About 45 alums returned to Juilliard in May for a first-of-its-kind reunion of President Joseph Polisi’s American Society and the Arts class, a freewheeling, hard-hitting immersion in how to be an artist as citizen. Some of them spoke about it with The Journal.
Theresa Kim (Pre-College ’98; B.M. ’02, M.M. ’04, piano) said at the time she was taking the class, she knew it was different but “didn’t understand how it might be useful in my life.” But last year, when she started creating a nonprofit that lets underprivileged music students attend a summer program she runs in the Hamptons, “all of a sudden everything President Polisi said was so relevant.”
“Incredibly intense” was how Claire Bryant (M.M. ’05, cello) recalled the class. “That was my first time tackling The New York Times cover-to-cover, and it was sort of a springboard for me,” she said. “As artists, we’re not just getting up on stage and performing; we have to have so many other skills to keep our art alive and relevant.” Something that made the class particularly exciting was that it was an election year, she said. “There were lots of debates—about presidential stuff, but also about what the election would mean for arts and education. And one thing that impressed me is that Dr. Polisi never told us who he favored.”
Aaron Flagg (B.M. ’92, M.M. ’93, trumpet) said that “before the class, I was just here to study the tradition,” but Polisi made him realize that “as artists, you have to be aware of the field’s issues and how that field interacts with society.” Formerly the director of educational outreach at Juilliard and now dean of the Hartt School, Flagg teaches a class for 370 students that incorporates a lot of Polisi’s concepts. “‘Be ready, the field needs us,’ was a message I got from the class—a surprising and humbling message.”