As an undergraduate on agricultural scholarship at the University of Idaho, Kurt Daw planned to raise sheep on his family's farm until a theatre professor inspired new ideas.
"It was the analysis of Chekhov's plays that hooked me," remembers Daw, SF State's newly appointed dean of the College of Creative Arts. "Those scribbles on the page encoding deep human experience, and your active imagination bringing that alive. Before it had never occurred to me how much human dialogue happens through the arts."
Now Daw is set to help spark similar epiphanies for SF State students during a pivotal time. With a sterling resume -- formerly dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at the State University of New York-New Paltz, past president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and author of two acting textbooks -- Daw arrives as SF State prepares to break ground on the $50 million Mashouf Creative Arts Center in 2010.
"This building will be the gateway," Daw says, dreaming aloud of inviting the San Francisco Opera to perform in the 1,200-seat main theater. "We want to partner with the major arts institutions of San Francisco." He sees a College of Creative Arts that draws audiences from the diverse neighborhoods near campus, while encouraging students seeing their first opera production or art show at SF State to check out the offerings in downtown San Francisco.
Just as important, the center will strengthen a philosophy about creativity that SF State "got right," Daw says, when it placed not only visual arts and performing arts, but also broadcasting and electronic media within a single college.
"I think SF State has the message correct, that creativity is what matters, not the medium," he says. "Having it all under one roof keeps us focused on the underlying principle. And it keeps us on the cutting edge, even in the traditional disciplines. What used to be distinct disciplines are now losing their boundaries. We'll have students running from department to department and using them all."
That atmosphere benefits everyone on campus, says Daw, who calls the importance of creativity his "new soapbox," and is frequently heard repeating author Sir Ken Robinson's belief that "Creativity now is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status."
"I don't disrespect traditional education," Daw says. "We need to be literate and logical. But I really do think right-brainers rule the future."
His enthusiasm is already catching on with students who stop him in the halls. And Daw has wasted no time connecting with alumni, meeting with Creative Arts grads in New York, and conducting a Q and A with Tony- winning Broadway musical director Paul Gemignani (B.A., '60) for fellow alumni at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.
The revelations he had as a University of Idaho student reading Chekhov, he says, are more relevant than ever. "We live in a world that calls for innovation, creativity and connectivity," he said. "I really believe a creative degree gives you the skills and resources to live in that world."
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