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Stanford students in New York

A group of Stanford students tackles the Big Apple's creative arts scene over spring break. (Standing, left to right) Kacey Marton, '12, Darienne Turner, '11, Carla Li Carrillo, '12, Sydney Gulbronson, '11, and Roger Tran, '13; (kneeling, left to right) Alexzandra Scully, '13, and Samantha Toh, '10, MA '11. PHOTO: Sarah Curran

Feasting on Art in New York City

Spring 2012

How do you live as an artist? What’s the interplay between the grit and grace of a city and the art made there? These are just some of the questions Stanford undergraduates learn about in living color through the Arts Immersion program in New York City. Each spring break, some 20 students saturate themselves in six full days and nights of visual and performing arts in one of the most vibrant cultural centers on earth.

"Stanford educates students who will make an impact in the world. Having an appreciation for art makes them more well-rounded, regardless of their careers," says Katheryn "Kitty" Patterson, '75, who, along with her husband, Tom Kempner, has established Arts Immersion with a $1 million endowment. "Being able to understand art and the emotion that goes into it is a necessary part of being human, and yet that part can often get lost in our high-pressured society," adds Patterson, a lifelong New Yorker and patron of the arts.

Tom Kempner and Katheryn Patterson

For the past three years, students have partaken of everything from opera to jazz, theater to dance, and museums to galleries. Their trips have included seminars with museum directors and artists in their studios, as well, giving them a more "insider" look at the art world. New York-based alumni have enthusiastically assisted by drawing on their contacts and expertise. Each trip is themed––the spring 2011 excursion was focused on the influence of postwar abstract expressionism on visual and performing arts––and students receive an $1,800 scholarship to cover airfare, hotels, and tickets.

It's a seriously sweet deal, but also one backed with serious academics. Prior to the trip, students are well prepped through a Stanford course that plunges them into the cultural history and contemporary arts scene in Manhattan and the boroughs.

As a result of Arts Immersion, says Sarah Curran, programming director for the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCa) and one of the leaders of the course and trip, students come away with a fairly thorough sense of "the ecology of artistic life in New York."

Many find their lives transformed by the experience. "My love for art has deepened in a very meaningful way after the March trip," says Roger Tran, '13, an architectural design major. "I returned with a rejuvenated passion for conceptual art and design, and I’m now intensively in search of architecture and art books, magazines, blogs, and more. My exposure to the radical fringe of the contemporary art world has also inspired me to take my architectural designs further."

"It's moving and rewarding to see how inspired students are by the experience," says Patterson, who has rubbed elbows with students at a brunch held at her Upper East Side home for the past three years. "My hope is that the Arts Immersion program will grow to embrace many other cities with vibrant arts scenes and to immerse even more students in the visual and performing arts worlds."

In spring 2012, Stephen Hinton, the Denning Family Director of the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts and Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, along with Stanford faculty and visiting artists, angled Arts Immersion toward musical theater. After returning from the trip over spring break, students spent an additional three class meetings creating a piece that reflects their experience––works of visual art, performance art, sketchbooks, poetry, blogs, photographic triptychs, or virtually anything that emerged from the student's creative engagement. These form part of the "Art After Dark" student arts festival on campus in May. A weekend pilot will also take 14 students to Los Angeles for a citywide look at art organized by the Getty Museum.

"We need our young people to stay in touch with the richness that arts can provide us, whether they're creators or spectators," says Patterson.