Monday Message from Dean Nancy Uscher, May 4

May. 4, 2020


Dear Colleagues:

Early on in the pandemic crisis, I spoke about the possibility that this especially difficult and unsettling time might also be a rich opportunity to reflect on life and the future. In fact, I have observed over the last weeks the inception of particularly inventive and interesting creative endeavors in our college. Many of our students appear to be motivated to try out courageous and even daring ways of being artists that have actually emanated from being in isolation. When I speak to colleagues, sometimes I feel that ideas are tumbling out in a way that is remarkable. But what has happened is more than all of these marvelous outcomes. We have actually started to design the way we live differently. 

How has the disruption we have experienced served us? Perhaps it has opened up opportunities we had been seeking even before the pandemic. In the book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, there is discussion about what good design does: “it releases the best of what was always there waiting to be found and revealed.” What I find fascinating is that the philosophy behind the concepts offered in this book, which also aligns with the course of the same name taught in Stanford University’s d. school (formally known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design), is congruent with much of our experience during the weeks of remote living and learning. The five extremely thoughtful mindsets put forward in the Burnett and Evans book are these: “(1) be curious (curiosity), (2) try stuff (bias to action), (3) reframe problems (reframing), (4) know it’s a process (awareness) and (5) ask for help (radical collaboration).”  I find these simple ideas to be profoundly useful and timeless.  

The set of questions to ponder are these: How can we take what we have learned and experienced seamlessly into post-pandemic life? How can we continue to design and shape our lives to include giving ourselves permission to do things differently, which during the crisis we had to do?  How do we continue to experiment, take risks, learn from what doesn’t work, take leaps rather than incremental steps and expand our sense of what is possible, based on big and bold ideas? How do we still allow ourselves the great opportunity to have accidental successes? How will what are we doing now be of particular value to us when we are no longer living remotely? How are we investing in the future and thinking about the transformational goals that figure so prominently in our strategic plan?  I believe that we can indeed design our post-isolation experience with an emphasis on the creative freedom that is such an exciting aspect of our artistic lives, even within the inevitable constraints of life – and by the way -- finding creativity within constraints can be a wonderful and stimulating challenge.

Tonight’s episode of UNLV Arts Worldwide (as usual, on the college’s YouTube Channel, going live at 6 p.m. Pacific time) will focus on innovation and creativity, the bedrock of the College of Fine Arts. We are very excited about the range of interesting projects that will be shared this evening. 

I would like to leave you today with a message about the future. Challenges open up possibilities. We are going to continue to experience difficulties with health worries, economic uncertainty, and other struggles about which we may not even yet be aware. Regardless of what is in store for us as we transition to a less isolated existence, we can have the confidence that we have grown individually and as a community during this time. Creativity is boundless and society benefits greatly from what the arts have to offer. 

A number of years ago I spoke to the CEO of a very well-known retail enterprise. I was trying to convince this individual to work with a small art school in Seattle. He said “Nancy, your school has creativity and we need it!” That was an exciting message to hear!  Let’s never forget how much good we can contribute to our community and to the world, even in the face of the many unknowns that await us in the next era.

Be well and take care of yourselves.