Douglas Dempster

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Marsha Miller | Courtesy

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with the deans of the University’s 18 schools and colleges. 

The Daily Texan: Could you talk about some goals you have for the next year and some accomplishments you'd like to note from the past couple of years?

Douglas Dempster: One of our largest programmatic goals is to launch something we call the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies... It has a research component. We've got a Bachelor of Arts in Arts and Entertainment Technologies that is under review and we hope will be approved for the 2016 catalog. We're hoping to build a maker space in the fine arts library... for all students on campus. We're also engaged in a major facilities review, a 10-year facilities review of the college in hopes of improving some of our oldest and most antiquated facilities as a result of that. We're also doing a major review of our professional development initiatives and programs in the college so that we can think about better ways to prepare students for their professional lives after college. One of our major goals is to survive another year under the current budget circumstances without further drastic cuts to programs, faculties and services, but I remain very nervous and worried about that.

DT: What kind of appreciation do you feel like the fine arts school receives from not just the university, but from the regents and legislators? How do they interact with y'all?

Dempster: The University's been very supportive of fine arts. I feel throughout the University of Texas System, there's much greater emphasis on STEM fields. We have some very old, antiquated facilities that really hold us back as a college in different ways, and for instance, it's hard to imagine that the College of Fine Arts would end up being nominated for a tuition revenue bond... In this day and age, there's a lot of pressure on the STEM fields. Business, engineering, science, mathematics, and that's a larger cultural phenomenon. I think the fine arts are underestimated for what they bring to the economy, which is partly why we're creating this center on arts and entertainment technologies, which is all about commercialization of artistic and entertainment content and patents, because we're trying to make the point that our students move out into that commercial world as well, and that we shouldn't think that it's all about oil and gas and software technologies. It's a big marketplace, and the colleges that are contributing to the economy of Texas and the United States are not just confined to two or three colleges. I think the University has been generous to the fine arts, but the STEM fields are obviously getting a much greater amount of attention.

DT: How do you plan to work with the medical school?

Dempster: Dean [Clay] Johnston of the medical school feels very strongly about the role of design studies in health care and being more thoughtful about how we design not just our spaces — the architectural spaces — but also the interface with the public and the business practices, and we're building a much larger design program than we've had before, so there's a partnership right there... Design studies is an area where, one, it's very popular with students and two, it has very good employment prospects for students. Right now, our design program, I think it has about 60 undergraduate majors, but we turn away hundreds of applicants every year. There's something wrong with that picture.

DT: The music school froze the music business and recording technology program partially in order to start up the arts and entertainment technologies program?

Dempster: We're finding that we can't fund all of our initiatives. That's what it's coming to. We've been doing pretty well for about four years. This bad budget situation's been going on for four, now we're looking into five years, so I feel pretty good about how long we've hung in there with very little new revenue every year. The good news for y'all is that your tuition has been frozen for five years. The bad news is that we're really starting to see the effect on the quality and diversity of programs we can offer... How crazy is it that we have a music school in the middle of Austin that won't have a music business program? That seemed like a no-brainer, right? So it's really painful for me to imagine that we might not be offering that in some future, but we are at the point where we're having to make hard choices about what we can and can't do... I think the truth of the matter is that those programs, we launched, but our timing was terrible because we launched them right into the recession, and they've never been very well funded or well supported and they've struggled... There is not a decent recording studio in the music school. There is a recording studio, but it's about 30 years old. You can find a better recording studio at ACC... The [Butler School of Music] director, Dr. Poole, just made a very hard choice that we weren't doing a great job at this, it deserves better, and until we can do a better job, we need to pull back to what we're already doing well and try to revive these programs when we can do a better job.

DT: When students graduate, what do they generally do?

Dempster: About 40 percent of our graduates, at some time in their career, will make a living through teaching the arts. Much to my happy surprise, about 70 percent of our graduates are making some part of their living in the arts, and the rest are working the same place that all college-educated people go. Some become doctors and lawyers and bankers and nurses and you name it. They're doing all kinds of things. A relatively small number become celebrities in the arts. Oscar-winning actors, or Grammy award-winning composers or celebrated playwrights, but we know that that's a minority... Our undergraduate programs are largely liberal arts programs, with an emphasis in the arts, so our students follow all kinds of careers, but as a matter of fact, 70 percent of them stay in the arts in some fashion. [Fine arts] is what I would call a pre-professional major. It tends to orient people's careers in a certain direction without defining that direction for them.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

Music professor Bruce Pennycook was appointed late October to the new role of director of digital arts for the College of Fine Arts, and is in the midst of redesigning the college’s interdisciplinary programs and course offerings. 

Pennycook will oversee the college’s efforts to provide opportunities for interdisciplinary study and collaboration. New courses and facilities will integrate technology and art to create a range of possibilities for progress, including 3-D printing labs and advanced digital technologies that would allow choreographers to work with virtual dancers.

“Everywhere I look in the art world, I’m seeing new technologies changing how art forms are made, how they’re taught and how they’re viewed,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “So why should we expect students to confine their studies within the conventional departmental boundaries?”

Pennycook was tapped for the position, in part, because of his experience as panel chairman of the Bridging Disciplines Program in digital arts and media — an interdisciplinary fine arts program that allows students take a mix of courses in computer science, fine arts and the humanities. Pennycook said the programs have provided an “ideal model” for interdisciplinary study and insights for the upcoming changes.

“UT is fairly unique in that we offer these robust interdisciplinary programs,” academic adviser Rose Mastrangelo said. “They provide a place for students with passions that are too broad to study through only one discipline.”

The changes will come at the expense of older art programs, said Dempster. A ceramics and metals workshop is being refurbished to make way for a new high-tech digital fabrication lab, and advanced metals courses are being dropped in favor of new offerings. The college also aims to construct a “creative commons” that provides students with audio and video editing technologies, among other resources. 

“I’m excited that the College of Fine Arts is going in a new direction that acknowledges the art of the time, but I’m also disappointed that they have to do it at the expense of traditional programs,” studio art freshman Connor Frew said. 

Dempster said his department is working to strike a balance between new and old artistic techniques that incorporates the insights of traditional techniques while creating an environment ideal for progress and innovation.

“I think our focus on the arts is often lost in a rush towards disciplines like science and business and engineering,” Dempster said. “This helps us stay on cutting edge in the arts and humanities.”

Photo courtesy of Marilyn McCray.

A new organ, donated by UT alumnus Robert Sherrill, is filling Jessen Auditorium with music and is being introduced to the Organ Studio Program.

The Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1393 organ was built in 1963 and previously housed in a church in Houston. It was installed in Jessen Auditorium over the fall and after its completion on Dec. 14, a dedication concert was played. The organ contains more than 10,000 different pieces.

The organ was donated by Sherrill, in honor of his late wife, Mary Elizabeth Sherril.

Douglas Dempster, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, said the new instrument will allow the organ program to expand. The program serves nine Organ Studio students and allows non-majors to use the organs for lessons.

“The program was handicapped by having only one significant organ available to students in Bates Recital Hall,” Dempster said. “The addition to Jessen Auditorium of this refurbished Aeolian-Skinner is an important enrichment of the growing program.”

Dempster said organ professors Gerre and Judith Hancock had pushed for a second instrument for several years. Gerre passed away Jan. 21, 2012 before the project was completed and was honored at the dedication concert. 

“The program has grown because of the dedication and reputation of professors Gerre and Judith over the last five years,” Dempster said. “They are internationally recognized for their performance and teaching.”

Charles Ludwick, organ teaching assistant, said playing on different instruments will better prepare students because organists must be able to adapt to varying organs.

“I look forward to teaching my students on the Jessen organ,” Ludwick said. “A big part of learning our instrument is being able to play on different instruments. It’s important as a professional to be able to translate what you learn on one organ to another organ and make adjustments.”

Organ master student Stephan Griffin said the Jessen organ will have the better allow organ students to work with other musicians and expand their skill set.

“This opens up opportunities for collaboration,” Griffin said. “The organ we have in Bates is positioned on a balcony, there’s an issue if you want to collaborate with two or three other players. The organ in Jessen, you’re right there onstage and you can make eye contact with other people, making it a lot easier.”

Griffin said while programs at other universities are downsizing, this addition shows UT’s commitment to the organ program.

“It’s a great addition to the program,” Griffin said. “It’s an American classic organ from a time gone by. You don’t get to play many of them anymore, so it’s amazing UT has installed one. It will attract people because you don’t have many institutions that offer an Aeolian-Skinner as a teaching and performing instrument anymore.”

Published in January 16, 2013 as "UT alumnus donates classic organ to Butler". 

Collesge of Fine Arts students practice woodblock printing by using a steamroller at Explore UT on Saturday.

Photo Credit: Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Explore UT, known as “The Biggest Open House in Texas,” gives prospective UT students a chance to explore the behind the scenes of campus organizations.

Thousands of prospective students, alumni and parents flooded campus Saturday as part of the 13th annual university-wide effort to encourage visitors from around the state to experience a day as a Longhorn. People of all ages attended the event, from young children to alumni.

Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, organized the event and said the purpose of Explore UT is to allow students of all backgrounds to realize that they are welcome at UT.

“This is about encouraging kids to think seriously about going to college, many of whom have never had an experience on a college campus before,” he said. “We’re letting kids know that if they work hard enough they can get here.”

Dempster said he feels the event is important because it opens UT’s campus to anyone. He said it also helps remind current students and staff how fortunate they are to be at UT.

“The very fact we’re opening the doors and saying ‘everybody’s welcome’ sends a huge message out into the community. For all of us who work and attend school here, we forget how much of a privilege and how special it is to be on a campus like this,” he said.

Dempster said the one thing he wants people to take away from Explore UT is that anyone can be a Longhorn.

“Everyone is welcome here, everyone has a stake in what goes on here,” he said. “That’s the message we’re trying to send.”

Kelly Elementary School counselor Kiana Cantu said she thinks Explore UT is an important opportunity for children who do not have an educated family background. Cantu and 22 children from the Kelly Student Council traveled from San Antonio to attend the event.

“Our goal was to expose them to the University and [show] that they can go to college, whether or not they have the funds,” she said. “We want them to explore their options and what they want to eventually do.”

Cantu said the children’s experience at Explore UT will greatly influence their views of college.

“I definitely think this experience will have a huge impact on them in the long run. In bringing them here, we’re hoping that they set a goal of coming back as students. They’ve been here, they can do it again,” she said.

There were many young children on campus for the event, including nine-year-old triplets Severin, Sean and Sky Lucic, who enjoyed the science events.

“I want to study space so one day I might be able to go to a planet,” Sky said.­­ “Probably Mars or Venus.”

His brother, Sean, said he wants to study DNA when he comes to UT. He said one day he will find the cures for various diseases.

“I don’t know if I’m going to find the cure for cancer or AIDS, but it’s not impossible,” he said.

Printed on Monday, March 5, 2012 as: UT opens its doors to the community

Oscar G. Brockett, a former theater instructor and professor emeritus at UT, will be honored with a memorial service on Dec. 11 in the B. Iden Payne Theatre in the F. Loren Winship Drama Building. “He was a beloved figure to many of his colleagues and former students,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “He was also, to his very last day, a tough-minded scholar with a resolute faith in letting history speak for itself through the voice of unbiased research.” His books, especially “History of the Theatre,” published in 1968, made him one of the world’s foremost theater historians — his work was translated into more than a dozen languages. “Oscar Brockett was a prolific scholar of theater history who defined the field through his scholarly monographs, textbooks, ubiquitous speaking schedule and his many decades of teaching,” Dempster said. Brockett won a book award at the Hamilton Awards sponsored by the University Cooperative Society. “His last, encyclopedic treatment of the history of theatrical design, ‘Making the Scene,’ was published only a year ago,” Dempster said. “He was an inspiration, a thoughtful mentor and a dear friend to me.” Friends will have the opportunity to speak at the memorial and photos and tributes will be collected for the family.