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Students rally in defense of the arts at Stanford

STANFORD -- Dancers, singers, actors, musicians - even the marching band's mascot, the Stanford Tree - gathered at a student-organized rally Thursday, Nov. 7, in support of the arts at Stanford University.

Several hundred people crowded into White Plaza to watch student artists perform and to listen to passionate pleas about the importance of the arts in a Stanford education.

The Tree, carrying a sign saying "I (heart sign) art" led a large contingent, including the Dollies and members of the Stanford band, from the Quad to White Plaza. A number of the marchers carried signs proclaiming "Art is not a luxury."

Many of the speakers referred to a memo sent Oct. 28 to faculty members and lecturers in the School of Humanities and Sciences by Dean Ewart Thomas and Carolyn Lougee, senior associate dean. The memo, discussing the school's $5-million target for budget cuts or income enhancement, said, "We are examining possibilities in the Department of Drama for significant reductions, including closing the department."

In addition, the memo said, there is discussion of "refocusing, substantially reducing or closing" several programs, among them photography and design (both in the art department), Black Performing Arts, and music performance.

"Stanford is saying you can be smart, or you can be an artist, but you can't be both," said Adam Tobin, a junior majoring in English and drama.

Later, Lougee said that just because programs and departments are subject to scrutiny "does not mean that they are going to be cut, that they are going to be cut disproportionately, or that they're going to bear the whole burden of the cuts." No final decisions have been made, she stressed.

Those in the dean's office, she said, are clear about the importance of the arts at Stanford and the importance of the arts to students.

"That will be at the table with us when we make our recommendation," she said.

The School of Humanities and Sciences faces one of the lowest percentage but highest dollar-amount targets as Stanford seeks to close a $43-million gap in its budget over the next two years.

Lougee said she appreciated the arts rally. "I thought it was wonderfully done and I thought the students were really terrific to put it together."

Among the groups performing were the Ballet Folklorico de Stanford and Kuumba Dance Ensemble, the Stanford Marching Band and the Stanford Symphonic Band, the Stanford Improvisers, Fleet Street Singers, the Mendicants, Everyday People and Counterpoint.

Junior Raymond Kinnard, who last year appeared in a production of The Colored Museum, presented by the Committee on Black Performing Arts, said the committee "is at the forefront of the drive for multiculturalism at Stanford."

If the arts are cut, he said, "the university will sink into cultural and artistic poverty."

Peter Skillman, a graduate student in product design, said he chose Stanford because of the "enormously valuable" design classes offered through the art department. There would be a "basic loss of values" if those classes were eliminated, he said.

Elizabeth Hutchinson, who is beginning graduate work in art history, said she came to Stanford because she saw it as a place that "valued the work of artists who are just starting out, as well as the work of artists who have died."

Bubba Gong, a second-year graduate student in dance education, said that dance is not a frill, but rather is "basic education. Dance clarifies and intensifies the human experience."

Said Lance Miller, a graduate student in drama: "Today is not the end of the fight to save the arts at Stanford. We're just getting wound up."

The students presented a book filled with signatures, petitions and letters supporting the arts to Thomas and Lougee, who accepted with smiles, but did not speak.

German studies Prof. Rob Robinson, who served as master of ceremonies for the rally, said afterwards that his 15 years of serving as a resident fellow in student residences has convinced him of the importance of the arts, particularly to undergraduates.

Many musical and theatrical events are produced in the dorms, he said, with people from the music and drama departments serving as the backbone for such productions. Even though many student performing groups are not part of an arts department, he said, they depend on the infrastructure the departments provide.

"We can't rely on a thousand points of light," he said, referring to President Bush's call for volunteerism.

If the arts are substantially reduced, Robinson said, a student who wants to major in physics or chemistry and who also wants to play the violin, won't come to Stanford.

"We'd have a different student body," he said. "The students would still be smart, but I think they might be duller."



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