Overlooking Glidden and Seigfred halls is Jennings House, and behind a set of rustic white French doors in the office sits Matthew Shaftel, the newly appointed dean of the College of Fine Arts.
Shaftel, who graduated with degrees from Harvard and Yale, took the position July 15 and has made it his mission to highlight the talent in the College of Fine Arts.
In fact, Shaftel loves mission statements, and one line in Ohio University’s vision was a reason he chose to step on the bricks. He took a minute to pull out his phone, search for the mission statement and read: “Ohio University holds as its central purpose the intellectual and personal development of its students.”
“Instead of, ‘Hey, we’re going to take you and make you into a robot that produces widgets,’ we’re going to say, ‘What is your maximum potential? What is your personal potential, and how do we get you there?’ ” Shaftel said.
Shaftel believes “The Ohio University” is doing a good job to find value in its students and in the region. Not only does the university’s duty lay with its students, but also southeast Ohio in general.
The work the university does for the Appalachian region was a major selling point for Shaftel. He was approached by Elizabeth Sayrs, who was the interim dean for the College of Fine Arts. At the time, Shaftel was overseeing Westminster Choir College, a branch of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey. The choir college was in talks of being sold or closed, so Sayrs, knowing Shaftel’s interest in bettering cities outside of the university, urged him to apply to OU.
Though he was skeptical at first, he soon realized the work OU was doing for the Appalachian region.
“It’s hard not to see my community engagement. I wear it on my sleeve. That’s my focus,” he said.
John Sabraw, a professor of art and the chair of painting and drawing, is one professor going into the the region to create art. Sabraw takes students into the surrounding areas to make toxic waste into art.
Sabraw said Shaftel’s interest in more engagement with the area is an ideal that aligns with what the School of Art and Design has been doing.
“Social engagement, social practice and community engagement is a huge aspect of what we are all doing,” Sabraw said. “A lot of us have different projects, so the fact that the dean is behind these and understands that value of them, not only for our students experiences but for the enrichment of the local community. … That's exactly what we’re about, and we are happy to have that push.”
Shaftel said the quality of work the College of Fine Arts is doing is not reflected in its learning facilities. People really have to uncover the work being done at OU because it’s not visible from the outside, he added.
His first time entering Seigfred Hall, Shaftel had someone explain to him where the door was because it was hidden behind a dumpster. Upon entering, he made his way down the mysterious hallways to the elevator, which he said seemed as if it was installed when elevators were first invented. He hit floor five and hoped it wouldn’t return to the first as it had done so many times before. But after making his way down some more hallways, he came across the art gallery, where it was evident the College of Fine Arts was doing some amazing work.
“We are doing amazing work given that the quality of our facilities do not match any of our competitors. It is what it is. It’s the first thing I noticed on campus,” Shaftel said. “What does it take to convince (prospective students) at that point that we are doing the right stuff? That’s kind of the magic. We still convince students we are doing the right stuff, left and right.”
Sharon Ball, the administrative specialist for the College of Fine Arts, has worked for the college for 29 years. She said Shaftel brings some much-needed energy to the job and that it’s evident he wants to move the college forward.
“It’s a new era. … So it’s time. It’s fine art's time,” Ball said. “We have a whole new upper administration, so it’s going to be awesome. … Fine Arts has some really great years ahead of it.”