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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: Museum should be at the heart of MU's campus

By Shared by W. Arthur Mehrhoff/Missourian Reader
June 10, 2013 | 1:39 p.m. CDT
Students in Laurel Wilson’s Textile Class view a special teaching exhibition of the Museum of Art and Archaeology’s pre-Columbia textiles in the Cast Gallery.

W. Arthur Mehrhoff is the academic coordinator for the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology.

"The idea that aesthetic perception is an affair for odd minutes is one reason for the backwardness of the arts among us.  The eyes and visual apparatus may be intact: the object may be physically there: the cathedral of Notre Dame, or Rembrandt’s portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels.  In some bald sense, the latter may be ‘seen.’  They may be looked at, possibly recognized, and have their correct names attached.  But for lack of continuous interaction between the total organism and the objects, they are not perceived, certainly not aesthetically."


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 — John Dewey, Art as Experience

Noted British educator and public policy leader Sir Ken Robinson of the Getty Foundation, who gave the keynote presentation at the 2012 Excellence in Teaching conference here at the University of Missouri, remarked:  “Nobody has a guaranteed seat at the top anymore. They never did, of course, but the fact is that if America wants to remain competitive in the global markets of the 21st century, [integrative thinking] is not a luxury. America needs a workforce that is flexible, adaptable and highly creative; and it needs an education system that can develop these qualities in everyone.”

In short, an integrative university experience involving higher-level thinking is no longer optional in the new knowledge economy; engagement with the arts and humanities offers survival value for the future of America itself.

A growing number of academic and business leaders share Robinson’s enthusiasm for highlighting the arts and creativity in higher education.

"The arts are valuable in the real challenges we face in educating students in this century," said John L. Hennessey, president of Stanford University in the very heart of Silicon Valley. "They are helpful when it comes to building creative skills — or tooling that ability to think outside the box, as well as teaching students to understand the increasingly diverse multicultural nature of the world and the evolution of societies."

Matthew W. Barrett, Chief Executive Officer of Barclays Bank in London, stresses the importance of a liberal arts background for success in business; Barrett maintains that a young person who can decode the imagery in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or conduct sophisticated iconographical analysis of a Renaissance painting can also learn how to break down a balance sheet.

The American Association of Colleges & University's  report, College Learning for the New Global Century, concluded that integrative learning should now be considered an "essential learning outcome." These leaders believe the arts and humanities are essential, not peripheral, to the future of university education.

However, moving the Museum of Art & Archaeology to the north edge of Columbia “for the foreseeable future” with no transparent plan for its future place in the life of the campus sends exactly the opposite message to that of visionary leaders like Robinson, Hennesey and Barrett.

It’s not quite the same as creating a virtual museum, but limbo status certainly reinforces the image of the Museum as a “hidden jewel” to be displayed on special, ceremonial occasions as John Dewey pointed out in his remark, an “affair for odd minutes.” Out of sight, out of mind does not heighten visual literacy, aesthetic experience, or the occasional chance encounter with an object that can change your life.

Museum educators increasingly offer a much more compelling vision of the Museum as the focal point for a thoughtful, creative 21st century university education that celebrates creativity and critical thinking, heritage and diversity.

For example, the highly respected Carnegie Foundation for Higher Education also suggested that "strategic points of connection" like the Museum of Art & Archaeology offer the most promising venues for integrative learning (and its report on that topic can be found here).

The Nasher Museum of Duke University bridges the campus and community as well as offering a focal point for interdisciplinary courses and research. Strategic points of connection like the Museum of Art & Archaeology offer students vital docking stations for the endlessly expanding universe of their knowledge and understanding.

As the Academic Coordinator for the Museum of Art & Archaeology, I believe strongly that the Museum of Art & Archaeology deserves pride of place in the heart and soul of the 21st century university.

The real question is: What do you think is its proper place?

The Missourian would welcome more viewpoints on this issue. This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's howSupervising editor is Joy Mayer.