In a celebration true to its spirit of innovative thinking, cultural relevance and community involvement, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) commemorated the inauguration of its fourth president, Ravi Rajan, Friday.
The all-day festival honored the history of the art institute’s past, while also acknowledging the work of its present and the potential of its future under its new leader.
“It’s a very special institution. In the five months I’ve been doing this, every day comes a revelation of how amazing this place is, how influential it is and how great a community CalArts has,” Rajan said. “With everything that all of them have accomplished, I’m in awe.”
The CalArts community kicked off the event in the institute’s Main Gallery with a performance installation from the band and with an installation titled “A State of the Art School” from 83 faculty, students and alumni from the School of Art.
A highlight for attendees was the four, large-scale sculptural heads of CalArts’ four presidents designed by Michael Darling, the head of technical direction in the School of Theater.
“Each one is 170 pieces and it’s about 22,000 linear feet of cardboard,” Darling said. “The idea was to create these heads which were generic heads and then add a president. The heads represent the idea of a president.”
It also included a processional—featuring performances from CalArts’ African Ensemble and Gamelan and the four sculptural heads—a performance of “Fanfare for (R)evolution Arts” written by Dean of the Herb Alpert School of Music David Rosenboom and two artistic interludes from CalArts students and alumni.
During his inaugural address, Rajan detailed the institute’s history from its founding by Walt Disney to its opening in 1971 and its influence on the Los Angeles cultural scene.
He also reaffirmed his desire to follow the CalArts 2030 plan for the future, which determined that an arts education should be engaged and expansive, agile in thinking and outward facing toward new possibilities.
“While I’ve only been here for a few months, the CalArts 2030 answer to the arts education of the future is still the answer we need today,” Rajan said. “Our graduates are indeed fully-engaged with the world, agile in their thinking and outwardly facing, making connections with each other and with all aspects with society.”
Rajan also shared his desire to follow an impromptu mission statement uttered by CalArts first Provost Herbert Blau during a faculty meeting where he said CalArts was determined to “put the whole cracked world together again.”
“It’s clear that CalArts changes lives and does so in very profound ways, it’s clear that we attract students that want to spend their lives putting this cracked world back together again and it’s clear that CalArts prepares these students to be citizen artists that are engaged, agile and outward facing,” Rajan said.
As CalArts’ fourth president, Rajan stated his desire to create a vision for the institute that is not built from only himself, but also from the entire CalArts community.
Through this collaborative effort, Rajan hopes to decrease CalArts’ reliance on tuition, increase students’ scholarship opportunities, redevelop the school’s business plan, engage the school’s alumni, renew its facilities, create new models of pedagogy, strengthen the institute’s global reach, celebrate the strength of its faculty and staff, and become a model of diversity to reflect the world.
“We will keep CalArts true to our founding spirit of experimentation, equality and equity in all that we do so that our citizen artists continue to be the glue that puts this cracked world back together,” Rajan said.
Overall, the inauguration welcomed Rajan to CalArts’ widespread community and celebrated his “nimbleness of mind, decisiveness, resilience and imagination.”
“Ravi, speaking for myself and on behalf of the entire staff and the extended CalArts community, we welcome you, we embrace you, we are at your service ready to follow your lead into CalArts’ glorious future,” said School of Music faculty and staff member Alan Eder, who was a member of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee.
Abigail Salling, CalArts’ student trustee, reflected on her time on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee as well, where she met Rajan and knew he was the best choice for the job.
“He spoke like the teachers here, he brought up new ideas and he wasn’t afraid to say that he didn’t have all of the answers, he asked us questions about what was working and what wasn’t, about what our different perspectives offered in terms of insight,” she said. “He embraced and embodied the collaborative spirit of CalArts.”
The inauguration’s speakers also reflected on the history and mission of CalArts, which encouraged artists to take risks, expand their boundaries and live authentically.
“CalArts is a really unique place. It was formed as a community or artists, and it remains as a community that strives to reject what is expected for a chance to see always what is potential,” said School of Film/Video faculty member Lee Anne Schmitt. “Small institutions can have tremendous social and cultural impact. The stature and voices of our graduates and our faculty have always far exceeded the size of the institution itself.”
Others, including alumnus John D’Amico, a member of the West Hollywood City Council, shared their hope that CalArts’ future will include a global reach and an engagement in the political sphere.
“My CalArts education entrusted me with a transcendent idea that understanding how ideas fit together and how that fall apart, shares the dynamic space where culture and politics exist,” he said. “CalArts lives best when it lives at the hopeful threshold of invention.”
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