When David Schiff visited Reed in the winter of 1980 to apply for a position on the music faculty, he was interviewed by a professor of philosophy. Right off the bat the interviewer asked, “Why should we have a music department at Reed?” Schiff, now R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music, recalls feeling almost too shocked to answer. “I think the Hum culture introduces a quality at Reed which values analysis over synthesis,” Schiff says. “It identifies critical and analytical activity as good education and does not tend to value creative work equally.”
It’s a question that’s as old as ancient Greece: Do the performing arts belong in the liberal arts family? After all, Plato didn’t think so. Theatre professor Kathleen Worley vividly recalls the day a student came to her weeping after a Plato-centric Humanities conference. “They had just explained to her the difference between the liberal arts and the slavish arts,” Worley remembers. “She said to me, ‘Everything I love in the world is a slavish art!’”
It is 25 centuries too late to turn Plato around on the issue, but in what could be the biggest boon for the performing arts in Reed history, plans for a $30 million-plus performing arts curriculum center are currently underway. The complex, which would adjoin Kaul Auditorium, is included in a new 10-year facilities master plan that Reed has submitted to the City of Portland. It would once and for all unite music, theatre, and dance under a single, centrally located roof, putting an end to their physical marginalization in makeshift quarters on the campus peripheries.