Catholic University Arts Dean Speaks at Culture Power Breakfast 

According to Dean Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art of the Catholic University of America continually seeks to answer the question: “Who are we and who do we strive to be in the future?” Speaking at The Georgetowner’s Sept. 21 cultural breakfast, she added that the school is in the midst of strategic planning. 

Operatic soprano, music educator and musicologist, Leary-Warsaw is the founding dean of the expanded school; the university’s drama and art departments were relocated to the former Rome School of Music in 2018. That consolidation “eliminated a culture where arts were siloed,” she said, commenting that students today are “looking for an opportunity to study more than one discipline.”  

After giving a brief history of the three departments, mentioning notable alumni, Leary-Warsaw — who holds a doctorate from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University — shared recent Rome School initiatives.  

The school’s largest undergraduate program, with between 60 and 65 students, is musical theater, but the fastest growing is digital art. To embrace the “hot fields” of digital art, animation and multimedia, the B.A. in Studio Art has been recast as a B.A. in Art and Design. Since its move to the Rome School, the art department has nearly doubled in size, Leary-Warsaw said.  

A newly launched Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting for Theatre, Film and Television is “one of only a handful in the country,” she pointed out. New master’s programs in Theatre Education, Art Education and (forthcoming) Music Education are entirely online. 

Though Leary-Warsaw emphasized that the arts are “a physical experience, a visceral experience,” more instruction has gone virtual, partly in response to the pandemic. Case in point: Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Manfred Honeck, a visiting artist for the past four years, gives master classes from his home in Austria. 

As an example of “entrepreneurial curricular content,” building on the minor in Performing Arts Management, a dual-degree undergraduate program in Music and Business is offered in partnership with CU’s Busch School of Business. 

Leary-Warsaw called Washington, D.C., the “best city in the country” for arts internships. While students benefit from the District’s international character, they can also take advantage of international partnerships to study in Mexico, Spain, the U.K., Norway and (in process) Italy and Kazakhstan, not to mention at the university’s satellite campus in Rome. 

The school has been focusing on its own Brookland backyard, too, reaching out to nearby schools and exhibiting art by primary and secondary school students. Beyond the immediate neighborhood, “we want to see the Greater Washington area coming to us” for performances and exhibitions, Leary-Warsaw said. On view through Oct. 27 in Salve Regina Gallery: “Will Copps: Liminal,” which combines projections with spatial music.  

Though much of the curriculum is concerned with the secular arts — and the Rome School faculty and student body are “very diverse,” according to Leary-Warsaw — sacred music is an important area of study and there is a Sacred Artist-in-Residence, currently prominent Irish sculptor Dony MacManus, who has an on-campus studio. Asked if the Catholic roots of Western art, music and theater were a source of the school’s approach, she replied: “that Catholic thread runs through everything we do.”  

As part of her remarks, Leary-Warsaw recounted the “Dorothy dress” saga, which received significant media attention last year. In July of 2021, one of the four surviving blue-and-white gingham dresses worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” was rediscovered in a shoebox. The dress had been given to Department of Speech and Drama founder Father Gilbert Hartke by actress Mercedes McCambridge, an artist-in-residence in the early 1970s. The university’s plan to auction the dress through Bonhams — likely to realize a million dollars, give or take, to fund a faculty position — continues to be held up in court by a Hartke relative. However, the university expects the dispute eventually to be resolved in its favor, Leary-Warsaw said. 

Long & Foster’s Theresa Nielson, Jacqueline J. Leary-Warsaw, founding dean of the Catholic University’s Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art, Donna Evers of Long & Foster and Georgetowner Publisher Sonya Bernhardt at The Georgetowner’s Culture Power Breakfast held at the Four Seasons Hotel on Sept. 21. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan.




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