UNCSA Forward: Interdisciplinary Work in the Arts

Dear Campus Community,

On Oct. 1, I presented the vision for our next strategic plan and asked our campus community to engage in providing feedback that will shape our final plan. As we go through this planning process, I will be sending regular communications to provide additional information about each of the core strategies that comprise UNCSA Forward. These core strategies are Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (EDIB); Health and Wellness; Maintaining and Expanding Industry Relevance; Institutional Sustainability; and Interdisciplinary Work in the Arts. Today, as the next in a series of communications about these strategies, I’d like to share more thoughts on our opportunities for increased Interdisciplinary Work in the Arts.

The mission of our institution is first and foremost to train artists. We provide gifted emerging artists with the experience, knowledge and skills needed to excel in their disciplines and in their lives. Direct and meaningful experiences with the intersections of those disciplines is a critical component in the development of artists for the global arts and entertainment industry of today and beyond. It’s not just a "nice to have" for young artists — it is a "must have."

What we continue to see throughout the industry is that the work that is being created today does not exist in the same kind of silos and categories that it has in the past. Highly skilled students in any arts discipline will have access to another realm of opportunities when they also have direct experience with how their craft intersects with others — and an arts ecosystem like UNCSA is better-positioned to provide that kind of experience than almost any other institution. There is a lot of collaborative and interdisciplinary work already happening on our campus, but the reality is that we are just scratching the surface. Opportunities to work on interdisciplinary projects that transcend traditional institutional boundaries will be an enormous complement to our students’ learning and will prepare them for successful 21st-century careers in a way that very few other institutions in this country can. In essence, we want to embrace our role as a conservatory that hones and develops their craft, but also our role as a laboratory that makes the space for highly skilled artists of each discipline to work together to create what is next. 

Two examples of initiatives aimed at creating capacity and space for interdisciplinary opportunities are already underway. They are integrating the new Studio for Creative Practice into our arts and academic programs, and developing streamlined and aligned campus calendars through the Collaborative Scheduling Initiative (CSI).

After a decade of collaborative research and design, the Studio for Creative Practice took shape in 2019 in the Division of Liberal Arts (DLA) as a place for up to two dozen students from all of our arts schools to immerse themselves in courses on creative research, collaboration and experimentation in interdisciplinary art. In the first course, students practice how to discover new ideas, research their topics, test concepts, and bring art to life between and across disciplines, methods and media. In the advanced course, students develop an idea as they will post-college as professional artists, including communicating with collaborators, sustaining research and testing, developing audiences, identifying funding sources, writing grants and proposals, and ultimately going public with a work of interdisciplinary art. You can experience work created through this practice with fourth-year student Marina Zurita’s devised work, "Mother Tongue," based on research and interviews done with a community of trash pickers in her native country of Brazil, when it is presented this spring as part of the performance season.

The Collaborative Scheduling Initiative is an ambitious universitywide undertaking that can help us create time and space for interdisciplinary work, as well as better balance on campus in workload and schedule. Our work groups have already taken the first steps toward creating a new calendar template by spring 2022 that would be used in planning for the 2023-24 academic year. With a goal of developing a production calendar that better aligns with the structure of the academic calendar, CSI also seeks to utilize a block schedule model for the campus that contains recurring times or spaces for interdisciplinary work while upholding two other core strategies: EDIB and health and wellness. In addition, CSI also would maximize our longstanding Intensive Arts program at UNCSA, leveraging its inherent interdisciplinary opportunities in a way that would enable full participation by all our conservatories.

Over the past month I have been visiting meetings with faculty, staff and students to hear feedback and ideas about these proposed strategies for UNCSA. Everyone in our community has the opportunity to share their ideas about Interdisciplinary Work in the Arts, or any aspect of UNCSA Forward, by filling out the survey which was sent out on Oct. 18, and is open until Nov. 19. Survey responses are anonymous and will be used by the Leadership Council to refine and finalize the strategic plan in order to present it for approval by the Board of Trustees in December. 


Brian Cole 

November 09, 2021