A gateway to the arts: The Arizona Arts Master Plan sees the future through an inclusive lens
This is the third and final installment in a series of articles spotlighting the Arizona Arts Master Plan. The first story examined the overall purpose and vision of the plan. The second story took a deeper dive into completed and future projects contained in the plan.
In 17th century France, salons gave artists from the country's elite class an opportunity to display their work in a government-sponsored exhibition. In March, the University held its own SALON – the Student Artist Live Opportunity Night – to give student artists from underrepresented communities a similar opportunity.
The event – attended by nearly 100 students, employees and community members – took place at the new patio area and recently transformed lobby space at the entrance of the School of Art. The spaces were filled with student sculptures, paintings, drawings, costumes and more. Those sights were paired with the sounds of students performing monologues and artists answering questions about their pieces. Plans are underway for another SALON event next year.
The backdrop for the event: a new patio area and recently transformed lobby space at the entrance of the School of Art. Both are projects contained in the Arizona Arts Master Plan, which grew out of the Arizona Advantage pillar of the University's strategic plan, which calls on the University to "integrate the arts throughout the university experience and beyond." It also aims to position the University as both an international arts and culture destination and as a driver for regional economic development.
Using the renovated spaces to showcase the student artists shows how the plan can be a driving force behind boosting diversity and inclusion in the college, said Tioni Collins, student services coordinator for the School of Theatre, Film and Television and organizer of the SALON.
"We need to make space for these historically excluded and underrepresented students in the arts to do things they don't necessarily have space to do in the classrooms," Collins said. "When I was going through school, that's what I wanted to see."
A new leader to champion equity in the arts
Much of the master plan focuses on upgrading training and performing spaces throughout the College of Fine Arts. But Amy Kraehe, the first associate vice president for equity in the arts, says the physical space is only part of the equation.
Just as important, she argues, are the people and programming to use those spaces in inclusive ways.
"New space creates a ripe environment to cultivate ideas around inclusion and diversity, because without those components, our creative capacities are much more limited," Kraehe said. "We need diverse people, ideas and knowledge systems at play."
Kraehe joined the University in 2018 as an associate professor in art and visual culture education. She was appointed to her current position in July 2021.
"Arizona Arts is committed to racial justice and equity in the arts," Andrew Schulz, vice president for the arts and dean of the College of Fine Arts, said in announcing her appointment. "Dr. Kraehe is the ideal person, with years of experience to strengthen our commitment, recognizing and embracing the diversity of identities, experiences and perspectives in the classroom, in curriculum, recruiting and hiring."
Kraehe started her new job right as dirt began moving at the School of Art – the first master plan project to be completed. As she learned more about the plan, Kraehe says, she began thinking about two of the University's core values and asked herself, "How do we manifest compassion and inclusion through our buildings?"
The power of space
If the University wants to attract diverse faculty, staff and students, it must provide cutting-edge space where they can thrive, Kraehe says, adding that conversations about diversity and equity early in the process are important.
"I cannot fathom that any university would move forward with new buildings in 2022 without a sense of inclusion within every level of design," Kraehe said.
As design phases move forward for future projects – including Marroney Theatre, Centennial Hall and the University of Arizona Museum of Art – the college will focus on how to serve the range of people who work on or visit campus. Features in the buildings could include gender-neutral bathrooms and lactation spaces.
At the newly-renovated Center for Creative Photography, much of the signage has been updated to include Spanish. Megan Clancy, senior registrar, says the center will also put a focus on inclusion while curating exhibits.
"We're looking at our exhibition program and how we're engaging with people of color, women artists and groups that have traditionally not been represented very strongly in photography," Clancy said. "When someone says that they would feel more welcome if they could see themselves in a museum, the exhibition content is a very literal version of that."
The master plan's incorporation of inclusive practices goes beyond buildings. Public art projects are being considered in areas including the Olive Road Underpass.
Powering inclusion through programming
While physical construction is the focus of the master plan, it also includes new programming designed to give opportunities for creative expression to historically underrepresented communities. Some examples are below.
Racial Justice Studio: The Racial Justice Studio seeks to amplify the work of Arizona Arts scholars, artists and educators who focus on anti-racism in their professional and personal lives. Its initiatives include: Rehearsals in Anti-Racism, a course that engages students in political, philosophical and aesthetic conversations about race and racism; "Race/Remix," a speaker series and podcast featuring interdisciplinary conversations about race and racism in the arts; and the Creative Abolitionist Teaching Fellows network, which brings together artists and educators to develop anti-racist curricula.
Arizona Arts Interdisciplinary Research Fellows Program: The fellowship program, which named its initial cohort in spring 2021, aims to support collaborative arts research that can play a role in the larger University research mission. The first cohort's projects included work in dance, scenic design, equity in arts education, making classical music more accessible, and the connection between music and memories. The 2022 cohort will be announced this month.
Stories Travel: The School of Theatre, Film and Television's high school outreach program, which is supported by the Provost's Investment Fund, involves University instructors mentoring local high school students to help them develop their artistic voices through a variety of storytelling methods.
Going beyond 'arts for arts' sake'
For the arts to remain relevant, Kraehe says, arts educators and students must embrace the diversity that they see in the world around them. Ultimately, she says, that's what the Arizona Arts Master Plan is all about: creating training spaces, performance venues, public art displays and arts programming that allow everyone to see themselves in Arizona Arts.
"For the arts to thrive, they must become more diverse in every way you can think of," Kraehe said. "Our pipelines need to become more diverse. Our curricula need to become more diverse and encompass art forms that traditionally haven't been called art. We need to change that, and it will take time. I'm thrilled that I'm in a college that is excited and ready to do that work."