Mark Charney is a longtime employee of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, which President Obama is recognizing at the White House today.
In 2003, Mark Charney was an intern for the National Critics Institute, a two-week summer boot camp put on by the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.
Then he went back to his day job: chairman of the English department at Clemson University. He was not a typical intern.
Charney, now director of the School of Theatre & Dance at Texas Tech University, went to his first National Critics Institute in 2002 before returning as an intern. Today he's associate director of the institute and a 15-year veteran of the O'Neill Theater Center, a Tony Award-winning theater focused on improving the arts and propelling artists to new opportunities.
It also is a winner of the 2015 National Medal of Arts, which President Barack Obama presented today (Sept. 22) in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. It is the country's highest honor for achievement in the arts.
It was a special moment for many in the College of Visual & Performing Arts at Texas Tech, which has supported the O'Neill financially and sent some of its best students to the organization. For Charney, it was a wonderful surprise.
"I love the O'Neill and I applaud its mission," he said. "I was thrilled when I found out, as I was when they won their second Tony. It was like Christmas. I couldn't sleep."
The National Critics Institute is one of the few national arts programs also focused on the critics instead of just the creators of art. Charney got involved in the 1990s when he learned through his work at the Kennedy Center that, although artists of all types were invited to the Kennedy Center's National Festival, there was no place for critics of theatre to meet each other and be trained on the national level.
When Gregg Henry took over as artistic director of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, he invited Charney to coordinate the first Critics Institute, which led to his directing the Kennedy Center National Critics Institute.
In 2002, Charney met Dan Sullivan, then-director of the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill and was invited back as an intern. He now works alongside Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones as associate director, examining all angles, including food, dance, film and theatre, ensuring the next generation of critics are aware of best practices.
"Critics make the ephemeral permanent," Charney said. "They are the only recorders of art and are proponents and advocates for it. They determine quality and push longevity."