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Director's Notes – October 2021

Submitted on October 6, 2021 - 10:22am
Jamie Walker
Jamie Walker

The typical energy and anticipation that comes with the beginning of the academic year was amplified by the joy and trepidation of returning to campus 570 days after classes were shut down on March 9, 2020. The start of the year was truly like coming out of hibernation: from the sound of the bells welcoming us back to campus, to the heft required to open the front doors of the Art Building, to the aroma of coffee wafting out of Parnassus, to the indescribable sensation of meeting with students and colleagues in real space and time. While the sense of trepidation lingers, I am hopeful that this too shall pass so that we can once again fully engage all of our senses in the pursuit of understanding our world through the study and creation of art and design.

The School of Art + Art History + Design is doing surprisingly well, probably much better than expected in the midst of a pandemic and times of social unrest. Thanks to the concerted and creative efforts of our students, staff, and faculty, our core mission of teaching and research adapted as best as possible to the circumstances at hand and in so many interesting ways. Whether addressing COVID, social justice, or DEI+A, our community remains actively engaged, as several of the stories in this newsletter will attest to. Seeking to challenge the status quo and shift relevant paradigms, a new reading group, Dismantling the Canon, and website was organized by the Graduate Students of Art History, and the Division of Design hosted A Symposium on Design Graduate Education. Coupled with a program enacted last year in collaboration with the Office of Minority Affairs and Divisional Dean of the Arts Catherine Cole to better support students in need, our Academic Advising and Student Services team opened a Free Materials Library that has been well-received by donors and students alike.

For the first time since the Art Building took its current form in 1968, a major renovation is underway that will impact much of the first floor, building out dynamic new studio and shop spaces, developing student-centered gathering spaces, and relocating the Jacob Lawrence Gallery to emphasize its importance on campus and create an exhibition space that best supports its mission. The design build team of GLY + Mithun has been contracted to turn our vision into a reality. The support provided by Provost Mark Richards and recently retired Dean of Arts & Sciences Robert Stacey is an unprecedented commitment to the centrality of the arts at the UW. While the majority of the funding for this project is coming from the UW, we are extremely grateful that donors have already contributed $1.3 million of the School’s commitment to raise $2 million by December 31 to complete the project in its entirety. Thank you for considering joining this exciting and vital campaign.

One advantage of our buildings being more or less empty for a year and a half is that UW Facilities was able to refresh the Art Building with new paint, refinished woodwork, and upgraded lighting. While at first our custodial team was charged with the crucial task of disinfecting all of our spaces and establishing new cleaning protocols, they also thoroughly prepared and cleaned our spaces for our return. In honor of the essential work all of the UW custodians perform, the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, with the assistance of guest curator Evalynn Fae Taganna Romano, has installed a suite of photographs taken by members of the UW custodial staff during the pandemic. The exhibition is entitled (in)Visibility and will be on view for the duration of Autumn quarter in the hallway next to the gallery.

Not only are we transitioning back to campus, but multiple staff and faculty positions are also in flux. Many thanks to stellar staff members Mark Rector, Julianna Jones, Haley Lee, Michael Van Horn, and Jeanette Mills (newsletter writer and editor) for all of their excellent work at the School. We are currently hiring new staff and are excited to introduce Greg Ruffing and Rhett Johnson who joined us in August. Mark Zirpel, the inaugural holder of the Dale Chihuly Endowed Chair of Glass, has retired, and we are delighted to introduce our new full-time faculty Mimi Chusid, Sangram Majumdar, and Divya Mehra. Recent months have also been punctuated by the loss of several notable alumni – Philip McCracken, Chuck Close, and Philip Levine — as well as Professor Emeritus Denzil Hurley.

In this period of re-emergence, I am reminded of the strength of community. How and why we spend our time, with whom, and for what, has taken on a sense of deliberate thoughtfulness — what was once taken for granted is now a gift. In this spirit, thank you for your time, attention, and care.

Jamie Walker

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