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Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University in Waltham MA (Photo, Boston Globe)

Thanks to the ever-resourceful blogger Judith H. Dobrzynski at Real Clear Arts for this update on the much-discussed issue of universities and the visual arts. As the title of her posting suggests, Take That, Brandeis! Dartmouth Gets $50 Million for a Visual Arts Center, Dartmouth is playing out a very different storyline from the one we have watched out in Waltham with the untimely demise of the Rose Art Museum.

Here’s an excerpt from Judith’s report:

Dartmouth College has just announced that it has received a $50 million gift, the largest in DartmouthVAC.jpgits history, to build a new visual arts center on campus.

What a contrast from Brandeis, in Waltham, MA, which has grown infamous for its announcement earlier this year that it planned to shut its Rose Art Museum. Brandeis lies only 135 miles from Dartmouth, in Hanover, N.H. Worse, in announcing the gift, which was made anonymously, Dartmouth President James Wright said:

Arts are at the heart of a liberal arts education, and have always been vital to the Dartmouth experience, empowering students to think creatively, challenge assumptions, and wrestle with demanding and often unfamiliar media.

Then Dartmouth’s Dean of Faculty Carol Folt chimed in:

Dartmouth faculty view the arts as a powerful way to understand human culture and history, and when practiced, to stimulate creativity, flexibility, and leadership. This gift will have an immediate impact on Dartmouth’s intellectual and cultural environment. It will galvanize the talented faculty we already have and attract others, create new opportunities for innovative teaching, and offer more students the chance to experience the creative process first-hand.

Click here to read the entire posting.

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Tarus Mateen, Nasheet Waits, Jason Moran (Bandwagon)

In the “Earth stood still for a minute. Seriously dude, it did” category: My son Bryce came with me on a 2 hour pilgrimage from Boston to Hanover, New Hampshire–Dartmouth College–on Thursday night to hear and see Jason Moran perform with The Bandwagon (Tarus Mateen on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums and guest artist Marvin Sewell on guitar.) I’ve written about Jason on this blog before, but in case you didn’t catch it I can say it again and again: He is one of the greats. If you ever get a chance to hear him, take it.

Jason has been exploring the deeper connections between jazz and the visual arts for several years. Earlier albums pay homage to the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Egon Schiele and Robert Rauschenberg. Recently he has collaborated with and explored the works of visual artists including Joan Jonas and Adrian Piper.

In the fall I went to Washington DC to hear In My Mind, a multi-media performance that is a tribute to jazz piano god Theolonious Monk. Jason’s latest undertaking, Milestone, continues to explore the boundaries of jazz performance, the audience/performer interface and how the personal and the public sides of an artist weave in and out. The players move around the stage, sit facing the audience at times, just listening to previously taped conversations along with the audience. Jason is moving outside the armature of a typical jazz performance and looking to create a different kind of experience for anyone who is there, including the musicians. And even though Jason’s wife, soprano Alicia Hall Moran, was not present at the concert, she was very much there in spirit. Her singing and spoken voice are accessed repeatedly, giving the sense that her ambient presence is hovering over everything happening on stage and in the hall.

As Jason describes his approach with Milestone: “We made a full-length theater piece out of an ordinary jazz concert, and Tarus, Nasheet, Marvin and I didn’t really know too much about stagecraft so we got a crash course from Alicia. She was the director and my collaborator as a writer. In Milestone I wanted us to play the part of ourselves almost, and bring the audience inside the heads of this band; show that while we’re up on stage and you’re looking at us, we’re involved in our own examination of you.”

Jason, Marvin, Tarus and Nasheet stayed afterwards to talk about the music. What righteous, thoughtful, soulful men each of them is. When I asked a question about that fuzzy line between the personal and the work of art itself, Jason made a very provocative comment. He said that he cared about content, and it was something difficult for his kind of jazz to provide. Without lyrics, he said, the content is harder to access. With Monk’s music for example it is vital to understand that Monk’s grandparents were slaves, that faith healings were part of his heritage, that the music he made came from his experiences, and that the story of where it came from matters. Jason talked about how he wants to make his own music more content-rich (my phrase) by including and exploring the personal dimension as well as new forms of experiential delivery.

Ah, content. It’s an ongoing question for me as a non-representational artist who values mystery, the unresolved, the uncertain, the unspoken. Jason is extending the frame in which his music sits, exploring new and bold ways to bridge the gap between maker and listener/observer. All the way home, driving in moonlight off the snow covered fields of New Hampshire, I kept thinking of the Seamus Heaney comment about the wiresculpture qualities of Eastern European poetry: “The density of the unspoken thing is where the meaning lies.”

Like the universe, my only answer to all of this is, Yes.