David Humphrey is director for the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University. With a doctorate in music education and opera production, Humphrey went on to become director of education for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and director of San Francisco’s Museum of Performance & Design before coming to Ashland. We met at Pony Espresso Café in Ashland. This is the first of a two-part interview. The second will be published on Dec. 14.
EH: How did you become interested in an interdisciplinary approach to education in the arts?
DH: I started in music, but my interests grew very broadly. I really liked all the arts; I know so many young people do too. Art schools tend to keep students within specific disciplines and don’t allow them to explore other disciplines.
Students are multi-talented, and their choice of a specific area is based on very limited knowledge. They wind up in a particular discipline doing very well, but not quite suiting their personality. They need to find themselves. I believe if you can really understand who you are, and how the arts work, you can make a better decision.
I tell students when they come in, “You’re coming in one door, but you may graduate through another.” That’s the purpose of having a center for the arts, so that you can explore other disciplines.
The arts mix like oil and water. You constantly have to find a catalyst to mix it up. Once they do it, they love it, but if isn’t advocated for them, it just doesn’t happen. My job is to try to keep things fluid enough, that there is cross-over and collaboration.
EH: How do you establish connection between the separate arts?
DH: One of the programs at the university is the emerging media/digital arts. Its cross-over has been with communications, digital photography, video and film. Now what we’re trying to do is more cross-over with music (sound design & sound creation) and theater (to create video performance).
One project that I started is the Oregon Fringe Festival that is an arts festival: Alternative arts in alternative spaces, that is student-produced. We have students from each of the disciplines working together as producers to create this arts festival.
Last year there were performances in Emigrant Lake. We did a percussion concert the length of Lithia Park. We had many midnight shows. This year we are setting up a commissioning program, so that we’ll have a little bit of money for students to create new works for the festival, and it has to be collaborative.
When students come to most universities, they have one thing in mind; it’s the only thing they know. They don’t realize what the horizon provides. We need to set up opportunities for them to explore.
Because the Southern Oregon University Theater is going through renovation (construction starts in April or May), we are using different spaces. This year we are going to do performances at the Craterian Theater, in the basement of the Student Union (to be called the Arena), and in the Music Recital Hall. The idea is alternative spaces.
The Oregon Center for the Arts contains: music, theater, Shakespeare studies, art, art history, creative writing, emerging media/digital arts, the Schneider Museum (of Art), chamber music concerts, the Shakespeare AMERICA Institute, and summer institutes as well. It’s all of the arts under one umbrella. Now we’ve got to figure out how to do something significant, distinguished, not just do what everyone else does.
The Oregon Fringe Festival, which takes place May 9-14, 2016, in Ashland, may be found on Facebook. For information about academic programs, performances and special events, visit OCA.SOU.EDU.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and was a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.