Drawing on the power of design. Carmon Colangelo creates blueprint for success at Washington University.
Carmon Colangelo always planned to have a career in the arts.
Or, maybe, soccer.
Colangelo was named the inaugural dean of Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art in 2006. He was tasked with the job of bringing together the colleges of art and architecture, as well as the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, into one unified larger academic unit.
It was a job well suited for Colangelo. In addition to being a widely exhibited artist known for his large mixed-media prints, he also had more than two decades of education administration experience. He came to Washington University from the University of Georgia in Athens where he had been the director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art since 1997. Prior to that, he headed up the printmaking department and then the division of art at West Virginia University.
Colangelo, 57, said bringing together the colleges of art and architecture seemed to him to be the “optimum combination of disciplines.”
“The idea is that art and architecture share a common visual acumen,” Colangelo said. “Both schools had a lot of history and great reputations, and the idea of bringing them together in a more interdisciplinary way appealed to me a lot.”
“Carmon’s passion about the interdisciplinary mission of the Sam Fox School is an energy source for the difficult job of building a new institutional structure,” said Bruce Lindsey, dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Design at Washington University. “His belief in the power of art and design catalyzed by a world-class art museum is an inspiration.”
The Sam Fox School includes a total of 850 students — 300 undergrad art students, 200 undergrad architecture students, 300 graduate architecture design and landscape students, and about 50 graduate fine arts students.
In addition to serving as dean of the school, Colangelo is an E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts and has oversight of the Kemper Art Museum.
And currently, he’s also overseeing plans for the new $38 million Weil Hall, an 80,000-square-foot building that will house the graduate art and architecture programs. (In fact, Colangelo will quite literally be overseeing the construction, which is slated to begin in mid-2017, as his office windows overlook the parking lot where the new building will be constructed.)
Heather Corcoran, director of the School of Art at Washington University, said one of the most distinctive characteristics of Colangelo’s leadership style is his optimism. “He sees the glass as half full, which keeps the whole school’s morale high,” she said. “He possesses a human, social approach to faculty, staff, students, parents and donors across our entire organization, to say nothing of our university partners. He is thorough, precise, supportive and involved.”
A native of Toronto, Colangelo said that as a child he received encouragement from teachers and other mentors to pursue a career in the arts.
“It has either going to be hockey or art,” said Colangelo, who also took a year off between high school and college to play semi-pro soccer for one season for Polonia, a Polish team. “I remember stating that I would be an artist from the time I was first thinking about doing anything professionally.”
Colangelo’s work has been featured in shows and exhibitions in places ranging from Argentina and Puerto Rico to Italy and Korea. Colangelo currently has a studio in Maplewood and his work has been featured locally at the Bruno David Gallery.
He and his wife, Susan, have three adult daughters.
How did you come to be the inaugural dean of the Sam Fox School?
I was nominated by some of the faculty. I was in my ninth year at the University of Georgia, and I had worked on some capital projects there that had sort of led me into contemporary architecture too, so it was an interesting moment for me to have this come across my desk. So the search firm approached me first, and I did an interview. Then Chancellor Wrighton met my former provost, Karen Holbrook, at a conference during the search process and she suggested to Mark that he hire me. She had been my provost at University of Georgia but then she became president at Ohio State. To me, the great story is that Chancellor Wrighton then called me at home on a Saturday afternoon and surprised me and invited my wife and I for a five-day interview — which was very intensive. Of course at that point I was learning everything I could about the institution and about him because part of the appeal was Chancellor Wrighton — his vision that my job would be to make this like other schools at Washington University — a truly great school. He would say a five-star school.
You’ve been here nine years now. What have been the highlights?
I think forging the niche of this collaborative, interdisciplinary measure has meant restructuring a lot of things internally, laying a foundation to think about us as one larger school with a bigger mission but still having these disciplines embedded in the school. I’ve hired great people like Dean Bruce Lindsey in architecture and Heather Corcoran who is director of the college of art. My biggest job is really to attract and retain great faculty and to nurture an environment that is collaborative and committed to the core mission of teaching and research. I also, I think, have done a good job of collaborating with faculty to develop programs that are more innovative and give students more options. We’ve also started a landscape architecture program, the first accredited program in the state.
How would you describe your work as an artist?
It is largely based on looking through my own work — which includes printmaking, drawing and painting – and dealing with layers of things. I think about issues related to everything from urbanization to climate change and try to capture this complexity of our world — how it’s connected and disconnected at the same time. My work is kind of about discovery, so I’ll use architectonic forms, I’ll use pieces of information. I did a series recently about storms that was just about what seems to be the more extreme climate change and volatility. Most of the work there is a combination of representation and abstraction, but a lot of it is about the energy of the way we navigate our own world.
Were you exposed to the arts as a child?
My parents are both Italian immigrants. They moved to Toronto after the second World War, so around 1949, and they really didn’t have much background educationally in the arts. They had a general idea that the arts were important because they were Italian. I loved to draw as a kid, and I had a lot of encouragement. I think I thought maybe I would be some kind of graphic designer or commercial artist, and that idea was reinforced. My teachers saw that I could draw, my art classes were my favorite classes, and I developed an identity around being an artist. It still helps me today. You get away with a lot being an artist. You can take liberties.
What are you doing when you’re not at the studio or the university?
I love to play hockey, but I have to get back at it. I had to have knee surgery. I played hockey in a men’s morning league, and I’m determined to get back there. I loved playing hockey growing up. But more often now it’s biking and running the trails. And I’m very supportive of the work my wife does. She has a group called Story Stitchers that works with teens.
Jul 17, 2015
Reporter- St. Louis Business Journal
Copyright 2015: St. Louis Business Journal