Campus News

Anthropologist discusses arts, sciences at first Strange Lecture

Learning through the arts is important to linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath.

“My work—all my life—has been embedded in creating, building and assessing community learning resources for the most disadvantaged populations,” said Heath, who is the Marjorie Bailey Professor in English and Dramatic Literature and an emerita professor of linguistics at Stanford University.

As part of the Aralee Strange lecture series, Heath delivered the inaugural Strange Lecture Feb. 22 at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Her talk, “The Arts as Brick and Mortar of Community Building,” focused on the combination of art and science in the study of community learning sites and how a community’s engagement in the arts holds benefits for its members.

During the lecture, Heath examined three important points, gleaned from decades of research: the combination of arts and sciences, why a combination of these two disciplines matters today more than ever and what happens when different types of artists are put together.

One of several projects Heath spoke about was her work with the Public Theater’s Public Works program in New York City. In 2013, the initiative produced a three-night musical production of The Tempest at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

The production involved nearly 200 amateur performers from a network of local community organizations such as The Fortune Society, which assists formerly incarcerated individuals.

The group of actors spanned different ages and ethnicities, spoke different languages and had different abilities. They rehearsed for 16-18 hours per week. Heath said she went from group to group, observing them as they learned new artistic skills during rehearsals.

What she discovered was that the actors were tapping into what researchers call “lifelong learning.”

Heath also saw the production change the views of some performers.

“We were able to expand the vision, the horizons, of these individuals,” she said.

Heath’s lecture also was part of the university’s spring 2018 Signature Lecture series. It is funded by the Aralee Strange Fund for Art and Poetry at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Created by donors Kathy Prescott and Grady Thrasher, the lecture series honors their friend Aralee Strange, a poet, filmmaker and playwright who lived in Athens and died in 2013.