What role do the arts play in society?

“The arts can guide us by the hand into the most complex worlds of thought about how we exist in the world,” says art historian Polly Nooter Roberts, a UCLA professor of world arts and cultures/dance, in “An Imaginative Offer,” a new film celebrating the arts.

The latest in a series of short films created by media production company Wondros for the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, “An Imaginative Offer” features the unique voices of artists, architects, scholars and leaders in the Los Angeles art community talking about their work and the power of the arts to shape our world. The film was culled from a 29 filmed interviews, 23 of them with UCLA Arts and Architecture faculty and alumni.

The practice and presence of the arts is a cornerstone of the creative, innovative thinking and collaborative spirit that the 21st century demands, the film asserts.

“We teach through the arts, and expand our own sense of self and our horizons through the arts, and establish cross-cultural communication through the arts,” continues Nooter Roberts, an art historian who studies the philosophical underpinnings of African visual and performance-based arts, and the translation of cultural experience into museum exhibitions. “We can also heal through the arts. We can make a difference in our own and other people's lives through the arts.”

Eric Hirshberg, a UCLA Arts and Architecture alumnus who went on to build an impressive career as an advertising creative and is now president and CEO of Activision Publishing, Inc., says, “Artists consistently have greater skills in their ability to break down a problem and solve it creatively.”

Many of the UCLA faculty artists featured address the inherently imaginative nature of the arts.

“Artists have the capacity to invent and speculate about something, to imagine,” says Rebeca Méndez, a professor of design media arts whose award-winning work uses a variety of media — photography, 16mm film, video, and installation — to explore the nature of perception and media representation.

Acclaimed theater, opera and film director Peter Sellars, a professor of world arts and culture/dance, says: “One of the things that we do when we make theater is we start with nothing. Making something with nothing is the whole point of being human …. We’re actually creating something and imagining something that isn’t there yet.”

UCLA professor of architecture Thom Mayne, founder and design director of Morphosis, an influential architecture firm known for pushing the boundaries of design, talks about his profession’s role in manifesting change. “I can’t imagine living your life without looking out on the world and saying … I’m going to take a little piece of it and change it. Just push it a bit. That’s probably our singular mission.”

Being an artist also has its inherent risks, notes professor Catherine Opie, a photographer whose series of series of portraits and American urban landscapes — “cultural portraiture” — has been exhibited around the world. “I think to have your own independent voice and put it forth into the world requires a certain kind of bravery. bIt is a very vulnerable position to be in.”

“An Imaginative Offer” is an initiative of the School of the Arts and Architecture produced under the leadership of interim dean David Roussève. The film was conceived and curated by Anne Marie Burke, arts and architecture executive director of communications and public relations, with colleagues Louise Cale and Kylie Carrigan.

View a related Wondros film, “Opening New Futures,” celebrating UCLA architecture and urban design's role in shaping the future of architecture, here. To see an index of all of the interview subjects and their interviews, as well as more UCLA Arts and Architecture films, click here.