Monday, March 22, 2010
On March 16th, Vermont College of Fine Arts announced that there had been a staffing change, and that Danielle Dahline ( long time Assistant Director and an amazing person ) is now the Director of MFA-V.
On that same day, all references to Jessica were wiped clean of the website ( well, almost clean – since Joey and others were able to find all the wonderful things that the website previously described about jessica ).
Immediately speculation started amongst alum as to what happened. Did Jessica win the lotto ? Did she run off with Clay to a remote and tropical island? Did she get a call from Obama saying.. “ I need you in Washington to get health care reform pushed through congress?” Or, did the fact that a scrubbed website and a devoted, passionate, co-founder and lifetime advocate of the program, who has remained silent about the staffing change, indicate that she was pushed out the door?
You all have graduate degrees, so I’ll let you make your own conclusions.
Since (it could be assumed) the heart of the program was under threat given that the individual who most defended those founding concepts had been erased from the college’s history. A call for collective action quickly started and many of you jumped right in with emails to VCFA President Tom Greene and VCFA Dean Gary Moore asking questions about the staffing change and demanding an accountability to the vision and founding pedagogy of the program.
Here are the program’s founding concepts as written by G. Roy Levin:
1. Art is not value-free, nor is art education. Both must be considered within the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts which necessarily define and condition the production and reception of art.
2. Just as the process is an essential part of the product in art making, how one teaches is what one teaches.
3. Self-actualization should be encouraged through a student – centered pedagogy where the students create their own individualized curriculum.
4. A student’s self-evaluation and Faculty evaluations of a student’s work should not be based on abstract Program generated criteria but on the student’s own experience and the creative process s/he has undertaken within the Program.
5. All subject matter of study and artistic inquiry should be approached from a multi-disciplinary view of knowledge and art practice.
6. The educational milieu should be as non-hierarchical as possible and serve as a model for other artistic communities for future activity.
G. Roy Levin – Art Education as Cultural Practice 1998.
Tom Green then distributed his email dated March 19th that described that any suggestion that the college is looking to change the pedagogy of the program is wrong, and that the idea that the college is somehow dismantling the program is ‘ludicrous’. After describing that proof of their dedication to the program can be found within the college’s recent marketing efforts, he concludes the letter by describing next steps:
“In the next week or so, we will announce the formation of a search committee to conduct a national search for a new director. I am confident we will find someone who understands the importance of this program's history, its unique approach, the landscape of the contemporary art world, and can lead visual art at VCFA positively into the future.”
Many of you recognized the inherent conflict in his statement about finding a new director, since the old one had all the qualities of the person he is now looking for. As a result, another collective action was called, and many of you are now writing postcards to him and Gary as a reminder that we are invested in this program, that we are engaged and organized, and that they should expect ongoing accountability for their stewardship of the vision and pedagogy of the program.
Some of you have asked me what the risk is if the pedagogy of the program is eroded or substantially changed. For me, these are the two biggest risks:
1. The program would no longer have student centered learning. Which is to say, imagine a residency where you have to challenge and petition just to be able to explore aspects of art, culture and society that are of deep interest to you, but not within the parameters of what the college feels is required knowledge ( #3 of the founding concepts ).
2. The second biggest risk, as I see it, is a loss of faculty autonomy. As you know, our faculty often come from different programs ( School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cooper Union, UCLA, etc. ) which have their own issues regarding academic freedom, curriculum and pedagogy. We have heard time and time from them that they elect to come to vermont college in order to teach in a place where they can expand their own knowledge in partnership with the students. So imagine how difficult it would be to recruit and sustain the amazing faculty we have been fortunate to work with, if vermont college is only able to duplicate what they have elsewhere. Taken a step further, we should not assume that this administration would continue to renew contracts with faculty that may seem in opposition to the future direction of the program.
This is not about nostalgia or updating an outdated model of teaching. This program was intentionally radical at the very start. It found power in that radicalism and continues to serve as a place of institutional critique and safe haven for those who are traditionally restricted and marginalized within academia.
“It is the program’s hope and belief that our students are radicalized by their time in the program. Radicalized in the fundamental sense of having gained a more complex and confident view of the world as artists and as people.” - G. Roy Levin Art Education as Cultural Practice 1998
In summary, I have elected to see the “staffing change” as more then a warning shot of upcoming changes. I believe it was a tactic of intimidation and a calculated strategy to remove dissent in an effort to put change in motion.
Will the program actually cease to exist? Of course not.
It will keep going and expand enrollment and have pretty marketing materials and branded coffee cups, umbrellas, USB drives and whatever else Marketing can find to put that horrible logo on.
But will it be a program that is worthwhile, for both the student and faculty? No.
I believe once you remove such critical items as the overt intention to achieve self-actualization, you have lost any worthwhile reason to expect someone to make a commitment to VCFA, both as a student or as faculty.
It’s my hope that through our collective efforts, we can remind the administration that the
MFA – V program was born out of an attempt to offer a model of arts education that is inherently radical, inherently student centered, and inherently non-hierarchical. We can remind them of the value found within a faculty that shares power with the administration and works collaboratively for the good of the college. Finally, we can remind them that we are living proof of how successful this program can be, and that as visual artists, the process of education is just as important as the process surrounding cultural production. If not more so.
Obviously you have your own reasons for taking (or not taking ) action. I at least wanted to explain my own.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Thank you for your reply. Yes, we have different perspectives on the current situation, my concern at the moment is the future of the program. I appreciate your recognition of my investment in the program. Indeed, that is what happens when something so magnificent and rare as Vermont College comes along; you allow yourself to become invested.
I imagine that you would consider yourself invested as well. However, due to recent events, I remain skeptical.
With regards to my observations that the program is being slowly dismantled and the founding pedagogy left for dead, I would like to ask you to expand on your reply. Specifically, you state that the administration is fully committed to the support of the program. I have listed three questions below that provides an opportunity for you to provide further details of this commitment. You will find that none of the questions relate to marketing.
1. Address the ways in which you will continue to support students in their development. Specifically address your commitment to students in helping them determine their own educational values and describe how you will help them achieve self-initiated ideas of progress and professionalism.
2. As you may know, the pedagogy of the program is based on the principal that the creation and reception of art resides within a social context, and that the process of making art should be as valued as the art object itself, if not more so. Describe your commitment to this pedagogy and explain what steps you have taken to make sure it remains in place.
3. Describe the ways in which you will maintain having the program be student centered. Specifically, address the role of the administration in working with faculty in the support of the student being at the center of the program. Please provide an example that will illustrate this support during the next residency.
Thank you in advance for your answers. As you know, the alum have a vested interest in making sure that the vision of the program and the mission of the college work in collaboration with the program's pedagogy to provide an exceptional education. We expect nothing less from the administration and faculty, since nothing less was expected of us.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I do not know why Jessica is no longer on staff at VCFA, but I do know that it signals a watershed moment within the program, and that it's time to take action. Now!
Jessica's devotion and passion for the program has been unquestioned since the beginning in 1991. Yet, she no longer has a voice within the very program she started fewer then 2 years after we became Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Therefore, it's now our responsibility to be stewards of that which has served us so well.
Jessica's vision, in collaboration with Roy and the Faculty, is directly responsible for helping us make our way through the world in a manner that accomplishes meaningful social change, on whatever scale we have elected to act on.
That vision has thrived under the administrative leadership of the first private military college in the country (Norwich University) and survived under a suffocating and underfunded leadership ( Union Institute ). Yet here we are finally under our own leadership, and it is on the verge of collapse under it's own weight of indifference.
Vermont College of Fine Arts was born in 2008, and currently sits on the eve of being granted accreditation by New England Association of Schools and Colleges ( NEASC ). The administration needs to account for how it will fulfill the mission of the college in the future, in line with the vision that brought it ( and us ) to this place, at this moment.
Please write directly to Tom Greene and Gary Moore to explain your concerns. Some potential questions you may want to consider:
Ask how the current mission of the college will be achieved, starting with the first residency in the history of the program without Jessica Lutz.
Ask what the administration is doing to support the faculty in their attempt to achieve the mission.
Ask why the administration is placing more value on increasing market shares within low residency graduate degree programs, rather then living up to the pedagogy that got it where it is today.
Please make no mistake about the severity of the situation. The program you recognize as independant, radical, responsive, holistic and not afraid of failure, is well on the way to becoming what Steve Kurtz terms as a program full of formulaic production, ..."Fulfilling a set of expectations (formulaic production) is not conductive to the creative process, and in fact is its death in bureaucratization."
Please let your voice be heard. This collaborate art piece we call MFA-V needs our help.
Surely you have cause for your disappointment, but among the possible wrongs, I want to point to one on which I hope you'll let me respectfully disagree. I can't agree that the administration of VCFA has either let down or is engaged in dismantling the MFA-V program. While the program surely needs some growth in enrollment, its pedagogy is unchanged, its marketing is being improved, its technical needs will soon see a surge in budgeting, and most important, the students who graduated last semester were assessing their life-changing experience in the program using the same glowing terms that you use.
The administration is fully committed to the support and growth of the program. The program is succeeding and I trust that it will continue to succeed, because Jessica and other staffers and the faculty and graduates and students and graduate assistants have built it into a marvelous institution that is bigger than any one person.
I wish you well, Craig, and I know you will be true to yourself. If that truth ever involves a desire to come back to support -- or just visit -- the program, you will find an open door.
Your letter to alumni on March 16th notifying us that Jessica Lutz is no longer a member of the Vermont College staff is cause for great concern. Simply put, I have lost all trust in your leadership of the college, as well as the strategic vision that Tom continues to promote. While I remain proud of being associated with the college for the last 12 years in a variety of capacities including that of student, staff, critter, artist-teacher and advocate, I am deeply ashamed of the turn the college has taken since the launch as VCFA.
I had the pleasure to testify in front of the NEASC accreditation panel on their first visit to campus during a residency. I was along side my peers, students, staff and faculty when i stood in the Chapel and offered my heart felt experiences to the panel on how Vermont College has allowed me to not only be a better artist, and a better teacher, but perhaps most importantly, how my art and teaching work together to affect meaningful change. I rightfully attributed this ability to the pedagogy of the MFA-V program. As such, I am dismayed to see what has become of the program after that evening in the Chapel.
You state in your letter that " VCFA is proud of the distinctive teaching methods and strong reputation of its program in Visual Art and looks forward to investing and planning with faculty to build the program an even greater future."
Frankly, you inherited the legacy of MFA-V and you have done very little to assure it's future. This most recent event proves you have no interest in such things as "distinctive teaching methods", or a progressive pedagogy for that matter.
I strongly suggest that you and Tom look closer at the elements that built the program that you are so quickly dismantling. As a start, I suggest reading the catalog essays from 1998, including: Art Education as a Cultural Practice by G. Roy Levin; Pedagogy and Autonomy, or, Why I Teach at Vermont College by Steven Kurtz; and Lines of Flight by Faith Wilding. You will find that these essays speak to the important role that collaboration plays within art, education, and dare i say it? Life.
For my part, I will continue to work at being a better artist and teacher. However, I will not be standing up anytime soon to be an advocate for VCFA again. Nor will I continue to participate in the program if asked.
Craig Snyder MA, MFA
Art Department, Humanities Department
Cornish College of the Arts
1000 Lenora St.
Seattle, WA 98121
Dear Students and Graduates of the VCFA Program in Visual Art --
I’m writing to tell you about staffing changes in Visual Art. Danielle Dahline has accepted the position of Interim Director of the program following the departure of Jessica Lutz as Director. Jessica will be greatly missed at VCFA and we know, of course, by so many of our students and alumni who have been through the program under her watch. The College is grateful for Jessica’s many years of committed service and we all wish her well in her new directions.
As many of you know, Danielle has worked for years with Jessica and is an experienced administrator. She holds an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is well-acquainted with College personnel and procedures. She is an experienced college teacher. Thanks to eight years of work with the MFA in Visual Art, she knows program operations thoroughly and is well prepared to help faculty assure a smooth transition.
Faculty will work with administration to select a new program director, and I hope to send news before long about plans for that search. In the meantime, please know that all of us here at the College will be working hard to ensure that your needs as students and graduates of the program are met. VCFA is proud of the distinctive teaching methods and strong reputation of its program in Visual Art and looks forward to investing and planning with faculty to build the program an even greater future.
Please contact me if I can be of help.
Vermont College of Fine Arts
36 College Street, Montpelier, VT 05602