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Presidential Summit

Student Voice Association President Interviews President Lazarus

Posted 03.01.14 by MICA Communications

Student Lindsay Aura Miller '14 '15 and President Fred Lazarus IV during a one-on-one interview (photo by Ameila Stinnette '12).

On special assignment for Juxtapositions, MICA's Student Voice Association's (SVA) Student Life Council President Lindsay Aura Miller '14 '15 (ceramics, Teaching) sat down with MICA President Fred Lazarus IV to discuss the importance of great leadership and his influence and impact as MICA's head.

President Lindsay Aura Miller: Thank you for meeting with me to talk about leadership. I think this is a really important conversation especially because there is going to be a change in leadership at the College and because of your amazing legacy here.

You have had an extraordinary legacy at MICA. What leadership qualities do you believe have been important in your role here? What about being a leader and the president of this school made you stay for so long?

President Fred Lazarus IV: The most important thing is to be curious, to listen, and to ask a lot of questions. That is the key; it helps you find out how to move forward and engage people in a decision-making process. You also have to be willing to make decisions that are not always easy.
I've stayed for so long because I love what we do. I love working with students. I love the challenge of trying to figure out new ways to educate artists and cultivate the talent they are born with. The whole nature of what we do keeps changing-the digital world, the art and design world, the whole educational experience. We have to learn something new and seize new opportunities all the time. That's exciting for me and has kept me motivated. I never have the same day.

Miller: College education has seen a rise in cost over the last several years. In your tenure here at MICA, how have you seen this rise impact the growth and reputation of MICA?

Lazarus: I think we have to make sure that students are financially able to come to study here and stay here. Paying for college in general is a challenge for many families, and our institutional competitiveness is based on our ability to attract the talented students that make the learning environment more robust. At the same time, we have to provide the types of resources, facilities, and faculty that students depend on to help them reach their creative and professional goals. It's clearly a balance that all colleges are trying to optimize, and it is something that we spend a lot of time working on as well.

Miller: It is helpful that MICA has a lot of scholarship opportunities.

Lazarus: It is. But hopefully we can still do more to help the families of deserving and talented students.

Miller: You have made many decisions that have advanced MICA to the College we know today. Do you have any decisions you are especially proud of while president?

Lazarus: Well, certainly the decision to move forward with the Brown Center is something that I feel really good about. I think it has really become a symbol for the College-a metaphor for the bold, forward-thinking school we've become.

I'm also proud of our decision to place emphasis on academics, building a very strong faculty to complement our strength in the studio area.

And a third decision is something that the students really pushed for-a recognition of the importance of health, wellness and fitness, which led to the development of a good quality health center. The students have really convinced me that they were right.

Miller: I definitely chose MICA partly because of the academics and its balance of fine arts and academics.
From one leader to another, what advice would you give to present and future college student leaders? What leadership qualities do you believe our students need to assist in broadening the acceptance of artists in our communities?

Lazarus: Well, I think that the most important quality is the drive to try and make a difference.

When I was near your age, I had a vision of where I wanted to go, and it has evolved and changed. But I always felt that wherever I am, I hope that I can make a positive difference in people's lives. And it is just as important to be humble, to be impactful in a collaborative way, so it is clear that you are working with the people you are trying to help.

Miller: Try and bring the stereotypical artist ego down a little bit?

Lazarus: Well, I think every artist needs enough self-confidence to deal with the kind of challenges that they'll run up against. I think there is a really soft line between ego and self-confidence. You need a lot of self-confidence, but you don't need a lot of ego.

Miller: As president of SVA, I believe this role affords me the opportunity to be a liaison between administrators and students. Do you believe the administration has been able to incorporate student opinion into major decisions, and if so, can you give an example?

Lazarus: I think SVA, and students in general, have really important and meaningful concerns. It keeps the administration honest in our adherence to our goal of always being student centered. The student voice, in fact, has been the central driver of many decisions, from the development of certain courses and programs to the expansion of professional development to our commitment to provide world-class studio space and technology. It is certainly a voice that doesn't go unheard. Actually, it is the most important.

Miller: You have been a strong leader in community outreach. Why do you believe it is important to have a community presence and leadership as an artist/art community?

Lazarus: Well, MICA's future depends as much on Baltimore as it does on our own efforts. We have aligned community engagement with our institutional mission and values, and that has manifested itself in both academic and co-curricular ways, in addition to volunteer efforts by faculty and staff. I think it really helps define who we are as a college, and I think it has made a real difference in Baltimore.

Miller: Especially the build up of Station North.

Lazarus: It's really important for Baltimore to be a strong art and design community. We should do everything that we can to foster that, helping to create an environment where many of you want to stay after you graduate, where there are opportunities and jobs, and where there's a marketplace that will support you as you move forward so that you don't have to run off to New York or California. You can stay in Baltimore because this is where the action is.

Miller: MICA has become nationally recognized as a strong college of art during your tenure. Looking forward, how do you see MICA influencing the college art community nationally?

Lazarus: I think that the kind of partnerships that we're building with The Johns Hopkins University and the kind of connectivity that can potentially exist between their resources as a university and ours as an art college could be really exciting. I think those kinds of intersections between art and a variety of disciplines can help create new directions in arts education. That will produce the kind of alumni who will go forward to be transformative creative leaders.

Miller: MICA has many different programs for undergraduate, graduate, and post-baccalaureate students that are prominent in the arts community. How have you managed to balance meeting the needs for each of these programs?

Lazarus: Well, I think that it is always a challenging job to try to allocate resources when there are multiple demands. But I also really believe that MICA's growing reputation as a quality institution isn't based on the strength of one, two, or three programs. All of our programmatic ships have to rise together. We have been able to allocate resources based on student interest in a manner that keeps everybody moving forward.

Miller: You have made such an impact on the MICA community during your tenure. What do you want your legacy as a leader at MICA to be?

Lazarus: In all honesty, it's a question I never ask myself. I never look back. And I feel those questions are really ones for others to determine. I don't think about what my legacy is. If I have 10 things I want to get done between now and when I leave, there would be 20 if I was here for another two years. My interest has always been to look at where we can go and not dwell on where we have been. So, I'll leave it to you and to everyone else to figure out what that legacy is.

Miller: You just hope the decisions you make put the next person in line on a good path to expand.

Lazarus: Hopefully, we have created something that the new president can build on to take MICA to a place that we haven't even envisioned. That would be the best legacy I could leave.

Image caption: Student Lindsay Aura Miller '14 '15 and President Fred Lazarus IV during a one-on-one interview (photo by Ameila Stinnette '12).