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April 08, 2010
Hard Work, Clear Vision and a Passion for the Institute Defined President David Deming's Tenure
One of David Deming’s favorite memories from his student days at The Cleveland Institute of Art was the day he got his first C. The year was 1962; the class was first-year Life Drawing taught by Frank Meyers ’50. “It was the first time he graded us and I got a C+. I don’t think I’d ever earned less than an A on any art assignment. The other students all looked very upset and we compared notes at break time. It turned out I had the best grade. So I immediately thought, ‘OK, I understand what’s going on; he’s raising the bar.’ I was OK with it. “After the break Myers had us pinup about 20 student drawings saved from previous years. When I saw them I thought, ‘Oh my God, Michelangelo and da Vinci must have come here.’ These were absolutely stunning drawings. His whole point was: ‘You think you’re good? Work harder.’” The message sank in for Deming, whose retirement from the presidency of the Institute takes effect June 30. Since Myers raised the bar so many years ago, Deming has been working hard at sculpture, later at teaching, and most recently higher education administration. And according to colleagues and community members alike, that hard work has paid off for the Institute in the 12 years of his presidency. “During David’s tenure, the Institute has become a much stronger art school, both programmatically and financially,” said Jack Katzenmeyer, a 15-year board member and chair for six years of Deming’s presidency. “He has demonstrated clear vision and strong leadership in guiding the Institute through some difficult economic times.”
STUDENT YEARS: HARD WORK AND HAPPY MEMORIES
Deming flourished as a student at The Cleveland Institute of Art in the 1960s, studying sculpture under Bill McVey ’28, John Clague ’56 and Jerry Aidlin ’61; working for John Paul Miller ’40 in the CIA gallery for four years, and soaking up new ideas in Franny Taft’s art history classes. McVey, in particular, became a valued mentor. “I had the privilege of working for Bill on a number of projects out at his studio and one of the things I recognized was that Bill was a people person; he enjoyed going to parties and engaging with all types of people, lawyers and architects, and sure enough those were the people that were usually in the position to commission work from Bill. As I tell students, if all of your friends are artists, you’re in trouble. Being engaged with a wider group of people and being a citizen is important, on a number of levels.” Deming is a “people person” too. One classmate, Joanne Ball Tallarovic ’67, remembers him as “a jovial, good-looking guy, always up to something.” Geri Meldon ’68, remembers Deming “strutting along in the hallways, radiating energy and a sense of inner smile.” A metals major, Meldon recalls Deming stopping by the metals studio regularly to chat with professor and silversmith Fred Miller ’40. “When I was a student at the Institute, we were all in one building,” Deming said. “It was crowded, but... when you’re crowded, you have people running into each other and having dialogs about their work and their ideas and that was what was exciting about The Cleveland Institute of Art. We all felt we were students in the art school and it didn’t matter what your major was.” The Institute has had a split campus for more than a quarter of a century, with some majors housed in the Joseph McCullough Center for the Visual Arts on Euclid Avenue, and others in the Gund Building on East Boulevard. From early in his presidency, Deming would make it an overarching goal to re-unite the campus on one site, so the Institute’s diverse majors would all be together once again.
THE TEACHER AS STUDENT
For Deming, teaching art was a natural outgrowth of learning art. After graduating from the Institute in 1967, he took a position as a sculpture instructor at Boston University. “I learned two important things at BU. One was I was going to enjoy teaching on a college level. The other was I was going to be paid based on my degree. With a BFA, I got $5,000 for being an instructor for the year at Boston University in 1967. I decided that I really did want and need to go to graduate school.” Deming loved his time at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he earned an MFA in 1970. After graduation, he was appointed to the faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso where he taught for two years. When an opportunity opened, he took a faculty position at the University of Texas at Austin, the famously artsy city, where he spent the next 26 years. For 24 of those years he taught; his last two years there he served as a dean; and all that time he continued to sculpt. “I loved teaching,” he said. “If you keep exposing yourself to young minds, it keeps you going. It keeps you question- ing even what you’re doing. Is it relevant? You’re always on your toes. And like any good teacher, I continue to learn from all the people that are around me. A good teacher never stops being a student.”
The curiosity and creativity that fueled Deming’s artwork and kept him on his toes in the classroom also piqued his interest in pursuing roles of increasing responsibility. At Texas, he served as chair of the Department of Art and Art History from 1991 until 1996; interim dean of the College of Fine Arts for the 1996–97 school year; and dean of the college for the 1997–98 year. He became president of CIA in 1998. “Moving into administration was an opportunity for me to really find out how things work in higher ed, how money flows, how decisions get made, what the structure was. Sculptors sort of have to know what’s inside; what’s outside; does it all fit together?
“The other reason I like working in administration is I genuinely like people, even difficult people. In academia there are a lot of very smart, ambitious, aggressive people with a lot of great ideas. Whether you agree with somebody on a particular position or not, you become an orchestra leader and you have to build consensus and get people moving in a direction around an idea.” Deming managed to get people moving around a few key ideas he articulated early in his presidency. He realized that CIA needed to:
Those last two were the biggest, most immediate challenges Deming faced. Early on after arriving, I recognized the problems of the split campus; the two buildings half a mile apart weren’t conducive to having the kind of camaraderie and learning by osmosis that I experienced when I was a student. In addition, both buildings were falling apart and I realized that if the Institute was going to compete effectively for the nation’s top students in art and design, it was essential that we have impressive facilities.” A consultant’s analysis indicated it would cost well in excess of $100 million to consolidate at the Gund site. Instead, four years later the Institute launched a $55 million capital campaign to modernize the McCullough building and construct a new building immediately west of it. About the time the Institute began studying its campus options, leaders at MOCA (the Museum of Contemporary Art) Cleveland began talking about building a new museum close to the McCullough building; and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) leaders started talking about the revitalization of the neighborhood surrounding McCullough. Those factors sealed the deal for Deming and the board: the McCullough site would be the better site for unifying the campus. But before the Institute could embark on that campus project, Deming, the board and the staff would have to raise funds; and before they could raise funds, they had to raise the college’s visibility. “The Institute was simply a well-kept secret when I got here,” Deming said. “Many people confused The Cleveland Institute of Art with the Cleveland Museum of Art; others assumed CIA was part of CWRU. We recognized that we had a lot to do in building community awareness before we could launch a capital campaign.” He extended himself to the community as the public face of CIA, joining the county commissioners’ task force on economic development, serving on and chairing the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and serving on the boards of Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s John Hay School of Architecture and Design, the Economic Development Work Group for Cuyahoga County, and the Artist Archives of the Western Reserve. He was invited to join the 50 Club of Cleveland, an organization of the area’s top business and civic leaders. “Every time I go to the 50 Club, I try to sit at a different table and talk to someone I haven’t talked to before about the Institute. I recognize that as a president of an institution, that’s where you need to focus your attention... or raising funds simply won’t happen.” Awareness of CIA has grown, locally and nationally. And so has awareness of Deming. “David knows the local community and they know him,” said Tom Schorgl, president and CEO of the Cleveland-based Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. “There are people in business, in government, and in other educational institutions who know him and appreciate the fact that he has been eager to be a community player. He really connects with the community.” In 2006, the board authorized fundraising for the campus project. McCullough renovations began in the spring of 2009 and will be complete by the end of this calendar year. Construction of the new building will begin as soon thereafter as possible.
FOCUSING ON FINANCES
Apart from the shortcomings of the campus, Deming said the biggest challenge facing the Institute is the same challenge facing every college: ongoing financial sustainability. “Every college and university across the country, for probably more than a decade, has been faced with escalating costs related to all the things that you want to provide; you want to have the very best personnel and programs for your students. Those are the challenges that every president has. And the solutions don’t come because the president has all the solutions. As president, you have to surround yourself with other people who have great ideas and willingness to stick their necks out. We’ve been very fortunate to have people like that at the Institute.” And the Institute has been fortunate that Deming has been willing to listen to many points of view.
LEGACY OF LISTENING
“I can only take partial credit for anything we accomplished during my tenure because you can’t do this stuff alone. We’ve got a lot of wonderful people here throughout the staff, the administration, the faculty and the board.” As his tenure as the Institute’s ninth president winds down, Deming said he hopes he’ll be remembered as somebody who listened.
To read an extensive interview with David Deming, covering the decision to switch to a four-year BFA program and the story of how he almost turned down the chance to return to CIA as president, go to cia.edu/deming.
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