USC’s arts initiative should be continued

As we’ve witnessed throughout the past year, change is immutable.

The year opened with a historical moment, the inauguration of the first African-American president in the United States, Barack Obama.

Matteo Marjoram | Daily Trojan

Matteo Marjoram | Daily Trojan

Followed by some unforgettable occurrences in pop culture as well — the Rihanna/Chris Brown debacle, the rise of Lady Gaga and Twilight takeover, to name a few — for many of us, 2009 was most vividly defined by transition.

In 2009, USC also had its fair share of adjustments. In light of the November announcement of USC President Steven B. Sample’s upcoming resignation, the university will undoubtedly face a shift with new leadership.

In just a decade’s time under Sample’s leadership, USC has reached more academic accomplishments than the university has ever seen before, marked by a increasingly competitive applicant pool, rising SAT scores, higher GPAs of admitted freshmen and an impressive 90 percent graduation rate.

With a diverse enrollment of students from all 50 states and more than 115 different countries, not to mention 232 National Merit scholars, USC is currently ranked 26th in the annual US News & World Report.

The school has also made strides in other areas, most notably in the development of the University Park community. During his 19 years in office, Sample has been committed to outreach in local neighborhoods, as demonstrated by his undertaking of the Master Plan, a 30-year development project to improve USC’s campus and surrounding areas.

Whoever Sample’s successor is, he or she will surely inherit the continued challenges of raising the bar in USC academics, recruitment and community outreach.

And while a continued focus on academics and the school’s place in the community remains important, we shouldn’t forget one initiative that has risen under Sample’s leadership, along with the dedicated help of Executive Vice President and Provost C.L. Max Nikias: the Arts & Humanities Initiative.

With Sample, Nikias established Visions and Voices, the successful university-wide arts and humanities effort that has further ingrained USC’s place as a leading institution.

When compared to other top national universities, the need for an enhanced focus on the arts was obvious. Together, Nikias and Sample answered this need.

Since the program’s launch two years ago, the Visions and Voices initiative has provided USC students with increased opportunities to explore the arts regardless of their areas of study.

A calendar of unique Vision and Voices events, including theater shows, musical performances, lectures and more, help foster USC’s goal of “breadth and depth.”

This past semester, Nikias’ idea has taken off. In Vision and Voices’ second installment, students and staff from five of USC’s professional schools joined together in October to hold a day-long art festival in celebration of the film, music and the arts. Students helped organize of the event and, just as the mission behind Vision and Voices intended, it appears that student interest and involvement in the arts is emerging.

With USC on the right trajectory for artistic development, will the incoming administration’s agenda continue to provide for one of USC’s necessary areas of attention?

In 2010, priorities should be set while helping continued responsibility to arts and humanities in mind. Though it will be important to develop USC on many levels, specific attention to the arts cannot be lost.

Both Sample and Nikias have done a lot to highlight the importance of arts and humanities aside from Visions and Voices, such as the increase in range of offered curriculum as well as the university’s promotion of Renaissance Scholars.

USC’s new leader cannot let these efforts fall to the wayside. With an endowment in flux and a slowly rebounding economy, it is easier to focus on the school’s aspects that directly affect its endowment. USC must not fall into this mindset.

And though a large part of the burden falls on the new administration to still consider this initiative an important part of the school, it’s ultimately up to the students to stay involved — first and foremost by taking advantage of the programs offered them.

While USC grows academically, it is on the students’ parts to actually attend arts events, relay feedback to event organizers and take projects to the next level within the spectrum of arts and humanities. It is in the students’ hands to show administration that USC’s development of the arts is important to them.

Change may be a good thing, but a change in USC’s commitment to the arts won’t be.

Christopher Agutos is a junior majoring in public relations. His column, “Pop Life,” runs Tuesdays.