By Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Gonzaga University
Jesuit education focuses on the whole person – mind, body and spirit. Jesuits have long recognized the importance of the arts in the formation of individuals for the benefit of society, highlighting the relationship between creativity and problem-solving. It is no surprise then, that Gonzaga University is one of a few liberal arts universities to own an art museum. Its renowned Jundt Art Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It currently provides the location for Gonzaga’s multi-year Jesuits and the Arts series, which highlights a different artistic discipline each year. This year’s focus is on the visual arts, featuring the works of Jesuit Fathers William Vachon and Arturo Araujo.
Gonzaga is quickly becoming a leader in arts education, exploring opportunities for interdisciplinary arts, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics + Arts) initiatives, as well as studies of the relationship between creativity and innovation. Gonzaga benefits from two major opportunities: First, the hiring of talented new faculty who are revitalizing the visual and performing arts, ensuring that enrollment in art, theater, dance and music programs continues to be strong; Second, a major gift for a new Performing Arts Center, named after benefactor Myrtle Woldson. Faculty are currently working with campus planners and architectural consultants on design specifications for the Performing Arts Center, a teaching and performance facility that will be constructed by 2018.
Engaged faculty in newly created departments are committed to interdisciplinary arts education, exploring how the arts can bring the campus together. In fall 2017, we will launch a minor in Interdisciplinary Arts. The 2015-2016 theater season includes performances of “Weaving Our Sisters’ Voices,” a sacred tapestry of dance, music and poetry about women from Scripture. The play was written by religious studies professor Linda Schearing, featuring music composed by professor Robert Spittal, and was choreographed and directed by dance instructor Suzanne Ostersmith. In spring 2016, faculty from classical studies, biology, chemistry, English, art and history are collaborating on a lecture series surrounding an exhibition of Greek and Roman artifacts at the Jundt Art Museum, the first such show to reach the Inland Northwest.
And the arts are STEAMing ahead, bringing art and design components into the education of STEM majors. Linked classes in biology and dance allow students to study the physiology and behavioral biology behind dance moves, and have led to a choreographed dance presentation entitled “The Dancing River.” The goal of this student-authored piece is to depict the life of the river for an audience of elementary school children. Combining art and science, the piece illustrates the aquatic life and economic growth of the stunning Serpentine River that runs through Spokane, WA. Art therapy will be a course in the new public health program, and the new bachelor’s degree in computer science, acknowledging the role of computing in arts disciplines, will include instruction in the disciplines of English, theater and art. With colleagues in the Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, arts disciplines are exploring a J-Mester program on creative industries. The goal is to support the development of curriculum and experiential learning experiences around creative industries so that students in the arts understand their business aspects. An added benefit will be increasing collaboration with community partners and practitioners.
The Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center will serve as the centerpiece for various arts collaborations. The Center will provide a great opportunity to attract students to the arts, to excite the campus community around the arts, to highlight the creative talent that we have on campus, and to welcome the Spokane community to Gonzaga. Not only will it enable us to offer music and theater performances on campus, it will be the platform for the Gonzaga University Visiting Writers series that has annually brought nationally-renowned authors to campus since 2007. The Performing Arts Center will also be the focal point of an “Arts Village” on the west side of the campus, consisting of spaces that will function as a living laboratory for visitors to see students and faculty in action. It will allow faculty and students to both practice creativity and simultaneously study its processes so that we can better understand the relationships between creativity, experimentation and innovation.
Gonzaga recognizes the enormous contributions from the arts to make the world a better place, and is committed to serving its students, faculty, staff and broader Spokane community through innovative programs, performances and collaborations.