In the midst of a large research university, some disciplines may get lost in the shuffle. But this year is the time for Mac’s arts to be in the spotlight.

McMaster’s School of the Arts is launching a yearlong festival designed to highlight the arts and their role in the university. The Spotlight on the Arts festival will see eight months of events, including lectures, exhibitions, and theatre productions.

Virginia Aksan, former Acting Director of the School of the Arts and one of the main coordinators of the festival, sees it as an opportunity for the department to be more vocal on campus.

“My vision was to promote the [image] of School of the Arts —which surprisingly, very few people know about,” she said of the reasoning for the event.

School of the Arts was created in 2001 to amalgamate the departments of Art and Art History, Music, and Theatre and Film Studies, a move Aksan considers to be primarily economically driven. But she also believes they hold a further connection.

“They share a vision about human creativity that I think is so much part of downtown Hamilton now,” she explained.

And it’s this vision that she has seen flourish under the leadership of current university president Patrick Deane, whom she describes as a “huge fan of the arts.”

Aksan felt that the leadership of Peter George, president previous to Deane, left something to be desired when it came to arts education. Deane began his role as president in 2010.

“What Peter George did was to create a university that was internationally renowned in heart research or in health studies,” she said.

“[But] the humanities… are the continuity of intellectual life of the human, and we kind of take it for granted. We’re in an age when we can’t have that happen anymore.” She added that she hopes to remind people “Mac does things besides what it’s renowned for.”

While the purpose of the Spotlight festival is chiefly to promote the work of School of the Arts, the project has been “building and growing from the original purpose to stimulate more arts based activity,” said Beth Marquis, another of the lead coordinators of the festival.

Marquis serves as a professor in the Arts and Science program, in the School of the Arts, and works at the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning (MIIETL). She sees the festival as an opportunity to create more connections within the McMaster community, between disciplines and departments, especially considering the size of the university.

“It’s such a big and complex place,” she said of McMaster. “Sometimes you miss a lot of great opportunities that are happening…I think it’s just the nature of a place like this.”

The festival, with its variety of events, will be organized into four different clusters: connect (September), activate (November), empower (January), and integrate (March). Through the different themes, Marquis hopes to encourage people to think about the role of art differently.

“[We want people] not only to approach the arts as entertainment…but also [to understand] that the sense of social work while we’re being entertained.”

Photo: Studio art students printing their original T-shirt designs last year in Arts Quad. They will do the same this year at Supercrawl. C/O Anqi Shen.

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