Dear Cougars and Friends,
Whenever I am asked about our priorities at the University of Houston, I have a ready response. My description of our “big rocks” is met with approval and agreement. Student success, athletics, energy, health—all are greeted with immediate appreciation. Each plays a vital role in meeting our goal of achieving excellence in higher education for its own sake while meeting the specific needs of our community.
When I add the arts to that list of “big rocks,” I occasionally see a moment of uncertainty in some people. The arts are …nice, they seem to be thinking, but they’re not really as important as the others, are they?
Yes, I believe they are. The arts are crucial to our campus, to our community and to our country.
If the other “big rocks” supply the brains, the brawn, the vitality and well-being of our collective body, then the arts provide the spirit. At the most basic level, the arts—and, by extension, art education—obviously matter for their economic impact but, even more importantly, they matter for their inherent power to fuel a community’s passion and sustain its cultural identity. It is not an exaggeration to say that they change people’s lives for the better, that they change society for the better.
Perhaps Pablo Picasso put it best when he said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” So, in our own way, we want to help Houston sparkle. And that’s a major undertaking. As a recent Houston Chronicle analysis reported, the state of the arts in Houston is not nearly as robust as in comparable (and even smaller) communities. At UH, we have been working hard to help address that. We plan to work even harder.
Last year, for example, UH established the College of the Arts, signaling its prominence and facilitating an even greater impact by synergistically grouping the Moores School of Music, the School of Art, the School of Theatre and Dance, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and Blaffer Art Museum. Confirming its significance, the institution soon received a prestigious $20 million naming gift to become our Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts.
Notably, we are also in the process of evaluating and enhancing the UH System Public Art Collection, a splendid resource that should—and will—play a much greater role in the overall artistic landscape of our community. With nearly 700 pieces all told, the multi-million dollar collection has steadily increased in size and artistic scope since its launch in the late 1960s. While a number of the works have graced our own campuses over the years, bringing joy and inspiration to those fortunate enough to view them, we believe the collection has not been utilized to its full potential. In short, we look forward to putting the “Public” in “Public Art” by sharing this treasure trove on a broader scale. For more information about that, please see the article on page 40.
We take great pride in all our “big rocks” accomplishments, from improving graduation rates and increasing our national prominence in athletics to expanding our energy expertise and establishing a medical school. And that must always include our commitment to the arts. There is a well-known Latin dictum ars longa, vita brevis—art is long, life is short—that reminds us of the temporal nature of our lives and the enduring value of the arts. At UH, we are striving to touch as many lives as we can with the rewards that the arts offer us.
With warm regards,
President, University of Houston