The Collegian
Friday, June 21, 2024

Modlin Center director moves to Skidmore

After growing up in Richmond, graduating from the University of Richmond and serving as the associate director of the Modlin Center for the Arts, professor David Howson will leave for Skidmore College next semester to pioneer its arts administration program.

As the inaugural director, Howson will launch the interdisciplinary program as a minor this spring at Skidmore, located in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. During the fall of 2010 he will start teaching, drawing from his experience with teaching a similar mix of arts and business in Richmond's arts management concentration, which he currently co-directs.

"I was just very intrigued by it," Howson said of the chance to start the program from scratch. "When something feels good, it feels good to go with it."

Since receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees from Richmond and working as a part-time house manager when the Modlin Center opened in 1996 and full-time in the University Development office before starting full-time in the Modlin Center, Howson has been at Richmond on-and-off for 14 years.

Howson has also served as the interim executive director of the Modlin Center since former director Kathy Panoff vacated the role in July, and said becoming the permanent executive director had always been an option. But he said he had decided not to apply for the job, which mostly entails booking the season's events. His position at Skidmore - strictly teaching and administering the new program - will allow him to work more closely with the students to teach them how to make a living in the arts through internship opportunities, career counseling and mentoring.

Richmond students, staff and alumni said Howson's focus on students in and out of the classroom was why the university would miss him, as well as what qualified him for his future role. In addition to his charge as associate director to attract students to Modlin Center events, Howson has also been embedded in residence hall programs to enhance student life.

According to Panoff, since Howson returned to campus as associate director in 2004, student attendance at the Modlin Center has tripled. When he became a residential fellow 3.5 years ago, students from all disciplines across campus started attending Modlin events, working as ushers and in other student positions at Modlin. As a residential fellow, Howson lives among freshmen in Dennis Hall and plans activities for them.

Panoff said Howson's most significant contribution had been the addition of an arts management component to this year's newly established Sophomore Scholars-in-Residence (SSIR) program, part of Lakeview Hall's Living and Learning communities. For the component, "Opening Nights," Howson teaches a course and plans co-curricular activities for the students, such as a recent trip to New York City during Fall Break.

"In no other class but professor Howson's do we feel free to venture away from what's on the syllabus to really talk about the latest news in the arts scene in New York City while sipping coffee on the gazebo," sophomore Alex Wiles, an "Opening Nights" student, wrote in an e-mail.

Another "Opening Nights" student, sophomore Geoff Weathersby, attested to Howson's other influences as well.

"As a college fellow in my dorm freshman year, my faculty mentor for my internship this summer and my professor, professor Howson has had a significant impact on my life and my career aspirations," Weathersby said.

For some Richmond alumni, that link hasn't dissolved. Evan Zaletel, Richmond College '07, had been a student in the first class Howson taught - Managing Performing Arts Organizations - and returned to Richmond to guest teach the class last Thursday.

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Zaletel said that when he had worked for Howson as a student assistant, Howson had fed his interest in marketing and fundraising by enabling him to work on campaigns to bring students to the Modlin Center instead of just keeping him at the photocopier. Now the assistant director of annual giving at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Zaletel said Howson had mentored him even beyond his career.

"David taught me life lessons ... extending from how to sew a button on my shirt ... to, he opened my first credit card and checking account," said Zaletel, who added as he motioned to his suit that he still called Howson for advice, such as where to find the best tailor in Richmond.

Dana Rajczewski, Westhampton College '99, said that after Howson's guidance as her supervisor as the Modlin Center operations manager, she wasn't surprised by his sincere interest in his students when she took his arts management class as a graduate student. He taught her so much yet always extracted her input as well, a style she said would serve his new Skidmore community well.

"Instead of moving into an existing position [as Modlin Center executive director], he kind of has a chance to put his own stamp on it right from the start," Rajczewski said.

Howson said the Modlin staff and students he had worked with were what he would miss most about Richmond, but the position at Skidmore seemed like a good fit. He said it was rare for a school to be hiring in this economy, let alone starting a new program, which will be funded by a $46 million donation willed to Skidmore by the late Arthur Zankel. According to Panoff, she even begged Howson to join her as the associate director of Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is the director and associate dean, but he wanted to start a program on his own.

As the Arthur Zankel director of arts administration, Howson will launch the program, develop and teach foundation courses, develop internship opportunities for the students and establish a program of residencies for arts-management professionals, wrote Patricia Rubio, Skidmore's associate dean of the faculty.

Contact staff writer Maura Bogue at

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