CAA News Today

Andrea Kirsh, an independent scholar and curator, is CAA vice president for external affairs. In summer 2010, she and Linda Downs, CAA executive director, held meetings with leaders from art schools and departments in New York and Philadelphia.

Linda Downs and I had a great opportunity to learn more about the membership and its needs by talking with a number of department chairs and deans in New York this summer, despite the 95-degree heat, and then during torrential storms in Philadelphia (my home) in the fall. We wanted to let them know about the upcoming Centennial conference and, in particular, the opportunities for students. Such prospects include free Wi-Fi at the Students and Emerging Professionals Lounge, which will be open throughout the conference and doesn’t require a badge. If students can’t afford the $120 discounted fee to register for the entire conference, they can attend on a session pass and participate in numerous free events, such as Convocation, sessions planned especially for the Centennial, and all ARTspace events, including the Annual Artists’ Interviews. They can volunteer as room monitors in exchange for conference registration.

Mostly we visited with colleagues to listen. We asked what they thought CAA has been doing right, and how we might better serve their needs. We learned a lot. What struck me was the range of comments and the variety of useful suggestions. Nancy Barton, chair of the Art and Art Education Department at New York University (NYU), told us about her school’s program in Ghana, which made us realize that CAA’s revived International Committee should include artists as well as art historians. Downs and I then met with Pepe Karmel and Kathryn Smith, the outgoing and incoming chairs of NYU’s Art History Department. They teach undergraduates only, so we discussed ways the CAA conference might give their students taste of graduate school and professional life, as well as a chance to network.

David Rhodes, president of School of Visual Arts, opened our visit by vigorously accusing CAA of favoring art historians over artists on the issue of orphan works and opposing droit moral for artists. We let him know that CAA doesn’t favor either side on orphan works: the organization supports potential users making a serious search for copyright holders and, failing that, publishing the works and then paying copyright holders if they turn up. And we’ve never opposed droit moral. Rhodes’s major request of CAA was help in organizing foundations courses, which always receive the lowest ratings. We’ll bring the issue to the Education Committee, which regularly presents conference sessions on pedagogy, and will also consider it as a subject for the practical publications that CAA hopes to produce.

The issue of advocacy came up again during our visit with Patricia Rubin, director of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts; the topic was the cost of reproduction rights. Rubin came to the institute from England, where several major museums recently eliminated charges for scholarly use of images. Downs told her that she regularly attends the American Association of Museum Directors’ meetings and works the crowd on the issue, but it could use help from a more concerted group of organizations.

In Philadelphia we began at the University of Pennsylvania, whose faculty has been very involved with CAA. Holly Pittman, chair of the Department of the History of Art, was pleased that I’d be addressing Penn graduate students about the upcoming conference during a departmental colloquium. At University of the Arts, Joe Girandola, director of the MFA programs in ceramics, painting, and sculpture, was enthusiastic about the value of CAA conferences and suggested that his school organize a group to attend the New York meeting in February. His colleague, Susan Viguers, director of the MFA program in book arts, thought CAA didn’t do enough for artists; however she hadn’t attended recent conferences and had no idea about ARTspace activities. She also didn’t realize that this year all of CAA’s Professional-Development Fellowships were targeted at artists because of their greater funding needs.

Stephen Levine, chair of art history at Bryn Mawr College, told us about calling CAA in the past to request demographic information about the field to use in hiring discussions. He said more such information would be useful, and also hoped CAA might help schools reach minority candidates whose work spans fields (archaeology, anthropology, history, and area studies) and who might not be alert to possibilities in art history. He further expressed the desire that CAA develop standards so that schools do not require letters of recommendation before candidates are shortlisted.

Timothy Rubb, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was emphatic that the most important thing CAA could do for museums was to circulate the word that art-history departments are not turning out sufficient students in areas such as East Asian and ancient Near Eastern art to fill curatorial positions. He also hoped CAA might address guidelines for museum-studies programs, as his institution finds that graduates of current programs have neither useful skills nor realistic expectations.

Gerald Silk, chair of the Art History Department at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, gave us a tour of his school’s new facilities and showed us a number of studios. We were able to talk with artists and art historians who work together successfully, asking them to suggest ways CAA might build on the presence of both groups at the Annual Conference. They suggested that art historians might want to join artists in participating in critiques. Hester Stinnett, printmaker and a Tyler vice dean, thought we should consider themed conferences, so that one meeting was distinguished from another. We liked the idea and said that the upcoming Centennial conference in New York was built around a series of interdisciplinary sessions chaired by pairs of scholars from different fields, and that the Los Angeles conference in 2012 was addressing art of the Pacific Rim. Stinnett also suggested, based on her experience with a recent graphics conference, that students preferred informal events away from the conference center to the usual formal sessions. While CAA always offers many offsite events at conferences, it will be a challenge to organize a conference for five thousand attendees if that cohort continues to prefer dispersed events.

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