By Priya Hegde
Being a South Campus student at UCLA means many things. There is the horror that is the Mathematical Sciences labyrinth, the brain-chewing at Young Hall and–for some lucky individuals–the swiveling chalkboard in Physics and Astronomy hiding demonstrations’ galore behind an inconspicuous front. Being a North Campus student at UCLA carries meaning as well. It offers an objectively more beautiful experience on campus and the condescension of most of South Campus, who feels more than a little snubbed and isn’t afraid to show it. The buildings in between are seldom noticed, tucked beside the inverted fountain a short distance away from Powell. Those understated buildings house a quiet little powerhouse of their own: UCLA’s arts.
The arts at UCLA are a bit like calculus. People know about them and their relevance but don’t outwardly acknowledge their existence, opting instead for a tolerant coexistence. Arts and the rest of UCLA occupy parallel tracks on a single plane, and no amount of proximity seems to be enough to bridge the gap.
But this is a very important gap to bridge. I can attest to countless hours spent staring at mathematical proofs, which added little utility to my life outside the realm of the math department; I can also attest to attending a student opera and not only being amazed by the talent housed on our campus but finding pieces of myself in the elaborate production. Doing the math, the more valuable experience becomes fairly obvious.
Spending so much time wrapped up in this technical, empirically-oriented world sacrifices a certain amount of humanity. So much of our time as STEM students is spent focusing on fixing this or that, finding solutions to things that are broken in our community and the world beyond. And as important as developing the technical skills needed to attend to these issues is, understanding the impact that these existing problems and novel solutions have and will have on people is just as vital. And engaging with the arts–especially with an arts department as incredible as the one we have access to at UCLA–offers a tremendous opportunity to step outside of this technical world and into the real one we are a part of.
The arts offer myriad unique perspectives, each layered and colored by its expressive form. Dance moves people through movements of the body, whereas opera takes vocal performance and applies modern meaning. The interplay between creator and consumer is dynamic, and the medium of performance only augments the potential meaning to be taken from any given piece. Heightening the visibility of such events at UCLA to create a more thoughtful student body benefits everyone involved, performers and audiences alike.
There are a number of different ways that this could be accomplished, but the one which seems most enriching involves bolstering collaboration between the various branches of the arts at UCLA. There is surprisingly little overlap between schools, and external music and tracks are often sourced for visually based performances. Increased partnership between various disciplines would not only offer artists additional opportunities to perform, but would work to incentivize UCLA students outside of the artistic sphere to come support an entirely school-based production involving multiple different streams of talent.
An additional avenue of exposure may entail considering interdisciplinary collaboration between UCLA’s arts and the humanities, or even STEM. There is a fair amount of history interlaced with productions and artistic mediums of any kind, and a collaborative effort between the physics department and school of dance would be a highly unique and rewarding endeavor. Turning niche classes positioned at the intersection of these seemingly disjoint areas of expertise into larger, more visible efforts involving students from all walks of academia and the performing arts would (in addition to being dope) help to broaden the minds of everyone involved and cultivate the types of people we need more of in this world: those receptive to stepping out of their depth and bridging the gap between their plane of expertise and another. People who pause and listen. People who understand other people; people who care.