Former College President Christopher Dahl changed the course of Geneseo’s art programs in 2010 when he decided to deactivate the studio art major. Eight years later, it’s time for Geneseo to bring it back.
Dahl and the administration at the time decided to discontinue studio art—along with speech-pathology and computer science—due to a series of state and SUNY budgetary cutbacks, according to The Lamron in 2010.
To make up for a $2 million shortfall, the college announced that it would cut off these three departments after the 2013-2014 academic year, the year of graduation for the last batch of majors.
Crises often spawn rushed decisions and this case was no different; Dahl said he made this particular choice only a couple of days before he announced it. Students and faculty in the programs said they felt “left out to dry” or “upset,” because they felt the college cut their programs without fully considering their value or consulting with the affected parties, as reported by The Lamron.
Despite this apparent misunderstanding, studio art can certainly add value to Geneseo.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have connected people’s health to the observation of public displays of art. When participants in the study saw works of art or nature, they often felt a sense of awe.
Researchers found lower indicators for autoimmune diseases or mental health issues in the art observers after these experiences, according to a university press release.
When Geneseo offered studio art classes, sculptures, photographs and paintings populated buildings at the college and on Main Street. Today, the only time art can beautify campus is when a student devotes their free time to creating something they feel comfortable sharing or when the college can spare the money to bring an exhibition to campus.
Providing a formal outlet to create studio art would improve not only the lives of artists, but also the everyday member of the campus community.
In the years before those decisions, studio art boasted more majors than disciplines as far afield as French and geology, according to the 2011-2012 Geneseo Factbook. In the year that Geneseo discontinued the program, there were 78 students who had a major or minor in studio art or a minor in graphics production, according to the 2013-2014 Geneseo Factbook.
To Geneseo students who want to pursue a degree in studio art, there is no substitute. Where a geologist might be able to find parts of their interests in Geneseo’s geography, physics or astronomy programs in addition to their own, an artist who works with physical materials can find no replacement in dance or theatre—they’re practically different languages.
Geneseo finally has the opportunity to restore the program. Due to the nature of past discontinuations, former interim president Carol Long said that the college would need to wait a minimum of five years after cutting programs before they could restart the studio art department, according to a 2014 article from The Lamron. The end of the current academic year would mark five years since the discontinuations.
Even today, the college wouldn’t have to do much if it wanted to begin offering studio art to students again. While the college stopped using the highly specialized art studios, they did not convert into other types of classrooms as originally planned. The college would likely need to just hire a couple more faculty members and update outdated equipment before it offered classes.
The American economy has shaped up significantly in this time, and the administration that chose to deactivate studio art has dissipated—eight out of the nine members of the president’s current cabinet have arrived since the discontinuations. The college should now have more financial room and greater ability to overturn bad decisions.
Out of all of these worthwhile considerations, the greatest reason to restore studio art is to demonstrate a commitment to the arts that many students feel Geneseo lacks. President Denise Battles’s decision to discontinue funding for the Finger Lakes Opera—a local arts institution that provided students with affordable experience—and to restrict the ability of student arts groups to perform on-campus inspired two petitions on GeneseoSpeaks and change.org.
The petition “Support the Arts in Geneseo!” received 360 signatures— the most signed petition out of any created through GeneseoSpeaks—and “Keep the ‘Arts’ in ‘Liberal Arts’ at SUNY Geneseo” received 524 supporters on change.org.
Students want to see that the college cares about arts and cares about producing well-rounded graduates. Studio art could be the vehicle for the college to demonstrate that. This also goes for students outside the discipline of studio art, according to former associate professor of studio art Patrice Case.
“We service biology majors, geology, philosophy, math, physics—those are the people that take our courses,” former associate professor of studio art Patrice Case said to The Lamron in 2013. “Those are the people: the left-brained thinkers that are asking for right-brained tasks to come to them. It makes a whole person.”
If the college does want to support the arts and, by extension, fulfill its commitment to liberal arts education, it should consider restoring the studio arts program.