Waubonsee Voices: Why should we care about the arts?

During the early stages of the pandemic, neighbors residing in different communities in Italy were shown on social media singing songs in unison from their balconies. The shared experience of music was thought to have provided solace for people in regions that, at that time, were most devastated.

Many artists and composers created some of their most monumental works during this time, works that symbolize the social isolation and confinement of the era. Indeed, people’s engagement in the arts increased substantially in many corners of the globe during the lock-down months of the pandemic (Fink et al., 2021).

The arts have always figured prominently in everyday life, and their benefits for a society have long been recognized. The Ancient Greeks believed that music could promote moral and ethical behavior. Psychologists of music have suggested there may be survival benefits for groups of people in making music, as its production requires groups to work together cooperatively.

In his book, “Music in the Human Experience: An Introduction to Music Psychology,” Donald Hodges shares the story of a Swazi King who encouraged his warriors to sing together to prevent them from fighting. There are many instances throughout history where an art form functioned as a vehicle for social change. While the creation of murals in Mexico dates to ancient times, for example, the use of murals appeared on a widespread basis during the 1920s to inspire social protest, according to a scholarly article by Maria Malott in Perspectives on Behavior Science in 2019. Music similarly motivated activists during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and has been used in many nations to combat voter apathy.

In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts reported that people who engage in the arts tend to engage with their communities in other ways: One half of all regular attendees at performing arts events reported similar levels of engagement in community volunteer activities. Participation in the arts may also contribute to sustainability efforts, as the arts may be considered “resource light” forms of leisure, as suggested by Lyle Grant in his article, “Sustainability: From Excess to Aesthetics.”

My experiences with the arts began at an early age and have continued throughout my life, although interestingly, science has always been at the forefront. My father is a forest geneticist and throughout my childhood, I visited his laboratories and research stations and admired the experiments that he had underway. My mother taught Latin.

My parents’ backgrounds and our home in a university community provided the perfect context for me to pursue my passions in both the arts and sciences. I began playing viola at age 10 and started taking part in semi-professional and volunteer community orchestras at age 16 and would continue doing so for several years, all while pursuing graduate study in psychology and building a research program in the years thereafter. Some of my favorite memories are of long days in a lab or clinic followed by an evening rehearsal featuring some of my most beloved pieces, with fellow musicians like me – people who pursued careers in other disciplines, yet music was their life’s passion.

The article, “Why Art is Vital to the Study of Science,” argues that participation in the arts by scientists is a means of fostering one’s creativity and imagination, both of which are necessary skills for those designing and interpreting experiments. When members of the Waubonsee Chorale and their director serenaded a group of science faculty, lab coordinators, and myself with Christmas carols this past December, it occurred to me that Waubonsee Community College is the perfect place for this synthesis.

During the spring semester, Waubonsee will launch a lively performance series featuring Waubonsee students and faculty. All concerts and events are free and will be held during convenient times for the campus and the entire community to indulge. For a list of performances, visit calendar.waubonsee.edu.

In addition, the college will feature gallery exhibitions and art installations by various professional visiting artists, including pieces curated by our very own faculty and students in our art programs. These events coupled with lectures and workshops, are open to the public. For more information about Waubonsee’s 2023-2024 art exhibitions, visit waubonsee.edu/exhibitions.

Dr. Ruth Anne Rehfeldt is the dean for Visual and Performing Arts, Education, and Sciences at Waubonsee Community College.