Today marks my first day of unemployment from the small, mission-driven liberal arts college to which I devoted the first twelve years of my career as an artist/educator. My trajectory as an artist began some years prior, joining forces with academia full-time in 2004 with a faculty appointment in Studio Arts. It’s been rewarding to be an integral part of an innovative, counter-culture curriculum – the very hallmark of this off-the-map college is the motto “for the Liberal Arts, the Environment, and Social Justice.” Taking students to remote earthworks sites and urban landscapes; being instrumental in the renovation of an historic building into a thriving arts facility; and overseeing the inception of a rigorous BFA in Visual Arts; made for solid experience in interdisciplinary, experiential teaching. Besides the paycheck, what could be better?
It’s certainly disappointing, but not surprising, to see this era come to a close. So many of us hoped that the liberal arts would prevail at this dedicated, yet underfunded, holdout. Nonesuch luck. When it comes to eliminating departments, there’s a national trajectory to follow: with funding, the arts are last; with cuts, the arts are first. Counter-culture defeated.
During my own college education (at a state-funded liberal arts college where the arts still prevail), I held steadfast to the belief that small class-sizes, interdisciplinary learning and individual mentorship were the best way to success in higher education. Once innovative, this philosophy has since been subsumed by the traditional university: a different model, on a larger scale, succeeding in reaching many more students. The survival of the fittest is the discourse of evolution. The university has become the last holdout, recognizing the essential role of the arts across disciplines; the pivotal place of the arts in innovation; and, most importantly, continuing to support majors and careers in the arts. For this, I am thankful for a new position, and looking forward to engaging with a new cohort of learners. Onward, ho.