MICA President Fred Lazarus announced his retirement in April, marking an end to an impressive, if unlikely, academic career that transformed the school and the area around it.

In a memo informing colleagues of his decision, Lazarus noted that he initially expected the job to last “three to five years,” but it turned out to be a 35-year run. “When I started, I did not have the traditional background that one should have had,” he wrote. “I was not an artist, I had never worked in higher education, and I am even color blind . . . [I] have always been grateful to the college for taking such a risk.”

It certainly paid off, as Lazarus leaves behind a much different institution than he inherited. MICA has, over the past three decades, grown into a top-tier art school, one that attracts distinguished faculty and students from all over the world, thanks largely to Lazarus’s visionary leadership and fundraising skills.

During his tenure, MICA evolved into a residential campus, constructed high-profile buildings like the Brown Center and its Gateway residence facility, and expanded its footprint into surrounding neighborhoods. As a result, it has played an important role in the revitalization of the city.

There would be no Station North without MICA, no transformation of the North Avenue area that’s now home to various arts venues and clubs, and probably no City Arts apartments or Baltimore Design School in Greenmount West. Ultimately, it all goes back to Lazarus, who figures to be a hard act to follow.

“I still do not know why I was hired.”—Fred Lazarus