Capturing the Limelight
Spotlight: Donald Hicken
Donald Hicken, former chairman of the theatre department at Baltimore School for the Arts and a Helen Hayes Award-winning director, talks to UB about the role of higher education in the arts and creating a home for artists in Baltimore.
UB: Why is it important for UB to position itself more strongly as a school for the humanities?
DH: To me, what’s often missing in an educational environment is a way to exercise the creative part of your brain. If you look at all walks of life, the people who really excel, whether it’s a Bill Gates or an amazing musician or scientist, these are people who have imaginations. These are people who see possibilities, who have a creative side. They certainly have a business sense, they certainly have a skill set, but what makes them visionaries is [that] they know how to function in a creative environment and use imagination as a muscle. If you’re doing education without a creative process, I think the landscape is, in part, barren.
UB: What makes Baltimore a fertile place for growing the arts?
DH: There’s so much! I think the educational institutions in town have increased their emphasis on the arts. But the biggies for me that are having the most impact are Everyman, the [Baltimore] Symphony [Orchestra], the [Baltimore Museum of Art], plus some of these smaller groups that are emerging, like the exploding ensemble theatre scene. There’s a receptivity here, and I think that’s probably one of the great assets in Baltimore—we have an audience for the arts in this town.
UB: What do you think today’s students are looking for in a higher education program?
DH: Kids coming out of high school are looking for a challenge. They’re looking for a learning environment, for a place where they feel welcome and at home with like-minded students and with professors who are going to inspire them.
UB: What’s your aspiration for what the arts community in Baltimore will look like in 10 years?
DH: It ought to be a place with a broader artistic landscape. I would like to see a city and even a state leadership that sees the arts as more than just a driver of economic growth and development. You want to make an artistic home; that’s what Baltimore needs to cultivate—a place where artists are welcome and nurtured and supported and treasured.