Charles Taylor, director of the University of New Orleans' new unified School of Fine Arts, says, 'One of the things that we’re going to be looking at is creating a greater synergy among the arts disciplines.'

Advocate photo by SHERRI MILLER

As the arts departments at the University of New Orleans sought ways to increase enrollment and funding during tough economic times, administrators and educators decided to get creative.

Putting their heads together, university officials recently established a unified School of the Arts. The school consolidates five arts disciplines — film, theater, music, fine arts and arts administration — under the leadership of newly appointed director Charles Taylor.

Taylor, a member of the university’s Department of Music faculty since 2001, said “the goal is to have the school be greater than the sum of its parts.”

A major objective of the restructuring is to provide students with an education that reflects the realities of today’s working arts professionals. Taylor envisions a curriculum that includes skills essential for would-be artists, like business basics and grant writing, in addition to opportunities for cross-training and collaboration with artists outside of their chosen discipline.

“We know in the profession right now that artists are collaborating across genres — musicians are working with filmmakers, and visual artists are working with musicians,” said Taylor. “We see this going on internationally, so one of the things that we’re going to be looking at is creating a greater synergy among the arts disciplines.”

The organizational approach as Taylor described it resembles Loyola University’s unified College of Music and Fine Arts, which is the only department of its kind within the 28 associated Jesuit colleges and universities.

Loyola recently announced that Kern Maass, formerly an associate dean at Appalachian State University, will take over as the new dean of its College of Music and Fine Arts. In a recent press release, Maass was called “a new collaborative and innovative leader” by Marc Manganaro, Loyola’s vice president for academic affairs and provost.

At UNO, the big question for school leaders is how to find their way forward in the face of increased budget cuts and decreased funding for public universities across the state.

According to Taylor, UNO’s decision to form the School of the Arts wasn’t intended as a reaction to budget cuts (the initial proposal predated funding decisions by state lawmakers, he said), but he acknowledged that the new school provides greater opportunity to pursue new sources of funding to offset the cuts.

“We’re going to have to look at funding in a different way,” said Taylor. “We’re going to have to look at funding almost as if we’re a private institution rather than a state institution.”

Taylor plans to work with the university’s development office, the academic departments and other campus partners to identify potential sources of external funding. As the School of the Arts grows, Taylor said he anticipates that an increase in enrollment will follow, meaning more tuition dollars for the school.

For now, students won’t see any big changes in day-to-day operations on campus, but Taylor hopes that some small first steps — a consolidated arts calendar and newsletter, for example — alongside directed conversations with faculty and administrators will pave the way for more significant changes in the near future.

“The two main jobs that I’m going to have will be searching for external funding and working on marketing the school and recruiting students, and all that is collaborative with the faculty,” said Taylor.

“Right now, my role is to build the brand of the school, to build awareness of the school and also to help lead the discussions on programmatic initiatives that we want to do ... all of which is going to be driven by what the professional needs are as they exist today.”