Sculpture exhibit shows the importance of the arts in higher education | September 16, 2022 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Viewpoint - September 16, 2022

Sculpture exhibit shows the importance of the arts in higher education

by Steven Weiner

The summer of 2020 brought multiple calamities to the Bay Area: businesses were still shuttered due to the pandemic, a heat wave had prompted rolling blackouts in many parts of the state, and wildfires were rampant.

A bright spot among all those challenges was the launch of the first Silicon Valley Sculpture exhibit on the Menlo College campus. The exhibit was held in September 2020, and it proved to be a welcome respite for the hundreds of people who left their homes to safely explore — and, in some instances, purchase — outdoor sculptures that had been curated from artists around the globe.

Silicon Valley Sculpture was conceived in a partnership between Atherton-based Menlo College and Art Ventures Gallery in Menlo Park. The plan had been hatched well before COVID-19, but we went forward in no small part due to the recognition that people were hurting for an opportunity to engage, react, and learn with different art forms in the face of social isolation and loss.

The first edition left its impact, as even bigger crowds showed up for the show last year. The striking additions to the campus allow Menlo College to take its place as a cultural destination, where monumental work created by artists coexists with our nature-rich setting.

This year, on September 23-25, we'll offer the third annual Silicon Valley Sculpture (SVS) exhibit on the Menlo College campus.

Each year of the show, the artists are given a theme to consider as they create their sculptures. The theme for SVS 2022 is water, which offers us all the opportunity to find inspiration in our most precious resource.

Why does it make sense for a college that is primarily focused on business education to co-sponsor an art show? Engaging with art is essential to the human experience, which underlies our college's core value of developing each person's full potential.

It provides a chance for students and everyone to embrace the unknown, expand one's world view and be inspired. A balanced business education must include an exploration of the arts.

An op-ed recently published by the University of Arizona proffered the view that "Each time you look at a piece of art, your brain is working to make sense of the visual information it's receiving ... looking at art stimulates the brain and puts our innate knack for organizing patterns and making sense of shapes to use."

Art inspires. It also prompts us to think, and this year's theme offers us the opportunity to heighten our awareness of the extent to which water is a resource that is in need of our protection. Inspiration, awareness, and thoughtful reflection - it's fitting that they all are found on the Menlo College campus, a wellspring for connectivity that shapes the ethical leaders of tomorrow.

Menlo College has benefited from the show in unexpected ways, as well. The college has been fortunate to benefit from five permanent installations that were donated to the school in recent years, reflecting the belief of the donors that art creates a harmonious, inspiring environment that unlocks creativity and fosters well-being among a community of diverse voices. The sculptures also serve as a reminder of the college's devotion to its students.

What's more, the donations yield results that have yet to be seen, as they inspire students to think in new ways that could well lead them to devise innovative solutions for generations to come.

In my role as a college president who is passionate about the value of a college degree, I have yet another motivating consideration: studies have demonstrated that arts learning "positively and significantly affects students' school engagement, college aspirations, and their inclinations to draw upon works of art as a means for empathizing with others."

Simply put, arts education makes our society stronger, and it makes Menlo College stronger as well.

Steven Weiner is the president of Menlo College, joining in 2013 before leading the school in 2018.

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