About

A central focus of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts, the Creative Campus Initiative (CCI) supports cross-disciplinary collaborations that elevate the arts as a way of teaching, learning, and knowing. 

Since 2006, CCI has helped Wesleyan to bring artists to the academic table, and invited interdisciplinary collaborators to discover new ground, open complexities, and explore bridges and tensions between intellectual pursuit and artistic practice. CCI endeavors include performances, exhibitions, symposia and student projects; courses and course modules co-taught by artists; and community festivals. CCI projects explore subjects using multiple lenses, foregrounding the unique perspective of artists.  

 

The 2020–2021 CCI Faculty Committee:

Neely Bruce, John Spencer Camp Professor of Music
Barry Chernoff, Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies and Director, College of the Environment
Anthony Hatch, Associate Professor of Science in Society
Katja Kolcio, Associate Professor of Dance and Director, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life
William Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History
Katie Pearl, Assistant Professor of Theater

 

CCI’S History at Wesleyan

CCI at Wesleyan arose in part from a national conversation in 2004, when funders, arts presenters, and curators (including Sam Miller ‘74, who founded Weselyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance) gathered to consider how to strengthen the relevancy of the campus arts presenter. They recommended that campuses try to integrate the performing arts into all aspects of curricular and co-curricular life, in part by inviting artists to teach and co-teach with non-arts faculty.

Wesleyan was one of 14 U.S. campuses to receive a “Creative Campus Innovation Grant” from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, with precisely that aim. In response, Wesleyan launched an ambitious 18-month project called Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change through Science and Art, led by CFA Director Pamela Tatge, Professor of Biology Barry Chernoff, and a diverse committee of faculty, staff, students, and community members.

There was no cookbook for this work, but over time ingredients and recipes emerged. In the first fully co-taught course, BIOL 109: The Art and Science of Climate Change, Chernoff and choreographer Ann Carlson brought students to the Middletown landfill to explore its layers of history, time, and memory by measuring methane and creating movements—combining scientific and artistic tools in a robust inquiry. In a course module (two or more classes in an existing course), Associate Professor of Art Elijah Huge’s architecture students consulted with bird migration experts to design and build a bird viewing platform for a local nature center. In Crowell Concert Hall, the CFA presented a New England premiere by dancers from the Pacific atolls of Kiribati, Tokelau, and Tuvalu, who have directly experienced threatening sea level rise. Zilkha Gallery housed an installation that used grains of rice to share data about disparities in global wealth. Arts faculty commissions included Professor of Music Ron Kuivila’s work for Wesleyan’s carillon bells that incorporated 130 years of weather data, and the gossamer Landfill (2008), by Marion Belanger, installed for a community festival celebrating the work and ideas of Feet to the Fire.

After that year and a half, we knew this important work had taken root at Wesleyan. With generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and others, it continued, shepherded by CFA Director Pamela Tatge until she left Wesleyan in 2016. Since the beginning of the initiative, arts faculty and visiting artists have co-taught more than 20 courses at Wesleyan, on topics including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, global wealth disparity, Connecticut River ecology, and animal-human relationships. They have co-taught more than 60 modules, on topics such as Middletown archaeology, the human skeleton, social movements in East Asia, animal cognition, black feminism, and race and necropolitics, among other subjects. In addition to being a standard-bearer for this work nationally, Wesleyan was also among the first campuses to pilot extended artist residencies, hosting distinguished guests who brought us deeply into the complexities and nuances of their practice and research over the course of a year or more. These have included choreographers Liz Lerman (who collaborated with Wesleyan on the Science Choreography project), Eiko OtakeFaye Driscoll and Darrell Jones; musicians R. Luke DuBois and Pamela Z; and theater-makers Leigh Fondakowski, Carmelita Tropicana, and Leila Buck ’99. (Links are to short documentary videos or websites about Wesleyan work.) 

It would take dozens of case studies to capture CCI’s breadth, as its manifestations are as diverse as the scholars, artists, and students who have poured their time and creativity into this initiative over the years (we are working on writing those; stay tuned). One of the deepest tenets of CCI is that collaboration is not easy, and it is never a shortcut. Partnerships deepen at the speed of trust, and their outcomes are in direct proportion to the openness that everyone brings to the table. Over the years, Wesleyan has welcomed and celebrated these leaps of faith by faculty, artists, and students—and collectively, they continue to change our understanding of where art “belongs” at Wesleyan.