JAMS: When the arts are hot in January

by Alicia Anstead

January used to be just another bleak, wintry month in Cambridge. Many students returned to their families or to adventures in warmer climes. While many do take advantage of the class-free time at Harvard – winter break – and take off for other locations, increasingly students have discovered the mini festival of sorts that takes place during Wintersession (January 17-26), when the Houses and the Yard re-open to all students, and a burst of activity explodes at and around Harvard.

Wintersession is a particularly rich time in the arts, as alums and other top professionals working in the field show up at Harvard to teach January Arts and Media Seminars – aka JAMS. They come from the film, visual arts, writing, TV, arts admin, ceramics and many other arts areas. (Check out the full list for 2014 here.)

For students, JAMS is a time to explore arts outside the structure of a graded class.

"JAMS gives students the opportunity to explore and pursue the arts from different perspectives – as a career option or an avocation," says Tom Lee, communications director at the Office for the Arts and one of the key programmers for JAMS. "We hope students will participate in several of these programs and perhaps learn about an artistic genre that is unfamiliar."

The opportunity to engage intellectually and playfully in an environment that is both generated by and outside of the formality of the Harvard experience – and yet has the same signature rigor – is a wintry bonus to an undergraduate education.

JAMS also provides a pull back from other distractions, including post-holiday let down and boredom.

"It's so rare for the Harvard student or anyone in this digital environment to have uninterrupted time for focus and deep thinking, which of course is necessary to make art," says Cathy McCormick, OFA director of programs and a member of the JAMS programming team. "I think students will find our watercolor or ceramics course to be a great oasis for learning. And they will love our new Allston studio."

McCormick is referring to the re-designed Harvard Ceramics Studio, one of the newly polished jewels in the OFA crown and the site for several JAMS offerings. Most Wintersession and JAMS activities are exclusively for Harvard students, but several of the JAMS events, including a master class with Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell and a conversation with filmmaker Lauren Greenfield '87 (The Queen of Versailles), are public events organized by Lee for the Learning From Performers program. The events are free, but registration is suggested for both.

Alumni, such as Greenfield, are an important element to the JAMS experience because it allows students to work with immensely successful practicing artists, such as two of TV's leading showrunners and writers Robert Carlock '95 (30 Rock, Friends, Saturday Night Live) and Greg Daniels '85 (The Office, Parks and Recreation, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld). Carlock and Daniels will offer students insight into the creative process as well as into writing comedy.

"The fact that these are alumni artists sends a very important signal to undergraduates," says Jack Megan, OFA director. "It suggests that Harvard students can give serious thought to a professional life in the arts – that it's actually achievable. These are former Harvard students whose careers are living proof of this very point."

For more information or to register for JAMS, visit the OFA JAMS web page. JAMS is co-sponsored by Harvard Alumni Association and in association with the Committee on Arts & Humanities @Harvard Medical School and the Office of Career Services.