Visual Arts

UK's new fine-arts dean wants to build on success

Michael Tick, the new dean of the University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts, said the arts faculty and students deserve better buildings.
Michael Tick, the new dean of the University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts, said the arts faculty and students deserve better buildings. Lexington Herald-Leader

When Michael Tick looked at the University of Kentucky's College of Fine Arts, he was impressed by what he saw, particularly considering what he did not see.

"You have a first-rate arts faculty at UK," says Tick, who is in his first semester as the new dean of UK's College of Fine Arts. Right now, Tick thinks the faculty succeeds despite the aging buildings in which they work.

"Their facilities need to be as good as they are," Tick says. "They are excellent teachers and scholars, and they need first-rate buildings to support them. They deserve it."

Tick, who succeeds Robert Shay as fine arts dean, comes to UK from Louisiana State University. There, he was the chair of and a professor in the department of theater and was the producing artistic director of Swine Palace, a professional theater affiliated with the LSU dramatics program.

Before that, he was the founding chair of the Virginia Governor's School for the Arts, which also had town-and-gown affiliations with Old Dominion University, the Virginia Opera and Virginia Stage Company, all based in Norfolk, Va. He holds a master's degree in performance studies from Northwestern University and earned his doctorate at New York University.

UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy, who hired Tick, says the new dean stood out from a strong pool of candidates.

"Apart from the usual academic and professional credentials and administrative experience, I was particularly interested in finding a leader who could easily reach beyond his or her own art form and be a credible advocate for the arts and arts education in general," Subbaswamy wrote via e-mail. "Dr. Tick has an unusually broad set of leadership experiences in a variety of educational environments."

When he was considering a job at UK, Tick said, there were numerous things that attracted him in addition to the faculty.

The setting, the flagship public land-grant university in the state, reminded him of Louisiana State.

He was impressed by the university's arts programs, the beauty of the campus and the hospitality of the people he met. He said he also was impressed by the integration of the university's arts offerings with Lexington as a whole.

"It seemed like it would be a pleasant place to work," Tick says.

Doing his homework strengthened his regard for the university.

But really, it was a challenge that lured him here.

"The primary reason I was hoping to be offered this position was I knew there was a long list of things to do here," Tick says over lunch at the Bangkok House, right across Euclid Avenue from the Singletary Center for the Arts and the College of Fine Arts. "Buildings, building renovations. Hopefully I will be here long enough we can build a School of Music. I've had a lot of experience building arts facilities, and I enjoy that aspect of the job a great deal. And I know that's going to be a priority here — and you know that, too, if you've been in the Reynolds Building."

Art professors and students love the large spaces that the 100-year-old Reynolds building offers. But there is a long list of safety concerns with the building. In March, UK's vice president of external affairs, Tom Harris, told the Herald-Leader that Reynolds is "probably the worst building in higher education in the state."

Tick says that in the first week of classes, he heard about a highly recruited art student who told some of the college's faculty that she thought she might have made a mistake in coming to UK after she had attended her first few classes in the art building.

"I believe it's the facilities that are holding us back in recruiting, especially in the department of art," Tick says.

Not that the rest of the arts buildings are luxury accommodations.

Tick ticks off other deficiencies: a dearth of practice rooms for music students (18 at UK compared to 70 at LSU, for comparably sized student bodies), the lack of a band hall for the marching band, a needed facelift for the Singletary Center for the Arts, and the need for improved office space.

"You have one of the pre-eminent percussion faculty in the United States in Jim Campbell ... and Jim Campbell is operating a world-class program out of what looks like a housekeeping closet," Tick says. "That is unacceptable to me, and that is why I really want to work on facilities."

Of course, that takes money, and although UK is a public institution, the cash-strapped state government is not coming to the rescue.

"What got Michael to the interview point was that he had a lot of fund-raising experience and arts-advocacy experience," says associate dean Geraldine Maschio, who, with College of Design Dean Michael Speaks, co-chaired the search committee that identified Tick.

Maschio says she is impressed that in three weeks, Tick has gotten out to meet a lot of people at the university and in the community.

In addition to buildings, Tick wants to increase resources, including funding for faculty travel.

Tick is aware of the economic downturn and the many demands on the university budget. One of his first moves will be to hire development and communications specialists to help raise awareness of what's going on in the college and raise money.

"Dr. Tick is both very thoughtful and very personable," Subbaswamy says. "I am confident he will advance all parts of our College of Fine Arts and also be a strong spokesperson for the arts in our community."

Tick is most jazzed by the idea of advancement.

"Being able to work with the faculty to remedy some of these deficiencies is really exciting," Tick says, "or I wouldn't be here. I would have gone somewhere else."