James will retire as Hopkins Center director in August

by Kourtney Kawano | 5/11/15 6:06pm

With so many academic departments and extracurricular offerings in the arts at the College on a day-to-day basis, from student ensemble groups to film and theater performances and crafting workshops, the Hopkins Center is like a well-oiled machine. Behind any machine, of course, is a mechanic responsible for overseeing its productivity. For the Hop, the man behind the machine for the past 10 years has been Jeffrey James who will be retiring in the summer.

After succeeding the Hop’s fifth director Lewis A. Crickard in 2005, James has been working at the heart and soul of the Hop’s programming to ensure success in upholding its mission and advancing arts at the College. Following heavy consideration upon his time at the College as well as his collective 40 years spent working in various organizations associated with the arts, James announced his retirement as the Hop’s director on April 20.

James said that he and his husband spoke frequently about his fierce commitment to his professional life and considered what he has missed out on in his personal life.

“This is really about having the chance to take what could turn into a complete retirement or what we’re adolescently calling a gap year,” James said. “I can have a chance to stop and think about if there is something more that I want to do or not.”

As its director, James said that he oversees the Hopkins Center’s programming events, which include a distinguished visiting performing art series, nearly 200 film exhibitions annually and simulcasts of the the New York City’s Metropolitan Opera and London’s National Theater, as well as site-specific programs such as the College’s nine different student performance ensembles and workshops in woodworking, ceramics and jewelry-making. He said that he works closely with the directors of those individual departments and helps to provide a creative environment for their respective programs. Additionally, he said he also spends his time fundraising for the Hopkins Center among the College’s alumni community and has built up the program’s membership by at least 30 percent since arriving at the College.

Hopkins Center director of programming Margaret Lawrence said that James has been ambitious about wanting to build upon the successes of the Hop and further engage students and audiences.

“[James] has a great vision for what he feels an art center should be on a campus,” Lawrence said.

Three years after being named director, James was named the inaugural Howard L. Gilman ’44 director after the Howard Gilman Foundation donated $5 million to endow the director’s position in 2008.

James said this endowment was special on multiple levels, as the gift not only funds the job but allows the director to try new initiatives and programming possibilities. He said he used some of last year’s funds to evaluate potential strategies to start BarHop. Other funds from the endowment have gone toward creating the Claflin Jewelry Studio at the Hopkins Center and acquiring new art commissions.

“I liked that it had a focus and was about experimentation and trying adventurous things,” James said.

James’ position also entails serving as the College’s senior representative in Major University Presenters , a group of 20 leading university-based arts presenting programs, including the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University. In 2010, the Hop hosted a two-day symposium in association with MUP on “The Arts Center of the 21st Century,” which focused on learning about the dynamic appearances of future arts centers through panel discussions and presentations by renowned artists and practitioners .

The symposium’s theme transitioned perfectly into the College’s “Year of the Arts,” which took place during the 2012-2013 school year in honor of the Hop’s 50th anniversary. The celebration included several presentations such as the co-commissioning of an opera honoring American scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla by Jim Jarmusch and Phil Kline, entitled “Tesla in New York.” During his time at the College, James also approved much-needed renovations to the Hop by converting former visual art studios to practice spaces for the student ensembles following the construction of the Black Family Visual Arts Center. The Hopkins Center’s renovations, which began in January of 2013, included increasing practice spaces, upgrade older aspects of the building and promote more multidisciplinary art.

The Year of the Arts was aimed at promoting the arts and their visibility on campus. Programs associated with the year included the “Igniting Imagination” show, the opening of the VAC and a range of special guest performances and exhibitions.

Hopkins Center associate director and general manager Marga Rahmann ’78 said that the best part of working with James is the fact that he has understood the different complexities of the center from the beginning of his tenure as director.

“Having someone who not only values all of the programs and understands how difficult is to keep everything in balance and successful is a big job,” Rahmann said. “We’re all very grateful for his work these past 10 years.”

James is no stranger of the art world, thanks to his history of involvement in the arts and a visionary look for its future. Before coming to Dartmouth, his extensive background in administration included serving as the chief executive of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, vice-president of the California Institute of the Arts and the founding president of the International Foundation for the Canadian Centerfor Architecture. He also served as a member of senior management, fundraising and marketing assignments at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the New York Philharmonic and the University of California at Los Angeles.

While the College conducts a national search for the Hop’s seventh director, Rahmann said that she will serve as its interim director, starting this August.

Rahmann said the Provost of the College will assemble a committee to conduct the search, but that she does not know much about the criteria for the next director. The director must be able to monitor the Hop’s budget and be aware of what the center needs to operate successfully in case any changes are made, Rahmann said.

James said the search for a new director can take several months. He said that his own process of being named director in 2005 took eight months to fully complete.

Since many of his previous jobs have entailed travel, James is looking forward to relaxing in retirement.

“For me, it will be enjoyable not to travel,” James said. “Maybe eventually I’ll start to revisit that idea, but I want to enjoy what life in New England could be if you have time to enjoy it.”