The Future of the Arts at Williams

Future of the Arts report


Rob Baker-White (Theatre)
Horace Ballard (Art History/WCMA)
Sandra Burton (Dance)
Jessica Fisher (English)
Guy Hedreen (Art History)
Gage McWeeny (English, Oakley Center)
Pallavi Sen (Studio Art)
Zachary Wadsworth (Music)


What is the future of the arts at Williams and in liberal arts education more broadly? The arts at Williams began at a time characterized by departmental and disciplinary autonomy and a marked lack of diversity along almost any dimension. Today, innovation in the arts often entails interdisciplinarity and centers the voices and experiences of those who have traditionally been excluded from canons and critical discourse. The arts develop distinct modes of perception and understanding, and are a means of inquiry and self-expression, problem solving and knowledge production, as well as a foundation for cross cultural exploration and social change.

What would it take to make Williams a leading liberal arts college for the arts? Strategic planning presents an opportunity to take stock of the arts in a comprehensive way. Such an exercise seems especially well timed given the new museum building project, which will allow us to think collectively about the relationship of the museum to the college and to reimagine the future of Lawrence Hall as a dedicated center for the arts.

The group should consider the following questions:

  • What will teaching in the arts look like in the future, and how might teaching across Williams be animated by a more intentional engagement with the arts?  What kinds of new administrative and curricular structures—programs, staff, or concentrations—will best serve learning in the arts? How can we support the many faculty and students who already engage in artistic practices outside the arts departments?
  • How can the arts help us to reimagine our academic model? Master classes, musical ensembles, dance companies, theatrical productions, exhibitions of art, poetry readings are all essential co-curricular components of an education in the creative arts but fit poorly into existing structures. How can we better support co-curricular activities in the arts, and narrow the gap between the core curriculum and extra-curricular activities in the arts at Williams?
  • How might the dispersed sites of artistic practice across the campus be made more institutionally visible as a single arts eco-system, and the arts become more central to the college? How might the arts departments best coordinate, publicize, and support events and increase the opportunities to experience the arts? What sort of administrative communications structures would best support the arts at Williams? 
  • What kinds of spaces and resources are necessary to students for a richer exploration of the arts? All of the arts require specially equipped spaces in which to teach and perform. At the same time, growing interest in interdisciplinarity means that our teaching and performance spaces need to accommodate multiple practices simultaneously. 
  • What are opportunities to strengthen our connections to organizations within a western Massachusetts arts corridor? How can we pool and amplify the energies of the Clark, MassMoCA, and the many summer arts organizations of international stature?