Embracing Humanities Through a New Center at Drexel

A new organization at Drexel has been established to boost one of the pillars of the University’s founding while also aiding cultural non-profits.

The Center for Cultural Partnerships at Drexel University officially launched Sept. 1, with a mission to fortify cultural institutions like museums, libraries and historical societies and make their offerings and experiences more accessible to Drexel students.

Rosalind Remer will serve as vice provost and founding Lenfest Executive Director of the Center for Cultural Partnerships.

“Take a look at Drexel’s seal, with the three elements of education offered here: art, science and industry. When he started the University, Anthony J. Drexel was all about ensuring students had a well-rounded education, even as they were being trained to particular occupations,” Remer said. “Over time, the art part of the equation has not grown as fast as the industry and science part of it. The Center for Cultural Partnerships is just one strategy for rounding out students’ experiences and reconnecting with Drexel’s original mission.”

When the Academy of Natural Sciences merged with Drexel in 2011, dozens of cultural institutions reached out to inquire about whether similar alliances could be made. Because of limited resources, more mergers like that would be unlikely, but President John A. Fry encouraged the University to seek new ways to engage such organizations.

That initiative turned into the Center for Cultural Partnerships.

By creating a formalized partnership program, Drexel’s faculty can bring their talent to cultural institutions looking to create plans for the future.

“We can bring a fresh perspective to these legacy organizations looking to refresh how the next generation of visitors is going to engage with them,” Remer said.

Additionally, students can bring a youthful eye to the organizations through either formal co-ops or classes based around the organizations.

“We have an extraordinary population of younger adults here at the University who have a pretty great idea of how they want to engage with culture,” Remer said.

Partner organizations may also seek help in capacity building, business management training and even succession planning.

“Succession planning is very important because of where we are in the life cycle of so many of the non-profit organizations right now,” Remer said. “There are some really inspiring leaders and we need to figure out how to continue that inspiring leadership so these organizations don’t falter.”

“Largely, we’re talking about planning for the future,” Remer summed up.

Through these partnerships, Drexel will obviously benefit as well.

“At Drexel, the overall goal is to expand the footprint of the humanities,” Remer said. “Ultimately, if students, every single year, have the opportunity to interact with or bump into humanities-type activity, whether it’s art shows, history exhibits, lectures, anything generated through this partnership, that’ll be great.”

Remer envisions partner organizations being taken on for two years. Goals will be customized to the needs expressed by each organization. Drexel will measure the success of the partnership in student exposure to the humanities.

Toward the end of the two-year cycle, the center will begin looking for a new partner organization —. the current partner may even help in the process.

Once they’ve finished their cycles, Remer hopes to retain a connection to the non-profits as “alumni.” These organizations might continue providing opportunities for students. Including staff from those organizations as adjunct faculty is also a possibility.

“Alums might serve as mentors to upcoming partners to say, ‘Here’s what worked for us,’” Remer explained. “I see them as a source of information. But in the best of all worlds, this helps us forge ties with organizations that are long-lasting.” 

Drexel is looking to establish an endowment of a $8.4 million, at a minimum, to support these two-year cycles. Remer said the endowment would allow Drexel to smoothly run its program without yearly fundraising, which would likely compete with the fund drives of the exact organizations the center is hoping to help.

Activity at the Center for Cultural Partnerships begins this month, as well as some strategic planning. Some smaller-scale, potentially year-long projects could begin as early as next spring with inaugural partners.

“I could not be more excited for the launch of this,” Remer said, beaming. “It feels like it addresses this deeply expressed need of our friends in the culture sector. At the same time, it’s going to address a historical need here at Drexel.”