The Kendall Decade

Dean Kendall reflects on 10 years of successes, challenges, and growth as he concludes his final year as SMTD dean.

In May, at the conclusion of the 2014-15 academic year, Dean Christopher Kendall will step down after serving two consecutive five-year terms as dean, the current U-M limit.

Under Kendall’s leadership, SMTD has experienced marked progress, perhaps most conspicuous in the physical changes that have taken place at the School. His tenure is bracketed by the opening of the Walgreen Drama Center (2006) and Stamps Auditorium (2008), and by the renovation and expansion of the Earl V. Moore Building, currently underway and scheduled for completion next fall.

Kendall steered the School through one of the country’s worst economic recessions, while also overseeing important advances and initiatives that have allowed SMTD to continue to grow as a leader in performing arts education. It was under his direction that the School’s name officially changed from “School of Music” to “School of Music, Theatre & Dance” to acknowledge the centrality of “new” disciplines that had joined the School decades earlier.

Today, SMTD is thriving. Its Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign is on track to reach its $90 million goal, having already raised $65 million, while the stellar faculty, improved facilities, and extensive opportunities for research, performance, and interdisciplinary studies continue to attract the country’s most gifted students.


Making the Arts Integral to U-M

From the start, Dean Kendall has been energized by the tremendous opportunities available to students and faculty by having an outstanding performing arts school set within a great research university. This distinction significantly influenced his decision to make the move to U-M, with his wife Susan and their three children, from directing the School of Music at the University of Maryland, just outside of Washington DC.

Early in his tenure, in 2006, Kendall began exploring ways to encourage synergy with other units, to extend the horizons of students and faculty. “For me, and I think for many of us in the arts, the creative transaction with other disciplines is where some of the most exciting work happens,” said Kendall.

He initiated a partnership with the former deans of the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning and the Stamps School of Art & Design (Doug Kelbaugh and the late Bryan Rogers), and later with David Munson, dean of the College of Engineering, to create Arts on Earth (renamed ArtsEngine in 2010), a University-wide “integrative initiative in creative work and learning.” The current deans of Taubman and Stamps-Monica Ponce de Leon and Gunalan Nadarajan-continue to partner with Kendall and Munson on the project.

In addition to ongoing symposia and workshops, ArtsEngine launched a multi-unit team-taught course, “Creative Process,” a model for interdisciplinary curriculum at the University. Another major ArtsEngine success is Living Arts, a residential community for first- and second-year students in the arts, engineering, architecture, and other fields, with programming focused on the development of students’ collaborative and creative capacity.

“ArtsEngine has been stimulating and important for faculty and students across campus,” said Kendall, “and also, very importantly, for the positioning of the arts at the University of Michigan. Their prominence, collectively, has been considerably enhanced by the enterprise.”

Kendall was especially gratified when, in 2011, ArtsEngine and the Rackham School mounted a “Michigan Meeting” at U-M to explore “The Role of Arts-Making at Research Universities,” attended by 200 faculty members, administrators, and university presidents from leading institutions across the country. That meeting ultimately gave rise to the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (A2RU), a national organization of more than 30 top research institutions committed to developing collaborative, arts-informed research, teaching, and activism.


Focus On Facilities

Construction of the Walgreen Drama Center was already nearing completion when Kendall arrived on campus in fall 2005, and a gala opening was held in spring 2007. Although the new building enabled the School’s outstanding theatre & drama department to join the music departments on North Campus-and provided critically needed facilities for both theatre and the storied musical theatre program-Kendall recognized that considerable facility needs still remained.

He saw the problem firsthand in the E.V. Moore Building, which had inadequate space to accommodate years of growth in the music program, and had developed a dingy institutional pallor. Under Kendall’s guidance, the historic Eero Saarinen-designed building enjoyed a steady stream of improvements, culminating with the current multi-million-dollar renovation and expansion.

‘We’ve been able to take significant strides, especially in areas that affect the lives of students at the School,” he said. “It’s been terrific to have such generous support from wonderful donors like Bill and Dee Brehm, as well as the University and other great friends, to make this progress possible.”

The renovation/expansion project was many years in the making, requiring intensive and sustained work with University administrators, fundraisers, donors, faculty, accountants, architects, designers, technologists, facility managers, and other staff. A plan was developed to make the best possible improvements to the building while navigating construction in maxed-out facilities with minimal disruption. The result will be a state-of-the-art addition that adds 34,000 gross square feet of teaching, rehearsal, performance, technology, and public space, and extensive improvements to existing Moore spaces heavily used by SMTD students and faculty.

Still, even with this signal success, Kendall continues to work on additional facility goals.

“The physical plant challenges have been acute for decades,” he observes, “and the needs remain acute, even having accomplished what we have. There is the clear imperative to bring the Department of Dance to North Campus; in its current quarters on Central Campus, dance is isolated from the other performing arts and in inadequate facilities. Its move will be a boon to the whole North Campus community, since dance is innately dynamic and interdisciplinary. We also have music faculty and staff currently quartered in remote locations around campus. For everyone’s sake, they really need to be brought home to the community of artists and scholars at the Moore Building. A subsequent phase of building here is bound to be a high priority for my successor.”


Achievements and Aspirations

Among the accomplishments of which he is most proud, Kendall points to the extraordinary SMTD faculty, almost half of whom were hired during his tenure.

“Recruiting great new faculty is a paramount responsibility for any dean, who inevitably spends significant time, energy, and resources on this imperative,” said Kendall. “It’s been a wonderful experience to welcome so many outstanding artists, scholars, and educators over the past decade. They comprise the great strength of the School, and will lead it in its central educational mission for many years to come.”

Other highlights of his tenure are important initiatives, such as the pilot U-M El Sistema program, a partnership between SMTD, the School of Education, the School of Social Work, and Ann Arbor’s Mitchell Elementary School. Launched last year and taught by SMTD graduate students, the program is providing area schoolchildren with the intensive music education program that has transformed underserved communities in Venezuela and around the world.

Another project that Kendall was key in instigating is the U-M Gershwin Initiative, which includes the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition. The Initiative is emblematic of the caliber of scholarship at SMTD and further establishes it as a leader in American music studies. “It has been a joy to see the Gershwin project take root at SMTD,” said Kendall, “and it was a thrill to witness the project’s first performance, October’s Hill Auditorium concert unveiling George’s restored piano, part of the gift from the Gershwins. Seamlessly merging scholarship and performance, the program graphically demonstrated why our School is so beautifully suited to be the home of this project. From research to jazz to dance to musical theatre to orchestral, opera, and solo performance-our students and faculty were absolutely stellar.”

Kendall is also enthusiastic about progress in other areas, including the opera program, which continues to develop important new resources and opportunities for its students, and in the chamber music domain. Last year the School launched the Dale and Nancy Briggs Chamber Music Competition, and new space at Moore will accommodate a higher level of small-ensemble activity.

“Chamber music captures the quintessence of music-making, with individuals working collectively toward shared goals, taking personal responsibility for their contribution in a decidedly non-hierarchical form,” said Kendall. “It’s the form in which great composers have often done their best work. It also encompasses music from all over the globe and from every historic period, all of which should be celebrated and actively practiced at our School.

“World music and historically informed performance practice are incipient strengths at the School, and ones that resonate particularly with the intellectual and cultural environment of a great university. Finding the right curricular and physical ‘place’ for these pursuits in the structure of an institution like ours is a challenge, but a critical and valuable one.”

This kind of music-making naturally operates in a vast stylistic domain, and is also increasingly the vehicle for innovation among young artists. Into this creative space, a number of performing arts imperatives converge, which Kendall likes to call “disruptive creativity.” He hopes these emerge in a conspicuous form at SMTD in the period ahead, providing students increased opportunities to interact with artists who push the boundaries of classical forms and performance practices, developing the skills required to act as arts innovators and artist-citizens in their communities and world.

“These emerging skills are increasingly important for our graduates, and intersect with entrepreneurship education at Michigan,” said Kendall. “I’d like to see robust programs in ‘artrepreneurship’ in the SMTD future.”

Looking further ahead, to the challenges that will be faced by his successor, Kendall again cited facilities as a top priority, but it jockeys for position with the continual need to build scholarship support.

“It is crucial that students in the arts emerge from college without major debt. The creative life is also a high-risk life, and our graduates need to have the freedom to exercise that creativity with impunity. Continued fundraising for scholarships to support our students will remain the highest priority.”

Kendall says there are plenty of things he will miss when he steps down in May. “It’s been tremendously gratifying to work with such fantastic colleagues in the School’s administration, its faculty, and its staff, and of course its talented and wonderful students. And, also, to be able to interact with the deans and other leadership at Michigan, who are an extraordinary group, open and collaborative, and such expert, intelligent people. Working with them on a regular basis has been a great stimulus and pleasure.”

At the same time, he is excited to return more fully to his own music, which was relegated somewhat to the back burner during the past 20 years as his career was focused on university administration. Kendall has continued to perform regularly with his early-music group the Folger Consort (in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library), and his contemporary music group the 21st Century Consort (in residence at the Smithsonian Institution), and he looks forward to spending more time with both.

Not that he’s finished with Michigan quite yet-he looks forward to being involved in SMTD ensembles, in Arts Engine, and perhaps in planning for the University’s bicentennial and identifying and leveraging the unique U-M capacities for the broad “creativity imperative.”

Reiterating what he has felt about U-M from the beginning, Kendall observed, “Michigan provides untold opportunities to everybody fortunate enough to work, live, and study here; it’s been an honor to be able to contribute to this great institution.”