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Attendance at arts events skyrockets among students at the U. of Utah

First Published      Last Updated Aug 28 2015 01:50 pm

Student pass » Dean says attendance at events strengthens the campus community and enriches the university experience.

Use of the student arts pass at the University of Utah has risen dramatically over the past three years.

More than 11,000 students took advantage of the pass when it was created in the 2012-13 school year; more than 27,000 students used it in the 2014-15 school year, an increase that Raymond Tymas-Jones, dean of the College of Fine Arts, calls "significant."

"The arts pass is proving to be a great component of the University of Utah in its efforts to educate a citizenry who can meet the challenges of a 21st-century society," he said. "And that comes through the engagement of the mind, the emotion, the body. It's the whole person, and part of addressing that whole person or engaging that whole person is academics, athletics and the arts."

The university's Arts Pass program allows students to use their UCard to get free or nearly free admission to hundreds of arts events on campus each year.

"When I came to the institution in 2005," Tymas-Jones said, "all the arts, both in the college, in Kingsbury Hall, in Pioneer Theatre, all of them had student ticket prices, and those ticket prices ranged from $3 to $10, maybe more depending on what was being offered at Kingsbury."

Tymas-Jones said he, along with other university employees and students, wanted to make performances more accessible to students so they didn't have to come up with money for arts events on a daily or weekly basis.

They won over the support of the student government and upper administration to institute a $12 arts charge in yearly student registration fees to fund the Arts Pass program.

Not only does greater participation in the arts give students an opportunity to expand their education, Tymas-Jones said it creates a stronger campus community. The learning process, he added, requires more than "floating in and floating out" of the university, doing the bare minimum to acquire a degree.

"To be a university student, a college student, it is more than coming and just taking classes and going home," he said. "There is a wealth of knowledge and experience that one can gain if they become engrossed, integrated into the fabric of the university, and a part of that would be the arts offering."

He said arts leaders are trying to work with other departments to bring artists whose work relate to many fields of study.

For example, plans are under way to bring in an actor to perform in the medical complex. The presentation will address ethical issues behind mercy killing in relation to medical treatment.

Another way the U. has expanded arts coverage is by using the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Gretchen Dietrich, executive director of the UMFA, said the museum has increased its free public programming significantly over the past few years, highlighting art forms such as film, chamber music or traveling exhibitions.

"As a museum director, the worst is when the museum is empty," she said. "I want all kinds of people to come to the museum. I love when it's full of people who are talking with each other, discussing the art. I love when they're interacting with the art and with one another and are having an active and engaged experience."

She said she feels an excellent art museum is just as important to a university as a good library.

"We're that important, that central to the experience," she said. "The arts help us understand the world."

She, like Tymas-Jones, said she hopes students don't just come to the U. to learn a trade, but to become "thinking, active, better people."

Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for academic affairs, said the rise in arts demonstrates that the university is meeting its goals.

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