Dean’s Notes: Bryant Keith Alexander – The Critical and Creative Power in CFA

Bryant Alexander
Bryant Keith Alexander, Dean of LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts

Dean’s Notes is a periodic feature of LMU This Week where the university’s academic leaders share their perspectives with the community. The deans of LMU’s seven schools and colleges will provide updates on priorities, policies, events, challenges, and areas of interest.

Bryant Keith Alexander, dean of LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts, writes:

There is a mantra that I often use to describe the College of Communication and Fine Arts. We are a college that is highly invested in “communication as art and art as communication.” The phrase is not just a clever aphorism. It is used as a locational device relative to defining the disciplines that comprise the college: Communication Studies, Theatre Arts and Dance, Music, Art and Art History, and Marital and Family Therapy with a special emphasis in art therapy; along with a program in Interdisciplinary and Applied Studies. It also serves as a method of explicating the critical intentionality of these disciplines, as it speaks to the interrelated commitments of the college.

In which case, communication through an Aristotelian perspective references an on-going effort to find “all the available means of persuasion”; all the available means of critically sharing ideas, beliefs and values that give self and others greater access to knowing and thus empowering the human spirit in diverse personal, social and political contexts towards positive action. This notion is deeply connected to the aspect of our LMU mission that speaks to “the education of the whole person”; or the embedded quest toward information, formation and transformation. Communication as an enactment for providing diverse bits of information to help people deepen their formation – meaning their sense of belief, commitment and passion; then using that hopefully altruistic and humanistic commitment to help to transform the world in which we live. This also resonates within the Gandhi-inspired thematic of our own university president, when he invites us to “create the world we want to live in.” We know and understand communication as one of the most fundamental aspects of human sense-making and hence, one of the most powerful tools that can help to transform lives, to better human social and intercultural relations, and thus to help save the world in which we live.

The second component of the mantra speaks to the power of art. Not just art as aesthetic pleasure or entertainment — though corporeal pleasure and psychological calm do have the potential to open the soul for spiritual uplift, bringing us closer to the divine. The arts at LMU serve at the nexus location where the critically intellectual, artistic and service-activist traditions of the three contributing religious orders of the university meet and find their most bracing presence at LMU. A location and set of performative practices that exalt the power and potential of the arts as sacred medium to the divine; the arts as mode and methodology of activism that illuminates the human condition; and the arts as a creative endeavor that uses both imagination and critical intellect to mirror, as to critique, the world in which we live — providing impetus and a template to re-imagine the world. We invite audiences and viewers to witness, then to commit to their role in social transformation.

The interconnectivity of art as communication and communication as art speaks to the necessary crafted articulation of ideas in differing forms that each engage and command our attention and our heartfelt response towards human sorrow, inequity and our own potentiality. And then beckons that we move toward positive action in the everyday situations in which we witness these conditions play out in real time. Each, communication and art, serve as a performative act with intentions toward meaningful social action. Performative, in this sense, as a reference not to an entertainment, but the necessary gestural action of a thing done; of acting on the transformative potentials to which each signal – as a doing on the stage, on the page or on the canvas – stirring thought; to make manifest one’s passions for political purposes. This plays out in the over 100 events that we sponsor each year that include staged plays and readings, dance concerts, lectures, symposia and workshops, art exhibitions and salons, public and intercollegiate debates, and immersive and applied art therapy practices.

CFA comes fully alive — as a commitment to the principles that guide our disciplines; as a commitment to the mission of the university; and as evidence of the importance of communication and the arts to our collective humanity. As we look to our immediate and long-term future, we imagine reinvigorating our performance practices with a new Performing Arts Pavilion, the renovation of Strub Theatre in the historic Foley Building for contemporary theatre practice, the anticipation of the Drollinger Performance Stage in Lawton Plaza for a range of artistic and communicative practices, expanding technical and academic spaces throughout the college, while also expanding our ability to provide more students with scholarships, internationalizing experiences and broadening our curricular programing along with deepening and diversifying our faculty. We are planning for all this with welcomed partnerships with the university, collaborators, friends and donors to our possibility and collective investment.

When we as a collective LMU community state that we seek to become a “hub of creativity,” that messaging speaks to the importance of critical thinking that gives rise to imagination and innovation in problem solving — both locally and globally. While such lofty imagining is not exclusive to the disciplines of CFA — we have a crucial role to play as we live and rehearse a critical praxis every day; always actively reimagining and remaking the world in which we live.