Pianist and composer Edward Hart stays in tune as dean of the School of the Arts.
WRITTEN BY Stephanie Hunt
PHOTOGRAPHS BY (portrait) Aleece Sophia & (4) courtesy of College of Charleston
The blaring beep, beep, beep of a construction truck backing up is a make-shift horn section, while the percussion of hammers and pile drivers keep steady rhythm outside the Charleston single house where the office of the dean opens to a piazza overlooking Cistern Yard. “Welcome to my prime spot for Spoleto concerts,” grins Edward Hart, dean of the School of the Arts (SOTA) at College of Charleston.
While the George Street construction symphony may be less harmonic than Hart, an accomplished composer, might like, it’s nonetheless music to his ears, heralding a long-awaited overhaul and expansion of the Simons Center for the Arts, the classroom and performance space that primarily houses the seven arts programs that he oversees. Until the center opens in fall 2023, Hart has tucked classes and studio spaces all over campus and town. As construction hums in the background two students are playing guitar under a tent in a courtyard behind the office, part of the pandemic pivot that overlapped construction issues. “That’s what we do in the arts—get creative,” he quips.
The new facility, which Hart had helped plan in his former role as chair of the music department and was underway prior to his appointment as dean in January 2021, is just part of the facelift that the Charleston native and College of Charleston alumnus is bringing to his alma mater. One of his first initiatives was to rebrand the school as “The Artistic Heartbeat of Charleston.” Banners across campus prominently feature the slogan. “We’re an arts-centered college in the center of an arts-centered city, and we are the largest year-round producer of the arts in Charleston,” Hart says, proudly noting the hundreds of concerts, plays, dance performances, gallery exhibitions (The Halsey Institute falls under his purview), and so on that the school offers both to the student body and the broader community.
“We’re an arts-centered college in the center of an arts-centered city, and we are the largest year-round producer of the arts in Charleston.” —Edward Hart
Looking professorial in his bow tie, blazer, and graying curly hair, Hart points toward the Sottile Theater where he’s headed shortly to check on final preparations for Mozart’s The Magic Flute. “It’s one of the most ambitious productions we’ve undertaken,” he says. “Our voice students will be performing Mozart, accompanied by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO), joined by our strings students. I mean, it’s rare for undergraduates to get this kind of experience.”
The collaboration with CSO is one of the community relationships that Hart, who follows the 22-year tenure of former dean Valerie Morris, hopes to deepen and expand upon. Many of the school’s 800-plus arts majors and faculty participate in some form or another with Spoleto or have internships at the Gaillard Center, Redux, Charleston Stage, or the Gibbes Museum of Art, to name a few. “There’s a strong pipeline from our program to local cultural institutions, especially for the arts management students, one of our most popular majors,” says Hart, who himself composes for the CSO, exemplifying this cross-fertilization. The world-premiere of his “A Charleston Concerto,” celebrating the city’s 350th anniversary (commissioned by the CSO and accompanied by the Harlem Quartet) was rescheduled for April, following two pandemic delays.
(Clockwise from top left) An architectural rendering of the expanded Simons Center, designed by Liollio Architecture and HGA Design Firm; The School of the Arts staged its most ambitious production yet, The Magic Flute, with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra; Fine art students painting en plein air in the Cistern Yard; The School of the Arts production of the The Magic Flute.
This robust synergy sets SOTA apart from peer institutions, according to Hart, as does the fact that Charleston as a cultural hub “helps us attract a high-level faculty. We punch above our weight.” Hart believes “the sky’s the limit” for SOTA and its students, many of whom go on to graduate programs at leading institutions such as Eastman School of Music and Julliard. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s got a major fan in his court—CofC president Andrew Hsu is an avid music buff. While Hart does miss teaching, he is humbled by the opportunity to build upon the strong foundation that Morris leaves behind. “Holy smokes, we’re all stepping into these huge shoes—Valerie’s, Mark’s, Nigel’s,” he says of his colleagues Katie Hirsch and Mena Mark Hanna, also new appointees following longtime arts leaders (Mark Sloan and Nigel Redden, respectively).
Beyond faculty meetings and administrative responsibilities, Hart is enjoying what he sees as his primary role—being an evangelist for the school and the high-level students, events, and performances it produces. “I just remind myself to put our best assets forward, and that’s our talented students and faculty. People will get to know our quality when they see it. The proof is in the pudding, and boy, we’ve got it.”
INSPIRED BY: “My wife, novelist and creative writing teacher Beth Webb Hart”
EXCITED ABOUT: “Fishing with my son this summer”
CHALLENGES AHEAD: “Balancing personal and professional priorities”