Performers danced on rooftops, the music of cellists dominated the day and teaching artists shared wisdom about the essence and interconnection of art during a special daylong celebration of Northwestern University’s Arts Circle on Saturday.


From various vantage points on the ground, spectators gazed up at members of the renowned Trisha Brown Dance Company, each a solitary artist, all dressed in red, at times moving in unison and gesturing majestically to one another from atop Arts Circle buildings.

The day also featured an inflatable sculpture by avant-garde artist Otto Piene -- related to the work of performance artist Charlotte Moorman, now on exhibit at Northwestern’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. And a provocative installation designed by Northwestern alumnus and artist Aaron Hughes had the intended effect of provoking discussion and critical thinking about the war on terror and detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Despite an overcast sky and occasional showers, the day of festivities on Northwestern’s Evanston campus drew an estimated crowd of more than 1,000.

Northwestern is focusing on the Arts Circle as a concept, as well as a place, to demonstrate how the arts connect with one another at the University and, in the broader world of artistic expression, to teach students, engage the public and enlighten people with their beauty and ideas. 


“We are making a conscious effort to show how all the arts connect at Northwestern in a way that we had not done previously -- by showing the interactions, the common ways the arts explore ideas and issues and speak to each other, and to us, in ways that enable us to think about the world in a more comprehensive way,” Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer said.  “That enriches all of our lives.”

In the keynote event, performance studies faculty scholar and artist E. Patrick Johnson filled the Ethel M. Barber Theater with his beautiful voice, singing “Home” from the musical “Wiz” right before a panel of Northwestern faculty and alumna luminaries discussed “Why the Arts Matter.”

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro introduced the panel and weighed in with his own personal and scholarly takes on why the arts matter.

“There are a lot of schools that are justifiably proud of the investment they make in business and in law and in medicine and engineering,” President Schapiro said. “We are, too, at Northwestern. But this is an institution that’s never going to forget that the arts and humanities are the most basic components of liberal learning.

“The Northwesterns of the world,” he stressed, “have a moral obligation to invest in the arts and the humanities.”


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