- NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts at 50
How can I sing “Happy Birthday!” to an institution? Especially one in middle age. One to which I belong, if one can ever “belong” to an institution. It goes without saying that I wish NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (TSOA)1 a joyous 50th birthday.
My well-wishes are underlined by the fact that the 2015/16 academic year inaugurated TSOA’s new dean, the school’s fourth, Allyson Green. Dean Green succeeded Mary Schmidt Campbell who succeeded David Oppenheim who succeeded the founding dean, Robert W. Corrigan. Each of these deans has/had their own flavor and style.
Corrigan, restless to a fault, resigned from NYU in 1968 to become the first President of the California Institute of the Arts. After that, he started schools at the University of Texas, Dallas, and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He died in 1993, at the age of 65. David Oppenheim, classical clarinetist and music and television producer, was dean from 1969 to 1991. Oppenheim oversaw the development of TSOA’s studio system of quasi-independent departments and programs. Oppenheim passed away in 2007 at the age of 85. In 1991, Mary Schmidt Campbell, formerly the head of the Studio Museum of Harlem and Cultural Affairs Commissioner of New York City was appointed dean. Under Campbell, the school expanded its physical, intellectual, and artistic scope. Campbell left TSOA in 2014 to become President of Spelman College, Atlanta. In April 2014, Allyson Green — a dancer, choreographer, and educator — was named dean. What will TSOA become under her aegis? With Green, NYU’s leadership installed a person with an active artistic life (in painting and design, as well as dance) and deep experience in interdisciplinary arts, international touring, and community outreach.
I have been part of TSOA for 49 of its 50 years. And for six years before there was a School of the Arts at NYU, I knew — and worked closely with — Corrigan, who I followed even before I met him. We both have BAs from Cornell; we both went to Johns Hopkins; we both taught at Tulane and NYU. Corrigan founded TDR as the Carlton Drama Review in 1955, then took it to Tulane in 1957 where he renamed it the Tulane Drama Review. When Corrigan left Tulane for Carnegie Tech in 1962, I inherited his job and his journal. In 1964, Corrigan migrated from Carnegie to NYU. In 1965, he started the School of the Arts. In 1967, he invited me and TDR to NYU. My job as an assistant then associate professor/editor at Tulane was my first fulltime academic job. My professor/editor job at NYU has been my only other fulltime academic job. My Tulane and NYU jobs segue. The way I feel about it is that I’ve had only one academic job my whole life. My experience comprises the entire life of TSOA.
Back to the birthday. At its birth in 1966, the School of the Arts enrolled 266 students. In 2015, TSOA had 4326 students in 10 undergraduate and 11 graduate departments. Go to http://tisch.nyu.edu to check out the extraordinary range and vitality. The only thing missing is live instrumental and vocal music. It’s good to be venerable and dynamic at the same time. But also, perhaps, at this point, it’s time to “take stock.” What is a performing arts school for? What is the place of scholarship within an enterprise that privileges practice? How do the live arts mesh — or clash — with digital creativity? To what degree can a school be an organically integrated system and to what degree does each discipline or art need to maintain its distinct self? [End Page 8]
“Taking stock” does not refer to Wall Street or the stock market, but to retail stores whose proprietors from time to time need to know what stuff is on hand, what needs to be ordered, and what discontinued. When I was a preteen, I worked summers in my grandfather Samuel Schwarz’s drugstore in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. Being so young, I was not allowed to wait on customers — the really sexy job...