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!



Your Letters to VCFA

 Gary,

As you can imagine your news regarding the "departure" of Jessica Lutz
from the MFAV program at VCFA was, and IS, crushing!
I'm still reeling, however I think my pain and anger are sufficiently
under control that  I can write to you about what for me is truly a
life changing event.
I was one of the 1st two alums that Jessica invited back to the
residency to help with office work and assist the Exhibition
Coordinator with events.
The MFAV residencies have been a big part of my professional and
personal life for over 15 years. It's been an educational experience
that keeps on giving, in no small part due to the presence and support
of Jessica Lutz.
I cannot imagine being there, or doing it, without Jessica.
I just can't even picture the campus without her being there.
I've survived losing our building, losing our trees and nearly losing
our program and campus.
I don't know how I can survive losing the person who embodied the
spirit of the program to me and so many others.
I'd decided it was probably time to hang it up, however I remembered
that I also have a rich history, and as much loyalty to Danielle.
Danielle has asked me to return to help with the res in August and I
have committed to do that.
I cannot abandon her at this time, while she's  been placed in this
very difficult position.
I also realized that as a professional I cannot abandon the students
and faculty either just because of an administrative decision that I
don't understand.
However, I want to be very clear that I couldn't disagree more with
the VCFA administrative decision to terminate Jessica Lutz's
association with the college and the program. If I thought there was
any way in hell that something could be done to reverse this decision
I would be doing it.
I request that in acknowledgment of her many years of exceptional
service to the college and the MFAV program that you offer to Jessica
the same "open door" that you so generously offered Craig Snyder in
reply to his email.

Respectfully Submitted,
John Solaperto '95

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Gary's response provided by John:


Thanks, John.  I know your sincerity and I respect all you say.  About your concluding idea: I like it. One student suggested specifically that Jessica be invited back to hand out diplomas, and I must say I really favor that idea.  This is not the time for anyone to make a decision on that, but I have to say I like the vision and will promote it if I can.

It's great that Danielle will have your help.  She's stepped up bravely in a difficult situation.

Gary 

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Dear Gary:
We felt great sadness at reading your email announcing Jessica's departure.  We can only assume, since Jessica did not make the announcement herself, that she did not leave of her own accord.  This is very distressing and something I hope you, Tom and the rest of the VCFA community truly understand.  We started in the MFA-V program in 2004 and have witnessed first hand, the dedication and careful guidance Jessica has provided. 

Our degrees have weight because of the vision of G. Roy Levin, a vision we deeply believe in and champion through our work and lives.   His philosophy promotes a collaborative, radical educational model that has transformed our lives and art practices in ways we could never have imagined.  It is a vision in which we have a vested interest and one we feel entrusted to ensure remains the foundation of the program.   Jessica has defended and protected that vision since the program’s inception.  We feel great gratitude towards her and the focus she has maintained on G. Roy’s legacy of authenticity and honesty.

You are asking us to trust you in this decision – a decision that removes a guardian of G. Roy’s vision and seems to undermine that vision at it’s very core.   We have worked long hard hours with Jessica during residencies, created promotional videos, spoken before the board and taken on staff responsibilities because of our belief in the program and also, because of our trust in Jessica.  We do not understand how someone so dedicated to the program, so supportive of students, alumni, staff and faculty could be anything but be an asset to VCFA.  It goes against everything we have personally experienced.

We have great love for VCFA and want only the best for the institution - but we have lost faith.  It is impossible for us to support you in this decision.  We will look towards other alumni and faculty for guidance on how to move forward and hope, that in time, our faith will be restored.
Sincerely,
Matt Page and Robert O'Connor
MFA-V August 2006 

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Dear Tom and Gary,
The recent news that Jessica Lutz has left VCFA amidst an apparent change of direction in a program so dear to me
has given me, like many of my fellow alums, no small concern. I have held off in making any public comments or
inquiries as announcements and responses have come in from all sides. I have to say that I am not satisfied so far with
the administration’s responses.
This unexpected change has prompted me to personally evaluate the current institution’s values, vision, insight and
ability to provide the quality of experiential education that did so much to shape us during our time at Vermont. I am
left unsure as how to proceed. I certainly would not wish to champion or provide support to an institution that does not
share my personal values and ethics. I am therefore very eager for some disclosure about all the situations at hand,
both because of my professional and personal respect for Jessica, and no less out of concern for the future direction of
my alma mater. I realize that when people leave an institution, there may be matters that the institution cannot
rightfully or ethically discuss, as you alluded to in Tom’s email earlier today. I think, however, that transparency and
openness in relating the future direction of the program to its alumni is not at all too much to ask.
Gary stated in response to Craig’s questions about the VCFA mission that “while the program surely needs some
growth in enrollment, its pedagogy is unchanged…” from its original focus. I must echo, even after the responses from
Gary and Tom, my unwavering support for the school’s original mission to offer artists an experiential, studentcentered
graduate program. The highly individualized curriculum, tailored to each student’s needs, is a big part of
what made our program successful. I’ll be frank, responses that marketing, increased enrollment and new faculty
recruitment are part of the school’s investment leave me very wary.
It is difficult to reconcile, as rightly stated, our program’s “distinctive pedagogy” with increased enrollments. The
administration’s desire for marketing and growth is understandable, if not agreeable, but the strength of VCFA has
always been its focus on individuals. Developing a personalized educational experience unique to each artist’s vision
of themselves, with a focus on process over product, requires smaller enrollments and a cohesive and supportive
community of students, faculty and staff. Any changes to that community must be very carefully measured.
So again the departure of a co-founder is all the more disconcerting. Even moreso is the sudden and mysterious
manner in which it occurred. As a technologist, it is immediately apparent to me that Jessica has been
“disappeared” from our school’s website. I find it reprehensible that Jessica’s long-term contributions to the program
have been deleted, as though she and her accomplishments never existed. You should understand how upsetting it is
for a group of artists to see her cut off from communication, especially from channels relating to an arts program that
she, along with Roy Levin, was a primary force in creating. Of course, Google’s cache or the Wayback Machine
quickly reestablish her credentials, as well as her commitment to “directing the MFA in Visual Art program through
active participation by all constituents, re-examination of the assumptive norms and practices, and the struggle to keep
democracy in play at a time when top down leadership is often seen as normative.”
This is what I’m afraid we are losing. Considering the rampant proliferation of trade schools and the unfettered
expansion of many liberal arts programs in recent years, I was proud of my student-centered graduate education in
Vermont and all the individual attention my growth as an artist received. This is real investment. I recently read a
New York Times article, Peter Goodma’s The New Poor In Hard Times, Lured Into Trade School and Debt, that
highlighted the rise of for-profit trade schools that sell students promises of success but often offer little more than
formulaic instruction and high debt. For better or worse, people form opinions of schools quickly and perceptions are
hard to change once made. I often feel that I have to defend my school and clarify that VCFA is not a distance
education art school. I can defend it because I have the conviction that is not.
I really don’t ever want to doubt that conviction, and I implore that you both elucidate these unsettling growth
strategies with regard to the concerns voiced since Jessica’s untimely departure. Artists and academics, and we are
both, must remain confident in their art and their education. I want VCFA to be a place I am proud to say that I
attended, and a school I would recommend to any of my students who have what it takes.
I do not want a $40,000 regret that I attended a once unique school that was turned into a well-marketed diploma mill.
I have seen marketing efforts pushed as the last effort of institutions that are losing their valuable assets, like
convicted, consistent long-term leaders and supporters. I hope that you will keep the long-term commitments of
current students, alumni and faculty in mind as you plan for the future, and maintain open communication with all of
us.
I look forward to hearing your response to my inquiries.
Regards,
Jolanda-Pieta (Joey) van Arnhem, M.F.A.


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Gary's response provided by Joey:

Dear Jolanda --




Thanks for writing us with your concerns. We certainly join you in wanting to keep quality of education and quality of community way ahead of concern with dollars. Some numbers might be helpful here. The MFA-V program now has about 50 students, a number to which it has fallen from the more sustaining numbers of the past. In the past it has functioned effectively, with no talk of loss of quality, with over 70 students. We'd like to get that enrollment to about 75, a number our experience shows us we can handle. The increase of students will allow us to increase faculty proportionally (one faculty member for each 5/6 students), with the benefit of widening the array of the media and types of expertise faculty bring, a feature that has special value in your program where faculty pride themselves on their cross-disciplinary and collective methods for reviewing student work. So we're not talking about trying to turn the program into a money machine. We want to keep it healthy and exciting.



It's also important to recognize that we have zero interest in turning away from or in any way letting down on the student-centered pedagogy of the program, which is a hallmark of all three VCFA MFA programs, and the very fabric of our educational philosophy, known to and practiced by the faculty in both of our writing programs as well as in visual art. The MFA in Writing, by the way, functions in a very effective and highly praised student-centered fashion with over 130 students -- though, as I said above, we see the capacity on Visual Art as quite a bit lower. Far from "degree mill," we have advance word that this program will be rated in the summer edition of Poets and Writers as the number one low-residence writing program in the nation. Our MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults has about 70 students and while it is so specialized that it is not the subject of ratings, it is perhaps even more highly regarded in its field, where it is thought of by some as one editor put it, as "the Harvard of writing for young readers."



Administration and faculty alike will take seriously your urgings to assure quality and to maintain MFA-V's important legacy.
Gary

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Dear Mr. Moore and Mr. Greene,

I have been saddened by the manner in which you have handled the matter of the departure of Jessica Lutz as Director of the Master of Visual Arts.

The most recent actions of Vermont College of Fine Art seem to have brought to the fore a certain amount of rejection of your assertion, Mr. Moore, that "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 find your above statement emblematic of a growing direction among Higher Education Administrators -- that an individual who practices commitment, passion and autonomy is more often found to threaten the "normalcy" of the routine operation of an institution. On the contrary, it is within the unique quality of the individual that an ember of humanity resides. That resident ember fuels the institution. No one person "is" an institution; but it is often we find that a singularly devoted individual creates the dynamic of success and guidance within a program. If not, then we have no need of presidents, deans, or directors.

The program, as nurtured under the leadership of Ms. Lutz, grew into a model of unique and autonomous learning. Many schools around the nation have looked to the former Vermont College MFA-V program to initiate their own similar pedagogy. I was drawn to the Vermont College model as it championed the role of the artist, the artist's voice and their effective application within society. This uniquely crafted program is not a dynamic that can be served by current trends of rubrics and standardized learning outcomes, which I fear has become the mainstay of our Nation's schools.

Time will tell as to whether VCFA will continue to offer a program geared to students who seek a demanding and unique visual arts experience. Actions indicate much -- far more so than words -- and I hope that your administrative actions in the immediate months and the coming years prove to exhibit a value for what has been one of the most powerful and enigmatic educational experiences offered by a college. I too have often advised many prospective students to consider your program. I will be hesitant to continue to do so after this event unless your administration firmly and publicly expresses through words, deed and action that the MFA in Visual Arts program will indeed remain intact.

Sincerely,

Tom Ogburn
MFA in Visual Arts, February, 2007

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Gary's response provided by Tom Obgurn:

Dear Tom --

thanks for sending your thoughts. Your urging for us to maintain the student-centeredpedagogy is one that wetake seriously. This approach to education remains alive and well in the visual art program and is certainly nothing that we would move away from, as it is also the basis of learning and teaching in our two MFA programs in writing. Certainly you are right though that in a time of transition like this, we must be especially mindful about maintaining the legacy, and we will.

Gary

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Dear Gary and Tom

As a former student, I find the action of the schools administration and specifically the use of this phrase completely repugnant. It is antithetical to the spirit of VCFA. I intend to work to mobilize my fellow alumni and keep this program true to the vision of it's founder.

--
Michael A Conway
278 Clothespin Bridge Road
Webster, NH 03303
603.648.6148
maconway123@gmail.com
(tweet) @maconway123
(skype) maconway123
(AIM) maconwaynh

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Dear Tom and Gary:
As a member of the VCFA community and alumni of the MFA in Visual Art program, I ask that you act on your recent commitments to the future of the program by working in collaboration with the faculty to write and publish an MFA-V mission statement that includes the program’s founding pedagogy of student centered learning through individualized curriculum, by July 30th, 2010. 

Having graduated from the program 9 years ago, the time and distance from my educational experience has enabled me to compare it with both anecdotes and portfolio results made by my peers in Southern California who attended graduate programs at California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), Art Center of Pasadena, The Claremont Graduate Schools, and Otis College of Art. I consistently find myself marveling at what a unique and strong program I was privy to in Vermont. Unlike the homogenous learning experience my peers endured at "big name" institutions, the pedagogy of the program in Vermont was refreshingly challenging, and always inspired. I believe the faculty (many of whom teach at the "big name" universities) were able to bring this to the campus because they shared in the feeling of freedom and empowerment that was natural to such an individualized program. 

The mission statement and a willingness to adhere to the founding pedagogy of the program is central to a commitment that we alumni hope you will continue to renew as the program grows. While marketing dollars and advertising campaigns will distribute the brand of the program to more students, we fear that favoring only these types of strategies, which will undoubtedly result in growth, will also result in overlooking the core values of the program. Please balance the advertising budget with a commitment to student centered learning through individualized curriculum. This pedagogical pursuit is not easy. It requires work, time, and more effort than a homogenous platform for sending students through a program that takes the factory as its developmental model. However, the results are more powerful than any marketing campaign. This program has already demonstrated growth by word of mouth. It is the conviction of the students, faculty, artists in residence, artist teachers, and guest reviewers that support the "brand" of the program, generating a reputation capable of competing with a national selection of graduate colleges of art. 

Finally, I hope that in addition to responding to the quantity of letters from people like myself who are concerned for the future of the program, you will also understand, reciprocally, the strength of the program and the frame of mind one must be open to if she will benefit from teaching, learning, or even assisting in the program in an administrative capacity.

Sincerely,
xtine burrough

Class of 2001
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Dear Tom & Gary,




I am writing to you with the utmost importance, to convey my highest regard for the unique pedagogy

which the Vermont College of Fine Arts has offered me during my MFA in Visual Arts studies. I am

currently in my final semester of study and am planning to graduate this summer in August. Recently, I

received a letter of notification stating that a new director would be sought, in place of Jessica Lutz. I

do not know what could have possibly caused this change to occur. For the past two years I have

known Jessica to be an instrumental component in establishing and ensuring the continuance of the

unique pedagogy set to this program by its founder, Roy Levine. Please let me describe to you the

importance of continuing this unique pedagogy.



From your online profiles, I notice that you are both writers, not visual artists. Please, understand that

visual art is a practice which has: a long global history, a social placement, an association to creative

processes as well as academic practices, and it possesses the potential for monumental social change. I

imaging as writers you can relate to these layered aspects of your disciplinary voice as well.



The VCFA in Visual Arts program model is vital in establishing and maintaining all professional

aspects of the visual arts practice I outlined in the paragraph above. The program model is broken down

specifically into: residency, artist-teacher mentorships (studio work), and visual culture projects

(research and writing practices). All three of these parts of the model are crucial to the articulate

development of professional visual artists (artists who study at the MFA level). Being an MFA

candidate means more to me than simply manipulating material at my studio by myself. Being a VCFA

MFA candidate means that I am engaged in various aspects of artistic practice with various

contemporary artist-teachers. I am also engaged in fundamental aspects of philosophy, art history, and

writing which history has deemed as monumental within the evolution of modernity. Please excuse my

use of all caps but, THESE ARE FORMS OF DISCOURSE WHICH CANNOT BE HYPOTHESIZED.

ARTIST-TEACHER MENTORSHIPS AND WRITING RESEARCH PAPERS ARE INTERACTIVE

AND MANDATORY IN LEARNING TO ENGAGE IN DISCOURSE & DISCURSIVE PRACTICES.

Before enrolling into the VCFA program, I had other offers for graduate school, two with scholarships,

one with a fellowship. I CHOOSE VCFA FOR ITS UNIQUE PROGRAM. I believe so strongly in its

model that I have risked my marriage, my job, and my life on it. And, I'd do it again to ensure its

continuance. When I entered into the program, I had a strong desire to break free from being an isolated

artist. I longed for interaction, knowledge, and experience which could lead my work to do something,

to mean something... to be made out of a desire to engage in conversations... to evoke thought and

change. If I wanted to learn how to make gallery art or coffee table works, I could have stayed in my

studio and worked alone.



THE VCFA MODEL IS TRULY ONE OF A KIND AND OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE because

IT ENCOURAGES THE INTERROGATION AND REFLECTION OF SOCIAL PRACTICES AND

ACADEMIC DISCOURSES. It is a program which transforms artists from being vessels of knowledge

and skill into artists who seek to engage individuals... to inspire new meanings through INFOMRED

artistic decisions and forms.



As I am in my final semester of study, I am currently reflecting on the massive transformation I have

gone through during my studies at VCFA. I am awestruck by this transformation. Words cannot fully

describe how grateful I am to Roy, Jessica, Danielle, the Faculty, my Artist-Teachers, my fellow

students, Guest Artists, Guest Critters, and all others who have been a part of this transformation. The

program and its pedagogy have given my work new direction and profound meaning. Cultivated within

me is a great light, a phenomenal zeal for knowledge and engagement which I will forever work to pass

on to all my own students. This light I am talking about is the light of engagement and social action.

This light has the passion and wisdom to interrogate and construct; to invite and invent. Without this

light, we operate under the strict utilitarian conditions and drives of capitalism and all of its guises.
Sincerely,
Lisa Ulik

(Secondary Art Educator & Current VCFA student)

MFA in Visual Arts, August 2010

12 comments:

  1. I am writing to inform you of my deep concern about the future of Vermont College. I am sure I am not the first nor will I be the last to express my fears and hopes for VCFA.

    My time at Vermont College was life-changing. I sought a program that would fit my intensity and interests and I was fortunate enough to find it in your program. I began my studies in February 2007, when Jessica Lutz was program director and VCFA was on its way to becoming independent. At that time, few of the people I had spoken with had heard of the program that I so excitedly raved about. What was I so excited about? I was excited about the many different viewpoints, interests, strategies and methods of working. I was excited about the diverse student body and the equally diverse faculty. I was excited about the wonderful balance of autonomy and authority that I saw and that was bestowed on me.

    By the time I graduated in February 2009, nearly every time I mentioned the school, I heard something to the effect of, "Oh, yeah, I've heard of that place. I hear it's a great program!" While I didn't seek that kind of validation, I have to admit, it is quite flattering to hear. That said, I would be extremely angry AND hurt if the faculty, pedagogy or general spirit of the school were to be extinguished.

    Until now I have responded to weekly/monthly inquiries about the school from potential students with the utmost pleasure and willingness to share my absolutely amazing time there. But we have lost Jessica and I fear that along with her will go the stellar project that she helped to create. I have tried to keep a level head, hope for the best, but frankly, this means too much. And as I continue to try and build a thriving practice and art career, I can only hope that the name VCFA will continue to mean as much as it once did. The pedagogic model that was created and fostered by Roy and Jessica WORKS and needs to be preserved. The future of the school (and its students) depends on it.

    Sincerely,
    Charmaine Felix-Meyer
    MFA Visual Art, 2009
    1624 Carmona Ave
    Los Angeles, CA 90019
    cfelixmeyer@gmail.com
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    GARY'S RESPONSE TO CHARMAINE

    Thanks for sending your thoughts, Charmaine. Truly great legacies persist long after their founders, and we are determined that this will be one such. We will guard the flame.

    Gary
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    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Gary and Tom,

    I certainly appreciate your immediate, apparently level-headed responses to so many concerned alumni.

    Perhaps, however, it would be best if you would take those many moments required to respond to these letters, and use them to draft that mission statement we're all so concerned about.

    Seems it might save us all time, energy, and flying fingers.... and it would certainly ensure that we're all on the same page.

    Sincerest regards,
    Judy Haselhoef
    MFA VA, 2000
    Williams Bay, WI
    artmaker@haselhoef.org

    PS No response needed here -- just that mission statement! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Mr. Greene,

    I am writing to inform you of my deep concern about the future of the Vermont College Visual Art program. After receiving many letters from fellow graduates who are concerned, I know I am not the first nor will I be the last to express my fears for the future of VCFA Visual Art program given the current situation.

    The time I spent at Vermont College was invaluable. When I was searching for a program that would suit my interests and needs, I was fortunate enough to find VCFA. I began my studies in February 2007. At that time, Jessica Lutz was program director and VCFA was on its way to becoming independent. Additionally, few of the people I had spoken with who work in academia had heard of the program and felt it was well respected given its low-residency status. Why? It was sited that the faculty was well respected, the course work was considered rigorous and the methods of evaluation were on par with full-time graduate programs.

    As time moved forward, I became enthusiastic about the diversity of interests, strategies and methods encouraged. I was excited about the mature student body and the equally mature and diverse faculty. After entering the program, I was impressed with the wonderful balance of autonomy and authority that the program required.

    By the time I graduated in February 2009, the faculty and administration at the institution where I am a member as an adjunct faculty, expressed admiration for the quality of my work (both academic papers and studio projects) and the expectations of the program. While I didn't directly seek that kind of validation, it was welcomed given the amount of work and the financial cost required to complete the program. That being said, I would be deeply concerned if the faculty, pedagogy or general spirit of the school were to be extinguished. Quite frankly, I would be angry that the over $40,000 I spent were to mean nothing if the quality of the education was not well respected in both academia and the “art” world.

    Until now I have responded to all inquiries about the school from potential students in a very positive and encouraging manner. Now that Jessica is gone, I fear that the quality of education and community spirit will disappear as well. As I continue to try and build a thriving practice and career, I hope that the name VCFA will continue to mean as much as it once did and that I won’t be in a position where the money, the time, and the effort I spent will have been a waste. The pedagogic model that was created and fostered by both Roy and Jessica worked and needs to be preserved. The future of the school (and its students) depends on it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. michelle hagewoodApril 15, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    Dear Gary and Tom,

    I am deeply concerned.

    About a month ago, I wrote a letter to you expressing my dismay and disappointment regarding Jessica's sudden absence, but also my plea for transparency and inclusion of student voice in future VCFA decisions. I offered my support and help in this effort, and at the time, I had faith and optimism in the college's intentions as well as respect for the privacy of the reasonings behind Jessica's departure.

    I did not receive a reply from either of you.

    I had also previously mentioned my role in sitting in on accreditation meetings, and I will remind you again that I have been a part of student recruitment and counseling (by request of Jessica, who's dedication to the continuation of the program was paramount).

    As of now, and until I see evidence of otherwise, I cannot speak on behalf of VCFA. My undergraduate experience was at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and I have become a visiting artist and partner with the school as alumni in a variety of capacities. I mentor recent graduates and work with rising artists in my role as a museum educator at the Walters Art Museum, and I continually point to my experience at VCFA and promote the program. Since Jessica's departure and the silence of the college, I have not been able to speak with any conviction about what the school is and where it is heading.

    Words are easy to lay out in a brochure, and in my position at the museum, I see every day how management can use pictures and language to paint a picture of a perfect institution. But I also work with the community on a daily basis, and I see how glossy pictures, marketing, etc. mean NOTHING without personal, meaningful relationships between the institution and its constituents. You are in dangerous territory the minute you start painting a picture before you know what that picture is about, or WHY you are doing it. VCFA taught me that.

    Visual Art as a term itself is difficult. The VCFA I know and love is about social theory, justice, and constant examination and critique. Student-centered education is simple. It's student-centered. This means, we must understand the artist as one who wears many hats and manifests themselves in a variety of situations across the country. We are researchers, we are educators, we are curators, we are parents, we are children, we are scientists, writers, etc., etc., etc. But these roles need voices, they need to learn to communicate effectively, they need to understand their context, and they need to understand how to examine their own identities. In my undergraduate experience, I received very little of these tools. At VCFA I received all of them. I have seen first-hand the difference between an institution that knows what it is, and one who operates under the "expected" terms.

    VCFA has a very serious responsibility. VCFA empowered me to be an artist who pushes the boundaries of the studio and who seeks to change the world through art. There is no time in this world to mess around with teaching otherwise. I still use traditional art materials, but my language, contextualization, and daily life has been forever transformed by VCFA. Because I was given the individual attention to understand these things about myself, I am now in the position to make a difference somewhere or in someone. Take a minute to think about the problems our society is up against. Recognize yourselves as those who hold the power to do something about it by allowing for art to be pedagogically driven, completely individual, yet dialogic with a greater whole.

    My artwork is on your materials, my face is on your website. I have a right to hold you to these standards. Think about all the other faces and visuals you include in your materials. We will all hold you accountable.

    Thank you for reading this, please show me that you have read it, and prove me wrong in anything that I have falsely implied.

    Sincerely,
    Michelle Hagewood

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dear Mr. Green and Mr. Moore,

    I am writing to express my distress at the loss of Jessica Lutz as Director of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Visual Arts Program as well as concern about what this actually means for the program that I hold with such high regard.

    I did not respond at first mention because I wanted to take time to think and construct a letter that is thoughtful and not just reactionary. Your emails to students and alumni about Jessica’s exit after many rereads seem very divisive. Your ambiguous language seems ridden with guilt, transference and ultimately deceit. You cannot just put words on a piece of paper and feel like you have somehow righted the situation. In addition, the way you mention how the faculty is involved in all decisions and will be in the search for a new director was completely discredited once the students were alerted that the faculty had in no way been a part of the decision regarding Jessica position and in fact found out when we did.

    I am upset the most at the fact that you both seem to not truly understand the importance of the unique “Vermont” pedagogy, otherwise Jessica would still be in her position and at the least the faculty would have been informed before the departure. I chose Vermont because of the unique program.

    My undergraduate program, influenced heavily by an alumnus of Vermont, allowed me to direct my own artistic making and study. Similarly as Vermont, they encouraged research and personal investment. Unfortunately, my undergraduate program wanted to grow and attract more traditional students. They were scared that students could not rise to the challenge set before us by our professors and began changing how the fine art program was ran, the types of courses we were allowed, and even started to control how courses were taught. We constantly had to validate what we did, how we thought and what we made as art. My own personal validation was my portfolio and the confidence and voice, I found through this battle.

    Once I found Vermont I knew it fit perfectly into how I create art. I chose Vermont over four other schools I was accepted to because I had knowledge of how a program like this would let me blossom. In all honesty I did not care about accreditation, how much you marketed or the shape of the facility because I knew that I would have access to what I needed with support from an amazing faculty. Of course there are changes and things that would be nice to have such as more scholarships and I fully understand that these are monetary issues. But at what point does the money and the marketing start to change the program?

    Transparency is important and the administration at VCFA is just making this situation confusing which leads to all of us being worried about our investment as not only students but also people. I feel bad that you both are not more involved in what happens while we are there for residencies. It seems if you were at the lectures, critiques, research groups, etc. you would understand that we are not just students we are all peers of each other. The faculty, students, director!, and staff make up a family- a family that trusts, supports and most of all allows for growth.

    Why do you not respond to the petition for a mission statement that declares and restates the founding pedagogy? Why do you send us corporate written letters that say nothing? Don’t you know that we were taught to question and ask why, to do our research and come up with our own conclusions. What would you conclude from what we truly know… that Jessica is gone, the faculty didn’t know and the administration responses are formulaic, and a feeling that the administration has not been vocal in their true intentions? We may not be on campus at all times but in our own cities, we still have to hold the administration accountable, accountable to what this program was founded on.

    Please do not disappoint or devalue our program. We should all proudly be able to say we graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts!

    Sincerely,

    Amanda Dillingham
    Class of 2008

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  6. Dear Gary,

    I am writing to address my great concern about the departure of Jessica Lutz and about the future of our MFA in Visual Art program. As many have been, I was stunned to learn that Jessica is no longer a part of the program she is partly responsible for having created. The reasons are not known to us, but no matter what those reasons are, this news is very alarming. VCFA means a great deal to alumnae.

    I am asking that you please find out what the program's pedagogy really is and has been before attempting to move forward. I ask that you write a mission statement clearly articulating the goals of the program, the ideals these goals are built upon, and the means through which this mission will be realized.

    Thank you.

    Elizabeth Walsh
    VCFA ALUM '09

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  7. Dear Gary & Tom,
    Just as many alumni have written recently, I would like to add my voice of concern for the future of the MFA-V program. I base this on the enormous pride I feel, not just for my own accomplishments, but for the program itself. I very much want to keep that trust and pride, but it has been shaken by the loss of Jessica Lutz and all the controversy surrounding it.
    The last two years have enabled me to learn how to face intimidating challenges and transform them into artistic growth. This was only possible because of the trust I felt in the foundations of the program; its radical philosophy and pedagogy; its amazing and dedicated faculty and staff. In difficult moments, I only had to remember the achievements in the art work of the graduating class to rejuvenate my trust.
    During my last semester, the faculty and staff worked long and hard to help me find an Artist/Teacher in my area who would meet their high standards. By learning to have trust in their advice and in the program I persevered and it was well worth it. My A/T guided me generously and pushed me to accomplishments I never would have imagined at the start of the semester. When he expressed pride at my undertakings I could honestly only deflect it to the rigors of the program, its design and its people.
    After every residency I came home and proudly showed photographs of the student work to the gallery director of the college where I teach. As a result, our graduating class will have a show here next October.
    When choosing VCFA, Jessica referred me to several alumni whose testimony was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. They told me it was one of the most transformative experiences of their lives. They also advised me to put my trust in the process and the program, no matter how hard that might become at times; they reassured me that it would be well worth it in the end.
    The trust and pride that the VCFA-V community has built over the years is not only well deserved but, I believe, fundamental to its success. Please safeguard that trust and pride for the future.
    Sincerely,
    Susan Holt
    Class of Feb. 2010

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  8. Denise Karabinus 2009April 21, 2010 at 8:28 AM

    Dear Administration, Alumni and Friends of VCFA,

    Having worked as an art administrator at an art college for over 12 yrs I have intimate knowledge of the difficult challenges running a small art program presents. These programs are often perilously enrollment driven to stay alive- if they do not have huge endowments. I have seen difficult decisions - painful faculty cuts and surprising staffing changes, severe budget problems and dangerously small class sizes. The ripple effect of a bad budget year in a small school can last for many years. These challenges are the reality of every small art college. Marketing a program and increasing the class size a bit is critical and required for the program to continue. Remaining closely aligned with the core values is equally important. Small schools like VCFA are closing due to these extreme challenges and yet even in a shifting economic atmosphere A NEW COLLEGE HAS been established! A vision, excellent reputation, hard work and determination of many individuals has made this so.

    VCFA is a special place with intimate relationships between faculty, AT, staff and students. The loss of a much loved staff member is painful and challenging. The mystery surrounding this has made this even more difficult. Myth, rumor and speculation prevail. I have learned through experience that sometimes we never really know what happened - we desperately want to know... so we fill in the gap. This gap is dangerous because it is full of conjecture and fantasy.

    What do we know? How can we go on? How might we move forward?

    VCFA taught us that we need to question authority and norms, that we need to remain active and involved.

    I know that VCFA is a special place. I know that I want to be involved in protecting its integrity and want to make sure that others have the opportunity to have an excellent educational experience at VCFA. I know that it is normal to want to find an enemy or villain in unknown terrain but that there might not be one. I know that my knee jerk -fear based reactions are usually not accurate or useful. I know that - I do not know what transpired between Jessica and the current VCFA administration. I know that I am invested in seeing VCFA continue to uphold the traditions and values that the founding members established. I know that I am capable and able to remain engaged, critical and supportive as I continue to help the college thrive.

    I implore my fellow VCFA alumni to stay involved and stay connected. One of the most productive ways to keep VCFA thriving and true to the values that many of us hold dear is to continue to be involved. We can and will support Jessica and the ideals she held for the college by staying vigilant and co-ushering the college forward into its next incarnation. The college can grow and be healthy without straying from the founding values. I believe this and I know that it is worth continuing to work towards.

    Denise Karabinus Telang

    www.denisekarabinustelang.com

    denisekarabinus@gmail.com

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  9. Dear President Greene and Dean Moore,

    I have never had an occasion to meet you, let alone write, but I am compelled to do so at this time because I am extremely apprehensive about the current state of the MFA in Visual Art program. I have very recently read about the dismissal of Jessica Lutz, which is unsettling and concerning for many reasons and on many levels. Before I discuss my deep regard for Jessica Lutz as one of the founding members of the program, and my views on the vitality of the program, it is only fair that I give you some context as to my own background so that my comments can take on an appropriate perspective.

    With over two decades of experience, 1986 I have been a dedicated artist and teacher with a BFA from RISD and an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. I’ve taught just over half of my teaching career as an artist-teacher in the MFA in Visual Art program and since 1999 I have been invited to be a guest critter at each residency over the past decade. I consider my experience in this program a personal favorite of all the places I have taught and that list includes: Harvard, RISD, Carnegie Mellon, Brown, San Francisco Art Institute, Manhattanville College, University of Bridgeport, Mead School and the Cambridge School of Weston. Going to the residencies and working with VCFA’s MFA students during each semester is the highlight of my pedagogical year, each and every year I have been connected to the program. No other program can compare. No other institution sharpens my craft as a teacher like the one that is presently under your care.

    In my opinion, there is no other program that is as vital as VCFA’s MFA in Visual Art. It is a demanding, revolutionary, visionary, program that has humanistic, dynamic and responsive values that are no doubt helping to shape contemporary American culture, and I do not write this lightly! It has not only led the way for this kind of affective, low residency educational experience, it has inspired others to try and replicate it. Interestingly enough, I have been associated with the first two of the following programs, which I understand designed their respective programs after VCFA’s: SFAI, Lesley, Bard, MICA and MECA. When I praise VCFA, it is with direct knowledge of other programs in mind that I make my claims. Furthermore, MFA in Visual Art is as far as I know the only stand-alone model, which makes it not only a leader in education, it is a beacon to say the least.

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  10. The program is vital because it demands that students balance a rigorous reading component, that is responsible for not just understanding and studying the history of art while they expand and refine the way they make it, it mandates that students adopt a “multi-disciplinary view of knowledge and art practice” that is responsive to “the social, political, economic, and cultural context which necessarily define and condition the production and reception of art.” Furthermore, the program demands the same of its faculty and administration in the service of “student–centered pedagogy where the students create their own individualized curriculum.” The program’s extraordinary underpinnings also mandate a rigorous self-scrutiny, whereby students must seek and assimilate intensive feedback about every facet of their study! And finally, the program’s integrity is kept intact by a self-imposed mandate for a non-hierarchical model of student/teacher interaction and self-evaluation. Talk about visionary! What institution would not benefit from such wisdom? In my opinion there is nothing to change and there is only the lofty, praise worthy values to up hold.

    Every graduation I have attended brings me to tears, for the sheer beauty and depth of the program’s accomplishments made visible by the student work, and the “presentation” of each individual, by the faculty! Each individual who has earned their degree is truly equipped to meet the challenges of being a responsible, contemporary artist and a credible critic of culture. This above all facts is true because each person in the program has to keep a job, more than likely support a family, and balance all that with a rigorous writing and reading regimen as they design, expand, navigate and manage their own studio practice. No other program comes close to doing what MFAVA does for its students.

    I was fortunate enough to meet Roy Levin and we discussed progressive education on a handful of occasions early in my experience with the program. I have been fortunate to have been connected to several institutions that can be called progressive and I can assure you that Roy Levin’s program is among the top schools I am aware of. I have been compelled these last eleven years to adopt his six founding principles into my own pedagogy and art practice. I believe in them wholeheartedly. The entirety of the program, with its extraordinary faculty and students, and here I specifically mean the years since Roy Levin’s passing, with Jessica Lutz as its director, are a true testament to not only the six founding principles and their inherent values, but to the extraordinary depth of dedication to keep the program going at such a level of excellence when there is simply no other precedent to look to for guidance. Often these values were upheld through the most trying of times, which is most commendable! Therefore, it is simply mind-numbing to try and imagine the program without Jessica Lutz, who in earnest holds the history of the program with invaluable empiricism, and who would no doubt advocate for its continual evolution to the last.

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  11. When I received my mid-term packet last week, I could not believe my eyes when I read “recent staff changes in our Program implemented by the administration, namely that Jessica Lutz is no longer our Program Director” I felt confused, shocked and hugely let down. As I read further I became alarmed to learn that “faculty neither appreciated nor condoned Jessica’s dismissal, the administration has made a commitment to us that the pedagogy of our Program with its emphasis on process and a collaborative approach to governance will continue.” I cannot fathom how Jessica’s dismissal is equivalent to a “commitment” to the “pedagogy of the program.”

    If Vermont College is going through hard times, just like every other educational institution in America since the collapse of the financial world as we once new it, than it is not difficult for me imagine the trouble that VCFA is going through. I count myself fortunate that I still have my job when my own school was forced to cut programs and “let go” of nearly thirty people last year in order to meet our Bank’s demand for liquidity. Mind you, it was not our top administration that was “dismissed” from my own institution and we are still struggling to pick up the pieces others held. To be fair, the institution where I teach is over a hundred years old and is probably larger than VCFA, and, it is not anywhere near as vulnerable as VCFA, which is just shy of two decades in age. With this in mind, I simply have to advocate for the “commitment” to look different from how it looks at present, which is bleak. To be frank, Jessica’s dismissal seems a blatant disregard of the values of the program, its history, and its processes. I see no evidence of due process in the letter I received. How could this be so for such an esteemed co-founder of the program? Thus, I am compelled to sing Jessica’s praises.

    I feel I owe Jessica Lutz a debt of gratitude that would take a long time to adequately and properly thank her for. Could I ever do justice for the entirety of my convictions about Jessica? The pedagogical values I know she has upheld and fiercely advocated for have been inspirational and instructive beyond measure. I too have become a spokesperson wherever I teach and I credit Jessica for helping me to see such values regarding individuated attention to students and to shaping the program as a whole to reflect the aforementioned principles. It is not only a loss of a brilliant, dedicated, wise and tireless individual that stirs my blood, it is that a piece of the school's soul leaves with Jessica! I remain impressed by Jessica’s dedication to art, her grace, her dignity and her professionalism, and the visionary way she led the program and worked with the faculty and students alike, often during very trying times and Jessica never lost composure, but kept true to her values, which as I am sure you are aware are identical to Roy Levin’s, the past and current faculty’s, and, current student’s and alumni. Like Roy Levin, there is no replacing Jessica Lutz, who in my opinion should be connected to the program as long as she is living and willing.

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  12. I believe there is now an unnecessary burden and pressure for the faculty as they “move forward” they write in their midterm letter:

    … it is our firm priority that both current and future students continue to have access to the high quality of education we’ve always committed ourselves to. This means that the environment and structure that make such an education possible are not compromised in the midst of the current changes.

    I would also point out that I have been fortunate enough to remain connected with well over one hundred alumni, many of whom continue to work with me as a critter, and who I continue to seek professional connections with as a curator and as a teacher. Right now, in the gallery at which I am the director, I have four alumni in my current exhibition, Fuzzy Logic. In 2000, I initiated my own program called Unfoldingobject School, largely based on a demand from VCFA post-degree critiques. I mention these facts to implore you to listen to the widespread alarm regarding Jessica’s dismissal. I can tell you that the level of concern among alumni and current students is at an all time high. The program is in jeopardy, now more than ever, and they know it. In particular, considering the fact that the primary way prospective students learn of the program is through word of mouth, it seems clear that story of Jessica Lutz’s dismissal is not a story that can do any good for the program; it can only hurt the program’s future on every level.

    I simply urge you to reconsider. I urge you to reinstate Jessica Lutz.

    I am happy to speak with you over the phone if that is of any assistance and if you require anything further of me, please do not hesitate to ask.

    With sincerity, dedication and great admiration for the program and its supporters,




    Todd Bartel
    Art Faculty, Artist-In-Residence
    Gallery Director
    The Thompson Gallery
    The Cambridge School of Weston

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