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Awam Amkpa
Associate Professor, Social and Cultural Analysis, Faculty of Arts and Science; Undergraduate Drama, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University Read More ...
Anthony Appiah
New York University, Department of Philosophy Read More ...

The John Brademas Center of New York University is asking an international group of scholars, artists, and cultural practitioners to deliberate a question: “Are the Arts Essential?” 

Convening from April 25 to April 28, 2018, at NYU’s campus in Florence, Italy, these specialists will take the customary deliberations about arts and culture into new, substantive, and shaping discussion. Beyond “leisure” or “entertainment,” beyond art’s personal impacts, beyond contributions to tourism, community building, or the classroom, do the arts and culture power progress? This convening will ask if (and how) the arts provide structures and strategies for social change, how they help define peoples and nations, how they deal with actual matters of life and death. Are the arts essential in ways that economics and medicine and politics are? If so, how is this manifest? What are the theoretical bases that ground the arts and govern our expectations of them? 

We have asked our deeply experienced participants some starting questions. What values, purposes and aspirations are conveyed by the arts and culture as we experience them? What insights, pressures, emotions are illuminated by cultural production? Is there a connective function to the arts? Are opportunities for comprehension and illumination inherent in the arts? What is the relationship between art and empathy? Art and experience? Art and change? Are the arts essentially emblematic and emotive, or are their contributions to self and society more significant, more enduring in their impact? In pursuit of theory, participants have been asked to address the import of the arts to human understanding, advancement, and interaction. 

In a decade of international convenings and research, the NYU Brademas Center has been engaging artists, cultural practitioners and academics in exploring international arts activity in today’s geo-cultural circumstances. We know that art and aesthetics are engaged in an ever-expanding range of social and political concerns. Now we need to better understand and evaluate their consequence in providing critique and knowledge, in generating ethical insight and in designing change. In this convening, specialists are invited to help posit the ways that the arts and culture can deepen ideals and strengthen goals in global conversation. 

We hope that the Florence convening will investigate the principles and purposes of the arts, a framing of ideas for action in our time. We expect the conversations to continue after the Florence convening, both formally and informally. We have begun discussion with the NYU Press about the likelihood of publishing a book of essays aimed at policymakers, international agencies, artistic and academic specialists, and the concerned public.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

 9:30 AM - Welcome and Charge to the Convening

 10:00 AM - Session 1: Aspirational Arts Practice

Description: Panel with cultural practitioners on why they do what they do, followed by commentary and moderated discussion on practice and the public sphere

Lee-Ann Buckskin of the Australia Council for the Arts: “Inspiring indigenous Communities Worldwide to Ally and Aid Each Other”

Fairouz Nishanova of the Agha Khan Music Initiative: “Instrumentalizing Discovery”

Phloeun Prim of Cambodian Living Arts: “Saving the Past and Creating the Future in a Traumatized Country”

Susanna Seidl-Fox of the Salzburg Global Seminar: “Connecting and Emboldening Young Cultural Innovators Across the Globe”

Moderated and commentary by Carin Kuoni of The New School

12:00 PM - Lunch Break

 1:15 PM - Session 2: Theory Happening

Description: Brief talks and commentary followed by open Discussion

Homi Bhabha of Harvard University: “Arts and the Shaping of the Self”

Richard Sennett of the London School of Economics: “Artists and the Shaping of Society”

Mariët Westermann of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: “The Arts and the Humanities: Meanings and Actions”

Commentary and open discussion moderated by Craig Calhoun of the Berggruen Institute

2:45 PM - Coffee Break

3:00 PM - Session 3: Artists on their Work, Its Ends and Aims

Description: Panel of artists discussing their objectives

Awam Amkpa of NYU Tisch: “How Theater and Film Arts Become Documents of Human Identity, Historical Experience, and Survival”

Salome Asega of the Ford Foundation: “Encountering Technology and Art”

Cristal Chanelle Truscott of Progress Theatre: "Theater: Staging Ideas and Issues”

Stefano Boeri of Stefano Boeri Architetti: “Architecture: Building for Impact”

Deborah Willis of NYU Tisch: “Photography and Imaging: What Seeing Tells Us”

Moderated and commentary by Ellyn Toscano of NYU Florence

4:15 PM - Session 4: Investing in Change Through the Arts

Description: Panel discussion and commentary followed by open discussion

 Khadija El Bennaoui of Art Moves Africa: “Investing in Mobility"

Zeyba Rahman of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art: “Investing in Community”

Hussein Rashid of Islamicate, L3C: “Investing in Heritage”

Moderated and commentary by Ferdinand Richard of Aide aux Musiques Innovatrices

Friday, April 27, 2018

10:00 AM - Session 5: Theory in Action

Description: Brief talks and Commentary followed by open Discussion

Karol Berger of Stanford University: “Music and Modernity”

Arnd Schneider of the University of Oslo: “Art and Anthropology: Global Encounters”

Jay Wang of the University of Southern California: “How Culture Intersects with International Policy and Foreign Affairs”

Commentary and open discussion moderated by Ulrich Baer of NYU

12:00 PM - Lunch

1:15 PM - Closing Plenary: “Are the Arts Essential?”—Answers to the Question

Description: Reports from the Presentations, Panels, and Discussions, Identifying the Arguments

Reports by Michael DiNiscia of the NYU Brademas Center and by Session Moderators

Plenary Moderator: Alberta Arthurs

3:00 PM - Conference End

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Are the Arts Essential?
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