University arts programs across the country serve not merely to educate the next generation of actors, creative writers, dancers, singers, musicians and visual artists, they also serve as bridges and gateways to the communities in which they are situated. This reality undoubtedly played a significant role in UH President Renu Khator’s designation of the arts at the University of Houston as one of the “Big Rocks.”
Initially conceptualized as foundational pillars upon which the University would elevate its reputation and visibility as a Tier One University, “Big Rock” initiatives, which include the arts, have allowed the University to align its established and potential programmatic strengths with areas of growth and strengths in the greater Houston metropolitan area. By identifying these initiatives for further investment, UH has positioned itself to claim its role as a significant contributor to future cultural, economic and social expansion in the region.
With a growing and vibrant arts community in Houston and surrounding communities, the arts programs at UH play a vital role as incubators of expertise and talent to support the continued growth and expansion of local cultural arts programming. The vibrancy of the local arts scene was recently confirmed in a study jointly sponsored by the University of Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance. This groundbreaking study, “The Creative Economy in Houston,” concluded that Houston has one of the fastest growing creative economies in the country. It further noted the need for education and training to maintain and expand the creative sector in our large and burgeoning city.
In developing both creative and technical expertise to fuel a growing creative economy not only locally but also nationally, UH presents arts students with a decided advantage. Our students are given the opportunity to study with some of the most creative and talented faculty in the country. These faculty members, most of whom are practicing artists themselves, play a significant role in providing students with the knowledge and skills to become exceptional performers of their crafts and eventual leaders in their fields. Through internships and other cooperative arrangements with local cultural institutions, our students also gain real-world experience by working with and learning from practicing artists and other creative professionals.
“Our students are given the opportunity to study with some of the most creative and talented faculty in the country.”
The arts, however, figure in another important way in the effort to align University and area strengths in productive and synergistic ways. As an institutional priority, the designation of the arts as a “Big Rock” initiative also recognized that UH is not only one of the most diverse universities in the country, it is also situated in one of America’s most diverse cities. In significant ways, our arts programs have, and continue to play, a pivotal role in the University’s effort to highlight diversity as one of our and the nation’s most important assets.
Through our arts curriculum and engagement in performances, productions, exhibitions, and other arts events and activities, our students, faculty and audiences are exposed to new ways of thinking and conceptualizing the arts in a societal and world context where diversity is rapidly becoming the norm. The arts serve as forums for engendering mutual respect, an appreciation of differences, and cross-cultural understanding for success in all facets of life within our University and beyond. Through our curriculum and programming, the experiences of our students and audiences are enriched as we actively, and with conscious intention, engage in an exchange of ideas, perspective and experiences that represent all voices as well as the diverse artistic and creative communication that reflect our global community.
As one of the most important points of access and exchange between the campus and the community, the UH Arts Initiative serves as a model of community and institutional engagement. In ways different from most other academic programs at the University, the vitality of our arts programs depends on public engagement and support to fulfill its educational and pedagogical mission. The presence of supportive patrons at creative performances, exhibitions, recitals and other public events contributes to the economic viability of university arts programs and, thereby, ensures the maintenance of these culturally enriching activities for enjoyment and study by future generations. In turn, patrons are afforded access to activities and programs that provide cultural enrichment and entertainment that contribute to the quality of life in our community.
Roberts is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.