The Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI) is McGill University’s newest teaching and research centre. IPLAI is a unique venture. It marks an institutional collaboration between the faculties and schools of law, arts, education, music, management, religious studies and architecture, with a view to sustaining and developing teaching and research which is boldly interdisciplinary and in which the historically pivotal role of the humanities and the arts in intellectual and public life is honoured and advanced. IPLAI’s focus is on the dynamic life of art and ideas— their relationship to public and private life; their formative passage through the domains of education, business, religion, and law; and their ability to remake the world into which they are born. The Institute brings artists and performers together with scholars to develop our understanding of the public life of art. The Institute’s curiosity ranges across cultures, languages, and periods: how are art and ideas formed by public life and how in turn do they help to shape public life in modern China, 19th century Canada, or Renaissance Italy? How are ideas and art able to travel from one language or culture to another and from the past to the future?
IPLAI embodies the principle that universities are unique because professors never cease being students and because what they teach and learn from their students is knowledge in the making rather than knowledge ready made. The Institute builds upon strong disciplinary foundations but does not replicate them. The aspiration is to provide opportunities for professors and students to embark on interdisciplinary experiment and to engage artists and publics beyond the university in the process of making the familiar strange.
The Institute responds to a very real thirst in the academy for new and exciting ways to bring teachers and researchers together in these areas, to encourage new research collaborations, and to break down the boundaries that keep us within our disciplines and from one another. The goal of IPLAI is not to slake that thirst but to spread it ever more widely.