Art captures the essence of our collective journey—its marvels, mysteries, and mirth—binding us in ways nothing else can, while offering a shared canvas that turns the unfamiliar into friends. And as the U’s College of Fine Arts celebrates its 75th anniversary, we are recognizing the arts as a communal treasure and a beacon of enlightenment and empathy. “The arts are not just a pleasant diversion, but the soul of our civilization and the heartbeat of humanity,” says John W. Scheib, CFA dean and associate vice president for the arts.
CFA programs are designed to foster not only individual talent but also collective growth and inclusivity. “A fine arts degree is, in fact, a degree in the complexity of human experience, equipping students with critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and the ability to navigate the world’s diverse tapestry with grace and insight,” Scheib adds.
So, as we celebrate the past, we also look to the future as the five departments and schools in the college continue to innovate and inspire, shaping the next generation of artists and audiences who will carry forward the transformative power of the arts into new realms of expression and understanding.
GABE ROOT, Sophomore
Learning to be an actor is learning to be human, or so says Gabe Root. “So much of theater is understanding other people—why we do what we do and what we’re trying to get from someone else,” he remarks. In the Actor Training Program, Root says he’s realizing the many options for having an entertainment career. “Things are more achievable than I thought,” he adds. “The idea of being on Broadway isn’t out of the question.”
Department of Theatre
Theater is a way of celebrating and reflecting on humanity, says Chris DuVal, interim chair of the U’s Department of Theatre. “We’re committed to revealing the depth and breadth of what it means to be a human in today’s world,” he shares.
This dedication is evident in the department’s careful selection of plays, always considering the timely question: Why this play now? “Whether it was written yesterday or hundreds of years ago, what does it have to say to us as contemporary artists living in a unique time?” DuVal queries.
The U’s theater program, established in 1892 by Maud May Babcock, the U’s first female faculty member, commits to honoring her legacy by amplifying historically marginalized perspectives. “My hope is that we can bring all of the voices that have been unheard for too long more fully into this space,” says DuVal.
The U boasts Tony-, Emmy-, and Academy Award-nominated and -winning alumni. And theater education provides students with a versatile skill set that goes beyond performance on screen and stage. It fosters collaboration, hones communication skills, and promotes deep scholarship. Students engage with various disciplines, including history, science, politics, and art. “Theater doesn’t just prepare you for the spotlight—it prepares you for the world,” remarks DuVal.
As an interdisciplinary student, Annalise Wood (right) hopes to blend her ballet expertise with insights from her psychology minor. “Dance offers a fresh lens on diverse subjects, including what makes us human,” she notes. Watching many others in the ballet program complement their dance training with studies in other fields, Wood cherishes seeing her peers succeed—on and off stage. “This community is so special,” she adds. “It can be rare to find an environment that is so positive in the dance world.”
Dancing helped Leslie Jara (left) heal as a child after her little brother passed. But, despite her love of the art, she couldn’t afford to formally participate in dance until high school. Jara dreamed of helping other people have more opportunities to dance. Last year she opened Allegiant Dance Crew, where 30 people receive dance training for $40 a month. “I feel like I can go back to my seven-year-old self and say, ‘We made it,’ ” she says.
School of Dance
The U’s School of Dance is built on excellence. It’s one of the oldest and largest programs in the country—and it was recently named one of the Top 10 College Dance Programs You Should Know by Backstage magazine. Its impact reverberates around the world as alumni go on to perform with and instruct at professional companies and troupes around the globe. But its biggest historical impact can be felt even closer to home.
The final concert of this academic year will celebrate the relationship with three local professional companies that have grown out of the U: Ballet West and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, each commemorating 60 years, alongside Repertory Dance Theatre, marking its 58th anniversary. “We are so excited to celebrate these organizations that, along with the U’s School of Dance, make an undeniable impact on the arts and culture in Utah and beyond,” says Melonie B. Murray, director of the U’s School of Dance.
Both the modern dance and ballet programs have highly selective admissions. But the students who are accepted have ample opportunities for success. “Over half of dance majors double major in other subjects,” says Murray. “Many other professional dance training programs don’t have that option.” Each dancer’s journey is highly individualized with their interests, experiences, and goals. Instructors encourage each student to pursue meaningful studies to influence their art, as well as set themselves up for success after graduation, she adds.
Ryan Ross always envisioned the stories he wrote and the music he composed coming to life on screen. This dream and his love of photography steered him toward a graduate degree at the U. “For me, film is the medium that best engages with my sense of awe,” Ross says. “Awe is such an important emotion, because it makes you think about the larger context you are part of.”
Department of Film & Media Arts
In the 21st century, communicating with video and audio is a skill that anyone can use, not just filmmakers, says Andrew Patrick Nelson, chair of the U’s Department of Film & Media Arts. “It doesn’t surprise me that more students are gravitating to this area and that nonmajors are banging down the door and trying to get into our classes,” Nelson remarks.
In the 1970s, an English professor taught the U’s first film course. Five decades later, the Film & Media Arts department is the largest unit in the College of Fine Arts, with more graduates than any other academic unit.
“One of the most exciting things in our department is the number of working professionals teaching here who are succeeding at the highest levels of their disciplines,” Nelson notes. “Having a professor who has done what you aspire to do professionally is crucial to a contemporary art form.”
Many of the department’s faculty members are either from the Mountain West originally or have adopted it as their home. Nelson says this sets a powerful example for students of what is possible for their own career. “Our faculty, day in and day out, demonstrate that local or regional stories have national and international interest,” he adds.
DIEGO ALBERTO TORRES
Pursuing an art degree has infused Diego Alberto Torres’s creations with intention. “Every piece I craft now carries a message,” Torres explains. “I constantly question, ‘What does this convey through its execution?’ ” Torres says art is where he feels most comfortable expressing himself. He aspires to use it as a channel for voicing his views on community and other topics close to his heart.
Department of Art & Art History
The U holds the distinction of being a Tier 1 research university. But here, the brushstroke is as revered as the test tube, and art infuses life into our academic rigor, says V. Kim Martinez BFA’98, chair of the Department of Art & Art History. “For example, students who want to make art featuring the human figure can take anatomy classes,” she says. “That typically does not happen in a traditional art school.”
Drawing classes have been taught at the U for more than a century and a half. It was from these courses that the school’s first art department grew. “Art isn’t just a subject for a class or a major—it’s a transformative force,” muses Martinez. Students leave equipped to lead revolutions in the visual arts, digital media, design, art teaching, and more. “Our graduates are able to conceptualize public art that communities rally around and to pioneer innovations in design that change how we interact with our environment.”
What’s more, as the university continues to grow with an emphasis on becoming a 24/7 campus where students study, live, and play, Martinez says the arts serve an important role in shaping that energy. “Spaces like our new gallery provide an opportunity for students to delve into contemplations that transcend their daily academic grind—fostering a culture of reflection and intellectual adventure.”
Musical Arts Doctorate Candidate
Embracing a growth mindset propels Briana Gillet toward success as she pursues her doctoral degree in trumpet performance. “My work is about cultivating my relationship with the instrument while creating new audience experiences with other artists,” she says. Gillet loves to engage with audiences through interdisciplinary projects. In one example, Gillet orchestrated the filming of a circus artist performing over the Salt Flats to accompany a live performance of a piece for trumpet and electronics. “This is a great way for me to reframe how I approach the trumpet and how it can be used to connect with people and explore new concepts,” she adds.
School of Music
Access to music shouldn’t be a privilege, says Kimberly Councill, director of the School of Music. “And it’s the responsibility of higher education to make sure everyone has access to a wide variety of music and musical experiences.”
Historically, music has been a cornerstone of Utah’s cultural foundation, with music courses among the earliest offerings at the U. “I was drawn here from the East Coast by the palpable passion for music and the unique position of the School of Music as a community linchpin,” Councill reflects.
Examples of community partnership include the Preparatory Division. Founded in 1978, it now cultivates the talents of some 230 piano, string, guitar, and organ students, both adults and children. The University of Utah Piano Outreach Program takes this a step further, providing complimentary piano lessons to students in low-income elementary schools. Additionally, the school is a hub for the community, organizing a variety of workshops, camps, competitions, and conferences for local, national, and international audiences.
Councill is determined to broaden these community connections. “We’re redefining the scope of music access—exploring innovative ways for individuals to engage with music at every stage of life,” she explains. “The School of Music is not just about education; it’s about building enduring community ties and supporting our students as they carve out their musical paths in Utah and beyond.”
Matilyn Mortensen is a communications specialist for University Marketing and Communications.
ALUMNI IN THE ARTS
- Max D. Adams BFA’94: Screenwriter known for Excess Baggage, starring Alicia Silverstone, Benicio del Toro, and Christopher Walken
- Maggie Baird ex’81: Singer and actress known for roles in Bones, The X-Files, and Six Feet Under; also the mother of singer Billie Eilish
- Ruby Chacon BFA’98: Award-winning mural artist and activist
- Lee Isaac Chung MFA’04: Director and writer of Minari, which won top awards at Sundance and a Golden Globe, and received six Academy Award nominations
- Keene Curtis BA’47 MS’51: Won a Tony Award for The Rothschilds on Broadway and had a recurring role on Cheers
- Matthew Davis ex’98: Actor known for Legally Blonde, The Vampire Diaries, and Legacies
- Rod Davis BS’80: Vice president of Music Business Affairs for Sony Pictures Entertainment
- Claybourne Elder BA’06: Actor in the Broadway revival of Company and HBO’s The Gilded Age
- Anayat Fakhrie BA’08: Writer for Real Time with Bill Maher, Gaslit, and Orphan Black: Echoes
- Leo Geter BA’92 MFA’96: Actor (Footloose , No Way Out), film and stage director, and television producer (The Closer, Major Crimes, Longmire)
- Leigh Harline BA’27: Composer who won an Academy Award for “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio
- Trent Harris BFA’75 MFA’77: Independent filmmaker best known for the cult classic Rubin & Ed
- Dean Hoff BA’98: Two-time Daytime Emmy Award winner and vice president of animation production for Nickelodeon Animation Studios
- Joseph Kearns BA’29: Actor known for Dennis the Menace and voicing the Doorknob in Alice in Wonderland
- Stephan Koplowitz MFA’83: Award-winning choreographer with six National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowships
- Stefanie Londino BFA’09: Played Miss Hannigan in the national tour of Annie
- Bobby McFerrin ex’78: 10-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist and composer, known for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy ”
- Enzo Mileti BA’00: Television writer for Fargo, Snowfall, and Kingdom
- Victoria Morgan BFA’73 MFA’77: Former principal dancer, CEO, and artistic director for the Cincinnati Ballet
- Gerold Ottley MFA’67: Music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, under whom the choir won two Emmy Awards and released two platinum records
- Timothy McCuen Piggee BFA’85: Actor and director who originated the role of FBI Agent Bill Cod in the musical Catch Me If You Can on Broadway
- Ewa Plonka DMA’14: Juilliard-trained Polish operatic singer
- Brad Smith BA’80: Produced visualizations for National Geographic, the BBC, and PBS, and developed methods using MRI to study embryos
- Randall Smith BS’72 BFA’72: Founder of leading Utah-based graphic design firm Modern8
- Jane Summerhays BA’67: Tony-nominated actress with a role on Sex and the City
- Brad Evan Taylor BFA’88: Ceramic artist and assistant professor at University of Hawai’i at Manoa
- Richard Winn Taylor BFA’68: Co-created Rainbow Jam and toured with the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Led Zeppelin, and created special effects for Tron and other films
- Derryl Yeager BFA’76 MFA’78: Founder and artistic director of Odyssey Dance Theatre; former Ballet West principal dancer with a 25-year career in film, television, and Broadway