Harris Smith recognizes that art wields power – no matter the medium.
When he stepped into the position of dean for University of New Mexico’s College of Fine Arts, it was in the middle of a pandemic.
Students were hybrid learning and the once bustling campus was at a standstill.
Yet, Harris saw potential in the silence.
He used it as a time to build off the department’s foundation.
“The sky’s the limit,” he says. “I got here in August and I started lining up meetings and then we saw a spike in coronavirus cases. That slowed me down. But I’ve learned to work in different spaces all my life. And I was able to get an idea of what the needs are.”
Smith is making the connections and setting goals for himself and the department.
Some of his short-term goals include improving diversity within the college, meanwhile increasing the impact that arts can have personally and socially.
“I tell people that you can’t underestimate the impact arts has on a human soul,” he says. “Not just to engage, but to help them find their story and tell it. Through visual arts and through theater, I want to make those partnerships.”
Some of his other goals are to increase enrollment in the college and seeing more students graduating in a more timely manner.
But his biggest goal is getting the Center for Collaborative Arts and Technology built on campus.
“Hopefully, that will help solidify us,” he says. “Where we can work with the greater Albuquerque area.”
Smith arrived at UNM from the University of Utah, where he was the chair for the Department of Theatre.
With a background in theater and film, it didn’t take long for Smith to see the impact the film industry has in New Mexico.
“I’m excited about the idea of possible film partnerships in creating internships with the professional affiliations,” he says. “For example, Netflix and the other soundstages and studios that are already set up between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It’s just a fantastic opportunity not just for the students and faculty in the CFA but for many disciplines in the university to continue to work on their research side by side with professionals in the area.”
Smith played football as an undergraduate at Montana State.
He studied communications, though theater came calling. During his second year in college, he snagged a role in the film, “Runaway Train” with Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay.
“The next summer, I ended up doing a film with Jamie Lee Curtis,” he says. “From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do.”
By the 1990s, Smith, living in Washington state, had immersed himself in the film industry.
“In the late ’90s, the industry was drying up,” he says. “New Mexico has been so forward thinking with establishing its film industry. Most people aren’t aware of the impact the film economy has on the state. I’ve been having conversations on how we can deepen those relationships.”
UNM Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs James Holloway touts Smith’s perspective as an asset for the college.
“He is dedicated to the critical role the arts play in our society and in defining our humanity,” Holloway says in a statement. “He is also committed to a path of interdisciplinarity, both within the arts, and between the arts and the other fields of human inquiry.”