Founding dean brings new vision to College of the Arts
For Andrew Davis, becoming a founding dean means more than just running a college — it means developing a vision to improve an institution that can benefit the students and the community.
The recently established Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts, called COTA by many students, announced the former professor and director of the Moores School of Music as the founding dean in late March. Davis is implementing a new vision for the College that will bring a more prominent on-campus arts community.
“I have always been interested in this kind of work,” Davis said. “I had a mentor that told me a long time ago: if you want to make a difference in the university, then you have to get into the administration. You can’t do it by just being a faculty member, so I took that to heart.”
Davis first came to the University in 2003 as an instructor of music theory. In 2008, he became the associate dean of the honors college when he co-chaired the founding of the University’s National Honor Society Phi Beta Kappa chapter. In 2014, he served as an administrator for the School of Music.
“He understands what we are trying to do and he knows what excellence means,” said Director of the School of Art Rex Koontz. “It’s because we share the sort of problems and same criteria for becoming a great School of Art, or being a great School of Music.”
When the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts was established in Fall 2016, Davis was given the position as interim dean.
The search committee had originally planned to expand its scope nationally for a founding dean, but Davis adopted the role when the provost offered him the position last month, he said.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Davis said.
‘All about the arts’
The College of the Arts associate dean, David Bertman, said an essential part of this vision is bringing singers, dancers, actors, painters and writers together to find a common ground in art.
Bertman said works with Davis’s initiatives as well as helping to run the College and contributing to his vision.
Davis’s plan also includes diversifying the college by developing interdisciplinary programs for the students’ curriculum. He hopes to educate them on how to work in all areas of the arts. Visiting artists such as musicians, dancers or photographers will teach students.
“It’s all about the arts, and it’s all about everyone working together to make an impact, and to communicate a common vision and a common agenda; that’s how we make a difference,” Davis said.
Director of the School of Art Rex Koontz said these interdisciplinary projects are an important addition, because they will involve all the schools that make up the College of the Arts.
“This is going to make for better and more successful graduates,” Koontz said. “They are going to be able to go out in the art world and the music world knowing how these things fit together in the life of a city.”
As dean, Davis said he wants students and alumni to benefit from having been a part of a nationally competitive program. He said his team wants students’ at the College of the Arts to get as much leverage and valuable experience as they can.
Davis plans on appointing a student advisory council before the end of the semester. The council — a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from all the College of the Arts departments — will facilitate direct communication with students, so that he can talk directly to them about what works or does not work in the college.
“The deans here are the people that have the power to fix problems,” Davis said. “We’re never going to solve all of them of course, but we really have a lot of power to shape the institution.”
The creation of a college separate from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences has enabled Koontz to communicate more directly to the dean, he said.
Koontz said Davis will effectively put together programs that advance the College and the University in the art world.
A rewarding job
As the dean of the College of the Arts, Davis said he finds his job — running an educational system and an arts organization at the same time — rewarding; the companies and classes in the College put on about 400 concerts, performances and exhibits every year.
“In some ways, it’s almost like running an organization like the Alley Theater or the Houston Symphony,” Davis said. “But, at the same time you’re working with students, you’re educating students and you’re developing curriculum and programs.”
Davis’s overall goal for the College is to impact the community through the arts, achieve excellence in programs and a provide more collaboration.
“Conceptually and also in action, I think one of the things that he’s moving us forward in the most is really taking ahold of the art world and the action within it,” Bertman said. “Whether it’s arts and education or arts and performance, it is going to be a very powerful contributor to the betterment of our society.”
Davis said his best advice for students is to make connections when striving for success.
“Close no doors and burn no bridges, that’s the secret,” Davis said. “If there is an opportunity lurking go explore it, because it might lead to something really interesting.”