Ten questions for CCA’s 10th president, David Howse

Last fall, we announced that David Howse would soon join CCA as the next leader of our college. He brings over 20 years of experience stewarding arts organizations through strategic visioning, fundraising, and community building to CCA, with his most recent tenure at Emerson College in Boston.

Students, faculty, and staff were curious to know more about Howse’s experience, interests, and vision for the community. Get to know CCA’s 10th president and why he’s excited to lead the college in this next chapter in its history.

You shared that you have a background in music. What did you play in your music practice?

I have an MA in Vocal Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, and spent the first part of my career on the operatic stage! I also play piano and sing daily—much to the chagrin of my family.

What do you see as the differences between performing and visual arts?

There is so much that they have in common, but one notable difference is the live interaction between performers and the audience in the performing arts. Something quite magical happens where the energy of the audience influences the performance and vice versa, creating a unique and unreproducible shared experience. That said, both performing and visual arts are quite powerful and important to the diverse tapestry of artistic expression. I love it all.

What was the last staged performance you attended before moving to the Bay Area?

Staged performance? I went to see the Columbia Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker in Columbia, South Carolina. Interestingly, my dear friend, the president of Columbia College, and his wife were guest performers in the production. (Don’t get any ideas…)

What is your favorite pastime outside of music and performing arts?

Entertaining! My wife and I have always enjoyed hosting dinner parties, soirees, and salons for old and new friends. We take great care in the curation of the guest list and enjoy creating memorable moments in the intimacy of our home. Entertaining, to me, is a wonderful form of service.

What attracted you to CCA?

There are a number of things that make joining CCA attractive for me, but I’ll share three.

First, CCA is at a pivotal point with its expansion in San Francisco. Building community relationships has been an essential part of my professional life, and I see opportunities here to strengthen the connections between CCA and the city in ways that will benefit both. Second, the diversity of CCA’s students and faculty are very appealing, just a whole new way to engage with and support the arts. That dovetails with the third reason: I started off in choral work, then moved to theater, and so the opportunity now to come to CCA and focus on the visual arts, design, architecture, and other areas of the arts feels to me like a natural part of my trajectory as an arts leader—and to do this work at CCA is an honor.

Are you interested in teaching a class here?

I come from a family of educators and have always seen teaching as a noble profession. In my younger years, I aspired to be a teacher. While I would love the opportunity to teach here at CCA, I believe the important responsibility of teaching is best left to our dedicated faculty. That said, if the occasion arises, I could perhaps contribute as a visiting lecturer.

Should music be brought into the CCA curriculum and programs?

To be honest, because of the profound impact of music in fostering a sense of community, I think music should be brought into everything—but I may be a bit biased. Although a dedicated music program might not be on the horizon for us, there’s nothing stopping us from enjoying some communal singing together.

What are your priorities coming into the organization? Have you identified immediate needs or plans?

I’m listening and learning and connecting with the people on campus and in the community. I am looking forward to diving in, assessing the needs, and developing plans more substantively. I know that there are places where I see opportunities, such as continuing to raise CCA’s national profile and expanding connections with the city of San Francisco.

There has been a lot of conversation—locally and nationally—about the state of San Francisco, post-pandemic. What role do you think CCA can or should play in the city’s revival?

CCA is poised for such a strong trajectory of growth within San Francisco. Beyond the physical expansion of the campus, I think the skills that CCA teaches are many of the essential skills of the twenty-first century, from the hands-on “maker” attitude, to architecture and design programs that are thinking seriously about adaptability, sustainability, the environment, and so on. In that context, I think we also have an opportunity to support the city of San Francisco in its revitalization, whether because our campus neighborhood becomes an attractive place for new business, or because we find opportunities to be directly engaged with solving specific civic challenges.

How will you engage the Bay Area community in CCA’s expanded campus at Double Ground?

Double Ground is one of the things that excited me about coming to San Francisco. It’s a real investment in the city and the design district. I’m excited to invite the community into this space soon, and to build on our roots and take us into the future. This extraordinary building creates an opportunity to set the stage for what comes next, not only for our campus, but for the entire community of San Francisco. Double Ground not only enhances and expands our campus but also symbolizes CCA’s commitment to thrive and lead. I can’t wait for all of us to come together and celebrate this opening in the fall.