By Erika Schmidt,
from the Fall 2004 FPA Alumni Magazine
The Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts is just an infant compared to many other colleges on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, but in its 11 years, it has brought attention and programs to UNL and become one of its largest colleges.
The arts on the UNL campus already had increased visibility because of the newly established Lied Center for Performing Arts, built in 1990, and a relationship between The Lied Foundation Trust and the university that helped to pave the way for a separate college.
The journey to creating a separate college for the arts began with the vision of then-Chancellor Martin Massengale and music professor Larry Lusk, who would eventually become the college's founding dean.
Before the transition from one college to two, music and music education, dance, art and art history, and theatre were the "arts" in the College of Arts and Sciences. Based on his experience with arts programs at other universities, Massengale said he thought the departments were strong enough to deserve their own college.
"I thought our program here was as good. . . as a result, I thought that if they had more visibility and support, there were enough good people that we could have our own excellent program here," Massengale said.
Massengale consulted Lusk, who he said was "highly qualified as a professor, a talented artist and administrator." Lusk immediately supported the idea.
An advantage to having a separate college was to not only better showcase the strength of the programs but also to recognize the faculty, some of whom felt as though their work was not getting the attention in promotions, tenure and research as their peers in other departments within the College of Arts and Sciences, Massengale said.
Additionally, sharing a college and a budget with the science departments created some problems, Lusk said. Competition for grant money with other departments was difficult, but as a separate college, it would be easier to get, Lusk said.
Massengale and Lusk saw the vision, but other faculty members needed to be persuaded that a new college was necessary and feasible.
In the late 1980s, Massengale commissioned research and outside evaluation of UNL by peer institutions and then appointed a committee to study forming a college of fine and performing arts.
"I saw potential, but I needed to see the faculty supported the concept," he said. "I needed to make sure there was support within the university for the college."
Both outside assessment and the UNL committee agreed with Massengale and recommended that the departments separate into a new college.
"The evaluations indicated how strong the programs were and indicated we had a jewel no one knew about," Massengale said.
With recommendations in hand, there was more work to do. Everything from where the college offices would be located (originally Architecture Hall) to how budgets would be handled (move the department budgets from Arts and Sciences) had to be determined, and those plans all had to pass several hurdles: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Academic Planning Committee Institution, the Board of Regents and the Nebraska Post-Secondary Coordinating Commission for Higher Education all had to weigh in.
"All of those bodies approved it, and then we were off and running," Massengale said.
After a long maternity, the time had finally come. With final approval in 1993, the College of Fine and Performing Arts was born July 1, 1993.
"Becoming a college isn't an end all, be all, but it brings focus," said Tice Miller, professor of Theatre Arts and chairman of the department at the time of the college's inception. Focus meant more visibility and recognition for the arts on campus and it also meant more gifts and grants. And the new college did indeed draw grants and gifts.
The biggest acknowledgement came when Christina M. Hixson, in charge of distributing funds from The Lied Foundation Trust and who in 1990 donated the $10 million for the Lied Center, gave $18 million to the University of Nebraska Foundation for the college, Lusk said.
"This gift was unusual because all other gifts, the Lied Jungle, the Lied Center, the Conference Center, the Transplant Center were all tangible," Lusk said. "Giving the money, not a building, to the college, was saying, ‘We want arts to flourish in Nebraska and here's money to make it happen.' It was extremely generous and a perfect gift."
Because of the grant, not only were large-scale projects attainable but also smaller projects to help the college function more smoothly, Lusk said
"Now students, graduate students and professors get to travel overseas, and we have money to bring guest professors."
Because of the unprecedented gift to the college, on January 15, 2000, the College of Fine and Performing Arts was officially renamed the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. It marks the only time a college at UNL has been renamed to honor its contributors.
Since its founding more than 10 years ago, the college's enrollment has increased by more than 37 percent (from 484 students in 1993 to 665 students in 2003), and new cooperative programs have been established with colleges, creating high-quality programs not only for students majoring in the college but also those pursuing a minor in it, said former Dean Giacomo Oliva . The art and music departments are nationally recognized in several areas, and the theatre department has sent students to the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center. The college's office space has since been moved from Architecture Hall to "a more spacious area in Woods Hall," Oliva said. The Film and New Media program was added to the theatre department in the late 1990s, Oliva said, and although the title of that program isn't included in the name of the department, "it's growing as fast as we're permitting it to grow," Miller said. "It's growing very quickly."
Said Massengale: "The college has made faster progress than I envisioned. I'm delighted to see it grow and prosper like it has, and I'm excited to see ideas that have come to fruition and do well."
Massengale credits the success of the program to the faculty.
"We've been really fortunate to have really fine administration and faculty. . . some amazing people, and they've made things happen with money and visibility," he said. "I don't see how we could have done that without pioneering a new college."
Erika Schmidt is a senior from Grand Island, Neb., majoring in News-Editorial in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.