Supporting Exploration of Arts and Cultures: The MSU China Experience

The MSU China Experience

With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people across 3.7 million square miles of East Asia, China boasts a rich and wildly diverse cultural heritage. That heritage is the focus of the China Experience, an 18-month exploration of the arts and culture of the world's most populous country. This MSU-themed year is an example of how campus-based networks create valuable experiences for students and broaden community access to the University's cultural resources.

The China Experience was officially launched in February 2015 with events timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year and the 10th anniversary of the MSU China Initiative. The latter was commissioned by President Lou Anna K. Simon to expand the University's presence and outreach in China through academic, research, and economic development programming, and strategic global, national, and local alliances.

Continuing through August 2016, there will be events that celebrate Chinese culture all over the MSU campus. Kurt Dewhurst is the director of arts and cultural initiatives for University Outreach and Engagement and co-chairs the China thematic year for the MSU Cultural Engagement Council (CEC). "The China Experience," he said, "will showcase both signature events such as art exhibits and musical performances, and more informal events where Chinese students can share their culture with others on campus."

The first spate of events has already attracted a lot of attention. One of the first was the "Future Returns: Contemporary Art from China" exhibit at the MSU Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. The exhibit was on display throughout the winter. There was a regular schedule of tours led by Chinese-speaking docents for those who wanted the full immersion experience.

In February, the Chinese Undergraduate Students Association and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at MSU hosted a 2015 MSU Spring Festival. Held in the Breslin Center, this event featured traditional Chinese music, performances, and food. In March, visitors to the Communication Arts and Sciences Building discovered the award-winning advertising work of Chinese students and professionals on display. There have also been concerts and TED-style talks.

Behind the China Experience stands not one organization, but rather an entire campus-based network dedicated to broadening access to the University's cultural resources, MSU's Cultural Engagement Council. The CEC was established in 2007 to explore ways that deans and directors from various units on campus could gather to share their own activities with a wider audience and then work together to promote arts and culture to the greater community. This network of leaders is assisted by the Cultural Engagement Council Communicators, which is in turn composed of individuals from each unit charged with disseminating information to their departmental colleagues.

The China Experience is only the most recent of the MSU-themed years spearheaded by the Cultural Engagement Council. The first was the Year of Arts and Culture in 2007. This was the council's first big effort, and University Outreach and Engagement (UOE) helped launch the initiative with financial resources and leadership. The Year of Arts and Culture was heralded by a campus-wide awareness campaign, with banners and flyers and stories in all of the campus's major publications.

Themed years are intended to meet the CEC's core goals: strengthening ties to ensure lifelong engagement, enhancing the teaching and research capacity of campus units, and increasing the visibility of cultural resources. These goals spring from a conviction that the cultural contributions of MSU are more than trivial. Cultural enterprise not only benefits student and community well-being; it not only adds value to the learning experience; it also proves to be an economic driver that can dramatically impact a local community and region.

The China Experience: An MSU Exploration of Arts and Culture

There are a number of reasons to focus on China this year. China's influence has been growing and is felt around the world, economically and geopolitically. Economists anticipate that China will soon be the largest and most important consumer market on the planet. There is, consequently, an increasing awareness of and interest in Chinese culture.

Another factor is the growing number of Chinese students on the MSU campus. In 2013-2014, more than 5,000 students from China attended Michigan State. That represents well more than a twofold increase from 2009-2010. These students not only want to experience American culture, they want to share their own heritage with their classmates. This presents opportunities which benefit everyone.

According to Elizabeth Matthews, assistant director in MSU's Office for International Students and Scholars, the China Experience broadens access for both domestic and international students to arts and culture. "China and Chinese culture, as a shared point of interest, opens opportunities for Chinese international students to impact the campus and community through culture-sharing," she said. "At the same time, it provides opportunities for Chinese students to learn more about their home country through arts and culture."

The China Experience not only gives these students the opportunity to share an important piece of their identity with the community, it also connects them with local Chinese organizations like the Greater Lansing Chinese Association. These connections help them integrate into the community, both on campus and in the greater Lansing area.

  • Written by Matthew Forster, University Outreach and Engagement

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