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Stanford appoints Deborah Cullinan vice president for the arts
Deborah Cullinan has been appointed Stanford’s vice president for the arts. Photo: Andrew Brodhead.

by Robin Wander

STANFORD, CA.- After a national search, Deborah Cullinan, chief executive officer of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, has been appointed vice president for the arts at Stanford University, where she will collaborate across professional, academic and public communities to bring forward a comprehensive, future-facing vision and plan for the arts at the university.

Reporting to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Cullinan will be responsible for representing the arts at the highest levels of the administration. She will oversee a central arts office and the non-departmental and public-facing arts programs, including the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, the Cantor Arts Center, the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, the Stanford Arts Institute and Stanford Live.

In her new role, Cullinan will champion the arts as fundamental to the Stanford experience and the university’s mission and develop strategies to support and amplify the work of the arts organizations housed under the auspices of the Office of the Vice President for the Arts. Opportunities include:

• Connecting the arts to the purposeful nature of Stanford’s mission and Long-Range Vision

• Focusing on the role of the arts in creating connection, excitement and emotional and physical well-being

• Enhancing the student experience by promoting the vibrancy and accessibility of the arts on campus

• Increasing the commitment to community engagement, social justice and culture change

Cullinan joins Stanford on Feb. 28.

“Deborah brings a national profile as a thought leader and innovator in the arts, demonstrated commitment to equity and justice, and deep roots in the Bay Area arts community to this important role,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “Throughout the pandemic, the arts have contributed in so many ways to our well-being and connection with each other, and I’m thrilled that Deborah is joining Stanford at this crucial moment.”

“I am elated to be joining the community of visionary arts leaders at Stanford, and working with them to further contribute to the Bay Area creative ecosystem,” Cullinan said. “Artists do the essential work of helping us make meaning of these times. Their capacity to visualize and realize a better, more equitable future is boundless. At this critical moment, Stanford has immense potential to amplify the power of art and creativity to heal us moving forward.”

Cullinan is one of the nation’s leading thinkers on the pivotal role artists and arts organizations can play in shaping our social and political landscape and has spent years enriching communities through arts and culture. During her tenure at YBCA, she launched several bold new programs, engagement strategies and civic coalitions, including the YBCA100, the Artist Power Center and a guaranteed income pilot program for artists in partnership with the city of San Francisco. She is committed to revolutionizing the role art centers play in public life.

Before joining YBCA in 2013, she was the executive director of San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts. She is a co-founder of CultureBank, co-chair of the San Francisco Arts Alliance, vice-chair of the Yerba Buena Gardens Conservancy and secretary of the Community Arts Stabilization Trust board. She served as the inaugural Field Leader in Residence at Arizona State University’s National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation and is a former Innovator in Residence at the Kauffman Foundation. She served on San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s San Francisco Economic Recovery Task Force and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Jobs and Business Recovery Task Force.

Cullinan earned her bachelor’s degree in history and anthropology from Lawrence University in 1989.

The Office of the Vice President for the Arts (VPA) was established in February 2017 to elevate the arts in the university’s priorities and lead strategic planning for the university’s arts goals. Harry Elam, president of Occidental College since 2020, was Stanford’s first vice president for the arts, a role he held concurrently with his positions as senior vice provost for education and vice provost for undergraduate education. Cullinan is the university’s first full-time vice president for the arts.

The VPA central office provides operational support for all units mentioned above and resources for students and faculty, including grants, career pathway opportunities and a creative maker space. The academic arts departments, which include Music, Theater and Performance Studies, Art and Art History, and the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English, are housed in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Cullinan will work closely with the school and other campus partners to ensure that the arts are connected and integrated across the university.

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