April 28, 2011

Amid Restructuring, University Seeks New Director for Cornell Council of the Arts

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As the overhaul of the Cornell Council for the Arts continues to draw opposition, the University launched a search for a new CCA director Thursday to oversee the transformation of the organization’s mission.

Dean of Architecture, Art and Planning Kent Kleinman, who first recommended the overhaul to Provost Kent Fuchs, said that the new director would play a crucial role in shaping the CCA’s restructuring, which will redirect funding away from grants for individual artists and toward a large annual art event.

“What remains up in the air is the process by which individual grants will be funded,” said Evan Cortens grad, incoming president of the Graduate and Professional Students Assembly and a critic of the overhaul. “The new director will have a role in shaping this. The selection of director means everything when you’re talking about a fairly substantial reconstruction of the role of the CCA in providing grants.”

In October, Fuchs approved the elimination of individual CCA grants — currently awarded to dozens of individual faculty, staff and students — to create a single, annual arts event.  In addition, he increased funding for CCA’s budget to $225,000 year from $175,000 per year. Since then, students and faculty have worked to ease the transition, although questions regarding CCA’s future remain to be decided by the new CCA director.

To demonstrate sustained opposition to the proposed changes of the CCA, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in January calling for a reversal of the provost’s decision.

In response to requests in the resolution for a public conversation between interested parties and the provost, Kleinman formed a stakeholder group in January to begin a conversation among faculty and students across disciplines about the proposed restructuring.

The group, which has convened twice — once in January and once at the beginning of March — has had productive conversations, although no conclusions have been reached, Kleinman said.

Cortens, who was the lead author of the GPSA resolution, said that although the committee was “comprised of a varied group of people, who did not all agree with the dean,” Kleinman took the GPSA’s call for a public conversation “in a slightly different way” than the resolution intended.

“It’s not a criticism of the dean, but what I had in mind was something like a public town hall style meeting held in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room,” Cortens said, “But the dean did not think that would be a very effective venue — basically, he felt it would become confrontational.”

Echoing the concerns of many faculty and students, a petition circulated in the fall against the overhaul of the CCA and it has been signed by nearly 400 students, faculty and staff who argued that eliminating grants for individual artists would stifle artistic endeavors at the University.

“Having just received a CCA grant, I know how absolutely valuable this funding is for promoting interdisciplinary projects, especially those that do not have a home in any one department. Eliminating this funding, or restructuring its vetting process, could have serious consequences for the artistic community at Cornell, not to mention Cornell’s national reputation,” Stephanie DeGooyer grad said.

Thomas Balcerski, GPSA humanities representative and vice president for operations, said he was disappointed that President David Skorton did not mention that the GPSA’s resolution had made its way to his desk for approval.

“From my point of view, his having not responded is a lack of response from the administration. We had hoped and expected a response from the president,” Balcerski said.

Consultation of the stakeholder group has also been crucial in the creation of the nomination committee for the new director, according to Kleinman.

According to Kleinman, it was important for him to talk with outgoing Interim CCA Director Judith Kellock, whose term will end June 30, and the stakeholder group about the issue of finding a new director at the same time concerns surrounding the restructuring were being discussed.

Cortens maintained that despite the move to a large annual art event, the restructuring of the CCA is “still very much an active process.”

“The dean has listened and continues to listen and the new director will have flexibility beyond simply maintaining a budget,” Cortens said. “The director is a spokesperson for the arts both on campus and off campus — that means they will have to ability to go to the deans of the individual colleges and continue to communicate about the process.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti