SOU hopes to strike sparks between the arts

David Humphrey
David Humphrey

David Humphrey is director for the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University. With a doctorate in music education and opera production, Humphrey went on to become director of education for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and director of San Francisco’s Museum of Performance & Design before coming to Ashland. We met at Pony Espresso Café in Ashland. This is the first of a two-part interview. The second will be published on Dec. 14.

EH: How did you become interested in an interdisciplinary approach to education in the arts?

DH: I started in music, but my interests grew very broadly. I really liked all the arts; I know so many young people do too. Art schools tend to keep students within specific disciplines and don’t allow them to explore other disciplines.

Students are multi-talented, and their choice of a specific area is based on very limited knowledge. They wind up in a particular discipline doing very well, but not quite suiting their personality. They need to find themselves. I believe if you can really understand who you are, and how the arts work, you can make a better decision.

I tell students when they come in, “You’re coming in one door, but you may graduate through another.” That’s the purpose of having a center for the arts, so that you can explore other disciplines.

Last year there were performances in Emigrant Lake. We did a percussion concert the length of Lithia Park. We had many midnight shows. This year we are setting up a commissioning program, so that we’ll have a little bit of money for students to create new works for the festival, and it has to be collaborative.

When students come to most universities, they have one thing in mind; it’s the only thing they know. They don’t realize what the horizon provides. We need to set up opportunities for them to explore.

Because the Southern Oregon University Theater is going through renovation (construction starts in April or May), we are using different spaces. This year we are going to do performances at the Craterian Theater, in the basement of the Student Union (to be called the Arena), and in the Music Recital Hall. The idea is alternative spaces.

The Oregon Center for the Arts contains: music, theater, Shakespeare studies, art, art history, creative writing, emerging media/digital arts, the Schneider Museum (of Art), chamber music concerts, the Shakespeare AMERICA Institute, and summer institutes as well. It’s all of the arts under one umbrella. Now we’ve got to figure out how to do something significant, distinguished, not just do what everyone else does.

EH: How are you bringing the arts together at SOU?

DH: Along with the Oregon Fringe Festival, we produced the Lunacy Theater Festival. The music and theater world were involved with that. Theater Arts will be doing a musical, “The Secret Garden,” as a staged reading, in the Music Recital Hall; it’s collaboration between the Music and Theater Arts Departments. All SOU students will be allowed to audition.

This year the president wanted an athletic band, so we created a band to play at football games. I decided, “We’re small, we’re unique, we have a great jazz band. Let’s put together an electronic athletic band,” which we did. The sound was huge. But sports fans said, “This is not like OSU or The University of Oregon. Why are we doing this?” So now we have something more traditional.

We have a new director at the Schneider Museum (Scott Malbaurn). He is very collaborative. He has some really exciting plans. We’re looking at expansion. I think that it’s going to be a premier contemporary art museum on the West Coast.

We are creating an MBA for the arts. It will be unique. There are a lot of arts management degrees across the country, but an MBA means that you are more serious about the business. If you have an undergraduate degree in the arts, that’s the right combination.

We have Dance Studies, but we don’t have a degree in it. I’m trying to form a dance festival connected with the university, to start drawing students to dance. We could have an outdoor festival. Ultimately I could see it happening at Britt, at the end of their season.

JPR is building an addition to the theater building for their new headquarters. They will be part of the performing arts complex. They’ll bring in artists that students will have access to and studios that students will be able to use.

We have a Masters in Theater Production and a Masters in Music. The plan is to develop a Masters in Shakespeare Studies. We’ve been toying with the idea of a MFA for theater. There are some strong arguments against it: that the focus is on the graduate students, not the undergraduate students, and we are known for that undergraduate program. My thought is that we would put the MFA downtown, and it would run in collaboration with the Shakespeare Festival. That is an ultimate thought. When I see the right facility, I’m going to try to jump on it.

I’m always looking at two things: “What is the future?” and “What are jobs in the future?” If you go to a movie, the credits go on with hundreds (if not thousands) of people who worked on this film, in all kinds of capacities. There are lots of possibilities for young artists to work in that field. Maybe we should look a little more into our technology and digital arts area. Fine Arts is a foundation for us, but as graduates, there are jobs in technology and business.

We have a great faculty, and we have great students. Our job is to provide broader horizons.

For information about the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, visit: OCA.SOU.EDU.

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