Toward a True ‘Creative Campus’

It’s not often that faculty from multiple departments join forces in pursuit of a common research goal. But that is what makes a current collaboration involving assistant professors Mahatapa Palit (Business), Katherine Kavanagh (Theater) and Sangeeta Bishop (Economics) all the more noteworthy.

The three are engaged in a multidisciplinary study entitled “CUNY’s Creative Campus: The Role of CUNY Performing Arts Centers on Community, Economy and Education.” Using a range of quantitative and qualitative methods, its purpose is to probe ways that CUNY’s performing arts centers can play a more significant role in the lives of students while enriching the economic and cultural life of their communities.

“The impact of the arts on New York’s economy and identity is moving to center stage,” Palit says. “The fact is, the city’s financial well-being and the vitality of its arts organizations are intricately connected.”

Studying Tribeca’s role
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By her own admission, Palit, who teaches courses in marketing, entrepreneurship and business, has always nursed a passion for the theater, performing in and directing a number of productions in her church. It was that interest that prompted her to conduct a survey of neighborhood residents and students about their relationship with the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center shortly after her arrival at BMCC in 2003.

“We found that many students didn’t see any real connection between the center and BMCC and felt that it was by and large an underutilized resource,” Palit says. The study coincided with a nationwide “creative campus” movement to encourage creativity wherever it might flourish in university settings – “not just in the performing arts, but in the classroom, in student clubs and government, and in collaborations between academic departments,” Palit says.

Funded by the CUNY Community College Collaborative Research Incentive Grant Program , Kavanagh, Palit and Bishop arranged a meeting of the artistic and marketing directors of CUNY’s 17 performing arts centers — the first gathering of its kind in a decade. “Our purpose was to learn how they were collaborating among themselves, and who they felt were their primary stakeholders,” says Kavanagh. A direct outgrowth of that meeting was the creation of the CUNY Performing Arts Center (C-PAC) Consortium, which is currently exploring opportunities for inter-campus artistic and theater management collaboration.

Meanwhile, the three BMCC colleagues have gone on to conduct surveys of faculty and administrators at six CUNY colleges, including BMCC. In the next stage of their study, they will survey students – initially at BMCC and then at other CUNY campuses.

Defining the creative campus
“What we’ll be looking for is insight into the ways students express themselves creatively, how they define the concept of a ‘creative campus,’ and how they interact with their school’s performing arts center,” Bishop says. Ultimately, she adds, “the results of the study could help students improve their leadership skills and their ability to interact with the outside world.” She suggests that the results will be of interest to local and national policy makers as well as to academic, business, and artistic communities.

“The role of CUNY’s Performing Arts Centers is twofold,” says Kavanagh. “As benefactor, the centers enrich our communities both culturally and economically. And, as beneficiary, they are enriched by those living and working in its adjacent neighborhoods.”