Founded and directed by noted American composer Daniel Asia, the American Culture and Ideas Initiative (ACII) celebrates the American intellectual experience--especially the rich legacy of high art and music--and the philosophic and economic principles of the founding of America that promote this flourishing culture.
The Initiative contributes to the intellectual breadth and diversity of the University with a renewed emphasis on the Western tradition. Individual freedom is privileged. The importance of artistic genius as a unique and significant voice in the world is of central concern. ACII's overall goal is to help students, future leaders, and the general public understand and appreciate the elevating character of the arts and humanities, and the importance of incorporating their experience and ideas into American life.
Goals and Objectives
- Engage a wide-ranging unfamiliarity and illiteracy with the American intellectual and cultural experience with respect to the philosophical principles at the core of the nation.
- Serve as a laboratory for pedagogical innovation, specifically in integrating cross-college modes of inquiry. It provides interdisciplinary outreach through lectures, presentations, conferences, and performances.
- Formulate the character of future leaders through a concentration in the foundations of American institutions and cultural heritage.
- Emphasize the close study of great texts—works of music, dance, theater, the visual arts, philosophy, religion, political thought, and literature.
- Expand intellectual toleration and act as free speech and open inquiry advocates in the arts and humanities.
Focus on America
In Democracy in America (1835), Tocqueville writes that democratic countries "will habitually prefer the useful to the beautiful, and they will require that the beautiful should be useful." In pragmatic America, the value of the arts and humanities are of secondary and tertiary concern. They are something one enjoys on weekends or holidays. The utility of science and technology overshadows the importance that the arts have played in the education of a cultivated individual and the development of civilization as a whole. ACII's mission and goals are perfectly positioned to address this societal and intellectual lacuna of American life. The melting pot of America is the ideal place to take advantage of the broad-ranging cultural heritage of its citizens. In this regard, ACII's programs are genuinely multi-cultural and global in character. Its research profile includes how non-western cultural traditions contribute to, and help define, the American experience. Here, the universal values of the nation's founding unite its various cultural voices within the rubric of humanity's hope of a better life for all.
Are some things more valuable to know than others? Does knowledge of the arts and humanities still have the ability to culturally elevate us as a society?
Cultural thinkers have known at least since the mid-twentieth century that “the only hope for a better world lies in the progressive ennoblement of the individual human spirit. For that we must look to philosophy, the arts, and religion—the fields of experience which we call the ‘humanities'” (Hayward Keniston, “The Humanities in a Scientific World,” 1947). ACII’s interdisciplinary activities embody this belief. Striving for beauty and the importance of excellence in the arts have diminished with the ongoing prevalence of postmodern thought. The American Culture and Ideas Initiative aims to bring those values in balance with the uplifting character of the arts. It seeks to advance the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual well-being of each individual its programs touch, regardless of racial background, gender affiliation, or religious heritage. The arts and humanities have an elevating effect on human consciousness. The Initiative thus provides a sense of a larger purpose and a higher calling through an understanding of the foundations of American culture and institutions.
ACII's courses, conferences, speakers, and research expand the role of the humanities in undergraduate curriculum by connecting entrepreneurial, philosophical, and economic discourses with humanities-based knowledge and the experience of the fine arts. We approach these topics from a conceptual standpoint, from an overtly humanistic disposition that in the end frames the positivist sensibilities of economic and philosophic discourse within the ambient sphere of aesthetic invention. For as Victor A. Ginsburgh and David Throsby state in their Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture (2006), “Attention to art and culture goes far back in the history of economic thought.” Here, economic concepts have less to do with the valuation and sale of creative artifacts (although these are discussed) than it does from the point of view of the human condition. Entrepreneurship is tied to innovation and the human spirit, and has been an integral part of western society’s economic and artistic growth. The economic writings of Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, Maynard Keynes, Tyler Cowen, and Adam Smith are read in light of the creative artifacts of Egypt, Babylon, Sumer, Greece and Rome, in addition to the art and philosophical writings of the Enlightenment, Romantic and Modern periods.