Susan Breton FDGA 2017


Symposium-Fashionable Muses: Reimaging Parisian Salons of the Belle Époque at FIT 

Susan Breton, Counseling Center 

The Fashionable Muses project fostered cultural diversity on the FIT campus by offering new perspectives on diversity and inclusion through the lens of modern music. This project curated and presented two musical events which recontextualize the Parisian salons of the Belle Époque within the contemporary cultural milieu of FIT. The two musical events explored the salon's contribution to the development of culture (music, language, philosophy, literature, fashion, visual arts and politics), highlighted the importance of female patronage in the creation of modern music in the early twentieth century, championed the work of female and LGBTQ artists, and invigorated and inspired the FIT campus by providing access to another art form through high quality musical performances. Both salon events created immersive, innovative, educational, historically informed and unique cultural experiences for the FIT community that celebrated diversity and inclusion of culture, of art forms, of individuals from different ethnicities and sexual orientations and thereby contributed to furthering the academic excellence and enrichment of the FIT students and faculty.

The first salon concert directly followed the Museum at FIT’s symposium entitled Proust’s Muse and included compositions commissioned by the muse herself, the Countess Greffulhe. Dr. Sylvia Kahan, a leading expert at CUNY on the subject of female patronage at the turn of the 20th century, provided a narrative to introduce the period and further contextualize each of the presented musical pieces.

The second salon concert took place early in the spring semester of 2017 and presented six contemporary compositions. Each piece had a student/faculty poem read before it was performed that was a response to the work, and as the music was played live visual art students' pictorial responses to the music were projected onto the walls to create an immersive environment. Directly following the music, all of the artist and composers were asked to come onto the stage to open up a dialogue with the audience about the importance of art in our lives today. This discussion was moderated by Composers Now founder, composer and conductor, Tania Leon and was successful in generating an exciting discussion among the collaborators (composers, artists and poets) and the audience.

Of special significance for the FIT community was the incorporation of music as a focal point of both of the salons because the formal study of music is not an established part of FIT’s academic programs or curricular offerings, nor is music a staple in the roster of outside events that are brought to the campus throughout the year. The inclusion of live musical performances of period and of newly-created musical compositions, coupled with complimentary lectures and dialogs allowed for a fuller, more complete representation of salon culture in its proper historical context, while also making it possible for participants to embrace the total experience through connection with an expanded frame of artistic expression, one that employs forms of representation that are different from those of just language or of visual image. Further along these lines, providing this more holistic artistic experience served as a model that will hopefully enrich FIT’s future conversations about the breadth and depth of its curricular offerings, and about the critical importance of the interdisciplinary frame in the preparation of its students for their careers.

For a complete video of the second salon concert, please see: