Renu Khator, President of the University of Houston (UH), recently sent out this letter to “Cougars and Friends,” which begins with these paragraphs:
Whenever I am asked about our priorities at the University of Houston, I have a ready response. My description of our “big rocks” is met with approval and agreement. Student success, athletics, energy, health—all are greeted with immediate appreciation. Each plays a vital role in meeting our goal of achieving excellence in higher education for its own sake while meeting the specific needs of our community.
When I add the arts to that list of “big rocks,” I occasionally see a moment of uncertainty in some people. The arts are …nice, they seem to be thinking, but they’re not really as important as the others, are they?
Yes, I believe they are. The arts are crucial to our campus, to our community and to our country.
If the other “big rocks” supply the brains, the brawn, the vitality and well-being of our collective body, then the arts provide the spirit. At the most basic level, the arts—and, by extension, art education—obviously matter for their economic impact but, even more importantly, they matter for their inherent power to fuel a community’s passion and sustain its cultural identity. It is not an exaggeration to say that they change people’s lives for the better, that they change society for the better.
“[T]he arts supply the spirit.” In the past few years, Glasstire has reported about spirited and important local art collected by UH for its archives, here, here, and here. And a couple of years ago, Glasstire’s Ariane Roesch and Brandon Zech interviewed UH students about just what they think about the public art on campus. A few are art educated, a few are not, but all are sincere.