Musician Sparks Is New Dean For JMU Visual and Performing Arts


By Janet Smith, Office of Public Affairs

While his artistic roots are in the realm of music, Dr. George Sparks, the new dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at James Madison University, considers himself an enthusiastic advocate for all the arts at JMU and beyond.

Sparks is a professional conductor and clarinet player. An opportunity to serve in the faculty senate at Florida Atlantic University, where he worked before joining JMU July 1, whetted his appetite for university administration. Sparks was contentedly serving as the inaugural director of the School of the Arts at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, a role he had filled since fall 2003 within the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, when he was encouraged to apply for the JMU deanship.

"I was really taken by the seriousness and the collegiality of the faculty sitting around the interview table," Sparks said. "After the interview, I was still very happy at FAU, but I was more interested in the job at JMU."

Since arriving in Harrisonburg and immersing himself in his new role, Sparks believes his decision to accept JMU's employment offer was right. "The more you look at JMU," he said, "the more compelling it is."

The college Sparks leads consists of the School of Art and Art History, School of Music, School of Theatre and Dance, the Institute for Visual Studies and the Madison Art Collection. "I want to work within that already well-defined and well-working structure," Sparks said.

As he looks forward to his first year at JMU, Sparks already has several initiatives he wants to advance at the university. He anticipates establishing an advisory board for the college, focusing on development for additional college support and strengthening relationships with other area arts organizations for mutual benefit.

He also wants to explore the feasibility of establishing a statewide higher education arts network for people at public and private schools to share successes and to address common problems.

Sparks is looking forward to the spring 2010 completion of JMU's Performing Arts Center, which will provide outstanding academic and performance space to complement the top-notch talents of JMU students and faculty. "We've got these wonderful arts groups, we've got these wonderful performance groups, and now we're going to have a venue that people can really have a high-quality social experience," Sparks said.

Sparks is a native of Little Rock, Ark. He earned a doctoral degree in conducting from Louisiana State University, a master's degree in music from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree in music education from Henderson State University in Arkansas.

He was the founder and principal conductor of the Florida Wind Symphony, an ensemble in residence at FAU. Sparks has also performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Boca Pops, Acadiana Symphony and Palm Beach Pops.

While at FAU, Sparks established—with only 60 days to accomplish the feat—the Marching Owls in 2002 and directed the marching band for two years. At his farewell party at FAU, Sparks received a football, presented by legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger, bearing the inscription: "All the best wishes to Dr. George Sparks, father of the FAU Band."