Art Is Essential On Campus

Exploring the purpose of art in our academic lives

Illustrator: Tessa Portuese

What is the purpose of art? A long and inconclusive debate, the function of art in society has always been a hard question to answer.  When famous writer Oscar Wilde once described its purpose as “art for art’s sake,” he implied that art serves no purpose; it is merely intended for the artist’s enjoyment. This is true for artists who simply look for a way to express themselves. It doesn’t need to serve some overarching purpose in the world, but can merely serve a person’s inner desire to create and enjoy. But let’s take a look at the question on a smaller, more micro scale and apply it to the University of Minnesota: What is the importance of art on a college campus? Katie Covey, Director of Student Engagement at the Weisman Art Museum, helps us delve into the topic of art and how it can teach, inform, encourage, and transform.

The Weisman traces its origins back to 1935, and has since become a cornerstone of the U of M campus.

“[The museum] has access to some of the most brilliant emerging scholars and leaders across different fields,” Covey says. This community fabric, along with the Twin Cities’ art community, makes the museum unique in so many aspects. Its permanent collection includes over 25,000 works of art, and is especially known for American modernism, ceramics, Mimbres pottery, and traditional Korean furniture. The museum also includes the Target Studio for Creative Collaboration, a permanent space designed for cross-disciplinary artistic collaborations.

“The Weisman presents and interprets works of art and offers exhibitions that place art within relevant cultural, social, and historical contexts,” Covey says. Outside of the several exhibitions offered each year, the museum also holds symposia, tours, and special events focused upon educational themes. For example, the Weisman partners with The Ivory Tower, an arts and literary magazine on campus, for the ArtWords section and their launch party.

It also supports various arts and cultural student leaders through its student group, WAM Collective. This group offers students job opportunities and facilitates fellowships and internships between different disciplines. Covey describes the Weisman as a “portal to the wider arts community of the Twin Cities and beyond.”

As an art museum located directly on campus, the Weisman differs from the traditional mold of museums. Being part of the University of Minnesota has given the Weisman opportunities to connect with students and engage with their learning process.

“Our exhibitions and programs bring together artists, researchers, activists, sociologists, writers and more to explore, question, and critique the world around us,” Covey says.

Covey describes the mission of the Weisman: “Creating arts experiences that spark discovery, critical thinking and transformation, linking the University and the community.” Calling it a “teaching museum,” Covey talks about how education is central to the Weisman’s mission of making arts accessible to students and surrounding communities. The Weisman offers free admission as well as free programs and student membership. These accommodations emphasize the museum’s commitment to accessible art education for all.

Because the Weisman’s main goal is to educate, it is important for students to recognize the power and potential art has to foster collaboration in learning.

“Our exhibitions and programs bring together artists, researchers, activists, sociologists, writers and more to explore, question, and critique the world around us,” Covey says. Connecting artists with other experts across disciplines is important to solve critical issues in society.

Covey emphasizes art’s ability to “connect humans across space and time to help us understand and appreciate our differences.” By using art as a bridge between people, places, cultures, or fields, education becomes collaborative, and allows students to look at things through an interdisciplinary lens.

Art’s fostering of community is another reason why it’s so important on campus.

“Art acts as a platform for us to discuss hard issues and topics in a safe space that promotes open discussion and respectful exchange,” Covey says. Art expands our existing ways of thinking in a way that transcends language and words.

“This is something we think the world needs a lot more of,” Covey says. “The Weisman invites every University of Minnesota student to explore, reflect, connect and recharge within our galleries in our study spaces.” In the process, the museum encourages you to learn something new about the community around you – and something about yourself.

Check out the Weisman’s upcoming exhibitions and other events at