The former director of Oregon State University's School of Arts and Communication will become MU's new director of the School of Visual Studies this fall.

Lee Ann Garrison, originally from Mount Vernon, has more than two decades of experience as an arts administrator and said she is eager to make the MU School of Visual Studies well known as the best place to study arts.

With three degrees in painting and drawing from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, California State University-Long Beach and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Garrison has dedicated her career to visual arts.

"I was about 7 years old when I decided I wanted to be an artist," Garrison said. "My aunt was a painter, and she gave me my first set of oil paints when I was 8 years old, and it was just magic, and I never turned back."

Garrison said her decision to accept the new role stemmed from the program's potential. She wants to bring people from the school's various departments together to create a stronger foundation. That's something she wished she would have done sooner at Oregon State.

Josephine Stealey, a founding member and the first director of MU's School of Visual Studies, said Garrison was appointed director of the Oregon State School of Arts and Communication in August 2014, just two years after it was established.

Five years later, Stealey described the program as vibrant and successful and said Garrison exudes a clear understanding of higher-education leadership.

In 2017, Stealey played a substantial role in the the creation of MU's School of Visual Studies, a program that merged the curricula of art, history, film and digital storytelling.

"We determined that we would be able to become a stronger program by collaborating formally and coming together," Stealey said.

Stealey decided to retire after more than 35 years at MU.

"It's been a wonderful opportunity for me to meet many, many other people throughout the university campus and get to know them and collaborate with the sciences and all forms of the arts and humanities," Stealey said.

Recognized not only as one of the program's founding members but also  as an international artist, Stealey's work has been highlighted in public and private exhibits such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She plans to focus on her artwork in retirement.

"I believe Lee Ann is coming to this institution with 20 to 25 years of experience of an art administrator, and I think that experience is going to really be beneficial to this school as it grows and evolves," Stealey said.

Stealey said she trusts that Garrison is the right person to advance the program and create a robust sense of culture within MU, the community and the state because she's an artist herself.

During her Oregon State career, Garrison also oversaw its art, music, new media communications, speech communications, graphic design and theater departments.

"I think that she brings some outstanding leadership qualities that have been proven at other institutions," Stealey said.

Garrison is also involved in the College Art Association, the National Council of Arts Administrators and Foundations in Art Theory and Education.

"I love being involved in a community and in a city, as well as the university, to help bridge that gap between using the arts to meet and bring together people from all over," Garrison said.

Garrison is eager to listen to the voices of her students and faculty and assess their needs before she takes action.

"A lot of it is about their research, about their passion, and so it's what will we do with what we have there," Garrison said.

"I am delighted to welcome Professor Garrison as the new Director of the School of Visual Studies," Patricia Okker, dean of the MU College of Arts and Science, said in an email. "She is an experienced leader with a passion for connecting the arts with disciplines across campus and for developing the creative skills that our students need to be successful."

Garrison said she looks forward to working with the program's 575 students and more than 35 faculty members.

"My heart is in the arts," she said.

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