Visitors to the Ball State University campus will enjoy College of Fine Arts (CFA) students’ first-rate artworks and world-class performances in exhibitions, operas, concerts, musicals, dances, and plays. Yet there is more to an arts education than perfecting talent, said interim CFA Dean Michael O’Hara.
“We encourage young artists to be good citizens,” he said. “Forget the stereotype of artists as tortured, self-centered geniuses, unappreciated in their lifetimes. At Ball State, we tell our students they can’t expect people to value their art unless they value the world.”
CFA was established in 1983. Its graduates serve their communities as world-class musicians, visual artists, entertainers, teachers, and entrepreneurs, among countless other professions. Its more than 11,000 alumni include Garfield creator Jim Davis, metals artist Stacey Lee Webber, Hollywood actors Doug Jones and Anthony Montgomery, independent theater director and choreographer Jen Donohoo, music teacher, author and composer Tim Lautzenheiser, and Grammy Award-winning pianist Angelin Chang.
As Ball State’s Centennial Celebration continues, Dr. O’Hara sat down with Ball State Magazine and discussed CFA’s proud past and bright future.
Which of CFA’s accomplishments are you most proud of?
We have an embarrassment of riches.
Ball State is home to world-class facilities. For example, Sursa Performance Hall, which seats 600 and houses a Goulding & Wood pipe organ, and Hahn Recital Hall have acoustical tuning capabilities. The Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass is one of the few places where artists can perfect their craft in glass. The David Owsley Museum of Art is home to treasures spanning history and the globe.
Our students have remarkable accomplishments. For an incredible 15 years in a row, theater students have been invited as national qualifiers to the yearly Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), often competing with grad students. The Jazz Lab Ensemble has performed nationally and internationally, including the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Our art students have studied their craft abroad in places such as Poland and the Czech Republic. These are just a few examples.
Our faculty and students collaborate across disciplines. Students in the School of Music, School of Art, and Department of Theatre and Dance collaborated with Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster on her 2018 release, “Take Me to the World.”
What initiatives are you most looking forward to?
Our faculty and students produce art and performances comparable to their peers in highly respected schools. For instance, a recent School of Music concert included Beethoven’s Ninth with full choir and orchestra at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis. I expect such accomplishments to continue.
In the long term, I hope facilities for theater and dance programs, now spread across seven buildings, will have a new home, one that matches the quality of Sursa Hall, the Glick Center, and other spaces within the College of Fine Arts. Our theater and dance programs have excellent faculty and students. They deserve state-of-the-art spaces.
What facets of CFA should people know?
If you’re in east central Indiana, you don’t have to travel far to see excellent artists. We have talent right here in Muncie.
The College of Fine Arts also has talented graduates. Our alumni have worked in Hollywood and on Broadway. Their artwork has been displayed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Indiana Music Education Association gatherings are like a Ball State reunion.
The College of Fine Arts is a place filled with really great people. I love my colleagues and am proud to be a member of the community.
How does CFA encourage students to live the Beneficence Pledge?
At Ball State, we do more than educate students. We serve our neighbors. In and beyond Muncie, you will see Ball State students and faculty display their art and perform at venues. If you’re in Muncie, you might hear musicians at a First Thursday downtown, see artists’ creations at Muncie YART, or enjoy a show at Muncie Civic Theatre in which students or faculty, or both, worked. One of the most extraordinary performances I saw was a theater student’s capstone project in a warehouse on the south side of town.
Visitors are always welcome to campus to enjoy Ball State professors’ and students’ work and the Owsley Museum, which is free to everyone seven days a week. At the College of Fine Arts, we are as much a part of the community as it is a part of us.
How does CFA empower students?
Ball State empowers young artists with passion and purpose, and that empowerment shows in the accomplishments I mentioned earlier.
As soon as students set foot on campus, they receive hands-on instruction from professors who are excellent teachers, mentors, and artists. Our students have learned from professionals such as Sutton Foster, Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn, and Garfield creator Jim Davis, who is also an exemplary Ball State alumnus.
What would you like to highlight for the Centennial?
Ball State’s enduring values — excellence, innovation, courage, integrity, inclusiveness, social responsibility, and gratitude — have guided us throughout our proud 100-year history and will lead us in our bright future. As our University celebrates its Centennial, I am proud of the impact the arts have made on our students, faculty, staff, and alumni — and in the broader community.