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Opening the Arts to Children : * Cal State Northridge president wants to stimulate young minds by expanding cultural education.

December 24, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

NORTHRIDGE — Universities are not ivory towers as far as Blenda J. Wilson is concerned.

The Cal State Northridge president has seen the benefits of a university working together with a museum to expose schoolchildren to the arts.

As the newest member of the Getty Trust's Board of Trustees, she hopes to have an impact on the area of art education for everyone from preschoolers to schoolteachers.

When she was chancellor at the University of Michigan in Dearborn, the university and the nearby Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village "adopted a Detroit elementary school together," she said. "And we started thinking more seriously than we ever had at the university level about the power of museum education and experiential education.

"In addition to these K- (kindergarten) to fifth-grade students doing things on our campus, they would spend time out in the farms around Greenfield Village. I think we were more powerful for inspiring students together than either of us had been by ourselves.

"So when I came out here and was talking to the Getty, the first program I was interested in was art education and whether art education similar to the Dearborn experience can be an inspiration, a self-esteem motivator for students even if they have some difficulties initially with academic work.

"I have a lot of enthusiasm around the transmittal of culture to new generations of people in ways that they can understand--not as stuffy old relics of the past, but as something that has a basic attachment to the nature of human beings throughout time."

In October, it was announced that Wilson had been elected to the Getty board to serve with 14 other leaders in the fields of arts, education and business. They include Frank G. Wells, president and chief operating officer of the Walt Disney Co.; Sister Magdalen Coughlin, chancellor of Mount St. Mary's College in Brentwood, and Robert F. Erburu, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Times Mirror Co.

When Wilson first assumed the CSUN presidency last year, she made an effort to introduce herself to and familiarize herself with the region. She contacted various people, among them Harold Williams, president and chief executive officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The Getty Trust is a private foundation that administers eight programs, including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Center for Education in the Arts and the Getty Grant Program.

Williams, also a regent of the University of California and former dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Management, became, Wilson said with a hearty laugh, "one of the resource people for me in trying to understand California's higher education system."

Williams also started the process that led to her joining the Getty board.

"What we look for is a mix of people who collectively bring to the board the various dimensions we need," Williams said. "We need people with courage and vision who can ask the hard questions that can stimulate and challenge us. Some of our activities are directly related to higher education. We need people who understand the academic world.

"Blenda Wilson understands higher education. She identifies the critical issues and has the courage to pursue them. She has a wide-ranging mind and is very bright. She's a person of this caliber who happens to be local. She can contribute to everything we're doing. And she's real fun."


Noting that the overwhelming majority of teachers in California have been educated at one of the 20 California State University campuses, Williams also said the Getty "hasn't made the greatest dent in teacher preparation for art education. We hope she can help us with that."

Wilson said she is truly honored to serve on the board.

"Most people here think of the Getty as the museum and as the edifice that is being constructed on top of that mountain," she said, referring to the new Getty Center under construction in Brentwood.

"I think of the Getty as an educational organization," she said. "It is an environment that glorifies real talent and profound intellectual capacities. I also think that the potential of a university community being associated in some way with the kind of thinking that goes on at the Getty and vice versa could be a useful collaboration. I don't have a specific area in mind, but I truly hope that some collaborations between our institution and the Getty will come forth."

Wilson, who was also recently confirmed to the Valley Cultural Center board, said she sees that as more of a civic involvement "because the Valley Cultural Center has been here a long, long time. They know the resources of the university, and I want to make sure that we're seen as a resource and a support."

Of the Getty board, Wilson also has some thoughts. "My own view, which Getty hasn't even asked me for, is that the board itself needs to become representative of a greater diversity of human temperament and personality and background, and then the institution will reflect that," she said.

She thinks that's what they had in mind in bringing her to the board. "They know I'm different. I mean, I know that I'm different, so it's a fair bargain, and an enthusiastic one on both my part and as best I can tell on theirs."

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