January 7, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 7

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    Humanities Division, Harris School planning arts policy conference

    By Theresa Carson

    Thirty years ago, environmental issues existed without a public policy component. Today, the field of arts and culture is in the same predicament, but the University’s Humanities Division and its Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies are about to change that and perhaps in the process make history.

    Scholars, artists, policymakers, philanthropists and critics will collectively take the first step toward creating the nation’s first public policy center on the arts and culture Jan. 21-23, when they gather at the Arts and Humanities in Public Life Conference: Toward the Development of a National Public Policy Research Agenda for the Arts and Humanities.

    Faculty members in the Humanities Division and the Harris School will bring together leaders from diverse professions within and outside the arts to question, discuss and ultimately determine the research agenda for a public policy center on the arts and culture. These leaders include University professors such as Homi Bhabha, the Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities, and experts in the media such as Robert Hughes, author, cultural commentator and critic.

    In his keynote address on Jan. 21, Hughes will ask: In what sense is culture in the national interest? Bhabha, the author of Location of Culture, will respond to Hughes’ argument.

    “There is an entire history of American reaction to culture—who goes, who pays, who makes decisions,” said Carroll Joynes, Associate Dean of Development and External Relations for the Humanities Division. “That history is very complicated.” Joynes referred to previous discussions about the arts as “two-dimensional.” He explained that the voices that mainly have been heard on this topic have been those that are most vociferous, extreme and unrepresentative of the average citizen.

    Many ethnic groups who might not think of themselves as purveyors of American culture do indeed contribute, Joynes said. “Patrons of the arts are no longer only the elite,” he added.

    Once conference participants raise critical questions and discuss public policy, the goal will then be to write a proposal, said Joynes.

    “The interdisciplinary nature of the University lends itself to such a conference,” Joynes said, citing the “permeable boundaries” between the departments and academic divisions at Chicago and the as yet unexplored boundaries between the University and various stakeholders in the worlds of art and culture.

    Conference panelists will include the directors of the Guggenheim Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies as well as the producer of Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm.

    Participants will address critical issues such as patronage, copyright in the cyber-age and museums in the age of globalization. “It is nothing less than the formation of a new field of inquiry,” said Joynes.

    “If people believe that the public has a stake in the existence and flourishing of the arts and humanities, we have to ask what that stake is. Then, we can determine who currently makes decisions about the arts and humanities and who pays the bills. People’s ears suddenly perk up when you put the question that way,” Joynes said.

    Other questions to be explored include: Is there such a thing as a “national culture”? If so, what is it? Who owns the artifacts taken from Native American grave sites? How do we deal fairly with claims to artwork seized from Jewish families during the Holocaust?

    “We are trying to show what kinds of questions one can pose for an interdisciplinary convocation of experts,” said Joynes. “This will be a prelude to what we hope will be a center for research on arts and cultural policy at the University.”

    The center will be what Joynes called a designer, convener and leader in the emerging field of arts and cultural policy research. Some questions that need answers include: Are the arts good for big business?” What are the economic benefits of the arts? Beyond these or any other extrinsic benefits, what do arts and culture bring us in their own right?

    The conference will begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, with the keynote address in the Arthur Rubloff Auditorium at the Art Institute of Chicago, 230 S. Columbus Dr.

    The conference resumes at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 22, in Swift Lecture Hall, 1025 E. 58th St., with “The Politics of Arts and Humanities Policy: The Politics of Patronage.” At 11:30 a.m., participants will address “Cultural Policy: The State of the Field,” which will be followed at 1:30 p.m. by “Economics of Arts and Humanities Policy: Property Rights in the Information Age.” Discussions in small groups will begin at 3:30 p.m.

    At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, “The Social and Cultural Dimensions of Public Policy on the Arts and Humanities: The Responsibilities of Museums in the Age of Globalization” will be presented. Small groups will meet at 11:30 a.m.

    A roundtable discussion, moderated by Chicago Tonight host John Callaway, will conclude the work element of the conference. The roundtable discussion will be at the Max Palevsky Theater in Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St.

    A jazz concert conducted by Mwata Bowden, Director of the University Jazz Ensemble, and performed by members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians will follow the conference at 8 p.m. in Goodspeed Hall, 1010 E. 59th St.

    Funding for the Arts and Humanities in Public Life Conference is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Joan and Irving Harris and the University’s Humanities Division and Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies. Pew Charitable Trust, the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Academy for Arts and Sciences will be sending representatives to the event.

    To register for the conference, call (773) 834-2741.