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Senior Leadership Meeting December 15, 1998 -- Remarks
Robert Chapel
Fine and Performing Arts Planning Commission

Let me begin by saying that I am honored and excited to be undertaking this somewhat daunting task of heading this important Planning Commission on the Fine and Performing Arts. I believe there is a positive synergy developing between the central administration of this University, its faculty, the citizens of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and our alumni. With careful planning and the right energies applied, a transformation of the Fine and Performing Arts can occur culminating in the building of the proposed Arts Center behind Carr's Hill. Culturally, this will also transform the University of Virginia.

In thinking about what the mission of this Commission is, and through discussions with both John and Peter, I keep coming back to two central questions: How does the rest of the world perceive UVA today in regards to the Arts? (and) How do we want the world to perceive UVA in the future in regards to the Arts? I must state candidly that I do not believe UVA is synonymous in the minds of those across the Commonwealth with excellence in the Arts. I am not certain as to why this is or has been the case -- and this is one of the first questions this Commission will seek to answer. I know that, in regards to the Department of Drama, I believe we have a very strong program that has been a well-kept secret to the Commonwealth and the nation. I suspect that is also the case with the other Arts programs. The reason for this might be a simple one -- that we have never had the resources to toot our own horns and reach out to the rest of the world and let them know what we do. But, at least in Drama's case, we do feel a sense of isolation -- knowing that we are fulfilling our educational and artistic missions locally, but not necessarily, globally. I suspect that is also the case with the other Arts programs. How we can strengthen all of our regional and national profiles will be another central question to be answered.

But it goes beyond this. This Commission must get to the heart of the matter and closely assess what we do, what we do well, and what we can do better. At the most recent President's retreat, I was asked to work as facilitator for the Fine and Performing Arts sessions and in our discussions about what UVA needs or aspires to be -- Ed Snyder, the new Dean of the Darden Business School, said that no matter how grand buildings might be, without programs in those buildings which are excellent and which have vision, the buildings would be -- just buildings.

I believe that my Commission's central purpose is to clearly and fairly assess the Arts programs, as well as the Bayly and the Fine Arts and Music Libraries, in regards to their strengths and weaknesses, clearly define what each department aspires to be and do, as well as clearly assess how the rest of the University and the regional community believe what the missions of the various Arts departments should be and, if these are in sync, decide what exactly needs to be done and what resources need to be found to achieve these aspirations. Benchmark university arts programs and arts facilities will be closely examined which will serve as models for aspiration and inspiration. And, by the end of this study, a plan will be formed to achieve this transformation. It will not happen overnight, but my dream is that in the not too distant future, when young people who want to major in the Arts start considering where they want to go to college, one of their first thoughts will be the University of Virginia.

In regards to hurdles -- one is, of course, the magnitude of our task. Our commissions are large in size and finding a way to utilize the abilities and energies of all of our commission members in the most efficient way will be a challenge. Another potential problem will arise if the vision of a particular Arts department is contrary to what the rest of the University or local community see as the central mission of that department. I do believe that the great theatre and music programs in America are performance oriented programs and the great art programs are strong in the teaching of painters and sculptors and photographers, etc. This is not to negate in any way the importance of Art History or Theatre History or Music Theory or Composition or Ethnomusicology, but I believe we need to find a way for all of these programs to continue to thrive and, at the same time, strive to create excellent performance programs as well. How we do this becomes one of the major questions to be addressed by this Commission. In regards to the design and development of the proposed arts center, programmatic needs and desires for not only a particular department but also for the University and local communities must be addressed -- what do we want to be able to produce and present in this arts center and what types of art and entertainment do we want to be able to bring to Charlottesville? It is imperative that these questions be answered before any drafting begins for actual buildings because programming and the educational missions of each department determines configurations of buildings.

Assessment of current programs will be our first order of business. I envision that this commission, beginning in January, will meet once every two weeks. We will spend the first couple of meetings asking the commission members to give their impressions of the current state of our Arts programs and to present their "wish lists" for the future of the Arts. I will then divide the commission into smaller task forces which will more closely examine what our departments are actually doing and what they aspire to do. Over the course of time, benchmark programs and arts centers will be identified and visited. And, all of the above will always have to be addressed with a sense of reality -- we can dream and we can dream big -- but there are limits to everything and determining these limits will also be important so that this transformation can actually occur.

I had not expected that this commission would become so large. But it became apparent that it was important that a broad cross section of the University be represented and, as the Arts are as much for the community as for the University, I also felt it was important that I included at least one local Arts advocate on the Commission. In addition to the Commission itself, I am also planning on forming a community advisory committee of about ten people who will be brought in occasionally to meet and exchange ideas with the Commission, as well as to meet separately. I believe they will be extremely valuable as we get closer to the development and fundraising phase for the arts center. The first qualification to be a member of this Commission was, of course, an abiding interest in the Arts. I believe you all have a list of those who have accepted membership on the Commission. I still have to secure a graduate student and a member of the Faculty Senate. All of these on the list are strong Arts advocates and actively attend the various arts events around Grounds. Thus, they also already have a sense of what we do. To spotlight what we are doing at UVA nationally, President Casteen has asked that we host one or two national conferences which will be convened over the next two years, the subject of these conferences yet to be determined.

I've already mentioned several of the "big issues" we must grapple with. One of the major thrusts of this Commission should also be to find ways to build bridges between the Arts programs at UVA and create even more synergy and interdepartmental collaboration as well as to foster more interdisciplinary interaction with the Arts departments and other departments around Grounds. Peter has expressed his wish that we examine the question of more centralized governance between the Arts departments -- so that we are working for the common good of all of us and that will certainly dovetail into the question of whether it would behoove the University and the Arts departments to form a new College or School of Fine and Performing Arts. Is that a move that would serve as a catalyst to propel us toward making it onto the list of the top 25 Arts universities in the nation? Or are we best served by continuing to be a part of the College of Arts and Sciences? I certainly believe that if Mel Leffler will remain Dean for the next 100 years, there is no question that we are where we should be -- firmly planted in the College and enjoying tremendous support on his part. As I'm not sure that will be the case, will the next Dean care about the Arts as Mel does? As you look at the lists of the top Arts programs in the country, the majority of them are housed in their own school or college of fine and performing arts. I do not know if this would make any difference and I do not know if a school of the arts is right for the University of Virginia. I have heard strong sentiments both pro and con, regarding this idea, which some label as heretical. But, at the very least, this is certainly a question that bears time for discussion.

I was privileged to attend the University of Michigan for all of my three degrees and in many ways, UVA and U-M are much alike. Both are great research institutions and both boast vital liberal arts programs in their Colleges of Arts and Sciences. There is one difference. While I was going to school in Ann Arbor, I became accustomed to being able to make a choice to attend, on most weekends, events which were running simultaneously such as Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Stratford Shakespeare Festival from Ontario presenting Shakespeare in one of the university's three theatres, or a modern dance or ballet concert given by the dance program or by an international company, or a major production of an opera presented by music students, or a sold-out concert of Peter, Paul, and Mary in the 5,000 seat Hill Auditorium, etc. etc. etc. (to quote a famous King). The arts thrived then at the University of Michigan and they continue to thrive today. They do because they have been a priority of that institution for many years. And what better research for a young artist to have than to be able to actually see the masters performing in his or her particular discipline while one is in the very process of perfecting that discipline. Peter Low has begun this with his Arts Enhancement Fund through which we have been able over the past three years to bring some very fine professional artists to Charlottesville to perform and to work and/or critique our students.

Michigan is a benchmark because it has given priority to the arts. It is time to make the Arts a priority at the University of Virginia.

Let me conclude by saying that the time is now to put all of this together. My great fear is if we do not accomplish our goals in the next few years, a great deal of time will elapse before all of this is thought about again.

I thank you and will take any questions you have.

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