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Although essentially landlocked at their location on Spring Street, the University of St. Francis has grown dramatically in recent years, thanks to their involvement and collaborations with one major local business and several area arts organizations. Their acquisition of the former Scottish Rite (now the USF Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center) has provided them with their own presence downtown, and partnerships with Sweetwater Sound, Fort Wayne Ballet and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art have expanded their programming options academically as well as their potential as a significant arts provider in a busy community. The man who has put all of this in motion is Rick Cartwright, the dean of the School of Creative Arts at USF. Having recently received the Arts United Award for Outstanding Educator, Cartwright’s attachment to Fort Wayne came unexpectedly, as many others have discovered too. Fort Wayne can seem like a temporary stop, but something usually convinces you to throw down anchor permanently.
“I really didn’t expect to stay in Fort Wayne,” he recalls. “But I fell in love with a wonderful lady who was from this area, so I ended up staying. I’ve loved every minute of it. Fort Wayne is home to me now, and I’ve invested a lot of energy in it. Everyone has been very supportive of me internally at St. Francis and in the community, so I have no plans for leaving. It’s home.”
Originally from the coastal town of Bath, North Carolina, Cartwright found a passion for drawing and art early on. Supported by parents who were also of an artistic bent (his mother was a dressmaker, his father a cabinetmaker) he was encouraged to follow his joy which he quickly knew would be art. He chose an unlikely place to get his education after he graduated from high school.
“I chose to go against the Cartwright path of attending Eastern Carolina University and chose [University of North Carolina] Pembroke which was primarily attended by American Indians and had a very small percentage of Caucasian students. I wanted to know what it was like to be a minority, and they had a very good art program. I found a very special place at Pembroke, and it was enormously supportive of myself and my talents.”
He attended Bowling Green University for his graduate work and found his first position as a professor of art at the University of St. Francis in 1975. Cartwright had always studied both art and education in the hopes of teaching at a college level, but he says he never imagined himself in the administrative positions which would await him several years later.
“I always knew I wanted to teach, that I wanted to give back,” he says. “There were a lot of people along the way who helped me, and it’s part of my makeup to want to do the same. It was as much of a passion for me as art was. But no, I didn’t imagine myself as chair or dean. It happened naturally over the years. I was named department chair in 2000 and then dean in 2004. Things just happened. I never thought I’d be in a position of raising money or creating a complex for St. Francis.”
But that’s exactly what he’s done. He understood that the university, which was noted for its art program but lacked other areas of creative study, needed to expand to provide a full range of artistic expression and development.
“The programs were limited to art and art education. We didn’t have music, theater or dance, and art students need a broader background. That was one of my concerns. The other was that I wanted to dispel the notion of the ‘starving artist.’ I wanted our students to know they can make a living out of this even if they have to write their own job description.”
One of his first efforts was to bring in a music program, but he knew it had to be something unique to St. Francis.
“St. Francis isn’t going to compete with IU’s School of Music, but music technology was a very natural option, especially with Sweetwater Sound being such a major part of this city. So I began exploring options with Sweetwater, and it’s been a very successful addition to the university.”
Cartwright then turned his attention to dance.
“I made a real push to bring in a dance program, and I wondered how I was going to do that in a way that would work as well as our partnership with Sweetwater had. So I talked to Fort Wayne Ballet to create a partnership there, and with the help of [FWB executive/artistic director] Karen Gibbons-Brown we worked out a program in line with National Association of Dance standards, and now we have a B.A. program in dance.”
This year he forged yet another partnership, this time with the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, launching a B.A. program in museum studies. With a presence in downtown Fort Wayne, thanks to their Performing Arts Center, St. Francis is finding these partnerships a way to not only educate students but put them in the heart of the arts campus downtown. The music technology program is moving in to the west wing of that building, providing them dedicated practice studios as well as access to performances in the auditorium, a means of recording anything which takes place there.
Connections through these projects and with area businesses and organizations have allowed many students to find jobs quickly after graduation. Sweetwater currently employs 31 USF graduates. The numbers for St. Francis since Cartwright became dean are equally impressive.
“It was one of my goals to grow the arts at the university and in the community. When I began, there were 32 art majors at St. Francis, and now there are 250, so obviously a lot of growth has taken place.”
And now with the addition of the Performing Arts Center, the University of St. Francis can be part of the community beyond its educational contributions, and Cartwright’s longtime vision for the university can be fully realized.
“I certainly want to use the auditorium to become a major player in providing entertainment in northeast Indiana. I want it to be a hub for entertainment and cultural events in Fort Wayne. This is really a great opportunity to provide all kinds of entertainment and cultural opportunities and to be a magnet to downtown Fort Wayne. I’m happy that St. Francis can be part of that.”