The arts are an integral part of any well-rounded community, with demonstrated positive social impacts for residents living near a vital cultural institution such as Bowling Green State University.
BGSU hosts hundreds of arts events annually both as experiential learning opportunities for students and to further the university’s commitment to fostering cultural vitality.
“As a public university, part of our responsibility includes creating a well-educated society and serving as an economic and cultural resource to our community,” said Bill Mathis, dean of the College of Musical Arts at BGSU.
“Where I’m most proud is when we find an intersection between the curriculum — the things the students are learning — and creating a meaningful experience for the general population. That’s when our work truly adds value and serves our students, the campus and community.”
Whether performed live or presented in written or visual forms, art provides insight into the past, opens windows into the present and creates connections among people and communities.
“Or maybe art, in its numerous forms, causes a shift in your attitude or in your way of thinking about the world,” said Charlie Kanwischer, director of the BGSU School of Art. “I think art is meant to produce some kind of reaction or movement, and responses can take all kinds of different forms.”
Art and society
Exposure to different cultures and experiences through art is essential to society, said Lesa Lockford, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Film at BGSU.
“I cannot imagine a world without art,” she said.
Lockford said there are two lines of thought about art, the first being that art reflects society and the second that art makes society.
“I believe it does both,” Lockford said. “How art functions in society does not track on a straight line; it’s recursive. Whether fine art or performing art, it catches the zeitgeist at the time, and those prevalent issues will be discussed. But they’re also going to shape the way people think about the issues.
“The thing about art is it’s not just an intellectual exercise. It’s something that moves people. We have the capacity in the arts to make people feel, and that’s powerful.”
A ‘town and gown’ relationship
The arts also serve as a bridge, creating a cultural connection between the university and city. Former Bowling Green Mayor Richard Edwards said access to the variety of arts programming at BGSU is among the top reasons he and his wife, Nadine, enjoy living in a college town.
“There are unlimited opportunities for growth, development and entertainment through the arts,” Richard Edwards said. “I like to call it ‘mind expansion.’ We’ve been introduced to many different kinds of arts experiences on campus. It’s opened up new avenues that we typically would not experience.”
Nadine Edwards added, “I don’t think we would ever live in a community without a university. We love having access to the arts and sports and going to campus for lectures. The town and gown relationship is very important to us, and you get that in Bowling Green.”
Current Bowling Green Mayor Mike Aspacher is grateful for the partnership between the city and BGSU.
“Bowling Green is fortunate to have access to the broad arts programming offered by the University,” Aspacher said. “The cultural diversity and enrichment provided to our relatively small community are immeasurable but certainly valued.”
Growth and development
In addition to benefitting the region, the university champions the value the arts provide students.
One of the university’s premier arts events of the year is ArtsX, a showcase of BGSU student, faculty and alumni art. Kanwischer said the event offers students an inclusive space to present their work as they continue to develop as artists.
“Whatever media the student is involved in, they’re going to be producing work for an audience,” he said. “Until you put your art in front of somebody and listen for their response, you don’t know what’s being communicated to them. Getting a reaction is really important to the art-making process.”
Lawrence Coates, professor of English and creative writing at BGSU, said the opportunities for students to share their art in public is also a way to build community.
“Writing is a pretty isolating practice,” he said. “You’re alone with a keyboard. It’s important to gather together and share your work. It’s valuable to see how your work resonates with an audience, whether writing or some other art form.”
For Hailey Rode, a BGSU senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, community building has been a key part of her development.
“We’re all peers learning from each other,” she said of presenting her artwork in gallery shows. “It’s really helpful to see your art in context with other art. Being able to talk about your art, experiences and how you view the world with your community and peers is really valuable.”
Donovan Callahan said he’s grown through his experiences working on productions as a theatre major at the University. He recently was the assistant director for “The Harvest,” performed in October at the Wolfe Center for the Arts.
“I’ve taken directing classes before and gotten a sense of how movement works on the stage,” he said. “Putting that knowledge into practice has really expanded my understanding. My dream has always been to perform on stage, but I’m discovering many more avenues for myself as I continue learning and experiencing different facets of theater.”
Ellen Schendel, new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said she’s been consistently impressed by the quality and impact of the many arts events she’s attended since joining the university in June.
“We have so much talent at this institution; engaging the university and larger community in arts programming that stretches our understanding and speaks to contemporary issues is absolutely central to the mission of a public educational institution like ours,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of our students, faculty and staff in ensuring the arts are visible and vibrant in our region.”