Public Higher Education Superstar

George Weissman, a major arts philanthropist and graduate of the City College of New York, endowed $10 million for Baruch College’s George and Mildred Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.

Purchase Dance Corp of SUNY Purchase dancing Doris Humphrey’s “Soaring” during the American Dance: The Early Years held at SUNY, Purchase 1981.

The first report of a theater performance at an American college was a play at Harvard in 1698, followed by a production at William and Mary in 1702, but for much of the 18th century the study of the arts did not exist in the academy. By the 19th century, instruction in theater, music and dance performance, especially in music, became more common. Beginning in the 20th century, particularly after World War II, public colleges and universities created academic departments to teach the dramatic arts, as well as the fine arts, such as painting, sculpture and film. At the University of Wisconsin, for example, the first dance program opened in 1917 and became an official major in 1926. By 1969, 110 institutions of higher learning had majors or concentrations in dance.

The art of teaching creative or poetic writing began to flourish when the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop opened a creative writing program in 1936. Today many universities and colleges throughout the country offer a major or concentration in the field. Writers in residence programs have also become common.

After World War II, many public colleges and universities developed art museums as well as centers for the performing arts. Those venues, located in small towns and cities, became the focal point for both the fine and performing arts, providing an outlet for student and faculty work while offering space for traveling art shows, performing arts productions and, in many cases, permanent museum collections. These spaces bring together town and gown and play a vital role for both the institution and for the towns and cities where they are located.

Rhode Island College students engage in an exploration in two-dimensional forms in choreographic studies class, c. 1960.
Rafael Rivera Garcia stands in front of his mural of Puerto Rican educator Eugenio María De Hostos, displayed at Hunter College, CUNY, c. 1990.
“The Life of the Mind,” created by students of Professor Rikki Asher, Queens College, CUNY, c. 2008.