Today's Students, Tomorrow's Artists

If art education is so important, why so little support?

As much as Miami has grown as an arts capital, there still is much to be done. The art explosion fostered by the migration of Art Basel has been terrific. Yet our city will not really advance unless we can sustain our art development, and this will not happen without a strong base of art schools to foster it.

Unfortunately our politicians and school administrators don't see it that way yet. Our art schools are underfunded, understaffed, scattered, and sometimes isolated from the local arts community. We decided to look into some of these issues with department chairpersons at four of Miami's most important art institutions. They are Louise Romeo from the New World School of the Arts, Mary Malm from Miami International University of Art and Design, Carol Damian from Florida International University, and Bill Carlson from the University of Miami. (Full disclosure: I am a lecturer at UM.)

New Times: Concerning art education, what are the most pressing issues at your institution?

The old shack at UM (formerly the art school) now sits 
vacant -- a sign of everything  that's wrong with art 
education in Miami
Jonathan Postal
The old shack at UM (formerly the art school) now sits vacant -- a sign of everything that's wrong with art education in Miami

Louise Romeo: Funding and space. Though our funding comes from four sources (the State of Florida, University of Florida, Miami Dade College, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools), we still suffer from insufficient funding. In addition we have serious storage limitations. Our unusual structure of high school and college puts a strain on having adequate and appropriate spaces for both student populations. Believe me, they deal with it in a remarkable way. They create everywhere, be it in a studio space, the hallway, or out in front of the school.

Bill Carlson: Right now facilities are the single biggest obstacle to our department. We are scattered in seven locations around the UM campus and they are redundant and inadequate. Our visibility in the area of the campus is virtually nonexistent, so the students' continuity with the program is badly compromised. One of the most important benefits of an art education is the community and the energy it generates. Peer awareness and context are crucial in that osmosis portion of an education. Our present state is very problematic. We need proximity.

Mary Malm: Our institution is unique in two ways. Miami International University of Art and Design is strictly an art and design school, and we are part of a large corporation (EDMC) and in that corporate setting our school is the only one in the system that has a visual arts major. Since the school's primary mission is placing students in well-paying jobs in the art and design sector, the visual arts major poses a challenge.

Carol Damian: I agree with my colleagues. We need more financial support for scholarships, equipment, technology, facilities, and new faculty.

Are you happy with the present art curriculum? How can it be improved?

Bill Carlson: We are restructuring curricular needs as we update our expectations. An arts education in a liberal arts university is a weird beast. We expect strong contributions to the curriculum to be delivered from the parts of the campus that may have drastically different expectations. The integration of technology in all areas of specialization is an important agenda. But the existing separation of our facilities makes this an uphill battle. We are currently initiating concept-based (rather than specialization-based) courses for our advanced undergraduate majors in the hope that this will broaden their exposure to the arts and up the level of expectation.

Louise Romeo: Our curriculum has evolved over the years, changing to meet student needs. Graphic design and electronic intermedia (our two largest programs) are two majors that were developed to specifically address these needs. Currently visual arts offers two major tracks of study: one in the fine arts (painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, and sculpture) and the other in the graphic/electronic media. The core of the curriculum continues to be fine art-based. We advocate a rigorous foundation in drawing, design, and aesthetics. If we had additional funding, I would love to expand the curriculum to include more specialty courses and develop a major in interdisciplinary arts.

Carol Damian: That's a good question. Actually we are reevaluating our curriculum now in light of a changing student body that needs more skills and guidance, both technically and conceptually. The required courses are fine; it is the progress through the curriculum that we are changing -- mentoring, etc. We believe in strong art history, theoretical and conceptual knowledge as informing the artwork. Students today are not prepared for the reading and writing and the professional practices they will need to succeed. We are working on providing that from the beginning.

Mary Malm: Two years ago when we were taken over by EDMC we converted all the majors from the semester to quarter system to be in compliance with the other schools in the MIU system. It was a great opportunity to write our dream curriculum. Faculty members, in all departments, rewrote [the] curriculum. We've also included practical courses such as mural and scenic techniques, digital media, and computer basics.

Do you feel that your school is connected to our community?

Louise Romeo: Our students' learning experiences certainly occur within our building but they also benefit enormously from the learning experiences provided by the community. I believe their "real world" education in the community is as critical as what they learn in the classroom. The goal is to make their entrance into the world as seamless as possible. At NWSA many of our students participate in eye-opening internships with fine artists and designers, and with arts-oriented organizations such as the Moore Space, the Rubell Family Art Collection, MoCA, MAM, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Fred Snitzer Gallery, Art in Public Places, and many more.

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