Peter Spear, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (1996 – 2001)

Assisted in the creation of the CHA at CU Boulder

“When I was Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1996 - 2001), several faculty members suggested that we create a new Center for Humanities and the Arts.  I knew that natural sciences and social sciences disciplines had significant extramural funding available from several Federal granting agencies, but extramural funding for the humanities and arts was very sparse.  I believed (and still believe) that to be a truly outstanding college (and university), we must have excellence across all our disciplines, and that financial support is essential for establishing and maintaining that excellence. 

I saw the creation of the CHA, including significant funding from the College and University, as a mechanism to provide that support to the humanities and arts in parallel with the extramural support available to the natural and social sciences.  This financial support could be used to provide student stipends, to bring visiting scholars and artists to campus, to facilitate interdisciplinary interactions and collaborations, and to provide research funding and teaching release to help faculty do their scholarship and creative work.  To those ends, the A&S Dean’s Office helped provide financial and administrative support for creating the Center for Humanities and the Arts.  It is wonderful to see that the Center has been so successful over the past 25 years.” 

The Center for Humanities & the Arts (CHA) came into existence through the determined grass-roots efforts of the faculty and the administrative leadership of Carol Lynch, Dean of the Graduate School, and Peter Spear, Dean of Arts and Sciences, together with the support of Phil DiStefano, then Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. CHA opened under the co-leadership of Merrill Lessley, Associate Dean for the Humanities and Arts, and Christopher Braider, then chair of French and Italian and Interim Chair of Comparative Literature and Humanities. You can locate an article from 1998 that describes the creation process here: Center For Humanities And The Arts Names First Director At CU-Boulder

Chris Braider, Interim CHA Director Spring 1997

Professor Emeritus, Department of French & Italian at CU Boulder

“I have many fond memories of CHA, but two stand out. One was the year I spent, as Acting Director, chairing a weekly seminar on the theme of Evidence.  The seminar brought faculty and graduate students together from a wonderfully wide variety of disciplines: literature, history, and East Asian religious studies; but also sociology, physics, and law.  All involved learned a great deal, and not least to look deep beyond disciplinary frontiers—and prejudices!—to see what even an Alan Sokal stood to learn from a Bruno Latour. 

The other was CHA’s extraordinary collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Denver Performing Arts Center in staging Tantalus, a 10-part play revisiting the myths and legends behind and in the interstices of Homer’s Iliad.  The RSC provided the show, the DPAC the venue, and CHA (with the Classics department) a series of public talks and roundtables that had a tremendous impact.” 


Jeffrey Cox, CHA Director from 1998 – 2006 (first official CHA Director)

Distinguished Professor of English & Humanities, Chair of the English Department at CU Boulder

“Working as part of the CHA with colleagues, from CU and elsewhere, was one of the most satisfying periods in my roughly 40 years in the profession.

There are so many great memories of CHA’s public events: an absolutely packed house to hear war correspondent Chris Hedges in the run up to the invasion of Iraq; Dominick LaCapra literally slapping his knee as he laughed at a performance piece by our own Michelle Ellsworth; a day at the Boulder Library celebrating local immigrant and refugee communities organized by then graduate student, now Teaching Associate Professor Jim Walker; Trinh Minh-ha sharing her film “The Fourth Dimension” and helping us think through time and ritual; a soul and civil rights performance by the Ron Paris Band followed the next morning by Joe Roach talking about Waiting for Godot, colonialism, and slavery. 

There were also the more intimate work-in-progress sessions, where we learned from faculty and students, and the amazing faculty seminars where colleagues from all parts of the campus—philosophy and music, law and literature, media studies and history—came together to build common vocabularies across disciplinary boundaries as they thought about time or exile, war or the powers of wonder. Every day CHA demonstrates what a university can be.” 


Helmut Mueller-Sievers, CHA Director (2010-2019)

Professor of Germanic & Slavic Language & Literature at CU Boulder

“Like Jeff and Chris, I have many vivid and fond memories of interactions between invited speakers and students and resident faculty. I recall a particularly surprising fireside chat with noted Idealism scholar Robert Pippin and Patti Limerick on the legacy of Western movies. And there was the unforgettable evening, also a fireside chat, when Danielle Allen, ethics professor at Harvard and activist, reflected with our own Adam Bradley about the importance of the Obama years for African American scholars and intellectuals. 

Structurally, it was most satisfying to see how many colleagues directly benefitted from our fellowship program – they published books, secured promotion and tenure, and often restarted a scholarly career that had been interrupted by – life. For many faculty and graduate students, the Hazel Barnes flat in London, proved to be an invaluable resource, one for which even far richer institutions have envied us and still do. Ah, the excitement of selecting the couch and washing machine for the flat! 

What makes CHA special in my eyes – apart from the quality and variety of its contributing faculty – is the fact that it is, by design, different from other Centers. It was set up after the model of the interdisciplinary institutes on campus and thus could interact with departments and schools beyond the College of Arts and Sciences. One prospect that has always intrigued me was to go further down this special road – teach cross-campus classes, and eventually roster faculty from across all schools and colleges. Some day perhaps…..”