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Pomona College Receives $600,000 Grant and Launches Four-Year Arts Initiative

Last June, Pomona College received a $600,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of its “Elemental Arts Initiative,” a four-year project designed to enliven artistic and creative activity throughout the campus and to enhance arts programming. Each academic year, program-related activities will revolve around an elemental theme – water, earth, air and fire.

On Oct. 12, Pomona College’s Founder’s Day celebration, the College will also celebrate the grant and initiative, starting at 5 p.m., with a site-specific interactive performance called “Musical Stairs,” a draw-in led by Art Professor Mercedes Teixido, a t-shirt painting/deconstruction/reconstruction area, sidewalk chalk drawing and live music. In keeping with the 2011-12 theme of water, facts about this element will also be placed around the celebration area.

The Mellon grant is providing important support as Pomona College begins a broad and deep revitalization of artistic and creative activity on campus. Among the objectives of the Elemental ArtsInitiative are creating a campus-based arts culture; embedding the arts in the curriculum and in the minds of faculty and students as a method of inquiry; and promoting the arts as a way of making creative connections between different areas of knowledge.

Some of the components include a new arts immersion course, an academic symposium, a dance concert, a theatre festival, a summer experience in the arts internship program, guest artist residencies (including Martin Neary, conductor of the Millennium Consort Singers, in the spring), theme-related programming of all sorts and a theatre collaboration with a local middle school.

The initiative is closely aligned with Pomona College’s strategic priority of “fostering creativity through the arts,” an objective of the Daring Minds Campaign, which also includes a planned Studio Art Building located north of Seaver Theatre near the Wash.

“I cannot think of a better way to empower innovative thinking and intellectual risk-taking in our students than by fostering their creativity through the arts,” says President David Oxtoby, an environmental chemist. “There is no way to predict what specific skill set will be most appropriate for the challenges future leaders will have to face, but we can say with certainty that those who wish to lead will need to be able to think creatively about a wide range of issues.”

The elements’ relevance and timeliness will allow faculty to co-teach and approach issues from numerous angles. This spring’s upcoming symposium on water, for example, is being organized by Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis and author of several books about California water issues. “By interweaving the arts with the elements through such events as concerts, theatre shows, films and conferences,” Miller says, “we hope to broaden the community’s appreciation for the vital interplay between the natural world and the human imagination.”

This interdisciplinary collaboration is an important goal of the initiative, says Oxtoby. “It is our hope that faculty will find that the collaborations they explore as part of the Elemental Arts initiative will add value and excitement to their teaching and research, so that by the end of it, collaborations among the visual, performing and student arts and with other departments across the disciplines will have become well established—simply a way of doing things at Pomona.”

Another aim is to connect more deeply with surrounding communities through programs like Theatre for Young Audiences, in which undergrads partner with students at Fremont Academy of Engineering and Design, a public middle school located in a mostly low-income neighborhood in Pomona. For many of the Fremont students, the four-year-old Theatre for Young Audiences program represents their only form of arts education.

“Not only will the grant help us do things within the College, but it will create a component of community outreach and provide a service for local groups that lack arts funding,” says James Taylor, a professor of theatre and member of the faculty steering committee for theInitiative.