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NewsMar 8, 2021

Center for Human Arts Innovation Launched

Dr. Jonathan 'JP' Paul named executive director of donor-funded initiative

Jonathan Paul exterior photo in Jamaica Plain

The university has launched a new Center for Human Arts Innovation, with an initial $750,000 in donor funding and Dr. Jonathan (“JP”) Paul as executive director.

Dr. Paul has led strategy and finance initiatives at large institutions of higher education as well as historically under-resourced schools across the country.

“Both contexts contain kids who started their lives with the same ability levels, but who now have starkly different access to opportunity,” he says. “The danger is that what many call ‘innovation’ is overly skewed towards commercial ed tech. I want Lesley to reclaim and redefine innovation as a process of creativity, invention and inclusion that allows everyone to live to their full potential and to be citizens of the world.”

That’s where our focus on the “human arts” comes in, he indicates.

“Teachers and artists are the original innovators. That has been true for centuries,” Paul says. “Lesley is a unique place, given in its singular focus on the richness of the human experience through education, the arts and well-being, what we call the human arts.” 

The Center for Human Arts Innovation will focus initially on developing and supporting concepts that:

  • Reimagine the future of teaching and counseling in the 21st century.
  • Support the dissemination of art and design expertise to the wider community.
  • Expand and strengthen community partnerships and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“The center will be a growth engine that will ensure Lesley remains at the forefront of what we call the human arts – education, well-being and the visual arts,” says Lesley President Janet L. Steinmayer. “The pandemic has heightened our realization that the ways we teach, learn and work will look very different in the future, and it has underscored the urgency of adapting our programs, services and facilities to meet the evolving needs of our students at various stages of their lives and careers. I’m so excited about the center’s potential to propel us forward and to have JP at the helm.”

Paul says his plan is to meet educators, counselors, artists and animators, and “find ways to support their work with our talented university community.”

“The center will also be a place for our faculty, staff and students to bring their best ideas,” Paul says. “My role is to elevate those ideas and support them with the capacity and resources to bring them to life.”

Before joining Lesley, Paul served as vice provost of academic programs at Relay Graduate School of Education, one of the country’s largest graduate schools of education for Black and Latinx teachers. Prior to that, he was the budget director for Harvard University, leading its Office of Financial Strategy and Planning. He also served as senior managing director at Teach for America and vice president of finance at Achievement First.

“I’ve spent my whole life in education, spanning K-12 and higher ed, working with educators in over 50 US cities, as well as my hometown of Sydney, Australia,” Paul says. “Our education system has historically been a barrier to the most vulnerable among us. Still, I remain convinced that the innovation we are now seeing in schools and on college campuses around the country is evidence that access to quality education continues to be one of the most powerful levers of positive social change we have.”

Born and raised in Australia, he earned a doctorate at the University of Sydney and a bachelor’s degree at the University of South Wales, teaching at both universities. Paul has served on the Harvard Institutes of Higher Education faculty, focused on leading executive education courses in strategic planning and financial sustainability. He is treasurer and a board member for Enroot Education, a nonprofit serving immigrant high school students in Cambridge and Somerville.

“Lesley sits within the most innovative 10 square miles on the planet,” Paul says. “I’m honored to support our community of educators, creatives and counselors as we explore the future of the human arts; those things add richness and wholeness to the human experience and make life worth living.”