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Artist and academic Joseph Lewis III named dean of UC Irvine's School of the Arts

October 16, 2009 |  6:00 am


Joseph Lewis III, a former chair of Cal State Northridge's art department who also supervised  public art projects for L.A.'s Cultural Affairs Department, was named Thursday as dean of UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

Lewis, 56, will take his new post at the beginning of the spring term next March, ending a five-year tenure as dean of the School of Art & Design at Alfred University, about 100 miles from Buffalo in western New York -- where the university's communications director reported that it began snowing Thursday, with an advisory of four to six inches today

In a statement announcing the appointment, UCI's chancellor, Michael Drake, cited Lewis as "both a recognized artist and a gifted administrator."

Lewis said it isn't the warm weather that's bringing him back to Southern California after eight years (he left Northridge in 2001 to become dean of the School of Art and Design at New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology), but the chance to tap into all the experience accumulated during a genre-hopping creative career that has included acting, songwriting, performance art, photography and fine arts. Family is a factor too: Lewis said his wife, Phuong, a master's degree candidate in business administration at Alfred, hails from Corona, and they'll be close to her family. The couple has a 5-year-old son, Joey.

Heading a school with departments of drama, dance, music and studio art, plus a program in arts and technology, Lewis said, he'll be in "an environment where I could use all my talents.... My jobs have used 10 to 15 percent of my experience, and UC Irvine offers me the opportunity to use my entire experience. I jumped at the chance."

Lewis said he grew up in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, the son of a singer-songwriter who TwelvePrinciples sang  backup for Harry Belafonte and whose work was recorded by Odetta and Fred Neil. After graduating from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., Lewis helped to found Fashion Moda, an alternative arts space in the South Bronx, and served as its director. He went on to earn a master's degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh before coming to L.A. in 1991 and staying for 10 years.

Lewis, whose salary will be $195,000 -- minus a 9% cut and furlough requirement due to the state's budget crisis -- will succeed two musicians who have served as UC Irvine's arts deans since 2003.  Concert pianist Nohema Fernandez stepped down in mid-2008 and remains on leave, with plans to return to her arts and music professorship. Since then, the acting dean has been Alan Terricciano, a pianist and composer who previously chaired the dance department and has collaborated with its noted choreographer, Donald McKayle.

Lewis said his most widely seen work in Southern California is "Twelve Principles" (pictured), a 1994 public art piece at the Pacific Coast Highway Metro Blue Line station in Long Beach that consists of 12 symbolic discs. He said he created graphic representations of words such as "family," "communication" and "hope" that kept popping up during his preparatory interviews with people in Long Beach's different racial and ethnic communities, reflecting what he saw as their common aspirations.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Joseph Lewis III; "Twelve Principles" by Joseph Lewis III. Credits: Alfred University (Lewis portrait); and ("Twelve Principles").