150 Years of SAIC

Many of our stories reflect on the people, moments, and ideas that have made the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) what it is today. Recently, we have endeavored to celebrate another of this community's great traditions: creating what's next. SAIC has always been ahead of its time.

Two anecdotes from the late 19th century are especially revealing. Both involve our Department of Sculpture and its founder, Lorado Taft. At the time, SAIC was the only school in the country to ground its students in the traditional methods—that is, learning to chisel from a marble block. Though a point of pride for Taft, this approach was nevertheless contentious among some visitors to his studios because most of Taft's students were women. Numerous objections were raised regarding the propriety of women working with hammers and hatchets. Despite the controversy, Taft persisted and soon thereafter elicited further dismay when he had his students present a fountain outside the Art Institute of Chicago museum. Although praised by some, objectors took issue with the content of the piece—a scene featuring nude nymphs—and the fact that women had executed it.

These stories are telling not only of the degree to which SAIC has long taken a forward-thinking approach to the arts and design, but also of the leading role women have played in these efforts. From the time of the School's founding in 1866 to today, women have encouraged and challenged SAIC to grow in new directions, bolstering our reputation as pioneers in creating innovation and inclusion.

Take alum Margaret Burroughs (BA 1942, MA 1948, HON 1987), who helped found the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) 75 years ago. One of our recent stories highlights an upcoming exhibition that explores the connections between the School and SSCAC and how each has showcased African American artists over the years. Another story introduces Pioneers on the Prairie, a one-day symposium this March to celebrate the prominent role SAIC alumni and faculty members like Claudia Hart, Tiffany Holmes, and Ellen Sandor (MFA 1975, HON 2014) have had in incorporating emerging technologies into artistic practice.

Likewise, you can read stories about Dean of Faculty Lisa Wainwright, who is currently developing our first massive online open course (MOOC), making SAIC an early adopter of this new educational format; alum Scheherazade Tillet (MA 2005), the first Artist-in-Residence at our new space in North Lawndale, developed as a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Foundation for Homan Square; and faculty member LaToya Ruby Frazier, who just received one of the MacArthur Foundation's "Genius Grants" for her stunning photography of the everyday struggles of individuals, families, and communities.

These and so many other remarkable women have made valuable contributions to SAIC over the past century and a half and have positioned our community for continued excellence in the years ahead.

Walter E. Massey
President, School of the Art Institute of Chicago