Joseph W. Polisi

Joseph W. Polisi

Joseph W. Polisi

Experiment broadly. Be honest with yourself. Find a clear mission. Joseph W. Polisi, president of The Juilliard School for the past 27 years, draws on his own life experiences when giving that guidance to students at America’s premier center for education in the performing arts. Fittingly, Dr. Polisi has pursued just such a course throughout his own life. He has explored political science and diplomacy, performed and taught music, and found meaning in a role that requires all those skills and more.

The son of an internationally acclaimed bassoonist, he showed considerable talent with that instrument yet did not feel fully committed to a life as a performer. But in his work as a leader of elite schools for the arts, he discovered his own true personal mission: connecting great art with society’s deepest needs through the accomplishments of students. In pursuing that mission he has remade the culture of Juilliard. Once a place where students fixated single-mindedly on technical perfection, the school in the heart of New York City now places great value on the artist’s ability to communicate with an audience, to engage with the world and to serve as an advocate for the arts in society. More than half of Juilliard’s students are community-engaged, from those who bring their talents into New York City’s nursing homes and elementary schools to those who use their art to make a difference in the lives of children with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania.

Honorary Degree Citation

An architect of community engagement at a school that once was an ivory tower, as well as a passionate advocate for the arts in an era of all-too-frequent indifference, you have changed the culture of The Juilliard School, America’s premier center of education for musicians, singers and dramatists. You have helped bring the school’s aspiring artists into the lives of elementary schoolchildren and nursing home patients in New York City and HIV/AIDS sufferers abroad. An accomplished bassoonist, you have enabled a generation of performers to appreciate that technical proficiency is not an end in itself, but the mechanism by which they cross the bridge to artistry and communication. Encountering the young, the old and the ill, students learn how the arts can present the best of human values and human relations and how, as performers, they can use their artistry to make a positive difference in the lives of all.

You have been a master teacher of the arts and a master of the art of teaching. Brandeis University is proud to call you a member of the Brandeis family.