Thomas Sharrock | Are we cultured?

A Letter from the Arts & Culture Editor | Assessing the state of arts journalism on and around Penn’s campus

The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA / Photo credit: Lexi Boccuzzi

By Thomas Sharrock

Even though you might not be in an arts group on campus, you are almost certainly aware of many. And there’s a good reason for that—despite the fact that Penn doesn’t have its own graduate music or theater school, the arts thrive on this campus, with over 70 performing arts groups, a building dedicated exclusively to creative writing excellence, our own museum and a (criminally underappreciated) Live Arts Center. And that doesn’t even begin to approximate the cultural vibrancy of the Philadelphia community we call home.

We talk about it, we take part in it, but no publication has effectively covered it. And why aren’t they? Because it’s astounding, really, that an MLS student can spend their evenings dancing with Penn Masti, and a finance concentration student can double as a drag queen in a weekend musical, and no one seems to bat an eyelid–least of all the campus publications. Indeed said publications aren’t interested in reviewing the sometimes awesome, sometimes tragic performances of Ivy League students on Friday and Saturday nights. Beyond that, many students aren’t always able to make their friends’ performances, and many parents don’t have the capacity to travel the distance, but why should that mean they miss out? The record of these performances must be kept, so that the artistry lives beyond the four walls (and sometimes present ceiling) of Iron Gate Theater.

The student-athlete spends much of their week perfecting their sporting techniques and preparing for games, and the newspapers lap up the results. But the student musicians and student actors receive no such credit, outside of the occasional Sidechat post. It’s time to turn on their spotlights, and that’s what we’re here to do. The Pennsylvania Post is committed to covering arts & culture not just on Penn’s campus, but around Philadelphia too. That also means providing a space for writers to debut their work to a campus audience through our creative writing section, Penn & Paper.

The first question I want to pose to the Arts & Culture reader is, “are you cultured?”. Upon the launch of Penn’s first student publication with an Arts & Culture segment devoted primarily to reviewing arts and culture on campus, I figured it would be an appropriate moment to work out which students on campus are cultured, and which students think a Huntsman GSR is a classy place to study.

Maybe, like me, at a young age, you subconsciously subscribed to a neo-Bourdieu concept of culture which is prescribed by wealthy, well-educated city-dwellers who live in the West. Maybe, it included listening to Rachmaninoff, reading George Eliot, and pretending to enjoy walking around art museums (all things which I enjoy immensely). But a recent debate about what to watch in the evening with my roommates reminded me how inappropriate that definition is. It became a debate about who was more cultured: me, who listens to classical music and has never watched an Anime show, or them, who love Attack on Titan but rarely listen to classical music. To say someone is “cultured” with any definition, is to suggest that other cultures are inauthentic; which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Surely those of us who cling to elitist norms that have been laid out since the late 1800s are far less cultured than those who adapt and immerse themselves in a diverse range of cultural production. 

I’ve noticed that students who aren’t aware of the latest anime show, or the biggest rap artists often receive mild ridicule for what some see as a modern version of being “uncultured”. While we have come to accept this regular occurrence as a normality, it’s actually a reversal of centuries-old traditions where the elites dictate culture. Now, the youth seem to have the power to prescribe culture amongst themselves. The proof is in the pudding—just look at how many people turned out for Taylor Swift’s concerts in Philadelphia, versus the opening night of the Philadelphia Orchestra. But maybe this is a happy medium–both are still immensely popular, groundbreaking institutions within their respective audiences.

Arts in Philadelphia are too vibrant for us to ignore on this campus any longer. As a result, I hope that The Pennsylvania Post can become a haven for a diversity of cultural and artistic activity. Wherever possible, we will strive to incorporate perspectives from diverse backgrounds, examining art from every corner of both campus and Philadelphia that we can reach. Hopefully, we can all become more “cultured,” in every sense, as a result.

Thomas Sharrock is a sophomore in the College studying International Relations and Francophone, Italian & German Studies from Winchester, UK. Thomas is also the Arts & Culture Editor for The Pennsylvania Post. His email is

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