“I am a builder,” Meeks, dean of the College of the Arts at Kennesaw State University, said.
And a builder he is: When he first joined the KSU (then Kennesaw Junior College) faculty 37 years ago, music was part of the Humanities Division housed in one large room. He said, “(KSU) started with three or four buildings sitting in the middle of a pasture. In the early days, we were considered rural.”
When KSU became a four-year college, music was one of the first six degrees offered. “We had established ourselves at that point as a real draw,” the concert pianist said. “There was such an interest, an enthusiasm for what was going on here.”
Built from one room until the department inherited a small maintenance building on campus that was renovated for music, the arts at KSU evolved. In 1994, KSU appointed Meeks as the chair of the Department of Music.
“I had a chance to realize some of the dreams I wanted to see and be a part of,” said Meeks who earned bachelor of music and Master of Fine Arts degrees in piano performance from the University of Georgia and a Master of Music degree from Georgia State University. He completed additional studies at Yale University and the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, where he was selected to perform in an international concert during the Salzburg Music Festival.
Meeks built bridges with the community and the arts flourished at KSU.
“I’ve spent a lot of time building those relationships so we could be recognized as a place to come, a place of choice, a place where great things were happening,” he said.
One of Meeks’ first goals was to obtain national accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Music established in 1925. In his youth in South Carolina, his piano teacher, a Juilliard graduate, emphasized the importance of the accreditation.
After a rigorous process, KSU received and maintained accreditation since 1985.
“I think that speaks to the quality we built in our programs,” said the Lexus Leader of the Arts honoree. As dean, Meeks also assisted with accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Theater and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, making the college one of only a handful of Georgia institutions to have achieved full accreditation for all of its arts programs.
Meeks’ childhood teacher also influenced him on the importance of the instrument — a Steinway piano.
“I remember the day she pulled the big cover off her grand piano and said, ‘I want you to have your lesson here today’ and it was a Steinway,” he said. Out of that early experience, Meeks facilitated bringing the first Steinway to KSU.
“We got that piano and it was the only Steinway piano we had for years and years,” he said.
Meeks’ commitment to excellence included building partnerships and endowments for the school. Meeks and dedicated community volunteers dramatically increased donor contributions to the college resulting in the College of the Arts endowing more scholarships than any other unit at KSU.
With an endowment created by Dr. Bobbie Bailey, the Dr. Bobbie Bailey & Family Performance Center, a top-rated 624-seat performance venue, was built. With Dr. Bailey’s donation of 44 Steinway pianos, including a Steinway Concert Grand for the Center, KSU achieved the status of an “All-Steinway School” demonstrating its commitment to excellence by providing the best equipment possible for study.
“The practice rooms, the studios, the concert hall, the rehearsal halls all have Steinways — (Dr. Bailey) was our angel. She came in and made such a difference for us,” said Meeks, who was named an International Steinway artist in 2008. The International Roster of Steinway Artists includes many of the most prestigious pianists of the last 150 years, such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Arthur Rubinstein. Contemporary performers on the list include Lang Lang, Diana Krall and Billy Joel.
The building continues today attracting talented students from across the US and garnering support from the community. From a one-room music department to being renamed the College of the Arts in 2005, the college includes music, theater, visual arts and most recently dance.
“We were able to establish our identity. We were able to build those bridges with the greater community,” he said. “It’s really all about investing and the return on your investment. It’s an investment in something and the product is excellent. We’ve had an amazing experience with people wanting to be a part of what we’re doing.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Meeks said.
To learn more about KSU’s College of the Arts, visit www.kennesaw.edu/arts.