NORMAN — The future of fine arts at the University of Oklahoma is strong but will need the continued support of the state, corporations and arts patrons to remain strong in the years to come, says Rich Taylor, dean of the University of Oklahoma’s Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts.
“In the decades ahead, the arts in the schools, community and at flagship universities like OU will be a key component for attracting new businesses and residents to an area, as part of a broad, balanced and flourishing community environment,” Taylor said.
The arts inspire, which allows for “the nurturing and celebration of originality and risk-taking,” Taylor said.
“The tools that the arts develop, such as creativity, flexibility, discipline and communication, empower the dreamers and visionaries of the world to think outside the box.”
To move forward, Taylor said, the arts at universities must remain vibrant and relevant by engaging more participants at all levels and by presenting the highest quality performances of both the classics and the more popular art forms to attract a broad audience, Taylor said.
As fine arts dean, Taylor said he feels a deep responsibility to nurture student artists, as well as introduce the arts to other students.
For some students, Taylor said, “their first exposure to fine arts might be here on campus. They may never have seen a live performance before. It’s up to us to make that a quality performance.”
When it comes to fine arts, Taylor said, “I’m bullish about promoting the arts. I’m thrilled to be back in Oklahoma in a role where I can contribute to the development and appreciation of fine arts in the state.”
Out of retirement
Taylor, an Enid native, spent nearly three decades as a corporate executive for Disney before retiring in 2007.
Shortly thereafter, he was coaxed out of retirement by OU regent Max Weitzenhoffer, who wanted him to serve as dean of OU’s School of Musical Theatre. A year later he was persuaded to take over as dean of the fine arts college.
“I wouldn’t have come back here if I didn’t think this state was a fertile place for artists to succeed, learn and grow,” Taylor said.
Oklahoma has turned out an “astronomical” number of people who have gone on to have successful careers in music, dance, art, musical theater and acting, Taylor said.
“I think the arts are very important to Oklahomans. The people expect quality here. They know quality. They love a great show or seeing really great art. I think all the arts, from symphonies and ballet to museums, are well-supported throughout the state.”
Oklahoma City, in particular, he said, “has such a positive, well-planned approach to growth that has nurtured the arts.”
Schools statewide emphasize fine arts education, with some schools being art-centric, he said.
“Education plays a big part, and I’m talking about all schools, colleges and universities here, not just OU. I think they all do a good job in educating students and promoting the development of fine arts.”
Taylor said he is proud to be on the board of directors for Creative Oklahoma, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing Oklahoma’s creative economy through creativity and innovation based on initiatives in education, commerce and culture.
In bad economic times, Taylor said, “the tendency is to cut funding to the arts. That looks good on paper, but it’s a mistake. You can’t take something away and then bring it back later at the same level. You can’t restart the engine. It doesn’t work that way.”
Arts supporters need to constantly be looking for alternative ways to fund the arts, he said, “so we don’t lose the gains we’ve made.”
OU President David Boren says a university can’t be great without a great fine arts program, Taylor said.
“He says art feeds the soul, and it does. It’s immensely important to the state as a whole, and to the people who want to come here,” Taylor said.
When interviewing out-of-state job applicants, Taylor said, “the first thing they want to know is what the arts are like here. When I tell them, they get excited, because it is exciting. We continually exceed their expectations.”