|If this weren't a college, I wouldn't
be here": Dyan Sublett '78G at the Art Center College of Design
She was young, Dyan
Sublett acknowledges, to be in that role chief development officer
for Hampshire College, which in 1978 was quite young itself. (The campus
in rural Amherst welcomed its first class in 1970.) Her preparation was
also unusual - the degree she'd just finished at UMass was an M.F.A. in
And then there was her gender. "There
were doubters," she says. "People who just thought, 'How is
this girl going to be able to pull it off?'"
Yet with a tiny staff, a still-minuscule
alumni base, "and sheer tenacity and passion," pull it off she
did. So credible a fund-raiser had Sublett become, after eight years at
Hampshire, that she was hired away from the college by Robert Redford,
who was "looking for a magician" to get his Sundance Film Festival
on a firmer financial footing.
She wasn't certain she wanted to go. Or
rather, she wasn't certain she wanted to go to Sundance. Sublett, who's
now senior vice president for institutional advancement at the Art Center
College of Design in Pasadena, California, believes in long-range plans
that involve not staying too long: "You begin to get stale; the ideas
stop coming so easily," she says. She was reluctant to leave higher
education, however. "I am passionate about education," she stresses.
"I believe it's the most fundamental change-agent for progress of
Indeed, she says, "If this weren't
a college, I wouldn't be here" even though the "here"
is almost paradise, at least for anyone who likes California and loves
creative activity. The College of Design is a long modernist bridge across
the top of a canyon in the hills above Pasadena. It has long views across
the valley and near views of dry, pungent stands of eucalyptus and sycamore
and other native vegetation. Its studios, workshops, labs, and classrooms
fizz with the energy of aspiring young illustrators, photographers, filmmakers,
graphic and automotive and furniture and packaging designers.
Sublett came to the College of Design from
UCLA, where she was recruited in 1989 after the three years Redford persuaded
her to spend at Sundance in Utah. (She's the only person she knows, she
says, who's gotten a company horse as part of a hiring package.) Sundance
was "another little place you could believe in," she says. It
also exposed her to an entirely new level of wealth, power, and celebrity,
in which "You learn never to be starstruck, never to be intimidated;
to make your case clearly, strong, briefly, every time."
She'd learned similar lessons, though, in
her first forays for her first institution. She credits the strong women
she worked with, especially Hampshire's then-president, Adele Simmons,
and professor of history Penina Glazer: "Going into offices in New
York, in Boston, I always felt those women behind me," says Sublett.
Similarly again, she is quick to mention to a visitor from UMass the strong
women who were "outstanding, inspiring mentors" to her here:
especially Lee Edwards, then-professor of English, now dean of humanities
and fine arts, and professor emerita of theater Doris Abramson.
"Without the example of Lee and Doris,
I can't imagine living the life I do now," says this champion of
education with characteristic intensity, of the women who were change-agents