As the fourth president of Los Angeles-based CalArts, Rajan will become the first Indian-American and Asian-American to lead the institution when he takes over June 1 replacing President Steven Lavine.
Rajan, whose parents hailed from villages near Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, speaks Tamil fluently, and also some Latin he learnt at high school. The arts helped him negotiate the difference between the culture at home and the outside world in Oklahoma where he grew up, he told News India Times.
His parents’ love of Carnatic music combined with his exposure to Western classical traditions molded him. He first played the viola, then the bassoon, finally the trumpet, a choice influenced by jazz player Miles Davis.
“I had the optimal experience. Something happened to me. Though I loved science, I suddenly felt the desire to study music,” Rajan said.
After evaluating more than 500 applicants, Rajan was appointed in a unanimous vote by the CalArts Board of Trustees. “Ravi shows the fiery passion for the arts that was at the core of CalArts founding,” Tim Disney, chairman of the Board of Trustees said, adding, “His commitment to excellence and exploration and innovation will help continue CalArts rich legacy and unbounded future.”
Rajan graduated from the University of Oklahoma, and did music from Yale University School of Music. CalArts describes his career as a blend of artistic practice and campus leadership. Apart from his executive duties, Rajan has collaborated in the production of art, music, theatre/dance, and film/video. He is a member of the Tony Awards Nominating Committee, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London, and President of the Asian American Arts Alliance.
At Purchase College, Rajan is credited with successfully implementing a $100 million capital renovation of the Art + Design division’s facilities, and spearheading the creation of a new MA in Entrepreneurship in the Arts, the first graduate degree of its kind in the world.
“Ravi brings the perfect combination of personal artistic commitment to interdisciplinary approaches, which is vital to CalArts, along with broad experience as an educator, and significant accomplishments as a senior administrator at Purchase College,” said CalArts’ President Steven Lavine.
“CalArts is an institution with the goal of thinking of arts in an outward sort of way — how arts affect people really deeply,” Rajan told News India Times. He sees art playing a role in every human endeavor, from NASA to business.
Asked about the involvement of Indian-Americans in art in the U.S., Rajan said he the Indian and Asian communities had made tangible gains in formal arts, TV and movies, but were “definitely behind” African Americans or Hispanics.
“I don’t see positive representations of Asian Americans,” despite the strong body of actors and players in this field, Rajan indicated. And that is where institutions like CalArts, he emphasized, could make the difference.
Rajan is married to Lucy Tucker Yates, a well-known opera singer, and vocal and diction coach. The couple has two young sons.