The School for Interdisciplinary Arts (IA) is a non-hierarchical, democratic, and diverse association of students, staff, and faculty who believe that freedom of the imagination is fundamental to a just and dynamic society. Designers, writers, social critics, arts educators, performers, directors, sculptors, visual artists, and entrepreneurs, we share an interest in collapsing and transcending traditional boundaries between disciplines to engender new processes and modes of artistic and intellectual expression. We work in many contexts: the Lemelson Center for Design, the Arts and Technology Program, writing of all kinds, Gender Studies, the Sculpture Program, African-American and other Literatures, the Arts and Social Justice Program, and Theatre, including critical interventionist drama and arts education. We know that artists across media have much to learn from each other, and that joint consideration of common conceptual concerns yields transformative solutions. Many of us in our own work combine several modes of making and take inspiration from unexpected forms and fields.
Members of the school are also united in the belief that if artists are to be valuable not only to each other but to broader communities and to society itself, the focused study of particular modes of making must be paired with serious study in other disciplines. If artists wish to make art that speaks to and of ‘the world,’ they must pursue reflexive knowledge of it through as many avenues as are available to them. IA faculty members have experience in the study of political history, literature, engineering, design and technology, critical pedagogy, public health, entrepreneurship, art history, anthropology, multiple cultural and global settings, gender and sexuality, and philosophy, and they know the value of these fields to their own work. Likewise, students in IA typically seek challenges, inspiration, and information in all of the college’s schools, bringing what they learn back to their art work and implementing ways of making that reflect concerns and questions that originate outside of themselves. Ultimately, we seek to equip students with generous, synergistic ways of learning, reflecting, and problem-solving that will ensure their success in any future context. We encourage students and faculty alike to set their own terms for success and to pursue their goals—scholarly, community-based, artistic, political, personal, however unorthodox—wholeheartedly and without fear.
We believe that art changes the lives not only of those who make it but of those who see, hear, touch, read, and engage responsively with it. We encourage students to take seriously the communities in which they live, work, learn, and travel, and to develop facility with forms, language, and bodies of knowledge that include rather than exclude, that nurture imagination in order to encourage empathy, and that challenge, rather than confirm, boundaries of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality. We believe that artists and creative entrepreneurs, independently or in inclusive, thoughtful collaboration, can help us all to envision a just society as an achievable goal, in particular effecting social change by building bridges that connect the academy with the larger world.
In keeping with these beliefs, the Arts and Social Action Program is a vital aspect of IA, frequently hosting visitors who bear urgent news, and promoting creative intervention in students’ lives on campus, the lives of our neighbors in the Pioneer Valley, and in communities (and often countries) outside the Five-College realm. We know that the involvement of innovative makers in their communities is key to social transformation. The School encourages and supports students’ creation of enterprises that address social and environmental problems with economic, sustainable and humanitarian solutions. We also believe that encouraging freedom of thought and creativity in youth is essential to securing an inclusive, democratic future; the Theatre for Young Audiences program, and our interest in Arts Education in primary and secondary schools bring our students together with young people and teachers all over Massachusetts. Our understanding of social action is broad: inclusive of students who work with firm individual vision in single or mixed media as well as students who work in groups, making art in, with, or for, our own constituencies and others.
The open, egalitarian character of IA is reflected in our teaching. United in the belief that active, reflective making—the practice of art—is key to any meaningful understanding of creativity, IA faculty seek to balance excellence in and long-term study of single media with energetic cross-media experimentation and collaboration. Responsive to these changing times, IA faculty take students’ goals seriously, creating structured fora for the exploration of emergent multidisciplinary forms; the Arts and Technology Program, in particular, actively integrates art, design, and technology. At the same time, workshops in elementary and advanced skills and seminars designed to address issues particular to one medium are equally important and regularly taught.
With a shared commitment to critical, participatory, liberatory education in which instructors are also learning and students are often teaching, IA faculty organize their courses in a number of modes. Co-teaching across media, an important source of innovation and collaboration, is frequent. Courses in which the syllabus is determined by student concerns or to some extent designed by students themselves are common.
Our practices of governance, too, reflect our hopeful vision of energetic, collaborative, reflexive educational practices. Taking for granted that our behavior as teachers, students, makers, and members of an educational institution has political dimensions, and in keeping with our fundamental commitment to democratic principles, the School for Interdisciplinary Arts maintains non-hierarchical, open and inclusive practices of school governance. Student, staff and faculty engaged in collaborative education have the duty to shape their institution in a larger sense: taking a critical approach to the corrosive effects of unchecked authority and absolute power, we believe that all perspectives on any issue that affects our students, staff, faculty, school, and the college matter and must be taken seriously and substantively into account. Truly transformative, socially radical collaboration cannot exist unless all members participate as equals in decision-making processes. We therefore support the ability of Hampshire students and faculty to significantly shape college practices and policies. In all of our programs and projects, we seek practical, political, and philosophical connection: between our own actions and the condition of the worlds we inhabit, between social justice and freedom of expression—between art and life.make art make a difference
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