From the issue feature, "Living by Design in the Pacific Northwest." 
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Cornish Dance Theater performs Ohad Naharin's Echad Mi Yodea, Fall 2013. Photo: Chris Bennion

The below is adapted from a talk given at a PechaKucha Night Seattle event, Designing Leadership, which was hosted in collaboration with Design in Public for their Seattle Design Festival. Over the coming weeks, we'll release more adaptations of presentations given that evening. —ARCADE


Over the last 15 years, the funding of research in the arts has radically changed the art school dynamic. Young artists now understand the peer-reviewed paper, performance or show, and can refer to recently gathered data that measures the impact of the arts on society. What are being called the “new paradigms” in art education are forcing art schools to reckon with the question, “What are the arts for?” Project-based learning and arts practices that also function as research, often situated in a post-studio environment, favor a distributed or collaborative model of educational engagement.

It takes years to train a dancer, a concert pianist or a painter, and the development of technical skills is still an important part of an education in the arts. Art schools still offer opportunities to develop the self through a creative medium. But beyond the usual roles of decoration and expression, the arts are now fulfilling additional new functions that include knowledge transfer, design thinking, communication and translation. The art student today leaves college with skills that prepare him or her well for the mobile and fluid demands of the workplace.

Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts is 100 years old this year. At the school we are embracing new approaches to art education and looking to lead in the development of a structurally changed and fully integrated model that will create a laboratory of scholarship and practice. The school has a weighty history of innovation: Founder Nellie Cornish brought a vision of the allied arts to the Pacific Northwest coast that was profound, radical and arrived at through her own empirical, perhaps synaesthetic, understanding of the arts. She brought eurythmics into the Cornish program in 1917 on the vanguard of its introduction to the US; John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and Mark Toby are all associated with Cornish. A bold, embedded sense of experimentation prepares Cornish well for a new generation of interdisciplinary, community-focused practice.

Over the last 10 years, Cornish has relocated from “up the hill” to a downtown campus in South Lake Union. Some inspired real estate acquisitions by a forward-thinking board have placed Cornish in the heart of the second fastest growing urban district in the world. With neighbors such as Amazon, Fred Hutch, Institute for Systems Biology and Microsoft, Cornish is surrounded by a heady entrepreneurial, technology-heavy, research-based, burgeoning medical and commercial district.

So what can we at Cornish offer our South Lake Union community, and how can we lead? Of course Cornish will put on concerts and stage plays, dance and sing, but we will also reflect our surrounding cultures. We will dance an interpretation of folding proteins, design data systems, appropriate new technologies to our own ends, challenge assumptions and create new ways of thinking. We will lend our communication skills to translate impenetrable research for the layperson, and we will compare our creative processes to those of the scientist. We will bring an understanding of metaphor, intuition and tacit knowledge to the exciting new worlds that our surrounding digital technologists create as they address how we might live better, work, play and tell stories. We will collaborate, share and bring new audiences to issues of global concern. Together, with some of the world’s brightest minds, in South Lake Union we will lead.