Monday Message from Dean Nancy Uscher, May 11

May. 11, 2020


Dear Colleagues:

These weeks of living in isolation have given many of us the chance to reflect on our values -- and to affirm how nurturing and uplifting it is to come together as a community to make art. The importance of finding one’s own creative expression is not in opposition to collaboration. These are, in fact, complementary concepts. Through working with others, we uncover important characteristics about ourselves and develop confidence in our own voices. I discovered this over the course of my performance career, playing in string quartets and other chamber music groups. Rather than feeling lost, each voice is actually illuminated by the others. We have heard the adage that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” This alludes to the great spirit and vitality behind collaboration at its best.

Vera John-Steiner, in the Introduction of her book Creative Collaboration, writes: “We have come to a new understanding of the life of the mind. The notion of the solitary thinker still appeals to those molded by the Western belief in individualism. However, a careful scrutiny of how knowledge is constructed and artistic forms are shaped reveals a different reality. Generative ideas emerge from joint thinking, from significant conversations, and from sustained, shared struggles to achieve new insights by partners in thought.”

The experience of collaboration can inspire career choices. We have seen ensembles in the performing arts, artist and film collectives, and architectural and design teams that are formed during college and graduate school evolve into significant and sustainable professional pursuits. 

Years ago I worked with a graduate student in theater studying design and production. She was part of a cohort of students from around the globe charged with creating an interdisciplinary collaborative art project. Over the period of one year these students worked together to conceive and develop a completely original work.  After she graduated, this theater artist told me that her participation in the collective was so powerful that it became a guiding light for her career. She has since created her own company, founded on the principles that she carried with her from that formative experience.

Sometimes even the impossible becomes possible through strategic collaboration. In the early 1980s while I was on tour with the Jerusalem Symphony in Europe, traveling by train to concert destinations, we were quite dismayed to hear that a Swiss train bringing us to one performance location would not extend its three-minute wait at the train stop beyond the published timetable. The orchestra members (about 100) had 100 instruments and 100+ suitcases on the train. We had three minutes to get off. What ensued at that stop was all about working together. The train had barely slowed down when half of our orchestra members jumped off.  Fortunately the windows could open and those of us still on the train threw everything as fast as possible to our colleagues on the platform. We managed to get everything off of the train – including ourselves -- and everyone on the train watching this drama unfold broke out into enthusiastic applause! While this is an amusing story to recollect, at the time it was a harrowing event to experience. 

I have shared this because it demonstrates, perhaps in the extreme, the power of working in partnership with a well-constructed tactical plan. Getting through that pressured challenge brought the members of the orchestra closer together. It was only through collaboration that we had succeeded in making something extraordinary happen.

In her book Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, Margaret J. Wheatley discusses the importance of “interconnectedness” as a fundamental principle of life. She writes: “Unlike our veneration of competition as the means to survive, collaboration is what is most essential to life’s flourishing.”  This quote is congruent to the sentiment I wish to share today:  During this pandemic, our entire college has worked together with remarkable dedication in difficult and, at times, bewildering circumstances. The College of Fine Arts is well equipped to face the future, and we will meet the challenges that await us, always looking out for each other and moving forward with wisdom and courage. 

Tonight’s UNLV Arts Worldwide episode focuses on the concept of collaboration that I have explored with you in this message. We have an exciting range of projects and experiences to present! Please join us at 6 p.m. on our college YouTube channel. The link:

Be well, enjoy the end of the spring semester, and let us all celebrate our intrepid graduates! We will have our graduation tribute on the College of Fine Arts YouTube channel Sunday afternoon, May 17, at 2 p.m.  Congratulations to all of our students and to the wonderful faculty and staff who have made it possible for them to continue their education at UNLV throughout these weeks of remote teaching and learning.  

With warmest wishes,