Monday, January 14, 2013

An Informative Chat with Bill Payne, Dean of UMD's School of Fine Arts

Bill Payne grew up Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. His dad, a WW II veteran and a POW, flew 25 B-17 bombing missions before being shot down over Germany. His Mom, who started college in her 40’s after raising six kids, began her teaching career at age 50 and eventually wrote a book about his father’s war experiences.

Before ultimately moving to Duluth in 1993 Payne lived in Chicago where he saw the impact of a flourishing theater scene that he was part of. In January 2011 he became Interim Dean at UMD’s school of fine arts. After a national search he was officially tapped to take on the role of Dean this past May. His vision for the arts extends far beyond academic walls, striving to connect the school to the community and the world.

EN: What are some of the things that are happening to connect UMD to the City of Duluth? 
Bill Payne: The first thing people should know about our connection to the City of Duluth is the history of the Land Grant Mission established in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln. Land was issued to the states to create public universities that would educate citizens and give back to the community through applied research that improves life for the region and the world.

Through various fine arts disciplines and pedagogical strategies, our courses connect the students to the Duluth community. Our programs are practice based and demand that the student create performances, concerts, and exhibitions for the general public. Our students are encouraged to be active in local arts activity as their schedule permits. Our faculty are active locally, while continuing to share their national and international experiences with students, colleagues, and the region.

Twin Ports Arts Align is a grass roots conversation about the role of artists and arts organizations in the life and economic times of the Twin Ports region. Through Arts Align, SFA is reconnecting, and connecting for the first time, with a wider range of regional artists and arts organizations.

EN: The first meeting of Twin Ports Arts Align was this past February. In our discussion you said, "it was time." What were the indicators that it was indeed time for pulling together the arts here in the Twin Ports.
BP: Over the twenty years my family and I have lived in Duluth, there has been a great deal of change. Over the last ten years, the climate for the arts has changed. The state, the city, the area chamber of commerce are all looking to the arts community as a source of cultural and economic development. Though successful in small groups or as individuals, the arts community was not successful at creating a large community that could advocate for itself in the broader discussion of regional urban planning and economic growth.

EN: How do communities overcome the problem of silos with regard to their various constituencies?
BP: By being deliberately interdisciplinary in their lives. If all you ever drink is milk, occasionally take a few sips of iced tea or lemonade. Maybe some strong black coffee will enable you to see the silo and figure out how to move beyond its walls from time to time.

At UMD, the last fifty years of academic specialization has led to disciplinary silos that have little tiny windows that we can peep through and see our colleagues. Some want to put in some double hung windows that we can lean out of and carry on conversations with our neighbors in the other silos. I suggest we should install archways and begin to create the learning space that will accommodate people of many disciplines coming together to learn, imagine, and create. We still need the silos, we just need to be able to move freely in and outside of the specialty, bringing back inside our silo what we learn in the common space. I long for the space where all disciplines can explore old and new ideas together.

EN: There seems to be a shift taking place at UMD where it is moving toward a greater conectedness with the Twin Ports community and downtown. What's behind this? 
BP: The new UMD Strategic Plan, Mission statement, and Vision statement say it all. This was developed in 2010-2011, led by Chancellor Lendley Black, who has a PHD in Theatre History and is a fine artist as well as a scholar.

EN: During our most recent lunch at the Red Mug you spoke quite highly of Ann Markuson, who is newly settled in our region. Who is she and why is her relocation here something significant?
BP: Ann Markusen has studied and written extensively about the arts community in America and brings us a wealth of knowledge of and experience with successful attempts to grow and sustain artists lives. She lives nearby now and can be an active participant in our next phase of development as an arts community. We are fortunate to have her insights to guide us.

You can hear her discuss Creative Placemaking here.

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