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Earlier this year, the Delaware College of Art and Design (DCAD) welcomed Jean G. Dahlgren, former dean of undergraduate programs at Sage College of Albany in Albany, N.Y., as its new president, the third in the college’s 20-year history. Jean came to Delaware with en extensive history in arts education and an interesting first assignment…

Practically your first official act in Delaware was to give the commencement speech to the graduating class of ’18. What did you say to students before you were even installed as the school’s president?

“They say the magic formula with a commencement speech is short and sweet. I just spoke about forging ahead. Commencement is a beginning. So, I talked about learning to run when I got a new puppy. I had never been a runner before and that dog was just not having it with walking on the leash. So I talked about what you're able to do if you put your mind to it.”

Tell us a little bit about where you’re from.

“I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains, in a very small town. My great uncle was mayor of Lake Placid during the ‘32 Olympics, and our family has been in that area since the 1700s.

“Wilmington’s not unlike Albany actually. You have a fair amount of politicians roaming the streets. I've run into the governor at Starbucks a couple times, and Lisa Blunt Rochester has been in our gallery maybe four times.

“Wilmington feels like a small town in just the short time I've been here. I walk up the street. I see the same people. I say hi. I’m trying to eat at every restaurant on Market Street. I don't know if I've gotten to all of them, but I've made a really good attempt.”

Is Sage College of Albany anything like DCAD?

“Well, when we started, Sage was a two-year college called the Junior College of Albany, very much like DCAD. We did transform into a four-year school. But, you know, the competition is fierce in that space. And everything you read right now is about the brilliance of the two-year model.

“Most of our students do go on to professional art design schools, but some of them don't. More and more students are entering the field right after the two-year program. On the other side, I just met with a student this morning who is what we call a ‘reverse transfer.’ She has a four-year degree in mathematics and is doing her two-year degree in art and design because that's her passion. We were talking about data visualization, with her mathematics experience and now her art degree. The possibilities are limitless for her.

“Art and design is passion degree. Everybody will try to talk you out of it and tell you why you shouldn't do it. So you really have to have the fire burning.”

Where do you think that passion can take your students in Wilmington?

“We’re surrounded by banks and credit card companies who might not think that we have anything to do with what they're doing – but we do. I think that's what an educational institution should do, making this a place where young people can thrive and stay in the state where they were educated, helping them get jobs here to be part of the fabric of Wilmington. I really do think Wilmington is walking the walk in that regard, bringing young people downtown, building communities downtown, having jobs that are sustainable. That's something that I really believe in.”

Do you think DCAD has as much of an impact on Market Street as it should?

“That’s something that I'm extremely interested in. It’s part of our mission statement. We're supposed to be a cultural anchor on Market Street. One of the very intentional things that we've done is changing our gallery structure to invite the public in. I started in August and that first Friday Art Loop was the Local and Famous show, and we had 400 people in the gallery over the course of the night. You will be seeing more of that.”

Any weird Delaware connections we should know about?

“Well, oddly … “

There’s always an “oddly.”

“Since there are no degrees of separation in Delaware … I worked for a while for the College Board and one of the other leaders was Greg Shelnutt, who is now chair of the art and design department at University of Delaware. He got to Delaware two years before I did and accuses me of following him. It really was just a happy coincidence, but it's nice, and we're talking about mutual activities that we can do.”

So if you’re successful, what does the future of DCAD look like?

“Well, I hope you see people pouring in and out of the building, night and day. We were just talking about having more opportunities for the returning adult learner to come back into the city and take classes. I think that's both a challenge and an opportunity for us. So what does that look like? The building lit up and bustling, night and day. That's what I want to see.”

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