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Welcome Lorenzo Candelaria

He’s the new Dean of the School of the Arts.

Lorenzo (Frank) Candelaria, PhD joined Purchase College as dean of the School of the Arts in July 2018. Most recently he served as associate provost at the University of Texas at El Paso; before that, he spent 12 years on the musicology faculty at the University of Texas at Austin.

A passionate advocate for the arts, Candelaria sees arts advocacy as one of the greatest opportunities for the School of the Arts and Purchase College to engage people from diverse backgrounds and make a positive impact in communities all over the globe.

He credits a fifth grade visit to the El Paso Symphony Orchestra in 1982 as a turning point in his life. “My family is not musical, and not a single person I knew at the time had ever studied or even played a musical instrument,” he explains. “But when that symphony concert was over, I was convinced that I had to play the violin. I learned how to do that in our public schools at a manageable cost to my parents. That concert was the first step along a pathway in music that allowed me to become a first-generation college graduate, a professional violinist, a musicology professor, and now a dean at a top-flight arts school in New York.”

Candelaria recently answered a few questions about his impression of Purchase and plans for the School of the Arts.

Now that you’ve been on campus for a while, what’s your impression of Purchase? Anything surprising or unexpected?

LC: I am surprised by how much Purchase has aligned with my imagination and expectations. To some extent, that shouldn’t surprise me. I studied Purchase College very carefully before coming here. I felt it offered the best opportunity for truly transdisciplinary work—what I like to call “integrative engagement”—that will be transformative for the arts. I have not been disappointed.

In a very short time, I’ve developed genuine friendships and close working relationships with our Dean for Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ross Daly, and Dean for Global Strategy, Anne Kern. We are eager to pursue a number of collaborative projects that we have already sketched out. One of the most exciting is a reconceptualization of the American symphony orchestra as a humanities institution, something that can be realized only through broadly interdisciplinary, richly contextualized thematic programming.

What do you see as the School of the Arts’ greatest strengths and opportunities?

LC: Its greatest strength is the collaborative leadership I find among the directors of the Conservatories of Dance, Music, and Theatre and the School of Art+Design. They are rarities: incredibly talented and highly accomplished experts in their fields who enjoy working together and with others across the college and in the community. Egos don’t get in the way. And they are great thought partners, too. It’s refreshing to work with colleagues who are fully supportive of the rigorous training demanded by the arts, but also very forward-thinking in terms of how those rigorously trained artists and thinkers are engaged in a society with rapidly shifting interests and demographics. We are not trapped in by the siloed “conservatory mindset” that, in my opinion, is one of the greatest tragedies in American arts education. Here we almost take it for granted that collaborative work across disciplines opens doors for new possibilities. Purchase attracts the kind of student who finds that meaningful and exciting.

What would you describe as your most important initiatives for the first year? And longer term?

LC: Arts advocacy is the greatest long-term opportunity we have at Purchase–driving and shaping a national conversation on the central role of the arts in society. That’s the platform. Its “pillars,” so to speak, are three critical areas that guide our everyday work across the School of the Arts and across the college: integrative engagement, inclusive communities, and global citizenship. Rather than thinking in terms of initiatives, I’ve asked our faculty, staff, students, and alumni to reflect on how the great work they are already doing merges naturally with these critical areas (or pillars). By “integrative engagement” I mean intentional programming that actively fosters transdisciplinarity across the college campus. By “inclusive communities” I signal the importance of moving beyond the static issue of diversity and toward the active involvement of people from every background to create meaningful and rewarding experiences for society. By “global citizenship” I am encouraging all of us to reflect on how our talents and efforts might be put to good use outside of our immediate spheres of influence–how being a successful artist, musician, dancer, or actor at Purchase impacts our neighbors in Benin, the colonias of West Texas, or the family just down the street.

How do you see your background informing the things you’d like to accomplish during your time at Purchase?

LC: I’ve had many wonderful educational and professional experiences over the course of my career. The most important thing to know about my background, however, is something that happened in the spring of 1982, when somebody in my public elementary school in West Texas thought it a good idea to rent a couple of buses and send the entire fifth grade class to see an afternoon concert put on by the El Paso Symphony Orchestra.

My family is not musical and not a single person I knew at the time had ever studied or even played a musical instrument. But when that symphony concert was over, I was convinced that I had to play the violin and I learned how to do that in our public schools at a manageable cost to my parents. That concert was the first step along a pathway in music that allowed me to become a first-generation college graduate, a professional violinist, a musicology professor, and now a dean at a top-flight arts school in New York.

My life bears witness to the transformative power of the arts and the importance of accessible arts education. A bus trip to the symphony made me an arts advocate and if there is one goal I have in my time here, it is to position Purchase College as our nation’s leading school for arts advocacy—an area where leadership is desperately needed. To pull that off, we need to partner every step of the way with our dedicated colleagues in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Our graduates need to be excellent and rigoriously-trained practitioners but also well-rounded thinkers, persuasive writers, and articulate speakers—an essential combination if the arts are to thrive over the next century.

The bar needs to be set high, too. For any student who has a choice between Juilliard and Purchase, for example, I want Purchase to be the clear choice. Here, students will not only have the superior training they need as artists, but also guided pathways through the Liberal Arts and Sciences to discover and express—in convincing, irrefutable terms—why art matters at all.

I imagine New York is quite a change from Texas. How are you adjusting to the pace and culture here?

LC: Texas is a big place. For twelve years I taught at the University of Texas at Austin where life moves at a pretty fast clip and resources are fairly abundant. For the past five years I’ve been at the University of Texas at El Paso, where the rhythms are more relaxed but the experience of living in an under-resourced border community is far more intense. The stakes there are simply higher, the margins for error miniscule.

Life at Purchase College is somewhat like the two. We are situated on one of the country’s most enviable tracts of land here in beautiful Westchester, where resources are exceptionally abundant, while the College itself is often strained in terms of available support for our faculty and students. As so many of our students are first-generation and under-resourced, the stakes are pretty high here too, with margins for error that are also quite miniscule. In many ways I’m right at home.

The big difference here, of course, is the potential for extraordinary growth and sustainability through investment from our surrounding community. With a broader base of active engagement and support there is no limit to how many lives might be impacted through the arts.

To start, I’d love to create a well-endowed program called “Pathways to Purchase” that would engage faculty, students, alumni, and our neighbors in Westchester to build intentional arts-humanities programming and guided pathways to recruit and retain outstanding students from economically challenged communities in our metropolitan area.

Programming needs to start in their sophomore year in high school and would continue through their sophomore year at Purchase, with full scholarship support along the way. This would be transformative on so many levels and this is something that Purchase College is uniquely positioned to do. It’s part of “The Purchase Promise”—the extraordinary potential to do transformative work—that brought me here in the first place.