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Against backdrop of depressed arts funding, Stanford commissions increase

Salvador de Madariaga, the renowned Spanish diplomat and writer, described art as "the conveyance of spirit by means of matter." But matter, Madariaga failed to mention, costs money.

And while some corporations and foundations nurture artistic ambition by offering workspace, equipment and cash, their largesse depends a lot on the ebb and flow of the economy. Running against the current tide, the number of Stanford Lively Arts commissions actually has increased on average over the past four years.

"Stanford has an ongoing commitment to research, education and learning," Lois Wagner, executive director of Lively Arts, said. "As part of the university, we aim to be a driving force in the growth of the arts, playing an active role in creating new works."

The timing couldn't be better. As the economy lollygags toward an uncertain recovery, universities like Stanford -- longtime bastions of intellectual risk and innovation in the humanities and sciences -- are increasingly using their resources to help produce new artistic work. Other notable schools that have taken on the role of the impresario are Columbia University, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of Iowa.

"We want to give artists a laboratory in which to create, in which to investigate, in which to develop," said Martin Wollesen, Lively Arts' director of education and associate director of programming.

Wollesen, acknowledging that commissioning is not completely selfless, noted that work created under the aegis of the university helps to bolster its reputation in the arts. "The risk, of course, is that the work's not that good, or maybe the work needs more work," Wollesen added. "But that's just part of the nurturing research process. And that same process happens across disciplines."

Just this month, two Lively Arts commissions premiered at Stanford. The first, ODC/San Francisco dance company's Remnants of Song, is based on the ill-fated affair of the 12th-century lovers Abelard and Heloise. The piece first was performed Jan. 11.

The second, performed by Pilobolus Dance Theatre and the St. Lawrence String Quartet -- Stanford's ensemble-in-residence -- with music by Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, has yet to be named. It premiered Friday. (A second performance was held Saturday.)

Michael Tracy, artistic director of Pilobolus, touched on the economy's drag on funding of the performing arts. "Culture is seen as an ancillary part of the budget," Tracy said. "For someone like Lois Wagner and the Lively Arts people to fund something like this is really great -- it's rare."

In Spring Quarter 2004, Lively Arts will present a new work by a young composer as part of the Kronos: Under 30 Project. The Kronos Quartet, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, will select one from roughly 150 composers under 30 years old who submitted applications to Lively Arts. The winner will participate in a weeklong residency with Kronos at Stanford culminating with the premiere of his or her new composition. (The project also is supported by the American Music Center and National Endowment for the Arts.)

Lively Arts also engages in dozens of outreach and educational efforts throughout the year for students and the general public.


By John Sanford

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