Arts Initiative

Part Thirteen

Conclusion: A Time for the Arts at Princeton

Throughout its long history, Princeton University has sustained the vitality and traditional strengths of its teaching and research programs only by virtue of its willingness to accommodate an ever-broadening range of studies and programs. Sometimes the University has added subjects that did not exist in the past, such as computer science and molecular biology. In other instances, the University has recognized the need to sponsor cross-disciplinary approaches to venerable questions, as it did when it founded the University Center for Human Values. In the case of the creative and performing arts, we deal with activities that are simultaneously ancient and avant garde: they are literally as old as human civilization, but they constantly renew our society with fresh perspectives on human experience. The time has come for Princeton to give greater recognition to the centrality of the arts in its teaching and research mission.

Some might suggest that this is long overdue, but none should doubt that it is urgently needed now. Princeton undergraduates yearn for education in the creative and performing arts, and at present the University cannot fully meet their demand. More fundamentally, the creative and performing arts provide a distinctive and valuable medium for comprehending the challenges of our age and for increasing our understanding of ourselves, our neighbors, and others with whom we share this planet. Any university that aspires to offer students a great liberal arts education must ensure that they have meaningful experiences in the creative and performing arts.

This is accordingly a unique moment for the arts at Princeton University. Princeton has an opportunity not only to expand its programs in the creative and performing arts, but to establish itself as a global leader in the quality of its offerings and in their integration into a broader liberal arts education. Its basic commitments to fundamental research and outstanding teaching, and its hospitality to interdisciplinary thought and practice, allow Princeton to launch a distinctive initiative in the arts, one that breaks down barriers between theory and practice and thoroughly integrates intellectual and artistic pursuits into a shared educational and research mission. I am grateful to the Allen Committee for its insightful analysis of the aspirations that must define such an initiative as well as the mechanisms that might enable us to implement it. And I am confident that, with the dedication and enthusiasm of many other Princetonians, we can make this University the premier place for students, artists, and scholars who want to engage with the arts in a way that draws strength from and adds strength to a great liberal arts university.

Shirley M. Tilghman, President
January 2006