Stanford University Focuses on Arts District

Print Share on LinkedIn More



November 16, 2014;New York Times

Historically, Stanford University is known as the birthplace of leaders and innovators for tech-savvy businesses like Google and Yahoo, but can it be known for leaders in arts and culture as well? The new arts district on Palm Drive, at the entrance to the university’s campus, has had $235 million invested into it. The campus already features the $112 million Bing Concert Hall and the $36 million Anderson Collection, an American-art museum featuring works by such artists as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Projecting out into 2015, the campus is investing $87 million in the McMurtry Building, which will house the university’s art and art history department. These growth decisions were based on input received from current and potential Stanford students. Beyond the expansion of brick and mortar buildings, these spaces will offer more arts learning opportunities for students. Art studios will become available, along with performance and rehearsal spaces. These attributes will complement the already existing Humanities and Arts Department.

John Hennessy, president of Stanford, said expansion of the arts was identified as one of five top priority areas for the university. Beginning in 2006, the administration focused some of its capital campaign toward these efforts. The campaign lasted until 2011, during which time the university raised close to $160 million from donors and the university added an additional $100 million. Interestingly, a large portion of the university’s $100 million match came from discretionary presidential funds and Google patent revenue streams.

The Anderson Collection itself represents another form of donation. Harry and Mary Margaret Anderson gave 121 paintings and sculptures to the art museum, on the condition that the works were shown all together. In response, Hennessy built a new museum exclusive to the exhibitions of the Anderson’s collection. The museum is free and open to the public, sending the message that art is for everyone and that students have their own “creative freedom.”

Stanford’s connection to students seeking careers in science and technology has deep roots, with alumni turning Palo Alto into the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.” But the university realizes that even with this historic connection, university learning cannot ignore the benefits of arts and culture both as an educational tool and as a career path. The Arts Education Partnership, in conjunction with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, released in 2006 Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement, a study that explores hard data showing the measurable impact the arts have on student learning. For example, high school students who participated in four or more years of arts courses received higher scores on their SATs than the general average of all students. The national group Americans for the Arts also has an Arts Education Network with an arts education council that focuses on topics and advocacy efforts to ensure national arts education accessibility. Another example of arts education integration in California can be found in a previous NPQ newswire by Larry Kaplan.

Of course, arts education requirements throughout the United States vary across city, county, and state lines. But Stanford University, one of the universities ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report, has begun setting a precedent for how our large universities can prioritize arts and culture. This movement to include arts and culture within its capital campaign and use it as leverage to attract students indicates a shift in perspective at the collegiate level.—Jennifer Swan