Course Description

What roles do the arts play in a democracy, and what responsibility does the government have to promote or control the arts? In the United States, these questions continue to prompt debates, the results of which have the ability to powerfully shape artistic practice across the nation. In this interdisciplinary fine arts course, we will study and experience the intersection of arts and democratic governance by immersing ourselves in the arts community of Washington, D.C., where music, dance, theater, visual art, and political activity exert both tangible and symbolic influence on how US Americans understand and make art. In addition to attending performances and visiting museums and galleries, we will meet with arts professionals and elected representatives, using our access to better understand what roles individuals and institutions play in setting the course of arts policy and arts activism. We’ll discuss the relationship between state funding and private patronage, investigate tensions between freedom of expression and censorship, and consider the ethics of budgetary policy. But we won’t just study the ways in which performance, museum curation, and federal arts management intersect with the world of non-profit work and policymaking; we’ll also participate in debates about democracy and the arts by briefing and lobbying our representatives. Our site visits and conversations with experts will be complemented by extensive discussion, writing, and reflection about the arts and democracy as well as an academic civic engagement component. 


Learning Objectives:

  • Explore the many roles played by governmental, non-profit, private, and community organizations in fostering creative practice across the fine arts. 
  • Describe the ethical and political dilemmas that underlie state involvement in the production and consumption of art. 
  • Evaluate efforts by local, state, and federal government to construct identities or values associated with US American democracy through artistic practice.
  • Apply academic knowledge and proficiencies (especially writing, critical and creative thinking, and information literacy) in the service of a civic aim. 
  • Reflect on your commitment to pursue civic, community, and work roles that foster the common good.
  • Identify vocational paths through and around the arts. 


Questions for Partner Organizations:

  • How does the work of your organization explore, uphold, and/or challenge democratic principles (equality, liberty, justice, etc.)?
  • How does your organization make curatorial decisions for its collection and programming?
  • What’s the relationship between your organization and the government (including funding), and how does this impact its work?
  • How does your organization allow for “full participation” in its sites and programs from a wide variety of constituents, including women artists, non-local residents, people with disabilities, etc.?
  • How does your organization fit into the arts ecosystem at the federal and local levels?
  • (for staff to answer on a personal level) What was your career path into your current position? How did you choose to work in this field? What experiences best prepared you for the role you have today?