When I was named Stanford’s 10th president in 2000, I set a goal to strengthen the arts and humanities. In this century, it is essential that we educate students—whatever their majors or interests—to think creatively. The arts teach us to do that: They challenge our perceptions, confront life’s ambiguities and help us expand our cultural horizons.
When we launched the Stanford Arts Initiative, we wanted to give students the opportunity to experience the arts as part of their daily lives. We set an ambitious goal: “to create an environment for the arts that has no boundaries, that is open and accessible to all.” Now, a decade later, we have achieved much of that vision. The arts district is complete, and Stanford has become a major arts destination, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to events and exhibitions every year. We have expanded our arts faculty and increased programming, and the arts are more fully integrated into the student experience.
We began with a rare advantage: the Cantor Arts Center. An excellent comprehensive museum, the Cantor over the past 15 years has expanded dramatically, both in size—with more than 9,000 artworks added—and in quality, with acquisitions of important works by artists such as Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Richard Diebenkorn, ’44, and Andy Warhol. That excellence is reflected in attendance, which has increased more than 50 percent since 2000. Last year, the Cantor attracted more than 260,000 visitors.
More than 100,000 people have visited the Anderson Collection at Stanford since its opening in September 2014. A superb collection of 20th-century American art, the Anderson is a great complement to the Cantor. Currently, it is hosting Constructive Interference: Tauba Auerbach, ’03, and Mark Fox, MFA ’88, an exhibition of work by Stanford alumni. Together Cantor and Anderson have sponsored a number of events, including Party on the Edge, which attracts thousands of students to an evening filled with art.
Our commitment to the performing arts is just as strong. The Bing Concert Hall is a magnificent performance venue. Since its opening in January 2013, it has welcomed such artists as Anna Deavere Smith, Yo-Yo Ma and Mandy Patinkin; had 14 world premieres (including nine by Stanford composers); issued 22,000 student tickets; and attracted more than 175,000 people to its events.
Stanford’s arts district serves as a bridge between the campus and the greater community, but more important, it provides spaces for students to create their own art. Key to that goal was the final building in the arts district.
The McMurtry Building, opened this past fall, is the academic centerpiece of—as well as an architecturally dynamic addition to—Stanford’s arts district. Home of the art and art history department, the McMurtry supports the educational and creative life of students with spaces for making and studying art.
Finally, in summer 2016, the performing arts will gain new theater and dance studios, as well as spaces for student projects. Roble Gym, built in 1931 and currently undergoing renovation, will reopen as the new home of the department of theater and performance studies and feature an “arts gym.”
Stanford’s sense of place is strong, and the arts buildings are architecturally stunning and complement the campus. Recently, the Anderson Collection at Stanford received the 2015 American Architecture Award and a 2015 Award of Excellence from the American Institute of Architects, New York State.
Over the past 15 years, the arts at Stanford have thrived. The success of this effort belongs to everyone in the Stanford community—alumni, parents, friends, faculty, students and staff. With your support, Stanford has become a showcase—and an incubator—for creativity and the arts.
John Hennessy was the president of Stanford University.