California Institute of the Arts Names First Asian-American President

The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) announced Tuesday its next president will be Ravi S. Rajan, the current dean of Purchase College’s School of the Arts at State University of New York.

Rajan, who was born in Seattle to immigrants from India, is set to begin his tenure in June 2017, and will be the school’s first Asian-American and fourth overall president.

Ravi Rajan, who was chosen as the California Institute of Arts fourth president this week. Photo by Balarama Heller

“CalArts is really an institution that has always defined itself in an outward facing way and showing how the arts are important to people,” Rajan told NBC News. “And so that’s really amazing, and I think Los Angeles in this moment is prime for that relationship to be deepened.”

Rajan was selected from a pool of more than 500 candidates by a unanimous decision of CalArts’ board of trustees. He succeeds Steven Lavine, who announced his retirement last year after leading the school for nearly 30 years.

“Ravi shows the fiery passion for the arts that was at the core of CalArts founding,” Tim Disney, chairman of the CalArts board of trustees, said in a statement. “His commitment to excellence and exploration and innovation will help continue CalArts rich legacy and unbounded future.”

As dean of Purchase College’s School of the Arts since 2012, Rajan is credited with a $100 million renovation of the school’s art and design facilities and securing the largest amount of individual donations to the school since its founding, according to CalArts. He also led the creation of a entrepreneurship in the arts graduate program — the first of its kind, according to the school.

Apart from his position at Purchase College, Rajan is president of the Asian American Arts Alliance, a member of the Tony Awards nominating committee, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London. He is also a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and Yale.

As CalArts’ incoming first Asian-American president, Rajan says he feels an even greater responsibility in the new role.

“In my mind, that makes it more important … because an institution like CalArts that’s really known for incubating the new artists of the United States, to be leading that, it’s a great symbol,” he said.

“I think in this time where it seems like all of us focus on our differences and how we disagree with each other, it’s really important to find places where we really understand that in the end, we’re all human beings,” he added. “And I think the arts do that in a way that very little else can. It really connects on that universal human level.”

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