Tiews position unifies campus arts initiatives

Sept. 21, 2010, 2:04 a.m.

Stanford students who feel the University’s commitment to the arts is lacking have new reason to be hopeful. Even though the campus already enjoys programs put on by the Stanford Lively Arts, the Stanford Arts Initiative (SiCa) and the Cantor Arts Center, the sheer size and diversity of the student body present challenges to arts-oriented organizations working to foster an environment enthusiastic about the arts.

In fewer than two weeks, however, these groups might be able to breathe a little easier with the appointment of Matthew Tiews as executive director of the arts programs for the School of Humanities and Sciences on Oct. 1.

Tiews, who currently serves as the Humanities Center’s associate director, will fill and innovate the role of Kären Nagy, assistant vice president for the arts. Nagy’s position was devoted to orchestrating the efforts of the many groups dedicated to bringing the arts in conversation with the Stanford campus, among other responsibilities. Tiews’ appointment will ensure that the arts also have a place in cross-disciplinary discussions as well as in the residences. The position’s situation within the School of Humanities and Sciences, in conjunction with its physical office location in Wallenberg Hall, signals a heightened interest in integrating the arts into the average student’s experience.

“The idea really was to bring all of [the] facets of the arts on campus together, and to make connections between the teaching, the research projects and the arts activities that are happening on campus,” Tiews said.

He sees his new position as an opportunity to find “points of connection and collaboration” among the existing programs. Having spent his undergraduate years at Yale, Tiews has memories of a slightly different college experience of the arts.

“When I was an undergrad, practically everyone  —  no matter what department  —  had some hand in art,” he said. “It was like this ‘let’s put on a show’ mentality, which is something that I really want to foster.”

Tiews is well aware that the institutional disparities between the two schools make them practically incomparable, though he does not find the artistic impulses among Stanford students to be lacking. He wants to make engagement with the arts a no-brainer for students who are passionate about studio art, performance art, music and more. In his years as associate director, Tiews has had the opportunity to survey students about their relationships with the arts on campus, remembering that their most emphatic desire was for spaces in which they could create.

“Not only did we get responses that indicated that students wanted to be able to engage with artists, but we would also get responses that said, ‘We want to have spaces where we can do art,’” Tiews said.

The University and the office of the vice provost for undergraduate education have already expressed new-found interest in investing in the arts, especially in the residences. Kimball Hall, under the guidance of Jonathan Berger, has spearheaded these efforts with the creation of new performance spaces.

Students and arts groups alike will benefit from the renewed sense of energy the current associate director will bring to the table.

“I see Matthew’s role as a really visionary step within the University,” said Jenny Bilfield, artistic and executive director of Lively Arts. “[He’s] looking across all of these unique entities and finding the points of connection that we can’t necessarily see ourselves.”

Bilfield, who sees Lively Arts’ role as bringing both the campus and its surrounding community together in the arts, considers the creation of Tiews’ new position an exciting step in the right direction. As for Tiews, his policy of encouraging student input is as robust as it was at his previous position.

“I’m still interested in input to see what people have to say,” he said. “I hope my door will always be open.”

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