Steve Richardson ’86, is back at Carleton—not as a student this time, but as the new Director of the Arts. After graduating from Carleton as a philosophy major, Richardson first worked in the theater industry in Richmond, VA and for the past 17 years has worked in Minneapolis with Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Since 1995, Richardson has been the producing director of the theater, which won the 2005 Tony Award for outstanding regional theater.
Director of the Arts is a new position at Carleton and the college will be looking to Richardson to “give a greater definition to his role,” says Scott Bierman, Dean of the College. Richardson will primarily be working to foster integration within the arts at Carleton, which includes greater collaboration between the academic departments as well as coordination of arts events that take place on campus. Beyond this, he will aid in connecting Carleton with external arts communities both locally and regionally. Richardson will also be giving input to the Design Advisory Committee on how to better structure the former Northfield Middle School into an arts center which fosters integrative learning.
The appointment of a new Director of the Arts is in line with Carleton’s renewed emphasis on developing the arts at Carleton. The first trigger for this action was in 1998, when the Arts Planning Committee proposed that one of the foremost priorities for bettering the liberal arts education at Carleton should be an improvement of the arts facilities available to faculty and students. The possibility of building an art museum arose, which was later dismissed when President Rob Oden suggested that a more expansive approach be taken. A few months later, a proposal for converting the Northfield Middle School to an arts center was made and subsequently accepted. “Success in the twenty-first century hinges on innovation and creativity that is integrated with skill-development,” explains Bierman. The arts center will be a physical space where such learning takes place. For example, the Digital Asset Resource Center (DARC), which is intended to be an essential part of the arts center, will provide critical support to students for projects or presentations that are web-based in nature or feature media.
The commitment to developing the arts, however, goes beyond the building of the arts center. The ongoing curricular review, for example, aims to re-examine aspects of the Carleton curriculum. One of the concerns being addressed is regarding the distribution requirements; there is no official reason justifying the difference between the number of credits required in the divisions of “Arts & Literature” and the “Humanities” (12 credits for each), and those of “Mathematics and Natural Sciences” and the “Social Sciences” (18 credits). Such considerations of possible revisions in the overall approach that the college takes are aimed at affirming the college’s commitment to the arts as being essential to a solid liberal arts education and equipping students with abilities necessary in all disciplines.
Richardson believes that the strength of the arts at Carleton lies in the privilege that students have of being able to make their “great ideas” happen. He wants to work on making structural changes which will create an environment where the arts can flourish. While he agrees that the building of the arts center will tangibly impact students and their art, he wants to adopt an approach in which the focus is on making the best of what the college already has in order to achieve the desired results. His overarching vision is to encourage more communication within the various disciplines to bring about “unity” and “make the arts come together as a whole.”