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 Stories for April 22, 1998

Berdahl Touts the Arts, Unveils Arts Center Proposal

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 22, 1998

At an April 15 talk entitled “The Richness of the Arts,” Chancellor Berdahl announced a proposal by the Executive Vice Chancellor’s Arts Council for a new Center for the Arts at Berkeley, to be “incubated” at the Townsend Center for the Humanities.

“It’s a tough time for the arts in America,” said Berdahl. “The NEA budget has been slashed from $176 million to $98 million. The city of Berlin spends more on the arts than our federal government. Our society is so pragmatic – it tends not to recognize that the human spirit requires a lot more than technology and scientific invention. My life has been enriched so profoundly by the arts. The arts are a deeply embedded human need – they have been central to every culture since civilization began.”

Berdahl voiced his support for the new campus arts center, which he said would strengthen, integrate and focus the arts on campus, bringing together existing programs in music, art, dance, theater, architecture/design and film, including Cal Performances and the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive.

The new center could bring visiting artists and performers to campus for longer periods of time to work with students and the community in producing substantial new works of art.

Berdahl noted that his son-in-law is a professional violinist (he will play at Berdahl’s inauguration this week), and that all three of his daughters are amateur musicians. “But I’m tone-deaf,” he added. He found a recent music department master class by Frederica von Stade “fascinating. It gave me insight into what a visiting artist can do.”

Berdahl also pointed out that many performers choose to come to Berkeley rather than San Francisco under the auspices of Cal Performances. “It is quite remarkable that we have such an attractive venue,” he said.

A fan of the theater since his student days at the University of Minnesota, Berdahl said he was impressed by CTA’s recent produc-

tion of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“I’m a film buff, but there’s nothing quite as electric as live theater,” he said. “With film there’s an electronic barrier and an editor. In live theater, performers feed off the audience and vice-versa. Good, live theater confronts us, in a very compressed moment, with dilemmas and issues of the human condition in a way no other medium does.”

Berdahl confessed that his favorite playwright is Arthur Miller, especially his landmark works, “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible.”

“I believe the arts – whether drama, dance, music, film or art – are important to the fabric of a fully engaged education,” said Berdahl. “They bring a richness to the human experience, a broader sense of meaning. Without the arts in our lives and as a part of our learning, we are enormously short-changed.

“But as rich as our arts scene is, many of our students, especially undergraduates, fail to mine it,” said Berdahl. “Too many go through their university experience without ever attending a Cal Performance offering, or a noon concert in Hertz Hall, or a production here in the playhouse or next door in the dance theater. They may find their way to the Pacific Film Archive, but I wonder how many cross the street to explore the work of fellow students in the Worth Ryder Art Gallery?” Berdahl asked.

“In an era when commercialism and the cult of celebrity have had such an overwhelming impact on the arts, there needs to be a place where art, for its own sake, is appreciated,” said Berdahl. “Where criticism goes beyond ‘two thumbs up.’ The university should be a place where the artist is nurtured. It should be a place where creativity can thrive free of the pressures of politics or the marketplace. The arts, after all, have as much to do with social change as do politics and social science.”

In a lively question-and-answer session following his talk, Berdahl predicted that the proposed new arts center will energize a broader constituency for the arts. Asked about funding, he said there would be “marginally additional resources” for the arts, but that final funding decisions are also up to the faculty and vice chancellors.

Berdahl’s talk was part of the “Making Theater” lecture series at Zellerbach Playhouse presented by the Center for Theater Arts.

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