Rodney Gustafson, Class of 2001
The master’s degree in organizational management that Rodney Gustafson, ’01, received while in his 40s at Antioch University Santa Barbara was paramount to the success of his State Street Ballet, the city’s only professional ballet company. “Antioch helped me fulfill my vision,” says Gustafson, who founded the dance company in the early 1990s. “Antioch has helped me mold my life. While at AUSB, I did a practicum during which I studied companies in the arts that failed and why they failed. It helped me look at trends in the arts. I also did a self-assessment of the ballet company at the same time. What Antioch did for me was that it gave me a way to support my own vision and grow that vision.”
Gustafson is currently celebrating a recent gift to State Street Ballet, a one million dollar donation from an anonymous donor that will contribute to the organization over time. An earlier gift, a $42,000 bequest from a retired professor and local arts enthusiast, also greatly surprised the entrepreneurial Gustafson, who is pleased that others see the value of his work.
Growing up poor on a farm in New York state with a mother who was a Swedish immigrant, Gustafson learned to love science and the arts from a young age. At the age of 15, a dance teacher recruited him for a high school production because the teacher knew he was a gymnast. For the following two years, he received scholarships to attend a private high school for students gifted in the arts and then danced with the American Ballet Theatre based in New York City and performed extensively in Europe. During this time, Gustafson trained and performed with notable ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and others. In the late 1980s, he settled at the University of Arizona to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business.
By 1992, he and his then-wife moved to Santa Barbara and in 1993 they started the dance academy. The following year, the dance company was formed. “A few years into the process I felt I wanted to get a master’s degree now that I knew about being the director of a company,” Gustafson recalls. “Antioch University was a really good fit for me. It just seemed to be the last piece that blended the humanities to the arts to business.”
Today, Gustafson sits on the Board of Trustees for Antioch University Santa Barbara and was the recipient of the university’s coveted Horace Mann Award given to distinguished alumni. Meanwhile, several of his Antioch associates sit on the board of his dance company. As he does community outreach for his dance company, Antioch is also foremost on his mind as he encourages others to look there for their education. “Antioch also made me think about ‘What am I giving to this world?’” says Gustafson. “That’s really important to me now that I’m in my 50s. And, that is so significant.”