Stanford Arts Beyond the Pandemic

Photo: Toni Bird

When Stanford closed its campus in March 2020, our art museums and performance spaces also temporarily shut their doors. Over the past year, Stanford Arts has worked to bring artistic experiences to our community remotely. As our museums and performance spaces begin to reopen this spring, we are applying lessons learned as we look to the future of the arts at Stanford. 

In the early days of the pandemic, the Stanford arts community quickly pivoted to connect with the public in new ways. The Cantor Arts Center and the Anderson Collection launched expanded digital resources within days of closing their doors. Over the last year, the museums have continually enhanced their digital content, which includes virtual tours of their collections, an online student lecture series and inspiration for family art activities.

Likewise, Stanford Live moved its season to a digital offering (with the playful slogan “The show must go on . . . line!”) and introduced new performances reflecting on the pandemic. As part of its 2020–21 virtual season, Stanford Live is producing 12 original films that showcase a mix of performance, interviews with musicians and behind-the-scenes footage of performers adapting the creative process to COVID-19 restrictions. The online pivot has greatly expanded Stanford Live’s reach—the performance of “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” by the singer Meklit and the Kronos Quartet, has been viewed more than 360,000 times. 

The arts community has also worked with students and faculty across the university to launch new technologies that enhance remote collaborative performance. Researchers at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics developed a new platform that enables musicians to play together remotely with minimal lag time. Similarly, researchers and students in theater and performance studies, electrical engineering and computer science worked together to develop a platform that improves the audio and visual experience of live virtual theatrical productions. They then used the platform to showcase short plays performed remotely by Stanford actors. 

Art gives us comfort in times of hardship, connection in isolation and new insights into our own experiences.

Our arts community’s resilience and innovation throughout the campus closure has been inspiring—and it has helped us reimagine the purpose and reach of the arts at Stanford. As we begin to reopen our arts facilities, we are considering how we can take what we’ve learned from the past year and apply it to the future of the arts at Stanford broadly.

One lesson that I have taken to heart is how valuable the arts have been throughout the pandemic. Art gives us comfort in times of hardship, connection in isolation and new insights into our own experiences. As I look to the future, I believe we have an opportunity to ensure that the arts at Stanford engage even more fully with the emotional and physical well-being of individuals and build connections across our community. 

The arts can also help us imagine a better future for our world. Artistic experiences can inspire and shape social justice and culture change: They increase our empathy, create connections across differences and spur us to action. Organizations like Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts reinforce the power of the arts to advance social justice. As we renew our focus on advancing the critical cause of diversity, equity and inclusion in our institution and society, we can strengthen the powerful role of the arts in that work. 

Over the past year, the arts have provided solace and meaning through hardship, and technology has enhanced our ability to connect with culture across distance. This period has helped redefine the purpose and the potential of the arts at Stanford—and it has given us new energy and direction for the path ahead.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.