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Building a consciously creative campus

May 16, 2007
By Marla Holt

At the fall 2006 Forum on the Future of Higher Education, a theme developed organically among the discussions led by academics from some of the best schools in the country: Nearly every speaker talked about the importance of developing a curriculum that is intentional in fostering creativity and innovative thinking in students.

The theme resonated with Scott Bierman, dean of the College and professor of economics, who attended the conference with Fred Rogers ’72, vice president and treasurer. The men are cochairs of Carleton’s Arts Planning Committee. The committee’s mission statement, “Creativity as a Habit of Being,” states: “If ideas are the currency of the future, then the college that places creativity at the center of its curriculum develops in its students the core quality necessary to succeed in the 21st century.”

“Such a curriculum does not solely feature the arts, but features the arts as an equal partner to other programs,” says Bierman. “Carleton is not alone in talking about the importance of being more intentional about infusing creativity into the curriculum—many institutions of higher learning are beginning to recognize that society needs leaders who are synthetic thinkers, who can take ideas and patterns across different disciplines and bring them together in interesting ways.”

While new arts facilities are needed and will be a part of this transformative vision for the College, achieving a comprehensive program in the arts isn’t just about buildings—“it’s more broadly conceived than that,” Bierman says. It’s a multifaceted plan of programmatic changes and infrastructure upgrades, such as offering a cinema and media studies major, recognizing the important role cocurricular arts activities play in students’ lives, incorporating the study and use of visual elements into the curriculum, and renovating the former Northfield Middle School building into a vibrant academic center featuring programs and services that engage students in visual and narrative learning.

The major components of the Breaking Barriers, Creating Connections campaign, such as an expanded faculty, broadening access to create a more diverse student body, and increased opportunities for collaborative research, relate to the vision for a consciously creative campus, Bierman says: “Traditionally, we’ve asked, ‘How does an education in science or social science make you a better artist?’ Now the question is being turned around to, ‘How does some facility in the arts make you a better scientist?’ Creativity is all about identifying a problem, seeing it in a different light, and putting it back together again in a way that generates important new thinking.”