The University of New Orleans is working to establish a new School of the Arts that would house five existing arts departments under one roof — an initiative that the cash-strapped university hopes would entice more students at a time when the city’s cultural sector is enjoying steady job gains.
UNO is seeking approval for the move from the University of Louisiana System’s board of supervisors, which is slated to discuss the proposal Tuesday.
In many ways, the proposed new school — which could be in place by July — is as much about rebranding UNO’s cultural departments as finding ways to make the Lakefront school more efficient.
The proposed School of the Arts would consist of UNO’s departments of music, fine arts, theater, film and arts administration.
Their combination would “not only reflect 21st century trends but also support the university’s urban mission and offer a distinctive brand that will be marketable to a broad range of constituencies,” UNO said in a summary of the proposal included in the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting.
By tapping into the city’s standing as a cultural hub, UNO officials hope the rebranding would give it the prominence — both locally and nationally — that could push its arts enrollment up by as much as a 30 percent in three years. That would mean a jump of more than 280 new students and another $2.4 million in annual revenue, UNO’s summary said.
The extra money would give UNO a lift after years of steep funding cuts and declining enrollment. UNO faculty spent much of the past year looking at ways to trim costs among its 80 degree programs, determining which areas should be shored up and which should be restructured or eliminated.
But the money also could be reinvested into the burgeoning arts school, said Kevin Graves, dean of UNO’s College of Liberal Arts.
“What we want to do is enhance an already robust cultural community and arts community by bringing together all of the arts areas — music, film and theater, visual arts and arts administration — under an umbrella where there can be a branding and we can also serve as a cumulative resource for the community,” Graves said.
Having the five departments housed in the same school would promote “interdisciplinary crossovers and ways in which the arts can intermingle in ways that they historically have not, but we can also become a major force within the community as a resource for the arts organizations,” he said.
UNO’s School of the Arts would be the only one of its kind in Louisiana, according to Graves. And it would be uniquely positioned. Citing Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s annual analysis of the city’s “cultural economy,” UNO’s summary noted that New Orleans’ arts sector represented more than 34,000 jobs in 2013 — almost 14 percent of the city’s workforce.
“If we are to take advantage of our urban environment and appropriately reflect it, a School of the Arts is the perfect creation for this challenge,” UNO’s proposal said.
Enrollment in the five arts departments is more than 10 percent of UNO’s overall student population.
The plan, which has been discussed since 2003, does not call for building new facilities, though that could come down the line if the school’s targeted enrollment goals are met, UNO said. The arts school would include 20 professors and 13 non-tenure-track faculty members.
UNO officials included a wish list of $1.5 million in projected new expenses for the school — largely for updating equipment and lab spaces — contingent upon new funding and increased enrollment.
The push comes as Louisiana’s colleges and universities are bracing for deep cuts to higher education funding being considered as the state works to close a $1.6 billion gap in the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Gov. Bobby Jindal is slated to unveil his proposed budget Friday.
Any cuts for the coming fiscal year will be on top of already-steep reductions in higher education spending, which has fallen by more than half during Jindal’s administration.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.