July 14, 2020
Dear Members of the School of Art Community,
I have had the honor to serve as the first woman Dean of the School of Art, and now to enter the fifth year of that term upon the 150th anniversary of the School of Art’s founding and its enrollment of the first women at Yale University. My experience has been enriching, given the opportunities to lead, to teach, and to befriend some of the most engaging and dynamic young artists—artists who will soon become colleagues, co-teachers, and, most likely, my mentors. As I commence this fifth year, I have decided not to seek reappointment as Dean after my initial term, ending June 2021. At that point, I look forward to stepping into my full-time role as tenured Professor of Art at the Yale School of Art.
The School of Art is an extraordinary graduate program, situated as it is among the estimable resources of the University’s collections and archives, and within its greater teaching community, all of which endow the practice of art with the potential to borrow and abstract from many disciplines. In its own immediate research environment, the school is augmented by professional schools of architecture, drama, and music, led by my dynamic colleagues, Deans Berke, Bundy, and Blocker. I am grateful to them and to other Deans, Department Heads, and Professors throughout the University, who have helped build new relationships with the School of Art that will continue. Several years ago, for example, we were granted an anonymous gift to establish the Art and Justice Initiative, which enabled the School of Art to start a summer teaching program in cooperation with Zelda Roland, Director of the Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall, whereby our graduating students have the opportunity to teach courses in art at Connecticut correctional facilities. Cross-University relationships such as these bring the School of Art and its students into correspondence with complex and otherwise difficult to access forums.
Part of any Dean’s responsibility is to understand what students desire from their education, as well as prospects that may lie beyond their awareness, and to strive to make both available. Each year, I teach MFA students across all disciplines by way of Critical Practice, a course that continues this autumn in its fifth edition under the same name—Diving into the Wreck—an apt metaphor for current societal experience borrowed from poet Adrienne Rich. The course asks of artists to extend the articulation of their artistic subjectivity beyond a singular “I.” As it is conducted in cooperation, I thank, among so many, Muneer Ahmad, Rizvana Bradley, Andrea Fraser, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, Claudia Rankine, Walid Raad, and Angie Keefer. The course also engages graduating MFA students as TAs, and for their important voices I thank Farah Al Qasimi, Lucy Lindsey, Nate Pyper, Kenturah Davis, Luke Libera Moore, Ian Page, Ernest Bryant, Phoebe Helander, Azza el Siddique, Suzanna Zak, Braeden Bailey, Felix Davey, Karinne Smith, Efrat Lipkin, Nicholas Weltyk, Bryant Wells, Angela Chen, and Mariel Capanna, in addition to post-graduate research associates Edi Dai, Willis Kingery, and Ayham Ghraowi.
Some months ago, I had the opportunity to write an essay unfolding around the history of the School of Art since 1969. For that commission, I interviewed numerous graduates and faculty involved with the school since the 1960s, most identifying as either women or non-binary, including several who had been under-recognized or unacknowledged within the School’s primary narratives during the intervening decades. What began as a writing assignment for the Yale University Art Gallery evolved through this extensive interview series into an understanding that adherence to long-standing structures of leadership, governance, and tradition has caused deeply-felt losses. These stories, too, must be recognized within the School of Art’s long history, and I am honored to participate in a process of bringing the legacies of many of these women forward.
I am the child of immigrants, someone called “Martha” instead of Marta for the first eighteen years of my life, before I had the courage to correct anyone who said it otherwise. I grew up among dissident intellectuals in a home environment that fostered differences of opinion, within an encompassing public environment that urged cultural assimilation and scapegoating instead. I was fortunate. I made it to this place. Others have been far less fortunate, stunted by a national climate that ranks individuals according to race, class, lineage, and trusts.
In this covid season, now developing into a covid era, we, as educators and administrators have been challenged by a rapidly shifting set of new circumstances under which to proceed and for which to be accountable. It has been heart-wrenching to witness the impact of the covid disruption on our MFA graduate students and their peers, nationally and globally. I commend the cooperation and efforts of the School of Art faculty, staff, and administration in their tireless commitment to seek optimal solutions in such an uncertain time. And yet, we must also recognize that the immediate consequences of the current disruption reveal larger structural problems of unsustainable tuition costs, which precede the pandemic. Given this, and within a further context of encroaching policy efforts around DACA students and other provocations against international students studying at institutions of higher education in the United States, we are entering a new era undoubtedly belonging to artists who no longer abide how things have been.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and a long history of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in this country, it is important for us to acknowledge that we are complicit in that racism. This autumn’s edition of Critical Practice will focus on the Black class struggle and will include poets, artists, activists, and thinkers Angela Davis, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, Fumi Okiji, Hortense Spillers, and Cameron Rowland, among others, who will speak to the structural underpinnings of racism. I was named the first woman Dean in the School of Art’s 145th-year history. In my personal opinion, the time has surely come by now, with a student body as diverse as the Yale School of Art’s today, for the first person of color to lead the School into its 151st year.
Thank you, President Salovey, for providing me the opportunity to serve as Dean of the School of Art, a role that I will continue with rigor and commitment through the upcoming academic year, to the naming of my successor, whom I look forward to working under and with as a member of the faculty. Thank you to those within the School of Art’s Deans Council who have been supportive and generous with respect to building the School of Art’s endowment, and to those who have become friends—John and Kate Carrafiell, E-Len Fu, Susan and Richard Hayden, and Clifford Ross, among others. I look forward to working during the months to come with the faculty, staff, and administration of the School of Art, and to relying on the continued support and cooperation of the School of Art’s Assistant Deans—Sarah Stevens-Morling, Taryn Wolf, and A.L. Steiner.
With sincere regards and with appreciation,
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean
Professor of Art
Yale School of Art
Last edited by: Sarah Stevens-Morling
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