Summer 2020 Remote Residency Letter

The Low-Residency MFA Program at SAIC incorporates online courses, but is not an online program. In-person instruction occurs throughout the LRMFA curriculum, and forms the core of our summer residency. Until 2020, every student’s experience in the LRMFA program began and ended with a six week residency on SAIC’s Chicago campus. This residency has provided an important opportunity for students to engage intensely with one another, their faculty, and visiting artists -- in the classrooms, in studios, and through spontaneous meetings.

In the LRMFA program, we recognize the unique learning experience that being together in shared space provides. However, over the past summer we were not able to gather, as usual, in person. In early April, anticipating possible effects the developing Covid-19 pandemic might have on schooling, a working group of LRMFA administrators and faculty began meeting to plan an online “residency” in the event that our Chicago residency had to be cancelled. When this in fact happened, with the official transition of all summer 2020 SAIC courses online in mid-May, the LRMFA working group had already been transforming our summer curriculum for online teaching and learning for weeks. The group continued meeting throughout the summer session, adjusting and evaluating our curriculum in response to changing circumstances.

While planning the summer session, we didn’t want to mimic live classrooms in online forms. Instead, we sought to create a comprehensive and communal remote experience using the tools and temporalities native to the online environment. We kept course caps small, ran our substantial Visiting Artists and Scholars Program asynchronously to accommodate students’ diverse schedules, and opened synchronous colloquia (usually restricted by cohort) to the entire program. Using a combination of online tools, each student was provided with four days of asynchronous critique of their studio work by a combination of faculty, fellow students, and visiting artists.

Feedback on the LRMFA 2020 online residency has been overwhelmingly positive. It is unanimously agreed that the experience was remarkably -- surprisingly, for many -- substantial and artistically sustaining. Students and faculty across time zones appreciated the ability to maintain their own environments and unique schedules while continuing -- and in the case of our large first-year cohort, beginning -- participation in the program. Everyone involved in the experience reported finding a different kind of intimacy through remote synchronous discussions and written asynchronous conversations.

We eagerly anticipate returning to a safe in-person six week residency in summer 2021. At the same time, many methods and structures we employed during the online summer session proved to be generative additions to our curricular structure, and will be integrated into the program once we’re gathered in person in Chicago again. Our goal is to meet challenges from a place of collaboration and creativity, learning together from one another, in the world we help create.


Kelly Kaczynski and John Neff
Graduate Coordinators, SAIC Low Res MFA