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Q&A with Ronald Jones, Memphis College of Art president



For Memphis College of Art's 75th birthday, the school got a new president.

Ronald Jones, the 12th president in MCA's history, was inaugurated earlier this month in a ceremony at the Levitt Shell. Jones is replacing Jeff Nesin, who led the school for nearly 20 years.

Before arriving at MCA, Jones served as dean of the College of the Arts at the University of South Florida, and he was appointed co-chair of the National Arts Education Council while promoting the role of the arts in higher education.

In an increasingly unstable economy, Jones says he hopes to teach art students a little about business and entrepreneurialism. — Andrew Caldwell

Flyer: What's your vision for the future of MCA?

Jones: I've had the good fortune to come to an excellent institution that's going in the right direction, and it doesn't need a major overhaul or a new motor. What it needs is to be more focused in a way that's more attentive to the primary mission: the preparation of future artists and designers.

How do you plan to achieve that?

Before I came to MCA, the faculty made a 10-year commitment to preparing [students] for things that go beyond what we normally teach in art schools: creativity, inventiveness, design sensibilities.

Unlike the artist of yesterday, the artist of today and tomorrow must be able to communicate in a skillful and practiced way. This is something that's not embedded in the current curriculum. We are intending to start doing that. It won't be a course at the end where we say, You're almost ready to step out into the real world. Let us dust you off and fine-tune you to go out into the world. We'll do it over the four years that the student is here.

Would that mean a stronger emphasis on the liberal arts?

I think it will mean a lot of things, and we're just in the first stages. The role of liberal studies is going to increase because significant work coming out of an artist or designer requires that it be informed by liberal studies. There's also the need to understand business, entrepreneurial models, to make things happen when there's no job out there for you because you've chosen to be a freelance designer or a painter.

Can you say something about MCA's role in the Memphis community?

I think [the Nesin Graduate School] is the best example of the role we see ourselves playing in Memphis. A part of the city, South Main, needs attention and an infusion of energy and excitement, and we're willing to spend our energy and time with the downtown graduate center to help stimulate the area, to be a catalyst for other businesses and other arts entities coming in, and through that process, inviting other kinds of economic activities.

What do you think it means for a city like Memphis to serve as home for an arts institution?

If you think of any really significant city, you'll always find a lively arts community. The odds are, you're going to find colleges and schools of the arts and music that are participating and contributing to the liveliness, vitality, excitement, and vigor that can only come from the arts.

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