April 1, 2019

Be Curious, Be Brave – Kurt T. Steinberg's Inaugural Address at Montserrat

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Originally published at Montserrat.edu. Images courtesy of Montserrat College of Art.

Kurt T. Steinberg, Ed.D., President, Montserrat College of Art

Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to attend today’s transitional event for Montserrat College of Art.

I would like to start with a quote by ceramics artist Brother Thomas….

It is right to be acknowledged and gracious to acknowledge. No one does anything alone.

And so I begin by acknowledging those who continue to influence my life but were not able to be here because of their passing. I am grateful to my Mother (Patricia King), my Mother-in-Law (Elaine Cook), my Grandparents (William and Katharine Steinberg as well as Harmon Ries).

Thank you to President Javier Cevallos of Framingham State University. He has become a friend and an example of leadership. I am thankful for his presence here and in my life.

Thank you to President Emerita Kay Sloan of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I am standing here because of your mentorship and faith in my abilities. You were the second person to show me the power of creativity.

Kurt T. Steinberg, Ed.D., President, Montserrat College of Art

The first person to show me that power was my wife, Sarah Steinberg. She is here with me today with my sons, Andrew and Will. I am nothing without her. My boys are proof that their mother is the rock and power in our family and we are all three deeply grateful for her eternal light.

I am also grateful to my Father, Tom Steinberg, who is here today as well. I draw strength from his lessons of life and the confidence and pride he shows in me every day. I only hope that I am in the end half as good a Father as he has been to me.

I want to also acknowledge my Grandmother, who is a great great Grandmother now, Mildred Ries-Gavenda. She was not able to physically be here but by the power of live streaming is able to watch the proceedings today. She has taught me the great lesson of perseverance and productive stubbornness. Never quit and never give up. Never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough or to give up on your goals. I continue to learn those lessons every day from you Gram.

My final thank you before I get to my message today is to Steve Locke, Professor of Art Education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Steve….I am not going to be able to express how deeply honored I am to have you here today. It is a true blessing to have you speak to everyone. You introduced the concept of Art and Design schools supporting a creative life to me and this has stuck with me ever since. It is this and a few other themes I will cover in my remarks today.

As I begin my tenure as the 8th President of this great institution, it is important to lay out a few messages to all of you and the community of makers that constitute our world of art and design education. And so I begin that journey with you today by starting with the most important question….How does an art and design college support a creative life?

Supporting a creative life is the ethical and moral duty of every Art and Design College. The days of the starving artist are long over and those places that directly or indirectly promote this idea are doing a great disservice to all artists and designers. Supporting a creative life is more than a job…it is the education and facilitation of the creative journey. Our graduates are not sacrificing anything, but like any other graduate of a higher education institution, are thriving and searching for all the same things.

Montserrat College of Art

How does Montserrat help our students support a creative life?

First and Foremost, because we value creativity and ideas.  Many of our students first come here misunderstood.  They come here to a community that values the skills they have and asks them to do MORE with them.  Montserrat has and will continue to help use these skills to develop businesses and creative futures.  We build life lessons into the curriculum. We support our current students by rallying around this concept as we continue to evolve our courses of study and question our direction and purpose. We will support our graduates at every stage of life. I dedicate myself to this important endeavor of advancing a creative life. I dedicate myself to advancing the college as a leader in the development and implementation of this most noble of pursuits.

In 1970, a group of artists were witness to safe and socially detached discussions of art and design taking place in classrooms across the world. In response to this unacceptable situation they founded Montserrat College of Art. They embraced the need to experiment and disrupt the status quo in order to foster innovation and evolution of all creative disciplines. In many ways, we are at that point again. We shall re-dedicate ourselves to the founders’ vision of challenging the status quo and disruption.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the necessity for challenging the status quo and disruption when he said the following.

One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.

Montserrat College of Art was founded by a group of artists to do exactly as Dr. King described. As we approach our 50thAnniversary, I challenge us to recommit ourselves to the ideals of challenging the status quo, staying awake, and disrupting whenever possible.

Colleges of art and design are centers of research and experimentation. Black Mountain College in the 1960s and the FLUXUS movement showed us the great influence research and experimentation have on our world and that they have a place in the halls of colleges like Montserrat.

I want to talk about disruption a little more in the context of what I see as a primary purpose of our college.

In Jo Morrison’s blog in 2013, the writer puts forth the following….

“How might Art and Design Higher Education take place when all information has been dematerialised into a distributed and networked virtual global environment?’ or, ‘what are the preferential future scenarios for Art and Design education in a world rich with intelligent and connected objects?’ (today’s students will help to design and make these possible futures).

I believe that higher education generally has become mind numbingly boring. We have created pockets of innovation and creativity and for those colleges doing that regularly I say THANK YOU!!! But….I have seen the industry of higher education playing it safe and not promoting free thinking and inquiry. Playing it safe and concentrating on general conformity has seeped into the ivy covered walls of our campuses.

The history of Montserrat does not allow for the status of playing it safe to exist. Nor does the current HE financial environment. We adapt because the world around us is constantly changing and we need to pivot so the next generation of creatives will break and challenge that NEXT status quo. We will be challenging the status quo. We will promote this concept through gallery shows dedicated to challenging our established point of view. We will facilitate real academic research and experimentation on our terms as an art and design college. We will diversify our making traditions on campus and through that action facilitate international dialogue dedicated to the influence of difference in ourselves as creative people.

At academic convocation in September, I posed a number of questions whose answers feed into the themes and ideas that I pose in a simple format to you today. I pose them to this crowd now and I hope you reflect on them and make meaning of them on your own terms. I said to that group I would reflect on them personally at this event.

Ok…here are the questions….and some of my thoughts.

Are you living the life you want to live?

Yes. I have strived for my entire higher education career to have the most possible direct impact on a student’s life and learning experience. This moment today is the culmination of that journey.

Are you living out your purpose or calling?

I have felt for some time that promoting and making sustainable the important work of educating the world’s future creative people is a calling and a higher purpose.

The following two questions I leave to you to answer for yourselves.

Are you deciding for yourself what you want?

Are you shaping your own world?

Finally…the bigger question is….

Are you shaping your world with intention? Or Are you a passenger that is allowing your choices to randomly shape your future or your present?

Creativity is stifled by fear, public opinion, and the limits placed upon us by others and/or ourselves.

I have learned to reduce my fear of the retribution of others when I know I am right and that my cause is just.

We teach this confidence every day. I have been able to see the difference between our first year students and our fourth year students. The transformation is what motivates me to come to Montserrat every day. This transformation is proof that what we do here matters so much in the lives of our students and those that they touch outside our institution.

My standing here today illustrates that perseverance in the face of opposition is important and needed more and more in today’s climate.

So we must….

Be Curious!

Be Brave!

Jack Gilbert a Poet and Professor used to say to his students….

Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures hidden within you?

I don’t see that as an individual responsibility and one thing I have learned is that this community helps you bring out your hidden treasures by focusing the students on how to…..

Be Curious!

Be Brave!

It is my honor and privilege to serve this great College and this great community as its 8th President. So many have sacrificed before me and this community has fought the biggest fight of survival. The rewards of those fights are starting to be seen now. I promise to act with intention and to always be a servant to the community. I lead this community only because the trustees, faculty and students allow me that privilege.

With that in mind, I close by thanking the trustees, faculty and students for their faith in me. I thank those that have been here through everything for your perseverance, dedication and leadership.

The best days of Montserrat are ahead of us because of the collective work of so many since our founding…especially Steven Dodge. We are so lucky to be in that situation. 

We are a small college with a global reach that serves a transformational purpose in art and design education that only a small college can. No one gets lost here….and we have done the impossible and made what we do financially sustainable while establishing a curriculum that supports a creative life.

Proof of this global community in Beverly, Ma. Can be found in our current efforts in Japan, China, the Bahamas, New Zealand and India. As well as our continuing global opportunities in Japan, Italy and Spain.

The tangible example of this global education that we want to foster can be found in the efforts of Professor Jesse Kahn who facilitated four internships for art education students in China this winter session. We are proud of them and hopeful that many more experiences will start to multiply for our students.

Be Curious!

Be Brave!

I believe it appropriate to end with the following reflection based on what greeted me when I entered the hallways of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University as a graduate student…an excerpt from the Athenian City-State Oath….

“We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many; We will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty; We will revere and obey the city’s laws; We will transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

– From the Oath of the Athenian City-State found on the Foyer wall of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse, NY

Art and Design changes the world every day. It makes our lives richer by challenging the status quo and disrupting our accepted point of view and understanding our surroundings. I am dedicated to this important creative education because it makes the world…..greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

Montserrat College of Art is ready for the next transformation, the next revolution, our collective future. We will lead, we will question, we will experiment, we will critique, we will offer solutions, we will break things, and we will dream of a past, sleep in the future, envision what we want the world to be.

Greatness is there for those who work hard and dream big. Montserrat College of Art is on the move and will be leading the revolution. We insist those not ready for the disruption to get out of our way.

Greatness is our aspiration. Our history demands it of us. Our community of artists, designers and artist educators are ready.

Be Curious!

Be Brave!

About Montserrat College of Art: Montserrat College of Art is a private, residential college of visual art and design supporting the creative life by educating artists and entrepreneurs for a rapidly changing world. At the intersection of art, design and technology, the college offers three international programs, 12 concentrations and a required internship program.

Learn more at https://www.montserrat.edu