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Director's Notes – April 2021

Submitted on April 20, 2021 - 10:24am
Jamie Walker
Jamie Walker

The marvels of spring have never been more appreciated than they are now: birds and blossoms abound, we are reveling in the extended daylight and a hint of warmth, and vaccines are giving us hope that a new normal is on the way. While there are moments when all seems right, the past year has taught us that the concept of how justice and tolerance are applied is far from certain and universal. Anguish and disbelief have shaken our community to the core as we bear witness to the continuing harm inflicted by humans on each other. A greater awareness of bias, selective justice, and tolerance has inculcated a deeper understanding of equity and a commitment to avoid complacency. While the School of Art + Art History + Design has long championed freedom of ideas and welcomes creative expression, these concepts continually evolve and require renewed attention and action. The School is engaged in conversations to identify new ways of actively committing to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives. While culture shifts take time, the School is making progress on a number of fronts. Together, students, staff, and faculty are focused on transforming historical institutional power dynamics to create a more inclusive, equitable, and safe learning environment that recognizes the needs of each individual as we foster a sense of community.

As you will read throughout this newsletter, the School continues to be a nexus for creative activity and scholarship. In a significant show of support for the Arts on campus, Provost Mark Richards and Dean Robert Stacey have committed funding to help renovate parts of the Art and Music Buildings. For the Art Building, this will center on the relocation and renovation of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery in order to amplify its presence on campus and provide a contemporary space appropriate for the exhibitions and programming initiatives that best support our mission. Additionally, generous matching support from donors — over $1,000,000 pledged so far — will enable the School to extend this renovation by updating studio classrooms, shops, and faculty offices located on the first floor of the Art Building. Construction is scheduled to begin during winter quarter 2022 and be completed within a year.

News of the remodel was made public by the Provost at his recent Town Hall where he focused his comments on commitments being made to improve diversity and equity on campus. Assistant Professor of Art History and Kollar Endowed Chair of American Art, Juliet Sperling, presented a brief overview of Jacob Lawrence, his appointment to join the UW faculty, and the creation of his first commission depicting the journey of George Washington Bush, who in 1844 was the first African American to settle in the State of Washington.

It is hard to fathom that it was just a year ago when we began teaching all of our classes online due to COVID-19. While this presented a challenge, faculty nonetheless made the transition to online classes with creativity and determination and — with the support of staff — did so in response to the continued interest and flexibility of our students. We have been able to offer a handful of in-person classes, including an outdoor sculpture class taught by Assistant Professor Michael Swaine, and we eagerly anticipate a return to in-person teaching in September with the start of the new academic year. One of the positive outcomes of virtual teaching is that it has made it much easier to broaden our temporary hiring pool to ensure diversity of quarterly faculty. Thanks to support from the Center for American Indian & Indigenous Studies (CAIIS), the School was awarded two Native Knowledge Grants that allowed us to invite Lena Tseabbe Wright and Nadia Jackinsky Sethi to teach with us during Spring Quarter. In a virtual environment, we successfully conducted three, tenure-track, faculty searches. We are very excited to announce that Miriam Chusid, Assistant Professor in the History of Japanese Art; Meichun Liu, Assistant Professor in the Industrial Design Program; and Sangram Majumdar, Assistant Professor in the Painting and Drawing Program, will be joining us next year.

The School of Art + Art History + Design Advisory Board began hosting the biennial Anne Focke Arts Leadership Award in 2016. This award serves to recognize individuals who have worked to enliven and strengthen the arts community through visionary and active leadership. It is with great pleasure that I announce the recipient for 2021: former executive director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum, journalist, and community leader, Ron Chew. I hope you will be able to join us for a virtual celebration on May 14.

One of my favorite features of the newsletter are the stories and interviews with current students and alumni. Holly Chan, BDes IxD 2017, shares her reflections on being a student at the UW. Holly’s time here helped launch her fascinating professional journey where she has pursued her personal passions while serving on design teams at Ancestry and Blue Origin.

Spring also heralds the final quarter for more than 200 students who will receive their degrees from the School at our Graduation Celebration in June. While all of our undergraduate seniors in Art and Design will have their work featured in online exhibitions, the Jacob Lawrence Gallery is also hosting two pop-up exhibitions that are open to the public via RSVP. The Henry Art Gallery has reopened and will once again be the site of our annual MFA + MDes Thesis Exhibition, which will also include many of our 2020 graduates who were unable to exhibit their works last year.

Thank you for reading. Be safe, be kind, be engaged.

Jamie Walker

  • Director, School of Art + Art History + Design
  • Professor, 3D4M: ceramics + glass + sculpture
  • Wyckoff Milliman Endowed Chair in Art