Teresa McKinney joined Colby as the founding Diamond Family Director of the Arts last April. She comes to Mayflower Hill from the Juilliard School in New York, where she led arts programming and community engagement efforts. McKinney spoke with Colby Magazine Staff Writer Kardelen Koldas ’15 about her new role and plans at Colby.

This position is not only new for you but also for the College. How do you see your role?

I see my role as a community engagement professional first and foremost by exploring what exists within the arts realm here at Colby and determining how it connects to the broader community of Waterville and Maine. I see [it as] finding ways [my office,] the arts office, can basically leverage the excellence of the College, faculty, and students to highlight and share these gifts within the downtown spaces. I see the office as a key collaborator with partners that include the Colby Museum of Art, the Lunder Institute for American Art, the Center for the Arts and Humanities, the ensembles, faculty in music, dance and theater, creative writing, and cinema studies, [and] Waterville Creates!, among others.

It seems that your work has a community aspect, but also an academic component. How do you envision the arts office operating with academics?

On the academic side, the existing curriculum is undergoing a great deal of change in the arts areas. I believe the arts office will work alongside academic departments. We’ll support deeper interdisciplinary practice by offering space for innovation, and together with artists and cultural partners, see what it is we will create in the near future. The arts office will work with students to animate the arts on and off campus, and this will enhance the student experience. It’s a challenging time, but there’s opportunity to update how a student may dive into an understanding of the arts and society, or encourage more room for innovation within the curriculum.

I want the arts office to be a central nervous system that connects the academic life and public-facing arts activity. We want to strengthen the existing connective tissue, and we want to highlight the amazing [work]. And then we want to create and build accessible programs for the downtown spaces. Because we have this really rich artistic life that’s happening here, … we want to give it a little bit more form so people know where to go and how to engage in order to create the ideal destination.

 

Rendering of the Arts Collaborative

 

The College is planning the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts on campus, and the Arts Collaborative and Paul J. Schupf Art Center are underway in downtown Waterville. What’s your involvement with those?

The first on the calendar is the opening of the Arts Collaborative, scheduled for April 2021, which is coming up pretty quickly. I’m working very closely with the Lunder Institute thinking about the type of artists that may be working on the second, third, and fourth floors of the building, and I’ve been charged with the programming of the ground floor. As far as the Schupf Center, [with] one of our key partners, Waterville Creates!, we come together and think about what it looks like when you walk down Main Street on any given day. What do we imagine happening in the morning, afternoon, or evening as we walk down Main Street? We’re all coming together to draw a picture of what it is to engage in the arts downtown.

And the Gordon Center—we’re having some wonderful conversations on the design and development and around collaboration with the Departments of Music and Theater and Dance as well as the Cinema Studies Program. They already have great vision. So I want to help them—in the best way the arts office can—to have those ideas manifest within those beautiful new spaces. We’re continuing the work of envisioning what it means to be in that space together.

 

Rendering of Paul J. Schupf Art Center

 

Colby is very different from Juilliard in terms of its education. What do you think the place of arts is in a liberal arts institution?

Coming from Juilliard, you have music, dance, drama, jazz, vocal arts, etc., and this strong, focused conservatory model. In the liberal arts at Colby, it thrives on interdisciplinary work. It thrives on student collaboration and leadership. The students have multiple majors and minors that are seemingly not connected in any way, but they make perfect sense to each student. So this is very different, but also extremely exciting for the arts. I would say for the arts to flourish and stay centrally focused in our lives moving forward, it is important to understand that we are all multidimensional people. To be a scientist or an explorer requires creative thought. We know how important critical thinking is, and the arts strengthen that skill. I’m really interested in exploring the intersection between the arts and technology. Those are things that I can do here at Colby that may be different from other types of institutions, and that’s exciting.

What are some other things that really excite you about your role at Colby?

When I started last spring, everyone was virtual, and there were no students. So, I was excited to get to know Colby students for multiple reasons. I love young creative energy. Students often think about things in completely different ways, perhaps being born in a time of advanced, rapidly changing technology. It’s interesting and helpful to me as we shape the arts activity of the future.

And, of course, new developments as Colby leads with the arts in the downtown development—that is super exciting! I’ve always admired cities that have had significant industry decline and build back stronger each time—often the movement is quietly led by the arts. Artists, they may open up galleries, attract people to their downtown or main street spaces through festivals, music, and food. So the fact that Colby is leading in that way in Waterville—it’s brilliant. And that’s probably the most exciting thing to see. … I’m imagining the year 2023, 2025. And we are this amazing destination in Maine—nationally and internationally. This is a beautiful place. I’ve just spent my first summer here, and this place is amazing!

 

Illustration of downtown Waterville by Evan Yao ’22

 

At a moment like this, when we’re living through a pandemic and calling for racial justice, what can art do for us?

There’s a great divide in this country related to race, of course it has existed since the founding of this nation. However, the concern about the divide feels urgent—where we are now, nationally, locally, and at Colby. And one of the thoughts, I’m actually interested in diving deeper into this at some point, is to look at how the artistic canon we reverence [especially the College] from this point forward, will be more inclusive; and that who we engage will challenge our status quo; and that we encourage [challenging] dialogue related to the arts and the human condition; and continually elicit action toward positive change and reconciliation. The arts can do that for us. It’s really a crucial time, and I do believe that Colby is making the right choices in offering space for this movement. There’s the campaign, “One Colby,” related to COVID-19, but I definitely love that concept for the College. It sets the standard for Waterville and those of us who are residents. We are all interconnected, and if there is an illness, or ill will, within our community—it’s harmful to everyone around. We want our programming to really tackle the challenges yet offer a warm embrace to Maine, and then, build true community through the arts.