Ethics in arts education

Ethics in arts education

Panel discusses risks and responsibilities of presenting controversial material

Student Alex Ungermann directed student Allen Stout and professor Chris Clark in a scene from Conor McPherson's Shining City in an event last Thursday called Potentially Controversial Performances. The scene was about the human connection between a male prostitute and a first-time client.
Student Alex Ungermann directed student Allen Stout and professor Chris Clark in a scene from Conor McPherson's Shining City in an event last Thursday called Potentially Controversial Performances. The scene was about the human connection between a male prostitute and a first-time client.

On Sept. 16, the Fine and Performance Arts faculty contributed to Ethics Awareness Week in a panel discussing ethical considerations when working with students in the arts.

In a delicate interplay between education and commitment to art, UVU’s dance, theater and visual arts professors are continually faced with ethical dilemmas. How can controversial issues be addressed when the students’ bodies, rather than their words, are the medium? What if a student declines to participate in tendentious exercises or performances? What are the risks of excluding controversial material from an art student’s education?

The topic was broad, the discussion engrossing.

Prefaced by a series of short, potentially controversial performances in the Ragan Theatre the day before, the panel was segmented into five sub-topics: choreography as a controversial process; choreography as a controversial theme; the body as a vehicle for social, political and sexual themes; language and sexual/violent content in theater; and commercial art and ethics.

Particularly in a conservative society, it is a hazardous responsibility for professors to require or give the opportunity for students to participate in ethically debatable artwork. The panel’s discussion about the responsibility of the educator circled around one point: that as a choreographer, director or teacher, you must be open about your intentions and approach.

“My responsibility to [my dancers] is to be upfront about where I’m coming from, so they have an opportunity to evaluate that,” said Angela Banchero-Kelleher, the dance professor who organized the events.

Students are also given responsibilities when asked to participate in the creation of eristic material. Asking students to create a play or dance or piece of visual art about a controversial topic is much like asking students to write a paper on an assigned subject – the difference is that in the fine arts, students express ideas using their bodies, their voices, their sentience and existence instead of words.

“If you’re going to be … an artist, your responsibility is to be informed,” said Banchero-Kelleher. “Ultimately, what I want is for you to have awareness of the issue and to have an opinion about it.”

The dance department was also represented by Mark Borchelt, Nichole Ortega  and Monica Campbell, with Chris Clark standing for the theater department, and Marcus Vincent and Patrick Wilkey speaking for the fine and commercial arts.

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