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Alumni Making an Impact
Features alumni who are making a difference for Rice on campus and in their communities.

Alumni in the News
Highlights stories that are gathered from the media through the hard work of the ARA's Alumni Recognition Committee, which recognizes and celebrates achievements of Rice alumni, faculty, students, staff and university friends by sending hand-written notes and emails. If you are interested in volunteering for the committee, contact Tara Quell, assistant director, alumni relations at 713-348-4694.

Sneak preview of the Moody Center for the Arts with Alison Weaver

The Moody Center for the Arts, opening in January 2017, has been hailed as one of Rice's boldest commitments to the arts. The $30 million, 50,000-square-foot interdisciplinary arts facility promises to be a hub for collaborative innovation and risk-taking, to spark new ways of thinking and doing, and to engage the most diverse array of artists and performers. One of the keys to making this vision a reality has been finding a leader who has the passion, knowledge and wide-ranging experience to bring out the maximum creative potential in the new space.

In June 2015, Alison Weaver, an art historian and former director of affiliates for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, was named the Suzanne Deal Booth Director of the Moody Center for the Arts. The Association of Rice Alumni sat down with Alison to discuss her first impressions of Rice and to look ahead to the much anticipated launch of the Moody Center.


I heard that you grew up in Houston?

Yes, both my parents went to Rice, so I grew up in the shadow of the university. I remember learning to drive in the stadium parking lot and working on high school research papers in Fondren Library. I went to Princeton for college, Yale and Williams for graduate school, and worked for the Guggenheim Museum in New York for a number of years, but now I'm excited to be back in Houston.  

What are your initial impressions of Houston’s arts community?

I've come back to a city that is bursting with artistic activity, including theater, music, dance and the visual arts. Likewise, I’ve come back to a campus that has significantly increased its commitment to the arts through the Visual and Dramatic Arts Department, the Ph.D. program in art history, the public art program including the magnificent James Turrell Skyspace, the School of Architecture, and the Shepherd School of Music. All of these efforts contribute to a vibrant campus culture of creativity and innovation.

Where have you seen that activity in the community?

Culture in Houston is thriving at all levels, from large institutions like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony and the Alley Theater, to smaller organizations such as Project Row Houses, the Asia Society, and the new MATCH facility.

Ideally, the Moody Center will operate like a hinge, internally connecting disciplines across campus while externally building bridges for our artistic partners in Houston. Rice can play a unique role, bringing different organizations and disciplines together to collaborate on creative projects.
 

The space signals that it's operating differently than the existing buildings on campus in that it’s not housing a single department or academic discipline, but is equally open to all departments.

Why should Rice alumni get excited about the Moody Center?

The Moody Center complements and enhances the creativity already thriving on campus. For example, if you came back for Homecoming weekend this past October, you could have seen Katie Grinnan, an L.A.-based artist who makes her own instruments, perform together with two Shepherd School students in the Turrell Skyspace. It was magical and indicative of what can happen when students’ creativity intersects with the arts.

When the building opens, alumni will be able to tour the Moody and see exhibitions and public programming. The Moody is located between the stadium and Reckling Park, so I hope many alumni will walk over before or after a game.

You bring a lot of international experience to your role from your time at the Guggenheim — how do you see that playing into the Moody Center?

Through both my work at the Guggenheim overseeing their international exhibition program and my focus as an art historian on the dialogue between Europe and the United States after 1945, I have learned that cross-cultural communication can result in new and interesting perspectives. Rice and Houston are both international places where people are inspired by diverse points of view. There's an open-minded spirit here that is very welcoming to the arts. That spirit is something I hope will thrive at the Moody.

What have you learned from your interactions with students thus far?

I’m incredibly impressed! Rice students are smart, hardworking and insightful. They are passionate about what they do and eager to positively contribute to all their endeavors. A team of students from disciplines as diverse as visual art, architecture and computer science are currently advising on all aspects of the Moody. Students will be the lifeblood of the building and will bring creativity and inspiration to all of the Moody’s endeavors.

What happens in the makerspace at the Moody Center?

The Moody’s makerspace is a creative laboratory equipped with a wood shop, a metal shop, a paint shop, and rapid prototyping technology such as 3D printers and a CNC router.

I hope it will be an added draw to prospective students and faculty, as well as a manifestation of how Rice celebrates unconventional wisdom. 

Like a creative incubator?

Exactly, it will allow diverse projects and ideas to be realized in three dimensions. For example, a course taught by Anthony Brandt, a professor of composition and theory in the Shepherd School, and a team of visiting scholars including David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor, will study the neurology and psychology of creativity while encouraging students to make their own music and videos.

Seems like a pretty experimental environment.

Absolutely. The Moody is designed to feel like a laboratory of creativity and will always maintain an experimental spirit. It is a place to encourage risk-taking in a fail-safe environment.

I can see how this would be attractive to potential students.

The opportunity for students to bring their own interests and training to creative projects is very exciting. I expect the Moody to be featured on every admissions tour, and for all visitors to be inspired by transformative interactions with the arts.

  

The design encourages transparency and idea sharing through flexible, open spaces. The ground floor is primarily glass in order to welcome all of Rice’s constituents, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and the larger Houston community.

When people take the building tour, what are they going to see?

The building, designed by the Michael Maltzan Architects, echoes the landscape of Rice’s campus, but with a modern twist, in keeping with the Moody Center's mission. The design encourages transparency and idea sharing through flexible, open spaces. The ground floor is primarily glass in order to welcome all of Rice’s constituents, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and the larger Houston community. You’ll see museum-quality artwork in the dedicated gallery spaces and be able to attend a performance in the studio theater.  

One article described the space as “bold and risky.”

Yes, the space signals that it's operating differently than the existing buildings on campus in that it’s not housing a single academic department, but is equally open to all disciplines.

What excites you about creating such a new experience here?

The Moody is potentially transformative for both Rice and Houston in its ability to connect the arts to the resources of a major research university. I'm interested in unexpected connections, like when the photographer Geoff Winningham recently partnered with the earth scientist Adrian Lenardic to study Galveston Bay as a watershed area. The science students learned to take landscape photographs while the art students measured the water for pollution and produced graphs that were published together in a gorgeous book.

What does an art center like this do for Rice on the regional or national stage?

I hope it will be an added draw to prospective students and faculty, as well as a manifestation of how Rice celebrates unconventional wisdom.

It is an opportunity to explore, experiment and create across disciplines in unique ways. The Moody allows Rice to demonstrate its world-class commitment to innovation, hands-on learning and the creative arts in an exciting new building.

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