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Provost's Action Plan for the Arts & Humanities

ArtsOctober 22, 2018

Vanderbilt’s past and future rest on our incredible strength in the arts humanities and our nuanced understanding of their potential for lifting up and bettering the human experience. The following outlines the Provost's most recent action plan to amplify, enhance and advance the arts and humanities at Vanderbilt. 

The plan is aligned with the Academic Strategic Plan and responds to recommendations made by the Chancellor’s Humanities Committee’s manifesto and recommendations, the October 2018 Chancellor’s Town Hall for the Arts, and feedback gathered through various other channels. Feedback may be submitted to Provost Susan R. Wente by completing this anonymous online form.

 Initiatives Underway

Arts & Humanities Rapid Response Micro-Grant Fund

The  Arts & Humanities Rapid Response Micro-Grant Fund is designed to enhance and advance the arts and humanities at Vanderbilt. Specifically, it aims to provide faculty the ability to seize opportunities and carry out new collaborations, ventures, projects or outreach. The program is intended to support either time-sensitive projects or projects that are not conducive to current funding models such as  Research Scholar Grants Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs)  or  Discovery Grants .

Robert Penn Warren Center Strategic Review

With a strong reputation as a regional and national advocate for the humanities, how can the Robert Penn Warren Center build on its current foundation to position itself for success in the years ahead? How can it take support for scholars and scholarship in the humanities to the next level? How can the center bring additional outward facing visibility and prestige to Vanderbilt’s humanists? The College of Arts and Science has assembled a committee to review all aspects of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, to answer these questions. Through a series of interviews and focus groups, the committee will assess the center’s operations, leadership structure, programming and resources. Given the trans-institutional impact of the center, recommendations will be presented to the Provost in spring 2019 on how to capitalize on its strengths and enhance other areas.

“The arts and humanities take us beyond ourselves, into our own imaginations, and into the creative minds of others. They expand our inner horizons, opening new vistas and teaching us about ourselves – about our civilization, the glories of its past, and the potential dangers of its future. If we listen, we will learn something of the world from an imagination greater than our own. We will encounter – and learn from – the New, the Elsewhere. It’s the most important learning there is.”
- Mark Wait, Dean of the Blair School of Music

Trans-Institutional Capital Planning

In the spring of 2018, the Provost launched a discovery process to understand the university’s current facilities and capabilities that serve the Humanities, as well Social Sciences in the Arts and Science historic core of campus, and to develop a trans-institutional plan for the future. Day-to-day leadership for this project transitioned to the College of Arts & Science in the fall 2018. While largely focused on A&S, synergies and opportunities for collaboration will be explored with the Central Library as well as the Blair School of Music and the Divinity School. The process will culminate with a report and recommendations to be presented to the Provost in the winter 2019. Opportunities for Vanderbilt Community engagement will take place along the way.  

The “Online” Face of the Arts & Humanities at VU

To boost visibility of Vanderbilt’s arts and humanities globally and to ensure that the depth and breadth of the humanities is showcased, a robust web portal will be designed, implemented and maintained to showcase the humanistic work being done at Vanderbilt. This portal will also serve as a gateway to relevant faculty resources across campus and will be part of a larger effort to promote other categories of research and scholarship in broad categories such as the Biomedical and Life Sciences, the Physical Sciences and Engineering, and the Social Sciences across schools and colleges as part of the trans-institutional One Vanderbilt vision. This new Arts and Humanities portal would complement the Center for Digital Humanities outreach, which will continue to provide support and intellectual community for creative and scholarly projects that explore the intersections of digital technology and humanistic inquiry.

Initiatives in Planning Stages

New Course Development

The Humanities Manifesto called for the creation of a course that allows students the opportunity to explore the existential question “what is human.” Currently, in addition to school-based special topic courses, two programs exist that offer faculty the opportunity to innovate and develop new courses for students and could be leveraged for this purpose. iSeminars, launched in spring 2017, provide first-year students the opportunity to pursue passions and explore topics of interest through a series of optional, one-credit Immersion-related seminars. The iSeminars are designed to help students begin thinking about what their immersion plan might be. The University Courses program, meanwhile, allows faculty to reach beyond departmental and school/college boundaries to deliver innovative classes on significant subjects to a diverse cross-section of undergraduate and graduate students from each of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges.

A plan will be developed to promote these opportunities for new course design to faculty in the humanities. The plan may include a workshop to familiarize faculty with the application process for these programs.

Visiting Fellows Fund

Reports made by the Chancellor’s Humanities Committee, the International Strategy Working Group and the Vanderbilt University Research Council all call for visiting faculty fellow programs of varying types. Availability of suitable accommodations for visitors is a key challenge cited by these many campus groups. The construction of the 305-foot, 20-story iconic tower in Residential College-A creates an opportunity to dedicate space on campus for both housing and programming for visitors brought to campus through various programs. A university-sponsored visitors fund will provide existing or new programs a source of matching or supplemental funds to bring distinguished individuals to campus, and an opportunity to house them and hold related meetings and events in the tower. Over the course of the 2018-19 academic year, the draft framework will be developed along with a timeline for implementation.

Space for the Arts in Residential Colleges

E. Bronson Ingram includes a dance studio and an art gallery. Residential College-B will have a black box theatre. Putting space for the arts in such close proximity to students not only meets a significant demand it demonstrates the priority the university places on the arts. Additional opportunities to include space for the performing, literary and visual arts will be considered in the design phase of all future residential colleges.

Trans-Institutional Task Force for the Digital Humanities

The College of Arts and Science, in partnership with Blair College, Peabody College and the School of Engineering, will soon launch a trans-institutional task force aimed at integrating the Digital Humanities at Vanderbilt. The committee, which will be co-chaired by Center for Digital Humanities Associate Director Madeline Casad and Professor of French Lynn Ramey, will focus on thinking strategically about the needs of the Digital Humanities across campus. The group, which will also include representatives from the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning (VIDL), the Visual Resource Center and the Office of Digital Scholarship and Scholarly Communications, will identify ways to build synergies among the diverse set of disciplines that comprise Vanderbilt’s academic community.


Fall 2018

  • Capital planning process continues
  • Design of a robust web portal begins
  • Visiting fellows fund program draft framework developed
  • Arts and Humanities Rapid Response Fund developed
  • Robert Penn Warren Center review launched
  • Design continues for residential colleges B & C with opportunities for spaces dedicated to the arts

Spring 2019

  • Launch of web portal
  • Workshops held to promote course creation opportunities
  • Draft feasibility study for capital planning is released for comment, presented to the Provost
  • Next steps in the implementation of the visiting fellows fund program developed
  • RPW recommendations report released and presented to the Provost
  • Design continues for residential colleges B & C and opportunites for spaces dedicated to the arts 

Background and Related Initiatives


Provost's October 2018 Newsletter

Provost's February 2016 Newsletter: The True Value of Creativity and the Liberal Arts

Chancellor's What's On my Mind: The Search for Truth through Art

Chancellor's Town Hall on the Arts

Chancellor's Committee on the Humanities

Manifesto and Recommendations for the Humanities at Vanderbilt

Library Collections Initiative

Academic Strategic Plan