Bryant Keith Alexander, Ph.D., became dean of LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts (CFA) in 2012; he is also a tenured professor of communication and performance studies. Here, he speaks about the critical impact of philanthropy to support educational opportunities, aligned with the Jesuit principles of information, formation, and transformation of the world for self and others.
Every time I witness the performances, exhibitions, and critical debates that take place at CFA, I experience what it means for students to create the world they want to live in. Our collective work at the college demonstrates that the arts reach far beyond mere aesthetic pleasure and entertainment. Instead, we follow a mantra of “communication as art and art as communication,” recognizing that the CFA disciplines – including Communication Studies, Theatre Arts, Dance, Music, Studio Arts, Art History, and Marital and Family Art Therapy – play a vital role in sharing empowering ideas and strengthening cross-cultural collaboration. That important work would simply not be possible without the generous external funding that enables our faculty and students to push the limits of creativity.
Student scholarships are a key fundraising priority, ensuring that all of our highly talented and deserving students can afford an LMU education without the unnecessary stress of accumulating debt. Although the CFA disciplines offer vast and varied earning potentials, we also accept that our students’ chosen career paths – often in performing arts, academia, and community service – may require several years of engagement and recognition to achieve full economic sustainability. As students prepare for a creative and challenging career, it’s crucial that they feel free to focus on their studies, making the most of the exceptional resources available to them at CFA. We aspire to increase the number of sustained and fully funded scholarships that students can depend upon during their undergraduate years, as well as extending scholarships for graduate education. Ultimately, we are looking to secure a range of endowed scholarships that can provide this level of support in perpetuity.
The quality of the CFA student experience is upheld by our world-class faculty members and the breadth of programming we offer at the college. In addition to guaranteeing the funds to attract and sustain the very best full-time faculty, we have also witnessed the immense benefits of stimulating the curriculum with short and long-term residencies from visiting artist-scholars, who share their thought leadership through class visits, exhibitions, lectures, and performances. Such mind-opening encounters are further enhanced by exposure to the creative diversity of Los Angeles through excursions and artistic partnerships, in addition to worldwide study abroad placements. These cultural integration programs exemplify the university’s commitment to Global-Local Initiatives, actively broadening the cross-border perspectives of our students and equipping them with tools to transform the world through mutual understanding and respect. The pedagogical impact of these multiple approaches to interaction and engagement cannot be underestimated, and donor support is vital for ensuring the continued ambition and accessibility of these programs.
Central to our work at CFA is the BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) Initiative. In line with the university-wide commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Antiracism (DEI-A), CFA puts those values into practice by generating new possibilities for students to learn from a diverse array of creative practitioners and scholars, as well as amplifying support for our BIPOC students, whether through financial aid, mentorship, or immersive educational experiences on campus and abroad. External funding is imperative to expand the range of opportunities we offer students, communicating the importance of cultural diversity in representation, and increasing exposure to ideas and perspectives that radically bridge the perceived divides between self and other.
Ultimately, our work is defined by how we collaborate and where we come together, and that brings attention to an important hurdle: the need to transform our physical spaces on campus. Over the coming months and years, we will be engaging in a major initiative to dramatically enhance CFA facilities. In addition to renovations to the Strub Theatre and introducing a high-tech Media Lab, we are committed to raising funds and seeking collaborative partners to realize a large-scale, state-of-the-art Performing Arts Complex. As the critical and creative hub for the university at large, the Performing Arts Complex will also serve as a collective arena for public debate and university gatherings, a space to host world-class speakers, artists, and leading figures in the public realm.
The first manifestation of this multi-phase project is the new open-air Drollinger Family Stage at Lawton Plaza, which provides the university community with highly visible and inclusive access to the arts at the heart of campus. While the Drollinger Family Stage will be formally dedicated in spring 2022, the stage has already been seasoned with activity: with the recent President’s Convocation, with choral music and, most recently, dance. The formal dedication of the stage will mark the fifth season of our acclaimed Shakespeare on the Bluff Festival, a much-loved event that embodies our belief that theatre serves as a mirror of society and an effective tool of social change. These performances are free to the public and provide an inspiring and accessible creative resource for our neighboring communities of Westchester, Playa Vista, Marina del Rey, and Inglewood, as well as visitors from across the city and beyond. Our fundraising goal for the festival is to endow the resources that fund the time and effort of the professional actors who guide our students, as well as covering the expenses that accompany a complete – and immensely enjoyable – theatrical production.
New and enhanced facilities in CFA will bring LMU to a level commensurate with our status as the premier Jesuit university on the West Coast and one of the nation’s top universities. We’re positioned for our next phase of growth; the fact that we have been able to realize the Drollinger Family Stage through gifts from the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation and the Ahmanson Foundation is a testament to the valued public commitment to communication and fine arts, and a recognition of the central role of philanthropy in upholding the essential innovation of the CFA academic endeavor.
As I witness our students applying the disciplines of CFA in deeply imaginative and intentional ways, it’s clear that creativity and communication can transform the social realities of our time, actively moving the needle on shared human potential. That potential starts with the cura personalis, the care of the whole person: an education in what it means to be a creator and a citizen of the world.