S.O.S. The Good Ship VCFA is now without a captain !

On March 16th, 2010 VCFA announced that Jessica Lutz, Co-Founder and Director of the MFA in Visual Art program, is no longer on staff.

This event serves as a distress call to take collective action NOW.

Let our collective voices speak loud and clear. Hold the administration accountable for keeping the VCFA legacy alive!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Call for Collective Action

Like many of you, I have had the pleasure to know Jessica Lutz for years. Like many of you, I have been a student, an alum, an alum assistant, an Artist-Teacher, and a member of her staff.

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.


  1. Craig
    This is a painful loss.
    We are all in debt to Jessica for her years of commitment and attention. When I visited the residency this past February I found that I was visiting a diminished place. The faculty, the ideas, the students are all strong and vital, it's just thin. Not enough students...which means not enough communicative energy. This marginal program is in danger of dying. It seems that VCFA administration is aware of this and that something has to change. The strength of the program is in the faculty and in the pedagogy.
    With affection and respect,
    Craig Stockwell

  2. Craig - i think your observations are correct, to a degree. i've come to the conclusion that the administration is happy to see this normalization. in fact, i believe they want as much hegemony as they can get. they speak nothing of pedagogy, only of enrollment, brand, and market share. a sound financial footing is important, but what good is it within a program without critical dialogue? Where is the autonomy that faculty once had? Why is our program seen as a threat to the writing programs?

    You are absolutely right in that having more students will increase the vitality. Yet there is a sea change going on which involves taking democratic and collaborative decision making from the faculty and staff, and placing it within the centralized tower of College Hall. Away from the classroom, away from the Artist-Teachers, away from crit sessions, away from lectures, and away from the visual culture.

    This program has shown that it can succeed and thrive by being a model that operates slightly outside institutional power. It's the very reason that we all are blessed to work with some of the best faculty in the country. So why then, does an administration that was self formed, on the eve of becoming accredited, feel this program is a threat?

    My hunch is that it does not fit the business model. Traditional academics have a rigid power structure that without fail leave the faculty to enact policies, procedures and products that come from within an administration, not outside of it.

    One of the strengths of our program is that faculty have the power of dissent, and the ability to bring what are typically classified as views from the margin, into the center of our academic life. Students grow from it, faculty grow from it, and in a combined way, the program grows from it.

    My fear is that those days will soon be gone.

  3. Craig
    Thanks for the thoughtful response. You're right that the program as we know it may be in danger to the needs of survival...I hope not. I hope it survives and flourishes and carries on the work that has been so meaningful for so many of us.
    Craig Stockwell

  4. Hi Craig,
    I researched G. Roy Levin’s origination of VC within the history of studio art pedagogy as my final thesis project. It is as you and Stockwell say. Last year I took to writing a blog that includes short essays on art, culture and theory (All Of The Noose That Is Knot, bkeyper.wordpress.com). This is a posting entitled Good Business Is The Best Art, dated December 20, 2009. It certainly is not what G. Roy Levin had in mind.

    An acquaintance stopped in to visit. He was in the states from Tokyo where he is living, studying Japanese and traditional wood block print making. The few prints he brought to show were gorgeous, a step up from what I had seen the last time he was by. We talked of what life in Tokyo is like. I asked about the art scene, whether he was showing anywhere. He looked at me quizzically. He couldn’t afford to show, he said. In addition to paying a hefty commission if the works sell, the individual artist must pay the gallery in order to show. Few artists can afford that, he said….
    I suspect that all may be changing in the direction of the Japanese model. I was considering a recent “call for entries,” you know, the application that is the first step for the unrecognized to get their work “out there”. The “call” application specifies the entry fee for consideration, the commission terms of the gallery/event, as well as the criteria by which work to be included will be selected. This “call” was put out by a “not for profit” community arts organization. They have just completed building a new arts center in their upscale suburb. Now they would like to line up showings and events for this building’s main gallery and adjacent spaces. There was a new criteria for selection included that I had never seen before, at least not with a not for profit sanctioned show like this. The application wanted to know whether the prospective artist will supply marketing resources, and if so, how much and what kind.
    This just in: The celebrated art school in an adjacent city (with a century of experience) has just announced they will be offering an MFA program in the upcoming year. Part of the required curriculum is, you guessed it, courses in marketing. “Good business is the best art.”
    Warhol’s imperial grip on 21st century American visual culture can best be summarized in his oft repeated quote: "Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art." Aligned with the market centered, market driven political economy of the last 10 years, it is no wonder that BFA programs now shepherd aspiring artists in the intricacies of business management and entrepreneurship, and MFA programs are now poised to hone their marketing skills. Is it too early to speculate on Warhol’s place in art history? Could it just be possible, even probable, that Warhol will follow the same course as Social Realism did in the states of the former Soviet Union? After all, those works and that style maintained hegemony on visual art for some 50 years primarily because of their intimate affiliation with the political economy of that time. Portraying the best art as good business promotes the same sort of social engineering agenda that portraying larger than life stereotypes as citizen worker heroes does. There is a distribution of sense in both that restricts the capacity of imagination and restrains its expression. What could post Warhol visual art be like? Dare we even imagine it?
    Stanley Wrzyszczynski