how practice-based activity in the arts is a form of research that uncover issues still to be analyzed. Artistic discourse is a way of understanding and engaging with new forms of knowledge.
As a Division of the Arts, the Arts Institute is designed to offer convergence through the dissemination of discourse, argument and expression. It is also in our interest as Arts practitioners, and therefore as Arts researchers, to make sure that we have the freedom to assert our own specialist approaches within the Arts. We do this through a diversity of interests, situations, experiences, media, spaces … and anything which enters the context by which Art becomes a form of doing.
As this blog is written, in part, as a visual essay, all Images and layout © the Author