Robert Cutietta awarded Presidential Medallion for advancing USC’s values in the field of the arts


Every year from 1983 through 2020, USC has awarded the USC Presidential Medallion to one or two people who have brought great honor and distinction to the university community. Last year, all USC staff, faculty and health care professionals were awarded the Presidential Medallion after their continued work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, for their work to advance the university’s overall mission, three members of the Trojan Family were honored by USC President Carol L. Folt at the 41st annual Academic Honors Convocation on Tuesday. USC News is profiling all three winners. Today’s honoree: Robert Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School of Music and the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

Robert Cutietta had no idea USC would start a dance school when he came to the university in 2002, much less that he would become dean of it.

Cutietta originally was chosen as the dean of the USC Thornton School of Music, and almost a decade after arriving on campus, he was tasked with starting and helming the USC Kaufman School of Dance, the university’s first new school in 41 years. That service to the arts has earned him one of this year’s USC Presidential Medallions.

I’m a bass player at heart. And what that means is that I stay in the background, I provide the foundation, and I let other people take the solos in the leads.

Robert Cutietta, Presidential Medallion recipient

“I have to admit, I had to gear myself up for this,” Cutietta said of his dance school assignment. “I’m a bass player at heart. And what that means is that I stay in the background, I provide the foundation, and I let other people take the solos in the leads. I feel I’ve been that way with being a dean, too.”

Cutietta, a longtime academic, was the director of the School of Music and Dance at the University of Arizona before coming to USC. He has performed and composed music for movies and TV, including the television series Lost Legends of the West, and has published a range of articles and books on music education, notably Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents and Who Knew? Answers to Questions About Classical Music You Never Thought to Ask, both published by Oxford University Press.

Robert Cutietta: introducing innovative degrees

At USC, Cutietta introduced innovative degrees, including groundbreaking popular music performance program that Rolling Stone called “the cutting-edge department that’s become the site of Los Angeles’ most productive new music scenes.”

“The popular music program is still pretty much the only one that’s out there,” Cutietta said. “We expanded that into production and EDM [electronic dance music] — I mean, what schools can you major in EDM creation?”

He applied that same innovative approach to the programs at the USC Kaufman School.

“What started to emerge was a school where you’re not really training dancers,” he said. “You’re creating artists who are dance makers.”

Double duty as dean of USC Thornton School of Music and USC Kaufman School of Dance

Cutietta, who has pulled double duty as dean of USC Thornton and USC Kaufman since the dance school opened, will retire at the end of the 2022 academic year. For the last few years, Cutietta has assisted in the search for two new deans.

“The worst thing that could happen to any institution is it starts stagnating, and it’s hard to keep innovating when the same people are in charge of everything,” he said. “Someone has to come in and shake it up with new ideas. For the good of the schools, it really is the time for new deans.”

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