By Käri Knutson, University Communications
Chris Walker, an artist and an experienced and influential leader in the arts on campus, has been named the new director of the Division of the Arts.
Walker is a professor in the School of Education’s Dance Department and founding artistic director of First Wave, a nationally prominent scholarship program known for pushing the boundaries of poetry, dance, theater, and art. It was and continues to be the first and only university-based program of its type in the country.
The Division of the Arts (DotA) supports and promotes the mission of academic arts departments and affiliated partners by supporting students, research, and raising the visibility of the arts for UW–Madison students, faculty and staff, and the broader community. The DotA works closely with nine academic departments and with over 60 institutes, groups, and other academic units affiliated with the division, involving approximately 100 faculty and staff members from across campus.
Walker will begin on July 1.
“I believe that we are in a renaissance in the arts, reflected in how performance is made, curated, and consumed, as well as individuals’ relationship with artwork and rituals of gathering,” Walker says. “My vision for the Division of the Arts is ‘Arts for Everyone Everywhere,’ with a focus on access, advocacy, and innovation.”
“It is a belief in UW–Madison as a cultural space with diverse access to creative work, creative methodologies, and design thinking as part of how we engage with our various areas of scholarship,” he adds. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion is central to this work, which is facilitated through partnerships with academic departments, student organizations, and the local Madison community.”
As director, Walker will lead and support activities of the DotA, helping to shape and advance a collective vision for the division and its constituent programs in alignment with the university’s plans and direction. Walker will report to Provost Karl Scholz. This role is a 50 percent administrative appointment and Walker plans to teach in the 2022-23 academic year.
“Chris has made a strong and creative impact on campus, both as a teacher and as an artist,” says Scholz. “We are fortunate to have his creativity and vision for the arts in this new role.”
Walker attended Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica, where he completed a professional diploma in dance and theatre production before receiving both a bachelor and master of fine arts in dance from the State University of New York in Brockport. He came to UW–Madison in 2006 as a visiting faculty member in the Dance Department. Walker served as artistic director in the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives from 2007 to 2016 and in 2019 became the faculty director.
He serves on the School of Education’s Diversity and Climate Committee and curates an annual Black History Month performance, bringing together a diverse audience from campus and the wider Madison community.
Walker describes himself as a “multi-hyphenate contemporary dance and performance artist,” and his work draws upon the danced rituals, carnival mas traditions, and embodied performance history of the African diaspora. His research intersects dance choreography for the concert stage with collaborations with visual and performance artists for museum, alternate spaces, professional theatre, and video/film.
This summer, he is co-producing a New York backyard performance series called “Eat Little and Live Long,” connected to the slow return to our “new normal” around rituals of gathering around food, family, and art.
“Immediately, I am motivated to serve the campus community in this return to the ‘new normal,’” Walker says. “The Division of the Arts is strategically placed to bring focus to the diverse creative work of our faculty, guest artists, and students in the arts and to create and support art programming and creative spaces curated to safely welcome back and sustain our campus community in the upcoming academic year.”
Susan Zaeske, associate dean for arts and humanities in the College of Letters and Science, has been serving as interim director since September 2019. “I would like to express my deep appreciation to Associate Dean Zaeske for agreeing to serve as interim director,” says Scholz. “She provided valuable leadership, and Sue is leaving the division in terrific shape with a top-notch team in place.”
Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology, chaired the internal search committee which recommended finalists to Scholz and Chancellor Rebecca Blank.