Matthew Tiews to lead arts programs at Stanford

Stanford has a new arts czar. It's Matthew Tiews, and his formal title is executive director of arts programs for the School of Humanities and Sciences. The newly created position brings together the university's traditionally separate arts endeavors.


L.A. Cicero Matthew Tiews

Matthew Tiews was named as Stanford’s first executive director of arts programs for the School of Humanities and Sciences after a nationwide search.

Many know Matthew Tiews as the witty and lively guiding presence at the Humanities Center, where he has been associate director since 2005.

Now he'll be wearing a new and bigger hat: he has been named Stanford’s first executive director of arts programs for the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S.) He assumes the new role Oct. 1.

The newly created position marks a strategic move to bring Stanford's arts endeavors together under the umbrella of H&S. These endeavors include the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCa), Stanford Lively Arts, the Cantor Arts Center and the new Bing Concert Hall, which is scheduled to open in 2013.

Tiews, who was selected from more than 250 candidates in a nationwide search, called the new position a "major statement about the importance of the arts at the university, as a component of our research and teaching missions."

The new role reconfigures the position held by Kären Nagy, assistant vice president for the arts, who retired last month. Nagy's position, also a first, was deeply involved with the Arts Initiative and The Stanford Challenge.

The change reflects the new institutional structure for the arts, said Tiews, who sees his new role as "looking at the big picture for the arts, and finding the points of connection between them."

Following in the wake of Nagy's successful stint in building the visibility of the arts on campus, Tiews said that his mission will be "to keep up that level of excitement, so it becomes a regular part of Stanford’s life." Tiews sees his role as encouraging connections and collaboration among faculty, students and departments, between practitioners and scholars.

"This job is partly coordinating activities and having a big view of the arts at Stanford," said Tiews. "One of the challenges is how can that excitement be sustained and extended over the long term."

Noting the "enormous amount of growth" in the arts at Stanford over the past decade, Tiews hopes to "strengthen the connections among the arts and the community," keeping what he calls “a twinkle in the eye of the arts community."

Bryan Wolf, co-director of SiCa, praising the upsurge of arts activity on campus, spoke of the need to coordinate arts activities on campus. "This is one moment when we can say, 'No, what we don’t need is a thousand points of light. What we need is a telescope,'" he said. “This position will help focus those activities and give visibility to the arts in ways that have not been the case until now."

Aron Rodrigue, director of the Humanities Center, praised Tiews as "an outstanding associate director." He said Tiews "is going to be of enormous importance to the arts."

Professor John Bender, former director of the Humanities Center, said of Tiews,  "Matthew was an inventive associate director.  He knows every aspect of the Humanities Center and keeps it running perfectly, while making constant improvements.  He also has a great sense of fun – perfect for his new job."

Typical of Tiews' innovations at the center is the Arts Critics in Residence program, launched in 2007, which brought Adam Gopnik, Joan Acocella and other leading figures to Stanford. Tiews said he will continue to find ways of uniting the humanities and the arts, exploring the sometimes permeable boundaries between the two. "There are no bright lines – it's a continuum, a spectrum. But we all benefit from fostering those connections."

Before assuming his role at the Humanities Center, Tiews co-edited the multimedia volume Crowds with Italian and Comparative Literature Professor Jeffrey Schnapp. The 2006 book, published by Stanford University Press, won the 2007 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize.

Tiews was the associate director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California-Berkeley before coming to Stanford. He was also editor of Modernism/modernity, a journal of modernist cultural history.

Tiews received his Stanford doctorate in comparative literature in 2004, with a dissertation on "Arcana of Modern Communication: Cryptography, Telegraphy, and Artificial Languages." He received a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1995.

Tiews' corner office at the homey Humanities Center was among the choicest on campus. He moves to smaller digs at Wallenberg Hall – but he pointed out that his new office is halfway between the Humanities Center and the new arts district being formed on campus.

The district is planned as the "front door" of the campus, just off Palm Drive. It will centralize resources for music, drama, dance, visual arts, film and creative writing, currently scattered across Stanford's large campus. The new concert hall, the Thomas Welton Art Gallery, the Cantor Arts Center and Memorial Auditorium will also form the arts district.

Tiews also promises to drop in to help at the Humanities Center from time to time and, reminded of his indispensible masterminding of the center's high-spirited annual event, said it’s even possible he "might continue to play a role in the satirical send-up, the book celebrations."