By Deborah Sussman

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In June of 2020, at the close of the 2019-20 academic year, the Arizona Board of Regents formally approved a plan to create two new schools in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts: the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and The New American Film School. The two new schools would take the place of the former School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the former School of Music, beginning in the fall of 2020.

“As the largest comprehensive design and arts college in the U.S. we must center and support student learning, academics and research that are aligned with the larger cultural and creative sectors,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean and director of the Herberger Institute. “In the next three years, we are expanding our regional growth — adding a learning space and creative micro-retail in downtown Phoenix, co-designing a film, immersive media and innovation center with the city of Mesa, and building direct programming in Los Angeles with the acquisition of the Herald-Examiner Building.”

The downtown Phoenix location will serve as the home of ASU’s newly launched popular music program, the first popular music bachelor’s degree in the state. The film program will be housed in the new state-of-the-art facilities in Mesa.

The new School of Music, Dance and Theatre is defined by some of the top faculty in the world, in all three of its disciplines, Tepper said, and “embraces a spirit of collaboration and a push for innovation, while remaining committed to craft and practice.”

“Our aim with the new School of Music, Dance and Theatre is to create a dynamic, collaborative unit that respects what each of the disciplinary faculties has achieved individually,” Tepper said, “while inviting the faculty to think together to leverage their resources, talents and reputation.”

Heather Landes, formerly the director of the School of Music, stepped into the new position of director of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. Landes served as director of the School of Music for the past eight years and prior to that was associate dean of students for the Herberger Institute. 

Under Landes’ leadership, the School of Music saw growing diversity among its faculty and students, the launch of new degrees in musicology, conducting and popular music, minors in music performance and musical theater, certificates in music theory pedagogy and music entrepreneurship, more than $25 million in philanthropic gifts, the formation of the Gospel Choir and the Philharmonia, and an increased commitment to community engagement and social embeddedness.

“I’m eager to work with faculty and staff in music, dance and theater on the design and evolution of a new type of school, one that is inclusive at its core, with extraordinary opportunities for students, new forms of creative expression, and powerful ways to engage our communities,” Landes said. “Together, we can combine our strengths in production and design, devising and creating new work, collaborative performance, education and more to build new multidisciplinary projects and support the music, dance and theater of the region.” 

New faculty in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre include Erin Barra, director of the new popular music program. Barra is one of eight new faculty who joined the school this fall. Learn more about the faculty in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. 

Last year, the film program at ASU was ranked among the top 25 film bachelor’s degree programs in the nation. Tepper said that over the course of the next two years, The New American Film School will seek to operate across three cities as the institute opens the new facilities in Mesa and Los Angeles.

Jason Davids Scott is serving as interim director of the new school. Scott is an associate professor of film and served as an assistant director in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. Scott has been a key driver, along with faculty colleagues, in the growth and development of the institute’s top 25 film program.

“The school is dedicated to finding and supporting new creative voices that are fully representative of the nation’s growing diversity,” Scott said. “We are assembling a team focused on building the most dynamic, diverse and technology empowered film and media production program possible, with the goal of quadrupling the number of film industry partnerships and relationships and building significant philanthropic support for this program.”

“A film school focuses on the making of film as a creative art, with its own technical language, professional practices and histories of practice and creativity,” said Tiffany López, vice provost designee for inclusion and community engagement at ASU and professor in the new film school. “ASU’s New American Film School will be the most egalitarian film school in the U.S. because of its foundations in our charter and its focus on access and inclusion. The growth of our faculty and curriculum over the past several years illustrates our honoring of the charter and its design principles.”

Recent film faculty hires include award-winning filmmaker and visual effects artist Paul DeNigris and two-time Emmy award winning writer and producer Peter Murrieta, best known for his Emmy Award-winning work as head writer and executive producer on the Disney Channel sitcom “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and currently working on the hit Netflix series “Mr. Iglesias.” See a full list of New American Film School faculty.

Tepper said that working groups have been helping determine the structures, programs and resources necessary for everyone in both the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and The New American Film School to thrive.

“We are advancing new degrees with access to new spaces and technologies that will prepare our graduates to thrive in the growing creative economy,” Tepper said. “Our new schools position us well to navigate these exciting changes and opportunities.”


Photos by Tim Trumble.