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Fine and Performing Arts Commission
Bob Chapel, Chair

Presentation to the Board of Visitors
October 15, 1999

Good morning. I'm very pleased to be speaking to you today and I have three words for you all -- buildings! buildings! buildings! The Fine and Performing Arts Commission has been meeting on a bi-weekly basis since February 2, 1999. Our initial task was to carefully examine each arts program as it currently exists, to allow the chair of each program to articulate the department's future goals, and to assess the needs that, if met, will allow each department to realize their dreams. This assessment phase is complete, and we are currently in the process of citing benchmark university arts programs, which will be closely scrutinized in the next comparative phase.

Last weekend we held a two-day retreat to which we invited the leaders of ten excellent programs from around the nation in art, drama, music, media arts, and museums, to tell us what it was that made their programs outstanding. It became clear that in nearly all cases they had solid support and respect from the top down at their universities and that they had fine facilities, a prodigious faculty and much more than adequate funding for their programs. Cultural life was as important at these institutions as academic pursuit.

An enormous amount of information was imparted and we are in the process of identifying the salient points which we can use in making our recommendations for what we all need to transform the University of Virginia into a place where the arts are truly respected, are constantly nurtured, and will continue to flourish year by year.

More hard data will also be gathered in regards to facilities, funding, faculty and staffing at these and other benchmark institutions. Visits to various arts programs and centers will also take place over the ensuing year and a final report on the current state and future of the Fine and Performing Arts at our University will be submitted to President Casteen in the not-too-distant future. I believe that while this planning is enormously important, it is also important not to take an inordinate amount of time for this process and dissipate the current energy and interest of everyone involved, from all of you, and from the President of the University on down. Each program has a clear identity and vision in regard to how it wants to evolve, and we feel we can make a compelling case as to why potential donors would want to give their money to help make the arts great at UVA.

And . . . while a great arts program a building doth not make -- a bad building can certainly slow the growth of any sort of educational mission in the arts. The spatial needs to teach performance with the cello, or sculpture or painting, or acting, or costume design, or dance, or video production, are inherently different than the spatial needs to teach history or English. I am convinced that the arts faculties are doing all they can to fulfill their educational missions -- but until an adequate number of practice rooms are constructed for instrumental music performance, until the young sculptors or painters have a healthy environment within which to work, until there is somewhere in which to hold a dance class without hurting the knees of our student dancers -- UVA doesn't have a prayer to become an equal with other arts programs in the nation. Unlike history or English, artistic performance is best taught one-on-one or, at least, one-on-twelve. And because of our spatial inadequacies and lack of faculty, scores of students interested in taking courses in the arts are not able to enroll, or, in many cases, they choose to go elsewhere.

If funding support for graduate students and faculty is realized, and if the current facilities (some of them, quite frankly, an embarrassment to a university with the prestige of the University of Virginia) are improved, then I believe a cultural transformation can occur. A wonderful arts program touches everyone's life.

It should be noted that, in regards to these four commissions, that the arts directly intersect with the other three -- in finding ways to work with international arts organizations and artists from around the world, in the development of technology in the theatre, music, and art worlds, and in reaching out to the public at large and simply making life better.

The Music Department prides itself in having a first-rate academic program, but it also considers performance extremely important, and, when it has the facilities it so desperately needs, it will seek to integrate its academic and performance programs so that students will benefit from this interdependence and the department will take that next step toward excellence.

The Studio Art program is woefully hamstrung due to the terribly inadequate and unhealthy facility of Fayerweather Hall. This program possesses a strong faculty, but they find it an impossibility to grow in any sort of positive way with such dismal space within which students have to work and study. I was pleased to hear that a number of you took a walk through Fayerweather Hall recently, so you have first-hand knowledge of the unhealthy and shoddy conditions about which I speak.

Likewise, The Bayly Art Museum is in need of additional space and staffing. The Department of Drama and the Heritage Repertory Theatre share what is possibly the best Arts facility on Grounds, yet we are desperately in need of additional technical staffing in order to continue to deliver a vibrant production program. And there is nowhere for young, would-be dancers to study dance.

With Tim Robertson's recent gift to the University, the new Media Studies program has been given a sound lift-off, and the just-opened Robertson Media Center is a wonderful new facility where our students can view and edit videotapes and study many aspects of the media, but more funding will be needed for additional faculty if this interdisciplinary program is to flourish. We are very pleased that a most distinguished scholar, Johanna Drucker, has just joined us as the new Director of Media Studies.

One of the immediate goals is to create an exceptional arts newsletter and website for all of the arts at UVA, much like the ones produced by many schools, to be sent to alumni, Virginia high schools, and to university and college arts programs around the nation to let the world know that the arts are indeed alive and flourishing in Charlottesville. We have been a well-kept secret for far too long.

The Fine and Performing Arts have also been the poor step-children of this University for far too long. It is a most exciting time for all of us in the Arts to realize that the University of Virginia has made this commitment to finally work to provide the resources that will elevate our profiles and programs. Programmatic vision still remains paramount, but we desperately need these buildings to house these programs. This commission is dedicated to doing all it can to further this cause. The synergy seems good, so I hope we can all join together to make this great cultural transformation a reality. In the year 2020, we want no less than when the University of Virginia is mentioned, our arts programs are thought of immediately as one of the strengths of this great institution of learning. Quite frankly, I hope we don't have to wait until 2020 -- I want this to happen while I'm still here.

 

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