Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Layoffs at the San Francisco Art Institute

This is sad news indeed but as a former buyer and numbers cruncher for UC, I'd love to look at their budgets to see where the money is going. I remember back when I worked at UC - there was a lot of money spent for things that could have been foregone to make money for the important things. I also remember when that huge "modern" addition to SFAI was built back in the late 60's and early 70's ; the school took on a huge debt load and tuition starting going up by leaps and bounds. Tuition now is sky high and since all levels of society are suffering from the economic downturn, I wouldn't be surprised if the kids (or their families) decided that taking on a huge loan or paying beaucoup bucks from the trust fund is not a wise idea in these times. If you've got that kind of money, a degree from Berkeley or Stanford or Harvard is better value. I also think that if they'd stayed art focused and humble as they did in the "good old days," there would be plenty of students because they'd be able to pay the tuition. But now - every school has to have high-paid administrators, fancy state of the art electronics and all sorts of expensive play toys. Whatever happened to making art? In these days, even the rich can't afford that - plus there ARE NO JOBS when they finish their expensive degree.

From the Internet:
On February 6, an executive committee of the Board of Trustees and a small body of senior Administration, declared SFAI to be in a state of "financial exigency". Financial exigency is defined by SFAI's faculty union contract as "the critical and urgent need for the Institute to reorder it expenditures in such a way as to retain solvency," and essentially indicates that SFAI is in a state of extreme financial distress. Concerns have been raised about what such a declaration means for the future of the school, its reputation, accreditation, and ability to deliver a high quality education to its students.

On February 17, the layoff of the following nine tenured faculty members was announced:
Charles Boone (13 years of service to SFAI)
Stephanie Ellis (11 years of service)
Stacy Garfinkel (10 years of service)
Robert Johnson (29 years of service)
Pat Klein (25 years of service)
Jon Lang (16 years of service)
Janis Crystal Lipzin (31 years of service)
Suzanne Olmsted (17 years of service)
John Rapko (12 years of service)

"In addition to the concern that many students have for these faculty members as individuals, concerns have been raised about the specific way in which the layoffs were done and the impact they will have on the curriculum. Specifically, concern has been raised that the layoffs disproportionately affect those who have been vocal critics of SFAI's current administration, that they were carried out without discussion or transparency, and that the manner in which they were carried out violates of a number of provisions of the faculty contract."

Here's the web page about the layoffs - you'd think that kids who are paying $30,000* a year for art and design classes could do a better job - This is strictly amateur! (I've been corrected on the tuition - it is $30,138 a year. The anonymous poster commented that SFAI is not a design school but as one of the fields of study is design and technology, they could have done a much better job of designing the web page. For comparison, Stanford's tuition is $24,000 a year.)



Zoomie said...

While I think it's sad that SFAI, a wonderful school in many ways, is in sad financial shape and I'm irate that faculty with such long histories are being laid off, I have to take exception with your statement that there are no jobs for art grads.

The museum world, the gallery world, art-centered non-profits, teaching (both private and public), design, advertising, web design, photography studios/developers/printers, and many more all will keep an artist in touch with the art world and afloat while s/he develops her/his artmaking. I'm not saying it's an easy life, but they knew that going in.

The ticket is to get internships while still in school, both to try out possible careers and to build experience. Forgive this ex-career counselor for butting in but art students should know there are all kinds of possibilities for them "out there" after graduation if they will seize the opportunities offered to them as students to learn more about the art world outside the studio. Students, visit your Career Services Office (they have to have one in order to be accredited!) and get going on internships!

Anonymous said...

for the record, the yearly tuition at SFAI is 30,126 (not 70,000)

and SFAI isn't a design-centered program (at least, currently). For the most part it is "fine-art" curriculum (film, painting, sculpture, new genres, printmaking, etc)

namastenancy said...

Normally I do not publish anonymous comments but the poster had an important correction about SFAI's tuition costs and curriculum. He (she?) pointed out that SFAI is a fine arts school and not a "design" school. Nevertheless, any art school that I've gone to requires design classes as part of the core curriculum. If SFAI doesn't, then it's the student's loss - as seen in the referenced web page. The information is important but so is presentation.
RE: the jobs out there. Well, I fear that may have been true for some in more affluent times but not today. Furthermore - and I speak as one who worked as a commercial artist, did a gallery internship and now am a working painter, the opportunities in the Bay Area are few and far between and often depend more on who you know rather than what you can do. It's not an accident that many of the best known Bay Area artists had to leave home in order to get known; Squeak Carnwith is one example but there are more.

Eva said...

It's the same here in Portland. Lots of people with a degree (or two) not working in their chosen field at all. They are waiters and baristas and house painters....

I just learned of someone who is going into a masters program on art criticism, hemming and hawing if it was the right thing to do. Many advised that it was a good thing - but I was kind of shocked at that. I don't really know her, so I said nothing, but it seems like the experienced critics out there who DID have jobs are losing them.
....Well, maybe she doesn't need to make a living!

namastenancy said...

Going to an expensive school - unless you have a trust fund and a family run newspaper job waiting for you when you graduate - is, as the Divine Oscar said- the triumph of optimism over experience. Or words to that effect. Print media is collapsing all around us. Now, I'm not complaining because their disappearance has given bloggers like me an "in" which we would not have had in times past. AND I have a degree in history with a minor in humanities and am now working on another degree in art history with a minor in studio arts. But I am one of the lucky ones; I am over 60 and can take advantage of a reduced fee program AND I'm not looking to make a living or a career as an artist or a writer. For me, whatever comes along is a joyous gift. But years ago, I forced myself to be pragmatic and stuck it out with the day job. I knew too many PhD's and MA's who were - as Eva says - driving cabs or waiting tables for a living while they tried to pay off huge student loans. I really wish that economics didn't play such an important role in the art business but it does and those who are ignorant of that fact only support the predators in this field who are neither ignorant or ethical.

Zoomie said...

Ask your baristas and waiters if they took internships while they were in school and I'll bet most of them will say no. I agree that it can be all about who you know - but how do you get to know the "right" people? You do internships with them! Then, if there's no job with that organization upon graduation, at least you have contacts and true, real-world experience to put on your resume.

It's easy to throw up your hands and declare it impossible to get an art job - harder to get out of the classroom/studio and meet the very people who might make a difference to your job search later.

Maybe I'm an incurable optimist but when I worked as a career counselor at SFAI, I witnessed that the students who were "on the ball" with internships and making contacts were the ones who were hired upon graduation. It's no different than finding a job in any field, really. It takes initiative. Employers LOVE initiative!

namastenancy said...

I would like to be optimistic too but I think that sometimes reality bites. For instance, on tonight's news I heard about a job fair in New England. There were 1000 jobs; 10,000 people showed up and the organizers had to close the fair because they were overwhelmed. Even when times aren't as difficult as they are know, race, gender and class play a huge role in who gets what job. Earlier I posted a link to the Guerrilla Girls site; if you want to know what the statistics are for women in the art world in 2007, go and look. It's very educational

Zoomie said...

Articles such as the one you saw about the job fair don't take into account that many, if not most, of the candidates who come to such a fair have no idea what they want to do and no experience to do what the employers are looking for. Job fairs are easy, so people flock to them. Much better to have a clear idea of what you want, to have a resume with experience to show to an employer, to target employers you really care about and have researched so you can talk intelligently to them about their business, and to come prepared (dressed appropriately, etc.) for an interview. Anyone can do these things but it does take effort, preparation and forethought. Artists, please don't give up! There are simple books to read that will give you the basic skills you need to land a great job. And if you're still in school, go visit your Career Services office - they really can help! They can't do it for you but they can give you useful advice and shortcuts - all for free!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting!
I've just been accepted to the MFA program at SFAI, and I'm wondering what to do. If I get an assistanceship or fellowship, it's a possibility. If not, I'm going to try to do my own year-long study program (go to CCA, SFAI, and other schools' lectures, participate in an art book club, find or start an intelligent crit group, maybe pay a private tutor/critic -maybe one of those teachers who was laid off?, etc.) I really want to study and make work and be a part of a rigorously intelligent and creative community NOW, but I don't want to feel like I got ripped off. Any advice?