“A culture is only as great as its dreams and its dreams are dreamed by artists.” This quote from L. Ron Hubbard has both inspired and been realized by Harvard senior Jimmy Collins ’07, big dreamer, Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) concentrator, and Renaissance man of the arts. Collins is not only an advanced percussionist, but also a talented filmmaker, photographer, and leader.
His creative education began at age five when his father, who had always wanted to play the drums, bought him a drum set.
“We had a drum set set up in the living room. And I used to play it non-stop,” Collins says, laughing.
Since then, his creative juices haven’t stopped flowing, finding outlets in every shape, size, and color.
Growing up in New York, Collins continued percussion lessons at Julliard, playing with the New York Youth Symphony as well as a rock band. When the group got serious, he decided to defer coming to Harvard for a year in order to record an album with the band and tour around the Northeast. Although he was already musically involved in high school, this gap year was largely responsible for focusing Collins’s attention and efforts on the arts.
“My year off was a big shift for me,” says Collins. “I probably would have been an English major. In high school I was very academic and didn’t do nearly as much art as I do now. It was really amazing to have a year on my own to just experience that. That’s when I realized that I just really want to be doing the arts in my life.”
At Harvard, he has satisfied his musical inclinations by serving as the premier percussionist and former president of the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, performing with more than 12 Harvard musical groups, recording with singer-songwriter Tim Blaine, working with jazz gurus like Chick Corea, and even co-founding his own DJ company, Story House Entertainment.
Since high school, Collins has broadened his array of creative outlets and jumped at every artistic opportunity, adding filmmaking and photography to his repertoire. He recently completed his VES thesis, a documentary about anti-American sentiment in Europe, for which he spent an adventurous summer traveling through Europe compiling over 35 hours of footage.
He has held numerous photography exhibitions and created a total of four documentary films on topics like a high school oenophile and a foam factory in Somerville, MA. Arts First will also screen two of his short fiction films that deal with urban life in America.
There’s a simple motivation behind Collins’s impressive accomplishments: ceaseless curiosity and creative outpouring.
“I’m very inspired by what I see around me,” he says.
Then again, Collins has done more seeing in the past two decades than most people do in an entire lifetime. He has driven through all 48 continental U.S. states, explored Northern Iceland in blizzard conditions, toured medical clinics in El Salvador, led school children on a hiking trip in rural China, conducted religious studies onboard a ship in the Caribbean, and traveled to Baton Rouge only days after Hurricane Katrina to aid in relief efforts.
With his bank of images and experiences rapidly expanding, Collins’s drive to promote change through his artwork continues to deepen.
“I want to influence communities and try to make as big of an impact as I can with my artwork,” he says. “And I love helping people as much as I can.”
Graduating this fall, Collins plans to do just that. Working for the Field Band Foundation in South Africa, he will be teaching music to children in townships as well as making a documentary on his experience.
“The arts are the fabric of society in many ways,” says Collins. “Without the arts you don’t really have a function of society. Culture is built on the arts. It’s all shown me that what I’m doing is important and necessary.”