A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

The 2020–21 Academic Year Begins

Dear SAIC Community,
Like so much these days, School is different. New students didn’t gather in the museum for orientation this year. We’re keeping six feet apart when we’re not teaching, learning, and working time zones apart online. We’ll use mobile ordering to get our food, and we’ll wait patiently for de-densified elevators. We’ll even be careful with our behavior off campus, mindful that we can unknowingly transport a virus from a social gathering. We embrace these differences to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).
Despite our social distance, there is much that remains the same. We will continue to learn the fundamental principles of art, design, and scholarship. We’ll go on giving form and shape to ideas and emotions. We’ll still build a community of belonging, hear from guest lecturers, form student groups, and make new friends, albeit often online. Our work toward a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist campus not only continues but has been given new urgency, as the pandemic has thrown into vivid relief the systemic racism built into our social structures. Our mission, the work we always do, and the even better School we aspire to be will remain constant while we alter our physical presence and modify precisely how we interact.
Perhaps our most fundamental constancy is art’s power to connect us. At SAIC, we recognize that art and design aren’t only made for the studio or classroom. Art and design enrich the entirety of our human experience. They bring shape and beauty to our shared society. Help us understand what we cannot find words for. Interrogate our beliefs, and even change them. Art and design are the practices that connect us to the small group of artists who began our School 155 years ago, saw our predecessors through earlier pandemics and uncertainties, and will continue through the challenges we face and responsibilities we embrace today.
In the days and weeks ahead, our lives as artists, designers, and scholars will be significantly different—both on campus and off—as we work to support the well-being of ourselves and each other. And yet, our academic year will still be enduringly filled with the learning and making that is always central to a School of the Art Institute of Chicago education. Below, as I typically share at the beginning of the School year, are just some of the important projects, opportunities, and responsibilities that we’ll all want to be aware of this semester.

Elissa Tenny

Our Shared Responsibilities

Monitor your health. Maintain physical distance. Cover your face. Practice hygiene. Remain informed. Take care of one another. Those, as you all know, are our shared responsibilities, the commitment we make to our community to practice behaviors which will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. You made this commitment formally when you took the training module emailed to you and found via Canvas (for students) and Bridge (for faculty and staff). Despite your training, we know the demands of this virus will require us to—as our responsibilities demand—remain informed. It is incumbent upon each of us to read all SAIC emails and continue to check in on the Make Ready area of the website to continually stay abreast of best practices.

Anti-Racism Committee

To expand upon the steps toward anti-racism that the School undertook this summer (read updates one, two, and three), a new Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) has been formed to support and extend existing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts and catalyze DEI and anti-racist work throughout all areas of SAIC. ARC begins meeting this week and a forthcoming communication will introduce the committee, its charge, and how to connect with its work more fully.

Art Connects Us

Shortly after the pandemic began last spring, we started a series of newsletters taking a look at the way students, faculty, staff, and alums are continuing to find ways to create art, continue their scholarship, and build community. Called Art Connects Us, these newsletters have profiled members of our community making face coverings, receiving recognition for their work, and joining the conversation on the enduring power of art during the global health crisis. We will continue to periodically publish Art Connects Us, and the most recent volume, which includes links to all previous volumes, continues to showcase how our community is driven by the spirit of engagement and the desire to make positive change in our world.

Voter Registration

All students, faculty, and staff eligible to vote in the United States are encouraged to register to vote in Illinois or vote with an absentee ballot from their home state. In advance of the United States Election Day on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, staff from across departments will be supporting voter registration and election education in a variety of virtual programs. Additionally, TurboVote, a service that helps our community members receive election reminders, get registered to vote, and apply for an absentee ballot, is available 24 hours a day. You can also visit howto.vote from TurboVote to see an easy guide to each state’s voter requirements.

On-Campus Resources

From the Wellness Center to the Writing Center, the John M. Flaxman Library to the Service Bureau, many on-campus resources have new hours and procedures, and many are available online. This recent communication details how to access many of these resources, and many more have updated guidelines at saic.edu or by reaching out to the department directly. If you are having trouble accessing a particular resource, please reach out to saicinfo@saic.edu so someone may assist you.

Upcoming Events

The Visiting Artists Program (VAP) continues online with another semester of provocative, in-depth lectures from leading artists, designers, and scholars. Visitors this year include Fred Wilson (September 22), Ocean Vuong (October 6), Irma Boom, Bill and Stephanie Sick Distinguished Visiting Professor (October 13), Ebony G. Patterson (October 27), distinguished alumni lecturer Nyugen E. Smith (MFA 2016, November 10), and members of the Raqs Media Collective (November 17). Each speaker’s name links to more information about their work and how to attend each lecture via a Zoom link.

Artadia and the Department of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies have invited Adrienne Edwards, Engell Speyer Family Curator and curator of performance at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, to be in conversation with Huey Copeland, Arthur Andersen Teaching and Research Professor at Northwestern University, for a free online, public program on Wednesday, September 30 at 6:00 p.m. Closed captioning available. More info can be found here

Additionally, the Gene Siskel Film Center continues to screen films online through its Film Center from Your Sofa program and, later this semester, the Black Harvest Film Festival will return in an all-online program.


The Future of Our Plans: Artists, Designers, and Scholars from the SAIC Graduate Class of 2020 opened online this summer to positive media coverage, and last year’s Spring Undergraduate Exhibition is also still viewable online.

ExFEST 2020, SAIC’s 15th annual film festival, is now accepting submissions. This year EXTV is opening up submissions to gifs, browser based works, 3-D mappings, as well as video and film. ExFEST will be judged by a select jury of faculty and students as well as the festival goers. Winning entries will receive prizes. Deadline is September 8; more info here.

New Blood is the annual student festival of performance, live art, and time-based work at SAIC. They are seeking proposals for performances to take place on campus in SAIC’s public-facing windows at the Sharp Building (37 E. Monroe) and the Sullivan Galleries (in their new location at 33 E. Washington). Deadline for submission is September 18; more info here.

SITE Galleries will also be announcing virtual programming later this month, and the newly located Sullivan Galleries is tentatively anticipating an in-person exhibition for this October.