Interview with Kerry Hart President of Morgan Community College

Dr. Kerry Hart is the President of Morgan Community College in Fort Morgan and an Arts for Colorado board member. Hart often wonders how he arrived at his current career.

“Being a college administrator of any sort was never in my original plan,” said Hart. His original plan, from the early age of seven, was to become a musician. As a young boy,  Hart played saxophone in Denver’s Mile High Boys Band. The experience led him to his later role as a high school band teacher. From there, Hart went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in music education from Metropolitan State University of Denver and subsequently taught music for a number of years in various Colorado public schools.

Kerry Hart went on to receive his master of music degree in conducting and music literature and later earned a doctorate in music education and higher education administration from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Attaining his degree opened the door to several college-level teaching opportunities. As his responsibilities increased, Hart eventually found himself in his current position but he continues to insist: “I have never forgotten my roots, as a I continue to stay connected with music by performing and conducting when opportunities present themselves.”

Kerry Hart recently responded to a series of questions from Andy Thomas, a writer for the Arts for Colorado web site. Following are the questions that Thomas posed to Hart and his answer to each.

Please lay out your views regarding the importance of art inclusion in the K-16 education process.

Education must have a direct connection to reality, and reality is composed of the various environments in which we live. Each area of study has an important and unique role to play in helping students learn about the various environments they encounter– and one of those environments is the arts environment. Math, science, and technology, are disciplines that help students learn about the physical environment. Language and the social sciences help students learn about the human environment. The arts, however, help students learn about the environment of the self–the environment where self-identity or self-knowledge is nurtured.

The arts are the most powerful tool in an educational curriculum for helping students know themselves, build self-esteem, and develop positive attitudes toward learning.  The arts also nurture the creativity inherent in humans. This creativity can be applied to problem-solving in life, and also to work in other academic disciplines. Indeed, an inventor in the sciences must know how to create – and the arts are the best means to nurture this essential creativity.

Albert Einstein was an accomplished violinist, and his ability to create was expressed through physics. Leonardo da Vinci was both an accomplished artist and an inventor. The list of scientific inventors with backgrounds in the arts is long, and the positive influence of the arts on other academic disciplines is self-evident. I have personally used music to improve students’ test scores in language, math, science and social studies. I have also helped prospective classroom teachers use music (and other art forms) to help their students become successful and more enthusiastic learners.

If educators are truly interested in holistic education and teaching both the right and left sides of the brain, the arts are critical. Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” There is no other discipline outside of the arts that can nurture the imagination and help students use the capacity to learn, know, and understand through intuition. Parenthetically, learning to use intuition is an equally important learning process as is learning to reason and comprehend through logic and deduction. If we exclude the arts from the curriculum, we are letting an important brain function atrophy.

How did you become involved with Arts for Colorado? What is your role?

I am not certain how I was picked up by the AFC radar. My understanding is that I was invited to join the AFC board in part to serve as an arts advocate from rural eastern Colorado. This occurred about the same time many new arts initiatives were being established at Morgan Community College. I am both honored and humbled to serve on the Board of Arts for Colorado.

Tell us about some of the artistic endeavors occurring in your community.

Fort Morgan, Colorado is the boyhood home of Glenn Miller. In 2009, a music program was initiated at Morgan Community College (MCC). Soon after the program began, a  jazz ensemble was established to promote the connection between Fort Morgan and Glenn Miller. This program was started–and is sustained–strictly with private funding. The way the program was built with community support (rather than tax dollars from the general fund) received national recognition and a national award for exemplary practices. The CD that was made from the inaugural performance of this group has been played on NPR stations in Denver (KUVO), Alamosa/Taos (KRZA’s Swingtime in the Rockies), and even on a station in Oahu, Hawai’i. The CD has been promoted through the Fort Morgan Chamber of Commerce and the Morgan County Economic Development Corporation. It has been used as a business calling card of sorts for economic development officials seeking to attract new businesses to Fort Morgan.

Following the formation of the Jazz Ensemble, MCC brought an existing community band and s community choir under the umbrella of the College. Doing so allowed our students an opportunity to perform in large ensembles for college credit. The band and choir conductors were hired as adjunct faculty and a scholarship program was implemented to enable all participants to earn college credit with no out-of-pocket costs. This allowed MCC to offer a large music ensemble experience without competing for resources and musicians with existing groups.

Using the MCC Jazz Ensemble as a springboard and prototype for building programs with private funding, in 2011, MCC developed a Center for Arts and Community Enrichment (CACE). The Center utilizes local talent, but enhances the community’s artistic and cultural opportunities by bringing in guest performers, artists, and speakers/authors. The program also creates opportunities for those engaged in arts education. In addition, the MCC has created an art gallery by converting vacant space in a college-owned historic building in downtown Fort Morgan. This is the first (retail) art gallery in Fort Morgan. Gallery commissions from the sale of the art are used to support the visual art program.

What began with an orchestral concert featuring a guest organist funded by a private donation, a Colorado Creative Industries grant, and a business sponsor, has now blossomed into 23 major events for the 2012-13 academic year. These events include musical performances, art exhibits (one show each year is dedicated to middle school, high school, and college student art), open mic poetry readings, and a nationally known guest speaker. At the time of this writing, over $100,000 has been raised to support these activities.

If a student wanted to cultivate their artistic/creative side, is MCC the school for them? Tell us about some of your arts programs at the school.

Morgan Community College has a long-standing tradition of excellence in two-dimensional art. Because MCC is in the beginning stages of developing programs in the performing arts, we would need to match a prospective student’s goals to our existing programs. While it would be nice to say that we can be all things to all students, we take pride in making certain that MCC is the right fit for each student – and we want students to be successful regardless of what college or university they choose!