College works toward maintaining a studio art presence on campus as department closes

Students and faculty in the studio art department are preparing to enter their final semester of studio art at Geneseo. The department will officially close along with the computer science and speech-language pathology departments at the end of the spring 2014 semester. Administration announced the deactivation of the three departments in fall 2010 in response to a $7.2 million funding deficit, allotting a three-year period for the college to adjust to their absence and for current students to complete their coursework.

According to Interim President Carol Long, departments were selected for deactivation by the administration in conjunction with the Strategic Planning Group and the Budget Priorities Committee, with considerations including student achievement, graduation rates, cost and expense of programs.

Due to the presence of affected faculty members in the United University Professions Union on these advising committees, the names of the departments in question were kept anonymous in their discussions.

Long added that the shutdown of the departments accounted for approximately $2 million of budget cuts instituted to compensate for the deficit, with other sources of funding drawn from early retirement initiatives and other spending cuts.

The college has effectively bridged gaps left behind in programs such as art history, which included a studio art-based track in its curriculum, and assisted studio art majors with completing their degrees on time, according to the Dean of Curriculum and Academic Services Savi Iyer.

Long acknowledged the importance of studio art as a tenet of the liberal arts curriculum, and of eliminating the classes from the fine arts prefix of Geneseo’s general education requirement.

“We certainly are aware that the arts is an important part of our understanding of human life and of creativity,” she said. “It’s clearly not a statement on the part of the college that studio art isn’t important or that we don’t want to have it around.”

While there will be no studio art classes or department in coming years, several studio art professors are eligible for a phased retirement program, allowing them to continue teaching at Geneseo for an agreed-upon period of years.

According to Long, one studio art professor has accepted a phased retirement agreement and will teach courses through the art history department in the 2014-2015 school year, with others potentially joining in coming months. The phased retirement professors may teach classes incorporating some studio art, but they “won’t be exactly the courses we have now,” Long said.

The specialized art studios in Brodie Hall will undergo a program study similar to that of Sturges and Fraser Halls to determine the reallocation of space on campus with the completion of construction in Doty and Bailey Halls. While the studios may go unused in the fall, the Brodie Hall study will start as early as summer 2014.

The college is working to incorporate art into student experiences in other ways. Professor of studio art Patrice Case said that the place of studio art is unique at Geneseo.

“We service more than just people coming in for a studio art course. We service biology majors, geology, philosophy, math, physics – those are the people that take our courses,” she said. “Those are the people: the left-brained thinkers that are asking for right-brained tasks to come to them. It makes a whole person.”

An arts presence will continue on campus on a smaller scale. Director of Galleries Cynthia Hawkins recently developed the Geneseo Integrated Gallery program in conjunction with administration – a committee of professors in a wide range of departments who will advise her on creating interdisciplinary art exhibits. The first exhibit under the program, titled “1888 in America: William Trost Richards’ ‘Seascape’ Contextualized,” will open in October 2014. Hawkins is calling for interdisciplinary student and faculty papers and presentations to accompany the exhibit discussing historic topics.

Additionally, Residence Life is incorporating an arts learning community into Nassau Residence Hall that will encompass studio art as well as music and dance.

Senior Carly Fowler is one of three current studio art majors. She is unsure of what kind of legacy the studio art department will leave at Geneseo, saying, “I think we’re all just a little bitter, and the closer it comes to 2014, the closer we are to being like, ‘This is the end.’”