~ By Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, originally published in The Fresno Bee

The President’s Commission for the Future of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State is tasked with engaging with the larger community, assessing the opportunities for advancing the College of Arts and Humanities and its students, and increasing the awareness of the value of the arts and humanities – their timeless relevance and capacity to transform individuals and enhance communities.

Through the commission, which was announced at President Joseph Castro’s State of the University speech last month, the community and university will unite in collaborative dialogue to achieve this charge.

As a regional leader in the arts, Fresno State is a catalyst for positive change that enhances Fresno’s current artistic revival. One of President Castro’s assignments to the commission is to explore how a comprehensive performing arts center can elevate all forms of art in our area.

A performing arts center at Fresno State represents a unique opportunity for the Valley – a place where world-class acoustics, a gallery setting, and classroom and office spaces come together to enhance the quality of culture and life in the region and beyond. This academic and artistic venue would integrate the university and community in a venerable celebration of the arts.

For too long, modern society has perceived the arts as a luxury, when in reality the arts are a fundamental part of our everyday conception of ourselves as human beings. Their intrinsic value comes from their power to inspire reflection upon our world from a distinct moment that makes us feel, imagine and conceptualize a reality that defies the ordinary.

A performing arts center located in the heart of Fresno on Shaw Avenue will uplift Fresno State’s artistic pursuits while providing a venue worthy of showcasing the best of student and faculty talent.

Dance, theater and music, along with visual arts, merit a space on par with their level of excellence, which in turn can positively impact our entire Central Valley.

We envision visual and performing arts spaces integrated with academics: The performing arts center will house much-needed classroom and office space for disciplines in the humanities. The versatility of such a venue promises to meet longstanding needs of our university and community.

The exploration of a performing arts center is a manifestation of a greater commitment to the region. We have a golden opportunity to build a monument that will distinguish our university and our region, in that it will welcome and inspire every member of our rich, diverse community.

The performing arts center clearly reflects the mission of the College of Arts and Humanities, because we fashion creative communities across all disciplines. This inner growth is not artistic per se; it’s related to every human endeavor we undertake.

Together, artists and audiences create a unique philosophical and artistic interpretation of the world, whether in the form of a poem, novel or essay, or that of a photograph, painting, sculpture, performance, broadcast or song.

The arts and humanities provide us with the tools necessary to exercise our creativity and critical thinking skills and enhance all of our complex cognitive skills with the power to visualize our lives beyond the moment.

Because art is a conversation through which the spectator experiences and contributes to a heightened understanding, the performing arts center is the means through which creative production reaches beyond itself.

In a university-led performing arts center, students, professors and community partners will inspire a broadening of intellectual and artistic horizons in all those who witness their work.

While the idea of refurbishing an existing local theater, as Rubén Casas suggested in his Feb. 18 Bee commentary, might be attractive to some, the truth is that the educational and artistic needs of musicians, playwrights, visual artists and humanists justify a dignified venue at Fresno State. Having a center on campus will promote the talent that exists here and care for a community where the cultural arts deserve to thrive.

At this exploratory stage, it is up to the President’s Commission on the Future of Arts and Humanities to determine whether now is the time for such a venue.

Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval is dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at California State University, Fresno.