In keeping with the folksy math of conventional wisdom, talk is cheap, pictures are worth a thousand words, and a penny is a fair trade for a thought. Anyone who’s ever tried to get anything done, however, knows that it takes a bit more than a cent to turn ideas into a reality. Innovation is what moves society forward, and, as science and technology and every imaginable field are spawning thousands of life-changing and paradigm-shifting ideas, why should music be the exception? It’s not just music by dead white men anymore, so why neglect the needs of a changing, vivid, and wildly imaginative field? The answer boils down to a discussion of the classic thorn in art’s side: money.
Make no mistake: science and technology are struggling fields in some ways, too. So-called “pure science”–scientific studies that have no known immediate practical application and are done for the sake of knowledge–is finding funds harder and harder to come by. Society is becoming very outcome-oriented by nature, and when the bottom line is the bottom line, it seems that there is little interest in exploration of ideas for the their own sake. The powers that be (that is to say, those who hold the purse strings) often fail to remember that a huge proportion of the most important discoveries and innovations have been stumbled upon in the course of exploring seemingly impractical ideas. Furthermore, any idea at all needs development and implementation to grow. In a nation that is facing a huge economic downturn, where are we to find the money?
Butler University has an answer for its own community, and it’s an example that people in all fields should sit up and take notice of. Last week, Butler’s president, James Danko, announced that the university will develop a $5 million innovation fund “to nurture creative thinking and fast track ideas, curricula and collaboration.” Danko, in a statement discussing the fund, said that, “if someone in our Butler community has a well-thought-out-idea, is willing to work toward the execution of that idea, and it makes sense for our students and our University, this fund will allow us to make it happen.”
Danko’s statement emphasized the importance of innovation and creativity, putting a new premium on the implementation of ideas from the community as a way to improve education for all. As with most institutions, higher education will be undergoing drastic changes–some of them forced, some of them long-overdue–to keep up with a rapidly-evolving socioeconomic climate, and the fund at Butler is intended to help foster ideas for improvement from within the very community that the changes will affect. According to a Digital Journal article profiling Butler’s announcement,
Danko’s innovative approach to education stems from his entrepreneurial background. He spent nearly two decades running a successful medical supply business before taking his entrepreneurial style to top business schools, most recently the Villanova School of Business. While there, he revamped the curriculum to achieve higher levels of excellence and national recognition, and encouraged more openness to change by recognizing and rewarding faculty creativity, as well as supporting research that strengthened teaching.
Any way you slice it, $5 million dollars in an innovation slush-fund of sorts sounds like it could do a lot of good. Butler University’s example is one that classical music could learn from. As a loosely-confederated artistic community rather than a concrete institution, the classical music scene presents certain challenges of adaptation for this idea, but it is in no less dire need of something just like this. There are, of course, government agencies and funds for the arts, but the reality of the matter is that these sources are limited in the extreme.
Perhaps it’s time for community members to band together to find a way to implement a fund. Where would the funds come from? Who would oversee it? What kinds of ideas would be granted funding? There are, clearly, huge logistical questions that arise when considering the idea. These pale, though, in comparison to the two most important questions that we can ask: what’s your big idea, and how can it help?
Imagine what we could do with $5 million in shared funds–funds to develop new teaching strategies, perform research, fund education projects, and serve the artistic community as a whole. It’ll be some time before anyone moves this into reality for the classical music world: plenty of time to come up with the next million-dollar idea. Maybe it’ll be yours.