Art department to make cuts

A recent internal review of the University’s art department calls to phase out visual communications and printmaking, while strengthening photography and new forms of media.

The department of fine arts and art history finalized a report this semester that assesses equipment, personnel and space needs.

“This plan has as its goal a review of what the department considers to be its strengths, what it considers to be its weaknesses and which areas we would choose to hire more faculty members in,” said Jeffrey Anderson, the department’s interim director.

The report is unavailable to students.

Visual communications courses, an area of concentration which teaches students about design in art packaging and advertising, will be dissolved gradually over the next few years. Key aspects of design will be integrated into existing courses, Anderson said.

Printmaking, the practice of duplicating an image, will also disappear from the department’s curriculum in the coming years.

“Like all such plans, this one requires some hard decisions about the viability of certain programs, and I will work with the department to manage these difficult matters,” said William Frawley, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, in an e-mail. “The department should be commended for taking on this difficult task and coming to realistic solutions.”

Anderson said he is firm on ensuring that students currently engaged in either area will be allowed to complete their studies. Classes that students need to fulfill requirements in will continue to be offered.

A small number of undergraduate students and four graduate students are studying visual communications. There are no majors or graduate students involved in printmaking.

“This is a strong department, and I think it can be one of GW’s best,” said Anderson, who cautioned that no plans are final and explained that changes would be made during the next four to five years.

In addition to the cuts, the department seeks to add “new media” to its curriculum. New media is computer-based animation and filmmaking.

An internal study of the arts program usually occurs every five years. The latest review was conducted two years early at the prompting of Frawley, Anderson said. The final report was delivered to the dean earlier this semester.

“Last year, after an unsuccessful search for a new external chair, I directed the department of fine arts and art history to engage in serious and thorough self-examination and submit to me a short-term action plan,” Frawley said. “This is a plan that is something between an annual departmental report and a five-year review and is a kind of working blueprint for the near-term.”

Frawley said he supports the plan where practicable in terms of budgetary constraints. The plan spells out curricular staffing and physical space problems and solutions.

The art department is divided along three lines – art history, fine arts, also known as studio art, and interior design. Anderson said the department has also been offering photography for the last year and a half and would like to enlarge its scope.

“I think it’s worthwhile,” said Lauren Michel, a sophomore art minor who is focused on photography. “It’s beneficial to your work to know what others were doing and are doing.”

The department wants to expand art history, concentrating more on late 19th and 20th century art.

“It’s not good to exclude any one area,” said David Black, a junior majoring in art history. “To get the full appreciation of art, you should give equal attention to every period.”

The report also envisions setting up courses at local art museums and adding to the faculty members who currently work at museums. The department also wants to make better use of internships.

“We need to integrate these institutions into the experience here at GW,” Anderson said.

Class sizes rose dramatically over the last three years in the department, he said, because of the higher number of students enrolling at the University.

One goal of the department is to reduce the number of students in some classes. Many already have a cap of 50 students, but Anderson would like classes of six to 12 students offered to majors.

Two full-time professors are being sought for interior design and studio art. Although optimistic, Anderson said tenured professors are hard to secure because of the financial commitment that the University would make.

“We deserve to have a first-rate department,” he said.

The department has had some updates to technology, but Anderson said some of the machinery being used was outfitted when the Smith Hall of Art was built more than 22 years ago. Some of the equipment no longer works.

The report was compiled by full-time faculty, who considered each division of the department separately. Information sessions were also held with students and part-time faculty so they could contribute ideas.

Anderson said the report goes beyond analysis and devises an “action plan” about how to achieve the recommendations.

“It’s a matter of where do we get the funds to fix things,” he said. “How do we get funds to replace things? What can we work around? What can we get the University to support?”

Anderson said, “We’re all very excited about the possibilities.

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