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On Becoming Informed Citizens

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An article recently appeared in The Juilliard Journal written by one of our doctoral students, Benjamin Laude, addressing Palestinian-Israeli issues. I read the article before it was published and, although I did not agree with some of his points, I believed it warranted appearing in The Journal.

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As I expected, there were many responses to the article, both pro and con. What I did not expect were several responses from readers who were bothered by the fact that a political subject was being addressed in a performing-arts college publication. It seems that some of our readers believe that young artists should not have a voice in a debate that has sadly endured for decades.

One alumna said that she did not “expect to read someone’s opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian situation [in The Journal]. . . . Please, let The Journal be about music, dance, and drama, the subjects in which The Juilliard School excels.” Another writer put his thoughts more bluntly, stating, “Who do you think you are, the University of Chicago?”

The arts have often been relegated to a second tier in our educational system, portrayed as a “soft discipline” compared with the “hard sciences” and other subjects that supposedly require more intellectual rigor. One need only examine the way our primary and secondary schools are evaluated on the state and federal levels to realize that artistic ability, and with it imagination and creativity, have literally no place in the data collection process.

But if we are to believe that the arts are an important and integral part of our society, should not artists have the opportunity to participate in a debate that involves one of the most serious issues of our day? Implicit in the criticism of artists expressing non-artistic opinions is the perception that they do not have the intellectual capacity or education to delve into such topics. Yet, as one follows the logic of one reader mentioned above, an undergraduate at the University of Chicago has the right to write on any topic because that student has a level of intellectual credibility not bestowed upon a young artist.

The Journal’s student opinion column (“Voice Box”) was created quite a few years ago to give our students a chance to express themselves on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the performing arts to local and world politics. It has always been my hope that Juilliard students would feel a responsibility to be knowledgeable about their world and to become leaders in whatever profession they would choose after graduation.

Obviously, artists live in the same world as individuals in other walks of life. We all have a responsibility to develop informed opinions about politics, economics, literature, sports, cinema, etc.; that is what a full life is all about. From my perspective, it is essential that Juilliard students immerse themselves in the issues that shape the world beyond the stage. Although we may not agree with some of the opinions or conclusions expressed by our students, we should celebrate their commitment to being active citizens in a nation and a world that also desperately need their artistic sensitivities.

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