100 Creatives

How Steven Tepper Became Dean of ASU's Herberger Institute

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 10. Steven Tepper.

It has been an incredible journey, Steven Tepper says.

That's how the dean of Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts describes his career, beginning as a student and then administrator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation's first public university. He went on to work as a social scientist and policy scholar, "writing books and articles and building policy centers at universities like Princeton and Vanderbilt," he explains.

Some 20 years of experience later, the 49-year-old works at ASU, which he calls "the nation’s most innovative public university." It was those years spent researching and writing that brought Tepper to Arizona from Tennessee, where he served as associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy and as an associate professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University.

"I ended up as dean of the Herberger Institute because much of my research and writing has been about the education and careers of arts graduates," Tepper says. "ASU is a great platform for testing many of the ideas I have been advancing nationally for the past two decades."

And the Herberger Institute certainly offers an array of opportunities to implement new ideas, with programs including film, theater, music, and a forthcoming fashion degree. Its School of Art was ranked among the best in America. 

Heading up the Institute is no small task. "My job is to support our 4,800 students and 400 faculty so that they can do their best creative work," Tepper says. "I feel like I am the chief opportunity officer for the Institute — finding local and national partners to help us advance our big ideas."

On a typical day, Tepper rises early to handle e-mails, make lunches for his family ("my children say I am 'obsessed' with making lunches"), and then takes around a dozen meetings with people ranging from students and faculty to community leaders. "Probably half of those meetings are about advancing innovative programs and partnerships," he says. "There is a lot of creative brainstorming over the course of a day." Evenings often revolve around donor dinners and other university events. "I try to see student work once a week as well," he says, "whether exhibitions, design studios, dance, theater, or music performances."

And those big ideas? He has a few. 

Tepper and his team are working to build three things: a student design and art corps that would "inject creativity across our city" and work in conjunction with community partners; an Ensemble Lab to bring together professors, students, and local and national artists to help them be more powerful innovators; and a national cohort of artists of color who will help ensure that cultural institutions reflect the country's creative diversity. 

It's all in a day's — well, life's — work.

"I feel very fortunate to have seen the power of public higher education to transform lives and communities," Tepper says. "I feel extremely fortunate."

I came to Phoenix with my wife, two children, two dogs, and a mandate from ASU President Michael Crow to reimagine how a 21st-century design and arts school can drive creativity across our campus and city.

I make art because it is the one place I consistently surprise myself.

I’m most productive when brainstorming with others.

My inspiration wall is full of mind maps — it is a technique that helps me empty the creative clutter of my mind and make connections between ideas and people

I’ve learned most from our students at the Herberger Institute. They are dreamers and doers — so many of our students are first-generation college students who see creativity as a pathway through daunting economic and social challenges. It is hard to be cynical when you see what they are capable of. I suppose I learn hope from them every day.

Good work should always be grounded in empathy and an ethic of justice and inclusion.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more of our yearly 800 Herberger Institute creative graduates staying in town and starting businesses and adding their talents to our city’s cultural life. Close to 500 creative graduates leave Phoenix every year. We need to reverse that trend.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
30. Julio Cesar Morales
29. Duane Daniels
28. Kelsey Pinckney
27. Ben Smith
26. Rembrandt Quiballo
25. Corinne Geertsen
24. Tess Mosko Scherer
23. Slawomir Wozniak
22. Elly Finzer
21. Josh Brizuela
20. Amy K. Nichols
19. Angela Johnson
18. Grant Vetter
17. Michelle and Melanie Craven
16. Erick Biez
15. Leah Marche
14. Lisa Von Hoffner
13. Amada Cruz
12. Amber Robins
11. Xandriss
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski