A consortium can do some things that no single institution can. A case in point is the recent $750,000 five-year award from New York’s storied Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the project “New College: Connecting the Arts and Humanities on Florida’s Creative Coast.”
Although New College houses the grant, the project would not have attracted the interest of the Mellon Foundation, and would not be possible, without the Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast (Eckerd College, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida, The Ringling/FSU, and Ringling College of Art and Design).
Although we have an embarrassment of riches in our arts and educational institutions, we lack the connective tissue that the humanities provide.
In addition to its academic institutions, the Sarasota-Bradenton area boasts eight professional theatre companies, a top regional orchestra, nationally renowned opera and ballet companies, two major museums, and a thriving contemporary dance company. We all understand the economic impact of the arts, but the humanities — the study of history, philosophy, religion, literature, and language — are completely absent from public discourse. They are nearly invisible, their importance barely understood.
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Although we have an embarrassment of riches in our arts and educational institutions, we lack the connective tissue that the humanities provide. For it is humanists and artists who connect disparate domains, seeing links where others perceive discrete entities, and who help create harmony, balance, and coherence.
The Mellon grant will create the relational infrastructure that will allow the C4 and local arts organizations to come together in a thriving arts and education alliance. In placing the arts and public humanities at the center of our nascent consortium, the grant will benefit not just the cooperating institutions, but our students and their employers.
We too often forget that the humanities provide the intellectual tools to put ourselves in another’s place. They teach precision of expression and discipline of thought. These in turn allow us to deal with complexity, and with a world in which two seemingly opposite statements can both be true. Employers call out for graduates with emotional intelligence and “soft” skills. But there is nothing “soft” about such skills — they are what the humanities bestow.
The first year of the Mellon grant is devoted to planning and to conversations among various members of the arts and educational institutions. Many events are open to the public, and more will be so in future years. For information, see https://www.ncf.edu/about/news-and-events/events-and-conferences/mellon-grant-arts-humanities-connections/mellon-grant-events/.
These include a series of panels and lectures on the relation between Florida’s West Coast and Cuba, a set of informal discussions of interesting topics led by experts adept at engaging discussion and making you think, and a number of events related to Black History Month. For the latter see https://www.ncf.edu/about/news-and-events/events-and-conferences/black-history-month-2017/. If you want something more regular, mark your calendar for the third Thursday of each month, which features an evening of some good food, socializing, and inspiring conversation. These Campus Conversations are free and open to the public. However, each is limited to 15 participants and an RSVP to email@example.com is required.
We are most excited, however, for the as-yet unforeseen, but transformative ventures that the grant will bring in future years. Stay tuned.
Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.