MIT does art the way it does science: with an eye toward excellence and making an impact on history. Last week, 57 members of the Council for the Arts at MIT (CAMIT) convened for the organization's 33rd annual meeting in a two-day event (Oct. 27-28) that underlined the progress the organization has made over the last three decades in creating an artistic atmosphere that bolsters MIT's scientific community.
A volunteer group of alumni and friends founded in 1972, CAMIT has funded more than 1,500 programs and awarded more than $1.5 million in grants for art projects to students, faculty, alumni and staff over the years. The council also supports numerous campus activities, including Artists Behind the Desk and the Student Art Association, and funds free tickets for MIT students to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Harvard Art Museums and the Museum of Fine Arts, among others.
The business meeting Oct. 28 included addresses by President Susan Hockfield and Provost L. Rafael Reif, reminiscences by Catherine "Kay" Stratton, first lady of the Institute from 1959-66, and a "state of the arts" address by Associate Provost for the Arts Alan Brody.
Hockfield, calling council members the "gardeners" of art at MIT, noted that she has been "surprised by the intensity, brilliance and magnitude of the arts at MIT." She praised the arts faculty for their "attention and cleverness" and called on MIT to "serve the nation more fully" by raising the public profile of its programs.
The council meeting paid homage to its roots with the presence of founding members Stratton and former MIT Professor Leo Beranek, both nonagenarians, who described the series of conversations and meetings that led to the council's formation more than 30 years ago. Stratton, a beloved figure in the MIT community, started the MIT Art Committee in 1961 when her husband, Julius A. Stratton, was president of MIT. Planning for what is now the council began in 1971 in talks between the committee and then-president Jerome Wiesner.
Brody observed that the strength of the arts and humanities at MIT has altered the student body because students no longer have to choose between rigorous scientific study and rigorous exploration of creative work.
Brody also told council members about two initiatives in the works that would put MIT at the forefront of supporting the development of plays about science: the Catalyst Collaborative, a local initiative between MIT and the Underground Railway Theater, and a new national consortium that would act as a floating center for the study of science, theater and narrative.
CAMIT Director Susan Cohen cited the need for facilities to support a strong arts program. In that light, Brody reiterated the need for funding for a proposed "Laboratory for the Performing Arts" with practice rooms and a black-box theater.
Administrators hope to use the council's success to bring its scope to a national level. As Hockfield said, "The arts don't stand still anywhere, and certainly not at MIT."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 9, 2005 (download PDF).