Artists must do more than just make art. Teaching, curating exhibitions, negotiating contracts, conducting studio visits and writing press releases are some of the professional practices that career artists can master, yet these skills are largely absent from college-level studio art curriculum.
Hoping to fill this void, the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, in collaboration with the Hyde Park Art Center, is offering a new visual arts certificate program. At twelve months long, the curriculum includes four courses plus a studio component. It is perhaps one of a kind among institutional peers.
“To my knowledge, we are unique,” said Dr. Kineret Jaffe, director of the Graham’s partnership office and a volunteer chair on the Hyde Park Art Center’s board. Jaffe met me, on the vert Schweinfurt carpet of the art center’s downstairs meeting space, to explain the program to me. We were joined by her office’s program coordinator, Nicole Yagoda, and HPAC’s director of education, Mike Nourse.
“The idea is… to provide artists with the skills to make their practice useful, and financially successful,” Yagoda said. “And fulfilling as well. Some of these classes, like the business class, obviously, is practical, is going to help you really make sure that you are commercially able to do this full-time if you want to.”
The program’s design has a focus on pragmatism—a quality difficult to find in most MFA programs. “I don’t think you need to have gone to art school to be involved in this program, but you need some sort of experience in the art world,” said Nourse. “This isn’t a ‘what is art?’ program, it is more a taking the next step as an artist program.”
“How do we advance the careers of artists?” Jaffe asked. “Once you’ve taken that introductory studio class, or you are already a practicing artist and you want to be moving to the next stage of your career, how do you do that?” The answer is what Jaffe calls “a synergy between theory and practice.”
The certificate program’s courses, including the business, curatorial, educational and the writing sides of art, seek to open alternative revenue streams—a phrase familiar to students of Lynn Basa, who is an instructor in the program—with the aim of eliminating the notion of “the starving artist”—an unfortunately relevant cliché—and to encourage artists to invest in themselves, as Jaffe put it.
“The idea of teaching artistry is really twenty or thirty years old,” said Nourse. “That isn’t to say that those artists should change what they’re doing, to become writers, or curators, or teachers, but it is going to benefit you to learn what’s out there.”
Nourse continued, “This program partnership is really pushing to develop Chicago artists. We want to see Chicago artists on the international art landscape. We want to see them successful. We see how much work our city puts into the art community, and we want to stop artists from thinking they have to move to New York.” (B. David Zarley)