Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Craig Detweiler’s career always has bridged the gap between faith and the entertainment industry.
When he was in a church setting, he would hear a recurring question: “When are you going to give up on Hollywood?”
In Hollywood, he would get the opposite: “When are you going to give up on the church?”
For Detweiler, it was all about combining the two worlds and doing so in a way that could help shape the narrative for how faith fits into entertainment.
That sentiment was especially prominent in the degrees he obtained. Detweiler holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts as well as a Master of Divinity and Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary.
“For a while I thought I was one of the few people who could marry, bury, baptize or direct, depending on what people needed,” he said. “My entire professional career has been building a bridge across these major culture-shaping institutions.”
Now, after a career spanning 25 years, Detweiler finds himself trading the sunny beaches of Malibu, California, for Phoenix’s desert heat to continue that bridge-building in his newest role – dean of Grand Canyon University’s College of Fine Arts and Production (COFAP).
“I’m excited about GCU’s deep and abiding faith combined with the artistry and creativity of both the professors and students and not seeing it as an either/or but as a both/and,” he said. “We can both enlighten and entertain at the same time.”
To fully understand the excitement and enthusiasm Detweiler has for this next step in his career, you had to be there when he and GCU initially crossed paths several years ago.
“I had been on Grand Canyon’s campus a couple of years ago and was just struck by the dynamism,” he reflected. “I’ve never seen a university move with such purpose, clarity and speed.”
So, naturally, when he was asked if he would be interested in becoming a dean, it wasn’t a hard decision.
“I drew upon that initial experience: Something big was going on here, and so I want to get in touch with what the Spirit is doing at GCU,” he said. “I’m attracted to that ... the need to move with speed and purpose is important. We’re applying timeless truths to a technologically advanced age.”
For as excited Detweiler is to join the COFAP community, he brings an array of connections and knowledge that will excite students.
Having worked in higher education at institutions such as Biola University, Fuller Seminary and Pepperdine University, Detweiler has an impressive list of former students who have made a name for themselves in the industry.
It includes Marvel “Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings” director Destin Daniel Cretton, worship group “We the Kingdom” patriarch Ed Cash and Camille Tucker, who wrote “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” biopic for Lifetime.
It all goes back to Detweiler’s mission of finding ways to integrate faith into the entertainment industry.
“All of these people are operating in the mainstream and have huge reaches and cultural impact, but they’ve also been able to build upon their Christian roots and education,” he said.
With his sights now set on COFAP, Detweiler has no shortage of big ideas for the college.
“My hope for the college is that we will see even more cooperation and collaboration,” he said. “Theatrical productions need dancers and music, films need a poster and a soundtrack, and every graduate in Fine Arts and Production needs to understand social media.
“We have this brand new major (social media) rooted in algorithmic authority and the ability to broadcast yourself and to tell your own stories. The gatekeepers in Hollywood who sometimes kept people out have been usurped by our ability to bring our stories directly to each other. It’s an opportune time.”
But if there’s one thing he hopes students take away, it’s the power of building connections.
“I believe in the power of long-term mentoring. The three or four years that students might be at GCU are a starting point for a lifetime of relationships,” he said. “The lessons they’re learning in our classrooms will continue to evolve via lifelong learning. I hope our grads will continue to see the faculty and staff in the college as mentors for a long-term, deeply spiritual, creative journey.”
Detweiler says he is looking forward to “building upon the leadership and legacy” of former COFAP Dean Claude Pensis, who has been an integral part of the University and college’s growth for nearly 40 years and now a director in the Theatre Department.
With so much talent in the college, the potential is limitless with Detweiler coming on board. The bridge between faith and art that he has spent his career building will continue to expand and improve, one artist at a time.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].