Dr. Paul Gaffney’s contributions to arts and culture in Georgetown were recognized in a mayoral proclamation at the City Council meeting on February 27, 2018.
The proclamation came on the heels of Gaffney’s retirement from Southwestern University December 31 after nearly 40 years teaching, directing stage productions, and serving as a fine arts administrator in many capacities.
Gaffney moved to Georgetown in 2003 when the university hired him to serve as the Dean of the Sarofim School of Fine Arts. In 2015 he left that position, and joined the Theatre faculty as a full-time professor. He taught acting and directing, directed departmental productions, and mentored student directors. He also has had a wide-ranging career as a director in theaters across the country; recent productions in Texas include Neil Simon’s Chapter Two and Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.
While serving as Dean at Southwestern, Gaffney guided the renovation and expansion of the university’s Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center, which has brought internationally known scholars, authors, artists, musicians, and actors to Georgetown.
He has served the City directly as well: he was the first Chair of the City of Georgetown Arts and Culture Board (2005-2008), and in 2011 he served on a subcommittee of that board that studied the feasibility of opening an art center in Georgetown. That subcommittee’s work paved the way for the opening of the Georgetown Art Center in 2013.
Gaffney holds a doctorate from the University of Kansas, an MA from Indiana University, and a BS from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, Dr. Lois Ferrari, who is Professor of music at Southwestern and Music Director and Conductor of the Austin Civic Orchestra.
In light of the upcoming mayoral proclamation, Gaffney answered a few questions about his role here in Georgetown.
Q: During your tenure as Dean of the SSFA, you managed a project to expand the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center, probably the campus building that more Georgetown residents enter on a regular basis than any other as they attend plays, lectures, concerts, and exhibitions. What are a few of your proudest or most striking moments in terms of performances or exhibitions that were held in the building after the expansion?
A: I think I’m gratified that the upgrade of the FAB to a state-of-the-art condition (an overused phrase I know, but appropriate here) made it possible for our students and faculty to increase the complexity, quality and sophistication of the work they did. Among the outstanding productions we did were the collaborative ones, involving multiple departments, such as Fiddler on the Roof, The Color of Dissonance, and The Don Juan Project. We were also able to regularly schedule the Theater Department to produce works in there so that our students would have the experience of working in the proscenium stage, box-set configurations the Jones Theater did not allow. The educational experience of our theater students, and the theater enjoyment levels of our audiences, took a big leap forward.
Another thing I’m quite proud of is my work in developing the Friends of the Fine Arts in to a more active group of donors and supporters of the arts at Southwestern. Although the group had been in existence in various forms for many years, I was pleased to have the support of many citizen leaders of Georgetown to help me transform it into a more active and powerful support organization.
Q: You served as the first Arts and Culture Board chairperson, a role you filled from 2005-2008. What were a few of the accomplishments and challenges of the board during those early years of its existence?
A: Being the first chair of the Arts and Culture Board was a privilege and a challenge. It was a privilege in that I was able to help the leadership of the City of Georgetown promote the idea that access to the arts was as important to a great and growing city as such amenities as our wonderful San Gabriel Park and swimming pools. It was also a treat to work with dedicated city staffers such as Eric Lashley and Judy Fabry. I was very pleased that the City Council also chose to make funding for the arts a regular part of the city budget, which helped the Georgetown Festival of the Arts to grow and thrive, as well. At the same time we also faced the long-standing view in some quarters that the arts were unnecessary frills, not deserving of public support. Fortunately, that view is receding, as more and more citizens and city leaders recognize that the arts are as essential to a high quality of life as are our parks, library, and Arts Center.
Q: In 2011, you served on the board’s subcommittee working on the feasibility of having an art center in Georgetown, and of course the Georgetown Art Center opened in 2013. Talk a bit about the significance of having an art center in Georgetown. During your time in Georgetown how else have you seen the local arts scene evolve?
A: I had the pleasure of consulting on this project when it first entered pubic discussion, and could not be happier at how it turned out. It means a great deal for a city of our size to have taken a city space and repurposed it for the arts. It says that the arts are important, and that the city wants to make it possible for them to thrive in our downtown area. The arts scene continues to grow and develop, not only with the Art Center, but also with other institutions, such as the Palace Theater, which continues to grow, both physically and programatically. And, of course, Southwestern University continues to offer a very wide range of performances and exhibits in the arts that a city of our size would normally not have. Georgetown has really grown up in this regard!
Q: What has it meant to you to have a career in the arts? What role has theatre in particular, played in your life?
A: My career in the arts seems to have started the way it does for most of us who choose this path: at a young age, and without any clear reason. I just had to do it! It has been a professional life of variety, learning and reward. if I had it all to do over again, I doubt I would do it much differently.
Q: Congratulations on your recent retirement! Tell us a bit about your plans.
A: I’ll not be leaving Georgetown in the foreseeable future, since Lois will continue to work as Professor of Music and conductor at Southwestern, and as conductor of the Austin Civic Orchestra. I will continue to direct occasionally; in fact, I’m going to return to direct two productions at the Unity Theater in Brenham in the 2018-2019 season. I will be spending a lot more time at one of my favorite spots, the Georgetown Library, and more time on my motorcycle!