As part of William & Mary’s commitment to promote the arts and their role in the educational experience, the university has hired its inaugural executive director of the arts.

Eric Despard, an experienced strategic leader in the arts and humanities, will report to the dean of Arts & Sciences and collaborate closely with faculty across campus to develop an integrated and forward-looking vision for the arts at W&M.

Despard, who previously served as director of theater and cultural arts at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, will build on existing arts programming and enhance W&M’s status as a major local, regional and state arts venue, showcasing the work of the university’s talented faculty and students alongside visiting artists and performers.

“Eric brings inspiration, thoughtfulness and a level of pragmatism to this leadership role that will be crucial to the next chapter of the arts at William & Mary,” said Suzanne Raitt, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences. “We are thrilled to have him join us and excited for the creative and artistic opportunities ahead for our students, faculty, staff and the community. I’m grateful to Silvia Tandeciarz, vice dean for social sciences & interdisciplinary studies, for chairing the search committee that brought Eric to the W&M community.”  

The announcement comes amidst William & Mary’s Year of the Arts, a community-wide celebration of artistic accomplishments, showcasing the vital role that the arts play in all facets of the university’s educational experience. The university’s focus on the arts is part of what drew Despard to this new role.

“I have always heard wonderful things about William & Mary, with its long history and strong commitment to the arts,” he said.

Despard’s responsibilities include providing leadership for the two newest buildings in W&M’s Arts Quarter: the Music Building, home of the music department, and Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, which houses theatre & dance. He will also work closely with other partners in the Arts Quarter and beyond: studio art and art history; creative writing; film and media studies; and the Muscarelle Museum in the Martha Wren Briggs Center for Visual Arts (currently under construction).

“I look forward to working deliberately toward a greater and ever evolving arts vision through actively listening and collaborating with students, faculty, staff, administration, and the local community,” Despard said. “I see the big picture and anticipate creating a strategic plan for the arts that aligns with William & Mary’s Vision 2026.”

Despard is no stranger to new ventures. In 2017, he was appointed the founding executive director of the Laumeister Art Center at Southern Vermont College, where he was also an associate professor of humanities (art and music). In addition to establishing a fine and performing arts center, Despard’s career as an artist, musician, professor and administrator has included creating and building a nonprofit community music school and establishing a new academic minor and major, a fitting prelude to his arrival at William & Mary.

“The best part about these entrepreneurial endeavors is working with large networks of dedicated people to achieve shared goals of expanding the reach and impact of the arts in the communities they serve,” he said.

“We are excited to welcome Eric Despard on board as we continue to celebrate the opening of the Arts Quarter,” said Leah Glenn, Year of the Arts Professor of Dance and member of Despard’s search committee. “I look forward to collaborating to create an environment in which students, faculty and staff can build community and thrive while producing quality programs.”

David Brashear, director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art and chair of the Year of the Arts coordinating committee, also served on Despard’s search committee. “Collaboration is such an important component of this position, and an area in which I have no doubt Eric will excel,” he said. “I look forward to partnering with Eric as the Year of the Arts continues, and in the many avenues for creative expression found around every corner at W&M.”  

Despard describes himself as a visionary, collaborative servant leader. “The most important aspect of leadership to me is building strong relationships based on trust in which it’s understood that we are all working toward the same goals and every person involved is respected and valued. As a former associate professor of art and music with over 20 years’ experience in higher education, my work focuses on ways to integrate disciplines and explore the web of connections between them.”

With the university’s exceptional level of commitment, Despard says, “The Arts at W&M are rising. The Arts Quarter can become a world-class regional destination for exceptional arts experiences.”