Meet Susan Cook, Dean of the Community School of Performing Arts

Susan Cook started her position at the head of the Community School of Performing Arts on July 3. She took over from longtime dean Robert McAllister, who retired.

This month, Susan Cook took the helm of the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts, the school’s largest academic unit, serving over two thousand students of all ages and levels in the areas of music, early childhood education, and drama. She brings decades of experience as an educator and administrator, and hopes to continue to build upon the strong community and foster a love of music in students and parents.

Ms. Cook began her career in music education as a saxophone instructor in Chicago while finishing her Master of Music at Northwestern University, and she says the move to school administration happened “organically.” She served on the faculty of DePaul University, and the Merit School of Music, where she embraced more responsibilities and new positions until she was running Merit’s outreach program.

“That’s how it happened, and I guess I enjoyed it,” she said with a laugh. The work also deepened her connection with students and colleagues, and empowered her to build camaraderie. “Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve wanted there to be a strong community in the school. I think that’s very powerful.”

After holding positions at the Merit School of Music, Sherwood Community Music School at Columbia College Chicago, and Midwest Young Artists, she returned to her native Canada to serve as Dean of the Royal Conservatory School of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. There, she championed new programs and camps, and engaged the community through big events and open communication.

Ms. Cook was accustomed to seeing the Colburn name represented at major competitions, so was attracted to the Dean position when Robert McAllister announced his retirement. Once on campus, she was charmed by the community. “When meeting parents, staff, and faculty, I felt like everyone was very invested, and that was very appealing to me.”

Now that she’s at Colburn, she sees opportunities for further collaboration between the school’s other three academic units—the Conservatory of Music, Music Academy, and Trudl Zipper Dance Institute—and how such teamwork could be a source of inspiration. “I want the students, and parents, to see that there is a continuum of education here at Colburn,” she elaborated, noting the possible future opportunities for deep development as a pre-professional musician in the Conservatory of Music. “I think many parents aren’t even aware of the possibilities.”

When asked what she hopes parents, students, and faculty know as she takes over from longtime dean McAllister, Ms. Cook once again emphasizes access and communication. “I care,” she stressed. “They can come talk to me about their concerns. I want to honor the quality of service and care that they’ve received to date.”

She also wishes to assure parents and students that Colburn is offering the best instruction they could possibly get. “I want parents to feel confident that students are getting the highest quality education here,” she said. “We are building a strong foundation, so that if students do wish to pursue a career in music, they are prepared to do that.”

Most importantly, though, she added, “have fun and love music.”

Read Susan Cook’s full biography.

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