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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Studying abroad broadens artistry

Anuja Manjrekar

Most college graduates I know fall into one of two categories: those who have studied abroad and those who wish they could have. Study abroad programs undoubtedly benefit students because the exposure to new cultures allows them to shape and develop an entirely new worldview.

This is especially true for creative fields. Art has historically been a medium that communicates various social and cultural perspectives, so studying it outside of a singular framework helps spread artistic ideas. While UT has many visual and studio art study abroad programs, the list is nonexistent for the smaller Department of Theatre and Dance.

UT should reinstate and solidify its theater and dance study abroad programs to allow students to expand their perspective on performing arts around the world.

In an interview from 2017, Erica ” EG” Gionfriddo, current co-dance area head, former adjunct professor Jeremy Arnold and Dorothy O’Shea Overbey, former professor of practice, described the mission of the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“Our mission is to cultivate artist-citizens by encouraging students to position their work and development within broad social contexts and instill a deep appreciation for the role that dance plays in human culture around the world,” their statement read. 

The Department of Theatre and Dance’s statement clearly emphasizes the importance of fostering a worldly engagement with the performing arts. Yet, those in theater and dance are presently confined to studying their fields solely on campus.

Tina Curran, a theater and dance assistant professor of instruction, explained the importance of participating in the performing arts abroad.

“Whether the dance form is Western concert dance, street dance or more community-oriented dance, (studying abroad offers) just a whole other perspective and experience that helps to broaden one’s artistic, creative and scholarly range,” Curran said.

Grant Gilker, a theater and Plan II junior, also expressed a desire for the creation of theater and dance study abroad programs.

 “When I think about who my artistic heroes are,” Gilker said. “They all reference (how) studying abroad and traveling in their college years has been really crucial.” 

Curran explained that before the pandemic, there were several study abroad and exchange programs within the Department of Theatre and Dance. They included a summer costume design program in Italy led by former faculty member Susan Mickey, an exchange program with the University of Angers in France and participation in the Tanzsommer International Dance Festival in Austria led by former faculty member Lyn Wiltshire. 

The dance festival was one of the longest-running programs from 2004 to 2015. Unfortunately, none of these programs exist today — including a more recent yet currently inactive Mexico City Maymester. Curran attributed this decline to the pandemic and the recent departure of faculty members who previously led the programs. 

“You can look at the Texas Global page,” Gilker said. “They’ve got Texas for visual arts. They have their studio art programs. They also have their art history programs and art criticism programs that are really well established, and yet we don’t have that in performance.”

The issue lies in how sustainable establishing and maintaining these programs has been. Although UT has a history of providing study abroad programs for performing arts students, these programs currently remain dependent on the specific faculty members who create and oversee them. 

This dependency on theater and dance faculty can be burdensome.

 “Everything that goes into running (the Austria program) is above and beyond what a faculty member is hired to do,” Curran said. “Lyn did it because she really believed strongly in international experiences for the students, and it was her doing a job and a half.”

Considering this, the solution needs to be twofold. The re-establishment of these performance-based study abroad programs requires solidifying them beyond the individual contributions of a faculty member. 

Another possible solution could lie in creating exchange programs, which would not require finding and maintaining faculty willing to dedicate their time to run a study abroad program. 

Peter Carpenter, the department chair for the Department of Theatre and Dance, said in an email that exchange programs are a possibility he is hoping to explore. 

“I’m interested in looking at that option and have implemented similar programs at a previous institution,” Carpenter wrote in an email. “I need a little more time in this position to understand the pathway for this at UT as I’m not sure how it’s handled here.”

He also points out that low student enrollment can create further difficulty, but this may be fixed through creating more predictability as to when these programs will take place. 

There is no doubt that UT’s Theater and Dance faculty are incredibly connected artists. As the department continues to recover from the pandemic and cement its current faculty, it should further explore reinstating study abroad opportunities to cultivate more socially-aware artists and citizens.     

Lack is a dance and Plan II sophomore from San Angelo, Texas.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated Jeremy Arnold is a current adjunct professor. The column has been updated to reflect that Arnold is a former adjunct professor. The Texan regrets this error. 

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