Surrounded by colleagues, fellow artists and family, Erica Muhl dedicated herself to the furthering of arts at USC and beyond at her Oct. 1 installation as dean of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts at Town & Gown.
Muhl, formerly a professor of composition and associate dean of faculty affairs at the USC Thornton School of Music, was appointed dean of USC Roski on May 1. She also began her role as executive director for the new USC Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation in May.
The ceremony opened with a procession of deans of USC’s schools, led by Elizabeth Garrett, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. President C. L. Max Nikias delivered the opening address, which touted the historically central role of the arts at USC.
“We have gathered to install USC’s newest dean, who will lead the oldest art program in Southern California,” he said, noting USC Roski’s establishment in 1883. “USC is proud to be the school’s home. Its future shines brightly, and under Dean Muhl’s leadership, it is in exceptional hands.”
While detailing Muhl’s extensive portfolio of professional experience and accomplishments, which ranges from conducting her own symphonic work at Walt Disney Concert Hall to receiving the prestigious Whitaker Commissioning Prize, Nikias struck a personal note.
“Erica composed a special piece, ‘Burn the Box,’ for the celebration of my inauguration as president of USC,” he said. “That piece and its inspired sounds will always be a part, for [my wife] Niki and me, of our cherished memories from that wonderful evening.”
Nikias then made way at the podium for school namesake Gayle Garner Roski, who lauded Muhl as “fluent in every dialect of the artistic language” and “overflowing with creative energy.”
“I like to say that she sparkles,” said Roski, adding that individuals like Muhl “act as a catalyst for creativity by cultivating a sense of wonder, awakening the imagination, inspiring students and faculty alike.”
Following Roski’s speech, Muhl addressed the audience, and after offering many thanks, commended Nikias and Garrett for their firm commitment to the arts at USC.
“I pledge today to honor that commitment and the work that has begun here, and to champion making the arts a critical and integral part of the academic experience of each and every student,” Muhl said.
Muhl went on to praise the huge strides USC has made since she first joined the Trojan Family as a student in 1985. Calling USC a “research and creative powerhouse,” Muhl quipped that higher education standards “are no longer just gold, but cardinal and gold.”
Muhl also outlined three initiatives to accelerate USC’s ascent. The first, a “revitalization” of the undergraduate arts and design programs, features a revised curriculum providing a “common critical foundation” that examines the social, cultural and political consequences of art. In addition, students will have opportunities to augment their academic experience through increased elective coursework.
The second initiative expands the number and nature of design courses and offerings at USC Roski while keeping them firmly rooted in the context of fine arts. Muhl described design as “the perfect interdisciplinary player” and posited that as the design program grows, USC Roski will add an MFA in design to its graduate degree offerings.
Muhl discussed the third initiative, the USC Iovine and Young Academy, with an added surprise. The Garage, a specially designed workspace with state-of-the-art facilities and technologies, was scheduled to open in 2017 for the first class of the academy’s seniors. However, Muhl broke the news that the Ronald Tutor Campus Center’s fourth floor will serve as the interim home of the Garage, opening for use by the inaugural academy class in fall 2014.
In closing, Muhl reflected on the similarities between artists and innovators and the symbiotic relationship between USC Roski and the USC Iovine and Young Academy. She spoke of the ever-changing, rapidly evolving nature of information and technology, and the growing sophistication and savvy of college students.
“As educators, we can’t assume anything — especially that we actually know more than our students,” Muhl said. “Our primary role must move from imparting information to guiding, counseling, critiquing and mentoring. And letting these gifted students that we have worked so hard to find show us the way.”