The new dean at Sacramento State’s College of Arts and Letters has ambitious plans for giving the University’s humanities programs more visibility and a stronger presence in the community.
Sheree Meyer, who was serving as interim dean, took over permanently on July 1.
“We need to put ourselves on the map. And, while it may take 10, 20 years - and I won’t be here as dean anymore - we have to start talking now about a performing and visual arts center,” she says.
Meyer is a longtime member of the Hornet community, starting as an English professor in 1991, coming from Stony Brook University and Bryn Mawr. She is the founder of Sacramento State’s One Book Program, and has served as the English Department chair, and dean of undergraduate studies.
Her interest in fields such as history, literature, and performance began at a young age. Meyer was 6 and living in Rochester, N.Y., when her mother took her to an audition for The King and I being staged by a nonprofit as a fundraiser for local firefighters.
“I had no concept what the audition meant,” she says. “I think I sang ‘Little Sir Echo.’ ” She was given the role of one of the Siamese princesses. Later she had a part in The Music Man and played Gretl in The Sound of Music.
Meyer read Lady Jane Grey, Reluctant Queen when she was 8 and fell in love with the Early Modern period of English literature and history. She also studied Native American history, took music lessons, sang in the choir, and performed musicals at the Eastman Theatre.
Later, she and her husband, David, were part of Northern Lights, performing folk-inspired music by artists such as James Taylor; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Indigo Girls; and Paul Simon.
Her journey to education was more circuitous. Meyer considered several options until receiving a full-ride scholarship to Stony Brook’s grad program and discovering how rewarding being a college instructor could be.
“As soon as I got into the classroom and could talk about the things that I love, and could interact with the students, it was an immediate magical moment,” she says.
Meyer says putting the College of Arts and Letters “on the map” involves several approaches, including partnerships. She is enthusiastic about maintaining and creating more partnership opportunities throughout the region. She is on the board of Blue Line Arts, joining with them on a grant to bring food issues and art together in pop-up experiences for young children.
Meyer also sees Sacramento State’s upcoming downtown campus as the beginning of a possible arts corridor with the campus at its hub. While the building on S St. is planned to house much of the developing School of Public Affairs, Meyer envisions an Arts and Letters presence as well. Just a few blocks north is the Crocker Art Museum, which already hosts the U-Nite! arts celebration with Sac State. To the east are galleries such as the Verge and Beatnik Studios, home to the University’s U-Create! celebration.
And the nearby Old Sacramento State Park represents partnership opportunities with Arts and Letters’ Public History Program.
“It’s a literal map but also puts us metaphorically on the map in all kinds of community relationships,” Meyer says.
And taking the long view, Meyer envisions a performing arts center on campus. Even though it probably wouldn’t happen for a decade or more, Meyer says if it’s to get done, work must begin now.
Meyer is keenly aware of the falling interest in the humanities, but firmly believes that their presence in a curriculum stimulates critical thinking, sharpens focus, and improvesd math skills.
“We need to make the argument and show the students how the skill sets they’re acquiring, whether it’s in music or philosophy, will make them career ready, whatever career they choose.”
Even though she has a lot to keep her busy, Meyer finds time to expand her own art interests. She recently appeared in Sac State’s production of Guys and Dolls, she sings in her synagogue’s choir, teaches Israeli literature, and, occasionally, she and David perform their folky music at various spots around town.
For more information about Meyer, visit csus.edu/al or call (916) 278-6502. For media assistance, call the University’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156. – Craig Koscho