To begin, good news! The Art School is not being plundered by MBAs or by those pesky scientists. Overall, the University is facing a lower attendance rate currently but the Art School has shifted back towards its average attendance rate of 350 people after a 3 year dip in enrollment. The incoming freshman class is up 39% putting the school at around 300 undergraduates in all. In fact, the Art School was able to find funding for 3 full scholarships, one of which was awarded to an incoming student this year, the other two being reserved for upcoming years.
So what's the story here? The University is going through what many other non-profits are experiencing, economic stress. A task force was formed more than 18 months ago and committee members spent the summer working with each other to identify how the University could streamline without cutting too deeply. They prefer to think of it as prioritizing rather than cutting of course. The art school was well positioned in this process and looks to incur minor cuts along the way. One of the largest changes is that the MFA program, which had not accepted any new students since 2007, was officially cut as a program. Eliminating graduate studies would have ramifications for any school, but it seems that this move made official what was already the case, more than altering the scope of the school's capabilities.
Oddly, considering the uptick in video and digital work in general, the other large change is that the undergraduate media arts program has been recommended for decommissioning. This is probably more reflective of the reputation that the Art School enjoys. As long as I've known the school, I've always thought of it as a school where people have the knack to draw and paint with a level of optical reflexivity-- not to say that there isn't abstraction at Hartford. That perception is probably based off of me knowing the work of people like Jim Lee or Dennis Nolan, but add in Jaclyn Conley and you see what kind of work I associate with the school. The exhibition of Stephen Brown's work in Joseloff Gallery is a great example of the visually astute art that I'm talking about.
The minor in Fine Arts that we reported being on the chopping block is, according to Dean Nancy M. Stuart, safe for now. She and the Art School were able to convince the University that chopping the minor would result in no savings, as there have been a grand total of 2 people in the last 5 years who have graduated with that minor. In coming weeks, the provost has the final say on whether the minor and media arts program will be decommissioned. The provost could still choose to cut the minor, but as there is no cost to the university to run that minor, to what end would it be cut? In the long view, successful business leaders often are collectors, so why squash the art bug out of your business or pre-law undergrads?
The school may have lost its on campus graduate program, but their low-residency programs in Photography and Illustration are still being offered. The photo program just graduated their first cohort, and the Illustration program turned 6 years old this year.
In the end, I can't talk about what's happening to our liberal arts colleagues from the other parts of University of Hartford, but Hartford Art School should come out of this relatively injury free.