Arts in the News: Dogs to be Trained to Sniff Out Antiquities, Art Teacher in Utah Fired for Showing Students Nude Paintings and more.
You may have encountered drug- or bomb-sniffing dogs at airports or train stations–but have you ever heard of a dog that can sniff out rare artefacts? Vets at the Penn Vet Working Dog Centre in Philadelphia will be trying to train dogs to do just that–teaching pups to sniff out illegally trafficked antiquities. The Centre will be working in partnership with the city’s Penn Museum and the non-profit organization Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research. As this is the first time dogs are being trained for this purpose, project leaders are unsure about success, but optimistic; archaeologist Michael Danti explains: “Terrorists, organised crime and common criminals are destroying archaeological sites on an industrial scale to cash in on illegal profits. That’s why we need to find out if we can train dogs to help.” After training, the dogs who are part of the project will start by sniffing for objects from the Fertile Crescent region of modern-day Syria and Iraq. Hopefully these precious canines are able to help catch criminals and ensure antiquities end up where they belong!
An elementary school in Cache Valley, Utah fired an art teacher for showing students classical paintings containing nudity; the school claims students were made uncomfortable by the paintings–one parent even called the police, accusing the teacher of showing the students pornography. The teacher, Mateo Rueda, asked fifth and sixth grade students to select paintings from a box of postcards that would best exemplify the color study exercise they were doing in class. Among the paintings depicted on the postcards were “Iris Tree” by Modigliani, “Brown Odalisque” by Boucher, and “The Valpincon Bather” by Ingres. Rueda claims the postcards have been in the school library long before he started teaching there, and that he was unaware some of the paintings contained nudity. In a message to a parent, which was ultimately shared on Facebook, Rueda explains: “I explained to the whole class that art can sometimes show images that are not always comfortable at all, that art is better understood when placed in its proper context, that the human body is often portrayed in art, and that the images in the school collection are icons of art history and a patrimony of humanity.” Rueda allegedly encouraged the students to discuss any discomfort they felt about the paintings with their parents–which is when parents in turn proceeded to complain to the school (and police). Rueda was fired 4 days later. The local sheriff’s office has reportedly confiscated the postcards. Rueda maintains that he did nothing wrong but try to prepare students for what they would see in any art museum.
Over the past couple decades, arts marketing has attempted to tailor principles from the field of marketing to the arts world, aiming for audience engagement and connection through targeted communication. Professor of Theater Management Anthony Rhine explores three new studies looking at how theater’s intrinsic value to audiences can be measured–and potentially tapped. First, a research project called Triple Play found that the age of audience members affected how they appreciate new plays. Audience members who are interested in new plays also tend to be those who are interested in post-performance discussions and talkbacks. Second, Suzanne Meeks and her colleagues conducted a study to understand how theater affects audience member’s psychological well-being at different stages, finding that younger people feel more engaged and stimulated by theater attendance than older people do (no doubt a surprising finding to many). Finally, a study Rhine himself did with Patrick M. Murnin examined people’s recollections of arts participation when they were young, compared with their arts participation as adults. They found that arts education is best achieved in conjunction with arts exposure–in other words, youth respond best to being taught about the arts when it involves some sort of firsthand exposure to the art. Their study suggests that arts exposure, education, and art-making engagement are all necessary to set a child on the path toward lifelong arts appreciation. Ultimately, as Rhine notes, these studies raise more questions than they answer, but they revive an important discussion of the value of art (specifically theater) to human beings! Certainly a discussion worth having.