Archive for Saturday, April 12, 2008

Simons: Any KU fine arts restructuring should build on success

April 12, 2008


What's going to happen to the Kansas University School of Fine Arts? What kind of a school will it be five, 10 or 20 years from today? What skills, talents or experience will a new dean bring to the school?

Earlier this week, the School of Fine Arts and members of the school's Fine Arts Advisory Board launched a new awards program that recognized and honored two graduates of the school and two other individuals - all of whom have contributed much to the betterment and reputation of the school, as well as being recognized nationally and internationally for their personal and professional achievements and leadership.

The fine arts graduates honored were Gary Foster of Los Angeles and Phil Risbeck of Fort Collins, Colo. Foster has compiled a superb record as a freelance musician, playing with many of the nation's most accomplished performers. Risbeck is a world-recognized authority on poster art and founder of the acclaimed Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibit.

The two recipients of the Distinguished Service Awards were Polly Bales of Lawrence and Christina Hixson of Las Vegas. Bales and her late husband, Dane, lived in Logan and have been generous contributors of time and money for the benefit of KU and Kansas. Hixson's vision and leadership of the Lied Foundation has provided funds for the Lied Center of Kansas and the KU Medical Center as well as KU scholarships and other funding for Iowa State and Nebraska universities.

The Wednesday gathering took place only weeks after a search committee reported to the KU provost that it was unable to recommend any candidates to fill the upcoming vacancy in the fine arts dean's office. The search process covered about four months.

The provost asked the search committee to take on the role of a task force to study and consider a possible restructuring of the School of Fine Arts. With this in the minds of many attending the awards program, it was only natural there was much interest, as well as concern, about the future of the school.

What does a "restructuring" of the school mean?

Over the years, the KU School of Fine Arts has compiled a fine record, but just as the chancellor wants championship football and basketball teams, shouldn't the chancellor, provost and other university leaders want each school within the university to be of national championship quality?

The public has been told this week what university officials believe is necessary for KU to continue to be a national basketball powerhouse: a great coach, superb facilities, excellent funding and compensation that places KU coaches near or at the top in their respective fields.

What does it take to make the KU School of Fine Arts a "national champion" or a model for other universities to try to match? What does it take to attract a truly outstanding individual to be the new dean or "coach" of the school? How about improved or new facilities or new strategies for recruiting outstanding fine arts students the same way football and basketball coaches are expected to recruit outstanding "student athletes"?

KU athletic and administrative officials say the university must have the best coaches and facilities to attract the best athletes. Does the same philosophy apply to efforts to build KU's various schools into national powerhouses?

The provost's plan to study a possible restructuring of the school opens all kinds of speculation: Some are wondering whether there is a possibility the school might be rolled into the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. With the acting dean coming from the department of theater and film, is it likely that department will become part of the fine arts school?

Some suggest the "school of fine arts" is too broad a title that encompasses so much that it is difficult to focus on specific areas of excellence. They believe it would be far better to have, for example, a "School of Music and Dance" and/or a "School of Performing Arts and Theater."

There is no way any school of fine arts or music and dance can draw crowds like an NCAA post-season basketball game, but with a great dean, internationally known faculty, great students and great facilities, it would be possible to attract superior students and to draw large crowds to hear various performances.

What would KU have to do to have the nation's No. 1 school of fine arts or school of music and dance five, 10 or 15 years from now - best in the nation in leadership and faculty, the best facilities and McDonald's All-American-type fine arts students?

Wednesday evening, a highly respected KU fine arts faculty member told this writer, "There are going to be a lot of upset, angry people over the changes which are likely to be made."

Complacency is a dangerous and deadly disease whether it's in a school of fine arts or most any other endeavor.

KU's School of Fine Arts has a fine record and the careers of Gary Foster, Phil Risbeck and hundreds of others offer excellent evidence of the school's talented students and the motivation and inspiration provided by talented faculty members.

KU athletic and administrative officials realize they have an excellent base on which to try to build an even stronger future. Any "restructuring" they might consider is more a matter of building on the past and making it even better.

It would seem wise to approach the future of the School of Fine Arts in the same manner. Build on its past record of excellence with the goal of making it even better, in fact, one of the best in the country!


Kookamooka 10 years ago

Do it! It's ridiculous the way the theater department charges the music department for use of the bigger student performing places. They exist in the same building and serve the same students. All the "mine"/"yours" backbiting and infighting needs to stop. The students suffer. Restructuring is long overdue. Shake it up Baby! Let the professors who can't take the change move on or retire. Art should be separate from Music.

LJD230 10 years ago

The provost is correct to consider a major restructuring of the School of Fine Arts. The current "fine arts" disciplines should be incorporated into a newly created College of Fine Arts with separate schools/departments including those currently housed within the College of Liberal Arts.Such an academic structure is in place at a number of distinguished universities including the University of Texas. Hopefully the University of Kansas will seek to emulate the academic and artistic success enjoyed by it's Big 12 sister.

LJD230 10 years ago

Forgot to mention that the University of Kentucky has a College of Fine Arts as opposed to a lesser School of Fine Arts. You think someone forgot where they perched prior to their arrival in Kansas?

nobody1793 10 years ago

Wednesday evening, a highly respected KU fine arts faculty member told this writer, "There are going to be a lot of upset, angry people over the changes which are likely to be made."There are a lot of very 'political' faculty that look out for their own interests/status/whatever and not the greater good. (This happens in all disciplines and all universities, not just KU fine arts.) If things were so great right now, there wouldn't be a need to ruffle any feathers.

LJD230 10 years ago

Tomato, tomatoe--NOT!Is it preferable to have a School of Whatever Discipline contained within a College of Fine Arts or a Department of Whatever as an academic unit within a school? The academic imperative--not to mention the fund raising and naming opportunities-- argue strongly for the creation of a College of Fine Arts. And somehow the old fashioned notion of collegiality would be furthered in a new structure.the attraction and retention of top flight faculty to educate and mentor highly talented students who will graduate and enrich the cultural life of Kansas and the United States.Mediocrity is no longer an option for the University of Kanas.

KU_cynic 10 years ago

"Mediocrity is no longer an option for the University of Kanas." (sic)KU has islands of excellence amidst a sea of mediocrity. That's just the way it is. "KU athletic and administrative officials say the university must have the best coaches and facilities to attract the best athletes. Does the same philosophy apply to efforts to build KU's various schools into national powerhouses?"Short answer, Mr. Simons, is, "HeXX, NO!"

LJD230 10 years ago

yeah Cynic!Let's have a big a** parade down Massachusetts Avenue when KU joins the top tier of national universities. The KU marching band can lead off the shindig with Brahm's Academic Festival Overture as arranged by Akey with the faculty in full academic regalia following in hybrid convertibles. Imagine the revenue generated by the downtown merchants if such event were ever to take place. Imagine the wonder and awe of Jayhawk Nation as they observed the festivities.Not!

LJD230 10 years ago

Long story short: it is unrelieved nonsense to have the department of theatre and film located within the college of liberal arts and the other performing arts academic units located in another box on the KU table of organization.Common sense would suggest moving theatre and film out of liberal arts into the fine arts academic unit. Once done there are two very simple choices: create a unified college of fine arts or two schools: one each for art and design, the other for music, dance and film.The current structure does not serve the long term academic interests of the University of Kansas. One hopes the provost will resolve the various and competing issues and interests in such a way as to attract a dean and faculty of great distinction and students of great promise. "But maybe they are too big for their britches already. If the farmer and the rancher can't be friends (or in this case, the Music department, Theatre department, Dance department) maybe they should all be placed into Liberal Arts, where they are at many Universities." Two thoughts: 1) if the above is true, encourage the feuding farmers and ranchers to play well together or reap the consequences; 2) no DISTINGUISHED university places fine arts programs of the breadth and diversity offered at KU in liberal arts.Again, create a new college or two new schools.

Kookamooka 10 years ago

Worse is the way the music department treats it's students. There is so much talent packed in that place right now it makes me sick but does the city know about it? No. Because the students aren't allowed out of the assylum. I'd like to see the jazz, choral and opera department move their students into other venues and screw the theater department's hoarding of "their" precious theaters. The library has an extremely acoustic meeting room that would be heaven for a small ensemble to use and guess what? It's free! If Doug Compton would just clean up the masonic lodge and let people use it for performances, the opera department could perform in a really kicking and very unique theater space. The School of Fine Arts needs to come off it's high post on the hill and mingle with the commoners on Massachusetts street. Visual artists as well need to present in town and alumni musicians and artists need to show on the hill. KU has changed a lot over the last 20 years and there is such a feeling of isolation and emptiness on campus as the "life" left to live in multifamily housing complexes (thanks Mr. Compton) that it's time the school of fine arts approached their jobs like entrepreneurs and found ways to offer their students better professional experience. In town.

Kookamooka 10 years ago

Actually, fewer students do live on campus than 20 years ago. When they remodeled the dorms they actually lost some rooms by making "suites". The University also built that huge commuter lot adjacent to West campus to accommodate all of the people who weren't living on campus. I remember when the Kansas Union used to do a huge Sunday brunch. Staff, faculty and students would all eat together and sometimes there was live music. It was like a huge family back then. The closest thing left to that is the veggie lunch at the ECM. I think they should bring back the brunch! Have some of the music students play for a free meal and bring back the glory days.

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