Q&A: Haig Mardirosian, University of Tampa

Haig Mardirosian, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Tampa, oversees the departments of art; communications; English and writing; language and linguistics; music, philosophy and speech; and theater and dance. An accomplished organist, Mardirosian left a top post at American University in Washington to get "closer to the arts'' and to be among the first to play Opus 89, a Dobson Pipe Organ being installed in the new Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values at UT. Work on the Chapel started in 2008. It is scheduled for completion in 2010. Mardirosian sat down recently with 83 Degrees to talk about new opportunities in Tampa and his thoughts for the future of the arts.
83D: What is your background as a scholar and teacher?
I was at American University for 33 years, most recently as senior provost, before coming here. My real background though is as a performer. In the past, I might have become a virtuoso performer. But at American University, my work started becoming other things, embracing technology, teaching music theory, becoming involved in general education. I've learned that it is perfectly possible to live out the concept that music is a liberal art.

83D: What is the mission for the College of Arts and Letters?
HM: It is transitional in that the arts make people intelligent. Broadly put, music, theater, dance teach us something. People come here to study the arts to become broadly educated, to bring together all those experiences into their study of the arts. We're also presenters. We present arts events: 14 weeks of performances this fall semester; 60 main stage events at this college alone. That doesn't include faculty-led work. All add to the quality of life in the community.

83D: How do you plan to accomplish the mission?
HM: Through faculty development, curriculum development, student development and helping the city develop at large. We do more than sit in classrooms and speak about these things theoretically.  

83D: What can a student get from this particular program that isn't available elsewhere?
HM: It's the conjunction of Arts and Letters. At UF, for instance, Arts and Letters are separate colleges. We have departments of philosophy, engineering and communications working in conjunction with art, dance, music. This allows for a deeper exploration of how they cross pollinate in the interdisciplinary nature of the art forms themselves. Ours is a better reflection of collaboration and has a real impact on the community.

83D: With modern-day economic pressures, many parents wonder whether a young person can earn a living with a degree in the arts. What do you say to the skeptics?
HM: The chances of earning a living in the arts are far greater than anyone can imagine. The definition of the arts itself has changed. If the parental view is that you learn to dance and only to dance, than the observational perception that your options are limited would be correct. But here a person who studies the arts also studies math, sciences, lots of disciplines that prepare you for choices. Do you know what is the second-largest major for those who study pre-med? Music. Arts compel us to use the entire brain. Someone going into technology, science or law studies the arts because it allows for an expanded thinking capacity beyond that field of study. Will you be more successful in life because you've studied to be an actor? The answer is a resounding yes.

83D: How do you see the study of Arts & Letters changing or evolving in the future?
HM: I'm looking for everything I do at this university to reach out to the city. I spend a lot of time meeting with and cultivating people in the business community and at performing venues. The future depends on building meaningful partnerships. When I say meaningful, I'm looking for daily interactional opportunities, opportunities for students to go to these institutions to learn, to perform. We're embracing the entire city.

83D: Do you plan to perform here?
HM: Yes, right before leaving Washington last year, I did two CDs. My Brahms CD is out. I feel like I cannot be credible unless I'm actively continuing to perform. I have recital bookings for spring here and in New Jersey. Most exciting is the coming completion of the Chapel here with the new Dobson organ.

83D: As a recent transplant from Washington D.C., why Tampa?
HM: We live at a time when communications, transportation, all human interactions have made distinctions between communities, between cities less meaningful. If I want to go to an opening of a show on Broadway, I'm only three hours away, so it's easy to stay plugged in. My decision to live here is less specific about why Tampa is attractive than about the fact that I can get anywhere from here. Tampa is fascinating. It's a great civil environment. The people are warm, friendly; that's hard to rival in other cities. But while Tampa is a great place to be, it's also a place that has yet to discover its own strengths.

83D: Anything you wish I would have asked that I didn't?
HM; Simply say that we're all at the beginning of an exercise in collaboration. We're arriving at a time when the city is just beginning to discover its strengths and opportunities. We know it's a great place for recreation, for natural beauty. We have yet to unleash the creativity that is within us.

Diane Egner, 83 Degrees publisher and managing editor, shares insights from thought leaders by conducting interviews and editing their answers for succinctness. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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Diane Egner is an award-winning journalist with four decades of experience writing about the Tampa Bay region. She is a member of Leadership Florida and the Athena Society, and serves on the board of The Institute for Research in Art (Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and USF’s Public Art Program) Community Advisory Council and the StageWorks Theatre Advisory Council. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism, she won the top statewide award for editorial writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors while at The Tampa Tribune and received special recognition by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists for creative work as Content Director at WUSF Public Broadcasting. Past accomplishments and community service include leadership positions with Awesome Tampa Bay, Arts Council of Hillsborough County, Alpha House of Tampa Bay, Florida Kinship Center, AIA Tampa Bay, Powerstories, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. She lives in South Tampa, is the mother of two adult daughters and grandmother to two amazing grandchildren, and travels whenever possible with laptop in tow.