Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Julliard School Betting on Artistic Growth in China

Chengcheng Jiang in Time reported on the Julliard School's plans to open a campus, its first outside of the U.S., for pre-college & pre-professional students in Tianjin, China. Some of the reasons for Julliard's new campus highlight the different directions that China and the U.S. are headed in their commitment to the arts:
The Juilliard brand is landing in China at a time when interest in — and money for — the arts is on the rise. As part of President’s Hu Jintao‘s plans to build the nation’s soft power, the central government has established ambitious targets for the development of what it calls China’s ‘cultural industries.’ In the current Five Year Plan, the government’s blueprint for growth, for instance, 2 billion RMB, or about $315 million, has been earmarked for a national arts fund.

This level of enthusiasm and funding is a welcome change for American educators who are used to dealing with dwindling audiences and funding cuts. “The tradition of government funding of the arts has never existed in United States,” [The president of the Julliard School, Joseph Polisi,] told TIME on a recent visit to China to announce the new campus. “What has supported the arts for most of the 20th century in America was the value system where the public educational system saw the arts as being important as part of an overall education.” That, of course, has changed. But in China, he says, parents and school systems increasingly value music. “I see Chinese students, I see Chinese faculty members, I see Chinese educational administrators, who are all working towards an environment that is supportive of the classical arts.”
Like the aviation industry, the development of the arts could be representative of broader changes in China. And similar to some other fields, if the U.S. shoots itself in the foot and does not continue to support the arts, America could decline in a field where it now shines regardless of what China does.

Another set of issues raised by Julliard's plans relate to censorship. Julliard will be joining a variety of other American institutions of higher education with campuses or with plans to build campuses in China. They have had to consider how to best foster open learning in China. Isaac Stone Fish in The Daily Beast reported on the degree to which American universities have adjusted to China's censorship and how it is not easy when it is sometimes not clear what is off-limits:
Rowena He left China in the 1990s and is currently teaching 
courses at Harvard University about the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement
 and its aftermath—a course that she could not teach in China. “The 
problem is, we don’t know where the line is and what the punishment
 would be. That’s where fear and self-censorship comes from,” she says.
It would seem, though, that Julliard may have fewer challenges in this regard and may be less likely to have professors barred from China. Although there are many popular music songs which are banned in China, I am not aware of any cases where the style of music typically studied and performed at a school such as Julliard has been banned. However, there are certainly pieces which have the potential to be considered sensitive [if you are aware of any such pieces being banned, I would be curious to hear about it].

Regardless of the challenges that may be ahead, I think it is wonderful that Julliard is pushing forward in China. It will help to further spread the arts and creative expression in China. It will also provide Julliard a valuable mechanism to funnel talented and trained musicians to its main campus. Like other leading schools, it continues to draw many talented people to the U.S.

Whether the U.S. appreciates how valuable that can be and works to ensure it continues is another question.

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