October 19, 2010

Profs Outraged by Cornell Council of the Arts Overhaul

Print More

To the outrage of many professors within the creative arts, funding for grants awarded by the Cornell Council for the Arts to aspiring faculty, staff and student artists will be eliminated over the next two years and redirected to a single annual arts event, Provost Kent Fuchs will announce Wednesday.

From 2007 to 2009, an average of 52 grants — 13 of which were given to either students or student organizations — were awarded to members of the University community per year.

Adopting the recommendations of a committee chaired by Architecture, Art and Planning Dean Kent Kleinman, the University will consolidate the CCA’s diffused grants to create a “single, large scale, internationally significant event,” according to the committee’s report, which The Sun has obtained.  Fuchs said that the University plans to publicize the changes Wednesday.

The University will continue to fund the existing CCA grant program for the next two years — though these funds will be administered by the colleges and departments, rather than by the CCA as they currently are.  Fuchs also said that the University will add $50,000 to the CCA’s budget to fund the new initiative.

Many creative arts professors lamented the loss of the small grants program, doubted the educational merits of holding a single arts event, and criticized a perceived lack of experiential diversity on Kleinman’s committee.

“[The remodeling is] taking the power and creativity away from the students who want to create art projects,” said Prof. Ernesto Quiñonez, creative writing.

Quiñonez added that the new CCA format “shackles the artist,” who under the new model “has to curb his creativity in order to adapt to the theme that the centralized committee has chosen.”

“Artists are free, and should be free thinkers. [The proposal] compromises their free thinking,” Quiñonez said.

One professor with knowledge about the CCA, who requested to remain anonymous, called the loss of individual grants a “tragedy,” adding that proposal would eliminate “all individual creative ideas.”

Another professor in the creative arts with long-standing involvement in the CCA said the organization should be focused on arts projects generated within Cornell that emanate outside the University, rather than the other way around.

Many professors privately expressed concern that eliminating the current grant system would deprive students of the opportunity to write their first grant applications for project funding as artists.

A professor in the Music department who wished to remain anonymous in order to “speak with candor on the issue” said that although there is “something nice about a big, splashy event … you then have the rest of the year to worry about.”

“To put all your eggs in one basket ignores the possibility of multiple artistic expressions across campus,” this professor said.

For the one big event, the CCA would “bring the most distinguished, relevant art practitioner(s) and practices to Cornell on a yearly basis,” according to the report.  This “Grand Projet” could involve bringing Martin Scorsese for a three-day residency on campus or bringing “the fuselage of a Boeing 787” to campus, and planning a series of artistic events around a person or event.

The report stresses the CCA’s “limited resources would be leveraged to maximize visibility,” and that the proposal would create “international excellence, visibility and creative synergy.”

Fuchs praised the report as a practical means for raising the “international profile of Cornell in the arts community and worldwide,” saying, “that’s the reason we’re doing it.”

Fuchs faced opposition from some faculty, however.

Prof. Emeritus Jim McConkey, creative writing, who first came to Cornell in 1956, said he disagreed with the “attention paid to publicity and public relations” in the report, given that “our primary function is to work with arts on campus.”

McConkey said he wishes the committee had “understood the history and development of [the CCA].”

“We’ve had celebrities in the past. If you put all your money in one celebrity, it can fizzle out,” McConkey added.

Although McConkey said the report was “right on some issues,” he found that structuring the CCA “to publicize the arts nationally is not in keeping” with what the organization should do.

Quiñonez also denied the effectiveness of bringing one high-profile speaker to campus.  He said the current “grass-roots format” is working.

“Sadly, this report makes it clear that the administration is more interested in notoriety for Cornell than it is in nurturing the artistic impulses in students,” another professor in the creative arts said in an e-mail, adding, “[The University] is willing to resort to clever stunts rather than creative substance to achieve that goal.”

Interim CCA director Prof. Judith Kellock, music, said she “was particularly disturbed by the lack of transparency and constituency participation” in the creation of the report. She said  the outcome “could have been better for all concerned if there had there been consultation instead of secrecy surrounding a proposal that affects so many students and faculty in so many colleges and departments.”

Some faculty also faulted the make-up of the committee, which they said was unbalanced towards favoring academicians in the arts rather than arts practitioners.

“The makeup of the committee suggested a more administrative or bureaucratic approach rather than people who are actively involved in creating and practicing the arts,” said the professor with a long-standing involvement in the arts at Cornell. This professor added that practitioners “should have been highly represented” on the committee, but were not.

The criticisms of the CCA remodeling come after the administration has faced considerable criticism for its handling of budget cuts to the Theater, Film and Dance department.

The 2009-10 CCA Undergrad Artist of the Year Dorian Bandy ’10 said the change to the CCA “cannot possibly be for the better.”

Bandy listed “life-changing and hugely important events” created by CCA funding that will “cease to exist on campus” if the changes go through.  Bandy said this would be a “terrible loss” for both the student body and the faculty.

On a personal level, Bandy said the CCA’s financial support for him was “invaluable” and allowed him to pursue his music career, as he is now doing in London.

Kleinman, the AAP Dean who chaired the committee that proposed the CCA changes, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Kleinman was unavailable because he was out of town, his assistant said.

CCA Review Committee member Frank Robinson, director of the Johnson Museum, said the plan  was “worth trying for two to three years,” but said if it does not work “we can go back to something else.”

“This big project will benefit lots and lots of people [and] people will become more aware of arts as a living, breathing presence right here in Ithaca and on campus,” Robinson said.

He stressed that the Eissner Award, given annually to an exceptional alumnus artist, would still exist and function as a means of promoting art on campus.

Provost Fuchs also defended the plan. He said the significant event will “almost certainly have student engagement in planning, envisioning and following through.”

He added, “My expectation is that within units there will still be opportunities for students to write proposals and have small projects funded.”

Fuchs acknowledged that there is “a lot of concern about the small grants continuing in the long term,” but said, “I think we can have the best of both worlds by having units support the small grants and the provost’s office support large events.

Some professors did not share his optimism, particularly the hope that, in two years, the colleges will continue to fund the grants in the absence of continued funding from the Provost.

Although the report says “support can be backfilled by department chairs and college deans with internal support programs,” another member of the arts community who preferred to remain anonymous wrote she believes this “seems unlikely” in the current climate.

The current grant system, 37 percent of the CCA’s budget, funds an average of 52 grants a year; in 2008-09, 46 grants were awarded with an average grant of $1480, totaling $68,050, according to the report.  On average, 32 of these grants go to faculty, 10 to students, four to staff, and three to student organizations. The grants are distributed across four different colleges and two organizations — the Cornell Cinema and the Johnson Art Museum.

The report also contains recommendations for how to streamline funding and reduce administrative overhead.

Original Author: Jeff Stein