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Longtime professors among this year’s retirees

May 16, 2011

Three beloved Chapman University professors are retiring as this school year draws to a close. Moving on to new things are Richard Turner, professor, Department of Art; Donna Cucunato, associate professor, College of Educational Studies; and Stephen Polcari, Ph.D., professor, Department of Art. We asked each to reflect on a unique memory or impression of the university, which has made many changes during their tenures.

Professor Turner, left, and Professor Polcari are retiring this year.

Richard Turner arrived in the “Chapman College” days and says he didn’t expect to stay long because he thought academic careers were all about frequent moves. But Turner enjoyed the academic freedom of a small campus and the collegiality of a tight-knit faculty.  Faculty retreats held in the mountains helped nurture that environment, he says.

“The entire faculty would go up there and spend the night, either camping out or staying overnight in cabins. And after faculty business, then we’d play games. Monopoly, cards and charades and things like,” says Turner.

Turner is an accomplished public artist whose early exhibitions were held at seminal California venues, LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), LAICA (Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art) and NHAM (Newport Harbor Art Museum). This work is documented in the recent publication LA Rising  SoCAl Artists Before 1980.

Next for Turner is an Asian art exhibit he will curate at the Oceanside Museum of Art and an artwork he’s working on for the Long Beach Transit Authority. He is also a finalist for a commission for the John Wayne Airport, and he’s a member of the Year In Review panel, which annually recognizes works of public art at the Public Art Network conference.

He’ll still be around campus, too, where he’ll teach a class on contemporary Asian art and enjoy a more relaxed schedule.

Donna Cucunato at retirement reception with President Jim Doti and her husband, Chuck Cucunato.

Donna Cucunato came to Chapman 34 years ago as a dance instructor and recalls days “making do with less and doing anything and everything to make a production happen.” When a leaking dance studio roof couldn’t be repaired in time for a class, buckets were placed on the floor and she improvised the day’s routines around them. “We did sort of a circular pattern,” she recalls with a laugh.

Cucunato developed Chapman’s dance program and acted as its director for 16 years. Her interest in pedagogy led her through several transitions as she left dance and assumed the position of liberal studies coordinator. She created and directed a program that placed students with dance, music and physical education skills in local elementary schools. She considers working with future teachers to be among her greatest joys.

“The students are just awesome. They have a love of children and serving and they’re committed to making change. Teaching changes lives and they know it. They put their hearts into everything they do,” she says.

Stephen Polcari, Ph.D., a widely published art historian, arrived just five years ago, but reignited his love of teaching here.

“It was a delight. I love teaching. I love teaching the Chapman students, and it was all a pleasure,” Dr. Polcari says.

At Chapman he taught a variety of art history courses. “Anyone who has been a student of his understands that there is no substitute for the kind of knowledge and insights he has brought to Chapman,” says Wendy Salmond, Ph.D., professor.

Prior to coming to Chapman, Dr. Polcari was director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art in New York. He is the author of Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience (Cambridge University Press, 1991) and Richard Pousette-Dart: The Portal (Abrams, 1997) as well as numerous articles. He plans to return to writing and is working on bringing to the United States a Jackson Pollack show he curated last year in Paris.

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