The Rice University Visual and Dramatic Arts Department traces its beginning to 1965 when the administration, as part of the effort to strengthen offerings in the humanities, recruited Professor John O'Neill of the School of Art at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. His charge was to establish a Fine Arts Department at Rice. He began with three faculty who had been offering instruction in art and art history in the Department of Architecture. They were joined by individuals hired to teach, in one case, specifically beginning drawing and sculpture, and in another, art history.
The inclusion of dramatic arts in the department came about when Neil Havens, the Director of the Rice Players, moved from the English Department to join the Fine Arts faculty. An expansion of the theater program came about with the hiring of Christina Keefe as Program Advisor and Professor in the Practice of Theatre. Two other faculty positions in theater arts have been added.
A major expansion of the visual arts took place in 1967-68 when Rice accepted the offer of John and Dominique de Menil to bring to Rice the entire art program they had developed and supported at the university of St. Thomas. Included were four art historians, an art library, the slide collection and curator, the exhibition program with its technical staff, the photography and film programs, each with an instructor, and generous funds to support activities. Dominique de Menil, who had been department chair at the University of St. Thomas, at Rice took a position created especially for her, Director of the Institute for the Arts.
The arrival at Rice of the entire de Menil program necessitated construction of new space. Although a permanent building was envisioned, the immediate solution was a pair of temporary structures. The larger of these has been demolished, but the other, known as the media Center, became the headquarters of the Visual and Dramatic Arts Department.
In the early years, the Media Center was the location of notable activity in observational cinema, or cinema vérité, the Direct Cinema movement. Nationlly and internationally known filmmkers and directorsvisited the Media Center, conducting meetings and workshopsto introduce students faculty, and the community to this new wave of filmmaking. In 1970-71 the de Menils brought David MacDougall, an ethnographic filmmaker, and James Blue, a specialist in documentary, to Rice to co-direct the Media Center. Together they received a Guggenheim fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment from the Humanities to make Kenya Boran, which became one of the best-known ethnographic documentary films.When MacDougal left in 1975 to become Director of the Film Unit at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, James Blue recruited Brian Huberman from the U.K. National Film and Television School. Blue and Huberman taught courses in production, and collaboratively and independently they produced several documentaries until Blue's departure in the early 1970s. Huberman's teaching and filmmaking continues in the department to the present time.
In 1969 Geoff Winningham was recruited from the University of St. Thomas to teach photography. While teaching in the department through the subsequent fifty years, he has produced several films and published numerous well-received volumes of photographs.
The film program continues with a schedule of screenings at the Media Center of films from diverse sources. In addition, students now have state-of-the-art screening facilities to examine and study films from around the world in 16, 35, or 70 millimeter format with Dolby Digital Sound. They can also showcase their own film production efforts.
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