In 2004-2005, The University of Iowa celebrated The Year of Arts and Humanities. A year later, co-directors Christopher Merrill and Jay Semel, hired me to write and co-produce with designer Patti O’Neill an overview of the events and accomplishments of that year. O’Neill and I wanted to design a readable, dynamic report that was easy to mail and relatively low in cost. The newspaper-style publication with its bright colors, recycled paper and short articles was our solution.
What is the worth of the arts and the humanities to The University of Iowa and the people of the state it serves? While the value to Iowa of a teaching hospital and a winning football team can be enumerated, it is more difficult to calculate the benefits of living in a place where the arts and humanities are practiced and celebrated.
We are enriched every day by the poetry and music of the creative process, which is at the heart of the arts and humanities. This process may be rooted in mystery, human drives that are impossible to fully describe, and yet it is the root of discoveries and advancements that affect the quality of our lives.
President David Skorton opened the Year of Arts and Humanities (YAH) in a speech commending Carnegie Corporation of New York President and former President of Brown University Vartan Gregorian’s call for colleges and universities to “reconstruct the unity of knowledge.” In an age of specialized and increasingly fragmented knowledge, Gregorian argues “understanding the nature of knowledge, its unity, its varieties, its limitations, and its uses and abuses is necessary for the success of our democracy. …The complexity of the world requires us to have a better understanding of the relationships and connections between all fields that intersect and overlap. …Humanity has a craving for wholeness.”
Skorton affirmed that “the arts and humanities comprise the soul of the university.” He emphasized that the arts and humanities have a special place in the history of the UI, the first institution in the country to offer an advanced degree for creative work.
But acknowledgement and advancement of the arts and humanities must go beyond the University doors. At all levels, said Skorton, we must emphasize “the life of discovery.” To support this effort, Skorton and Vice President of Research William Decker allocated $200,000 in non-state funds. More than half of this amount went toward competitive grants to fund activities that would touch all parts of the state. Thirty-one Iowa communities and thousands of Iowans directly participated in these projects. YAH left an important mark on the University and the state, with memories of several one-of-a-kind, one-time-only events, and provided seed money and planning for ongoing projects. Most of all, it drew crucial attention to the many ways in which the UI contributes to the cultural experience of Iowans.