Launch Event: Are the Arts Essential?
March 21, 2022
Are the Arts Essential? grew out of a concern that the arts in the United States are less valued for ideas and less vitalized to advance policy actions and citizen aspirations than they could be. In the midst of a devastating pandemic, as theaters, art galleries and museums, dance stages and concert halls shuttered their doors indefinitely and institutional funding for entertainment and culture evaporated almost overnight, a cohort of highly acclaimed scholars, artists, cultural critics, and a journalist ponder an urgent question: Are the arts essential? This conversation included contributors to the book as they discussed the importance that the arts play in society.
Introductions included Lynne Brown, Senior Vice President, University Relations Public Affairs, NYU and Executive Director, John Brademas Center; Michael DiNiscia, Deputy Director, Research and Strategic Initiatives, John Brademas Center and Co-Editor, "Are the Arts Essential?"; and Alberta Arthurs, Senior Fellow, John Brademas Center and Co-Editor, "Are the Arts Essential?"
Featured speakers on the panel included K. Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law, NYU; Mary Schmidt Campbell (Moderator), President, Spelman College and former Dean, NYU Tisch School of the Arts; Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater; and Deborah Willis, University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
*This event took place in-person for speakers and select guests. It was recorded and available live via webinar.
K. Anthony Appiah: “Art in Theory: An Insight from Marcel Duchamp”
K. Anthony Appiah is Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University. A scholar of ethics, political philosophy, and African and African American literary and cultural studies, since 2014 he has taught at NYU’s campuses in New York and Abu Dhabi. From 2002 to 2013, he was a member of the Princeton University faculty, and he has also taught at the University of Ghana, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard. Among his recent books are Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006), Experiments in Ethics (2008), The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010), Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity (2014), and The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (2018). In addition to his scholarly work, he writes the weekly column “The Ethicist” for the New York Times Magazine. Website: http://appiah.net
Mary Schmidt Campbell: “New York Reimagined: Artists, Arts Organizations, and Rebirth of a City” (Moderator)
Mary Schmidt Campbell is the tenth President of Spelman College. A leading liberal arts college for women of African descent, Spelman has long enjoyed a reputation as the nation’s leading producer of Black women scientists. Before coming to Spelman, Campbell served as Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for over two decades. Dr. Campbell began her professional career in New York at the Studio Museum in Harlem, followed by a stint as New York City’s Cultural Affairs Commissioner. She was appointed by President Barack Obama to be Vice Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2009. During her Spelman tenure, Dr. Campbell has launched Imagine. Invent. Ascend, a bold new strategic vision for the college that builds on Spelman’s legendary legacy to educate Black women for the twenty-first century. Her focus has been on ensuring that every Spelman student graduates with a competitive edge, expanding Spelman’s strategic partnerships, deepening its excellence in STEM, and wedding that strength to art, innovation, and technology. Dr. Campbell received her BA in English literature from Swarthmore College. She earned her master’s in art history as well as her PhD in humanities from Syracuse University. She holds honorary degrees from several colleges including her alma mater, Swarthmore. The author of the book An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, she is the recipient of the 2018 Hooks National Book Award and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Campbell has served on the the boards of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Website: https://www.spelman.edu/about-us/office-of-the-president
Oskar Eustis: “What Is to Be Done?”
Oskar Eustis has served as the artistic director of The Public Theater since 2005, after serving as the artistic director at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island, from 1994 to 2005. Throughout his career, Eustis has been dedicated to the development of new work that speaks to the great issues of our time and has worked with countless artists in pursuit of that aim, including Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, David Henry Hwang, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Richard Nelson, Rinne Groff, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Lisa Kron. He is currently a professor at New York University and has held professorships at UCLA, Middlebury College, and Brown University. Website: https://publictheater.org
Deborah Willis: “Reflections: Are the Arts Essential?”
Deborah Willis is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. One of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography and curators of African American culture, she teaches at NYU courses on photography and imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the Black body, women, and gender. She has been the recipient of Guggenheim, Fletcher, and MacArthur fellowships, the Infinity Award in Writing from the International Center for Photography, and the Anonymous Was a Woman Foundation Award. Her books include The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship and Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present, among many others. She serves as a member of the Board of Commissioners of the Smithsonian Institution’s American Art Museum. Website: https://debwillisphoto.com/home.html