Texas Tech University

Art and Leadership: Striving for Excellence in the Face of Adversity

Jamison Driskill

February 9, 2021

Interim dean of the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts, Genevieve Durham DeCesaro, has made a career out of taking on big challenges. Moving into her current role at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester is just the sort of arduous endeavor upon which she thrives. True to form, Durham DeCesaro has approached her new role with the same humility, determination, compassion, and grit that has earned her the respect and confidence of her colleagues campus wide.

Durham DeCesaro is well-known throughout the School of Theatre & Dance for her outstanding work as a dancer, professor, and choreographer; however, there is much more we should know about our new interim dean.

Although Durham DeCesaro is first and foremost an artist, she is also a teacher, an administrator, and a proven leader. She does a great impression of a car alarm, tells fabulous jokes, and one of her greatest regrets is that she never really studied tap: "Oh, man, do I wish I was a tapper!"

Born and raised outside of Austin, Durham DeCesaro earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre at Southwestern University at Georgetown. She then went on to receive a Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts in dance, both at Texas Woman's University.

Durham DeCesaro's tenure at Texas Tech began in the fall of 2004 when she accepted a full-time position as a professor of dance. She chose Texas Tech from several offers because of the opportunity to build new and innovative ideas into an already well-developed curriculum: "That was a key factor in my decision. I wanted to have a voice in the curricular constitution of the dance program."

Durham DeCesaro soon began taking on increasing responsibilities. In 2005, she was named head of dance and in 2008 was promoted to associate chair for the Department of Theatre & Dance. In the latter role, Durham DeCesaro helped to elevate the profile of the dance program by securing accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Dance, and by bringing the American College Dance Association South-Central Regional Conference to the Texas Tech campus.

In 2014, President Lawrence Schovanec, then provost of Texas Tech University, invited her to apply for the position of vice provost for academic affairs. Despite an upcoming development leave and the recent birth of her second daughter, Durham DeCesaro was ultimately appointed. She explains why she chose to seize upon the opportunity in spite of the personal sacrifices she invariably would have to make to be successful: "Artists – who can be underrepresented in administrative positions in higher education – sometimes need to jump on these chances even if the timing is really awful. And I'm really glad I did."

Current director of the School of Theatre & Dance, Mark Charney, remembers her transition well: "We were devastated to lose her in our school, where she was not only head of dance, but also one of my associate chairs. Because she was instrumental in the School's growth to prominence, then-Dean Carol Edwards and I met with the president, keeping our fingers crossed that she would remain head of dance! But we ultimately were delighted to see Genevieve thrive in her new position."

Given her dedication to the university and artistic background, it came as no surprise when Durham DeCesaro was asked to serve as interim dean for the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts. She recognized the magnitude of her new responsibilities and had no illusions about how difficult leading the college though this period of great uncertainty would be.

Undeterred, Durham DeCesaro embraced the opportunity serve the artistic community. The move has been a welcome homecoming for Durham DeCesaro, and thus far she has found the endeavor to be gratifying: "Every day I am working on things that really matter to the arts – in our community, on our campus, in higher education. That is extraordinarily fulfilling."

As interim dean, Durham DeCesaro has an ambitious agenda: "I hope to accomplish a return to our arts that both embraces what we would call normal – physical touch, in-person classes – and recognizes how fundamentally changed we are. I also want to find a way to make sure that every person in this college feels valued, heard, and invited to the table."

Perhaps Durham DeCesaro's most remarkable attribute is her deep admiration for the community of students she serves: "All our students have different highs and lows of confidence. That is a dynamic, living thing. What is unwavering, though, is their confidence in each other. They believe in each other so much. It is a community of support. That is the thing that makes me want to come to work every day."