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Role of Arts at Deerfield
Christina Li '20 Staff Writer
April 19, 2018

Although interdisciplinary projects at Deerfield are typically between academic courses, this year, a student created a project linking English and music. This project serves as an example that learning goes far beyond a single classroom, and has prompted discussion on the promotion of integrating arts into the academic curriculum.

Many teachers in humanities classes have began to steadily incorporate artistic elements into their syllabus, giving their students options of using the arts as a way of responding to a prompt.

Helen Feng ’20, for example, composed an operatic scene using a musical-notation software in response to an English class assignment, where all students in the class were expected to create a piece of art exploring main themes of their in-class text Othello, which all sophomores studied in their English class.

Credit: Madeline Lee

“It was the the first time I had ever incorporated music with English, and it was both challenging and rewarding,” Feng described. “Because the arts are so abstract, I had to deeply understand many more concepts of the literature in order to create this piece of art.”

Director of Orchestra and Chamber Music Thomas Bergeron, who has worked with Feng in her development as a pianist, also commented, “I think that Helen’s project perfectly shows how these cross-curricular studies, especially arts, can happen, and be uniquely enriching to students in the way that allows them to explore a different avenue to express their ideas.”

Visual and Performing Arts Department Chair Lydia Hemphill expanded on this idea with the example of the von Auersperg Gallery’s role in different courses of study.

“Language teachers regularly look to see what is being exhibited in the gallery to use as a writing prompt, and students in math and science classes have come over to the kinetic sculpture exhibit in the fall,” Hemphill explained. “It is one example of a way education is becoming more and more interdisciplinary.” She advocates for the continued involvement of arts in academia, crediting them as sources of inspiration for students in the classroom setting.

In addition, there have been different perspectives on the role of extracurricular arts in students’ daily lives after the school day.

“I think that we have a culture here where everyone is so busy and so swamped,” Mr. Bergeron remarked, “and when there is an orchestra concert on a Wednesday night, people see it as ‘the orchestra’s just doing their thing’ instead of as an event that should be shared as a community to honor and celebrate the work students have been putting in.”

Ms. Hemphill took on the matter from another perspective, focusing more on the broader picture of the arts and what she finds to be a widespread eagerness on campus to take risks.

“In studio arts, we have a lot of students who take intro to studio art or photography, which is often their first formal course in the discipline, and, from that, go on to take the AP course the following year. That is what continuously impresses me,” she remarked. “It is an example of many students being encouraged to try something new.”

Ms. Hemphill continued by reasoning, “Not everyone finds a home in the Visual and Performing Arts Department, of course, but many students’ Deerfield experiences are largely defined by their passions and contributions in the arts. Synthesizing them into academics would allow more students to explore the arts.”