Dr. Carole Brandt, dean emerita of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, Algur H. Meadows Chair and professor of theatre, has died in Dallas, March 5, following a brief illness. She was 76.
An educator and theatre artist, Brandt was the first woman at SMU to be appointed an academic dean. During her term, from 1994 until her 2006 retirement, more than $100 million was raised for the Meadows School and Meadows Museum. She oversaw the planning, fundraising, construction and opening of the new $30 million Meadows Museum in 2001, and in 2006, was instrumental in the acquisition of a $33 million Meadows Foundation grant, the largest financial gift in SMU’s history at the time.
Brandt assisted with SMU’s acquisition of such significant works of art as El Greco’s painting St. Francis Kneeling in Meditation, and commissioned Santiago Calatrava’s monumental moving sculpture Wave, which serves as the signature piece at the Bishop Boulevard entrance of the University. At SMU, Brandt advocated strategic planning, programmatic accreditation, and rotating external reviews of all academic and administrative units. She separated the combined communications disciplines of the Meadows School into separate divisions, created the Temerlin Advertising Institute, and, in partnership with the Belo Foundation, the journalism department’s digital newsroom facility.
At her 2006 retirement, SMU and the Meadows School Advisory Board designated the Brandt Garden at the Owen Arts Center east entrance, where Brandt enjoyed celebrating diploma ceremonies and beach parties with students, faculty and staff. A plaque at the site recognizes the passion, inspiration, dedication and leadership that Brandt demonstrated during her 12-year term.
“Dr. Brandt served as an energetic, passionate and creative leader and an inspiration to thousands of graduates. Her many significant accomplishments strengthened both the Meadows School and the University,” said José Bowen, who succeeded her as dean in 2006 following a national search.
Brandt instituted new academic and artistic initiatives in art, art history, music, dance and theatre, and strengthened partnerships with area arts and business organizations, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Theater Center, Dallas Opera, American Film Institute of Dallas and the Dallas Advertising League.
Brandt, who earned both a B.S. in speech education and an M.A. in theatre art from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in directing from Southern Illinois University, was a leader throughout her 50-year career. Prior to SMU, she served as director of the School of Drama at Illinois Wesleyan, chair of the Department of Theatre at the University of Florida, and head of the Department of Theatre at The Pennsylvania State University, where she also was executive producer and artistic director of Pennsylvania Centre Stage.
She also acted as national chair of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, president of the Association of Theatre in Higher Education and dean of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. At the time of her retirement, she was president of the National Association of Schools of Theatre and the National Theatre Conference. Throughout her career Brandt was a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, directing approximately 200 professional and academic productions. One of her award-winning productions, “Dancing at Lughnasa”, was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
In 2002, the Spanish government awarded Brandt the Ecomienda de la Orden de Isabel La Catolica, the highest distinction granted to non-Spaniards who promote good relations between Spain and America, thus designating her Commander of the Order. The same year, the Dallas Historical Society presented her with the Award for Excellence in Creative Arts. She was the only academic in the United States to earn four Kennedy Center Medallions for Excellence and an Exxon Gold Medallion for Contribution to Theatre in Higher Education. Brandt also was named Theatre Educator of the Year in Florida and Pennsylvania. A former student wrote, “She taught me all about theatre, but more importantly she opened my eyes to the possibilities of life – the adventure of it all – and the joy one can experience living life.”
Brandt liked to say that she “flunked” retirement, as she continued to consult for college and university theatre programs across the country, chair numerous accreditation teams, as well as speak at conferences. She enjoyed working on her memoir, Braless in Retirement, titling her chapters as adventures, such as Hot Cars, Exuberant Dogs and Pitched Peas. Brandt also became a film and play script reader for projects in Los Angeles and New York City. In Dallas, she was active on the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Board of Trustees, the Dallas Center for Architecture, AFI-Dallas, Charter 100 and Big Thought.
Brandt finished each Meadows diploma ceremony by quoting Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a force, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it.” She concluded with the charge, “Graduates of the Meadows School and Southern Methodist University, the world needs It. Get started.” Dr. Brandt embraced action: of faculty, students, staff and friends of the university and the arts, often invoking Emile Zola’s, “To be an artist is to live out loud.”
Brandt was preceded in death by her parents, Clifton Perry and Mary Helen Mitchell Brandt, and sister Rita Kuhne of Champaign, Ill. She is survived by her sister Linda Henderson of Normal, Ill., and nieces Kristin Kuhne, Allison Kuhne Butcher, Ryan Henderson Bradstock, nephews Heath Henderson and Hutch Henderson, and six grandnieces and grandnephews.
The Meadows School plans a remembrance for Brandt. The date will be announced soon.