Does High Culture Still have a Place in Contemporary America?

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University Communications March 7, 2014

The UA's inaugural conference, "The Future of (High) Culture In America," will look at the current and future shape of high culture in America across the arts, including music, visual arts, dance, drama and poetry.

Daniel Asia (Photo credit: Ingvi Kallen)

Daniel Asia (Photo credit: Ingvi Kallen)

The proliferation of social technology and a generation of social media players aligned with pop culture perspectives gives rise to the question:

A powerhouse lineup of national art entrepreneurs, scholars, performers and critics will address answers to that question during a new University of Arizona conference. 

The inaugural event, "The Future of (High) Culture In America," was organized by The Center for American Culture and Ideas at the UA with a Bradley Foundation grant and will be held March 20-21 at the Westward Look Resort
, in Tucson.

"The conference is intended for all those interested in the fate of high culture in America, which includes arts practitioners, those who support the arts and consumers of the arts," said Daniel Asia, a UA School of Music professor and the center's founder and director.

The UA center was founded five years ago to "restore the balance in the dialogue regarding western civilization and the expression of the American soul through the high arts, including music, the visual arts, dance and theatre," Asia said. 

"Some hold that in postmodern culture the lines dividing high from popular culture have blurred or no longer exist. Others declare that high art is no longer necessary or relevant, and the assumptions that there is such a thing as a timeless masterpiece or a verifiable posterity are archaic," Asia said. "These questions and others raised by increasing globalization and the explosive developments in technology call out for a discussion.”

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal's drama critic, the critic-at-large of Commentary and the author of "Sightings," a biweekly column for the Friday Journal about the arts in America, will be the event’s keynote speaker. Teachout served on the National Council on the Arts from 2004 to 2010 and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012 to support the writing of his latest book, "Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington."

Other speakers and panelists include:

  • Carol Iannone, editor-at-large of Academic Questions, who writes on literature and culture for a number of publications. Her articles have appeared in American Arts Quarterly, The American Conservative, The New Criterion and others.

  • Britt Salvesen, curator for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and department head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at the museum. She has previously served as the curator and interim director of the UA Center for Creative Photography, an associate curator for the Milwaukee Art Museum and associate editor of scholarly publications for The Art Institute of Chicago.

  • Daniel Lowenstein, a Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. He was the first American law professor to specialize in election law, establishing a leading reputation in the field. In 2009, Lowenstein became director of the new UCLA Center for the Liberal Arts and Free Institutions, intended to facilitate and promote the study of great works and achievements of western civilization.

  • Paola Prestini, the founder and director of VisionIntoArt, an interdisciplinary production company and creative director of the new venue and recording space, Original Music Workshop, located in Brooklyn.

  • Jesse Rosen, president and CEO League of American Orchestras. Rosen is recognized as one of the greatest thinkers in contemporary performing arts leadership. He has recently addressed gatherings presented by the Association of British Orchestras, the National Endowment for the Arts, Opera America, Yale University and others.

  • Elizabeth Kendall, dance and culture critic and author. She is a faculty member at the New York’s New School, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts. Kendall authored "Balanchine and the Lost Muse: Revolution and the Making of a Choreographer" and other books and articles. 

  • Bob Monk, who directs the Gagosian Gallery in New York, a contemporary art gallery with spaces in Beverly Hills, London, Rome, Paris, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

"Some hold that in postmodern culture the lines dividing high from popular culture have blurred or no longer exist. Others declare that high art is no longer necessary or relevant, and the assumptions that there is such a thing as a timeless masterpiece or a verifiable posterity are archaic," Asia noted. 

"These questions and others raised by increasing globalization and the explosive developments in technology call out for a discussion. The issues, which affect all the arts, can't be viewed in isolation, but rather as expressions of a greater cultural problem."

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