A New Year at SAIC

Elissa Tenny | August 31, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

On the first day of my seventh academic year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and my second as your president, I am renewed by this exciting time of year, full of new colleagues to meet, new works of art to realize, and new questions to ask. But, I also recognize the hard work ahead of us, striving for a campus climate that champions mutual respect and open-mindedness.

The always relevant and bracing James Baldwin observed that, “the purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.” At SAIC, we create an educational environment where those questions can be revealed, leading to new knowledge and inspiring further inquiry. Our goal is not to convince one another of a seamless answer, but to increase our collective capacity to pursue compelling questions.

This goal is imperative. In the United States and many parts of the world, we are being asked to accept the overdetermined answers of a powerful few. Answers about who should be allowed in, who is to blame for violent confrontations, and who is the voice that speaks for a nation. However, at SAIC our pursuit of the question fosters plurality and promotes a tolerance of ambiguity, making room for complexity and discovery.

Diversity and inclusion are central to this endeavor. Exploring different perspectives from many people challenges our beliefs and is critical to intellectual and creative freedom. To be successful, we must also practice humility. We must respect one another’s uniqueness and be open to having our own perspectives questioned, perhaps even changed.

We are always working together to create and sustain this educational environment, and we will surely experience missteps along the way. But, the endeavor is worth the effort for SAIC and for the global society in which we are all citizens. When done with real interest and bravery, the pursuit of the question can only increase our awareness of the world, inspire compassion for our fellow travelers, and bestow a sense of responsibility to our actions. When enough citizens approach society as a series of questions to be pursued, rather than a fixed answer to be defended, we are able to negotiate a better world in which to live.

This year, I look forward to pursuing those questions with you. Below, please find some highlights of the opportunities, practices, and spaces where our pursuit continues. I cannot imagine a better community for this endeavor.

Yours in pursuit of the question,

Elissa Tenny

The Strategic Planning Process is Underway
This year, Provost Craig Barton and the faculty, staff, and students of the Strategic Planning Visioning Committee will lead the SAIC community through a strategic planning process, which will define our shared ambitions and goals for the next few years. The best strategic planning processes involve input from individuals from across the campus community, so be on the lookout for further communications that will let you know how to get involved, and the launch of a strategic planning area of the website in September.

SAIC Welcomes 13 New Full-Time Faculty
We are pleased to welcome 13 new full-time faculty members who have joined the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) this fall. The new faculty members represent a diverse range of practices, media, and methodologies and exemplify SAIC’s focus on interdisciplinary studies. With the addition of these new faculty members, SAIC continues its legacy of excellence in art and design education. See the complete list, with links for more information about each faculty member.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Returns to SAIC
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s (MFA 1998, HON 2011) work reveals stories often excluded in history in and out of Thailand: voices of the poor and the ill, marginalized beings, and those silenced and censored for personal and political reasons. SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries will present the US premiere of Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness, curated by Gridthiya Gaweewong (MA 1996) and produced by Independent Curators International, New York. This exhibition presents a selected survey of rarely seen experimental short films and video installations by Weerasethakul, alongside his photography, drawings, sketches, and archival material that explore threads of sociopolitical commentary. Programming related to the exhibition includes tours, lectures, and a film series at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Weerasethakul will also be the Distinguished Alumni Lecturer, part of the Visiting Artists Program.

New Columbus Drive Spaces Nearly Ready
Soon, the conversion of the Columbus Drive Auditorium will be complete. The significant transformation will add new classrooms, studios, and facilities while also restoring some elements of the original Walter Nesch-design building. Improved curricular spaces include a new Photography studio, multi-use Printmedia classroom, and Painting and Drawing classroom designed for comics courses; a more prominent location for the Columbus SITE Gallery (formerly Gallery X); and improved and expanded critique and lecture spaces around the building. Meanwhile, the main staircase has been restored to its original 1976 design, creating a brighter and more welcoming lobby. Other new features include a documentation room, private room for nursing mothers, energy-efficient basement lighting, and a fully modernized HVAC and sprinkler.

Campaign Update
This is the final year of SAIC’s first public fundraising campaign, Beautiful/Work: The Campaign for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, raising funds for student scholarship and faculty support. To date, $48.2 million has been raised toward the $50 million goal. Upcoming events for the Campaign include a faculty and alumni art auction and benefit, Beautiful/Night, on March 2, 2018. Be on the lookout for information about this event, including specially priced faculty, staff, student, and alumni tickets.